Car advice with Honest John – your questions answered

Honest John
Early examples of the Mazda MX-5 are increasingly rare, so one that's ben stored for 12 years is definitely worth something

If your car has developed a fault, turn to Honest John by emailing honestadvice@telegraph.co.uk

Cars Jargon buster | Essential information for car buyers

Rare stake

I have a 1992 limited-edition Mazda MX-5 SE, purchased new for £17,661 (I have the original receipt). The car has been in storage for the last 12 years and is therefore in pristine condition with no accident damage and all original paintwork and has covered 58,000 miles. Is it worth anything? GS

Early MX-5s are starting to appear at classic car auctions. Yours should be worth £3,000 - although some private sellers are asking up to £5,000 which is ambitious. They can rust very badly just ahead of the rear wheels, which can write them off, which is making early MX-5s increasingly rare. This one will need a timing belt and water pump as part of the recommissioning before it is started, but it will definitely be of interest to enthusiasts. Try the club at mx5oc.co.uk

Two new arrivals

We have a baby on the way and my wife wants to trade in my BMW 4-series for a VW Touareg or Audi Q5 4x4 diesel. The problem is that I enjoy my driving, most of my 20,000 miles a year are for work and the company pays my fuel bills, so I'm trying to convince her that we should get a BMW 340i Touring. What do you think? JG

She's thinking “safety” from being higher and having more car around her, but I know where you're coming from. If a Porsche Macan V6 is out of the question, a Jaguar F-Pace 3.0 V6 might keep you both happy. Failing that, a BMW 340i GT.

Carbon cull

A friend recently arranged a carbon clean-up for his Jaguar diesel and claims he’s noticed improvements in engine smoothness and pulling power. Are there any downsides to this procedure and do you think the £100 cost would make it worthwhile for my 2007 Mercedes E320 CDi with 160,000 miles on the clock? He used www.enginecarbonclean.com. BS

I guess you mean the Terraclean process and it should produce an improvement, though I cannot guarantee this. You'll need an engine oil and filter change, too.

Arran sweater

Recently I was stranded at the northernmost tip of the Isle of Arran in a new Vauxhall Astra, with a tyre rendered unusable by a large nail in its wall. I must commend Vauxhall Assist. who not only co-ordinated recovery and sourcing/fitting of a replacement tyre, but also managed to get me to onto the following morning's return ferry to the mainland on time. Had I missed that booking I may well have had a major headache. I am sure I am not alone in regretting the demise of the spare wheel in modern cars. DB

Yes. The lack of a spare is driving ever more of us to rely on Assist systems or the AA, though manufacturers seem to be rethinking this and are increasingly offering space savers as a £110 option. You can order them for Vauxhalls.

Sticking point

Very occasionally, when I switch on to start my four-year-old Toyota Auris it will over-rev. I then switch off and restart and it is usually OK. Any ideas? TE

It might be a sticking throttle pedal switch. Toyota had some trouble with these a few years ago and instituted a worldwide recall.

Condensed milk?

The air-con of my BMW just failed again. The first time this happened, in 2006, the BMW dealer insisted that the whole unit needed replacing at a cost of £800. I had the work done. This time I went to the local branch of Formula One Autocentres. They regassed the system at a cost of £45 and everything is working again. It does make you wonder about the first solution. BP

That £800 bill would have been for a new compressor or a new condenser, but £45 is for a simple regas. Check your invoices.

Ingestion charge

I've been advised by my garage that the swirl valves in my 10-plate Volvo XC90 are failing. They've advised that the valves could be ingested into the engine and have quoted £1,600 for repairs. There is currently no noticeable impact on performance. Is this fix as critical as my garage claims? IL

Very much so, but check your area for an independent Volvo specialist who might be able to do the job more cheaply.

Repeat prescription

Our 2005 VW Passat 1.9 TDI estate had its cambelt changed at 32,000 miles in 2010. Does this need doing again after 77,000 miles? We have been quoted £395. Is this fair? MG

It needs timing belt, tensioner, water pump and auxiliary belt. That £395 may or may not cover all of this, but a new water pump is crucial because if that seizes it will throw the belt off. It's a job that should be done every five years.

Late declaration

I attended a driver awareness course in lieu of a fine for a minor offence. The police literature said specifically that this did not need to be declared to my insurer as no offence was recorded. My insurer thinks differently and treated it in the same way as an offence, almost doubling my premium. The object of the course is to make me a safer driver and my insurance should, arguably, decrease. Should we declare these or not? JS

If the insurer asks, you have to disclose the information. I would change your insurer if you can get cheaper cover from one with a more sensible attitude.

Look no further...

With car manufacturers making better diesel engines, JLR claiming modern ones are no more toxic than petrol and governments threatening doom and gloom for the diesel driver while the public has little concrete information; where can the poor punter get sensible advice? TL

Unless you do 20,000 miles a year or more, need a large van/motorhome or to tow something heavy, don't buy a diesel. Whatever legislation and punitive measures may be in the offing, the basic sums don't add up. You gain an economy benefit of 10 to 20 per cent, but you have to pay significantly more to get the diesel engine in the first place and its emissions equipment is expensive to maintain. The future for the next 10 years is petrol hybrids.

Paper wait

I had a very slight scrape in a supermarket car park but had no paperwork relating to my insurance. What should I keep in the car for such occasions? MP

Every year you will be issued with an insurance certificate along with the policy document. This is the piece of paper you need to keep with you.

Putting the boot in

Which small car is the safest when it's hit from behind?

Which is the safest small car for a young driver? My granddaughter was in the back of a friend’s car recently when someone crashed into them and showered her with glass from the back window. JC

Obviously a small saloon is much safer in a rear-end impact because the boot acts as a crush zone between the back of the car and the rear seat. Curiously there doesn't seem to be any Euro NCAP data for rear-end vulnerability. I can't think of any very small booted saloons on sale in the UK, but the Skoda Rapid is a reasonably priced car with a long boot. To check individual model ratings, there is an easy-to-use search facility at www.euroncap.com.

Twisted logic

I would like to tow my 1,850kg caravan with a 2001 Mercedes-Benz CLK 320 petrol auto cabriolet. There is provision for a tow-bar and most makes can fit. However, my caravan expert pal says it is not a good idea to tow with a convertible as it can twist the chassis. Is he correct? PA

You’re asking for trouble. The Caravan Club says a car should tow no more than 85 per cent of its own weight and your car is 120kg lighter than what you are proposing to pull.

4 into 2 will go

We are in our 70s and need to change our present car, a BMW 420, to something that provides easier access, a comfortable ride and good driving dynamics. We are considering a smaller SUV. PS

The first thing to try is a BMW 2-series Active Tourer, preferably on 16-inch wheels with 55- or 60-profile tyres.

Revised opinion

I'm thinking of replacing my 55,000-mile 2008 Volvo V50 2.0 diesel with something similar but, in view of an annual mileage of about 6,000, petrol rather than diesel. RW

Look at the Peugeot 308 SW 1.2 Puretech 130 six-speed, with potential 50mpg economy. A revised 308 is being launched very soon.

Higher ground

We plan to trade in both our BMW Touring 330d X-Drive and our Hyundai i10 for a comfortable petrol automatic with a raised driving position and enough space for two large suitcases. We prefer estate-type bodies and are thinking of BMW X1 or Mercedes GLA. Should we be looking at anything else? Is there a hybrid that fits the bill? RN

You could check out a Kia Niro hybrid and a Toyota C-HR.

Assault on batteries?

Should I buy a three-year-old Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, or am I going to have years of bills and battery issues? PC

I haven't heard of any serious problems and recently asked Mitsubishi that very question. I’m not hearing this generally with hybrids because there's always the petrol engine as back-up. I have noticed with my father's 2010 Auris HSD that initial battery range is now very short and mpg is not as good until it has been driven a distance.

Faults economy

I am writing to ask for your advice regarding driving in neutral as an economy measure. This was suggested to economise during the war and in times of shortages. AD  

It made sense 60 years ago when cars had carburettors, but everything now has fuel injection that shuts off most of the fuel supply when the throttle is lifted so it's a complete waste of time and could even lead to engine damage. The most economical way to drive is at a steady 2,000rpm, especially for a diesel. Consistently drive a diesel at revs below that and the DPF will not regenerate properly

Safety still first

I have just had a Westfalia towbar and dedicated electrics fitted to my 2016 Audi A4 avant 2.0 TDI 190 s-tronic. The cruise control, speed limiter and Audi pre-sense are disabled while towing but fine when not towing. According to the maker, this is correct. My previous 2013 model was not affected. It seems strange to disable some of the safety features. AL

That's perfectly normal. Cruise, speed limiter and automated braking are all connected and designed to work with the standard weight of the vehicle, not when it could be almost twice as heavy when towing.

Brisker tempo

I am thinking of changing my Honda 1.4 Jazz automatic, first registered in August 2014. There is no urgent need, but I would like a little bit more acceleration. Should I wait for the new 1.0-litre turbocharged Jazz, or buy the current 1.3i VTEC? JF

In my experience the 1.3 feels slower than the 1.4. It would be best to wait for the new 1.0 turbo. It’s coming, but I don’t yet know when.

Urban worrier

If a diesel engine's CO2 emissions increase, does it move into a higher tax bracket?

I have a 20-month-old Vauxhall Astra SRI CDTI that is extremely economical - up to 70mpg and zero rated for road tax at 97g/km of CO2. In respect of the latter, what happens at a future service or MoT if that level rises? Does it move into a different tax bracket? KE

No. So far the only MoT test for a diesel is smoke opacity and that the original emission reducing equipment is still fitted. But if a car is not EU6 emissions-compliant, the driver faces increasing restrictions in terms of bringing it into cities.

Interior design course

I have a 1983 Mercedes 280CE automatic that needs some restoration (notably loose dash trim and split materials). Would you recommend complete replacement or repair, as I understand it’s possible to get ‘filler’ for the splits? RLJ

Talk to Mark Cosovich, the UK’s leading Mercedes W123 restorer: mark@w123world.com.

Briefest of all briefs

What is be the most reliable type of automatic gearbox? WA

A traditional torque converter.

The price of loyalty

My much-loved 2010/60 Mazda6 Sport D 180 hatchback has done 87,000 miles. Am I likely to hit big bills if I keep it? TS

They can have DPF regeneration problems. This dumps diesel into the sump, where it mixes with the lubricating oil to form sludge that blocks the oil strainer. I haven’t heard of this recently with the current models, however.

Planning consent

I have a 2012 Audi A1. I took out a service plan with Audi and have had three oil changes, the last in May 2016. The car is now due its annual MoT but not a service, as it has only done 38,000 miles. My husband suggests another oil change would be a good idea at this time. Do you agree? Also, the service plan lists an air filter change as one of the items included, but the garage has said this is not done till 50,000 miles and so will fall outside the plan. Should I push for this? FA

These plans are very basic and you have to pay extra for the air filter and oil change, but I would.

Honest, John?

Is a vendor (a garage) legally required to inform the buyer that a car has been involved in an accident, however minor? VT

Yes. The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations of May 2008 (CPRs) contain prohibitions against misleading actions, misleading omissions and aggressive commercial practices, enforceable through the civil and criminal courts. They create an offence of misleading omissions which would not previously have been an offence if the customer had not asked the right questions.

Direct debit

I rang Direct Line to add my 32-year-old daughter to my insurance over a long weekend. For this they charged me the outrageous sum of £1.10. It wouldn’t even have covered the cost of drawing up and posting the paper certificate. I was flabbergasted. AI

Outstanding. I’m getting some very favourable reports about Direct Line at the moment.

The only way in Essex

I am starting a new job that involves a daily round trip of 100 miles. It is mainly on country roads, with a stint on the M11. I am looking for a petrol or hybrid car. My main priorities are safety, comfort and reasonable running costs. I have about £30,000 available and am considering the Toyota Prius, Mercedes C-class, BMW 3- or 4-series or a Lexus. I aim to keep the car for up to seven years. GZ

A plain Prius hybrid (not the plug-in) makes good sense, or possibly a Lexus IS300h (though that will use more fuel). For style, ride comfort and handling, consider a Toyota C-HR hybrid. Or spend less money and go for an Auris HSD. Petrol/hybrid running costs are likely to be significantly lower than a diesel because of reduced maintenance and repairs.

Doncaster rover

Is fuel at motorway services a rip-off?

I called in at Tamworth services on the M42 and was charged £1.49 a litre for superunleaded. That’s taking the proverbial. In disgust, I put in enough to get home and no more. At home in Doncaster I pay about £1.24 – £1.12 less per gallon. BN

That’s shocking, but a good reason to avoid motorways.

Pace attack

My wife has a one-year-old Range Rover Evoque automatic that she loves, but for two issues. She is concerned about driving a diesel, even though it’s Euro 6 compliant, and she would like something slightly bigger. She quite fancies a Lexus. What would you advise? PR

Jaguar Land Rover’s new Ingenium petrol engines are now being fitted to the F-Pace. You’ll soon be able to get them in the Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport, too (as well as the Jaguar XE, XF and F-Type). I wasn’t very impressed by the Lexus NX hybid. She might prefer the Toyota C-HR. Petrol hybrids are also on the way from BMW, Mercedes, VW and Audi.

Easy answer

Which would be the better buy, a VW Polo automatic or a Toyota Yaris hybrid? EP

Pending release of the new Polo, I’d for the Toyota.

Glowing example

Even in summer we have rainy days with poor visibility and so many muppets drive in dirty, hard-to-see cars with no lights.  Why don’t all cars have their side (running) lights connected to the ignition system? Volvo introduced it in about 1975. PW

European Union Directive 2008/89/EC requires all passenger cars and small delivery vehicles first EU Type Approved on or after February 7 2011 to be equipped with Daytime Running Lights. Some manufacturers are now making the rear lights come on automatically as well.

Hound baggage

Can you advise us about the options available for an electric/hybrid car that has a boot area large enough for two Labrador-sized dogs? This is to replace a Land Rover Discovery Sport. Price is not an issue, but I’m not interested in a Tesla. RB

Your best bets are a Toyota Auris Touring Sport hybrid, a Toyota RAV4 hybrid, a Toyota Prius Plus or a Kia Niro hybrid.

Hasta mañana

I will be taking my 2006 Mercedes C180 to Spain but I was having a hard time finding breakdown cover since the car is now 11 years old. You suggested www.footmanjames.co.uk/classic-motor-breakdown-cover and it proved to be an excellent tip. They gave me a policy that is not only cheaper than I was paying before, but also provided home start as well as European cover. I am delighted. PW

That’s brilliant. Thank you for the feedback.

Beyond the pail

Do you have any advice on using a pressure washer to clean the bodywork on my Toyota Auris? AF

What's wrong with a bucket and sponge? That way, there’s no chance of taking the paint off. It is always best to wash a car in the rain. The rain loosens the surface dirt and rinses the car perfectly with soft water, so you don't have to chamois it down afterwards.

Consumer rights? Wrong...

You often warn about the possible pitfalls of selling your car to a private buyer, but the Consumer Rights Act raises another issue. If your old car develops a fault within 30 days, and that fault was not clearly explained at the point of sale, you will have to take the car back and issue a refund. AC

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 does not apply to private sales.

Much ado about nothing

My 2006 Skoda has an automatic gearbox. In the ‘park’ position the road wheels are locked. If the car was hit by another vehicle in ‘park’ mode, would the gearbox be damaged? If so, it would seem safer to leave it in ‘neutral’ with the handbrake on. GE

Leave it in ‘park’. That's the safest way with any automatic. Some won’t let you remove the ignition key until you’ve selected ‘park’.

10,000 over par

I have been offered a 1992 VW Golf GTi for £500, but it is in poor condition and really needs complete restoration. How much might this cost and what would the car then be worth? HS

It depends on mechanical condition and levels of rust. A full resto could cost you anything from £5,000-£20,000 for a car that would then be worth about £10,000. Be very careful. If there’s any rust near the front screen surround, walk away because that's very difficult to repair and will be indicative of more rot elsewhere.

Smart choice

My 2003 Smart Roadster is nearing retirement. As they are no longer made, what would you suggest for a modern replacement that’s as much fun to drive? HP

A Mazda MX-5 is a lot bigger than it used to be, but that’s the obvious answer.

Distortion bar

Must UK registration plates have letters as well as numbers?

Is it possible to have a car number plate without figures? JH

Not in the UK. Plates always feature a combination of letters and numbers. If you see what appear to be only letters, they are corrupted numbers. It’s illegal to mess around with numbers to make them look like letters.

Tidings of comfort

Can you explain why or how fitting smaller diameter wheels can improve ride comfort? GF

Shocks from road surfaces are absorbed by the suspension and tyres, not by the wheels. For the same rolling circumference, a smaller wheel leaves more tyre between the rim and the road and creates a more comfortable buffer.

Mind of its own

My diesel car revs itself when the engine is warm, emitting grey smoke. What is wrong? EN

The sump level is too high, so the compression ignition engine is running on its sump oil. Siphon some out and try to find out why it is dumping diesel into the sump. It’s probably the active DPF regeneration not working properly.

Petrol patrol?

With our reliance on diesel engines in goods vehicles and cargo ships, how much do private cars actually contribute to the planet's problems? TE

HGVs got particulate filters and AdBlue systems long before diesel cars did. The thing is, the only way to move stuff around efficiently is by using diesel ships and diesel trucks. We don't need diesel cars and we certainly don't need diesel cruise ships.

Wind of change

My VW Scirocco GT 2.0 TSI DSG is coming up for 50,000 miles and its fifth service. Is there anything out of the ordinary I should be replacing? RC

The six-speed wet clutch DSG needs a fluid and filter change if it hasn't already had one. Get them to make sure the chain tensioners aren't wearing. I'd run it on Shell V-Power to help keep the inlet valves cleaner. (It's a DI engine, so fuel doesn't come in through the valves, but Shell’s formulations seem to keep them cleaner.)

Straight talking

I want to change my 2008 Honda Jazz auto for something similar – ie automatic, retractable mirrors, not too wide, plenty of headroom. But I am getting older and want a more supportive seat. Any ideas? CS

You will sit a little more upright in a Hyundai ix20 or a Kia Venga. Another possibility is a Citroën C3 Picasso. All three of these cars are quite old, so could be due for an update in the near future.

Still very much in Vogue

For the past 10 years I have driven a Range Rover P38 Vogue with a 4.6 engine. It is starting to show its age (paintwork and rattles). I am retired and do not do many miles. I do not like the shape of newer models, so have been looking for a similar car to my 2000 model with fewer miles. How would a 4.0 engine compare with my 4.6? JW

The original Range Rover engine was an aluminium Buick V8 that GM sold to Rover because it was too expensive to make. The 4.6 in the P38 was the maximum size for this engine - it couldn’t be bored out any further. The 4.0 was a midway development and is usually more reliable.

Security clampdown

A good friend died suddenly and his vehicle is parked on the drive outside his house. I am afraid to say there has been a spate of thefts in our area. The vehicle is still insured for several months but, since the policyholder has died, would the car be covered if it was stolen? IG

Probably not, because of the strange way insurance works in the UK. A private car is insured to a person but is not itself insured. If you are worried, fit a wheel clamp or a Disklok to the steering wheel.

Four Michelin stars

I need some new 185/55x15 tyres for my 2008 Honda and would appreciate the usual benefits, ie low road noise and a comfortable ride. CM

Happily, Michelin does Cross Climates in 185/55 R15. These are the best all-round tyres: excellent ride and steering feel, low noise, long life, brilliant in adverse conditions and with no fuel economy penalty. But you must fit them to all four wheels at the same time.

Ship replacement

The spacious Skoda Superb Estate is the ideal replacement for a 17-year-old Volvo load-lugger

I need to replace my 17-year-old Volvo V70. I need a fast petrol manual car, big enough for five people and university luggage, for under £20,000. What would you recommend? JM

Try to find a used current model Skoda Superb or Superb Estate with the 1.4 TSI 150 engine. That makes the most sense.

Blue collar worker

Your advice to avoid diesel on the grounds of pollution and impending toll charges leaves me confused. I have a new Jaguar XE with an AdBlue cap. It seems that this feature is designed to reduce the NOx emissions. Should I be thinking about dropping this car after the three-year lease period or soldiering on? BK

It will be EU6 compliant so does not face the impending penalty for bringing a non-EU6 diesel car into cities. But emissions kit is unlikely to be wholly reliable in the long term and beyond three years you could face substantial bills for maintenance and replacements.

Two into one will go

We bought our Nissan Micra and Subaru Forester 10 and 15 years ago respectively and they have been virtually trouble-free until recently. Unfortunately they are showing signs of age and so are we. We now only need one medium-sized car, preferably automatic, that will take an electric wheelchair in the boot and give us reliability, comfort and reasonable fuel economy. We quite like the Skoda Octavia. RFS

The Octavia estate has a big load deck, but your best bets are probably a Toyota Verso 1.8i Valvematic Multidrive or a Citroën C4 Picasso 1.2 Puretech EAT6.

Repeat warning

I am thinking of getting a Skoda Octavia 2,0-litre L&K diesel on 18-inch wheels. The sales rep said I have nothing to worry about it being diesel as it will not affect the car. Is this true? RE

Diesel emissions kit could give trouble after three years or so, but you might not keep the car that long. It would be daft to get it on 18-inch wheels with 40-profile tyres. Go for 16-inch wheels with 55s.

Tee caddy

I am looking for a smallish three-year-old automatic that would have space for a set of golf clubs plus trolley. WG

The Honda Jazz 1.4i VTEC CVT-7 has amazing interior space.

Zut, a law...

Where do you get the emissions stickers to enable you to drive in Paris and other French cities? Credit: Franck Fife/AFP

How do I get a French emissions sticker and a European accident statement? BA

This tells you all about the emissions stickers and how to get them: www.rac.co.uk/drive/news/motoring-news/law-change-for-uk-drivers-in-french-cities. You can also get the standard European accident forms from the RAC.

Let us spray

The rear nearside passenger door of my 2004 Rover 75 1.8 Connoisseur auto will only open from the outside. Do you have any ideas? My local garage suggests a sensor. PW

It’s likely to be the lock servo. If you can open the door and find a grommet in the lock face of the door, take it out and use the extended nozzle of a can of WD40 to spray the lock servo and hopefully drive out any moisture that might be causing it to stick.

Don’t worry, be happy

I own a Euro 6-compliant 2015 Volvo XC60 diesel. When the Real Driving Emissions test is applied to all registrations in September 2019, will current Euro 6 cars no longer meet the RDE standard and therefore fail their MoT? AV

No. This is only for newly registered cars. They are not going to make 10,000,000 diesel cars in the UK illegal overnight.

Sweep stake

My anti-skid warning light started showing intermittently and slowed my 2008 BMW on the motorway. The car has only done 51,000 miles, but I am told the metal discs on the half-shafts have rusted slightly and are brushing against the sensors. The repair will cost £700 as new shafts are required. Can it not be solved more simply or cheaply? MC

There is a chance that an independent BMW specialist can clean the corrosion off the ABS reluctor rings with some wire wool.

Cable car

I like the look of the Mercedes-Benz B-class electric. It generally gets good reviews. There are low-mileage 2016 models around for circa £22,000. This suggests they have depreciated by around a third compared. Are you aware of any serious cost issues or significant problems that have caused excessive depreciation? SH

Most electric cars seem to drop like a stone in value from their extremely high initial cost. Their problem is that their batteries gradually lose capacity, decreasing their range until after about five years the battery needs to be replaced at colossal cost. Renault and Nissan get around this by selling the cars and leasing batteries to customers for about £70 a month.

Road to no air

The air-con on my 2010 Renault Clio has failed. Is this an easy job to fix and will it cost me a fortune? JC

It might need a re-gas,  it might be the compressor clutch or else a holed condenser. There’s no quick, easy answer. Get it to an air-con specialist rather than a Renault garage.

Sense of perspective…

Would the supply of spare parts and Kia vehicles, such as the new Stonic seen here at the Frankfurt motor show, be affected by nuclear conflict in Korea?

What would be the situation with Kia cars if there was a nuclear war in Korea? Does Kia have enough spare parts in Europe to guarantee the seven-year warranty? Would you suggest avoiding Korean cars? PC

Most mainstream Kias for Europe are built in Slovakia or the Czech Republic, but if there is a nuclear war we might all have rather more pressing concerns than sourcing spare parts.

Cheap accommodation

What is the most economical seven-seater for school runs and family use? GRG

"Most economical" usually means diesel and that isn't suitable for short journeys like school run, because it will clog its emissions equipment and could be very expensive to maintain. So it has to be petrol. Maybe a Citroën C4 Grand Picasso 1.2 PureTech 130 or a VW Touran with the 1.4 TSI 150 engine.

Look, don’t touch

I’m considering a dealer-imported Toyota Hiace caravan, it is a 3.0-litre 4WD auto from 1999 with 80,000 miles on the clock. Is this a good idea? BE

Presumably this is a cast-off, imported from Japan where it would have been too expensive to get it through the local MoT-style tests. There are all kinds of potential problems with this because of the non-UK parts. It could leave you stranded somewhere for weeks.

Independence day

My wife’s VW Polo SE 1.4 auto was bought in March 2007.  The mileage is just under 43,000 and it is in good condition. It will soon be four years since the cambelt was changed and the work is due again on age grounds. We have received a quotation of £750, which seems high. PB

That is outrageous but typical of the worst kind of VW dealer. Find an independent specialist who will do the whole job for £400, including water pump, tensioner and VAT.

Waxing lyrical

I have a Ford Kuga 1.5 TDCI auto on order, in shadow black metallic, I would like to maintain a showroom finish but am not sure what to apply. I have some AutoGlym Super Resin Polish and AutoGlym Aqua Wax. Is there a difference between polish and wax? What would you recommend? CN

Get Autoglym High Def wax and use that instead of polish. Polish cuts the surface of the paint to create a shine. Wax sits on top of the paint, protecting it.

Drinking problem

I was recently loaned a Mercedes-Benz 350e for three days. During this period the fuel consumption was about 28mpg, which is a significant variation from the manufacturer figure of 134mpg. Any thoughts? JG

The current NEDC lab test gives a particularly misleading reading for plug-in hybrids, because the urban test is only four kilometres, the extra-urban test is seven kilometres and a plug-in hybrid usually has an electric range of 20-30 miles. But 28mpg is very low. I had a massive Volvo XC90 T8 last year, never plugged it in (because that's impossible where I live) and I still got 35-40mpg. I would expect at least that from the 350e.

Michelin man

I have a 2014 Honda Civic Tourer, and find the ride really uncomfortable. What make of tyres would you recommend? JH

This might be due to the wheel and tyre size, which you did not identify. You can get them on 16-, 17- or 18-inch rims. I'd suggest 16-inch wheels with 205/55 R16 Michelin Cross Climate tyres for the best combination of comfort, grip and low road noise all year round

Malaise, a Four thought

I plan to buy a 2015 BMW 428i. I notice that BMW no longer appears to make this engine. If this is correct, is there a problem that caused it to be withdrawn? PT

They simply upped the power and now call it the 430i.

Current affairs

Does the plug-in version of the Toyota Prius use more fuel than the standard car?

Is it true that the Toyota Prius plug-in uses more fuel than the standard car. If so, why? MW

If it hasn’t been plugged in it uses very slightly more fuel because of the extra weight of the batteries. If it has been plugged in, then your first 20-30 miles of city use could be on the batteries, so your average mpg over the first 40 miles will be exceptional, reducing slightly for every further mile you drive.

Parking census

My Citroën C3 is too big for my new garage. I am after something smaller, manual and petroI, but don't know where to start. SB

You could narrow it down to a Vauxhall Viva, Suzuki Celario, Hyundai i10 or Kia Picanto. The Picanto 1.0 three-cylinder is enormous fun to drive.

X marks the stop

It is time my 2001 2.5 Jaguar X-type. I have tried the XF and the XE, but they do not have the driver visibility that I enjoy in the X-Type. I am considering the F Pace, but am not sure whether to stay with the petrol engine version or risk the diesel. PH

So far the petrol F-Pace comes only with the 3.0 supercharged V6. The 2.0 Ingenium diesels have 163, 180 and 240bhp; the 3.0 V6 diesel has 300bhp and huge torque. Later there will be 2.0 Ingenium petrol engines with 200, 250 and 300bhp. I like it best with the 3.0 V6 petrol.

Tall order

I’m thinking about buying a Daihatsu Terios 1.5 auto 4x4. What are your thoughts? GF

They are reliable enough - and quite rare with 4WD. Do you really want 4WD? The height of the car compromises its handling and, of course, Daihatsus have not been sold in the UK since 2009. I'd drive it first and see how you get on. You might not like the way it drives. Make sure you take it around a few corners.

The price is right

Why would a Range Rover SVA, with a 5.0-litre V8 engine, cost as much to tax as a 10-year-old Renault Scenic?

Andrew English’s review of the Range Rover SVA says that the VED is £450 for five years and then reduces to £140. I run a 10-year-old Renault Scénic for which I have just paid £305 in VED. How is it possible that in another five years I would be paying more than the driver of a 5,000cc V8? JW

Because that's the way the tax is structured. From April 1, VED for new vehicles changed. There would have been a CO2-based showroom tax of £2,000 on the Range Rover (up from £1,090 previously), followed by £140 a year from the second year, plus £310 a year luxury tax from the second year to the fifth year. To pay £305 for your 2007 Scénic, it must emit between 201 and 225g/km of CO2.

Arch enemy?

Are the wheel arches of the 2015 Lexus IS300h undersealed? AL

I haven't looked. Normally they would be sprayed with stone-chip and then painted in the body colour.

Style counsel

I need to sell a 1992 Honda NSX that has lain unused in my garage for a year. What would you recommend? HB

It will be sought-after - especially as the new version is finally coming on stream. Contact a classic car auction house such as www.historics.co.uk, www.brightwells.com, www.bonhams.com or www.silverstoneauctions.com. Alternatively, try a dealer such as www.tomhartley.com.

Kind of blue

I recently purchased an Audi Q5 that has an AdBlue tank. It will shortly need refilling. I purchased a 1.9-litre bottle from a local auto parts store for an eye popping £14.99, but have since purchased a 20-litre drum from Amazon for £24.99. Is AdBlue always to the same standard? JC

The normal service station retail price is £16 for 10 litres. It's pretty much a universal urea solution.

What price loyalty?

I have a 2012 Audi A6 avant 3.0 TDI auto with 96,000 miles and a full dealer service history. What are the likely problems and costs if I keep it for the next few years? DS

It will need a transmission fluid change. It might need a new exhaust gas recirculation valve and possibly two diesel particulate filters. It will be £300 for the fluid change,  £1,000 for the EGR and £2,000 for the DPFs, but it might be possible to clean the ash out of them for £350 each using the Ceramex service.

Petrol rationing

The Honda Civic Tourer 1.8i VTEC has become increasingly sought-after as drivers try to get rid of diesel estates

I have a 2004 Audi A4 1.9 TDI Avant but am struggling to find a petrol equivalent with an engine of 1.6 to 1.8 litres. My budget would be my car plus £6,500. TM

Too many diesel cars are up for sale because the market was oversupplied and lots of people now want to get out of them. At the same time the market was undersupplied with petrol cars that the public now wants. Your best bet is a Honda Civic Tourer 1.8i VTEC, but demand is very strong.

Stationary wagon

While on holiday in France, my mum saw the new version of the Renault Clio Sport Tourer. She currently drives an older version. Do you know if there are any plans for this model to be released to the UK with right-hand drive? CH

It’s a definite no for the UK. The Clio station wagon never sold well here and Renault feels the market is covered by the Captur SUV and the Dacia Logan MCV station wagon.

Needle point

Why are modern car petrol gauges so inaccurate? Recent cars I have owned all had a tendency to show full when the tank is topped up, then not move for 100 miles or so before dropping alarmingly as the needle heads towards empty. RO

It’s due to the shape of fuel tanks. The taller and narrower the tank, the more accurate a float gauge will be. The flatter and wider it is, the less accurate it becomes.

Vanity project

I have heard only negative feedback about large wheels with low-profile tyres, and yet they are very popular. Are there any positives? WMC

Some people think they look good.

Reigning Datsun cogs

What do you think of the Datsun 240Z? PR

Years ago I went mad at an auction and bid £8,000 for one with a Chevy V8 under the hood, but it wasn’t enough. I've only ever driven a 240Z once. It was a bit rusty but still a blast, like a mildly updated Austin Healey 3000 yet much more user-friendly.

Stored Ford?

Is it worth storing a Mk1 Ford Mondeo from 1996 as a future classic?

I own a 1996 Ford Mondeo Ghia X with fewer than 80,000 miles on the clock. Should I try and sell it now or wrap it up in the garage as a future classic? CC

It's virtually worthless right now (I saw a runner sell for £25), but Mk1 Mondeos are becoming thin on the ground so in a few years you will have a rare car.

Climate control

I have an Audi A3 with Dunlop Sport tyres that I intend to replace with Michelin Cross Climates. Will I have to buy a new space-saver as well? RS

No. Although Cross Climates are unidirectional you can use the same space saver. But treat it as an emergency spare only, to limp to the nearest tyre fitter at less than 50mph. Remember that braking and handling will both be compromised.

Talk converter

What type of automatic gearbox is fitted to the petrol version of the Jaguar XE, and is it reliable? DH

It has the same ZF eight-speed torque converter auto that BMW uses. They are very reliable.

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

Stem sell research

My 2002 Ford Transit diesel is showing typical signs of exhaust gas recirculation valve problems. Can this be cured with fuel additives? DW

It probably needs a new EGR valve because the stem eventually wears out.

Quick, quick, Slough

Average speed cameras have been installed at the eastern end of the M4 and they appear to be permanent. Do you know if they are already live? SL

Unless there is an attached sign stating "Camera not in use", they are live.

The shining

I have been told that automatic cars are not so good if they are under 2,000cc. Is that true? LH

Not any more. Suzuki’s Baleno and Swift automatics have 1.0 turbos and are brilliant.

Home internationals

In the recent past it has been the case that expats adopt overseas driving licences. Is this still the case? NR

Yes. You can't have a UK licence without a UK address for the very obvious reason that you couldn't be checked or penalised.

Omega watch

I own one of the last Vauxhall Omegas made, a 2003 3.2 Elite model with only 117,000 miles on the clock. It is still very comfortable and (so far) reliable. Is it worth keeping or should I give in to the inevitable and buy a newer, more economical vehicle? AW

Hang on to it. They are highly regarded and might start increasing in value a little bit. You won’t be able to take it into London from September 2020, but you probably wouldn't anyway.

Bridge of size

I am driving a three-year-old Mercedes B180 but find it too large. Which smaller cars have a similarly raised driving position? VR

Look at the Kia Venga, Hyundai ix20, Ford B-Max or Suzuki Ignis.

Take the high road

I am 6ft 4in tall and looking for a car that allows me to put back my seat and still accommodate two child seats in the rear. Any recommendations? IR

A Skoda Superb.

Judge dread

You recently mentioned that CVTs were "dreaded". Why? My Honda Jazz seems fine. RG

CVTs are “dreaded” by keen drivers, but not by others.

Marriage of Figaro

We are thinking of buying a Nissan Figaro as a little runabout. What advice would you offer? KY

They look great, but can rust very badly. Some people are very keen on them and high prices are asked, but you need to be extremely careful not to land yourself with a worn-out rotbox.

Southbound A1

My wife has an Audi A1 Sport 1.6 TDI and recently had the emissions update carried out. Subsequently the car has not been as responsive. Any ideas? All I want is to get the vehicle back to its former performance? PB

Some owners have found that running on superdiesel, such as Shell V-Power Nitro Plus, has worked better with the revised injection sequence. It’s definitely worth trying.

Scrape of good hope

Not having claimed on my insurance policy for many years, I have a substantial no-claims discount. I have now damaged the car and it will cost about £380 to repair. My excess is £150. Would you advise claiming on the policy? CS

No. But it could be that the bodyshop reports the damage to your insurer and they will want to know why you did not register a claim. You have to say it was minor damage (which it was) on private land, involving no other driver (assuming all of that is true).

Bear necessities

We have a new Porsche Macan S diesel that cost £63,000. It is as fantastic as everyone says, but we feel it is not for us. After six years with a BMW X5 we miss the space and comfortable seats and driving position. Can the Porsche be sold at, near or above the purchase price and where would be best? And what safeguards should we take? RD

I think if you try to sell it now you'll lose a bundle. When the model was introduced everyone wanted the diesel. Now everyone wants petrol versions. If I were you I'd bear with it.

Water margins

You recently advised turbodiesel drivers to run their engine for a short while after stopping, to avoid carbonising of oil in the bearings. Does this advice also apply to petrol turbos? I have a Vauxhall Zafira petrol turbo. HF

Yes. Even though petrol turbos are water cooled, it's still a good idea to idle them before shutting off the engine after a steep ascent, towing, driving the car on a circuit or after maintaining constant speed on a motorway. It;s not necessary in everyday driving.

Hoist with the most

Which cars would be able to take an arm hoist to lift up a medium-sized mobility scooter? AF

It would be better to get something with a built-in ramp. Try www.brotherwood.com.

Idle thoughts

I use my 2008 Vauxhall Astra petrol to do a delivery round, necessitating frequent stops. Is it better for the engine to leave it idling or should I switch off? I typically leave the car for 30 to 60 seconds and have about 50 stops per round. JD

You can't legally leave it running on the street. And, of course, if someone nicked it you wouldn't be insured. Whatever the merits of leaving it idling, you can't unless you remain inside the car.

Box of tricks? Independent specialists recommend that Volkswagen DSG gearboxes should have a fluid change every four years or 40,000 miles

Fourth right?

I am confused about the timing of the oil change in VW seven-speed DSG gearboxes. My Golf SE 1.4 will soon require its fourth yearly service. One of your recent replies recommended a gearbox check after four years and an oil change at 40,000 miles. I am retired and will only reach that mileage when the car is 15 years old. I would appreciate your advice. CW

Although VW does not insist on this, independent specialists recommend that the fluid in this transmission be changed every four years or every 40,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Dye another day

The air-con on my six-year-old, 80,000-mile Nissan Qashqai stopped functioning properly a couple of years ago. Regassing twice in this period solved the problem temporarily, but now it has happened again. I assume there must be a leak somewhere in the system. Is this going to be an expensive fix? GR

The good news is that a six-year-old Nissan will be filled with R123a refrigerant, not the expensive new R1234y that is more prone to leaks and has been causing problems. All you can sensibly do is get an air-conditioning specialist to apply a dye to the refrigerant next time it is regassed. That should expose the leak.

Torque of the town

My wife loves her elderly Citroën C1 but is now looking for a very small automatic. We have about £5,000 to spend. Any suggestions? IB

If you can find a Suzuki Splash or equivalent Vauxhall Agila 1.2 auto, grab it. These have proper four-speed torque converter automatic transmissions.

Toll paddle martyr

I am due to choose my new Motability car quite soon and would be grateful for your thoughts. At present I drive a Honda Jazz 1.4 CVT, which I like, but is there now a better alternative? TC

The new Jazz 1.3i VTEC CVT-7 is a bit slower than the previous 1.4i, but can be driven extremely economically using the paddles. I'd also get a test drive in a Mazda2 1.5 six-speed auto, a Suzuki Baleno 1.0T Boosterjet six-speed auto and a Toyota Yaris hybrid.

Limo without limbo

I would like to buy a used SUV. I like the Nissan Qashqai, but found access difficult. Can you recommend something suitable? I am 73 and my days of doing the limbo are over. MT

SUVs are always higher off the ground with comparatively low rooflines. It’s much easier to get in and out of an MPV such as a VW Golf SV, Citroên C4 Picasso or Ford C-Max.

Mum’s the word

My wife and I are in our 70s and contemplating a time when we might downsize from two cars to one. As insurance and no-claims discount go with a person and not a car, what should be the insurance strategy to ensure the one who ends up driving longest gets the NCD?  Does anyone offer joint insurance policies for this scenario? CW

If you both have similar NCDs, then you have to make a judgment on which of you is likely to be driving for longest and have that person as the policyholder with the other as a named driver. Direct Line seems to work for a lot of older people - my 93-year-old mother is still with them.

Same as it ever was

I had my 2014 VW Passat 1.6 TDI’s emissions fix carried out at the end of January and I didn't notice any problems afterwards. As the warmer weather arrived the consumption improved and is at least as good as it was beforehand. I tend to get 40-45mpg in town driving and 50-plus on a motorway. SCW

Very good news. Others have found that a switch to “superdiesel” seems to suit the post-fix injection sequence.

Letting grip

I am about to replace my VW Golf SV and am wondering what to buy. I’m looking for a petrol auto but find the VW Tiguan is too big and expensive. What alternatives should I consider? As a 75-year-old with a back problem, I enjoy the higher front seat and driving view of the SV. AT

I'd consider a Peugeot 2008 1.2 Puretech 110 EAT6. It has a torque converter automatic rather than a DSG, and the added advantage of soft, all-weather tyres with Grip Control for the winter. (I like the Golf SV, but not the seven-speed dry-clutch DSG.)

Heated exchange

You wrote, “Petrol engines with turbochargers heat up much faster than those without.” My BMW 328i agrees with you. As I reach the main road about a mile out of our village on cold mornings, the heater fan auto setting starts to work. In 60 years of motoring I’ve never experienced such warm-up speed. Can you explain why? GJ

The water-cooled turbo is in the exhaust manifold, which heats the passing coolant more quickly than the engine combustion does. That same coolant then flows through the heater matrix to warm the cabin.

Lounge suits?

My wife has just tried a 2014 Fiat 500 1.2 Lounge. The car is in lovely condition but generated a lot of tyre noise. Is this normal? Her current car is a 2008 Renault Clio 1.2, which seems much smoother. EB

Assuming the Fiat is on standard 15-inch wheels, it's probably on Michelin Energy Saver 185/55 R15 tyres that can be quite noisy in the winter. It would be quieter on Michelin Cross Climates, which have the added benefit of giving outstanding grip in cold weather or mud.

Cheaper energy bill

My 2008 Citroën C3 needs a fresh battery. What would you recommend in the £30-£60 range? JL

A Yuasa battery, cheap but excellent. They are available from Halfords and elsewhere.

Money for nothing

I hear from the Association of British Insurers that there is to be strong action against fraudulent motoring claims, which last year amounted to £1.3 million. I have had a few phone calls from organisations in the past, encouraging me to put in a spurious claim relating to ‘whiplash’ injuries. Car owners should be aware of this problem and refuse to get involved. BE

All sensible people know this, but if greed overcomes common sense then anybody who gets themselves involved in a fraudulent claim deserves to pay the penalty. When they do, and the case receives publicity, the terminally avaricious will stop taking the risk.

Shades of grey 

I have just purchased a BMW X1 with a heads-up display that does not work with Polarised glasses. Is this common? RF

The systems work with Reactolite spectacles, because I can see mine clearly. Are you sure it's your glasses and not the height at which the display is set?

Cat letter

I need to replace my Jaguar XF 3.0 diesel. My Jaguar dealer the new 2.0 diesel engines are cleaner and meet or exceed the current EU standard, but the new petrol engines will be available later in the year. Should I take the car they are trying to sell me, or wait until I can get a petrol version? DM

The new Ingenium 2.0-litre 200PS and 250PS four-cylinder petrol engines went into pilot production in February, so should be here soon.

Fruitful investment?

I have the chance to buy a 1998 E36 BMW 1.8 (petrol) convertible for the princely sum of £500. Would you think this sensible or a possible lemon. I am 82 and love driving, having had sports cars all my life. DH

That is pocket money in car terms. If the BMW is solid with a decent roof it could be a great buy for the summer. Even if it isn't, spring has only just sprung so there is plenty of scope to resell it.

Room with a view

We want to replace our 2007 Mazda5. Space is a must, my wife likes an elevated driving position and the extra seats will come in useful. What are our options if we want a petrol automatic? DB

The nicest to drive is the Citroën C4 Picasso 1.2 PureTech 130 EAT6. It has remarkable performance for such a small engine and, so far, has been very reliable.

Very hot hatchback

My 2013 Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost broke down without warning during a gentle 60-mile round trip. The Ford dealer’s diagnostic check revealed no problem. What do you think? LR

The usual reason with the 1.0 EcoBoost is overheating. It is caused by loss of coolant from the joint on the pipe between the turbo and the expansion tank.

Tail of the unexpected

Is it worth replacing a written-off Porsche Macan diesel with a petrol version?

My Porsche Macan S diesel has been written off after someone drove into the back of it at 70mph. I want to buy the same again, but should I choose petrol because of the adverse press on diesel engines? NJ

I would, but try to get a test drive first.

Open and shut case

I was a bit dozy one morning and put the remote control for my garage’s up-and-over door into my hip pocket. The pressure of sitting down activated the door, so as I reversed I hit the closing door with my Land Rover Defender. It cost £2,150 to replace the whole door. The moral of this story? Don’t put your zapper in your pocket. GT

I had a reader complain of sciatica and it turned out he'd caused the problem by carrying his wallet in his back pocket. I suggest you use it only for storing receipts.

Fit for purpose

My 2012 Vauxhall Corsa S Ecoflex is a tight fit in our garage. I would like to replace it with another five-door hatchback, but a low-mileage, slimmer model. What would suit my requirements? SM

Try a Vauxhall Viva or a Suzuki Celario.

Decline and fall

I visited a franchised dealer while helping my sister choose a car. For cash purchases, the polite young saleswoman stated that her company would not haggle on the marked price of a new car. Is this really the modern world? JL

If they won't haggle on cash prices, exercise your rightful prerogative to walk away.

Concrete jungle

During a speed awareness course I was told that motorists don’t know how to approach speed humps correctly. Apparently you shouldn’t drive with your wheels either side of the hump but with one wheel on and the other off. This sounds like nonsense to me. SS

The advice is correct and has been mentioned many times in this column. If you centre the car, the tyres’ inner shoulders are forced down on the chamfered edges of the speed cushion and this abrades them so severely that they eventually become dangerous. And because the damage is to the inner shoulders, it isn’t obvious to the naked eye.

Capital punishment

We’ve owned our 2004 VW Golf 1.9 TDI from new and it remains a super car, with only 77,000 miles on the clock. For some years it has been used only as a second car for local journeys. Do we offload now, or should we continue to run it? What big bills are waiting? JA

It won’t have a particulate filter that is likely to get choked up and go wrong, and the car isn't worth much, so it probably makes sense to keep it as a second car. If they haven’t been done, it will need a timing belt, water pump, tensioner and aux belt at about £400-£450. Just stay out of London from October onwards, because from then on the penalties of driving a pre-2005 EU3 diesel will be severe.

Deep in thought

I have a 2013 Seat Ibiza 1.2 TSI FR 105 with optional 17-inch wheels and 215/40/R17 tyres. I intend to change to 15-inch wheels. Are these recommended to improve comfort and reduce tyre noise? JB

They will improve the ride considerably. Try tyremen.co.uk or mytyres.co.uk – the best tyres for a quiet, supple ride (with added cold-weather benefits) are Michelin Cross Climates.

Hot unbothered

Does advice to idle engines to allow the turbo to cool also apply to petrol engines?

You advise running a diesel turbo for a while before turning off the engine. Does this also apply to petrol turbos, for example the Ford Focus 1.0-litre three-cylinder Ecoboost? JB

Yes, but only when the turbo is extremely hot, which it will be after a long ascent, towing or running at constant speed on the motorway. In normal day-to-day driving it won't get too hot.

E mission impossible

I want to buy an approved used Mercedes E-class saloon for comfort. Diesels are becoming unpopular, so how can I get a plug-in hybrid? My budget is about £20,000. JW

You won’t get a used petrol hybrid E-class because there wasn't one (in the UK, at least). The C350e and E350e petrol plug-in hybrids are new models. It’s better to think along the lines of a used Lexus IS300h on 16-inch wheels with 55-profile tyres.

Automatic lover

I need to replace my reliable 2001 Ford Focus and am looking for a small automatic with a good seat height and low sill. I do not need a new model as my annual mileage is only 5,000. What would you suggest? BB

Try to find a Suzuki Splash 1.2 automatic or the equivalent Vauxhall Agila. Failing that, a Hyundai i10 or Kia Picanto 1.25. If you want something slightly bigger, look at the Hyundai ix20 or Kia Venga.

Negative terminal

We have a Hyundai i40 diesel estate. It is very comfortable and full of gizmos, but diesel is getting such a bad press that we are looking to change. We do about 12,000 miles a year and would like a petrol automatic. TB

The Peugeot 308 1.2 PureTech 130, Peugeot 2008 1.2 PureTech 110, Peugeot 3008 1.2 PureTech 130 and Citroën C4 Picasso 1.2 PureTech 130 are all available with the EAT6 automatic gearbox.

Grey matter

Applications for insurance now request confirmation about whether or not a car is imported. An engineer said my Honda Jazz was manufactured in China. Another told me it was made in the UK. The selling dealer now says that the Jazz was never made in China. If I give the wrong information, my insurance will be invalid. ME

There is no need to worry about official imports. The insurer wants to know if the car was unofficially imported to the UK and, rather stupidly, has not made that clear. Later imports of the first-generation right-hand-drive UK Jazz were built in Guangzhou, China, after which UK production started in Swindon. Production of the second-generation Jazz for European markets moved from Japan to Honda's Swindon plant in October 2009.

Long-distance runner

Will a Mercedes C-class hybrid last well without incurring expensive costs?

I am thinking of buying a Mercedes C350e hybrid saloon with my retirement income, hoping it will last a long time. Do hybrids last well without incurring expensive costs? PC

A C350e petrol plug-in hybrid makes a lot of sense. Toyota Prius hybrids have been clocking up half a million miles with very little trouble, so petrol hybrids are the way to go.

Wet behind the rears

I have a 2008 Ford Focus Titanium that has developed a leaking boot. Fortunately, a big piece of carpet is taking the brunt of it. The parcel shelf is dry, so I don't think it’s coming in from the glass. All seals around the boot appear to be ok. Any idea where the water is coming from? SD

It is common for them to leak around the rear light clusters. The other entry point could be the one-way cabin vents that are hidden behind the carpeting in the sides of the load area. If the flaps break, water gets splashed in by the rear wheels.

Need for speed

I'm currently leasing a Skoda Octavia vRS (diesel) and want to replace it with a new car when the three-year term ends. What can you recommend with a decent boot, petrol or hybrid, 0-60mph in 7.5s or better and an average economy of at least 35mpg? I'm currently paying £255/month, which includes all maintenance/servicing and road fund licence. I would be prepared to pay up to £280/290 per month. PP

If you're leasing for three years, then anticipated problems with diesel emissions systems are likely to affect the car’s subsequent owner, not you. Given which, there’s no reason not to go for another Octavia vRS diesel or petrol, VW Golf GTI or a Seat Leon Cupra. You simply won't get that level of performance out of the average petrol hybrid.

Assets tripper

My 2006 Volvo V70R has done 145,000 miles. It has been expensive to tax and run, but has never needed much attention and has a full service history. I no longer need such a big car so am going to buy something smaller (and more economical). Is the Volvo worth keeping as a potentially appreciating asset or should I just offer it in part-exchange? TG

Even if V70Rs become collectible, your 145,000 miles goes against any significant increase in value. Reluctantly, I’d part with it.

Day of the Match

My 2012 VW Polo Match 1.4 has done only 22,412 miles, but my local main dealer tells me the cambelt needs changing for almost £400. Is this really needed? WP

After five years a replacement is due on age grounds, together with water pump, tensioner and auxiliary belt.

Heart of darkness

Regarding a recent comment about the rising oil level in the engine of a 2002/52 BMW 320d, built before DPFs were fitted, I always had to get the dealer to take oil out. He never drained the sump during service oil changes, but instead sucked it out through the dipstick port. This failed to empty it completely, so as soon as I got home level was above the mark on the dipstick and the oil was already black due to contamination from the residual old oil. I went straight back to the garage... CS

That's disgraceful, especially when BMW allows oil service intervals of up to 20,000 miles. But this practice could be responsible for the oil service indicator crying out for a change after only 8,000 miles.

Wet flaw

I read in a recent column about MS’s problem with condensation in his old Mazda MX-5. I bought a Cabrioshield for my partner's Mini Cooper convertible and it's the best £100 or so I've spent. It stops water ingress, birdlime damage, sun damage, frost and snow. Highly recommended: www.cabrioshield.com. MP

That sounds like a good idea, for which many thanks. MX-5 enthusiasts tell me that wet carpets are usually the result of the drain holes in the sills becoming blocked with water, dirt running off the hood and then filling up the sills and finding its way into the car.

Up, up and away

I will be changing my Nissan Qashqai in summer. Which petrol turbo SUV has the highest ride height for £20,000-£22,000? MB

I’d say the Suzuki Vitara S 1.4T BoosterJet. It’s a long way down from the seat to the ground.

München glad block

I have seen a few 2007 BMW 320d estates for sale. They look good, but do they have particulate filters? And are they reliable? SJ

They do have DPFs and may also be vulnerable to N47 timing chain trouble. The more efficient but more troublesome N47 diesel engine replaced the M47 in the BMW E90/E91 3-series in late 2007. A slightly earlier car would have the M47, not the N47. The N47 is distinguished by having its timing chain at the rear of the engine block.

Pace, the final frontier?

Is renewing your licence at 70 affected by the car you drive? Credit: Alamy

I understand that when I reach my 70th birthday, I will have to renew my driving licence. I'm told that it is nothing more than a rubber-stamping exercise, but will the fact that I drive a fairly quick car - a 2016 Honda Civic Type R-GT - be taken into account and affect the renewal process? CM

No. Providing the DVLA has your address, you will get a reminder shortly beforehand. If you have a paper licence you will need to get a new photocard licence, which is straightforward as long as you have a current passport because they can get your photo from the Passport Office. The correct website is: https://www.gov.uk/renew-driving-licence-at-70. The process is free. Beware of imposter websites that can charge you £80 or more for doing what you can easily do yourself.

PM’s question time

I have a 2012/62 VW Golf Plus 1.6 TDI with 16,000 miles. I wish to keep it, but my wife finds difficulty in accessing the front passenger seat. I have asked the supplying dealer whether it is possible to relocate the seat a couple of inches farther back, but was told ‘no’. What do you think? PM

Anything like this can be done, if not by the dealer then perhaps by a specialist who usually adapts vehicles for the disabled. Try www.jeffgosling.co.uk.

Defining moment

Is there a definition of SUV? For example, is the Peugeot 3008 only an SUV because they have put it in the name? It looks more like an MPV to me. PO

A Sports Utility Vehicle is primarily designed to be four-wheel drive but might also be available without. A 3008 is a crossover between a car, an MPV and an SUV, but it is available with Grip Control that is as effective in snow and off road as the average 4WD system, so qualifies it as an SUV.

Happy torque

Can you recommend a replacement for my well-loved manual Mazda5, which is now 11 years old. I would like the new car to be no bigger in width or height, and would need automatic transmission, with the higher seat position, five doors and a flat boot. EM

The Mazda5 was a good car and the MkII is even better, though not available as an auto. The best MPV auto the same size is a Citroën C4 Picasso 1.2 Puretech 130 with EAT6 torque converter auto. You can also get the same excellent engine and transmission in the Peugeot 3008.

Straight answer

You recently answered a letter from someone asking for advice about purchasing a Ford EcoSport - and told them you wouldn't buy one. Why? SS

It's simply not very good. Furthermore, the 1.5 auto has the Ford/Getrag twin dry-clutch Powershift that has been problematic.  

Sweden sour source?

I'm considering buying a 2011 Volvo S80 D5 automatic diesel with fewer than 40,000 miles on the clock. Am I right to be put off by the tow bar? I don’t know what it has towed. MP

It depends what else has been done to it. For towing, the automatic transmission should have been fitted with additional heat exchangers or oil coolers. If it hasn't, then the transmission fluid could be burned and the torque converter could be on the way out. You can't easily check because auto transmissions no longer have separate dipsticks.

Give up smoking

I have a 2006 Audi A3 1.9 diesel. By mistake I put it into second gear instead of fourth, which took it up to about 4,000rpm. A cloud of black smoke came out of the exhaust. I did this a couple more times deliberately and more smoke came out but less each time. Now, it seems clear. Is this something I should do occasionally to clear the exhaust? Is it doing harm? PY

It’s a good idea to do this to clear the exhaust system before the MoT, when the smoke opacity test consists of redlining the engine three times and measuring the thickness of the smoke emitted.

Veni, vidi, Sedici

I have a 2008 Fiat Sedici with 36,000 miles on the clock. It has been valued at £1,600. I have been advised that the clutch is slipping and will need replacing by the end of the year. The cost will be £600. Apart from that apparent problem, the car suits me perfectly. Should I part-exchange it for a Fiat 500X, or pay for the new clutch? MT

Get a new clutch. This is quite a decent car.

Life begins at 40k

I can't find precise details for the new rate of VED applying to cars with a list price of more than £40,000. Is that threshold inclusive or exclusive of the taxes applicable at point of sale? Is the threshold inclusive or exclusive of options and accessories? TM

The £40,000 is the ex-factory list price of the car including all fitted extras and VAT. It does not include things like delivery, registration tax and first-year showroom tax.

Dark thoughts

The dashboard display on my 2003 Citroên Xsara Picasso has gone out completely. Everything else works. Is it likely to be a simple solution, or will the dashboard have to be removed and sent away? BD

With luck it's nothing more than the earth to the dash display. Try calling in a local car electrical specialist via www.yell.com.

Three-pointed stars

I am trying to get a valuation for a 1997P Mercedes-Benz E220 auto cabrio with 46,560 miles on the clock. Can you help? It has had one owner from new and is in very good condition. KC

The E320 Sportline convertible is the most valuable. These have hovered between £8,000 and £20,000. The E220 convertible is worth less: £6,000-£12,000.

Judge dread

Kia, Hyundai and so on boast about not having a "dreaded" CVT gearbox on their latest hybrids, something I don't understand. I believe some Toyota CVTs have covered up to half a million miles with very few problems. Am I wrong? MW

Toyota hybrids have epicyclic CVTs, not the conventional CVT belts and rollers, and that's why they last so well. The new Kias and Hyundais have dual clutch automatics that make the drive more direct. Toyotas and Hyundais come with five-year warranties. Kias with seven.

Hawes power

We are about to move from southern Britain to Upper Wensleydale. My wife's Hyundai i10 is fitted with Goodyear Vector 4-Seasons tyres, but my much-loved Seat Leon FR 1.4 has conventional Bridgestones on 17-inch wheels. Although I am eventually considering a 4WD option, would the Leon with Michelin Cross Climates be a safe bet for winter? Although our new house is on a cul-de-sac leading to a farm, we would not expect to spend any time away from asphalt. SA

The Leon would be better all year round on Cross Climates or Goodyear Vector 4-Seasons, depending on which are available in the 17-inch size.

Oops, wrong number

I am amazed to learn that my 2002 Toyota Camry’s VED will increase from £295 to £650 this year. The Camry has been fault-free all its life, is reliable, comfortable and still performs very well. It’s low mileage, we do only about 4,000 miles a year and it suits my wife and I very well. In view of the high car tax, though, we wonder if it is time to sell. We have a budget of £20,000. What would you recommend? PP

I’d keep it – you have the wrong information and the annual rate for your Camry rose from £295 to £305 on April 1.

Seat car named desire

What's the best car for seat comfort? Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley

My wife is on the point of giving up her Volvo S60 D4 after only 15 months because she feels so uncomfortable. She finds the driver’s seat extremely uncomfortable and the passenger side worse. What would you recommend as a replacement? She wants a petrol car of similar size. JK

We're all different, and we all have different ideas about which seats are more comfortable and how to adjust them for maximum comfort. I like a long squab, preferably adjustable for tilt, height adjustment, and adjustable lumbar support. She needs to look for all of these, which tends to mean the higher spec levels with electrically adjustable seats. The new Citroen C3 has good seats as do Peugeot 2008s and Toyota’s Auris, Prius and Avensis.

Modern heart

We are looking to sell our 20-year-old Mercedes-Benz estate and buy a new smaller vehicle. We are considering the five-door VW Golf 1.4 TSI DSG SE NAV automatic. Is it better to have diesel or petrol? AW

Hold on! The VW Golf Mk7 has just been updated with new 1.5-litre 120/150 petrol engines. Wait for the revamped version to come through, if it hasn't already - and don't buy diesel.

Urban space man

Before I put in my order for a new Jaguar XE, please advise me if the estate version is imminent. And is there a facelift due for the existing saloon? RP

I think we’ll see a Jaguar E-Pace SUV, for the simple reason that SUVs sell far better than estates. Prototypes have already been seen and it’s extremely good looking; better than any other SUV, including the Macan.

Rust house forte

I’m considering a January 2003 Mercedes W210 E240 estate. It has covered 60,000 miles and is described as having no rust. Did Mercedes ever cure this problem on later models, or am I a fool for considering it? AC

Not on W210s. It continued through to early W211s, too. It might be OK if it has been kept in a heated garage and never taken out in the winter. Otherwise...

Stop and search

I run a 1999 Lexus IS200, which I have owned from new and has now done 39,000 miles. How frequently should I change the brake fluid? It has been changed once, but that was some time ago. PH

Get it tested every year for moisture content and change it only if that is high. Otherwise, change it every three years to get rid of absorbed moisture and contaminants.

Keep on runnin’

I have been looking at used Seat Altea XLs with the 1.9 TDI engine, about eight years old. Is this engine the same or similar to that in the 2001-05 VW Passat? I had one of those and it was an unbelievable car (it covered the best part of 200,000 miles). SJ

Yes. The 1.9 TDI PD engine is very highly rated. Lots of them have done 200,000 miles plus.

Digital broadcast

The radio in my 17-year-old Citroën Berlingo stopped working. Any ideas? SM

Check the connections at the rear and those to the door speakers. If all is OK but the radio isn't, throw it away and buy another from Halfords (which gives you the chance to upgrade to DAB).

Webbed feat

I am thinking of selling my two-year old Peugeot through webuyanycar.com or a similar site. It has done 15,000 miles. Are there any major things that I need to consider? PH

It's easy, genuine and you get your money quickly, but what you receive is trade auction price minus a small commission.

Capital punishment

I wonder why Brits are so bad at vehicle salesmanship? Here is the actual wording of a current eBay advert for a 1987 Land Rover Defender 90: “NO DREAMERS OR TIME WASTERS, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.” What on earth are they thinking? I always imagined the secret of good salesmanship was to establish a friendly rapport with the potential buyer. JT

It’s a technique, trying to make out they are selling something special, which tells anyone with a brain that they aren’t.

Guilty as charged

We heart horror stories every year that a cold snap could cause all the lights to go out as we do not have enough electricity-generating capacity. So how are we going to recharge all these new electric cars? RO

The problem is the amount of electricity wasted between generation and use. A lot of it is generated during the day and used during the night. You can't get power directly from solar panels at night, so there needs to be more effective methods of storage. New, cheap, high capacity graphite batteries are being developed in Spain - that could solve this problem.

Octavia seizure

I bought a Skoda Octavia DSG in January 2011. Since then I have had it regularly serviced by a main dealer and have completed 22,500 miles. It was diagnosed a week ago as needing a new Mechatronic control unit for £1,700. JC

Presumably this is the twin dry-clutch seven-speed DSG that has been extremely troublesome, particularly if the original synthetic oil in pre-2013 units was not replaced with mineral oil and not then replaced again four years later. The VW Group has a new low-torque twin wet-clutch seven-speed DSG that is gradually being phased in.

Citroën, SM?

We live in a period house with narrow parking area and cars seem to be getting wider. Please recommend a small car (bigger than a Smart) that will comfortably handle long journeys. SM

There are several options, including Citroën C1, Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto, Vauxhall Viva, Suzuki Celario, Peugeot 108 and Toyota Aygo.

Cee’d of doubt

I have a 2012/62 Kia Cee’d that I’m looking to change. I am considering a Seat Ateca, which is receiving good reviews, but are there other alternatives? I do about 8,000 miles a year. Five doors and good luggage space are essential. MF

You don't want a diesel. I’d look at an Ateca 1.4 TSI 150, a Suzuki Vitara S 1.4T BoosterJet or else a Peugeot 2008 1.2 Puretech 130 six-speed.

Disposable outcome

I own a 2011 Land Rover Freelander 2 diesel and would like to change it for a petrol or hybrid 4WD with similar ground clearance and driving position, plus reasonable fuel consumption (37mpg or better). What is the best way to dispose of the Freelander, bearing in mind the adverse publicity surrounding diesel engines? CG

There's only one 4WD hybrid under £30,000. the Toyota RAV-4 4WD. The much cheaper Suzuki Vitara S 1.4T BoosterJet 4WD has been averaging 44.7mpg in the real world. Part-ex the Freelander - it’s too much grief trying to sell it by yourself.

Flame culture

Why is the owner deemed at fault after his car burst into flames? Credit: Sanjeev Gupta/EPA

My 10-year-old VW Golf MkV Sport 1.4 TSI burst into flames seven minutes after I had parked. My insurance paid out the book price and covered my possessions, but I was deemed at fault. The car had every service per the book, mainly by VW, apart from the last two. VW said it could not have been a manufacturer's fault, owing to the age of the car. I am at a loss to understand the cause. BB

There has been a high incidence of faults with the model, probably due to high expectations, but I can't immediately explain why it would spontaneously combust unless a fuel pipe let go and sprayed fuel over a hot exhaust manifold.

Message in a battle

The law has been strengthened with regard to the use of mobile phones in vehicles. While walking I see many drivers using their mobiles. How does the law stand for me as a responsible citizen if I were to report drivers to the police for using their phones? RM

It would be waste of time without proof. That could be obtained by mobile phone records if the police can be bothered. A photo of the offender taken on your own mobile might help to set this in motion.

Clunk-click every trip

I have had three Skoda Citigos. The first developed an audible metallic click when the clutch was brought up. This continued until it was traded in. The second Citigo developed the same noise at 30,000 miles and stopped clicking at about 45,000miles. My newest Citigo recently started doing it at around 14,000miles. Any ideas? PD

Variable quality gearboxes and clutches seem to be typical of Citigos, Seat Miis and VW Ups.

Now we’re torquing

I require a small automatic petrol car, but am wary of DSG gearbox problems with VW Group and Ford models. I would like some recommendations. CF

It’s hard to go wrong with a small Kia Picanto or Hyundai i10 four-speed torque converter auto. The bigger Suzuki Baleno 1.0T BoosterJet six-speed torque converter auto is also very good, but my choice would be a Mazda2 1.5 six-speed.

VW update update

I have a VW Golf Plus 1.6 TDI Bluemotion and am concerned after reading about all the NOx fix horrors. Presumably no figures are available to show the percentage of fixes that have not worked as against those that are OK. What course of action is best? JW

I had a meeting with VW Group engineers on March 1. The fix for the 1.6 TDI was only approved on December 13, which is why it was late. But it had to improve the NOx without affecting fuel economy to pass the tests, so as long as there isn't anything else wrong with your car (such as a clogged exhaust gas recirculation valve) it should be okay. Although there have been complaints after the fix, VW claims these are from a very small but vocal minority. After 480,000 fixes were applied, there were 3,600 complaints, 60 per cent of which were about engine noise and 35 per cent about increased fuel consumption, EGR problems and so on. On March 1 150 case files were still outstanding.

Key is the fear

I get a “remote battery low voltage” message on my Volvo dash. I have checked the manual and cannot find what or where the problem might be. AD

It must mean the battery in your remote key. These need to be changed very quickly. Have the replacement battery out of its packaging and ready before you open the remote to replace it. You get 10 seconds or you lose the code. Alternatively, get a main dealer to do it for you, or a branch of Timpsons.

Flat chat

I own a 2009/59 Mazda3 with alloy wheels. For some time now I have been losing a bit of pressure in each tyre on a weekly basis. Since it is unlikely that I could have a slow puncture in all four tyres, it must be something else. CG

The rim seals could be failing because these are the wheels’ most vulnerable area, particularly if they have ever been kerbed. Sometimes rims can be resealed; sometimes they can't. It’s possible the alloy might have developed cracks and become porous.

No need to worry

I am thinking of replacing my 2017 Toyota RAV4 with a Dacia Duster 1.2 petrol turbo 4x4 as diesel makes little sense for only 5,000 miles a year. Now l gather that petrol turbos need to stretch their legs, as do all diesels. Should I reconsider? I am very keen on the Dacia. Should I be put off by potential reliability problems? BS

Petrol turbos heat up much faster than petrol engines without turbos. No worries. I’ve had very few reported problems about Dacia Dusters, although it could be that Duster customers are not the complaining types.

Honeycomb recipe

The turbo on my 2009/59 Peugeot 308 SW HDI 110 died. After replacing it three times in rapid succession it turned out that the catalytic converter's honeycomb had collapsed and was causing an occasional blockage in the exhaust system, preventing the gases from spinning the turbo. Everything has been fine since the cat was replaced. BC

Nightmare. Another reason for replacement turbos failing one after the other is that the turbo bearing oil feed and return pipes become blocked with carbonised oil.

Slim pickings

I need to buy a new automatic with high driving position and petrol engine. I now drive a BMW X1 and it's too wide. A smaller car would be fine. JB

Try the Kia Venga, Hyundai ix20 or, even narrower, the new Suzuki Ignis.

Long and short of it

Do you know why the seat belt stalk, fixed to the floor on the right-hand side of the front passenger seat of my Ford C-Max, is about an inch shorter than that on the driver's side? BF

It will be because the driver's seat is height adjustable and the passenger seat isn't.

One step beyond?

I drive a 2005/55 Mini One that has done 39,000 miles. I need a knee replacement soon and am thinking of a small auto. I only do 3,000 miles a year. Do I soldier on or buy/lease something newer? KW

You can probably still manage the manual.

Ash wounds day

I cycle to work and use a 2008 Volvo V70 D5 as little as possible, though it has done 110,000 miles. Does it predate the problems that seem to afflict modern diesels and if so should I keep it forever? If not, what is the quietest and most comfortable alternative that will take a complete bike in the back as easily as the V70 does? TH

I'm surprised that the particulate filter has not yet filled up with ash, but that probably will be the next thing. It might be possible to clean it out using the Ceramex service. I hope you've had the timing belt, tensioner, water pump and auxiliary belt replaced, because if not that job is overdue. If you abandon the Volvo, switch to petrol. Look at a Mazda6 2.0i Skyactive Tourer, or a more powerful Ford Mondeo 2.0i Ecoboost estate.

Weight and see

What's the best SUV for towing a caravan?

We are considering replacing our 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe CRDI, which we use mainly for towing a caravan weighing 1,650kg. What would our options be? JM

A Toyota RAV4 petrol hybrid 4WD can tow 1,650kg and a Lexus RX450h petrol hybrid 4WD can tow 2,000kg. Both have automatic gearboxes. A 2010 Santa Fe with the 2.2 R-Type chain-cam diesel could pull 2,500kg with a manual box and 2,000 as an automatic.

Quenching one’s thirst

We are looking to change our 2009 Ford C-Max 1.8 Zetec. While we are happy with the comfort, petrol consumption is poor at an average 36mpg. What would be a better next buy? DP

Assuming this is the petrol 1.8, your mpg is above the average of 33.9. But you’ll probably do better with the latest generation of small petrol turbos such as VW's 1.4TSI in the Golf SV that is returning 45.6-46.9mpg in real-world terms. In contrast, a new C-Max 1.0 Ecoboost 125 is rated at 40.2mpg.

PM’s question time

I have a 2000 Peugeot 206 LX 1.4 petrol auto. For the last couple of years my car has struggled to meet the emissions test element of the MoT and I am concerned about its chances of passing next time. I think part of the problem is that I do not use the car very much. Do you have any tips for helping it pass? PM

Use only the best quality petrol and add a fuel system cleaning additive. Take it for a few long runs of 50 miles or so and for at least 20 miles before you deliver it to the MoT station, so you deliver it warm. That’s your best chance. (Of course it usually pays to have the car serviced before the MoT.)

Circulation increase

You frequently write that turbocharged engines should be idled for a while after a run, to allow the oil to cool so that it does not carbonise in the oilways. I have an Audi A3 cabriolet with the 1.8 TFSI engine. What temperature should I let the oil fall to before switching off safely? JW

You don't aim for a temperature. You simply hope to keep the oil and coolant circulating through the turbo while it cools from almost red hot to merely very hot. The turbo will be many times hotter than the engine oil and coolant that is circulating through it.

Slowin’ ranger

We're thinking of buying a small automatic and wondered if the Skoda Fabia would be suitable. Are there any reliability issues with this model (I seem to remember that your column has mentioned this in the past). We drive about 7,000 miles annually and would keep the car for three years. CB

There have been problems with the seven-speed dry-clutch DSG fitted to smaller engined VW Group models, including the Fabia, but you are unlikely to encounter any over three years and 21,000 miles. Alternatives include a Honda Jazz CVT-7 (slow, but very roomy, practical and economical), a Toyota Yaris (also available as a hybrid). a Hyundai ix20 and a Kia Venga.

Cold comfort firm

I have never had a car with low-profile tyres because they don’t seem to give such a smooth and comfortable ride. I am looking to buy a one-year-old Audi Q3 S-Line Plus, but it has low-profile tyres. Is that a problem? GH 

Bang, crash, wallop. You'll feel every bump. You might damage the wheel rims on a pothole. The tyres will wear out faster and are more expensive to replace. Don't buy a car on big wheels and low-profile tyres unless you plan to race it. Don't ever go lower than 55-profile.

Raise a blade

My daughter’s 2010 Vauxhall Corsa has a problem with the offside windscreen wiper, which is very noisy and out of alignment with the other blade. What could the problem be? PD

It’s fairly simple to remove the arm and relocate it as long as the spindle is not worn. The additional problem may be the angle of the blade against the screen - it might help if you twist it so that is at a right angle to the screen.

Some leak it hot

We lease a Mini Countryman Cooper S but don’t use it often. I take it for a 100-mile drive if it has been standing for three weeks, but is there anything else I could do? NS

You're doing all that is necessary. Make sure you run it on the highest-octane petrol with the best additive package. Check the oil and coolant regularly. This engine has a pump to keep water circulating through the turbo if you switch off when it is extremely hot. That system has been known to spring leaks.

Wet feat

Having read many excellent articles about the Mazda MX-5, I bought an old one. Its only problem is soaked carpets from condensation. How can I prevent this? MS

A garage. Convertible soft-tops are usually slightly damp inside in wet weather. A car cover would probably help, but won’t provide a complete cure.

Sell C bill

I want to change my 2004 Ford C-Max 1.8 Zetec. My priorities are comfort, easy access, better fuel consumption over 6,500 miles a year and low operating costs. Should I buy another C-Max, a B-Max or are there better other options? BW

Look at the VW Golf SV, from just under £20,000. The 1.4 TSI 125 is adequate, but the new 1.5 TSI engine should be available within six months.

Marque steel

The 4x4 version of the Fiat Panda is highly capable off-road

I want to replace my Daihatsu Terios with something similar, as I can't find a dealer who sells new models. Any ideas? BH

Daihatsu suspended UK imports in November 2009, because the yen was too high against sterling, but there are some solid options. You might still be able to get a new Suzuki Jimny, which is the same size. You can also get a new Suzuki Ignis with four-wheel drive, or a Fiat Panda 4x4.

Cold fact

The heater in my car is no longer working efficiently. Is there any way I can flush out the heater matrix without stripping the system? AC

There is a two-stage product called Radflush, designed to clear sludge from the system. Obviously you have to set the system to maximum heat to make sure the coolant with the flush circulates properly. Then, of course, you need to refill with fresh coolant. But if your problem is caused by the electric valve to the heater matrix not opening fully, then this will not cure it.

Ash tag

When checking the oil in my 2011 BMW 318d, I discovered that the level had risen above the maximum mark. There is no evidence of water contamination in the sump or filler cap. The last oil and filter change was at 72,000 miles and the current mileage is 80,000. What could be the cause? AC

Fuel injected into the engine to regenerate the diesel particulate filter (DPF) has instead dribbled down the bores into the sump. It’s crucial to get the level down, or the engine could start running uncontrollably on its sump oil. It’s also important to replace the contaminated sump oil. And, of course, investigate why the DPF is not actively regenerating. It could well be choked with ash.

Efficiency drive

I have a 10-year-old Toyota Prius. I am looking to downsize and buy a small, fuel-efficient car for city use and the odd longer trip. What should I consider? BL

The simplest answer is to downsize to a Toyota Yaris hybrid. But if you're thinking smaller still, consider a Suzuki Celario, Vauxhall Viva, Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto, Toyota Aygo, Citroën C1, Peugeot 108, VW Up, Skoda Citigo, Seat Mii, Renault Twingo or Smart ForFour.

Soft option

I have a four-year old BMW 325d and its 18-inch run-flat tyres pick up all the road cambers. Whenever I fit brand-new tyres the problem goes away, but gradually returns. The tracking has been checked and the pressures are as recommended by BMW. Is there anything that can be done to improve the ride? PC

Go down to 16-inch wheels with 205/60 R16 tyres.

Dim summary

The battery on my Ford Fiesta Style has twice gone completely flat this month. The car is used a few times a month and the battery is three years old. The AA tested the battery and found it to be OK. Any idea what’s wrong? GH

The most common reason is failure of the interior light auto dimmer that remains live when it shouldn’t. Try switching off the interior light altogether.

Castor way

I travel abroad several times a year in hire cars and always use the Shuttle. I prefer an automatic gearbox - but if the car broke down on the train, how would they would get it out? KR

They would have to put the locked driven wheels on frames with castors, then push it along the carriages to the exit.

X-ray specs

What is the horsepower of a Lexus IS 300h that’s about three years old? The company's specs confuse me. Can you help? MW

The basic answer is 180bhp from the internal combustion engine plus 143bhp from the electric motor, but those figures are achieved at different rpm so you can't simply add them together.

The law’s an ass

I parked in a managed car park and the ticket machine recorded only the first two digits of my car’s registration. I received a £60 fine, so wrote to explain and sent a copy of my ticket. They rejected it and are not fining me because I didn’t pay, but because the whole of my registration didn’t come out. Is there anything I can do? PA

Unfortunately, this is a consequence of the law as it stands: Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 Clause 56 and Beavis v Parking Eye, Supreme Court, November 2015 seems to give these people a blanket right to impose penalties for this sort of thing and will continue to do so until there is a Supreme Court ruling that favours the victim.

Passing mention

Do you know how I might find the date I passed my UK driving test? SW

It depends when you passed, because date records did not start until March 25 1974. If you passed after that, go to https://www.gov.uk/view-driving-licence and input your licence number, national insurance number and postcode. Under the tab “vehicles you can drive”, it will show the day you became eligible for each category (ie passed your test).

Rising oil prices

Failing diesel emissions equipment on cars more than three years old could get very expensive Credit: Alamy

You have often written of the increased cost of diesel cars after three years. Can you be more specific about what might need doing? I run a Mazda CX-5 AWD diesel. TC

DPF clogged with soot: £200 for a forced regeneration. Eolys system replacement: £500. DPF filled with ash: £350 for Ceramex to clean it out (+ removal, carriage and refitting) or anything from £600 - £1,500 to replace. EGR clogged: £600-£1,200 for a replacement. AdBlue heater failed: £600 for a replacement.

Less is more

We are looking for something a lot smaller than our old Citroën C5, as we no longer need the huge luggage space. We're both in our seventies and not as agile as we were, so nothing too low. We do require a reasonable boot, though, to accommodate my wife’s walking frame. JH

The best bet is a Honda Jazz, because of the spaciousness and brilliant versatility of its interior. Other small, tall options include the Kia Venga, Hyundai ix20 and Ford B-Max.

Dodge charger

I have a 2006 Mercedes C180 with a VED rating of £270 for 12 months. The tax was due for renewal on March 1. If I take it off the road by a SORN declaration on March 31, then retax it for the new £140 rate on, say, April 3, would this be valid? SN

Absolutely not. The new rate is solely for new cars first registered from April 1 2017. Your car's tax rate will remain on the same CO2 basis as before.

Renewed hope

I had continuous motorhome insurance through a specialist broker, with no claims since 1990. When I tried to renew after a three-year break, I was quoted £1,100 because “motorhome cover is now more expensive and difficult to find”. Is there a cheaper option? TT

Just go elsewhere. Use the internet. Your three-year break means you will have lost any no-claims discount.

Extension leads

I own a three-year-old Skoda Octavia Elegance 1.4 TSI and am considering a two-year warranty extension. I have considered Warranty Direct and WarrantyWise. Any advice? RJ

Warranty Direct was always very good, but we’ll have to see how things develop following an ownership change some time ago. The lack of complaints about WarrantyWise is good news. Another possibility is http://motoreasy.co.uk.

Due diligence

I purchased my Hyundai ix20 from a dealer on March 1 2016. It was first registered in 2013, but prior to collection the garage had an MoT done. Do I have to tax it every year from when I bought it, or every year from the date of first registration? ES

Tax cannot carry over from one owner to another, so the car must have been freshly taxed when you took possession. Go to www.gov.uk/vehicle-tax and enter the reg. That will tell you what is due and when.

Moaner leaser?

Is there an organisation to whom one can complain about car dealers? CT

Yes: https://www.themotorombudsman.org. They can only handle complaints against dealers who are members of the (SMMT) and many unfranchised traders aren’t.

Shake, rattle & roll

I have an annoying rattle on my 2010 Jaguar XF (3.0 V6 petrol, 42,000 miles). It seems to come from the nearside rear corner and occurs on uneven roads at 10-30mph. Motorway driving is OK. It’s a soft, rumbling sound, doesn’t sound like metal on metal and there is no hard “clunk” if I go over a pothole. The brake line has been made secure but the noise still persists. Have you any ideas? PW

It might be something in the boot rattling around where you can't see it, under the spare wheel or in one of the side compartments.

Soft option

We have a September 2009 Citroën C4 VTR with about 72,000 miles on the clock.  We are looking to change it for something that will do about 9000 miles a year, a mixture of short (20-mile) trips and long runs. We are looking for a similar comfortable ride and petrol power. AW

Unless it's on 205/55 R16 tyres run at sensible pressures, the current C4 is not a particularly soft-riding car and doesn't have sophisticated independent suspension. There will be a revised C4 this year with a new type of suspension that employs some very clever dampers. On 205/55 R16 tyres that might be a suitable replacement. Otherwise, the cheapest cars with fully independent suspension are the Ford Focus, Kia Cee'd and Hyundai i30, again best on 205/55 R16 tyres.

Country life

I am looking for a used Skoda Yeti, up to six years old, two- or four-wheel drive. I live in a rural area, require plenty of space in the rear and I average only 7,000 miles annually. Which would you consider the best buy? BJ

The 1.8 TSI 4WD petrol is by far the best Yeti.

Year of the Cat

I have a 1974 Jaguar XJ6 4.2 in pretty outstanding nick after only 26,300 miles. It is totally rust-free and has been in the same family from new. How much is it likely to be worth? DK

Try https://valuations.classiccarsforsale.co.uk.

Harvester in

In an effort to have reliable transport for farming, my 20-year-old nephew got a loan and purchased a 2016 Mitsubishi L200. The salesman said he would be loaned a truck when the L200 came in for service. After three months, third gear was slipping but the dealer offered a loan car and not the promised truck. Without a truck my nephew could not work, so repairs were delayed multiple times. Then his truck overheated. The dealer flushed out the radiator but told him the fault could be the head gasket and, because of the mileage (35,000), my nephew would be responsible for the cost. He cannot afford this and desperately needs reliable transport. JP

If he bought a new truck then it should be under warranty, unless he voided the cover by failing to service the truck on time (which I guess might be the case). If he did comply with the terms of the warranty then, if the dealer fails to repair both the transmission and the engine, and also fails to loan him a truck during the repair, he can take his case to small claims. Law here: http://www.honestjohn.co.uk/faq/consumer-rights.

Soap opera

Can you claim for time off work if a car wash damages your car?

In December, a car wash at a BP fuel station malfunctioned and pulled off part of my six-month-old convertible’s roof, causing damage to the tune of £670. After reviewing the CCTV, BP admitted liability and agreed to pay. Where do I stand in terms of claiming for time off work to get my car repaired? MB

You need a solicitor for that, but the cost of employing one might well exceed whatever you can get back from BP.

Fixing a whole

My Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI quattro is nearing the end of its three-year warranty and has done 35,000 miles. I need to make up my mind about a warranty extension that includes AA breakdown cover. They are quoting me an annual cost of £450.75 for all component cover with an excess of £100 (up to 15,000 miles annually). This seems rather high. JH

This is probably an EA189 engine that has not yet had its NOx emissions fix and it might be a condition of the Audi warranty that the car has this done. If the fix is not immediately successful, the car could be in and out of the dealer for weeks and you could be asked to pay for expensive new parts - ie between a rock and a hard place.

Round of Golf

I took my VW Golf 2.0 TDi 140 DSG for its 75,000-mile service at a main dealer. It had been averaging 58mpg, but this fell to 50mpg after the service and I feel that the engine is running more noisily than before. The dealer said it ran a computer diagnosis and did not find anything amiss, but that it had upgraded the software relating to emissions. CG

I think we can confirm with some degree of certainty that they performed the EA189 NOx emissions software fix and that the result is typical. After the fix, the engines actively regenerate their DPFs more frequently, using extra diesel fuel and that accounts for the increased consumption.

Mind the gap

I have ordered a new car and am being pushed to think about gap insurance. Any thoughts? MH

Dealers make big commissions out of this, which is why you are being pushed. Search online to find alternative suppliers, which can usually provide this cover for half the dealer price.

Fairly liquid

Last summer I had replacement cam cover gaskets fitted to my Mitsubishi Shogun, due to oil loss. A local garage did the work, but within a couple of months clean engine oil began to build up around the gaskets. Clearly one or both have failed. The garage told me Mitsubishi is responsible because it supplied a faulty part. Shouldn’t the garage fix the problem? CK

The garage is responsible and is trying to wriggle out of it.

Juke of Sunderland

My daughter-in-law has set her heart on a Nissan Juke. She drives about 5,000 miles a year and has seen one she likes - a 2015 24,000-miler for £11,000, from a non-main dealer. I’ve found her a similar car from a Nissan agent (66-plate, £14,000). She could afford monthly payments on either, so which is the better buy? MB

It depends on the engine. The 1.2 DIG-T or 1.6 DIG-T are best. Avoid  the ordinary 1.6, ditto the 1.5 diesel unless she does big mileage.

Highly dubious

My wife and I have a VW Golf SV petrol auto and a Honda CR-V diesel auto, both 18 months old. We are thinking of replacing them with one new petrol auto. Any replacement would need a high driving position and decent headroom. JH

I would keep one of your existing cars, rather than lose a fortune in early depreciation. I’d stick with the Golf SV and  take out an additional warranty against future trouble with its seven-speed DSG transmission.

Getting cold feet

My Rover 75 2.0 CDI Tourer has done 222,200 miles and still drives like a dream. However, my wife’s feet get cold when the heater is on but mine are fine. Any suggestions? JT

It has a broken ducting flap - the one that should supply warm air to the passenger footwell is not opening.

Bricks and motor

What's a good replacement for an old Land Rover if you need to haul mounds of rubbish and building supplies? 

I bought a Land Rover Discovery 2.5 TDI for £2,000 to transport rubbish and building materials. I now need a similarly cheap workhorse, budget up to £5,000. CF

Try something simple like a Nissan Terrano II 2.7 or 3.0 diesel, or an original Kia Sorento 2.5 diesel. All are too old to have potentially troublesome diesel particulate filters (DPFs).

Claim, set & match

I’ve had a notification from Renault that our 2011 Grand Modus is due a cambelt change at 42,000 miles. I recall you claiming it is always advisable to change other bits and pieces at the same time. Is this true of my car? DS

Change the timing belt, tensioner, water pump and auxiliary belt. If the latter comes off it can wrap itself around the unprotected lower timing belt pulley and take the timing belt off.

Thin pickings

Our 2012 Lexus RX 450h F Sport is 1,884mm wide, which gives about 50mm each side (door mirrors extended) to negotiate our narrow drive. It seems all new cars are getting wider, so I have been looking at the previous model of the BMW X1 and Nissan Qashqai. We have a large dog so a decent boot is needed and we do not want a diesel. SG

The Suzuka Vitara S 1.4T Boosterjet (1,775mm wide), Peugeot 2008 (1,829mm), Ssangyong Tivoli (1,795mm), Dacia Duster (1,822mm), Toyota C-HR (1,795mm), Nissan Qashqai (1,806mm) Kia Sportage (1,855mm), Kia Soul (1,800m) or Kia Niro (1,805mm), All measurements are with ther mirrors folded.

GM buys Skoda

I have been reading recently about expensive cam chain problems afflicting TSI petrol engines in VW Group cars, but it is hard to find definitive information.Is my 2014 Skoda Yeti 1.8 at risk? GM

It's completely unpredictable. VW cut costs again, forcing the chain manufacturer to extend the life of his link stamping tools. If you get a chain with links stamped out early in the life of the tool you will probably be fine. If you get a chain with burrs and scratches from worn tools, you might have problems (particularly if you are on VW’s unwise long-life service regime).

Life’s little luxuries

I need to replace my 2005 Toyota RAV4 sooner or later, but its successors and rivals have a host of extras I will never use. The only luxuries I want are air-con and a radio. Everything points to the Dacia Duster, but the only model with air-con is the top of the range Laureate diesel. Is diesel absolutely not an alternative negative for someone who covers barely 5,000 miles a year? BS

Yes, but there is also a 1.2 TCe 125 petrol version that's really very good indeed (front- or four-wheel drive, but to my mind the 4x4 is better).

Wise guise

I have a 2010 Honda CR-V and a 2004 Honda Jazz, both petrol models. I would like to sell both and buy a new car, mostly for short runs. I am looking for something a little bigger and more comfortable than the Jazz. PH

The Jazz isn't worth much, maybe £1,000. The CR-V could be worth about £7,500. This won't finance replacement with something like a used Mazda CX-3, or anything new., but you could consider a used Honda Civic 1.8i VTEC, which is proving to be very reliable. Your best policy is simply to stick with the CR-V.

True blue

It’s time to buy a new car, I have been looking at the Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga and Toyota RAV4. I have always been a Ford man. Is it worth remaining loyal? I have about  £20,000 to spend. NS

You are unlikely to get a new Kuga for £20,000  You could get a Ford EcoSport, but I wouldn't. In terms of value the best SUV is the Dacia Duster 1.2 TCe 125 4x4 at £14,895.

Things that go bump

I bought a Fiat 500L in August 2015 and the airbag warning light came on six months later. Since then my car has been a regular visitor to the dealership and the problem still hasn’t been fixed. SE

If you are anywhere served by www.airbagman.co.uk, get your Fiat dealer to agree to call them in. I think the SRS system is probably over-sensitive and is thus triggered by bumps, rather than actually being faulty. Such problems have been known in small Fiats of old.

Suzuki twin

I drive a 15-year-old Suzuki Grand Vitara, which I love and has never let me down. I now need to get a replacement as I doubt if it will get through the MoT, but my husband is not keen on another Suzuki as he finds them “clunky”. I like the high driving position and have a budget of £20,000. What would you suggest, new or used? CK

The latest Suzuki Vitara S 1.4T BoosterJet is a lot less “clunky”. Otherwise, try a Peugeot 2008 1.2 PureTech 130 GT with Grip Control. I drove one back to back with the latest Vitara S and found it rode and handled better.

Cruel seize

My Nissan X-Trail 2.0 dCi was bought new in November 2008, has been regularly serviced and has done only 35,700 miles. It has never needed oil between services and has been very reliable until now. On a recent motorway journey, the engine suddenly emitted a loud metallic knock so I pulled off at the next junction. A Nissan dealer diagnosed oil pump failure, requiring a new engine at a cost of £6,000. Is this a common fault after such low mileage, and would it be reasonable to expect Nissan to make a contribution? DJ

There have been no previous reports of oil pump failure, but several of engine main bearing failures that led Nissan to extend the warranty on the engine from three years to four. It's obviously worth trying for goodwill, but your car is now approaching nine years old and there is no legal liability for a vehicle of this age. it’s worth consulting a member of www.fer.co.uk, but after a diesel engine seizes it might not be possible to rebuild it.

Speed awareness curse

Been caught? Perhaps a speed awareness course might be more useful than a gadget  Credit: PA

My daughter has six points on her licence. She is worried about getting any more points because of her job. Is there any equipment she can buy that will at all times tell her what speed she is doing and warn her if she exceeds the limit? JP

Many sat-navs with traffic sign recognition now do this. She could also consider an advanced driver training course, to improve her powers of observation so that she becomes more aware of the posted limits.

Here comes the sum

My 2006 VW Golf 2.0 TDI needs replacing soon and I am wondering if I will be better off leasing rather than buying. I anticipate doing about 25,000 miles per year. Would you advise going for a petrol car rather than a diesel? JP

If you are leasing a car to do 25,000 miles a year, then hand it back to the leasing company after three years, all you need to be concerned about are the lease payments and the fuel economy benefits. If the fuel economy benefit of diesel is 20 per cent better than the petrol car and the lease payments are 10 per cent higher, you'll be better off with the diesel. Anything going wrong with the emissions equipment will be covered by the warranty or the lessor and is anyway unlikely to go wrong in three years. New EU6 diesels are unlikely to be banned from many city centres within the next three years.

Sap opera

Our 2008 Audi A3 convertible has started to develop a green roof where moss and lichen have started to accumulate after years of being parked under trees. How can we remove this without damaging the roof or its waterproofing? SF

There is a range of products specifically for this from www.renovointernational.com.

Two-pronged attack

Since the 1990s we have been driving manual Audi Avant A4 2.0 TDIs to tow our caravan. But with the current anti-diesel publicity, do you think it better to change to a 2.0-litre petrol manual? ER

The problem with diesels is twofold – partly the ill feeling and threats of bans from city centres that is affecting used values, partly the unreliability of the expensive emissions equipment that now has to be fitted (and will have to be replaced after three years or so). Unless you drive huge mileages, or tow very heavy weights, petrol turbo is now the way to go.

Taking the high road

I drive a 2004 Toyota Corolla 1.6 VVT-i automatic that, while old, runs well and is very reliable. I need to find a replacement large enough to carry my elderly mother, who is not very mobile and has trouble getting into my Corolla, plus my collapsible wheelchair and 6ft 2in brother. Maximum budget is £25,000 and I have no interest in gadgets or gizmos other than parking sensors and air-con. CW

Try the latest Peugeot 3008 1.2 PureTech 130 EAT6 or the smaller Peugeot 2008 1.2 PureTech 110 EAT6. They have Very efficient petrol engines, torque converter automatic gearboxes and the type of accommodation you need. The VW Golf SV is the right size, but I don’t trust its seven-speed DSG transmission.

Seven up

What is the best seven-seater to replace an old Land Rover Station Wagon?

I need to sell my Land Rover Defender Station Wagon as the seats are unsuitable for my growing number of grandchildren. I need a used car with seven forward-facing seats and a high driving position. My budget is £13,500. Any ideas? JW

If you can find a post-2010 Kia Sorento or Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 R-Type diesel manual seven-seater within budget, snap it up. They are the most reliable vehicles of this type and offer the best value. Manuals are far better than autos.

Pirate equity?

In December the insurance for my 2014 VW Passat came up for renewal and I received a quote for £1,644, up from £575. The only “accident” I had during the year was my 80th birthday. I wrote to VW Insurance and received a “Dear Lyndon” reply stating “Sorry to be losing you. Here is your letter confirming that you have a 10-year No-Claim Discount, which your new insurer may request.” I then looked online and reinsured with Marks & Spencer for £536. LSS

"Insurers" are often glorified brokers (rather than actual underwriters), owned by private equity investors and, typical of such outfits, will try to take people for whatever they can. So you did the sensible thing (as you must with every renewal these days). At least they had the good grace to supply proof of NCD without any fuss.

Satisfied customer

In the wake of recent VW recall letters, my VW CC had the work done at my convenience, with the provision of a courtesy car and at no charge, and there is no detrimental effect to power or consumption. CB

I’m very please to read that the modification to your engine was successful. The VW Group has now invited me for talks to explain exactly what is being done to all of its affected cars.

Elementary, dear homes

What do you need to do to renew your driving licence when you move house?

I will be moving to a new address soon. What do I need to do to renew my licence - do I need a photo licence? Also, how often does a photo licence need to be renewed? RB

The only kind of licence you can apply for is a photo licence. It can be done on-line so long as you have a current passport because they’ll use that photo. It needs to be renewed every 10 years until you are 70, then every three years: https://www.gov.uk/renew-driving-licence.

Viking inversion

We need to replace our 2007 Volvo XC90. We no longer require a seven-seater, but still want the comfort of a 4x4 - something up to three years old. We would use it for no more that 7,000 miles per annum. What would you suggest? GS

If you like the XC90, the obvious replacement is an XC60. There will be a new version this year so prices of used cars should be even keener.

Far and wide

I run a Jazz hybrid that has been as reliable as all my other Hondas. I intend to keep it for local journeys, but want something larger and more comfortable for longer trips. I’m looking for a petrol automatic, up to two years old, and have a budget of £20,000. Alternatively, which car would do both jobs if I add the Jazz to the budget? DF

A Toyota Auris hybrid is the obvious choice, or else a Kia Niro hybrid. The Niro has a dual clutch rather than an epicyclic transmission and “locks” its ratios to give a more positive drive, especially up hills. If you get rid of the Jazz, the stylish alternative is a Toyota C-HR.

Drinking problem

My 61-reg Audi A5 2.0 TFSI quattro has used 1.5 litres of oil in only 1,500 miles. There’s no leak, so should I be worried? JB

I’m afraid this engine has gained a reputation for heavy oil consumption.

French dressing

I want to change my 48,000-mile Volvo C30 diesel for a comfortable five-door petrol hatchback with sat-nav, reasonable VED, Bluetooth and retractable wing mirrors. Any ideas? RC

I'd go for a Peugeot 308 1.2 130 PureTech six-speed or a Peugeot 2008 1.2 130 PureTech 130 six-speed with Grip Control, both of which are 110g/km so £20 VED. But you'll have to act quickly. After the first year (and a higher first-year CO2-based showroom tax), every new car bought from April 1 2017 onwards will carry an annual VED charge of £140.

Rubber barren

Should you change tyres sooner rather than later, even though they have a legal tread depth?

The tread on my front tyres is 3mm. Although the legal limit is 1.8mm, when should I change them? MB

Sooner rather than later. Some tyres will be fine as they approach the legal minimum, but others will be compromised. Note that it’s illegal to go below 3mm of tread in countries such as Switzerland.

Green & pleasant land

I am thinking of replacing my 15-year-old Mercedes estate with a more economical and eco-friendly used Toyota. Would a 2011 Auris hybrid with 59,000 miles be worth inspecting? Two owners in six years made me wonder about its reliability. MF

My dad's got one and it has been 100 per cent reliable. I find it very pleasant to drive. A peculiarity of the Auris hybrid is that, unlike other cars, it's actually better on larger diameter wheels and lower-profile tyres.

To B or not to B

I love my 2012 Mercedes B200 CDI but am considering moving to a petrol engine to avoid the problems that seem to afflict modern diesels. What would you recommend? RD

 really like the Volkswagen Golf SV six-speed manual with the 1.4 TSI 150 engine and the Citroën C4 Picasso 1.2 Puretech 130.

Gripping yearn

I want to change my 2012 Mercedes C250 for another Mercedes or BMW with four-wheel drive. I do about 25,000 miles per year and have a budget of about £20,000. Used is fine. I drive about 25,000 miles a year and like to change cars every couple of years. PH

A BMW xDrive will suit you, but would be best with cold- or all-weather tyres. MB is having problems with its latest AWD systems. Audi, VW and Skoda have AWD systems and I particularly like the current Golf Alltrack with the new EA288 engine.

Sweet 16s

I am considering a Citroën C3 Picasso, Ford B-Max or Honda Jazz SE. Most reviews only feature the base model 1.2 PureTech on 16-inch wheels whereas the Platinum I’m looking at is on 17s. Will this affect the ride and handling? DP

The C3 Picasso is amazingly spacious and the 1.2 PureTech is an excellent engine, albeit with only 108bhp and a five-speed ’box in the C3 Picasso. Do not go for the 17-inch wheels. They ruin the ride.

Pluie for help

At my house in France I keep a 16-year-old Toyota RAV-4. Over the past year, when it is parked outside and it rains I end up with a pool in the passenger footwell. BG

It might be coming in via a perforated plastic membranes inside the door. Or the drains to the bulkhead vent well might be blocked, leaving rainwater nowhere to go except via the pollen filter into the car. If this is the case you’ll have to unblock the drains either side of the vent well and will also need a new pollen filter.

Rim with a view

My 2014 Mercedes E350 BlueTec AMG estate has low-profile tyres on 18-inch rims. What are the best wheels and tyres for this car in terms of ride quality? AK

It might have 245/40 R18 tyres all round, or the less comfortable option of 265/35 R18 on the back and 245/40 R18 on the front. The rears tend to last about 15,000 miles before they start to rumble. You could switch to 245/45 R17s all round. Michelin Cross Climate tyres are not available in any of these sizes, so check www.tyrereviews.co.uk for options.

Rare stake

I want to buy a nearly new petrol-powered Jaguar XF or F-Pace. I’m also considering a Land Rover Discovery or BMW X5. It seems difficult to find petrol-driven vehicles of this type. What should I look at? JC

You can get a supercharged V6 petrol Jaguar F-Pace for £51,500, or the same engine in a Jaguar XF and the new Discovery. The smaller XE is offered with an excellent 2.0 Ford chain-cam turbocharged petrol engine. You can also get this engine in the Range Rover Evoque and Discovery Sport. The only petrol X5 is the 40e hybrid.

All mod cons?

I have an Audi A4 with the “cheat” engine and have been asked by the local dealer to bring it in for a fix. Do you know if this actually makes the car compliant in terms of NOx emissions? Does it swap one type of emission for another? And does it compromise any of the car’s performance characteristics? RB

Some owners have reported the fix to have worked on Golf 2.0 TDIs. Others with 1.2 TDIs, 1.6 TDIs, Tiguan 2.0 TDIs and CC 2.0 TDIs have reported poor running, fuel consumption increases and failed exhaust gas recirculation valves. Owners have been told that the modification is not reversible, so they have been driven to aftermarket engine management chip suppliers for a remedy.

Paris, taxes

Why is it so difficult for an Englishman who's just moved back to the UK from Paris to get insurance? Credit: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty

I was born in the UK and have been driving for more than 30 years. I had nine years no-claims discount up to 1999 and then moved to France, since when I have added another 16 years of no-claims discount. In December I moved back to England and bought my dad’s old car, nothing sporty, but am struggling to get it insured. After 25 years of accident-free driving the best quote I can find is £500 on a £1,500 car. Any ideas? AB

Average car insurance premiums have, apparently, risen by more than 50 per cent over the past year, so you may be expecting too much in the current environment when starting from scratch. But there’s nothing to stop you employing a good broker to seek an insurer that will give you some credit for your history in France.

Seeing the light

I drove my 2004 BMW 530d over a speed bump and immediately the restraint systems warning light appeared. The seat belts seem to be in working order. I assume an airbag connection came loose. If not, then a reset might be the answer. Are there any specialist firms that might be cheaper than a visit to BMW? GB

This is common from the shock of driving over speed humps in a car with low-profile tyres. If you live in an area that is covered by a franchise, airbagman.co.uk can reset it for you. So can a BMW dealer, obviously.

Circle line

We are looking to replace our 2014 Citroën C4 Picasso. With a very tight parking space we cannot have anything with a larger turning circle than the C4 (10.8m), nor anything longer (4,428mm). We’re not too limited by cost. Any ideas? JP

I’d go for the latest C4 Picasso 1.2 PureTech 130 six-speed manual or EAT6, or else a Peugeot 3008 1.2 PureTech 130 six-speed manual or EAT6.

Buy? Bye-bye

My granddaughter is interested in buying a used Fiat 500 at auction. She would really like a Lounge Dualogic, first registered in May 2012, 875cc, with 16,500 miles and an MoT until May 2017. It has full main dealer service history. Could you give us some idea of what she should be paying for a car like this? PH

She shouldn’t. I was”’upgraded” to a 500 875cc TwinAir Dualogic at Schiphol Airport and soon found out why Fiat UK didn’t have any on the UK press fleet. It’s diabolical and doesn’t work because the engine torque is in the wrong rev range for the automated manual transmission. Dualogic works okay with a 1.3 Multijet diesel, but not with the TwinAir. Get an 875cc TwinAir manual by all means, but not a Dualogic.

Range Rover vague

My daughter is looking to lease a new Range Rover Evoque. Some of the quotes she has received are so vague that it is impossible to make true comparisons. What is the spec she should be looking at over and above five doors and 4WD? She expects to do 15k miles per year. MC

If she’s leasing, then the fuel economy advantages of the 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel outweigh petrol because she will not be responsible for the potentially high repair and maintenance costs of a diesel after the three-year term. She has to decide whether or not she needs an automatic transmission and which level of spec. Check here for details: http://www.landrover.com/vehicles/range-rover-evoque/specifications.html. I think Evoques are best on 18-inch wheels with 235/60 R18 tyres.

Crystal tips

I am in a bit of a quandary regarding the change from diesel to petrol. My current car is a 2015 Skoda Octavia SEL 4x4 estate with 9,200 miles. With all the discussion regarding the evil diesel and the damage to the atmosphere, it would seem that the time is coming when the part-exchange value of a diesel car will be seriously affected. Looking into your crystal ball, when do you think this will happen? JM

This ball started rolling about five years ago when people slowly started realising that diesels with particulate filters were unsuitable for their style of motoring. As is always the case it takes a long time before the British public collectively wakes up to a rip-off, but once it does it’s like a supertanker changing course and cannot be turned back. Diesel residuals will continue to decline, with the slope getting steeper when there is no tax advantage and when diesels start to be banned from city centres.

Feeling the inch

I have a 2009 Range Rover Sport, with 20-inch rims.  The tyres are Pirelli Scorpion 275/140ZR20/106Ys. These ride well on main roads but do not seem happy with potholes. Would we radically improve the ride if we fitted, say, 18-inch wheels and a deeper tyre? JG

You can go to 19s.

Scandal whacks

We have a 2010 Skoda Fabia 1.6 TDI 105 estate, which Skoda informed us is due to have VW modifications as a result of the emissions scandal. We are still waiting. Normally we would be thinking of changing it for another vehicle at this age. Is it better to wait until the modifications are done? RG

The recall for the EA189 1.6 TDI engine has now begun and early reports suggest the upgrades are not always successful. Whether or not you have it done, your car will be blighted by uncertainty that affects its trade-in value.

High hopes

Which hybrid provides easier access than a Honda Insight?

My wife and I run a very economical Honda Insight hybrid and have been delighted with its reliability. However, we need to change to an automatic car with easier access. It must still be economical to run and we would prefer second-hand with low mileage. What do you suggest? PS

New, the Kia Niro, Toyota C-HR hybrid and the Toyota RAV4 hybrid are the only hybrid SUV crossovers below £30,000 so far (though the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is on the cusp). Alternatively, a Peugeot 2008 1.2 PureTech 110 EAT6 auto. I can't recommend anything second-hand that meets your criteria.

Full steam ahead

I took delivery of the latest Mercedes E-class and noticed the headlights were partially fogged over. Thus far the condensation is still there. Is this a Mercedes design fault and is it reasonable to expect Mercedes to sort it out? KB

It's reasonable to expect the supplying MB dealer to fix this. It’s caused by different expansion and contraction rates of the polycarbonate lens, the headlight reflector and the car body collectively breaking the seal. 

Code enigma

A Ford dealer has quoted me "about £300" for a spare remote key for a 2008 Focus. I can buy a washing machine for less than £200 - think what goes into the manufacture and transport costs of that. I know there are other sources for replacement keys. Any recommendations? WP

Go to Timpsons. They can copy a key and code much more reasonably, usually under £100 and often much less.

Starting to crack

My son-in-law bought a one-owner BMW 325i. It is a 2009 model with the N53 engine and, bar the last service, was maintained by the selling dealer. Starting problems recently led the RAC man to diagnose a blown head gasket. After further investigation, an independent BMW specialist has found cracks in the engine block/head that mean it needs a new engine at £6,000. Do you think he has any redress? SD

There is a possibility that it cracked due to insufficient concentration of anti-freeze for some reason. For example, the car may have lost coolant during a summer and a previous owner filled it with plain water. If the strength of the anti-freeze was not sufficient, then that is down to the dealer who sold your son-in-law the car for not checking it and you have a strong case.

Cold-hearted

My 2013 Ford C-Max was purchased through a main dealer about three years ago, with 9,000 miles on the clock. I drive about 8,000 miles a year and it is serviced regularly through the same dealer. Just before the warranty expired I asked them to look at the climate control as the AC was not working properly. They advised it was due to stone damage to the condenser that was not covered by warranty and that this was a common problem with modern cars. Have I any chance pursuing this matter further? BH

I don't think so. Radiators, condensers and heat exchangers are much more vulnerable on modern cars than they used to be.

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

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

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 (citroencarclub.org.uk), 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 null