Car advice with Honest John – your questions answered

Squirrel damage to car
Bushy tales: the common squirrel can be a pest if it starts eating parts of your car Credit:  Tony Margiocchi/Barcroft Images

If your car has developed a fault, turn to Honest John by emailing

An opportunist knocks

It looks like the UK will follow the American lead in terms of class action lawyers pursuing the VW Group following recent scandals. My EA189 Audi 2.0 TDI was rectified after a year, so technically it has been fixed. If the lawyers are successful, will I be eligible for compensation if I have not been part of the class action process? TL

My view is that if you are not part of one of the three class actions, you are not entitled to anything. And if your car has been satisfactorily fixed with no performance or fuel economy drawbacks, I am appalled that anyone should attempt to seek something for nothing. I'll fight for people whose emissions fix has been botched or has else ruined the car, but not for the money-grubbing brigade.

Love Hertz

Which company sells fleet cars before they come on the market? I cannot find any. TC

Try Hertz.

Reelin’ in the Yaris

I've owned my 2003 petrol Toyota Yaris since new and it has done 254,000 miles. It is still going strong and has given me very few  serious issues but, planning ahead, what would be a worthy replacement: another Yaris? Are they as good? Money is tight so that needs to be taken into consideration. CO

Try to find the same thing - a Mk1 1.3 up to 2005. There are still some out there with fewer than 50,000 miles under their belts.

Pool harbour

I drive a Volkswagen 2.0 diesel estate with all the trimmings, but it is now leaking rainwater into the front footwells and I think it's time for a change. I don't need an estate any more but like the convenience of a flat tailgate for dog, shopping etc. What do you suggest? TT

The water in the front footwells will be coming in because the drains either side of the bulkhead vent well are blocked, leaving nowhere for it to go except via the pollen filter into the car. (Once you've cleared the drains you'll also have to replace the pollen filter, and that's a real finger-grazing job.) For a flat load deck in a compact car, take a look at a new Peugeot 2008 1.2 PureTech 130 six-speed.

Driven nuts

I have a Toyota Avensis estate that is always parked on our drive. A squirrel appears to have taken a liking to eating peanuts while warming itself on top of the engine - underneath the soundproofing and engine cover. I only discovered this when the battery failed one morning and I had to jump-start the car. How can I prevent the little devils from getting in there again? DP

You might need to use an ultrasonic device. This is a huge problem in the Black Forest area of Germany, where pine martens get into engine compartments and nibble the wiring.

Question of timing

We have a 2008 Fiat 500 1.2 with 24,000 miles. It was serviced at Halfords recently and we were advised to have the cambelt changed if it had not been done. We checked the service records and it had not been done but, later that day, a different engineer said it was not needed until 72,000 miles. Who is correct? PC

I also have a 500 1.2 and had my cambelt changed at seven years old and 17,000 miles. It needs timing belt, tensioner and water pump. It’s best to fit a new auxiliary belt, too. Since Fiat dealers charge only £300 plus VAT, it’s best to have it done there. The water pump is crucial because they are prone to developing hidden leaks.

Double jeopardy

I received a charge notice following two visits to the same car park. I have written to the enforcement company, stating the facts and explaining where I went in between my two visits, They insist they have no evidence to support my claim. They have now asked for documentary evidence to prove I entered their car park on two occasions. This is difficult to show, as I do not photograph my car entering and leaving car parks. PS

If you entered a car park twice in one day, you will have been ANPR timed from first entry to last exit. These nasty, pernicious people do not set their ANPR systems to acknowledge multiple visits, and one of their terms and conditions might even be "no return visits the same day." It's ridiculous, but the supreme court has given parking enforcers the right to inflict penalties according to their own rules. Statutory law (Protection of Freedoms Act, Clause 56) and the highest court in the land have put you in the wrong. I campaigned for years to try to prevent this happening, but was ignored.

Flaming nuisance

I have a 20-litre can of unleaded petrol that I purchased as insurance during the tanker strikes in 2000. I understand that petrol deteriorates with age, so how should I best dispose of it? DG

Take it to your local recycling centre. Do not pour it down a drain. (A neighbour used to store petrol in his wooden garage, until it burned down.)

Urban worrier

I want to change my Mercedes E220 diesel for a similar new car (Mercedes, BMW, Audi etc). Having now retired I drive only about 3,000 miles a year, mostly short urban trips. Can you help, please? RJ

A petrol hybrid makes the most sense. You could consider a VW Passat GTE, a Lexus IS300h or a Kia Optima PHEV.

Space invaders?

On bank holidays, are we allowed to park in spaces designated “Permit holder only Mon-Sat?” NR

Generally, yes, although it depends on local authority rules. Read the terms and conditions carefully.

Spec saviours

I purchased a new Fiat Panda Lounge for my daughter and it arrived without the protective black plastic side mouldings that were supposed to be specified. Fiat has since apologised and says they cannot be retro-fitted. I am concerned that not being to spec will affect the car’s future resale value. What can I do? JB

Reject the car and demand that it be replaced by a correct-spec 2017 Panda, or else demand a £1,000 refund because the car is not to spec. The Consumer Rights Act of November 2015 gives you a statutory right to reject it for this reason, for 28 days from the time purchase.

Open and shunt case

My wife has pampered her 55,000-mile Mercedes SLK 230 since new in 2000 and was recently shocked to learn that its roof mechanism has been damaged beyond economic repair (by a rear-end collision, of which she was unaware). What is the best way to dispose of this much-loved car that is still perfectly roadworthy and otherwise in excellent condition? CW

Without the roof working correctly it's worth buttons, perhaps £2,000 tops. It’s best to ignore your unhelpful MB dealer and find an independent specialist who can fix it.

Faults economy

A few days ago I saw an engine fault warning on my dashboard. I had diagnostics carried out and was told the inlet manifold was faulty. The garage told me that there were two grades of replacement part, one at  £160 and a more expensive option at £220. What effect on the engine would it have if I were to ignore the problem and what is the difference between the two different parts, price apart? AD

If you don't replace the inlet manifold swirl flaps, they will eventually break off, be ingested and destroy the engine. For the same reason, go for the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts and not a cheap copy.

Cable car

I have an eight-year-old Toyota Avensis 1.8 with conventional handbrake, which I wish to replace with a car with similar characteristics. These include a large boot, comfortable seating and quiet ride. The replacement, two or three years old, does not have to be a hatchback. The old-style handbrake is a must. EC

Unfortunately, conventional lever-type parking brakes are going out of style because electromechanical rear brakes are more compatible with autonomous braking. The Ford Focus still has a lever handbrake, mind, as do Skoda Octavias.

Provincial life

Our daughter lives in Nova Scotia and we visit twice a year. Her vehicle is a huge 6.4-litre Dodge Ram, which my wife refuses to drive, so we want to buy a second-hand VW Golf to use while we’re there. We own a manual Golf 1.4 TSI that is excellent, but Canadian Golfs seem to have much bigger engines and a lot are automatics. You advise avoiding some VW automatics, so what should we do? TS

Avoid anything with the twin dry-clutch seven-speed DSG, so that's Golf 1.2 TSI, 1.4 TSI and 1.6 TDI. The twin wet-clutch six-speed DSG is more reliable in 2.0 TDIs and 2.0 TSIs, but for the 2017 facelift VW will be fitting all Golfs with the superior twin wet-clutch seven-speed DSG.

Carry on cabby

There are few pitfalls with a three-year-old Toyota Prius - its popularity with the minicab trade proves its reliability and cost-effectiveness

My daughter is driving her third Toyota Prius and has always leased her cars. She feels inclined to buy when it is three years old and keep it for as long again. What pitfalls await her? AG

If she can buy it for sensible money, it could prove to be a good decision. Taxi drivers have now caught on to the fact that the Prius is ultra-reliable and cheap to maintain. Even if she keeps it for another three years there is a ready market out there, but that might make it too expensive to buy from the leasing company. If she leases again she should be aware that from April 2017 the annual tax for any new car rises to £140 (or £450 for cars costing more than £40,000).

Seven-year itch

I drive about 5,000 miles a year in my seven-year-old Skoda Yeti TDI CR110 4x4. I wish to change to a similarly compact petrol 4x4, but the Yeti TSI 4x4 is too expensive. What are the alternatives? WG

I’d suggest the Dacia Duster 1.2 TCE 125 4x4 (£14,895) or a Suzuki Vitara S 1.4 Boosterjet 4x4 (about £21,000).

Short answer

I have a 2012 BMW 118d Convertible but do a relatively low mileage (18,000 from new). I have been using Shell V-Power Nitro but, despite my limited use, have suffered no diesel-related problems. What say you? DB

If you haven't had trouble you're doing something right. V-Power will have helped, although there aren’t too many DPF problems with BMW Efficient Dynamics. I'd guess that most of your journeys must be of reasonable length.

Don’t stop me now

Our 2013 Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI DSG developed a worrying fault a few months ago. Suddenly and without warning the brakes came on and we screeched to a halt. Fortunately there was no traffic near us and the car then drove normally. Our dealer said a software update was required and this seemed to solve the problem. A few months later it happened again and we were almost hit from behind. A faulty electromechanical parking brake was diagnosed and replaced. Is this common? CF

This was a problem with early Mk7 Golfs with radar Active Cruise Control, but I have had no reports of 2015-2016 Golfs suffering similarly. Fitting the car with an electromechanical parking brake allows the ACC to slow autonomously to prevent the car crashing into something ahead.

All change

I recently replaced the front tyres of my 2014 BMW X1 X-Drive. The garage advised me that I should change the rears as well, even though they are well within the legal limit. They said that failure to do so could wreck the X-Drive, involving a £11,000 repair. Is this correct? RW

Yes. A disparity between tyre types and rolling circumference will upset the X-Drive centre diff and cause excess wear because it will think the disparity is due to slippage and will continually engage all-wheel drive. It's the same with all similar AWD systems. The way around it is to swap tyres front to back (same side) halfway through their lives. but it is a problem if the tyres are half worn and you get an irreparable puncture in one of them.

Foggiest idea

My wife's new VW Polo GTI is great, but demisting the windscreen takes ages. We run the air-conditioning all the time. DK

Using the air-con should actually keep the cabin “dry”. You might need to switch from recirculation mode to admit outside air. Make sure there isn’t any water sloshing around in the bulkhead vent well, because the drains either side are blocked. If there is water in there, the pollen filter will be sodden and needs replacing to allow fresh air to enter the car.

That petrol emotion

I have for the past 20 years driven two Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi estates, covering 300,000 almost trouble-free miles. It is now time to renew my 2005 version, but I am wary of the way diesel is receiving such bad press and might eventually be priced out of the market. I need a powerful car to tow a caravan and would like a SUV-type replacement although I don’t need 4WD. A hybrid might be a good idea. I have a budget of up to £30,000. What would you recommend? JP

The SUV petrol hybrids in this price bracket are the Toyota RAV-4 hybrid and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which is a plug-in. I don't think a Kia Niro will tug the caravan. You could also look at a new or used Lexus NX300h with the same powertrains as the RAV-4. There are more petrol hybrids on the way, but they will probably cost more than £30,000.

The big idea

You recently advised CG to replace his Audi A6 Avant diesel with “something with a petrol engine”, but that is easier said than done if you want a large estate. I am concerned about this because I would like to change my Mercedes E-class estate, but with some major cities planning bans diesels could soon be rendered unsaleable. Are manufacturers planning to re-introduce petrol or hybrid versions of their large estates? SB

The Ford Mondeo and Skoda Superb are both available as turbocharged 2.0 petrol estates. The Mondeo is also available as a petrol hybrid and the VW Passat GTE is a plug-in petrol hybrid estate. Within a year, petrol plug-in hybrid estates will be available from Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

Inflated opinion

I am generally happy with my VW Golf SV, but there is a distinct vibration when you drive over surface imperfections. Could different tyres improve this? HC

You don't give your wheel and tyre sizes. If it's on 15- or 16-inch wheels you could try lowering the pressures to 31psi all round. If still uncomfortable, switch to softer Michelin Cross Climate tyres. If you have 17-inch wheels, it might be worth switching to 16s. To my mind, the Michelins are best as 205/55 R16s.

Brisk assessment

You assert that modern diesels are potential money pits. Why is this? Also, my Suzuki Vitara DDiS is being recalled to reprogram the engine control unit. Is this likely to affect its performance and economy? NL

The problems with diesel engines are caused by emissions equipment that has to be fitted to control the nitrogen oxides (NOx) they emit. Potential costs include exhaust gas recirculation valves (£600-£1,600) and particulate filters (£350 to clean, £600-£1,200 to replace). Engines also need a new timing belt, tensioner, water pump and auxiliary belt every four years. Owners of cars with the VW Group EA189 2.0-litre diesel that have been recalled for an NOx fix are finding a decrease in driveability, with usable torque coming in at 300rpm higher than before. This requires more gearchanges at low revs.

Mane bearing

MW needs a compact 4x4 to tow a horsebox and has a budget of £3,000 Credit: Alamy

We’re looking for a compact 4x4 to tow a horsebox. Our budget is £3,000. Can any of the smaller 4x4s can pull up to 2,500kg? MW

A short-wheelbase Nissan Terrano II 2.7 or 3.0 would be ideal, assuming you can find a good one. Or a 1991-1999 SWB Mitsubishi Shogun or Pajero, which is smaller than later Shoguns (but be sure to check it carefully for rust).

Fractured harm

The heater of my 2008 Vauxhall Zafira diesel automatic was not working and I found that the cooling system header tank was empty. The oil is clean and there’s no emulsion inside the filler cap. Any thoughts? AC

If the transmission heat exchanger is situated in the radiator, this needs to be checked urgently because a fracture leading to coolant in the gearbox not only prevents proper engine cooling, it can also destroy the automatic ’box. It’s not just a matter of topping up fluids.

Three-pointed stir

I have a four-year-old Mercedes C180 CGI six-speed automatic. At 27,000 miles the gearchange became rough, so my dealer did a software update that cost £240. He said if that didn’t work he would ask Mercedes to contribute towards a new torque converter. It didn’t work – but Mercedes suggested changing the gearbox oil and I paid another £270. Despite a smoother change, I feel the gears are still jumping. Have you heard of this fault before? BLM

There have been a few problems with this transmission, which Mercedes dealers should be be fully aware of – and be able to fix.

Firm opinion

We are thinking of changing our 2010 Skoda Yeti, which my wife finds uncomfortable as a passenger. Which car of similar size and layout would have a more relaxing ride? CS

A Renault Kadjar with 215/60 R16 tyres is very comfortable. On high-spec models, adjustable driver’s lumbar support also helps. It’s best with four-wheel drive, because that includes four-wheel independent suspension. As a cheaper alternative, a Dacia Duster 1.2 TCe 124 4x4 on 65-profile 16-inch tyres is good, too. Other options include the Suzuki Vitara and the Seat Ateca on at least 55-profile tyres.

Dark side of the moan

Although my headlight beams have been corrected and I can see further ahead, the illumination of my Mercedes W210 E-class is still not great. It’s a 2.0-litre Kompressor, made in 2000, so I guess the plastic lenses might need attention. KN

You can make the headlight lenses transparent again with a careful application of metal polish.

Miles better

My 10-year-old Saab 9-5 Vector 2.0 needs replacing after 110,00 miles. With no low-mileage versions on the market, what would you recommend as the nearest used equivalent? PT

The Ford Mondeo 2.0SCTI Ecoboost 240 Powershift, or a Jaguar XE 2.0i 240 (with the same Ford chain cam engine) with eight-speed torque converter auto.

Smart thinking

My daughter wants to change her 2009 Smart ForTwo for something bigger. She has £12,000 plus the trade-in value of the Smart. What would you suggest for manily local journeys, plus the occasional 200-mile round trip? PW

She might be able to get a current Smart ForFour for that. She definitely can get a Renault Twingo, or a Dacia Sandero Stepway (though that might not have the right image). She could also consider the Suzuki Ignis, Renault Captur, SsangYong Tivoli, Suzuki Vitara or a Dacia Duster.

Hit parade

My 2010 BMW 318SE was hit by another car. Repairs are estimated at £3,100 plus VAT and the estimated value after repair is £7,800. I could spend £8,000 more to replace it with a used car that’s smaller. What would you suggest? PB

You could get a practical, reliable and economical Honda Jazz 1.4iVTEC CVT-7 for that money.

Soft option

I’m considering fitting Michelin Cross Climate tyres to my B7-series VW Passat for year-round use. Would I have to activate the vehicle’s winter tyres setting permanently? WT

I guess that the winter tyres setting is either lower pressures or a speed warning. In my experience (10,000 miles over a year), 215/55 R17 Cross Climates work best at comparatively low pressures (31psi stone cold). But it’s worth experimenting.

Youth policy

We need to replace our Fiat 500 with an SUV to accommodate grandchildren (two in seats, one with a booster cushion). We have a budget of £10,000 so what would you suggest? JB

Your biggest problem will come from the size of the child seats, because many are now so large they will not fit three side by side – or even one each side with space for someone else between. Your first job is to measure the child seats you propose to use, then work from that. Your most likely contender is a Citroën C4 Picasso, which has three full-size seats across the back. SUVs of a similar size don’t provide as much width.

Little and large

I have a Vauxhall Zafira as a caravan tow car and intend to buy a small automatic for day-to-day use. It must be cheap to tax and insure. My budget is £8,000 and my shortlist includes the Toyota Yaris hybrid and Honda Jazz. What alternatives you can recommend? AC

Both are good choices. The Jazz has the most practical interior, but the Yaris has a better hybrid system and is zero rated for VED.

Extension leads

I drive a Honda CR-V petrol 4WD and am looking to replace it with something similar, such as a Nissan Qashqai. We want all-wheel drive, but most manufacturers only offer diesel and we’d prefer petrol. What cars should we consider? BB

As diesel declines, the situation is improving. Peugeot offers its 2008 and 3008 with the 1.2 PureTech 130 engine and Grip Control, which combines a clever differential with all weather tyres for excellent traction. Other options include the Toyota RAV4 2.5, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Suzuki Vitara S and SX4-S-Cross. The status-free bargain is the Dacia Duster 1.2 TCe 125 4WD at £14,895 and it’s actually very good.

Light ail

My seven-year-old Citroën C6 runs perfectly but the dashboard lights work only intermittently. A main dealer will charge too much to look into the fault, so what could I try? RJ

You shouldn’t consider running a C6 without joining the Citroën Club (, which is invaluable for information on the best marque specialists.

Korea advice

My wife and I have run Hyundais for nine years, with excellent reliability and service. The warranty of our i30 expires in June so we are considering replacing it with a used ix20. Is this a good idea? JS

Go for the ix20 or a Kia Venga – they are basically the same car.

Big bang theory

My friend’s five-year-old VW Eos, last serviced in spring 2015, ground to a halt and was found to have no oil. The recovery man said that none had been added during that service. Could it really have run for 18 months without oil? PH

It’s unlikely. I recommend an oil and filter change every 12 months or 10,000 miles, whichever comes first. In this instance it’s the owner’s fault for not checking the oil, allowing it to run low and causing the engine to self-destruct.

Neutral stance

My 2011 Saab 9-3 turbodiesel estate auto runs perfectly unless it is stationary in traffic. Immediately on coming to a halt, engine idling and foot on brake, the car judders three times then settles. When I accelerate it judders again, but less noticeably. But if I select neutral on stopping, there is no judder. What is wrong? AH

My first suspicion would be the transmission torque converter, but it could be an engine management issue. The GM/Alfa Romeo/Fiat 1.9 diesel has a poor reliability record.

Bigger is better

I have owned Toyota hybrids for more than 12 years. I ordered a new Prius with 15in wheels in order to get the CO2 down to 70g/km but every dealer I tried for a test drive didn’t have an example with this size of wheel. Have I done the right thing? IC

Strangely, the latest Prius seems much nicer to drive on 17in wheels than 15s. The low rolling resistance of the 15in tyres helps it achieve 70g/km for zero-rated VED and congestion charge exemption.

False economy?

I have a 2003 Honda CR-V 2.0i VTEC and always use 99 Ron petrol. However, 95 Ron petrol is 29p less per litre, so can I safely use the cheaper grade with an additive? HH

I always recommend using the best quality fuel. Over 20 years I’ve found that it delivers 6-8 per cent better mpg as well as keeping the fuel system clean. Saving pennies might end up costing you pounds.

Comfort zone

Stick with Citroen: a new C4 Picasso would be a good replacement for a 21-year-old Xantia Estate

We have to replace our 21-year-old Citroën Xantia Estate. We need a five-seat MPV with best-in-class ride and a large boot. Would a Citroën C4 Grand Picasso be the best bet? GA

Yes. An alternative would be a Mazda5 1.6d TS2 on 16in wheels.

A good deal?

We are trading our 2014/64 Renault Megane CC 1.6 dCi 130 with 12,000 miles for a 2015/65 Peugeot 308 1.6HDI 120 GT line (with zero road tax) which has done an above average 20,000 miles in the hands of the local Peugeot dealer’s area accountant. The car will be fully serviced, valeted and fitted with two new front tyres so, together with a refurbishment on one diamond cut front wheel, will be brought back to showroom condition. The dealer wants £5,000 to part-exchange. Do you think it’s a decent deal? AW

Why? You are trading a high-tech chain-cam engine for a belt-cam unit that requires AdBlue urea additive (to reduce emissions) and has a higher mileage than your current car. It would be crazy to spend £5,000 on a deal such as this.

Channel high land

I want to replace my Ford Focus 1.6 Titanium with something a bit smaller, with a higher seating position. Most of our mileage is in Guernsey, but we also often tour the UK. Any ideas? GH

Try the Hyundai ix20, Kia Venga, Ford B-Max and maybe the new  Suzuki Ignis (on sale in January).

Pull the other one

I keep seeing a Romanian-registered truck with a different registration displayed at the back of its trailer. Is this legal? And if there was an accident, how would the driver be traced? MY

It happens because tractor units pull lots of different trailers, but the registration plates of tractor and trailer are supposed to match. In the event of an accident, police would need the tractor unit’s registration rather than the trailer’s.  

Flat broke

I have a 2007 Vauxhall Corsa with low-profile tyres, fitted in June. The front right has been losing significant pressure every week since then. I’m as sure as I can be that the tyres don’t leak, so do I need to replace the wheel? TG

The alloy wheel has become porous, most probably at the rim. It is potentially very dangerous. You could ask a tyre fitter to reseat the tyres on the rims but it would be safer to buy new wheels. They needn’t be too expensive – try for a selection.

Reel life

I drive 9,000 miles per year in my Mitsubishi Outlander 2.2 diesel. I read that diesel vehicles can experience emission problems as they get older, especially if they don’t do many miles. Should I bite the bullet and get a petrol car? If so, what? As a keen angler I need room for my fishing rods. KS

Modern diesels’ particulate filters fill up with soot and can cost £3,000 to replace, so that’s the big expense you face. You could replace it with a current model Outlander PHEV plug-in petrol hybrid, or a cheaper Toyota RAV4 petrol hybrid.

His or hers?

My wife and I need to sell one of our cars. I drive a 2010 Mercedes C-class 2.1 with 73,000 miles and my wife has a 2014 Skoda Octavia 1.2 with 27,000 miles. Which would you keep? GS

The Mercedes is the more robust of the two, but will eventually run into diesel particulate filter problems. The Octavia seems the more environmentally friendly choice, but there have been problems with the 1.2 TSI and, judging by the number of complaints I receive, VW Group vehicles are nothing like as reliable as buyers expect them to be.

Superb goal

Is it better to buy a used Skoda Superb Estate rather than a BMW 5-series Touring?

I have a 2009 Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi 140 Zetec. It has done 110,000 miles and has been very reliable. With a timing belt change imminent, should I replace the car now? I like the idea of a BMW 520d Touring, but think a virtually new Mondeo estate would be more sensible. My budget is £20,000. What do you think? AH

The car is definitely due a new belt and ancillaries. BMW’s 2.0-litre N47 diesels have had a lot of timing chain problems. It’s worth considering the new Skoda Superb Estate.

Negative remarks

My 2013 Vauxhall Meriva SE Turbo 140 wouldn’t start due to a fault with the immobiliser system. An AA patrol removed the negative cable from the battery, then reattached it after a few minutes, then the car started as normal. I subsequently had to reset various things and the radio presets had gone missing. The AA man said that this is a known problem. Is it? GD

 I haven’t heard about a specific problem, but I guess that whenever the power is cut, which it would be if the earth cable is disconnected, the ECU reverts to the most recent settings it remembers. At least you did not have to enter a radio code, which is the case with Fords.

Open to ideas

My wife and I are planning to sell her 2004 Mini convertible and my 2004 Honda S2000 and replace them with a used, quality four-seater convertible. I had thought of the Audi A3, but my wife is keen on a folding hardtop. Would a VW Eos suit us? SS

Eos folding hardtops have too many sections for the seals to remain effective without very careful maintenance. Alternatives include the Volvo C70, Ford Focus CC, Renault Mégane CC, Peugeot 207CC, 307CC and 308CC, plus the BMW E93 3-series CC.

Slip road

My 2006 Honda CRV EX spends lots of time on leafy, damp A-roads. Which new tyres would you recommend? CO

 Assuming you can get them in the correct size, I’d plump for Michelin Cross Climates. Failing that, Goodyear Vector 4-Seasons Gen 2, Vredestein Quatrac, Pirelli Scorpion Verde or Nokian Weatherproof are all good in mud, snow and slush and can be used all year round. You’ll need to change them all, partly because your Honda has automatic four-wheel drive, so tyres need to be the same circumference, and partly because all-weather tyres cannot be mixed with other compound types.

Child’s play

My daughter’s Nissan Tino is close to the end of its useful life. She has children of four and six, so needs boot space for bikes and scooters. She likes the higher driving position of the Tino, and has a budget of £10,000. What would be a suitable replacement? SA

Lots of similar cars: Ford C-Max, Citroën C4 Picasso, etc. The most reliable seems to be the Toyota Verso so I suggest the 1.8i Valvematic Multidrive S (CVT auto). I’d avoid diesel engines for low-mileage use.

Pump action

My wife’s 2011 Fiat Panda is due a cambelt change at 72,000 miles. You frequently suggest that it is best to change the water pump at the same time as cam belts. The Fiat dealer says he will look at the water pump but not necessarily replace it. My wife needs convincing that it is best to have it done. What are your thoughts? NM

It would be stupid not to replace belt, tensioner and water pump at the same time. The pumps are prone to developing leaks. If the dealer charges more than the standard London area Fiat dealer price of £300 + VAT, he’s ripping you off.

Click bate

What is the cause of a wiper problem on an MGF?

The wipers of my MGF fail after working for a few minutes. While waiting for them to start again, I can hear a double click of a relay every few seconds. What’s the problem? MG

That tells me that the motor is worn out so, rather than start a wiring fire, the relay is clicking open to cut the current.

The joy of ASX

Does the Mitsubishi ASX 2.2 DI-D 4WD auto have a good reliability record? I have been offered a deal on a one-year-old, 40,000-mile model and would hope to keep it for many years. Would you recommend it? JF

It has a very good, chain-cam engine which, at 2,268cc, is big for an SUV of this size. It has a six-speed torque converter automatic gearbox.

Winding down

On several occasions I have found the windows of my car halfway down. It seems I inadvertently put pressure on the fob when it’s in my pocket, which has unlocked the car and lowered the windows. Is it possible to have this feature be disabled? NS

You can get your VW dealer to disable the “global opening” function of your keyfobs.

Slippery slope

My wife has a 2005 Honda Jazz that is maintained by a main dealer. Although it passed an MoT test, the handbrake does not hold the car on my sloping driveway. Is there anything I can do? JC

Try an independent garage. New rear calipers and parking brake cables might be needed. Until the handbrake is fixed, leave the car in gear; chock the tyres with bricks for peace of mind.

Brick lane

My Skoda Rapid 1.4 TSI DSG auto, bought new in 2013, was written off after it suddenly accelerated into a wall while I was negotiating a small roundabout. Why did it do this? BH

An engine surge can happen with any automatic. I always urge owners to use their left foot for the brake and right for the accelerator, so they can stop quickly. It can be challenging to learn that technique if you’re used to driving one-footed, but it’s the safest way.

Offside decision

I can’t open the offside rear door of my 1998 Honda Accord. My garage says it will have to damage the inner panels to attempt a repair. Is there a less brutal solution? LW

 Push a bent wire coathanger between the outer window rubber and the glass, then twist it and pull it back up to operate the latch. It’s how thieves used to break into cars before they became more secure.

Sweden sour

Oil slick: regular checks on the level of lubricant are vital to your engine's health - but what happens if your garage has bungled an oil feed fitment? 

My son had the radiator of his Volvo replaced, but after 70 miles oil started to spray from the engine. The RAC report said a hose hadn’t been connected properly. Was it the fault of a mechanic, or could it have been an unfortunate coincidence? MS

The RAC report sounds clear enough. It’s the responsibility of the garage to clean the engine bay and repair the poorly connected oil feed.

Kids are united

I have a 1998 Mercedes S280 which I love but my children tell me it is not safe by modern standards. If you agree, I will get a smaller car, but require S-class comfort. What is your opinion of the Honda Jazz? BQ

This is the huge W140 S-class, so I wonder if your children are more concerned about the damage it could do rather than any harm that could come to you. A Jazz is small, practical and efficient, but does not offer S-class comfort. Look at a Honda CR-V, Toyota C-HR or a Peugeot 2008 1.2 PureTech 110.

Costly Corsa?

My daughter has a 1999 Vauxhall Corsa Club 1.0. It would break her heart to see it scrapped, so is there a club for Corsa enthusiasts, where somebody might care for it? HM

Try the site.

Regeneration game

I have a two-month-old 2016 Nissan Qashqai dCi 130 4x4. The noisy cooling fan comes on randomly and runs for up to five minutes, even after a short journey, accompanied by a burning smell from the engine bay. Could it be the diesel particulate filter (DPF) regenerating? DL

Yes. The noisy cooling fan and burning smell are the result of active regeneration of the DPF. It should be nothing to worry about, but it’s best not to switch off while active regeneration is taking place.

Stick or twist?

My 2005 Nissan Primera SVE (64,000 miles) requires work to the ABS system and some repairs to minor scuffs. Apart from the ABS problem it runs well. I do only 5,000 miles a year, so should I change it? JR

It’s 11 years old and the problems will inevitably increase. As it’s not worth much, I would fix the ABS, forget the scuffs and keep it until something truly expensive fails.

Czech check

I own a Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 110 DSG. Does it have a belt- or chain-driven camshaft. If it’s a chain, could it be one of those VW Group items that’s gained a poor reputation? PH

It has a belt.

Very old bill

In Ticehurst, East Sussex, two pensioners sit on a bench armed with a hand-held speed checker. Any vehicle exceeding 30mph is reported to the police. Will the reports put forward by these worthy pensioners be considered sufficient evidence in court? KPB

No, because they do not conform to the rules of corroborated evidence – unlike a police officer with a calibrated radar or laser gun.

Lidl and large

I entered a Lidl car park at 10.43am and left at 10.50. The same day I returned at 7.20pm and left at 7.27. Photographs were taken of my car entering in the morning and leaving in the evening, resulting in a £45 fine for an alleged nine-hour stay. Where are the photographs of my car leaving in the morning and returning in the evening? Is there anything I can do? DO

This is actually quite common, but plainly ridiculous. I’ve known supermarket customers who do their shopping within the two-hour free parking period, then return to the site’s filling station later that day and receive a penalty for overstaying the two-hour limit.

Haul that Jazz

Give it some wellies: the Honda Jazz's practical interior is hard to beat

I drive a Honda Jazz SE, which I have had for 14 years and 83,000 miles. I am looking to change it for another four-door hatch of similar size and fancy something different. Reliability and economy are important. SF

Nothing else has such a practical cabin. The new Jazz 1.3i VTEC CVT-7 is outstandingly economical (I got 58mpg on test), but if you want to break ranks the best alternative is the Mazda2 1.5 Skyactiv auto.

Top chat

I have been researching used Audi and BMW four-seaters with retractable hard-tops and have been advised to consider the VW Eos. I am looking to spend no more than £5,000. What would you recommend? RL

The Eos is handsome but its roof is very complicated, which means lots of potential leaks. It’s better to stick to something with a two- or three-part roof: Volvo C70, Ford Focus CC, Renault Mégane CC or Peugeot 307/308CC. There are no manual folding hard-tops.

Five iron

My son is on the lookout for a MkV VW Golf GTI with a DSG gearbox. Are you aware of any likely problems? AM

They can be annoying to drive because the DSG is intermittently slow to take up drive and you never know when this will happen. But it is the more reliable six-speed wet-clutch DSG that requires fresh fluid and filter every three to four years.

Sum times

I have just had a quotation for a top-end Mazda CX-3 that includes a £1,500 discount for taking finance. As I do not want/need finance, I am told I can cancel that part of the deal within the first 14 days and still keep the £1,500 contribution. Is this right? GB

Possibly, but I don’t approve of undertaking any kind of deal and then reneging.

The belt tolls

My wife’s 2011 Citroën C3 Picasso has done 15,000 miles and is serviced annually. I believe the timing belt does not need changing until 50,000 miles. Is that correct? CL

The petrol engines all have chain-driven camshafts. Assuming it’s a diesel, you need to think about time as well as miles. I would get the belt, water pump and tensioner replaced within the next year.

Age concern

I will be retiring from work in 2017 and would like to keep my company car, a 2015 Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TDI S line Ultra. It will have done 50,000 miles and I expect to pay about £20,000. Is this good buy? CG

No – once modern diesels reach this age, there are too many potentially expensive things that are likely to go wrong sooner rather than later. Go for petrol.

Youth policy  

What's a good car that's cheap to insure for a 17-year-old driver? Credit: Rex

I’m looking to spend up to £6,000 on a car with low insurance costs, for a driver aged 17. Which models should I consider? BB

I’d look at the Fiat 500 or Panda, Citroën C1, Peugeot 108, Toyota Aygo (these last three are almost identical), as well as the similarly similar VW Up, Seat Mii or Skoda Citigo.

Driving ambition

I bought a new VW Golf 1.6 SE in 2001 and it has done 150,000 trouble-free miles. Should I sell it and buy the equivalent new Golf while it’s still trouble-free? If not, how long should I keep it? NT

That will be a Golf Mk4 and it has done really well. Today’s equivalent Golf is a 1.0-litre turbocharged Mk7, or the cheaper Skoda Octavia. Your Golf is worth next to nothing so you might as well keep running it until it expires or is no longer economical to repair.

Quad rotation

I have just had Michelin Cross Climate tyres fitted to my Kia Cee’d and the difference in ride and handling compared with the factory-fitted tyres is remarkable. However, I was told that they can only be fitted in pairs. In the event of a puncture, can my space-saver spare be used in conjunction with a Cross Climate? RW

Cross Climates are directional and have to be fitted all round, but you can use your non-directional emergency space saver on any corner.

Vanishing act

With regard to recent letters about distracting windscreen reflections, I get a piece of black felt and place it over the dash top in front of the steering wheel, securing it with sticky-backed Velcro. My journey to work is almost entirely eastbound and this solution enables me to see clearly despite the low sun. RP

Black felt can block the screen vents. You could also use Polarising sunglasses, but the simplest way is simply to ignore the reflection rather than obsess about it. Look straight through it at the road ahead and, other than in extreme circumstances, it simply won’t be there.

April fuels day

Could you clarify the imminent changes to road tax? I've ordered a new VW Transporter. Should I register it in March or April? JR

From April 1, revised VED rules apply to new vehicles. For the first year after registration the new VED will be based on CO2 emissions and will cost between £0 for zero CO2 to £2,000. From the second year after registration, all vehicles emitting more than 0g/km CO2 will be taxed at a uniform £140 a year (£10 reduction for plug-in hybrids), plus a £310 a year luxury tax for vehicles costing more than £40,000. Whether to tax your Transporter from March or from April depends on its CO2 output. Just remember that the first-year tax for registering after April may be more than for registering in March.

Gentle touch

My daughter has an arm injury that makes using a manual gearchange and conventional handbrake impossible. An automatic gearbox would address the first problem, while various types of parking brake are available. What would you suggest she buys? TB

I’d go for a Honda HR-V 1.5i VTEC CVT-7 or the new Toyota C-HR hybrid. Both have gentle, CVT automatic gearboxes and a two-stage parking brake that works really well. The main parking brake switch clamps the rear brakes for parking, but another switch holds the brakes lightly if the car is at a standstill, then releases automatically when the driver moves off.

Lost, series one

I own a 2015 VW Touareg. The VW website says owners can update the satnav with a free download, but doesn’t list the Touareg. My dealer quoted £130 for an upgrade, which is outrageous. What do you think? MB

It’s because the satnav and comms system in your Touareg are from an earlier generation. There have been a lot of changes in the past couple of years.

Fear of interference

I have a 15-year-old Audi A3 1.6 petrol with 86,000 trouble-free miles. I’ve never had it serviced, but have changed the oil and filter every year, irrespective of mileage. It had a new cambelt at 46,000 miles, but still has the original spark plugs. Should I replace the cambelt and plugs, or not meddle? HB

I share your fear of interference, but one of the spark plugs might break up and damage the piston crown, so I’d change them. If the water pump fails and flings off the drive belt, the engine will self-destruct. Unfortunately the cost of belt, tensioner and water pump is likely to be more than £500.  

Flash guard on

The airbag light on my wife’s 2012 Mazda MX-5 has an intermittent fault; it flashes for a while and then stops. This usually occurs after the driver’s seat has been moved. I did not fiddle with the underseat electrical connections as I understand the airbag might deploy, so what should I do? DO

It’s likely the occupancy sensor connection getting pulled apart by frequently moving the seat. Talk to

Czech mate

We want to exchange our six-year-old VW Golf 2.0 TDI estate for a petrol-engined hatchback with a manual handbrake. Any tips? PM

The Seat Leon is similar to a Golf, with a manual handbrake, but it changed to an electronic switch for the 2017 facelift. A Skoda Octavia still has a traditional handbrake. The best engine is the 1.4 TSI 125. Avoid the dry-clutch DSG automatic.

Handsome cab

I’m thinking of buying an Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TDI Ultra Black for private hire work. Would it be suitable? AH

I think 20in wheels and tyres on a 2.0-litre diesel are plain stupid. Get an A6 with smaller diameter wheels and you’ll be fine.

Queue guardians  

Is it possible to jump the queue to get a Ford Focus RS?

Q I want to order a new Ford Focus RS but there is a one-year wait at my dealer. I have seen outlets claiming they can beat the waiting list. Is there a catch? ME

A It depends how much you are prepared to pay over the list price to get one early – it might cost an extra £10,000. What happens is that people get their names down early to secure a car then sell it on immediately for, let’s say, a £5,000 premium to a specialist dealer, who adds his cut of £5,000. If you take this option, make sure the car has a full UK specification and warranty.

Labour pains

Q I have a 2007 Toyota Auris 1.6 petrol and use a main dealer for work because its customer service is exemplary. When an engine warning light came on it diagnosed a faulty ignition coil on one of the cylinders. This was replaced for £360; £122 for the parts and £178 labour. The labour charge seems extortionately expensive. Am I right? PW

A They will have charged at least £80 for electronic diagnosis, to isolate the cause. This might be viewed as a rip-off when the problem is obvious, but probably not in your case.

Tough choice

Q I have owned my 2003 Honda S2000 from new and want to keep it for a long time. What should I do in addition to annual or 10,000-mile oil changes? GK

A This has a tough chain-cam engine, which will be fine with your oil change regime. The brake fluid probably needs replacing, ditto the coolant. You could also change the gearbox and differential oils.

Feeling flat

Might an over-inflated tyre cause a Mazda6 to feel less sharp in corners?

Q After a puncture, one tyre of my Mazda6  was replaced with a new Bridgestone, since when the handling hasn’t felt as sharp. Might this be caused by differences in tyre wear? RD

A Check the pressures first. The new tyre might have been overinflated.

Fashion victim

Q My old car had 205/55/R16 tyres. The new car’s 235/50 R17 items give poorer economy, longer braking distances in the wet, are noisier and cost more. Are there any advantages? AM

A Wider, low-profile tyres are only necessary on high-performance cars. They do look better than smaller items, but at the expense of what you describe.

Sense of direction

Q I find new LED indicators are not very clear at times. Do you agree that there needs to be new legislation for indicator lights? DB

A We’re not yet out of the EC, which imposes lighting regulations on us. Once we are out, anything we sell in the EC will still have to conform to EC regulations so there is no sense in creating another set of rules for the UK. I agree that some rear indicators are a bit too small, though.

Steer clear

Q Is it still the rule that if you drive less than 15,000 miles a year and do mainly short runs, you’re better off with a petrol engine rather than a diesel? MH

A It’s not a rule but sound advice. It’s best to avoid diesels if you do fewer than 15,000 miles a year because of the high maintenance cost of modern emissions equipment, which offsets economy benefits. Besides, small petrol engines are now almost as economical.

Time for tee

Q I need a small five-door, petrol, automatic, estate or hatchback with flat luggage area wide enough to take a set of golf clubs transversely. What would you suggest? JI

A The Honda HR-V 1.5i VTEC CVT-7 EX meets all your criteria.

Slim pickings

Garages built decades ago might be too small for recent models – the modern car is a very different animal Credit: Roy Letkey

Q I wanted to replace my 2006 BMW 120i with the current version of the same model, but it is wider and won’t fit our garage. What else should I consider? DH

A This is becoming a common problem as cars get bigger all round. No new equivalent is narrower than your 120i. You could go down a size to a VW Polo GTI, Seat Ibiza Cupra or an Audi S1, but even then you might have to fold in the mirrors to get it to fit.

Trouble Dutch

Q I received a parking ticket in Haarlem, Holland. On my return I noticed that I have five days to pay, or the matter will be handed to a debt recovery company in England. What, if anything, can I do about this? AR

A  I doubt they’ll chase you back to the UK, but they might. If you don’t want to contest it because the charge is accurate, pay up.

Saddle stitch-up?  

Q I bought a small horsebox in mid-August and taxed it the same day. Under the new system, the previous owner notified the DVLA and was sent a refund for unused VED from September onwards. This meant it was taxed twice during August. What do you think of this rip-off? BB

A Many people have complained about this. Unfortunately, that’s how the new system works. It was presumably devised to reduce the administrative workload.

Down time

Q I drive an Audi A3 with an S-tronic automatic gearbox. I have been told that on steep inclines it’s advisable to go down through the gears using the paddles. I usually brake and let the gearbox do the work. Which is right? GP

A On descending a steep incline, the brakes will heat up if used constantly and any moisture in the fluid will boil, so it is wise advice to descend in a lower gear.

Let it B

Q I have a Peugeot Partner Tepee to carry my wife’s wheelchair. Now she is more mobile and can sit in the front, but the Peugeot’s door does not open wide enough. What should I look at? GH

A The Ford B-Max has no pillars, front-hinged front doors and sliding rears, to give unimpeded access.

Share option

Q Will my son be insured to drive a French-registered and insured car? SH

A You will probably find the French car is insured for any licensed driver. That’s the way the system works in most countries, apart from the UK.

Irate of inflation

Q The garage inflated the new set of tyres on my Ford Focus to 37psi but the handbook suggests 31psi. I used an old pen-type gauge to check and I wondered if it is still accurate. What do you reckon? MB

A Your pen gauge might be out, but 37psi is ridiculous. Get a new barrel-type gauge (nothing digital) and set them at 31psi when cold (first thing in the morning).

Video evidence

Q I am considering buying a dash camera but wonder whether it might be interrogated and used in evidence against me? JB

A Yes, it could be.

Time for reflection

Q A friend has twice had both door mirror casings stolen. Replacements are expensive, so is there any way of deterring the theft of these items in future? AP

A Mirror pods are often damaged by passing cars, so the thieves are tapping into the replacement market. He could make the casings so distinctive that considerable work would be needed to match them to another car, reducing their appeal to thieves.

Trading places

Q My daughter wants to trade an old VW Golf for a frugal car for short urban journeys and weekend trips. Is a Skoda Yeti suitable? JT

A I suggest Seat’s new Ateca or a Peugeot 2008 1.2 THP 130 with Grip Control.

Candid cambelt

Q My 2011 VW Passat has done 43,000 miles. The dealer says VW recommends a cambelt replacement every five years, at a cost of £479. Is this right? JL

A Yes, but it will also need a new cambelt, tensioner and water pump. If the £479 includes all three, it’s reasonable value.

Low loader

Is it time to sell a seven-year-old Ford Focus before the bills start to mount?

Q I have a 2010 Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi with 84,000 miles. Do potential particulate filter/dual mass flywheel problems mean I should sell it before the bills mount? PS

A Yes, it’s probably time for it to go. The bills are likely to mount sooner rather than later.

Compound fracture

Q My daughter bought a 2007 Mini Cooper S that has two different sets of tyres. The rears are run-flats with the correct RSC markings and the fronts are normal tyres. She’s been advised to replace the rears with normal tyres, but wouldn’t it be better if they were all run-flats. Any ideas? MT

A I would stick to run-flats all round because tyre repair kits often don’t work and could leave your daughter stranded.

Luxury of choice

Q I want a classic soft-top sports car. Important criteria are good engineering, performance and reliability. My budget is about £50,000. CPG

A The Porsche 911 is an obvious option – either an air-cooled 993-series if you can find one or a water-cooled 997/991 (not a 996, the 911 no one wants). You would get an extremely rare Alfa Romeo RZ for about £40,000. I wouldn’t go for a Mercedes SL. The good ones from 1959-1961 are £1,000,000. The R113 Pagodas aren’t very good to drive, R107s rust in the sills and bulkhead, R129s are too electronically complex.

That figures

Q My four-year-old Honda Civic’s speedometer consistently reads higher than the speed indicated on my satnav. Is it likely that speed cameras would read closer to my satnav rather than my speedometer? SR

A Yes. Satnavs consistently show a discrepancy of about 2-3mph against speedos at 70mph on most cars. You’re fine with 72mph indicated on the speedometer because it’s a true 69mph.

Hard times

Q To improve the ride on our 2016 Nissan Qashqai, I changed from 19- to 17-inch wheels with 215/60 tyres but it made little appreciable difference. What can I do? PS

A I suspect the pressures are too high. Lowering them will probably restore tyre compliance and solve your problem.  

Petit fours

Q I prefer four gears to six. Which estates/SUVs (Mercedes E-class, Ford Mondeo, Skoda Superb or similar) have four gears? I prefer petrol to diesel. WJ

A If you mean manual, there aren’t any within recent memory. If you mean autos, there were plenty up to about six years ago, but no big cars. They’ve all had five-, six- or seven-speed boxes for years – and eight or even nine are increasingly common.

Rate of inflation

Why is an airbag issue taking so long to resolve?

Q My wife received a letter from the DVSA (dated July 2015) regarding a possible safety problem with the passenger airbag on her Toyota Corolla. After six months I telephoned the DVSA, expressing concern because I’d heard nothing further. I was advised to contact the local Toyota dealer and last January the dealer said parts were not yet available, but that they would make out a job card and contact me as soon as they were in a position to carry out the work. If the problem was sufficiently important to warrant a recall, why did it take so long to get the corrective work done? EL

A It’s a worldwide problem affecting more than 50 million cars fitted with Takata airbags. Because of the huge number, replacements cannot suddenly be conjured out of thin air.

Cash injection?

Q My 2005 Renault Modus 1.5 dCi displays a “check fuel-injection” warning. My garage and a diesel injection specialist have found no problems. The car is regularly serviced and maintained. Any ideas? ED

A At that age one or more of the injectors could be close to the end of its life. Keep an eye on the engine oil level, in case fuel is passing from one or more injector into the sump.

Michelin man

Q My 2012 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Lusso needs new front tyres. The garage has recommended Pirellis, but would Michelin Cross Climates be a better choice? AD

A You can now get 225/40 R18 Cross Climates, but they should be fitted to all four wheels. They are directional, so can be swapped front to back on the same side, but not side to side.

Art of darkness

Q I like my Ford Fiesta, except for a noticeable windscreen reflection that is becoming more pronounced in the low winter sunshine. Any thoughts? SB

A Some people are more inclined than others to look for screen reflections. It’s a bit psychological. If you ignore them they will occasionally but very rarely bother you. You could apply a strip to the top of your windscreen, but a heavy tint is illegal in Europe so you might get pulled over for it.

Ring of truth

Is it worth buying a speed camera detector? Credit: Brian Smith

Q I want to buy a speed camera detector so I don’t spend too much time watching my speedometer rather than the road ahead. Do you have any advice? MJ

A Stick to the limits. If you can’t see your speedometer, get a digital GPS mobile phone speed app and a cradle, then fix it in your line of sight. Most speedos are about 3mph optimistic at 70mph and a GPS app will tell you your true speed.

Seven up

Q I am trying to replace a Renault Scénic 1.4 TCe Expression. The new Scénic is too big and I am considering a Renault Captur 1.2 TCe. I need a high seating position, a petrol turbocharged engine and a chain cam. I also need to tow a 1931 Austin 7 on a trailer. Can you recommend anything? RG

A The obvious alternative to the nice little Captur is a Peugeot 2008 1.2 Puretech 130 six-speed with Grip Control, from £18,500.

Rover vitesse

Q While driving back from France on the Autoroute du Soleil recently, I was amazed to see a car registration displayed on the overhead matrix sign with the injunction “slow down!” Minutes later, a car bearing that registration flashed past. Were you aware of being watched so closely when overseas? NH

A I’ve not seen that before. It sounds friendlier than an on-the-spot fine, although that might be waiting for the speeding car at the next péage (toll booth).

Devon loch

Can driving through flooded roads damage your car's catalytic converter? Credit: Rex Features

Q I have a Fiat Panda TwinAir 4x4 and often commute along flooded Devon lanes in winter. I was told cold water would ruin the catalytic converter, so it will need replacing at the first MoT and yearly thereafter. Is that right? GR

A The shock of freezing cold water on the almost red-hot matrix of a cat converter can shatter it, but this is rare.

Losing streak

Q I can’t remove wiper-blade streaks on my windscreen. A lot of the streaks are where I have had screen chips fixed, could they be the cause? DB

A Yes, because the repairs stand very slightly proud of the screen and create tiny tears in the wiper blades.

Web of intrigue

Q I want to purchase a new Mercedes. Are there any problems with buying a car via a website? GS

A There’s no reason not to buy online via carwow or similar. Do not buy a car that won’t immediately be registered to you, whether pre-registered or not.

An inspector calls

Q Do you know a company that can fully check used cars prior to purchase? RR

A Try the RAC, ADAC or Scotia Vehicle Inspections.

Biting point

Q I have had to replace the clutch of my 2002 Honda CR-V after 126,000 miles. It was very expensive, so is it time to change the car? SA

A The CR-V won’t be worth very much. Having spent a lot on the clutch, it makes sense to get a bit more value from it before selling. Consider replacing it with a Peugeot 2008, a Renault Captur or a Honda HR-V.

A winter’s tale

How should you care for a BMW X5 that has been laid up to avoid the worst winter weather?

Q My son has taken his 2001 BMW X5 4.4 automatic off the road for the winter. Should he leave the handbrake on? What else will keep it in good order? JC

A Parking brake off. Leave it in P, chock the wheels and overinflate the tyres. The battery will go flat unless it’s connected to a conditioning float charger. Make sure it has a statutory off-road notification (Sorn).

Gripping yarn

Q A friend suggested that low-profile tyres are fuel-efficient because their walls flex less and the rolling resistance is therefore lower. Is this true? IN

A Definitely not. Low-profile tyres are wider and have a broader contact patch with the road, which creates more drag.

Pit stop

Q My wife and I have 2013 Toyota Auris Hybrids. On both cars the rear discs have started to corrode and both service reports note that they were pitted with rust. The Toyota dealer says it is wear and tear. What are the long-term implications?  CE

A It’s normal for rear discs to corrode. Unless you regularly brake very hard, they do hardly any work and the pads do not clean off overnight rust.

Small talk

Citroen C1: the most reliable car in the UK?

Q I read your column every week and do not recall one mention of the car I own, a Citroën C1 automatic. Is this because you never receive complaints about the C1?  PH

A The automated manual gearbox  can give trouble, but the C1 is great as cheap,  usefully reliable transport.

The right stuff

Q My 2011 Nissan Qashqai Tekna 2.0 dCi auto has done 59,000 miles. Is it worth changing the gearbox oil after five years? JN

A Definitely.

Protection racket?

Q We are thinking of buying a Nissan Qashqai with pearlescent white paint and cloth seats. The salesman advised a £299 paint and fabric protection treatment, because pearlescent paint is vulnerable to fading and bird lime. Is it worth it? AB

A That isn’t too greedy (they can ask as much as £500). It will be negotiable because it will cost him less than £100 and the rest is commission.

Highway tsar

Q When I was involved in highway engineering, the original idea was for speed humps to be about four metres long and 100mm high – a design that allows vehicles to drive up to the speed limit without causing discomfort or suspension damage. Is the blight of current humps due to ignorance, laziness, stupidity or a perceived sense that authorities must do something as long as it’s low-cost? PM

A Readers continue to destroy the inner shoulders of their tyres on the chamfered edges of humps by straddling them to minimise the shock. The insanity of blister humps is that, by straddling them, drivers have no need to reduce their speed but inflict damage to their tyres that could result in a high-speed blowout. So the humps serve no purpose, except to make money for contractors and to cause potentially serious damage.

Leak source

What is causing air suspension leaks on a 2009 Range Rover?

Q I have a 2009 Range Rover Sport TDV8 and the suspension fault light keeps coming on. The suspension air compressor has been replaced by a Land Rover specialist, along with both front height sensors. It was fine for a few days after, but now the light comes on when I start the car and, particularly, on uneven surfaces. Any ideas? GS

A That’s too specialised for me, but I’d guess at an air leak within one of the compressor unions. If not, the problem probably lies in one of the rubber bags in the air suspension – they have a limited life.

Reservoir dogged

Q I have a 2008 Mercedes E220 CDI Avantgarde auto estate. The screen washer fluid constantly needs topping up, even when it has hardly been used. I cannot see any leaks, but I have noticed a trail of fluid on the drive when I reverse out. Do you have any ideas? RD

A You’ve obviously got a leak, most probably from the pump seal. Most of these are press-fitted into the side of the reservoir and slight pressure can pop them out. To access it you might have to remove a front wheel and the wheel arch protector. If you don’t like grubbing around under cars, it’s a garage job.

Teuton car moan

Q My new Audi A6 Avant is missing two functions: the option to fold the door mirrors on locking, and being able to unlock all the doors or only the driver’s. This might seem trivial, but I want to reject the car if I can’t have these functions. What can I do? SB

A If you specifically ordered electric folding mirrors, you can reject the car for not having them but if you did not specifically order a feature, you cannot reject the car. The global opening of the doors and windows should be programmable and has been a feature of VW Group cars for many years.

Gripping yarn

Is it true that low-profile tyres are fuel-efficient?

Q A friend suggested that low-profile tyres are fuel-efficient because their walls flex less and the rolling resistance is therefore lower. Is this true? IN

A Definitely not. Low-profile tyres are wider and have a broader contact patch with the road, which creates more drag.

Web of intrigue

Q I want to purchase a new Mercedes. Are there any problems with buying a car via a website? GS

A There’s no reason not to buy online via carwow or similar. Do not buy a car that won’t immediately be registered to you, whether pre-registered or not.

Biting point

Q I have had to replace the clutch of my 2002 Honda CR-V after 126,000 miles. It was very expensive, so is it time to change the car? SA

A The CR-V won’t be worth very much. Having spent a lot on the clutch, it makes sense to get a bit more value from it before selling. Consider replacing it with a Peugeot 2008, a Renault Captur or a Honda HR-V.

Link tin

Is it time to replace the cam-chain of a 2010 VW Polo?

Q I bought a VW Polo 1.4 TSI in 2010. It has done 33,000 miles, so should I replace the cam chain soon? JP

A Volkswagen cam chain problems were caused by the varying quality of manufacture due to cost-cutting. It’s a lottery. The fact that yours has reached 33,000 miles should mean it will be fine as long as you change the oil and filter at least every 10,000 miles/12 months, whichever comes first.

The right stuff

Q My 2011 Nissan Qashqai Tekna 2.0 dCi auto has done 59,000 miles. Is it worth changing the gearbox oil after five years? JN

A  Definitely.

Fairly liquid

Q I can hear fuel sloshing beneath the front seats of my 2013 Vauxhall Astra 1.6 estate. Is it safe? JB

A  It will be water, because the drains in the lower door are blocked with protective wax. Poke them with a wooden skewer (to avoid damaging the paint).

Fool injection

Audi's EA189 2.0 TDI diesel is embroiled in the VW Group emissions scandal, but is that connected to a misfire?

Q My 2011 Audi A4 2.0 TDI has had a misfire for some time. If it were a petrol engine I’d fit new spark plugs, but what needs to be changed on a diesel? PH

A I’d wait because your car is due for the VW Group emissions recall on these EA189 engines. If it isn’t running properly after the remap, you can insist that the dealer gets it running cleanly. Usually a diesel will misfire because of an injector problem. It might help to add injector cleaner to the fuel tank and use the best quality diesel fuel.

Meter made

Q You often suggest fitting smaller diameter wheels to improve ride quality. As the speedometer and odometer work on wheel revolutions, will not a change in rim size affect their readings? SW

A No. The aim of switching to smaller wheels is to use deeper-profile tyres and put more tyre between the rims and the road. The circumference of the tyre stays almost the same.

Higher or lower

Q We have a 2002 Renault Laguna 2.2 diesel and a 1988 Jaguar XJS 3.6 auto. We would like to exchange both for a petrol estate with Laguna-like towing ability. What would you suggest? ST

A The Laguna might be worth no more than £500. The XJS could be worth up to £5,000 in top condition. It’s difficult to suggest a replacement estate when the exchange value might be anything from £1,000 to £5,500. Maybe a Volvo 940 estate at the lower end or a Land Rover Freelander i6 at the upper end.

Leaping Cat

What is causing concern in a 2004 Jaguar S-type? 

Q I have an 82,000-mile Jaguar 2004 S-type. The engine runs well, but as soon as the revs reach 1,500-1,800 the tachometer needle starts to jump. What is wrong? EG

A The mass airflow sensor.

Chemical bothers

Q My daughter’s Mercedes SLK 200 was valeted a few weeks ago. The valeter hung an air-freshener over the gearlever, where it touched the centre console – and some chemicals within ate into the plasticised covering of the console, leaving a two-inch diameter mark. Mercedes quoted £800-plus to replace the entire console. After some negotiation, they offered to contribute £200. What can I do? SC

A Unfortunately for the well-meaning valeter, he is liable. Given his trade, he probably knows someone who can make a smart repair to the clearcoat lacquer of the console trim.

Like clockwork

Q My 2009 Ford Mondeo Titanium X Sport 2.5 petrol manual has done 85,000 miles. It runs very well and  the bodywork is generally good, so I’ve decided to keep it until repairs become uneconomical. Do you know of any technical issues that might crop up? JS

A Your Mondeo with the Volvo five-cylinder engine is quite rare. It might need a replacement timing belt, tensioner and water pump. It’s worth buttons right now, so I’d keep it and continue to enjoy it.

Covering letter

If your car breaks down, are you best covered by an insured warranty or a self-insured warranty? Honest John explains the difference

Q What is the difference between an insured warranty and a self-insured warranty? IS

A An insured warranty is covered by an insurance underwriter who effectively takes the risk and makes any payout. With a self-insured policy, the warranty company takes the risk and makes any payout.

Sweet chariot

Q In 2005 I bought a new Mercedes C-class Coupé diesel auto to see me into retirement. It now has 108,000 miles on the clock and runs sweetly on Shell V-Power diesel. It has been serviced annually but I am now thinking of giving her a treat by way of a new water pump, auxiliary belt, transmission oil and brake fluid. Do you think I am being overly generous? MB

A You are being very sensible.

Deals on wheels

Q My daughter is a single mother and wants to replace her basic 2008 Hyundai i10 with something inexpensive of similar size. What is the i10 worth and what should she consider? JW

A The main contenders here are a current i10, a Suzuki Celario or a Vauxhall Viva. A base model 2008 i10 1.1 Classic is worth £1,550 in part-exchange, but always remember that deals can be done.

Air display

The absence of a spare wheel can be a source of worry when driving abroad Credit: H.Armstrong Roberts/Getty Images

Q I have a 2015 Mercedes E220 Bluetec diesel saloon with Hankook Ventus 225/50 R17 tyres, but the absence of a spare wheel is a constant source of worry when driving abroad. When I need to change the tyres, can I fit run-flats? If so, what make/size would you recommend? RP

A The car must have a tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS) warning yes, run-flats can be fitted. Bridgestone and Dunlop seem to have done the most development of this type of tyre. I think Hankook Ventus tyres have a rim-protecting raised strip around the sidewall. You might miss that.

Suzuki shift

Q My wife sold her 2005 Suzuki Alto automatic, but now regrets doing so as she cannot find a similarly sized replacement. The current Alto has exactly the same dimensions, but is not yet available in the UK. Will it be coming? MH

A I don’t think so. There was a subsequent Alto automatic until 2015. The smallest current Suzuki is the Celario, available as an automated manual.

Swede dreams

Q I need to replace my 90,000-mile 2006 Saab 9-5 1.9 TiD. Would a Volvo be a good alternative? AM

A The best option is a Mazda6 Skyactiv D, and most reliable would be a Kia Optima or Hyundai i40 1.7 CRDI. Volvo’s new 2.0-litre diesel and petrol engines appear trouble-free so far – and diesels give about 50mpg.

Three-pointed stir

Is an annoying resonating noise in a Mercedes GLA caused by large-diameter, low-profile tyres? 

Q My Mercedes GLA 250, which I bought new last March, developed a hollow resonating noise on some road surfaces. Mercedes says nothing is wrong, but it spoils the driving experience. Do you know the cause? EL

A I suspect the problem is due to wheel and tyre size (which you do not state). Wide, low-profile tyres at high pressures are a lot noisier than narrow, high-profile tyres running at lower pressures.

French correction

Q The Telegraph sometimes features a large advertisement for breathalysers that must be carried in France “by law”. I thought I had read previously that the French had suspended this law. Am I right? GW

A The penalty for non-compliance used to be an €11 on-the-spot fine, but in January 2013 this was postponed indefinitely. The AA concludes: “Theoretically you are still required to carry a self-test breathalyser when driving in France but there is no current legislation demanding a fine for non-compliance.” Since Brexit, however, the French police don’t seem as friendly to Brits.


Q While parked outside my house, my car was hit by a third party. I witnessed the incident, took the culprit’s details and the whole thing was recorded by both my CCTV and that of my neighbour. The guilty party drove off and failed to report the incident. The police are not taking any action and I have had many problems obtaining a sensible insurance settlement. I was told the car was a write-off (which it isn’t), that I could have about half what it’s worth and that somebody would come to take it away, so I’ve had to move it to make sure that doesn’t happen. KC

A If what you say is true and can be backed up by video evidence, the driver of the runaway car has committed a series of offences under Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. If the police refuse to act after giving you a crime number, write to the chief constable (with a copy to your MP) to ask why his force is not upholding the law. Having obtained a crime number, you then get a county court order demanding the DVLA reveals to you the name and address of the other car’s registered keeper. Once you have that you can pursue them and their insurer (assuming they were insured). No one can take your car away from you and summarily write it off without your previous signed agreement, on the basis of you receiving the full market value prior to the damage without any withholdings. You will have an excess on your policy, but you can insist on full payment.

Slag heaps

Is VW's DSG gearbox as troublesome as some people suggest?

Q I am thinking of changing my VW Tiguan 1.4 petrol manual for a new automatic Tiguan. It was great on a test drive, but you are constantly slagging off VW’s automatic DSG. If they are so unreliable, how come VW is still selling them? FB

A I’m not slagging them off. I am simply relaying complaints from readers whose seven-speed dry-clutch DSGs have failed. But VW is now quietly switching over to wet-clutch DSGs that require fresh fluid every three years and these should be more durable.

Quirk, quirk, slow

Q I had a recurring problem with my 2008 Ford Galaxy’s engine management system, which would put the car in limp-home mode (usually on motorways). Eventually the Ford garage fixed what seemed to a software issue, but last week it happened again. Any ideas? IC

A It’s a quirk of the Ford engine management system – mysterious faults lead them to lose power and revert to limp-home mode. It might be caused by an intercooler pipe weld fault leading to a crack in the pipe. It could also be due to moisture or corrosion in multi-pin ECU connecting blocks, or else a blocked diesel particulate filter. If the car has the PSA Eolys DPF regeneration system, there could be a problem with that.

Pipe cleaner

Is a high oil temperature when towing a cause for concern?

Q I use my Skoda Superb 2.0 TDI 170 to tow a small caravan. It does this well but I notice that the oil temperature increases considerably. I keep it topped up with fresh oil. Should I be concerned? AM

A That is inevitable with a turbocharged diesel engine. You might need additional oil cooling, but I think the turbo bearing oil feed and return pipes are partially blocked with carbon and the oil-cooled turbo is overheating. It’s good practice to replace these anyway and remember that, after towing, you must always idle the engine for at least two minutes before switching off, to keep oil flowing through the hot turbo bearing while it cools down.

Bank, robbery

Q I recently parked in Reading but then realised I needed to get some cash. I went to a bank and on my return found a notice imposing a parking charge of £100 because I was observed “leaving the car park”. This seems nonsensical. MP

A It is, but you have to pay because you breached the terms of the parking contract. This type of penalty was upheld by the Supreme Court in November 2015. There’s no way out. We all have to live our lives on the understanding that reasonable allowances are no longer available.

The look of love

If you're after a Fiat 500, what engine should you go for?

Q I have £5,000 available to buy a used Fiat 500. Which is my best option? DS

A A 2010 model should have the improved, more comfortable rear suspension developed by Ford for the 500-based Ka (identifiable by an additional bar across the twist-beam rear axle). Model for model, Kas are about £1,500 cheaper than 500s but just don't have the look. A 500 TwinAir is more fun to drive than a 1.2, but you’d find it harder to get a genuine 50mpg.

Golf coarse

Q I have a 66,000-mile VW Golf 1.4 TSI S 122PS. When I lift my foot off accelerator I hear a strange noise. On depressing the clutch pedal, it goes. It’s most audible at about 30mph. Can you explain? Oil consumption seems quite high, too. Is this normal? AG

A I'd get the noise checked. VW had a bit of trouble with its transmission casings. You should not need any oil between services so long as you change every 12 months or 10,000 miles, whichever comes first. You might use a bit, but should not need to top up.

Luxury of choice

A 993-generation Porsche 911 would make a fine investment, as a coupe or a soft-top

Q I'm in the market for a classic soft-top sports car. Important criteria are good engineering, performance and reliability. My budget is about £50,000, but I’m happy to spend much less. CPG

A The Porsche 911 is an obvious option – either an air-cooled 993 if you can find one or a water-cooled 997/991 (not a 996, the 911 no one wants). I thought seriously about a BMW Z3 3.2M roadster a few months ago, but worried about the cost of repairs exceeding the value of the car. A BMW Z3 2.8 would be much cheaper, at £5000-£10,000. You'd get an extremely rare Alfa Romeo SZ for about £40,000. I wouldn't go for a Mercedes SL. The good ones from 1959-1961 are £1,000,000. And everybody is wild about R113 Pagodas that aren't actually any good to drive. R107s rust badly in the sills/bulkhead and R129s are too electronically complex. 

Irate of inflation

Q I own an 18-month-old Ford Focus and have just bought a set of new Bridgestone 205/55/16 tyres. The garage inflated them to 37psi but the handbook suggests 31psi. I used an old pen-type tyre gauge to check when I got home and it occurred to me that these may no longer be considered accurate. MB

A Your pen gauge might be out, but 37psi is ridiculous and pressures are important – especially in winter. Get a new barrel-type gauge (nothing digital) and set them at 31psi when cold (first thing in the morning).

Hard times

Q To improve the ride on our 2016 Nissan Qashqai, I followed the dogma and changed from 19- to 17-inch wheels with 215/60 R17 tyres. Sadly, it has made little appreciable difference. What is the answer? I am hoping for some improvement when I fit Michelin CrossClimates before the onset of winter.  PS

A I'd guess that you are running the pressures too high, so lowering them will probably restore tyre compliance and solve your problem. That will be even more important with CrossClimates (best with morning pressures of 30-31psi).

Box of problems

AF's Mini's gearbox failed after 46,000 miles

Q I took my nine-year- old Mini Cooper to a garage specialising in automatic gearboxes, as it sounded a bit rough. I’m told it needs a new gearbox that will cost more than £3,000. It only has 46,000 miles on the clock and has not been driven hard. Should it have failed so soon? AF

A I guess it’s a Mk1 R50 with the CVT auto. Electromagnetic clutch failures are common but that would not mean a whole new gearbox. I’ve had no reports of torque converter auto failures on the later R56.

Late notice

My wife's BMW X1 is two years old but has done only 6,000 miles. BMW is insisting that it should now have an oil change. Is this really necessary? VE

A Yes. It needs an oil and filter change annually or every 10,000 miles, whichever comes first, whatever BMW or anyone else tells you. You are already 12 months late.

Tall order

Q I am in my early 60s, 6ft 3in tall and would like to buy a convertible sports car. I have £5,000 to spend on a Mazda MX-5, Audi TT or similar. Which of these would you suggest?  GB

A You might not fit in an MX-5 because the seats do not recline far enough. The larger Audi TT Roadster is more likely to accommodate you – and you should be able to get an early Mk2 (from 2006) within your budget. Any convertible will usually be cheaper in October and November, when demand traditionally tails off.

Large feat

Q I want to swap my 2004 Mercedes W220 S500 from Dunlop tyres to Michelins suitable for summer and winter conditions in the UK. I do not want to change the alloy wheels. I would prefer to have both front and rear Michelins from the same range, but this does not seem possible due to availability and different wheel sizes. WJ

A Because your car has different-width 18in rims, you have to stick to those tyre sizes and Michelin does not make suitable Cross Climates. Nokian does not do Weatherproofs in suitable sizes, either. This car could also be fitted with 17in wheels and 225/55 tyres all round or 16in rims with 225/60 rubber. You can get Michelin Cross Climates in both those sizes. I’d go for the 17s.

Pull together

Should trailers and caravans be subject to an MoT roadworthiness test?

Q I contacted the Department for Transport after seeing a car’s trailer break up, which could have caused serious injury – or worse. Shouldn’t trailers and caravans have MoTs, to ensure greater road safety? MG

A I couldn’t agree more. The trouble will be finding a minister with time to push any changes through now they’ve got much bigger issues on their plate. 

Return to vendor

Q My niece purchased a 2006/56 Proton, but wasn’t given the manual or the service history. Reverse and first gears are really hard to engage and a Green Flag mechanic said it was the clutch. If this is the case do you think it will be covered under the three-month warranty? She has had the car for only three weeks and has driven very little distance in that time. AC

A If she purchased it from a dealer three weeks ago she has 30 days from date of sale to reject it entirely and that is what she should attempt to do. It's a new ruling under The Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Protection racket?

How much should you pay for paint protection from a dealer?

Q We are thinking of buying a Nissan Qashqai with pearlescent white paint and cloth seats. The salesman advised a £299 paint and fabric protection treatment, because pearlescent paint is vulnerable to fading and bird lime. Is it worth it? AB

A That isn’t too greedy (they can ask as much as £500). It will be negotiable because it will cost him less than £100 and the rest is commission.

Highway tsar

Q When I was involved in highway engineering, the original idea was for speed humps to be about four metres long and 100mm high – a design that allows vehicles to drive up to the speed limit without causing discomfort or suspension damage. Is the blight of current humps due to ignorance, laziness, stupidity or a perceived sense that authorities must do something as long as it’s low-cost? PM

A Readers continue to destroy the inner shoulders of their tyres on the chamfered edges of humps by straddling them to minimise the shock. The insanity of blister humps is that, by straddling them, drivers have no need to reduce their speed but inflict damage to their tyres that could result in a high-speed blowout. So the humps serve no purpose, except to make money for contractors and to cause potentially serious damage.

Reservoir dogged

Q I have a 2008 Mercedes E220 CDI Avantgarde auto estate. The screen washer fluid constantly needs topping up, even when it has hardly been used. I cannot see any leaks, but I have noticed a trail of fluid on the drive when I reverse out. Do you have any ideas? RD

A You’ve obviously got a leak, most probably from the pump seal. Most of these are press-fitted into the side of the reservoir and slight pressure can pop them out. To access it you might have to remove a front wheel and the wheel arch protector. If you don’t like grubbing around under cars, it’s a garage job.

Call of the wild

Q If I stop in a lay-by, apply the handbrake, remove the ignition key and then use a mobile phone, am I breaking the law because I am still behind the wheel? DW

A You are not breaking the law if you park legally and switch off the engine to take or make a call.

Spokes person

Q I would like a BMW 125i or 328i, due to them being lighter, more agile and thriftier than a six-cylinder M135i or 335i. Which should I consider in terms of practicality? I don’t often have rear passengers but extra room is always nice for carrying a bicycle. DS

A The 1-series is much smaller. There’s a better chance of getting a bicycle inside a 3-series with the optional folding rear seats, but clearly not all used models have them. Look at the 328i GT hatchback.

Chill street blues

Does it really cost £2,000 in labour charges to fit an air-conditioning compressor to an Audi?

Q The compressor for the air-conditioning of my Audi RS4 needs replacing. The cost of £900 will be reduced by a payment from Audi, but the labour will cost £2,000. Can that be right? CB

A It is incomprehensible that an air-con compressor could cost £2,000 to fit. It may even be only a failure of its electromagnetic clutch, which should be a £150 fix. See an aircon specialist rather than an Audi dealer.

C sore

Q We bought a 2013 Ford C-Max 1.6 TDI in the hope it might be more economical than our previous car. My wife drives 25 miles on fast roads, then four shorter journeys. The best we get is 41.5mpg. Do you think there is a problem? JG

A That’s not very good. I averaged 49mpg over 12,000 miles in a slightly larger Mazda5 with the same engine, and 55mpg in a 2008 Focus with the earlier 16v 1.6 TDI. A switch to top-quality fuel should improve it by 3-4mpg. This won’t help if the car hasn’t had a service and oil change for some time.

Small talk

Is the Citroën C1 the most reliable car you can buy?

Q I read your column every week and do not recall a single mention of the car I own, a Citroën C1 automatic. Is this simply because you never receive complaints?  PH

A I rarely receive complaints about the C1. I’m not keen on the SensoDrive automated manual transmission, which can give trouble, but there’s nothing wrong with the car as cheap, basic transportation.

Level head

Q My son has taken his 2001 BMW X5 4.4 automatic off the road for the winter. Should he leave the handbrake on? What else will keep it in good order? JC

A Parking brake off. Leave it in P, chock the wheels and overinflate the tyres. The battery will go flat unless it’s connected to a conditioning float charger. Make sure it has a statutory off-road notification (Sorn).

Opposite attraction

Is diesel the obvious choice for a small SUV such as the BMW X1?

Q I am buying a BMW X1. We do about 9,000 miles a year and the dealer says the 2.0-litre diesel engine is the obvious choice because “people expect SUVs to have diesel engines” so it will be better come resale time. Is this sound advice? MW

A The dealer is right today, but that might not be the case if you want to sell the car circa 2019. Go for a petrol model.

Rough runner

Q I have an eight-year-old Audi A3 1.8 auto that has started to shudder fairly violently between 55 and 70-mph. My Audi garage first thought it might be something to do with the tyres, but has ruled that out and hasn’t come up with any other explanation. HB

A This will have the more reliable six-speed wet-clutch DSG. As long as it has had its regular fluid and filter change (every three years), I'm not going to jump in and blame the DSG straight away. Try swapping the front tyres to the rears, same side. If that doesn't fix it, check the front suspension bushes and the driveshafts. Next, it might be the clutch pack, dual mass flywheel or perhaps the mechatronics operating system of the DSG itself. You mention "my Audi garage". Is this a dealer, a VW Group specialist or an ordinary garage that looks after a few Audis and might not know about the need for regular transmission fluid changes?

Volume turned Up

Is a noisy manual gearbox on a VW Up a cause for concern?

Q I bought a 2013 VW Up with 20,000 miles, but the gears are very noisy and there is a clicking sound when I change up. The dealer eventually replaced the clutch (or at least told me he did), but the sounds rapidly reappeared. Is this a cause for concern or an irritating quirk? GT

A A noisy manual gearbox is a known issue on Ups, Seat Miis and Skoda Citigos. You could try adding some STP, Wynn’s or a similar transmission oil additive.

Filter tip

Q I would like a smallish diesel to commute to work. I have been looking at Ford Focus models from about 2009 (60,000 miles, about £3,750). Would this be a good choice? SJ

A No. There tends to be lots of trouble with the 1.6 TDCI at this age and mileage. Go for a Kia Cee'd or Hyundai i30 1.6 CRDI – they did not have diesel particulate filters (DPFs) fitted until mid-2010.

Slippery customer

Q I have a 2005 Chrysler Voyager automatic and an engine warning light has come on. Sometimes when setting off it seems as though the clutch is slipping before I move forward. When engaging reverse it needs plenty of revs. What is wrong? JH

A Check the transmission fluid. What colour is it? If it's pink, it's fine. If it's black and smells burned, it isn't. Get it to a member of FATE:

Gearbox guarantee?

Are gearboxes guaranteed for at least 100,000 miles under EU regulations?

Q In July my 2010 Renault Modus 1.5 diesel automatic suffered a gearbox failure at 59,000 miles. The fault was diagnosed as a breakage of the hydraulic piston controlling gearchanges. A friend has told me that under EU regulations, components other than brakes, clutch and lights should be guaranteed for at least 100,000 miles. The car has been regularly serviced (but not by Renault). Does such a regulation exist and, if so, how should I submit a claim? PM

A This is a robotised manual gearbox, not an automatic, and there is no such EU regulation. The various UK Sale of Goods Acts make a general assumption that the "reasonable" life expectancy of a motor vehicle is six years.

Cheap & cheerful

Q My wife has a VW Polo 1.2 60 Match, which she “bought” on a three-year contract that soon comes to an end. We are in the market for a replacement, although not necessarily another VW. Her annual mileage is less than 3,000 and she only uses it for short runs, so a diesel is out of the question. PB

A Fiat 500s are quite tall and have very comfortable seats – and the base TwinAir on the right tyres is zero-rated for VED – but they are quite expensive. Something more basic might be adequate.

Losing streak

Honest John advises a reader on why their car's wiper-blades are leaving streaks across the windscreen Credit: Alamy

Q I can’t get rid of wiper-blade streaks across my windscreen. I’ve tried all manner of screen cleaners and new wiper blades, but still they appear. I noticed that a lot of the streaks occur where I have had windscreen chips fixed. Is that a possible cause? DB

A Yes, because the repairs stand very slightly proud of the screen and create tiny tears in the wiper blades. That's your problem.

Pedigree Cat

Q I want to replace my 2001 Jaguar X-type, which has done only 22,000 miles and is in excellent condition. How should I sell it? I will replace it with a new Mercedes and have several low-price offers through an on-line website. Are there any problems buying this way? GS

A The low mileage might make the X-type interesting to someone, depending on its engine. It’s not really classic auction material, so it might be worth trying eBay. There’s no reason not to buy online via drivethedeal, carwow or carfile. Do not buy a car that won’t immediately be registered to you, whether it was pre-registered or not.

An inspector calls

Q Could you recommend a company that can fully check used cars prior to purchase? And how can I test clutch efficiency on a car at home? RR

A Try RAC, ADAC or Scotia Vehicle Inspections. If the clutch slips while driving uphill in a relatively high gear, then it is on the way out.

Call of the wild

Q If I stop in a lay-by, apply the handbrake, remove the ignition key and then use a mobile phone, am I breaking the law because I am still behind the wheel? DW

A You are not breaking the law if you park legally and shut off the engine to take or make a call.

Losing streak

Q I can’t remove wiper-blade streaks on my windscreen. A lot of the streaks are where I have had screen chips fixed, could they be the cause? DB

A Yes, because the repairs stand very slightly proud of the screen and create tiny tears in the wiper blades.

Protection racket?

It's all-white: the NIssan Qashqai

Q We are thinking of buying a Nissan Qashqai with pearlescent white paint and cloth fabric seats. The salesman has recommended a paint and fabric protection treatment at £299. He said that the pearlescent paint was more vulnerable to fading and bird droppings. Is it worth it? AB

A That isn't too greedy (they can ask as much as £500). It will be negotiable because it will cost him less than £100 and the rest is commission.

Reservoir dogged

Q I have a 2008 Mercedes E220 CDI Avantgarde auto estate. The windscreen washer fluid is in constant need of topping up, even when it has hardly been used. I cannot see any leaks at the time of refilling it, but I have noticed a trail of fluid on the drive whenever I reverse out first thing in the morning. Any ideas? RD

You've obviously got a leak, most probably from the pump seal. Most of these are press-fitted into the side of the reservoir base. Pressure can pop them out slightly. To access it you might have to take a wheel off and then remove the wheel arch protector. If you don't like grubbing around under cars, it's a garage job.

C sore

Q We recently purchased a 2013 Ford C-Max 1.6 TDI in the hope that it might be more economical than our previous car. My wife drives 25 miles on fast roads and a motorway to her base, then completes about four shorter journeys as part of her work before the return home. She is the only occupant and the car is lightly loaded, yet it returns only 41.5 mpg. We were hoping for at least 45mpg. JG

A That’s not very good. I averaged 49mpg over 12,000 miles in a slightly bigger Mazda5 with the same engine, and 55mpg in a 2008 Focus with the earlier 16v 1.6 TDI. Switching to Shell V-Power should improve it by 3-4mpg. as long as you make use of the increased torque at low revs to change up earlier. Of course, it won’t help if the car hasn't had a service and oil change for some time.

Fairly liquid

Unblocking some drain holes should solve one Astra driver's woes

Q I can hear fuel sloshing beneath the front seats of my 2013 Vauxhall Astra 1.6 estate. Is it safe? JB

A It will be water, because the drains in the lower door are blocked with protective wax. Poke them with a wooden skewer (to avoid damaging the paint).

Link tin

Q I bought a VW Golf 1.4 TSI in 2010. It has done 33,000 miles, so should I replace the cam chain soon? JP

A VW cam chain problems were caused by the varying quality of manufacture due to cost-cutting. It’s a lottery. The fact that yours has reached 33,000 miles should mean it will be fine as long as you change the oil and filter at least every 10,000 miles/12 months, whichever comes first.

Meter made

Q You often suggest fitting smaller diameter wheels to improve ride quality. As the speedometer and odometer work on wheel revolutions, will a change in rim size not  affect their readings? SW

A No. The aim of switching to smaller wheels is to use deeper-profile tyres and put more tyre between the rims and the road. The circumference of the tyre stays almost the same.

Higher or lower

Q We have a 2002 Renault Laguna 2.2 diesel and a 1988 Jaguar XJS 3.6 auto. We would like to exchange both for a petrol estate with Laguna-like towing ability. What would you suggest? ST

A The Laguna might be worth no more than £500. The XJS could be worth up to £5,000 in top condition. It’s difficult to suggest a replacement estate when the exchange value might be anything from £1,000 to £5,500. Maybe a Volvo 940 estate at the lower end or a Land Rover Freelander at the upper end.

Olympic meddle

Will a clutch be covered under warranty after failure at only 12,000 miles?

Q I have owned a 2012 Kia Rio from new and it has done only 12,400 miles, but I am told that the clutch needs replacing and will not be covered by the seven-year warranty. I have been driving for more than 40 years, but this is the first time I have needed a clutch replacement. Do I have a claim on the warranty, or is it correct that I will have to pay £450? AH

A It is not covered by the warranty because it is a wear-and-tear component. Kia and Hyundai are more generous than most in warranting clutches for two years (the norm is six months).

Joy of Sachs

Q My Peugeot 207 CC has done nearly 70,000 miles and might require a new clutch. My Peugeot garage has suggested either genuine Peugeot parts or Peugeot “patterned” parts, should a replacement be required. What's the difference, apart from £100 in price? Which would you advise? KH

A Patterned parts are copies that are usually inferior, but that’s not always the case. Choose correctly and a clutch might actually be made by the same supplier in both cases. Sachs is a reliable manufacturer.

Three-pointed stir

Q My Mercedes GLA 250, which I bought new last March, developed a hollow resonating noise on some road surfaces. Mercedes says nothing is wrong, but it spoils the driving experience. Do you know the cause? EL

A I suspect the problem is due to wheel and tyre size (which you do not state). Wide, low-profile tyres at high pressures are a lot noisier than narrow, high-profile tyres running at lower pressures.

Swede dreams

Q I need to replace my 90,000-mile 2006 Saab 9-5 1.9 TiD. Would a Volvo be a good alternative? AM

A The best option is a Mazda6 Skyactiv D, and most reliable would be a Kia Optima or Hyundai i40 1.7 CRDI. Volvo’s new 2.0-litre diesel and petrol engines appear trouble-free so far – and diesels give about 50mpg.

Start of the matter

Q My wife’s 1988 Mercedes coupé refused to start. My garage says it’s a fuel-injection problem. It is trying to source a used injection unit, but nothing has happened for six weeks. How can we get it fixed quickly? JK

A That will be a W124-series car, so the man to talk to is Nicholas Froome at

Opposite attraction

Q I am buying a BMW X1. We do about 9,000 miles a year and the dealer says the 2.0 diesel is the obvious choice because “people expect SUVs to have diesel engines” so it will be better come resale time. Is this sound advice? MW

A The dealer is right today, but that might not be the case if you want to sell the car circa 2019. Go for a petrol model.

Loud pedal

Are noisy brakes a design fault?

Q My one-year-old Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI has done 9,000 miles. While it’s fine in most respects, the brakes are quite noisy, especially for the first few miles. Is this a design fault? GL

A All iron-alloy brake discs rust. The noise is caused by the pads clearing overnight surface rust from the discs. Most of the braking effort of a car is at the front, so if you don't use the brakes much the rear discs won't be cleared of surface rust.

Wishing well

Q My Vauxhall Viva has a tyre repair kit instead of a spare wheel. However, the boot has a well that would appear to be for a spare. What should I do? DL

A Remove one of the wheels and see if it fits the well in the boot. If it does, get a wheel and tyre of the same size, then try to find a way to secure it in the wheel well.

Feeling the pressure

Reducing the tyre pressures in a Honda Jazz should solve one reader's query

Q I replaced my three-year- old Honda Jazz with the latest model, which has a tyre deflation warning system. It is fine where I live on the Isle of Man, but on motorways the warning is activated, even though the tyre pressures are fine. Can you say why this occurs? JE

A On a motorway run the tyres heat up, increasing the pressure by as much as 4psi. The answer is to lower the cold pressures to 30psi all round, so the alert won’t be activated when they heat up. 

Firm favourite

Q I might purchase my company car, a 2011 VW Passat 1.4 TSI estate. It has 114,000 trouble-free miles, having been serviced every 18,000 miles. Are there any areas of concern? GB

A If it has reached that mileage without trouble, it must have a decent timing chain (whether you got a good one or a bad one was a lottery). In my view, 18,000-mile services are not frequent enough, so there will be some engine wear due to not changing the oil every 10,000 miles.

Emissions impossible?

VW emissions: after an official software upgrade, reader JB has not seen a reduction in performance or economy Credit: Bloomberg Finance LP

QI had a dealer software emissions upgrade on my 2011 VW Jetta 2.0 TDI 140 and I am pleased to report that I have not noticed any reduction in economy or performance. Might the car’s economy deteriorate in the colder months? JB

A Previously reported problems seem confined to Tiguan 2.0 TDIs. Cars are generally less economical in winter due to greater use of electrical equipment.

Weird science

Q My Porsche Macan’s instrument panel is weird verging on useless. It has a huge rev counter, but the car is automatic so why do I need it? A panel displays tyre temperatures and other useless information, but not the time if the Bluetooth phone is in use. I won’t even mention the complex settings menu. RS

A You bought a Porsche, not a family hatchback. The rev counter helps tell you when to change gear with the paddles. Doesn’t the time show in the satnav screen?

Lagging behind

Q I bought a 17,000-mile 2013 Citroën Picasso with an automatic gearbox. The warranty has expired and it has developed a lull when changing gear. Is this normal? Also, pigeon droppings have marred some of the bodywork. Does Citroën have a guarantee on paintwork? RW

A Your car’s EGS gearbox is a robotised manual, not an automatic, and what you describe is normal. You can reduce the effect by lifting off the throttle during paddle-operated upchanges. Paint warranties are only ever for three years. One reader tells us a wet teabag can remove bird lime, but I don’t drink tea and haven’t tried it.

Stag do

Honest John explains the rules about classic car tax exemption

Q I see that new VED rates apply from April 2017 and you quoted pre-1976 cars as being zero-rated. My Triumph Stag was built on December 29 1976 and I was under the impression that this would be tax-exempt from April 2017.  Am I correct? And does the year of manufacture thus roll forward each year? GP

A Basically, yes – unless Philip Hammond changes the rules. But, as you write, it won’t actually become exempt until the DVLA receives an official instruction from the Treasury.

Bench marque

Q What are your thoughts on a used VW Caddy Maxi Life, possibly with a 2.0-litre diesel engine? NF

A There’s plenty of room and a decent ride. But, for use as a family car, just remember that the seat removal system is not as versatile as some rivals’.Fear is the key

Service update

Should you be worried about long service intervals on a Mini?

Q I bought a Mini Cooper and the service indicator suggests no work is needed for 20,000 miles. Should I be concerned about such a long period without maintenance? SF

A Your instincts could save your car. My standard advice for any vehicle is to have the oil and filter changed at least annually or every 10,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Age concern

Q I need to replace my much-loved Mazda6 TS, which is beginning to show its age. I need a five-door automatic with excellent acceleration and am considering the Mazda3, Ford Focus, a Kia or a Hyundai. What would you recommend? AG

A If considering a Mazda3, wait until the end of the year because it is about to get new features. You might prefer something a bit more upright, such as the Suzuki Vitara S BoosterJet auto. A Kia Sportage 1.6T-GDI GT DCT is also very good, but a bit more expensive. Look at the Mazda CX3 2.0 Skyactiv automatic, too.

Infiniti and beyond

In the swim: Jaguar’s F-Pace is a terrific all-rounder that even works well off-road. But is it more suitable for JG than a Porsche Macan or BMW X5?

Q I would like to replace my Infiniti EX30D with either a Porsche Macan, Jaguar F-Pace or BMW X3/X5. I travel about 12,000 miles a year, with very few short journeys, so which of these four would you recommend?  JG

A The Macan looks the best and the turbo version is very quick. The F-Pace combines good looks with space for five and entertaining handling. A new BMW X3 can’t be far away. The X5 is available with a variety of engines and up to seven seats, and it is the only one on your list that is available as a petrol hybrid.

Bristle rover

Q What is the best alloy-wheel cleaning brush? I do not have a pressure washer. MR

A I find domestic stiff-bristle hand carpet brushes best and use old toothbrushes for the small, fiddly bits. Use normal car shampoo. Avoid any kind of acidic treatment. Once wheels are completely clean, Autoglym advises waxing them to help stop brake dust sticking. Painted alloys are always a lot easier to deal with and more robust than polished and lacquered alloys.

Earth worm

Q I have a new Renault Mégane with Renault R-Link and TomTom navigation systems. The navigation system exhibits an intermittent fault that causes loss of information for up to two hours at a time, usually in hot weather. The dealer refuses to carry out a proper fault-finding exercise on the grounds that “Renault would not authorise warranty payment.” Do I need a car electronics specialist? DF

AIt’s probably a dried-out earth somewhere. But, first of all, that is not grounds for a dealer to wriggle away from its responsibilities. The dealer is directly liable for the fault and has to fix it or pay for it to be fixed. If it can’t, it has to pay a local specialist.

Zoe ball

The Renault Zoe is a good electric car, and there are some very tempting lease deals around

Q We want to replace our 2012 Mercedes C-class estate with a small estate or hatchback, petrol or electric. Any ideas? CH

A There are some very good leasing/PCP deals available on the Renault Zoe, which is a nice little electric car. Or, to be sure of a range of more than 100 miles, look at the Kia Niro hybrid.  

Knots forester

Q A friend bought a new Subaru Forester in January and the diesel particulate filter warning light has started flashing. The dealer said it might need an oil change. What do you think? The other worry is an intermittent gear selection problem but the dealer cannot find a fault. Can you help? PD

A The oil change makes a lot of sense. There may be a problem with the clutch slave cylinder or it might simply be moisture or air in the hydraulics so get the system bled.

One cur-full owner

Q I have £10,000 to spend to replace my unloved but reliable Skoda Fabia. I need a petrol engine as I do a lot of short journeys, and a big boot for two dogs. I’d like something a bit more fun, too. What would you suggest? DB

A You need a Skoda Fabia or Seat Ibiza estate. Both are available with 1.2-litre turbo engines. Also consider a brand-new Dacia Logan MCV. 

Bellow par

Q I put my 70,000-mile 2012 BMW 520 Touring M-Sport in for an MoT with the garage that sold it to me. The report said a rear suspension air bellow had deteriorated and needed replacing, at a cost of£600. Should this have failed in the 15,000 miles since I bought the car, or could I ask the garage to contribute? IC

A The bellow is made of  rubber and is therefore bound to have a limited life – but how limited is unpredictable. There will be a lot more of this as air suspension becomes increasingly common, although prices for replacements are likely to fall as a consequence.

Hot and bothered

Q My 2005 VW Golf MkV automatic has developed  gearbox problems. It’s fine when the engine is cold, but the gearbox starts to misbehave when it’s hot. Do you know of a fix? KZ

A This will be a DSG ’box, but fortunately the more reliable six-speed wet-clutch version. It requires routine maintenance of a fluid and filter change every three years. It this hasn’t been done, the problems you describe will arise.

Camera obscurer

Dashcams are increasingly popular, but JG encountered a problem with having one installed in their Lexus

QI own a Lexus IS 300h but my dealer will not fit my dash-mounted camera because it is not a Lexus accessory. The supplier says it cannot fit it as the car’s fusebox is sealed. can you suggest something? JG

A Plug the camera into the accessories socket in the centre console, being careful to route the cable around the edge of the screen so it doesn’t interfere with vision.

Do as you’re tolled

Q I bought a Liber-t tag to use the Télépéage lanes on French autoroutes. The instructions say I must stick it on the mottled area of the screen, but my 2016 Mercedes-Benz E220 AMG has a sensor there. Will the device work elsewhere? GP

A Get your passenger to hold it over the mottled area and see if it activates the Télépéage barrier. Having used a lot of these, I don’t think you’ll have a problem – and you’ll save a huge amount of time. They’re also very useful if you’re solo in a right-hand drive car. 

Wife and strays

Q I thought a speeding summons had to be delivered to the recipient within 14 days of the alleged offence. In my wife’s case it was not, as it had gone to our previous home. Both she and I had informed the DVLA of our change of address, so does she have a case? HM

A Probably not. You told the DVLA of your address change for licensing purposes but did you also amend the info for your car’s V5C registration document? If not, you were theoretically committing an offence. 

He who hesitates…

How do you know if a Ford automatic gearbox is covered under the five-year warranty?

Q I am thinking of buying a 2012 Ford Focus 1.6 auto with 25,000 miles. The dealer is independent and offers a three-month warranty. Ford has now extended the gearbox warranty to five years, but will the car I’m looking at be covered? EW

A Use the registration number to check with Ford Customer Services. If any services have been missed, it won’t be covered anyway. Make sure there is no hesitation  when pulling away from a standstill. The dealer is legally responsible for six months for any fault that could have been present or developing on the date of sale.   

Flat earth?

Q My 18-month-old Hyundai has had a fault since new. Occasionally, it won’t restart; there is no sound of the starter motor or any other sign of life. What might it be? JL

A The first thing to check is the earth lead from the battery to the car body. If that’s loose it can leave the car completely devoid of electrical power.

Comfort zone

Q We love our 2009 Honda Accord EX but back problems make it hard for my wife to get in and out. We are thinking of buying an HR-V or Mazda CX-3 to replace it. Would the HR-V be comfortable on long motorway journeys? MK

A The HR-V offers easy access, but the 1.5i VTEC petrol engine lacks power. The petrol auto is better than the manual. The 1.6 diesel is good but manual only. The CX-3 is smaller, but has a better choice of engines and a superior torque converter auto gearbox. The cheap choice is a Dacia Duster Laureate 1.2, from £12,895.

Troubled water

Honest John helps to diagnose a fault with a Skoda Superb's locks

Q The central locking system of my 2007 Skoda Superb is causing problems. On numerous occasions the locks don’t open or close. RK

A It’s most likely to be moisture getting into the locking/windows ECU inside the driver’s door.

Back problem

Q Our new Ford Fiesta  jumps out of reverse gear and the dealer can’t find a fault. What can we do? RT

A Reject the car. It’s not supposed to jump out of reverse, so is faulty even though the dealer can’t find anything amiss.

Ramp it up

Q I need a car that can be adapted to take a wheelchair. I want a car with some character and standards of comfort to match my current Volvo S40. Any ideas? GW

A Do you mean a car that can take a folded wheelchair, one into which a wheelchair can be driven up a ramp, or one that can be driven from a wheelchair? Whichever the answer, would be a good place to start for advice.

Flush with success?

Q My 2007 Honda CR-V 2.2 CTDI makes a graunching noise on full lock. A mechanic thought it might be something to do with the 4WD system. Can you suggest a cure? CT

A The oil in the rear differential clutch is known to degrade before renewal is  recommended and the symptoms are a moaning/groaning noise when manoeuvring on full lock. This is easily misdiagnosed as a steering rack problem, which may lead to unnecessary repairs. The solution is to replace the oil with the latest-spec Honda fluid, Dual Pump 2. Dealers may describe this as a “diff flush”.

Max pain?

Are there any concern with buying a new Ford C-Max?

Q I intend to replace my old Ford C-Max 1.6 petrol with a new one. I believe that the new Ecoboost engines have turbos and dual mass flywheels. Any concerns? MM

A The 1.0- and 1.5-litre Ecoboost turbos don’t seem to be problematic unless the engine is switched off when very hot. The dual mass flywheels have not been an issue, but faulty clutch slave cylinders were a big problem prior to the “Aston Martin grille” facelift. I haven’t heard of any since. Love Hertz Q My wife and I are finding it is increasingly difficult to hire cars in the UK due to our advancing age. Any suggestions? PL

Stop, start, stop

Q In early June I purchased a 2008 Ford Mondeo 1.8 TDCi. It recently suffered an apparent engine failure while travelling at 60‑70mph. Everything stopped, so I returned it to the dealer but no fault was found. I was asked to take the car away and use it, as they were confident there was little chance it would happen again. Which, of course, it has. ED

A The usual reason for this is failure of a contact inside one of the multipin connector blocks between the ECU and the fuel system. Separating them and replugging a few times might ensure a better contact. Dry any damp with a hairdryer, then seal the connecting block once reconnected and working.

Fastest lapse

Q I sold my car in 2011, having had a full no‑claims discount on my insurance. I now wish to buy a car again, but have been told my no-claims discount has lapsed. Are there any companies that would take it into account? PP

A You usually retain a no‑claims discount for two years, but deals can always be done. You need a broker or a direct insurer, not an insurance comparison site. 

Penny far thing

Is it worth paying more for V-Power in a 148,000-mile Toyota Previa?

QMy Toyota Previa has 148,000 miles on the clock. I use only Shell petrol, as I get better mileage than I do with supermarket fuel. Is it worth paying a little extra for Shell V-Power?  AG

A In my opinion, yes. It will keep the fuel system clean and avoid the sort of problems you sometimes get with an older car. 

Straddle sore

Q I just had the first annual service of my Jaguar 3.0d R Sport, at 8,926 miles, and the technician’s report mentioned excess wear to the inner shoulders of the front tyres. Given the car’s mileage and the fact that, as an ex-motorcyclist, I am fastidious about tyre pressures and condition, I was extremely concerned. MM

A Have you been straddling speed cushions? That’s how most drivers lessen their impact, but it does cause excess wear. For 20 years I’ve been urging drivers to traverse speed cushions with one wheel over the top and one on the flat. 

Van ordinaire

Q I need a small van with a high seat and good fuel economy. I want to put a bed in the back so that I can go camping when I feel like it. I thought the Citroën Berlingo was the answer, but the seat is too low down. I am 79. EH

A I think your best bet is probably a Nissan NV200 1.5 diesel. That’s the smallest tall van I know and they are available with rear side windows.

Binding contract

A Fiat Panda 4x4 is more capable off-road than you might think, but what's up with the rear brakes?

QA year ago my brilliant Fiat Panda 4x4’s brakes started making a very loud noise, but only when reversing. The system was overhauled and this seemed to solve the problem, but it has started again. It stopped doing it when I took the car to the dealer, then resumed on the way home… PH

A I’ve heard of this before on the previous Panda 4x4. This was eventually diagnosed as binding rear brakes and the calipers were replaced under warranty.

Park Ranger

Q I bought a used Ford Ranger for £17,500 but after several problems I requested my money back. The dealer offered to refund a lot less, saying that VAT is non-refundable. Ford Customer Services has washed its hands of the affair, saying it’s a VAT issue. What can I do? AP

A Presumably you are not registered for VAT? If you are and you buy a VAT-qualifying vehicle for commercial use, you pay the VAT via the dealer then reclaim the input tax. If you later sell the vehicle, you add 20 per cent VAT to the price and repay that to HMRC. However, in the case of a sub-standard vehicle returned by a non-VAT registered buyer, you should get the price you paid – possibly minus a small amount for your use of the vehicle.

Arts counsel

A Picasso (of the Citroen variety) is ideal transport for an exhibiting artist to transport paintings Credit: Christopher Pledger for The Telegraph

Q I want to replace my Audi A3 1.9 diesel with a petrol or eco model. I no longer need to drive long journeys, but would like a car with a reasonably sized boot. I am an exhibiting artist and need to store and transport paintings. What would you suggest? RH

A What might work quite well is an appropriately named Citroën C3 Picasso with the 1.2 Puretech 110 engine. It’s physically quite small but tall and very spacious and returns 50mpg.

In comes tax

Q I would like to replace my 2011 Skoda Octavia 1.6 TDI within the next year or so. If I buy a used car after the new VED system is introduced next April, how might I be affected? WR

A As far as we understand, from April 2017 there will be four regimes for car VED. Pre- 1976 cars will be zero-rated; 1976-1991 cars will continue to be taxed in two capacity brackets, up to and over 1,549cc; 1991-March 2017 cars will be taxed on the same basis as they are now, though the rate of tax for the various bands will probably go up; from April 2017 there will be a blanket £140 annual tax for everything, supplemented by a luxury tax surcharge of £310 for anything originally priced at more than £40,000. First-year VED will continue to vary according to CO2 output and will be higher than today’s rate.

Shipping forecast

How costly would it be to buy a Subaru Outback in Australia, ship it to the UK then make sure it conforms to EU legislation?

QPurchasing a Subaru Outback new, using it here in Australia and shipping it to the UK (when we return) seems to be cheaper than buying used in the UK. Is type approval simple to obtain? RN

A To register in Europe you have to get a Certificate of Conformity to EC regulations, or have the car individually tested (which is expensive). There’s a bunch of links in this directory: It’s best to put it in the hands of a shipper, who will arrange everything.

The shining

QThe airbag warning light of my 2009 Fiat Doblo came on but the next day all was well. Should I be worried about this and is it an MoT failure if it persists? LO

A It’s probably the connector to the occupant sensor in the passenger seat, or a pinched cable. Yes, it would be an MoT failure. If you can’t fix it yourself, try

Stamp collector

It's worth getting the cambelt changed if you've just bought a pre-2005 MX-5

Q I bought a 2004 Mazda MX-5 in immaculate condition, with 27,000 miles. I have all the MoTs and a fully stamped service book, but should I replace the cambelt? BF

A  For 2005 Mazda switched to chain cams. Prior to that, if the timing belt snaps or comes off, valves don’t hit pistons as long as the engine is below 4,000rpm. I’d get the belt, tensioner and water pump changed. It should cost about £400.

Partner in crime

Q The turbo of our 2011 Peugeot Partner failed at 74,000 miles. A Peugeot specialist (non-franchised) replaced it. That failed after 2,000 miles in five months and was replaced under guarantee. Four weeks later it has failed again. The turbo supplier says he will not replace it under warranty again. DE

A It’s likely the garage replaced only the turbo, not the oil feed and return pipes to the turbo bearing. These are prone to clogging with carbon, which restricts oil supply to the bearing, and should be replaced at the same time. The garage is responsible.

Time for change

In the spotlight: does the cambelt of DL's Audi A3 Sportback require changing ahead of the scheduled service interval?

QMy dealer says my Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI’s cambelt will need changing in October, for £599. The Audi service schedule recommends the toothed belt should be replaced at 114,000 miles, but does not specify a time interval. The car has only done 23,000 miles, so should this schedule be rigidly followed? DL

A Yes. Change the timing belt, tensioner and water pump. That’s a fair price, too, for this kind of work on an Audi.

Avoidance tactic

Q I own a 2014 Skoda Octavia 1.4 TSI with a DSG seven-speed auto gearbox (I assume the dry-clutch version). Is it true that this gearbox has reliability issues? RJ

A Yes. Unlike the original six-speed wet-clutch DSG, the seven-speed dry-clutch version was designed to be sealed for life. Over time, and when ambient temperatures are high, the synthetic transmission fluid within can become conductive, fusing the operating system and leaving it with no drive.

Why has SB's Suzuki Vitara lost five litres of oil?

Stemming the tide

Q My 2007 Suzuki Vitara was fully serviced in August 2015 at 79,000 miles. Last month, after another 5,000 miles, it started making awful noises and the garage found it had very little oil. Where could five litres of oil have gone in such a short time? SB

A If the car has been regularly maintained, then it’s most likely to have lost the oil through the valve stem oil seals, but it could also have a problem with the piston rings. This engine has a dipstick, so check the oil level once a week to be on the safe side. This applies to any car, irrespective of type of fuel, since running the engine without much oil is the best way to cause permanent damage.

Needles and pains

Q The speedometer of my Land Rover Defender is dificult to read between 30mph and 70mph. I have received penalty notices for doing 36mph in 30mph limits. Is the difficulty in reading the speedometer a defence? RC

A It might work, but it's doubtful (because every other Defender owner could then use the same defence). Get a free GPS digital speed app for your smartphone and place the phone within easy view on a cradle on the facia.

How did bucketfuls of water get into a rear door of CB's 2013 Vauxhall Astra?

Seal cull

Q I own a 2013 Vauxhall Astra 1.6 and discovered water dripping from the trim of the rear doors. I removed a bung and emptied several buckets of water. How did all that water get into the door? CB

A Water flows through all car doors because it is impossible fully to seal winding window glasses. Always make sure drain holes in the door bases are kept completely clear.

Formula V

Q You recently advised the use of branded fuel. What is the difference between it and supermarket fuel? PG

A Not quite. I advised using Shell V-Power Nitro Plus 99 Ron, which is 4 Ron higher than ordinary unleaded. It, along with 98 Ron BP Ultimate, also contains detergents to clean the fuel system.

DC wants to know if a Renault Captur will be a comfortable car over long distances

Soft touch

Q I am thinking of buying a used Renault Captur diesel. How comfortable is it over long distances? DC

A I haven’t driven one a long way, but one reader did 100,000 miles in hers before swapping it for another. I would look at the new option of the 1.2 TCe 120 petrol manual.

Fug on the Tyne

Q We received a penalty charge notice for driving in a bus lane in Newcastle upon Tyne, although we were not aware of the fact as it was dark, very wet and the signs were hard to read. What can we do? MF

A Initiate an appeal at if the bus lane notices and markings were not clearly visible.

State of the artist

Q I have owned a 2007/56 Citroën Xsara Picasso 2.0 automatic since it was almost new. It has now done 50,000 miles. I plan to run it until it is beyond economic repair. Is there any maintenance I should consider to mitigate problems? PM

A The gearbox would benefit from fresh fluid and, of course, the timing belt, tensioner and water pump need changing. I rate this as the best Xsara Picasso. 

Variety is the spice

What is the best way to run in the engine of a new Nissan Navara?

Q I am buying my first brand new car, a Nissan Navara. What is the best way to run in the engine? Should I change the oil every year, despite Nissan’s two-year interval? GH

A No need to drive slowly, but avoid constant revs on a motorway for the first 2,000 miles. Vary your speed if the traffic does not do it for you. Change the oil and filter every 10,000 miles or every year, whichever comes first.

Simple solution

Q I need to sell my 2007 Vauxhall Tigra Exclusiv petrol convertible with the minimum hassle. LH

A Either consign it to a specialist auction (and take a bit of a risk) or sell it to an outfit such as – it is a good time of the year to sell a convertible.

Keep on runnin’?

Q I have a 2008 Audi A3 2.0 with 90,000 miles and its DSG gearbox fluid was replaced at 73,000 miles. How does the trade view the longevity of this car? PC

AThe 2.0 TFSI engine can have timing chain, inlet valve and high oil consumption issues. 

Reservoir dregs

One reader's Vauxhall Meriva needed replacement brake fluid at just seven-months old

Q My daughter’s seven-month-old Vauxhall Meriva required replacement brake fluid due to moisture content, although the job was done free of charge due to the car’s age. Is this common on Merivas? I note that the fluid reservoir is situated where rain is likely to run if the bonnet is opened. CC

A  First I’ve heard of it, but if that is true it does sound like poor design.

Out of Focus

Q I have always driven Fords and recently looked at a 2015 Focus Titanium Ecoboost 125 with 7,000 miles. Should I worry about clutch and gearbox problems? MP

A  Complaints about the Focus from 2011 have almost reached the level of a contemporary VW Golf. Ford has extended its warranty on Powershift automatic gearboxes to five years, but that’s of no help if your car is manual.

Clear vision 

Q My 2000 Honda HR-V’s wipers stop working, but if I turn off the ignition and restart they work again. Any ideas? NM

A  It sounds like a broken connection, probably a relay. But the relay may be opening because the wiper motor is failing. That’s why it works for a bit, then fails when the relay opens in order to prevent an overload.

Fun factor

Q Any tips for buying a used Ford Fiesta ST? DW

A  Of all small hot hatches, that’s the most fun to drive. Check for damage underneath or other signs of over-exuberant use. There have been a few clutch problems.

Fear of the Cat

Q I am buying a 2003 Jaguar XJ8 4.2 SE with 55,000 miles. It seems the gearbox is a sealed unit with an expected lifespan of 10 years. Isn’t it odd that you are not able to change the transmission fluid? CB

A Though the ’box is sealed for life, a member of will be able to change the fluid.

Rain stops play

Q The entertainment system of my 2004 Range Rover fails when I drive in the rain. If I leave the car in the sun it works again. I have checked the four sunroof drain points, so what else can I do? RM

A  It might simply be that the bulkhead vent well drains in the scuttle are blocked, so water is dribbling into the cabin via the pollen filter. Check that first.

Big bang query

Civic gearbox fault sounds expensive to fix

Q My Honda Civic 1.7 diesel, which I have owned from new in October 2005, has started to slip out of low gears with a loud bang. The Honda dealer said it was probably due to the way I use the clutch. Is there any truth in this? MS

A It is more likely to be a gearbox  fault – fixing it will involve dismantling the ’box. A diesel engine puts a lot of strain on second gear. If you can live with it, I’d simply carry on because a repair will be expensive.

Double agent

Q I received notification to renew my driving licence, which I did but then, just before my 70th birthday, I was told that I needed to renew it again. Why have I needed two new licences within six months? PS

A Probably because your 10-year photocard licence expired six months short of your 70th birthday, so you had to renew it… and then repeat the process – as is standard for everybody – at 70.

Own goal

Q My 2005 Toyota Yaris Verso has done 100,000 miles and is always serviced by the book. I hope to keep it for a long time, but do timing chains fail without warning? GE

A As long as the oil and filter are changed regularly, Yaris timing chains rarely give trouble. The water pump is driven by the timing chain, however, and can eventually start to leak. 

Idle thoughts

Q How common is it for carbon build-up to block turbocharger oil feed and return pipes – and for how long should the engine be idled to prevent this? DP

A  If a petrol or diesel engine is switched off when the turbo is too hot, the oil in the bearing and its feed/return pipes carbonises. Over time the carbon builds up until it blocks pipes. Depending on the design, this can also impede oil circulation through the engine. Always idle a turbocharged engine for a minute or two after a long ascent or after towing, and for 30 seconds after cruising on the motorway. There’s no need to do so after driving in regular traffic. 

Moist annoying

Q My 1985 Mercedes-Benz 280SL has a starting problem. Whenever the weather is slightly cold, it does not start (although the engine turns). When the sun is out it starts first time. The spark plugs and coil seem OK. Any ideas – and do you know a good Mercedes specialist in north London? JA

A It probably needs a new set of HT leads because the insulation has perished and moisture is carrying the current away from the plugs. See for nearby Mercedes specialists.

Short-term fix

Q I have a 2011 Peugeot 5008 1.6 THP 156 with 54,000 miles and a full service history. For three months it’s been on short school runs. A diagnostic check suggested the engine needed a £600 decoke but the supplier of my extended warranty has refused to pay. I gave the car a hard, fast run and it seemed better. Should I get the decoke or just thrash it a bit to clear it? JT

A If longer runs have improved it, use a high-detergent superfuel (such as Shell V-Power or BP Ultimate). The problem was self-inflicted (through constant short runs) and would not normally be covered by the warranty.

Getting engaged

KS has been experiencing gearbox problems with their Ford S-Max

Q  I have a Ford S-Max with a 2.0 petrol engine and Powershift auto gearbox. When stopped at lights, it pulls against the brakes so much that it rocks the car and I have to select neutral. It didn’t used to do this, so what is going on? KS

A  It’s always better to shift to neutral when stopped. An idle speed of more than 700-800rpm will be enough to engage the drive clutches. Otherwise it’s either a software fault or a problem with the clutches themselves. HJ

Regeneration game

Q  I’ve never seen the diesel particulate filter (DPF) warning light of my 2013 Fiat Doblo come on in three years, yet surely it must be regenerating at intervals? DM

A  There is no warning light when the DPF actively regenerates. If you stop the engine during an active regeneration you can feel and smell the heat of it taking place, so switch on again and let it finish. HJ


Q  How do the likes of Shell and BP police what’s in their supposed higher-grade tanks? I’ve tried both in my three-cylinder petrol Citroën C4 Picasso, with little improvement in economy over a supermarket’s premium grade petrol. Is it a con? LD

A No. The higher Research Octane Number (RON) of premium petrol gives more torque at low revs as well as more power at high rpm. If you use the improved low-rev torque to change up earlier, you get better economy. Simple. HJ

Bad timing

Q  My 2012 Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI had a timing belt failure at 19,000 miles. My Skoda dealer, which carried out the first three services, quoted £6,500 to rebuild the engine. The car’s most recent service was by an independent garage. Can I ask Skoda for a contribution? DG

A Had you stuck to Skoda servicing you might have had an argument for a goodwill contribution. Going for cheaper servicing is a false economy if the garage fails to replace the timing belt at the recommended interval. Try a member of for a more reasonably priced rebuild. HJ

A wish called Honda

Q  It’s time to replace my five-year-old Honda CR-V EX. I do not like the new CR-V shape and thought about a Mazda CX-5 or, as I like Hondas and their local dealer, the new HR-V. What do you think? PC

A Put it this way: my long-term HR-V 1.6i DTEC rides and handles well and returns 59mpg. HJ

Cabin pressure

Q  I need a car with greater legroom than my Skoda Yeti. What is taller, with a sliding sunroof? LD

 An MPV offers more head and leg room than an SUV because, for the same roof height, it has a deeper cabin. Look at a VW Golf SV 1.4 TSI 125 or 150 manual. HJ

Three-painted star

Is it worth spending a lot of money respraying an older Mercedes SLK?

Q  A few years ago we bought a 1998 Mercedes SLK 230 for £2,000. It  is mechanically sound but the paintwork is fading. Is it worth paying between £800 and £1,800 for a full respray? JP

A  Treat and patch any rust spots, lubricate the folding hardtop mechanism and keep the car well maintained, but don’t spend a fortune on a repaint. HJ

Not remotely interested

Q  I cannot open the boot of my 2006 Volvo C70 using the electronic key. The switch between the front seats opens it, however. Any thoughts? JT

A  The remote is not talking to the boot lid servo switch. Remove the the trim and spray the area with WD40 to repel any moisture. HJ

Brain surgery

Q  A friend’s 2000 VW Golf has died because of an ECU fault. Is there a reasonable repair service? AW

A  If it’s definitely the ECU, he can send it to for diagnosis and repair. HJ

Facts and figures

Q  I have received a letter requesting details of a car I part-exchanged at a main dealer. I’ve been asked to confirm my previous ownership and the mileage. Is this a scam? BO

A  No, it’s evidence of a dealer showing the required due diligence in checking the true mileage. MoT readings are frequently misread and cannot be relied upon. HJ

Independent’s day

Is it still worth servicing an older Range Rover in the main dealer network?

Q  My 2010 Range Rover Sport diesel is due a major service costing more than £1,000. I used the Land Rover dealer from new, but is it worth trying an independent specialist? BB

A Yes, as long as they cover all the items a Land Rover dealer would. You would no longer be able to rely on goodwill from Land Rover, but that’s unlikely on a 2010 model. HJ

Clear thinking

Q  The plastic headlight covers of my 2004 Honda Jazz have become opaque. Is there a substance that I could use to polish this out? DB

A  Brasso metal polish works a treat, but use it sparingly. Also, test the technique first on an area of plastic at the top or side of the light, which will not affect the beam. HJ

Life begins at WD40

Q The bootlid of my 2007 Renault Clio will not open via the unlock button on the key fob. Is it difficult to replace the solenoid in the lock? TC

A No, but first try spraying it with WD40 to disperse any moisture. HJ

Measure by measure

Emissions impossible: how can you accurately measure exhaust emissions over time? Credit: Elin Svensson for The Telegraph

Q  Your article on the complexity of setting universal emissions standards makes me question the relevance of measurements under laboratory conditions to the actual performance of diesel engines over their lifetime. I have owned many diesel-engined cars and their fuel consumption noticeably improves over the first 20,000-30,000 miles. Surely their emissions must change as well in this time? MW

A  Laboratory emissions tests have little relevance to what happens in the real world, as has become painfully obvious over the last few months. You’re right, a used car with tens of thousands of miles will perform differently to one that’s brand new. By how much, we simply don’t know. One could test used diesels to find how much they diverged from new – but to get any sort of constant in such tests, you’d have to do them in a lab which, as you have noted, would lead to them being somewhat unrealistic. AR

Late breaking

Q  The timing chain of my 2005 Mercedes C180 Coupé failed, despite the car being serviced correctly. Mercedes has offered a small contribution, but I feel it should accept full liability. Am I right? JF

A No. It is well outside the Sale of Goods Acts limits and related case law. You’re not entitled to anything  so the goodwill being offered by Mercedes is actually generous. HJ

Don’t stop me now

Q  My 2013 Nissan Qashqai 1.6 dCi has developed a fault with the stop/start system, which is a known fault. New batteries are not available for a few weeks. What should I do? NH

A The stop/start system wouldn’t work if the battery is weak. If it’s a known fault, it should be fixed under warranty. The best solution is to log your complaint in writing by post office special delivery to the dealership principal then wait for the fix to arrive. HJ

Carbon footprint

Q  My 66,000-mile VW Golf Plus lost all power and wouldn’t restart. It was VW-maintained until its most recent service, a month ago. My garage says it could be a failure of the oil supply to the turbo. Would VW pay for repairs? PC

A The turbo bearing oil feed or return pipe probably got blocked with carbon, from regularly switching off the engine without first idling when it was too hot. If you didn’t use VW dealers throughout, it is unlikely the firm will contribute any goodwill. It’s always worth a try – depending, of course, on the car’s age. HJ

Floored by flawed Ford

Q  Since the front brake pads of my 2012 Ford Focus were changed, the “brake service/fluid low” light has been showing. The Ford dealer is unable to find the cause. PP

A In replacing the pads, they must have interfered with the worn pads warning sensor. If it’s incompetence, the Ford dealer is obliged to replace the pads and sensors with new ones. HJ

Glasses guide

Q  I have experienced hazy vision through the replacement screen of my VW Polo. Using a spare pair of specs helped, but when I looked out of the side windows without specs, all was clear. A friend said that Autoglass had probably fitted a non-VW screen. Is that right?  KS

A  I’m not sure why correction spectacles solved this problem. They must have the correct focal adjustment to compensate for a slight fault in the screen. HJ

Seams quite likely

Q  About two years ago my fairly new BMW 5-series suffered air-conditioning failure. The car was repaired after a delay, but the problem has recurred and the dealer says there is a problem with the soldering of the condenser seams and that this is the subject of an in-service technical bulletin. Does this ring true? ML

A I hadn’t heard that before. It explains previous excuses of stone damage followed by the subsequent shortage of condensers. I guess there must have been a stink about it in Germany and BMW has now caught up. HJ

Curse of the curs

Paws for thought: MD needs a superb estate car for carrying four canines 

Q  I love the comfort and space of my 2006 Mercedes E-class Estate, but feel it’s time for a change. I need to carry four dogs, so what can I get for £16,000? MD

A  Your problem will be part-exchanging a car that smells of dogs, because it is almost impossible to eliminate the scent. Good alternatives to the Mercedes include newer estate versions of the Ford Mondeo or Skoda Superb. HJ

Bridge over troubled water

Q  I tried to drive through a large puddle under a railway bridge, but the car stalled and flooded. I called the police because I was concerned that no other drivers should end up in the same situation. One officer said he felt I was not to blame because there were no warning signs or depth gauges. The car has subsequently been deemed a write-off and we are awaiting a replacement. Any advice would be very welcome. AM

A  You might be able to sue the council in the small claims track of the County Court for misfeasance in a public office – not forewarning drivers of a known hazard. HJ

Quick, quick, slow

Q What is the difference between a battery float charger and a trickle charger? RC

A A conditioning float charger automatically assesses the battery and maintains it at a constant 13.5 volts. It can safely be hooked up without disconnecting the battery. A trickle charger is effectively a slow charger, and the battery has to be disconnected or the process might fry components such as the ECU. HJ

Dover Soul

Q We want to replace our Ford Mondeo with a comfortable car that has higher seating, for regular cross-Channel trips. A Kia Soul Connect 1.6 GDI seems right. Is this suitable? DB

A There’s not too much wrong with a Soul, if you like the looks. They now ride and handle much better than the original and, of course, have a seven-year warranty. Alternatives in the same price bracket include the Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008, Suzuki Vitara, SsangYong Tivoli and Nissan Juke. HJ

Cash is king?

Take notes: cash is one of the safer ways to accept payment for your car  Credit: ADAM AVERY FOR THE TELEGRAPH

Q  I advertised my late father’s two-year-old Toyota Auris estate for £8,125, as recommended by the Autotrader website. Two prospective buyers have asked if I would accept cash, which I was wary of, but both declined my preference for using an electronic bank transfer. What should I do? ML

A  There’s no foolproof way to accept large payments for a used car. Cash can be counterfeit; bank transfers can be recalled, and of course cheques can bounce. However, cash is considered one of the safest ways to accept payment as the chances of it being counterfeit or stolen are lower. To be as safe as possible, arrange for the cash payment to be made inside your bank and deposit it immediately. AR

Sonic boom

Q  I get a lot of road noise from the 225/45 R17 front tyres of my 2005 Alfa Romeo GT 1.9 JTD. On older, coarser surfaces it’s intrusive and detracts from driving pleasure. AN  

 These Alfas are set up with toe-out to give good steering feel. Reducing this very slightly to track straighter will reduce the noise. HJ

Pane relief

Q  To lower the offside rear window of my 10-year-old VW Eos, I have to pull the switch up and vice versa. If I press the switch that opens all the windows, the rear one stays closed, so it’s impossible to lower the roof. LT

A  This isn’t a problem that can be fixed by email. A VW dealer will be too expensive. Try a car electrical specialist ( or a convertible/sunroof specialist. HJ

Modus operandi

Q  I bought my Renault Modus Quickshift-5 with a 12-month insured warranty in September 2015, but it started juddering when pulling away. The warranty firm insists repairs are done by an independent garage but I can’t find one nearby. I took it to a Renault dealership for a diagnosis, only to find it had had the same fault repaired there last June. My feeling is that it wasn’t done properly. Who is responsible for footing the bill? DH

A  Dealer liability only lasted for six months. You cannot prove that the fault pre-existed your purchase because the dealer had the gearbox repaired before your transaction. Try a member of – they are independent and what they don’t know about automatic gearboxes isn’t worth knowing. HJ

Three-pointed scar

Hidden expense: to claim against a council for pothole damage, you have to demonstrate that it was negligent   Credit: ELLIOT KRYSTNSKI FOR THE TELEGRAPH 

Q  My Mercedes’s automatic gearbox had to be replaced with an exchange unit costing £4,455 after pothole damage to the original. I contacted Cheshire East Council and submitted details of the damage, with a copy of the paid invoice along with photographs. It requested my personal details, which I am reluctant to provide. Should I go straight to the small claims court and ignore their request for my details? KJ

A  No. If you don’t do what the council asks, it will claim in court that you failed to supply adequate information. The moment to institute legal action is if the council still refuses the claim. Remember, you have to prove negligence by the council in that it allowed a pothole to remain for at least a fortnight without doing anything about it. It is not negligent for it to fail to fill a pothole that developed over a couple of days. To prove the pothole existed weeks before, find reports of the pothole at the or websites. HJ

Thinking big

Q  My 2014 Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 had its first service in May 2015, at 4,500 miles. I have now been summoned by Vauxhall to book the next annual service. Am I being ripped off? PR

A  The norm is a small service the first year, a big service the second, a small one the third year and so on. A big service will include the engine air filter, spark plugs and pollen filter. You should not have to pay extra for the pollen filter. HJ

Unstable relationship

Q  My 2005, 41,000-mile Toyota Avensis’s stability control warning light comes on after about half a mile. The problem developed after a drive in extremely wet conditions. I am concerned it may be developing a potentially expensive problem. AF

A  You have to hope it is a wheel sensor or a poor electrical contact. If it is the ABS/ESC module then has a fix, but there’s no point going there until you can establish if it’s a simple job. HJ

Symbol pleasures

Q  You say Michelin Cross Climate tyres are an alternative to winter rubber. Can I use these where winter tyres are mandatory? QH

A In Germany, cold-weather tyres must be used in snow and ice. They are compulsory in Austria, Switzerland, Scandinavia and parts of northern Italy. They have a mountain and snowflake symbol on the sidewall. HJ

Quick, quick, slow

Waiting game: does the 14-day rule apply if you have been informed of an offence by a police officer?  Credit: Michael Driver for The Telegraph

Q In March I was stopped by an unmarked police car on the M40. The officer said I had exceeded 100mph and that I would be reported for a court hearing. I haven’t heard anything since. Does the 14-day rule [a Notice of Intended Prosecution having to be served to the registered keeper within 14 days] still count if I have actually been told of an offence by a police officer? MD

A  You were told immediately. The 14-day rule only applies to offences first notified by post. Unfortunately, you could now be in for a long, nail-biting wait, but the system can get overloaded so you might actually get away with it (apart from the anxiety, that is). If you do escape disqualification, I hope you have learned your lesson. HJ

Message parlour

 The low oil pressure warning light of my 100,000-mile 2003 VW Golf 1.6 has come on. A garage found it was OK, but the warning persists. BC

A It could be that the oil pump is failing, which is common on this engine, or that the oil strainer in the sump is blocked with gunge. HJ

The same, but different

Q  What would you advise as a nearly-new replacement of similar size to my wife’s 2005 Vauxhall Agila? Our budget is £10,000. CS

A The later model Vauxhall Agila/Suzuki Splash does the same job better. HJ

Change in attitude

Q  My Honda Jazz i-VTEC manual’s engine requires fourth or fifth gear at 30mph before the Eco fuel-saving light illuminates. I prefer to use third gear at 30mph to retain control. Must I simply adapt to the Honda’s idiosyncrasy? JM

A You can keep it in third, but you won’t get the same fuel economy as you would in a higher gear. HJ

Taxing question

Orna-mental: why is classic car tax so confusing?  Credit: Michael Driver for The Telegraph

Q  I have been trying to find out when my Triumph Stag, first registered on June 23, 1976, becomes eligible for historic status and zero road tax. I have debated with fellow  enthusiasts, referred to the appropriate website and spoken with the DVLA, but I’m still none the wiser. However, I think I’ve narrowed it down to April 2016 or April 2017. Is either correct? MD

A  The short answer is April 2017. After much trial and error in responding to previous queries along the same lines, the following is what I understand to be correct: 1) according to the DVLA, any vehicle built before January 1, 1976 is classified as historic under the 40-year rolling exemption; 2) BUT as far as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is concerned, that 40-year exemption comes into effect at the start of every April. Therefore only cars built before April 1, 1976 are currently tax-exempt. The issue has been further muddied by official websites referring to build date but the DVLA (logically) persisting with date of first registration. Obviously, a number of cars that may have been built months before being registered (especially imports) will be officially tax-exempt without their owners realising it. 

Corrode rage

Q  I bought a nine-month-old Peugeot 107 from a main dealer but, while still under warranty, both front wheelarches started corroding. The dealer said they are not genuine Peugeot parts, so I feel that the car was misrepresented. What are my legal rights? CH

A The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 contains a general prohibition against unfair commercial practices and, in particular, prohibitions against misleading actions, misleading omissions and aggressive commercial practices. The Regulations are enforceable through the civil and criminal courts. HJ

Road to nowhere

Tipping point: the cost of updating some satnav systems can be high  Credit: Jacob Stead for The Telegraph 


Q We bought a Nissan Qashqai Tekna in 2013. Lately, the built-in satellite navigation has become unable to find newer roads and housing estates. My dealer tells me it would cost £180 to fit a current satnav chip, which I find ridiculous. My iPhone’s maps are freely updated. CS

A With Nissans you have to buy an updated SD card. Cars fitted with TomTom- or Garmin-based systems can be updated online and any with a connected system will update themselves. HJ

Dark foreboding

 My 39,000-mile 2012 BMW 320d Convertible auto is six months out of warranty. The transmission warning light came on and the dealer reported that the fluid was black and smelled burnt, but then cleared the fault code. I asked BMW to investigate further, but the mechanic said he could not diagnose the cause without a code. What do you think? AB

A What the dealer told you is nuts. If the fluid is burnt, then the transmission cannot be working properly and will suffer further damage. Take it to a member and ask their opinion. They’ll be able to change the fluid by dialysis, at the correct temperature and pressure. That might save the transmission. HJ

Air necessities

Test of time: top tips to look after your car while you’re away  Credit: Assa Ariyoshi for the Telegraph 

Q I have to leave my Volkswagen Passat standing in my garage for two months. What should I do to ensure it doesn’t degrade in that time and starts on my return? CS

A Buy a battery-conditioning float charger and leave it connected, so the car will start easily when you get back. Overinflate the tyres to help prevent flat-spotting, and it’s crucial that the car is dry when you put it in temporary storage. If it has a manual handbrake, leave it off but chock the wheels. HJ

Wrong number

Q I am not foolish enough to expect the 151mpg quoted in brochures for the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, but I would expect nearer 100mpg instead of the 44mpg I get. PD

A Mitsubishi did not promise you 151mpg, or even 100mpg. This was the result of the ridiculous NEDC test, which extrapolated the figures on the basis of the car being “driven” 11 kilometres on a rolling road in a laboratory. No one gets more than 100mpg from a plug-in hybrid on a run significantly longer than its pure electric range. HJ

The hole truth

 My Mercedes dealer mentioned a new type of water-based tyre sealant which can be flushed out of the carcass to allow him to repair a puncture in the normal way. Can you tell me more about it? AR

A It has been around for years. If the hole is more than a pinprick, all sealants will spurt out. HJ

Somerset mourn

Q  My son received a penalty charge notice from Southwark Council, but the photos made it obvious that the car was not his and had a cloned number plate. Since then, he has received 10 more PCNs from all over London. It has been suggested that he applies for a change of registration, but how does that help to catch the criminal? AB

A  The only thing he can do is as suggested: buy a cheap alternative registration. The original plate will then show up on ANPR as non-existent and the person with the number plate cloned from your son’s will eventually be stopped. HJ

Clone arranger

DM is wondering where is best to get keys cut for their Vauxhall Corsa

Q We recently bought a 12-year-old Vauxhall Corsa from a local dealer as a runabout. We are very happy with the car, but it came with only one key. We’ve been advised to get a spare cloned from the existing key. Any advice on reliable agents? DM

A  Any locksmith or perhaps a hardware shop will be able to cut spare keys from a suitable blank, or you could try a branch of Timpsons in most town centres. It’s good practice to always have a spare set of keys – just make sure they are kept in a secure place. HJ

Jazz and blues

Q  The front of my blue Honda Jazz has a spray of small white dots across the front bumper. I suspect this is paint thrown up by a car ahead after a road was freshly white-lined. Can you suggest a product that will remove it without damaging the metallic paint and clear lacquer? CH

A A clay bar kit – very tedious, but effective. HJ

Many hounds, light work

CF needed a car for their two large dogs Credit: ADAM AVERY


Q I need to replace my 2003 Skoda Octavia Estate. I have two large dogs, so I need the boot space and low loading area. That apart most of my journeys are quite short, so I’d like to stick with a petrol engine. For my £16,000 budget I am considering a nearly new, estate version of the VW Golf or Passat, Ford Focus,  Hyundai i30, Seat Leon or Honda Civic. What do you think? CF

A  You could buy a used version of any of the admittedly excellent cars on your list, although for your budget you could also buy a brand new Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 90 or 110 Estate. It is a nice, small car with the latest technology and plenty of room for you and your dogs. HJ

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