Top 10 Car Problems
Problems from frustrated drivers railing against dodgy dealers, greedy governments and capricious councils. Here are the most common complaints.

1. Buyers’ rights after purchasing a car

Consumers have the same basic rights against any dealer retailing a car. Unless you are forewarned and buy on that basis, any significant faults that occur within six months of purchase are deemed to have been developing on the day of purchase, thereby rendering the car of “unsatisfactory quality” and are the responsibility of the dealer to repair. You can either return the car to the dealer to fix it, get a refund, or agree to part fund a repair if that is “reasonable” – what you can’t do is simply have it fixed elsewhere and send the dealer the bill. If dealers deny any knowledge of consumer protection law, it begs the question why they should be allowed to trade. It stands to reason that you cannot reasonably expect 10-year-old bangers selling for a fraction of their original price to be completely fault-free, therefore there is an arbitrary figure.

2. The state of the roads

The general state of roads, together with the proliferation of speed humps and speed cushions, is a campaign issue called Cash (the Campaign Against Speed Humps). Not only do speed humps, and particularly speed cushions, damage vehicle tyres, suspension and engines (through grounding of their sumps), a constant pounding from vehicles also destroys the substructure of the roads. That’s why you see subsidence and potholes in and around speed humps. Money that should have been spent on road maintenance was diverted by the previous government into “traffic-calming measures” that have damaged the roads, increasing the maintenance bill. A speed cushion with a pothole in it is a metaphor for the state in which the previous administration left the country.

3. Insurance disputes

These are split into three:

  • Protected No-Claims Discounts (for which policyholders pay a premium) don’t amount to much when, even after a “no fault” claim, they find their premium has escalated because they are then judged to be an increased insurance risk.
  • Valuation disputes occur when insurers write off a car that could easily be repaired and pay the owner a settlement that is inadequate to replace the car like for like, only for the owner later to see his written-off car fully repaired and for sale. One garage even had bailiffs threaten to obtain the spare keys from the previous owner of a repaired write-off that was supposedly scrapped.
  • Credit Hire expenses are where an “accident management specialist” takes over a claim, puts the injured party in an equivalent hire car for the duration of the repair, then delays the repair to extend the period of the hire. A repair cost of 4,000 and a hire car cost of 9,000 are typical where, if the insurer had anticipated the hire car bill, it would have written off the car in the first place. Never sign any document that leaves you liable for hire costs if the other party’s insurer (rightly) refuses to pay. The worst examples have been hire car bills of 29,000 and 40,000 – sums that could have bought the hire cars outright.

4. Repair disputes

Most garages and all franchises are now members of under which garages subscribe to a set of standards of service and repair and agree to a conciliation and arbitration process over customer disputes. However, thousands of garages remain non-subscribers to Motor Codes, so disputes over repairs to increasingly complex vehicle engines, transmissions and emissions systems are escalating, often forcing car owners to take to the small claims track at the county courts.

5. Parking disputes

A legacy of our departed administration is Penalty Culture, by which means the nasty process of fining people for minor breaches of petty rules. This has extended to demands of 50 to 100 penalties for overstaying the allotted or paid for time in private car parks, including those at motorway service areas where we are urged by Government to “take a break”. The car park operator uses an exemption from the Data Protection Act to buy the car owner’s details from the Licensing Agency and then hits them with an official-looking “fine”.

However, all the operator can legally do is sue the car driver for a breach of the contract by which he parked, and if such cases ever go to court the concept of “reasonable” compensation for the breach of contract comes into play. A court is unlikely to affirm that 100 is “reasonable” compensation for overstaying a two-hour motorway service area limit by 10 minutes. Like you or I, it is more likely to consider this totally outrageous. Some people who have received a penalty notice from a private parking operator have sent a cheque for 5 to 10, together with a letter stating that they consider that amount to be “reasonable” compensation for the minor breach of contract and if the parking operator considers it to be “unreasonable” they will see them in court.

6. Fuel economy not as promised by EC certification

Because car taxation is CO2-based, the race has been on to lower certified emissions. All kinds of tricks are applied to achieve the lowest possible CO2 in tests conducted by the manufacturers themselves. You would be delighted to be able to buy cars with low annual CO2 tax or free of tax altogether but are less enamoured with the consequent certified average fuel economy from the lab tests, which many of them find completely impossible to achieve (or even get close). Telegraph Motoring publishes the EU Urban fuel consumption figures wherever possible these provide a more realistic guide to what you might achieve in everyday driving.

7. ESP failures

An Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is now being legislated into every car by EC Directive for “safety reasons”. Unfortunately, failure of valves inside ESP modules is rife from about four years old. When this happens, VW prescribes a complete new module costing about £1,500, but will partially contribute depending on the age, mileage and history of the car. BMW offers a fix costing about £500. Audi, Seat, Skoda, Volvo and Mazda have different policies. A British company, ECU Testing, offers a fix that is claimed to eliminate the fundamental problem. VOSA refuses to issue a vehicle safety recall because it holds the view that drivers are adequately warned of the failure of a system that is supposed to compensate for their lack of skill and save their lives.

8. Choked diesel particulate filters (DPFs)

Another brilliant EC Directive (EU5) has led to the fitting of particle filters to diesel cars to trap unburned hydrocarbon particulates on start-up, then burn them off safely later in the car’s journey. There are various ways of persuading the filter to do this but few are compatible with the use of a diesel car to drive short distances from cold starts. Because there is then no “later” in these cars’ journeys, the particulates are not burned off and eventually choke the filter. Worse still, where particulate regeneration is achieved by injecting additional fuel to the engine, but the filter is choked, this fuel dribbles down the bores into the sump, raising the sump level to the point where an engine can start running on its own sump oil and, being a compression ignition engine, becomes impossible to stop. More recent DPFs work better.

9. Unintentional acceleration of automatics

“My car ran away with me,” is a plaintive cry attempting to transfer blame from the driver to the manufacturer. “Out-of-control” automatics kill between 10 and 120 people a year in Britain which is why it is recommended drivers use their left foot to brake. If drivers are taught that the only way to drive an automatic is with the right foot operating both accelerator pedal and brake, problems are inevitable. The accelerator pedal and automatic “creep” cannot be relied upon to finely control the speed of an automatic car, especially in a confined space. A sudden surge can move the car several metres, and a panic misjudgment (when the driver hits the accelerator instead of the brake) can result in catastrophe. This was recently put to the test in a scientifically controlled and observed wet braking exercise at ADAC in Germany. Right-foot braking, the car could be stopped from 80kph to 10kph in a best of 32 metres. Using left-foot braking, the figures ranged from 25.6 to 28 metres.

10. Rust warranties

In the Nineties, Mercedes-Benz’s management decided that it was over-engineering its cars, previously claimed to be “engineered like no other”. Accountants cut costs and Mercedes went for volume, introducing models such as the A-class and getting involved with Smart. They also introduced a “30-Year Mobilo Warranty”, which many buyers took to mean that the bodywork of their Mercedes would be warranted against corrosion for 30 years. Unfortunately, the cost-cutting meant that Mercedes cars built between about 1996 and about 2004 have a fairly shocking propensity to rust. To limit the damage (to its balance sheet), Mercedes seems to have decided to limit its “no perforation” body warranty to eight years. It will repair fully and correctly serviced Mercedes up to eight years old. After that, judging by feedback from readers, owners might find they have a problem.


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