Car advice with Honest John – your questions answered

Honest John
Which small yet spacious car is best to transport an ageing Labrador? - Philip Hollis

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Cars Jargon buster | Essential information for car buyers

Cur and attention

I have a 2008 Vauxhall Astra diesel estate with a failing clutch after 102,000 miles. A main dealer is trying to sell me a new Meriva, but I don’t think it’s very elegant and they’ve only offered me £350 as a trade-in. I would like something stylish. I’m only 5ft tall and would feel overwhelmed in a Range Rover, but I need space (preferably with a low sill) for my ageing Labrador. Any ideas? SL

For small yet spacious, it’s difficult to beat a Honda Jazz. If you want something bigger, a Honda HR-V has the same seat-folding arrangement but is a bit higher off the ground. To dispose of your Astra, try, or Evans Halshaw. Even with that mileage, £350 sounds low (though the lingering smell of a dog can make any car almost impossible to sell).

Civic immunity

Does the VW Group 1.2 TSI engine range suffer the same timing chain issues as the 1.4 TSI? I’m thinking of buying either a 2016 Seat Leon 1.2 TSI or a 2016 Honda Civic 1.4. MF

From about 2013 (though not consistently), the EA211 engines switched from timing chains to belts. A Honda Civic 1.4i VTEC is likely to be more reliable than any of the VW Group cars.

Kerb your enthusiasm

What right do I have to exit and enter my garage, which is part of my house? I have a dropped kerb with white line across the opening but am always finding lorries and cars parked to prevent entry or exit. The police and traffic wardens are not interested. GS

Local authorities interpret the rules differently from area to area. The general rule is that if they block you in, then that is obstruction, but if they block you out (park across a dropped kerb where no vehicle is parked on the house side), they cannot be prosecuted.

Significant other

My wife is having a significant birthday and I would like to buy her a used, fun and reliable soft-top. What would you recommend? RM

A Mazda MX-5 2.0 Sport.

Quick thinking

My 29-year-old daughter has driven a Vauxhall Nova for the last 10 years and wants to swap it for a more sporting model. She really likes the Audi TTS and had seen one with very low mileage for £23,000. Are there any bad points? PG

You haven't given a year, but £23,000 is about half the new list price. To date there have been very few problems with the latest TT.

Is torque cheap?

I believe the automatic Suzuki Baleno has a torque converter gearbox. Are there any other reasonably priced petrol automatics with torque converters? JG

The Suzuki Swift 1.0T six-speed auto is brilliant, Also look at the Mazda2 1.5 six-speed, Peugeot 208/2008 EAT6 six-speed and Citroën C3 EAT6.

Plant higher

My wife has constant pain from a long-standing back problem. She needs a car that absorbs bumps brilliantly with a seat that has lumbar adjustment and, preferably, an upward sloping grab handle. Can you suggest anything that isn't huge? AC

The new Citroén C4 Cactus with advanced comfort seats and suspension, on sale now.

Vroom with a rue

A few months ago you answered a query relating to air quality certificates in France. Is a certificate required for Strasbourg as well as Paris, Lyon and Lille? MW

Yes. Different towns are imposing their own levels of regulation and Strasbourg did this last September:

Turin shroud

I have a new-style Mazda3, which is OK but dull. I need an injection of fun. Will there be a coupé version of the Fiat 124 convertible? FO

A coupé version of the Fiat 124 Spider (which is itself an Italian-styled Mazda MX-5 with a 1.4-litre Fiat turbo engine rather than one of Mazda’s naturally aspirated units) has been rumoured, nothing more. If you want a fixed roof, look at the new MX-5 RF. The 1.5-litre engine is fun, the 2.0-litre even more so. If it’s produced, the Fiat is likely to have the same roof arrangement. The current Japanese and Italian roadsters have distinct characteristics, so try both.

A winter’s trail

I cannot help feeling that winter tyres are a bit of a con. During the 1960s my father had a Rover 90 P4 that was shod with narrow, high-profile cross-plies. When the roads in the Lake District were covered in snow, he would drive us all over the area without any difficulty. AC

In 1970 I had an earlier 1949 Rover P3 that I drove around the roads of Northumberland during a snowy winter, but it wouldn’t go up an ice covered one-in-three even with a sack of feed in the boot. On siped-tread all-weather tyres, a modern car will.

Three-pointed start

Does a flat battery indicate an electrical wiring problem? Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

I have a 15-year-old Mercedes SLK and, if I don’t drive it for two days, the battery goes flat. It’s been to two garages to trace the fault, but so far no joy. The car is parked behind secure gates, under cover, so I don’t bother locking it and it can’t be the alarm. The only thing left on is the clock, but obviously that shouldn’t drain the battery. DM

By not locking it you are leaving various circuits live and active. That’s your problem.

Striking a cord

I swapped the tyres of my 2007 Subaru Impreza RX2.0 auto for Michelin Cross Climates and have been advised that the offside front is showing cords on the inner edge, probably caused by a pothole. As the remaining tread on its companion is 5mm, should I change as a matched pair? FK

A new one will probably have 7mm, so that is not quite enough disparity to cause concern. I’d put the current rear tyres on the front, with the 5mm front and the new Cross Climate on the back.

Kind of Blue?

My Land Rover Discovery Sport shows a message telling me that the AdBlue tank needs topping up. I suspect that Land Rover AdBlue will be considerably more expensive than anyone else’s, so are all AdBlue products much the same? TM

Your Land Rover dealer might replenish it free of charge, but AdBlue is all the same. You can fill straight from the AdBlue pump at the truck side of a filling station, or simply buy containers (about £15 for 10 litres). That’s messier to fill, however, and AdBlue is a nasty urea solution.

Double trouble?

My son’s partner bought a 16-reg VW Polo GTI. Would it be a potentially troublesome Twincharger engine, and should she get rid of it sooner rather than later? CS

A 16-plate is probably the new one with a 1.8 EA888 TSI engine (easily checked via the V5C registration document). They’re actually quite good and don’t have the woes of the 1.4 Twincharger version.

Long way home

My Range Rover Sport was hit from behind when stationary and the other driver’s insurer provided me with a hire car and arranged a repair at a Land Rover bodyshop. They seem to be totally unconcerned about the time my car is off the road. Is this common? HS

That’s fairly normal. The insurer does not pay them to expedite the work. And the longer you are in the hire car, the more money is made due to extended car hire fees.

Escort agency

I want to trace the first car I owned. How can I do this? It was a Ford Escort GL, registration GOC 139L. Can you help? AR

A check on reveals that the car is untaxed and has been so since 1986, so I’m afraid it was probably scrapped some time ago. When trying to track vehicles, Data Protection forbids disclosure unless the car has damaged you or your property. Enthusiast clubs have to ask an owner’s permission before they can give you any details.

All mod cons

There has been a recent interest in a pellet-based product that improves performance and economy when added to the fuel tank. If the results are so good, why is not being used by large fleet operators? GW

You have answered your own question. These pellets were used to improve the low octane Russian fuel in aircraft engines during the Second World War. We don’t have such terrible fuel any more, which is why no one needs them and why no one with any sense gets conned into using them.

Shallow end

When I fitted winter tyres to my BMW 320 x-Drive Touring, the original Bridgestone run-flats had only 3mm of tread left. These tyres have only done about 17,000 miles - I got 30,000 miles out of the tyres on my previous Subaru Legacy, although these were not run-flats. Which run-flat tyre will last better than this? AR

That’s a normal wear rate for wide, low-profile tyres. Those on your Legacy must have had a deeper profile.

Reverse gear

I was about to order a Skoda Superb when I was alarmed by your comments about seven-speed dry-clutch DSGs fitted to smaller engines. You recommended going for a vehicle with the stronger DQ500 seven-speed wet clutch DSG/s-tronic. Can you enlighten me as to which petrol Skoda or VW models are available with the DQ500? TR

Only new models and the Audi Q3 with transverse 2.0 engines and above. The one to avoid like the plague is the DQ200 seven-speed dry clutch DSG. You can get a 2.0 TSI engine with the DQ500 in the Kodiaq and the Tiguan.

Loitering within dent

As an experienced articulated HGV driver, can I please caution car drivers that when overtaking a truck they ensure they have enough space in front of the truck to be noticed by the driver and not to hover at the side. The frequency of accidents involving cars and left-hand drive trucks is too high. JO

It’s something I’ve mentioned lots of times but I’m always happy to repeat it.

Glowering inferno

Is a car fire caused by an electrical issue a manufacturing fault? Credit: Josh Edelson/AFP

I bought a brand-new Range Rover Evoque and have had numerous problems. Within two years, still under warranty, the car caught fire. The fire brigade confirmed an electrical fault. Land Rover is saying that’s not a manufacturing fault, therefore it takes no responsibility. Is an electrical fault not a manufacturer fault? LM

There have been DVSA recalls of 2015 and 2016 Range Rover Evoques due to a propensity for electrical faults causing fires. I would alert your insurer to this and to the actual page on the DVSA site that lists the recalls and urge them to question JLR more closely.

Life begins at 50

I had to use the spare wheel on my Skoda Superb and there was a 50mph speed limit warning. It appears to be a standard size tyre rather than a skinny space-saver, so is this restricted speed to do with the construction of the wheel as opposed to the tyre? NB

It's a universal emergency wheel and tyre – it will not have exactly the same roadholding and braking characteristics as the car's normal road wheels and tyres.

Net profit

I see that online brokers are offering good deals. What happens if I buy a car from them and it develops a fault in its early days? Who do I go to in order to get it sorted? FT

A good online broker refers the order to a dealer and that’s who you pay, so the dealer is liable.

Unkind of blue

I bought a bottle of AdBlue for my BMW 2.0-litre diesel. I asked what would happen if I stopped using it and was told that the engine would stop. Is this true? DH

Yes. If the AdBlue reservoir runs dry, the engine is programmed to stop functioning because it would exceed its certified NOx emissions.

Knight, shining armour

We own a supercharged 2004 Jaguar XKR 4.2 Black Knight with 77,000 miles on the clock. It is in brilliant condition, but for the last year has been kept in our garage untaxed and uninsured (SORN) in the hope that it may, one day, appreciate. What should we do to minimise deterioration while it is in storage? SP

If a car isn’t used it inevitably deteriorates - and the more complex the car the worst this will be, particularly electrics and cooling system. The only way to run it is to take it off SORN, MoT, tax and insure it, recommission it and drive it over the summer, then SORN it again. It would be better to consign it to a classic auction in the spring. I like

Short Sport thought

I have a Land Rover Discovery Sport, bought new in March 2015, and am very pleased with it. My worry is an average usage of 5,000 miles per year with a lot of short journeys. Can I do anything to help the particulate filter by using the best quality diesel and any recommended additives? DC

You may well have the Ford 2.2 diesel engine, with which the Disco Sport was launched. If so, you are far less likely to suffer the problems of 2.0 Ingenium diesel Disco Sports. That said, the problems with them seem to be restricted to cars used only for short runs. No complaints from high-mileage drivers. As mentioned many times, a long run once a week will reduce the likelihood of problems with any DPF-equipped diesel.

Air necessities

I am contemplating the purchase of a Dacia Duster that does not come with a spare wheel, but has a tyre injection "get you home" kit. Would I be wise to purchase a spare wheel/tyre (if possible) for peace of mind in case of a puncture? DD

Definitely. Pay £100-£150 extra for a spare wheel and never contemplate using a tyre repair kit. (For most punctures they don't work.)

Regeneration game

I have a 2011 Range Rover 4.4 TD V8 that has done more than 100,000 miles and, due to a lot of city driving, I am having to regenerate the DPF quite regularly. This is easy and, at the recommended 50mph, the dash warning clears within 10 minutes. I just have to do it once a month at present. The workshop manual says  DPF-cleaning fuel additives should not be used, but is this true? GS

A friend has exactly the same car and exactly the same problem. I think the DPFs are now filled up with ash from the regenerated soot, to the extent that normal regeneration cannot take place. One option is to have them sent to Ceramex to be chemically cleaned for about £400 each. The other is to replace them for about £1,000 each.

Open mind

I am looking to buy a Jaguar XK coupé. Are there any models to avoid and, most importantly, which engine should I go for: 4.2 or 5.0? MY

Go for the 5.0, and consider the roadster rather than the coupé, simply because it's a lot nicer to drive with the top down in the summer and the roadsters hold their value better. There’s no need to go for a supercharged model;

The long run

I have a much-loved 2001 VW Passat estate, which has done 107,800 miles. I hope to keep it for a while longer but, when I do replace it, I feel I still need an estate but don't want anything larger. I am considering a used Skoda Octavia or a VW Golf. Which would you advise, or would you suggest I look at another make? SB

The Octavia is a bit longer, but the Golf estate and Leon ST are equally commodious. Best to go for a 1.4 TSI (or 1.5 TSI when they come through) rather than a diesel. Avoid DSG automatics with these smaller engines.

Rate of inflation

Is it right to wait more than two years for a replacement airbag?

Two years ago my Toyota Yaris had a recall because of an airbag problem. One side has been replaced, but two years later I am still waiting for the other one to be done. I have just booked a service and MoT and checked whether the dealership had received the other airbag, but it hasn’t. Have you received similar complaints? RP

The Takata airbag recall affected tens of millions of cars worldwide, bankrupted the company that made them and created a supply problem. That explains the delay.

Standard vanguard

I have a Ford Focus 1.6 Powershift auto that, soon after purchase, would develop a judder even on gentle acceleration. The dealer replaced part of the transmission and for 10 months it has been perfect. However, recently the same fault feels as if it is returning. From cold there is no problem but once the car has run for 20 minutes or so it is evident (though nowhere near as severe as before). My concern is that the warranty expires soon, so Ford simply wash its hands of the problem. What should I do? NJ

It’s a standard problem. The clutch packs fail, so Ford is now abandoning the dry-clutch six-speed Powershifts in favour of torque converter autos. Go back to the dealer for another clutch pack.

Apposite lock

I have a 2009 Volvo XC60 D. I ran low on  coolant and was reminded by a warning light, but it was not below minimum content. Since replenishing, the car heater is not working 100 per cent. I have checked the handbook but can't find a cure. Any ideas? TC

You have probably acquired an airlock in the pressurised system. To purge it, from stone cold, turn the heater to maximum heat (to fully open the valve), remove the pressure cap from the expansion tank, then start the engine and idle it until the thermostat opens, at which point coolant will start to spurt out of the expansion tank. Then, using gardening gloves to protect your hands, screw the pressure cap back on. That should have purged any airlocks.

Filter tips

Will fitting a K&N air filter to my VW Golf GT TDI make any difference to the acceleration or economy? More importantly, could fitting a non-VW part invalidate my manufacturer warranty? LM

It would be a waste of time and money unless the ECU is remapped to account for it. Also, it will void your VW warranty and would have to be disclosed as a modification to your insurer, who will then hike your premium.

Spokes woman

My daughter is looking for a used car to replace her Honda Jazz. The latter is excellent for commuting and also has a flat loading area at the back. I worry, however, about the long journeys she does in such a relatively small car, when she packs in a bicycle, a surfboard and luggage. What would you suggest? MT

Bigger 4x4s and SUVs are not necessarily safer in an accident. But if you are worried, look for five-star ratings on Among smaller cars, the Hyundai Kona, Toyota Yaris, Citroën C3 Aircross, Vauxhall Crossland X, Seat Arona, Seat Ibiza, VW Polo and Ford Fiesta all did well in the most recent tests, as did the Kia Rio and Nissan Micra with safety packs.

Motoring picture of the day: celebrating the internal combustion engine, in all its forms

Train carriage

I have a daily 20-minute commute to and from the station. It is a country lane for three minutes and enjoyable B-roads for the remainder. What cheapish car will give me the most enjoyment? MS

Whatever it is, it has to be secure because it will be parked all day in roughly the same location and local car thieves will know that. The best deterrent is a Disklok locking steering wheel cover from Halfords. As for the car, it depends on your budget.It has to be something that steers and handles. A Mazda MX-5 is fun, but vulnerable. Maybe an older Seat Ibiza Cupra, Ford Fiesta ST or a 2008-2015 Mazda2 1.3TS2.

Prolonged agony

My new Skoda Superb 2.0 Tiptronic auto has a Sports mode. Would selecting that be a help driving in snow and/or, icy conditions? MT

No. The opposite. Sport holds the gears for longer. In snow you want to change up to the highest gear in which the car will run.

Space invaders

I am thinking of buying a Toyota RAV4 2.2D Invincible auto (70,000 miles, £11,000). What are the pitfalls? FK

There are a few snags, particularly cylinder head problems with the Toyota 2.2 as well as the general demonisation of diesel. For space inside, it’s better to go for an MPV such as a Ford S-Max or, better still, a Galaxy.

Thin end of wedge

I love my Audi Q3, but because of its size I can’t get it into my underground parking space. Can you recommend a smaller, narrower replacement? LA

Check out a Peugeot 2008 1.2 Puretech or a Citroën C3 Aircross. Other possibilities are a Hyundai Kona and a Kia Stonic: My favourite is the handsome, fine handling Mazda CX-3.

Only way is up

My local Costco has opened a fuel station and the diesel is described as "premium". Is this equivalent to the premium fuel sold by the major oil companies? GA

There is lots of confusion in the UK because the cheapest fuel is called "premium unleaded" or simply "diesel". The only way to get better fuel is to buy "super". And the only way to be sure of the benefits of super, such as cleaning your engine fuel system as well as higher octane or cetane, is to go for a super with nationally advertised benefits. If the benefits are advertised they have to be true.

Land Rover discovery

Is it worth recommissioning an off-road Land Rover for use on the public highway?

My 13-year-old Ford Ka has succumbed to rust. I am 73 and really miss having my own vehicle. I do very limited mileage and am considering a 1969 Land Rover Series 2 that is currently used occasionally for farm work. It is on a SORN certificate. I see there is likely to be a MoT exemption now for vehicles more than 40 years old, but will insurers still require a roadworthy certificate? Should I put money into renovating a trusty Land Rover or spend £500 on a banger? GB

Get the Land Rover checked over. If it is rust-free (especially at the rear of the chassis), it’s probably worth recommissioning for the road. It is far more likely to appreciate than depreciate. It’s worth having an MoT for safety, even if not mandatory. But if it is a diesel it will be purgatory on the motorway - 55mph max, earplugs essential.

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