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Welcome to our new Q&A series How to Car – From those ‘In the Know’, I am Hannah Gordon and I am here to answer your questions on all things ‘Car Care’

– Want to speak fluent garage talk?
– Know exactly what that dash icon means?
– Or just some help on some basic car maintenance?

If this sound like you please ask me a question at askhannah@motors.co.uk or if you want to find out more about our series and our other panellists please click here

Car Care – Sustainable September answers:

Q: Are there any tips you could share with me to reduce my carbon emissions when driving? 

A: A huge topic right now is the environmental impact of petrol and diesel vehicles, and diesels do produce more carbon and noxious gases compared to petrol. There are, however plenty of ways you can reduce the carbon emissions of your vehicle whether it runs on either fuel.

The first thing is to make sure your car is serviced at the proper intervals as recommended by the manufacturer, we normally say that vehicles should be serviced every 12 months and 12,000 miles. A service allows a technician to change filters and replenish with fresh oil, this will help your vehicle run more efficiently.

A big talking point at the moment is fuel, E10 petrol has just been introduced, and contains up to 10 per cent Ethanol. Personally, I try to use premium fuel which  much purer and also contains additives that help keep the engine cleaner and running better.

The air conditioning pulls a lot of power from the engine and you will see an increase in fuel consumption, so if you can use the air-con sparingly this will help lower the emissions. Another way you might look at changing your emissions footprint is to look at the way you drive, driving in a smoother manner and changing gear earlier will make for a more efficient journey.

Lowering your emissions works alongside being more fuel efficient, the best way to do this is to remove any unwanted weight from the car, cars can become storage spaces for belongings so try and have a clear out. If you have a roofbox which you don’t use all the time then remove it and put it on only when needed.

Make sure that the vehicle’s tyre pressures are correct, as under inflated tyres will mean a slight increase in fuel usage. Lastly, look at what times of day you need to drive. Being stuck in traffic increases emissions, if you are able to travel in off-peak times then this will help you save fuel and lower your carbon output.

Q: Is there a safe way for me to dispose of old car batteries and worn tyres?

A: It is important hazardous waste such as tyres and batteries are disposed of properly by a registered business or council. You will need to check with your local authority but I believe most will take old car batteries, if not most garages will accept old batteries and will recycle them on your behalf. When transporting car batteries make sure you place them in a bag, the battery acid is hazardous if spilt. Also, we always use the plastic caps from the new battery to cover the old battery terminals to ensure there is no risk of shorting out.

With the new Lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles they are a lot harder to get rid of, many scrap merchants wont recycle Lithium-ion batteries at the moment.

Car tyres are a little more tricky to dispose of, local authority recycling centres don’t normally take car tyres. Instead you will need to take them to a tyre fitter or local garage, you will probably be charged a disposal fee for that service.

Q: Do you know the life expectancy of an EV battery and do you know if they are planning on making them more environmentally friendly after use?

A: Great question, there is a lot of scepticism surrounding electric vehicles and their battery life. But what a lot of people do not know is that EV’s and hybrid vehicles have been around for over 20 years – many Toyota Priuses have covered a huge mileage,and are still on their original batteries. Technology of these batteries has grown year on year and the longevity and range has improved greatly, plus they are only going to get better.

New EVs and hybrids do come with battery warranties, most manufacturers offer an 8 year warranty but mileages can vary, Tesla offers 8 years and 150k mile warranty on its batteries should the percentage life left fall below 70%.

However there are some ways you can help prolong the battery life in a vehicle, manufacturers recommend that you do not let the battery capacity fall too low (20%) and that when you charge it you don’t go over 80% capacity too often. The rapid chargers should also only be used when a top up is required on the road, as the speed at which the charge is put in can heat up the cells and make them less efficient. How you drive can also affect the battery life – it is exciting to feel the power of an electric car, but that also means the batteries heat up quicker.

Life expectancy can vary taking into account the points shown above, a Tesla battery has around 2000 individual cells and a qualified technician can see if any of the cells are underperforming. This means individual cells can be replaced instead of the whole battery back. The price of battery packs is expensive, it is worth considering when buying a used EV or hybrid getting the battery pack tested for capacity and efficiency.

At the moment it is not easy to dispose of the Lithium-ion batteries found in vehicles, dismantling them takes time and is also a potentially dangerous operation due to risk of explosion. New techniques are being discovered and by the time large amounts of batteries need to be recycled better processes will be in place.

Car Care – August answers:

Q: Are automatic cars more expensive to repair?

A: Automatic cars are becoming more and more popular and with the introduction of electric and hybrid cars they will soon be the only option.

Automatic gearboxes are a lot more complicated than manual gearboxes, as with problems associated with manual transmissions, an independent garage will normally be able to carry out most fixes, but an automatic gearbox will normally only be able to be repaired by a specialist. The most common issue with manual gearboxes are clutch and flywheel changes, this involves removing the gearbox and replacing the worn out parts. With an automatic gearbox there is no clutch and flywheel assembly, instead in its place is a torque converter whose job it is to transfer engine torque into hydraulic pressure that aids the smooth changing of the gears.

Automatic gearboxes are more expensive to repair when problems arise, due to them changing gears automatically there are control modules and computers involved, these are costly when they go wrong. Overall, the automatic gearbox also has more moving parts which means a greater risk of something breaking.

But automatic gearboxes are also extremely reliable and gone are the days when an automatic gearbox meant the car was thirstier on fuel. Modern cars are now programmed to change gear at the most economical times. It is also important to follow manufacturer specified service schedules, with automatic gearboxes this is especially important to change the oil, and filter if it has one. You will also need to make sure that your garage has suitable diagnostics as some vehicles need to have their gearbox settings reset.

 

Q: Are there any tips you think I should ask when buying a car – from your mechanic background?

A: Buying a car is an exciting thing and also could be one of your biggest purchases so it is important you take the time to really look over the vehicle and make sure it is everything it is meant to be.

When I look at cars for customers I always start with checking the bodywork, I look for any panel gaps that aren’t equal, look down the sides of the vehicle for any paint imperfections. Always try and view a car in daylight and when it is not raining, never easy in the UK but it will mean you can check the bodywork better.

Another thing to check is the vehicle’s MOT history, this will throw up any regular issues that haven’t been sorted and will also confirm the mileage of the car.

Regarding the mechanical side of the vehicle, have a look at the engine. It may be difficult as most modern engines are now covered in plastic covers but have a look at all the fluids. Mainlylook at the oil by lifting the oil cap and seeing if there’s any white residue, this could indicate a head gasket failure. Also check the level of the oil via the dipstick (if it has one) and the coolant level, you should be able to see the fluid levels through the bottles.

On start-up make sure the orange engine management light illuminates then turns off. I have seen it before where a car has a fault and the garage/owner has removed the bulb. Check that there are no dashboard warning lights and when the engine is running look for any strange noises or rattles. On a test drive you can really feel and listen out for any suspension noises or the engine not performing as it should.

Lastly check the electrics inside the vehicle, this includes electric windows, mirrors, central locking and heated seats if it has them. If the person selling the car has advertised these all work then you need to check them. Also check the air conditioning, this needs to cut in and out when the button is pressed on the dash, if the air con is faulty it could mean a huge bill to rectify.

If you are unsure about a car then walk away – a gut feeling is normally right. Also if you feel like you need a second opinion it is always a good idea to take someone along who works on cars, they might spot something you don’t.


Q: Is it possible to add ISOFIX to a car that doesn’t have them?

A: ISOFIX is a system that car manufacturers add to their vehicles to make it easier to fit child seats. Most ISOFIX systems have two metal loops situated in the rear seats between the upright and the part you sit on. Some cars may even have three tether points.

ISOFIX points are made at the time of manufacture and are attached to the cars rear seats so finding aftermarket ones can be difficult.

There are however two different options, there are manufacturer specific and universal ISOFIX fittings that can be found online. I am unsure what vehicle you have but an internet search should be able to find something suitable to fit your vehicle.

The other option is to fit the child seat using the seatbelt method, this involves using the car’s seatbelt to loop through the fittings in the child seat and locate into the seatbelt buckle.

I would suggest the best option depends on what child seat you have or want to fit, with every child seat there will be instructions on how to fit it safely and what fitting will fit the best.

Electric Car Care – July answers:

Q: What is E10 petrol and will my car run on it?

A: E10 petrol is set to be introduced in the UK from September this year, though on a recent trip I did to a Tesco forecourt, it already had the E10 stickers up on the fuel dispenser. What came before was E5 petrol, the E5 means that the unleaded petrol contained up to per cent ethanol which is a biofuel. The new E10 variant contains up to 10 per cent ethanol instead.

This move has come about from the government to help lower emissions, the research conducted claims that 750,000 tonnes of CO2 could be saved from entering the atmosphere by using the fuel.

There is however an issue with E10 petrol, if you have a vehicle made from 2011 onwards then you should be fine, but older vehicles may not be compatible with the new fuel. You can check on the government website www.gov.uk/check-vehicle-e10-petrol This website details whether the car you own will be able to take the E10 fuel, if this isn’t the case then there will still be ‘premium’ E5 fuel available such as Shell VPower and Tesco Momentum but these will cost more per litre. Another potential issue I have heard about the new fuel is that it may not be as efficient, you may notice a very small drop in economy as ethanol doesn’t burn as efficiently as pure petrol.

If you do find yourself putting the wrong fuel in then your car will still start, the issue with the E10 fuel is that it can corrode metals within the engine, so it’s best with an older car to not let it sit in the tank for long periods of time.

 

Q: What happens if I run out of charge in an electric car? Could I get fined for running out of electricity, like you sometimes can with petrol and diesel cars?

A: I have had a look into this and can’t find anything to suggest that you would get fined, however if you join a motorway knowing you have minimal charge and break down causing a hazard then you could well receive a fine and points due to driving without due care and attention.

Electric vehicles are extremely good at letting you know how much charge they have left, when the charge level goes below a certain point then lights and audible warnings will appear on the touchscreen and/or instrument cluster. There is also normally a feature which, when the car is getting low on charge, will tell you where and direct you to the nearest charge point.

It is never advisable to run the battery down to nothing, this could lead to battery deterioration and lessen the ability for it to hold charge. When an EV runs out of battery then you will still be able to put your hazards and lights on due to these components running off a normal 12V car battery which is handy if you should break down in a dangerous setting. If you do break down then you will need to request your recovery company to bring a flatbed recovery vehicle as most EVs cannot be towed like conventional petrol and diesel cars, this is because the electric motors can get damaged.

I would expect in time and with advancements in technology that vehicle recovery firms will soon start carrying chargers capable of giving an EV enough range to get to its nearest charging station.

 

Q: What maintenance do electric cars need?

A: Ultimately, a lot less than an internal combustion engine due to there being not as many moving parts. With an electric car you completely take away the need to check fluids such as engine oil, power steering fluid and sometimes even coolant. Some electric vehicles still retain a coolant system for the batteries but many just use the car’s air conditioning system instead. Also power steering is now less likely to be hydraulic and has been replaced with electric pumps instead.

The main maintenance we see at the workshop for EVs are things like screenwash top up, tyre pressures and a general check of suspension wear. The motors, generator and battery packs require very little maintenance, if there is a problem with any of the EV’s running then due to the amount of sensors they will flag up a fault on the dashboard.

Brake discs and pads are used very minimally by an EV, this is due to the motors slowing the car down instead, so the issue is more likely to be with seized brakes if they haven’t been used much. Overall, owning a pure EV should save you plenty of money on maintenance although you are still required to have a yearly MOT.

Hybrid cars will need a more in depth maintenance schedule due to having both an internal combustion engine (petrol/diesel) and the electric generators/motors.

Car Care – June answers:

Q: Would it be possible to tell me how the system in a self-charging hybrid car works?

A: Hybrid vehicles are extremely popular at the moment as they bridge the gap between going from petrol/diesel to fully electric. A hybrid car contains both a gasoline engine which can be either petrol or diesel and an electric generator. The car switches between the two depending on what is being asked of the car, for example if you are driving around town and there is enough charge in the battery the car will run on its electric motor. The car will then change to the gasoline engine when its being asked to travel at a higher speed.

There are two different types of hybrid commonly used, these are the plug in hybrid and the self charging variety. The self charging set-up recovers energy that would have normally been lost, such as braking. This energy is then used to charge up the batteries, it is called regenerative braking. In a car that doesn’t use regenerative braking the car will brake and the energy is lost as heat through the wheels, but with regenerative braking that energy is used to charge up the batteries that run the electric motor instead. This puts less stress on the brake discs and brake pads which means they don’t wear as quickly. Energy from the engine can also be used to charge the batteries up.

The transition from electric to gasoline power is seamless, and the only detection is usually a bit more noise from the gasoline engine.

The range of a self driving hybrid is minimal and the electric powertrain is really only there to aid acceleration, where as a plug in hybrid can give 30 miles of electric range a self charging hybrid may only give you 1-2 miles.

Also you need to consider that the batteries often impact on space within the vehicle and make it heavier, but on the plus side you wont need to plug it in to charge.

If you’re looking at getting a self charging hybrid then I would consider what you mainly use your vehicle for, if its town and city driving then a hybrid is perfect. But if you are doing a lot of motorway miles then a self charging hybrid will be of little benefit economy wise. The only benefit would be lower tax brackets and also a more lenient Benefit in Kind tax if you’re a company car driver.

 

Q: Do you know of any universal roof racks? I change my car quite frequently due to my job and they are actually quite an expensive to buy each time. 

A: I can understand your frustration, you must have a garage full of roof racks from previous cars! You can get universal bars that go across and also universal boxes but the feet attachments are usually more car specific. If you are getting the same manufacturer built car then the feet should fit most of their vehicles. There are some universal roof racks on Amazon, as you haven’t stated what you would be putting onto the roof racks I am unsure of the weight and size. This means I am reluctant to recommend certain universal kits.

Also, it may be worth considering whether you can specify on your new cars that they are optioned with roof rails, this would enable you to just swap over the universal bars each time.

 

Q: Do you have any tips /advice for me going to a garage for car repairs? I am a woman in my 20s and I have always asked my Dad to come with me for support on anything to do with my car. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us and I am not very confident talking about my car with anyone and just this week my Corsa gears started sticking between first and second – meaning sometimes it’s hard to pull off smoothly. 

A: I am so sorry to hear you’ve lost your Dad, I can understand your trepidation for going to a car repair workshop on your own. Firstly, I would suggest asking friends who they use when getting their car repaired, often a friendly and trustworthy garage will have a great reputation that customers are happy to recommend. I would try and get quotes from your local garages, ring them and ask how much they would charge for repairs, you can sometimes get a feel for a place through how they communicate on the phone. Having worked in the industry for 15 years I know the majority of garages are honest, trustworthy and will help in whatever way they can. Good garages will explain the issue in simple terms and will price up any work before moving forward with the repairs. At the garage I run we don’t expect customers to know the engineering side of their vehicles, cars are extremely complicated machines!

When you visit the workshop make sure you are as detailed as possible with the fault, the mechanic will test drive the vehicle to confirm what the issue is. I always tell people to make sure they leave the wheel locking nut on the front seat, some cars don’t have one but you can usually find it in the glovebox or in the boot, this means the mechanic doesn’t have to go rooting around the car to find it!

Regarding the issue with the gears it could be a number of things, it may be the clutch has started to wear making it hard to change gear. Another possibility is that the gear linkage may be seized or that there is a problem internally with the gearbox and its mechanism. I would get this looked at as soon as possible as it may get to the point that you can’t engage any gear.

 

Car Care – May answers:

Q: With electric vehicles becoming more popular, would a local garage be able to do servicing and maintenance jobs or would main dealers be the only place to service/MOT these vehicles?

A: Such a relevant question at the moment, and one that divides the motor trade alike. The workshop I own has just invested in the new electric and hybrid era of vehicles, and we have the specialist training and equipment to deal with any EV or hybrid. Many other independents are also following suit. But there are also plenty of independent garages who want nothing to do with them and won’t even do simple servicing or MOT tests.

MOT tests on EV or hybrid vehicles can be carried out by anyone, they don’t need to be specifically trained in EV as they shouldn’t be touching or going near any of the high voltage components.
EVs and hybrid vehicles work on extremely high voltages so you need to make sure that the garage you use has the correct qualifications, simple servicing, brakes and suspension work doesn’t require a technician to go near the high voltage system so can be carried out as normal. The issues start to arise when high voltage areas such as the motors, batteries and even the air conditioning system begin to falter, this requires the vehicle to be ‘isolated’ from its power source. If you are thinking of getting an EV or hybrid then I would check out This is a website that my workshop belongs to and it enables customers to see where their nearest EV independent specialist is. I have no doubt that more and more garages will start to embrace the future and get the qualifications.

We have worked on plenty of EVs lately and service costs for owners is a lot less than petrols or diesels – just last week we had a Tesla with over 100k miles and still on its original set of front brake pads. They looked like they were capable of lasting another 100k!

Q: I’m considering purchasing a 2010 Renault Megane Coupe 1.9 dCi with 110k on the clock. Is the fact the cambelt hasn’t been changed a serious problem?

A: Hi, just this week we have had two vehicles in the workshop which have had broken cambelts, these were only slightly over the recommended date and mileage they should be changed. Both cars had to be scrapped as the valve damage and associated work was more than what the vehicles were worth.

The cambelt on the Renault 1.9dCi vehicles should be replaced every 90,000 miles or 6 years, with this in mind it is 20,000 miles and five years overdue for a cambelt. The 1.9dCi engine is also what we call an ‘interference engine’, which means that should the cambelt snap then it is likely that the valves will hit and cause further damage. I would be extremely reluctant to buy a vehicle that was this far overdue its cambelt, I would insist that the cambelt, tensioner and water pump are all replaced before even thinking of handing any money over. If you have a garage that you trust to do the work then I would get them to price the job up and ask for a discount on the car sale price to get this work done after purchase. You haven’t said whether you intend to buy privately or from a trade seller – you are more protected buying from a trade seller as they should be giving you three months warranty with the vehicle, this would cover you should the cambelt break. A private sale is normally ‘sold as seen’ and as you are aware that the cambelt is overdue you would be taking a big risk.

I hope you can come to some sort of agreement with the seller regarding this issue.

 

Q: I am looking at a niche car that is no longer in production. Before purchasing should I research garages first to see if they would be capable of carrying out work on the vehicle?

A: It’s a little difficult to answer this question without knowing fully what vehicle you are looking at and how long ago it went out of production. If we are talking about a classic car that was built decades ago then a good classic/vintage car workshop with expertise in that era of car you want should be able to help. Even though the car is no longer produced, the fundamentals of most cars are very similar and just require a skilled technician to deal with the problems. I think the main issue you may have with a vehicle no longer produced is finding parts, which might mean doing extra research to see if repairing the vehicle would be achievable.

I would recommend searching for groups associated with the vehicle you are interested in, there are plenty of car clubs and websites that offer invaluable information when it comes to who to use for repairs and where to source parts. The person you are buying the vehicle from may also have recommendations of who they used to fix the vehicle – often when a workshop has looked after a vehicle before they know its quirky features and how to remedy them. Definitely don’t be put off though by purchasing a niche vehicle, it may be more difficult to repair and maintain but it will be well worth it driving around in something rare.

Q: I need a new spare wheel and wing mirror. Where is the best (and cheapest) place to source these?

A: There are a few options you can try when sourcing these parts, if you don’t mind used parts then eBay or a scrap yard are the first places I would try. There are plenty of online used car parts stores where car breakers will sell the parts you require and then send it to you.

If you are looking for new parts then you may have to go to the manufacturers themselves, I have found in the past that a lot of car part companies don’t sell wing mirrors and I’ve had to go straight to the manufacturers parts department instead.

When you are searching for the wing mirror make sure you have checked that you are ordering a like-for-like part, most mirror assemblies are now electric, heated and the casing is painted to the car colour, too, so you want to make sure they are the same.

The cheapest place will always be the second-hand market via an online search, but also check the prices against genuine manufacturer parts. I have seen on some occasions that parts available online are actually more expensive than a new part straight from the manufacturer.

Is the spare wheel you are looking to source to replace one that you’ve had or as a back-up for the tyre puncture foam? Before you look at getting a spare wheel check that you have space for one, plenty of manufacturers don’t allow space for a spare wheel to keep weight down.

Q: How often should we be doing basic car maintenance? Such as checking oil, screen wash, tyre tread etc

A: Most modern cars will tell you when the fluid levels are getting low, but it is also best practice to check before this warning occurs. I always advise people to check the oil, coolant, screen wash, power steering fluid (if it has hydraulic steering) and brake fluid once a month. Most cars will have a minimum and maximum level on the reservoir. Also make sure that you check you are using the correct fluid for the vehicle, it may say what to use in the vehicle’s handbook, but if not consult your local car workshop.

If you have a diesel with a DPF filter then you may also need to check the Ad-Blue level, this is a fluid that helps clean the exhaust system and reduce emissions. It should give you a warning on the dash when it’s running low but if it does run out it may stop your vehicle from starting.

Tyres should also be checked regularly for the correct pressure and tread depth – the legal limit for tread depth is at least 1.6mm. When checking your tyres make sure there isn’t any uneven wear and that the tyre walls don’t have any cuts or bulges in them. Tyre pressures can usually be found on a sticker on one of the door shuts or inside the petrol cap.

Q: This summer me and my family are embarking on a staycation. It will be my first time towing and I was wondering if it would be wise to have my car looked at before I tow a trailer/caravan? 

A: I would definitely check that the vehicle you intend on using is suitable for towing, the first thing to look at is that the towing capacity of your vehicle is enough to pull the caravan/trailer you want to take.

As a precaution you should get your local garage to inspect your vehicle as towing puts a huge strain on the vehicle, especially the engine and gearbox so make sure the vehicle has been serviced at the correct intervals. If you have a manual gearbox then the clutch needs to be in good condition, a high clutch or ‘clutch slip’ can indicate excessive wear and could result in complete failure when towing.

When getting the vehicle looked at make sure they inspect the condition of the tow bar and the chassis it is attached to. This check should include the bolts that hold it all together, the chassis and tow bar. These can collect water, dirt and salt which leads to rust and reducing the structural integrity of the metal.

The tyres need to be in good condition too, as grip is very important due to the added weight – just imagine the extra load a caravan/trailer puts onto a vehicle when going down a hill. A vehicle’s suspension helps it stay stable so you must also get this checked alongside wheel bearings and drive shafts.

Once you have attached the trailer/caravan you will need to check that all the lights are functioning as they should, and that the registration plate of the vehicle matches the trailer/caravan as well. Safety precautions such as a breakaway cable must be fitted and depending on what you are towing then mirror extensions may be required.

Enjoy your staycation!

Hannah Gordon

By

A mechanic and workshop owner with over 15 years of experience working on vehicles. In the past, I’ve specialised in air-cooled Porsches and classic car restoration.  Just gained my level 3 in hybrid and electric repairs whilst also appearing on Channel 4’s Mend it for Money restoring old cars. Regularly documents what it’s like to own a 150k mile Porsche 911 on YouTube.  Owns too many cars and should probably get rid of some!

October 1, 2021