/ Motoring

Why aren’t over 50s doing basic car maintenance?

Fewer over 50s are doing basic maintenance on their own cars than ever before, according to Saga’s survey. Instead the majority are paying mechanics to do simple jobs. So who or what’s to blame?

As someone not a million miles away from the big five-o, I’m hugely disappointed to hear that older people are giving up on doing their own basic car maintenance.

That’s the verdict of Saga’s analysis – its survey of 9,000 customers found that the number of over 50s doing car maintenance has dropped from 17% to 10% in the past five years. That’s 77% of older drivers getting garages to do minor work, such as replacing a battery or changing an oil filter.

So, I may be in a minority, but I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty repairing the constant niggles that plague my four-year-old Renault Modus. As a single parent with a young family, I found it virtually impossible to do work on my car without a garage or driveway to do it on. Instead, I had to do it on the roadside, which just isn’t safe.

However, when the car got a puncture last year, I enlisted the help of my 12-year-old son to help remove the wheel nuts and fit the spare tyre. It gave him a huge sense of achievement that he’d be able to do what – to him – had seemed like a daunting task.

And now that my children are older I’m doing lots more car DIY. In fact, a Haynes manual for the Renault is on my next birthday list.

Paying for simple car maintenance jobs

It seems very wrong – especially now that the driving test includes a section on car maintenance – to waste money paying a garage to do simple things like replace a bulb or battery. DIY also gives the car owner a sense of pride. Perhaps this would mean you’d be more likely to actually notice when a bulb blows or a tyre’s tread gets lower, resulting in safer, more roadworthy cars.

My colleague Rob Hull has argued that modern car design has put car maintenance out of reach for most people. And while I agree that many of the electrical units fitted to modern cars are too complex for a DIY-er to attempt, there are still lots of jobs we can and should be doing.

If we do take on basic car maintenance ourselves, then we’d have the right to demand car makers to make engine bays more accessible, instead of covering them in plastic jackets. And we would be able to rely less on car mechanics to fix many tiny problems, with car servicing being one of the most complained about things by Which? members. Surely doing it ourselves would give us less cause to complain!

Comments
Profile photo of wavechange
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I’m over 60 and learned about car servicing as a teenager, when my father had an Austin A40. Apart from when I have had new cars serviced to preserve the warranty I have always done my own routine servicing and tackled many other jobs too. If I do it myself I know my own limitations and what has been done, whereas if a garage does the job I cannot be sure. Having been let down by dealers and read reports in Which? magazine, I feel justified in my concerns.

It does annoy me that some jobs have become so difficult. Several years ago I decided to take my car in to have the timing belt, though I had tackled this successfully on my previous car, despite the complication of it having a diesel engine. The garage apologised for charging me well above their estimate for labour and said they had made no profit. That was due to the design of the car, and apparently the engine has to be lifted with some cars, just to do a routine replacement of a timing belt. Making bulbs difficult to replace is stupid, especially since it is a requirement to carry spares in some countries.

Changing oil is much easier if you pump it out of the dipstick hole. With some models this might not remove it all, but it worked for me.

The real problem seems to be diagnosis of faults that cause warning lights to come on. So far, I have not had that problem.

In all the time I have owned a car there has only been one occasion on which it failed to start because I replace the battery when it is showing signs of age and I choose replacements that are at least as good as the original. The one time was just after I had put in a new battery and it was faulty. I still pay for breakdown cover, though it must be over 25 years since I last had to call, and that was because an exhaust fitter had not done their job properly.

Having bought a new car, its back to dealer servicing and probably complaining about jobs that have not been done properly.

It would be great if cars were easy for DIY mechanics to service, but many manufacturers don’t think it is necessary to provide a full-size spare wheel and some don’t even manage that.

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On the point about the difficulty of replacing bulbs, I understand that France has now dropped the requirement for drivers to carry a spare set (or rather to have a replacement bulb if the police stop you because one is blown).

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tony says:
17 August 2012

What are you talking about you maniac :- ” Changing oil is much easier if you pump it out of the dipstick hole. With some models this might not remove it all, but it worked for me “.

I would love to hear how you do this .

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I use a Watson Marlow peristaltic pump that was in a pile of faulty scientific equipment heading for recycling as electrical waste. It’s not quick but it certainly got all the oil out of my Golf diesel. I would not expect it to remove all the oil from all models of car. Brian of East Sussex has used a conventional pump (see below) to do the job. A good motor factor or chandlery should be able to help.

The ideal solution would be to install a brass sump pump, as commonly used on boats, if there is room beside the engine. That makes oil changes incredibly easy.

I’d prefer to be regarded as a genius but maniac will do. 🙂

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Isn’t it easier to take the drain plug out of the sump? That way gravity does a fine job.

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Absolutely not, since there is a large cover below the whole of the engine compartment. I presume that it is there to make the car more aerodynamic.

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Jim Kenney says:
10 January 2013

no offence meant, but I’d go for maniac instead of genius. sorry, but surely its got to be better to drain the gloop and iron filings out of the sludge trap by gravity? a lovely innovative idea though

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Tony Brooks says:
11 January 2013

The ONLY way to change oil is to get a garage to do it with an engine flush at the same time. Takes them 30 minutes, costs about £30, and you don’t have any waste to deal with.

Ease of run of the mill maintenance eg bulbs should be a factor in choosing a car and should certainly be a design consideration.

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This >50 is not doing car maintenance [other than the running attention to tyres and fluids] because the engine is virtually inaccessible, I don’t know what I’m doing, I haven’t got the tools required for modern motors, and everything is so tight I can’t undo it. Why isn’t car lighting run through fibre optics from a central – and accessible – light source [with an installed back-up of course]?

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Years ago, a friend once told me that Fiat used a single lamp and fibre optics instead of lots of small lamps behind the dashboard. Unfortunately the lamp was extremely difficult to replace and failure was not uncommon.

Roll on the long-life LED lamps, but not the blinding ones like those on some expensive models.

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I think you will find that most instrument lights are now non-replaceable LED lamps. I think the law restricts the possible use of LED’s in the rear and stop lights, or at least getting them certifeid does.

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I believe you are right about new cars, but there are plenty of older cars on the road. I found it amusing that in the days before blue LEDs were invented, VW used a bulb and blue plastic to look like a blue LED.

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Like Wavechange and John I did all my own car repairs and servicing when young – couldnt afford to do anything else and there was always a friend,colleague or neighbour to give advice and help.
Then once I had some money and a newer car garage servicing became necessary to preserve the warranty and to get some pf leisure time back.
You soon loose confidence in your own ability to do even simple jobs and the helpful knowledgeable neighbour of friend doesnt seem to exist anymore.
Having said that I used to do most things on an old 4×4 I had a few years ago but I wasnt dependant on it to get me to work etc.

I probably agree that >50s are not doing as much car maintenance as before but I bet they are still doing more than any other age group

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I am very grateful to those kind people who post useful information and videos on websites, whatever age they are. I don’t want to wait until my car is three years old before I can buy a book full of second rate black and white photos of a model that is closely similar but maddeningly different from mine. But the book does have the advantage that it can be used to keep small gaskets safe. 🙂

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pickle says:
16 August 2012

I blame the manufacturers. Cars are inaccessible as far as the DIY mechanic is concerned. To replace headlamp bulbs you need, besides the lamp, a first aid box handy and have very flexible hands. Even then you are liable to get covered in blood, tears and oil……
Give us a bit more room around the engine you manufacturers

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I did hear a story of someone getting a head light bulb replaced. Cost of lamp £5, cost of fitting £100.
As it happened I had done one myself a few days before, I had to remove the complete bumper assembly first, then the headlamp in order to fit the lamp.

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Having saved that amount of money you should reward yourself a nice bottle of malt, or whatever you fancy. 🙂

I ‘only’ had to take the battery out of my Golf to replace the headlight bulb, but I had to do the job in the dark and in the rain because I needed the car the following morning. Not good, but not as bad as I had feared.

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Jim Kenney says:
10 January 2013

I had a smart car that needed the whole front of the car removing to change the headlight bulbs. it took around half a day on the internet to find this out and 2 hours to do it. crazy!

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ferkemall says:
8 September 2015

Renault is a prime example they make great looking cars with lots of features and cubby holes ,but all of their cars are designed to be worked on by the dealers with their £60 plus charges ,the modus is a prime example along with the Laguna and others where to change a light bulb you have to take the front of the car off along with a wheel arch or two,auto transmissions made without a drain plug only a level plug so all of the debris from the friction clutches and the steel plates just keeps pumping around the system getting into the solenoids, valvebody,seals,torque converter ect genetrating £500/£600 or in some cases a new transmission unit @ £2500/£3000 ,ignition emf emissions the computer to generate fault codes along with dry jointed circuit boards resulting even more problems
As for over 50s not working on their cars I’m 67 and do everything my self including me hanics body work I boughta Renault modus to work on it ,its like it was designed by that famous French gynecologist who decorated his front room through his letter box , but I do the research and get on with !

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My first car, in the late 60’s was a mini. I used to dismantle and clean the carburretor. Adjust fan belts. Bleed the brakes. Replace distributor cap. Change oil. Change, clean or adjust spark plugs. Drain and repair radiators (Radweld wasnt it?). Fit a baby seat etc etc. All of that became more and more difficult or just redundant on subsequent cars. A company car finally made any DIY completely unecessary. I gave up owning a car for a little while but now I have another and wouldnt have a clue where to start on any DIY. Furthermore I dont have a garage or driveway, need specs and dont have the tools required for the job. Need I say more?!

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Bert Jones says:
17 August 2012

The cost of replacing the cam belt at only 50,000 miles is around £1,000. This is because the 5 cylinder engine is so tightly fitted in the engine compartment bay that there is not enough room to remove the cover. The engine has to be lifted out. This sum was charged by a main Fiat dealer, who say that they never buy this model of Fiat with over 35,000 miles on the clock.
By comparison, Honda charge around £200 to change the cam belt on far more complex engines with balance shaft belts to change as well.

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It’s encouraging to see more cars with good old fashioned timing chains rather than belts. These usually have a very long life if you change the oil frequently.

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I just can’t be bothered – and anyway my VW Eos is still under warranty, and came with three-years free servicing to boot. And it is way to complex and its parts too inaccessible for me to attempt anything bar the simplest, like checking tyre pressures.

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Brian of East Sussex says:
17 August 2012

Interesting a lot of the views start in the 60’s a reflection of Which readers by age or the last age of car confidence? I started maintaining my own cars when I first had one in 1966. I took the fuel pump apart on a 6 month old car to clean it (why you could well ask) and managed to hook the pump arm under the camshaft and it would not start. I learnt my lesson when it was towed to the dealer!. But with the help of Car Mechanics (I still buy it) and Practical Motorist (long since gone) I taught myself. In my time I have changed engines, clutches and done resprays and restored classics. Roll forward a few years to today. Cars are more complicated and plastic clips break as soon as you look at them. I am older and less strong and flexible. We have 5 family cars including a 1934 Morris so to save money I tackle everything I can “above the waist”. I try not to scramble underneath or supported on jacks/stands- nervousness I guess- and avoid suspension parts because they almost always give problems or are a show of strength between you and the car! I still have every tool and have kept up to date at 64 but limit what I do ,use cheap local specialists I trust, or adapt how I do it. My wife’s ML was a nightmare when I changed the oil. A difficult engine shield to remove and the bolts just spun round. Nowadays I use a sump pump (through the dipstick) as someone suggested. It is dead easy if the oil is warm. The filter is on top of the engine so that is easy too. I use the best oils, changed them at “old” intervals -6000- and fit a strong magnet (neodynium) round the filter to enhance collection of suspended rubbish. So by adaptation and selective work I can still save a fortune. The simplest jobs, wipers etc, are so easy you would be mug to let a garage charge for the parts and labour. There are plenty of cheap parts suppliers on EBay. I still have a trade warehouse card but EBay is often cheaper. I recently saved hundreds by changing the rear door lock on the ML (a common fault). A nightmare job though and I used a s/h part I got from Germany (on EBay). When I had a difficult job, a faulty manifold barely visible from above or below the engine, I tracked down a Mercedes specialist 90 miles away and saved £700, half the bill at a dealer. Anyone can still do the simple preventative jobs and/or save big money often by just ringing around, but other comments are right, modern cars are not easy. Even changing a light bulb has become a nightmare suitable only for Edward Scissorhands.

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Don’t admit you are handy, Brian, or you might get roped into changing wiper blades for friends. Unfortunately, the old Morris might be a bit of a giveaway.

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As others have noted, one main problem is the lack of space even for the simplist of jobs. A blown bulb can be a nightmare to replace9 remove the front wing on a Clio!). What will happen now the MOT requirement is to have all the warning lights off. Finding out what they mean is problematic and fixing the problem (or the bulb) requires a proper diagnostic kit in the first place. (there is a lot of discussion of this elsewhere). It seems to be that manufacturers don’t want ‘norma’ people working at the cars- rather you MUST take it to a dealer- profits are down after all!

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The dealer will have to dismantle the car in the same way, but that does matter because the customer can pay for all the work.

It would be perfectly possible for diagnostic software to be built into cars, so that faults are reported in plain English (rather than codes) on the multi-function display included in many new cars. It’s not going to happen since there is the opportunity to make money from customers or to persuade them that it would be better to change the car.

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Brian of East Sussex says:
17 August 2012

Maniac was an unfair comment about a reader for something that has been around a while. Some cars, like my daughter’s former car, a Smart car, do not have a drain plug so you have to resort to draining oil through the dipstick hole. I have tried all sorts of sump drainage devices and have my preference. They all work by vacuum, it is what powers them that differs. The one working from a powerful compressor is too much faffing around and not particularly efficient despite it being more expensive. One from Conrad is powered from the battery but has a small bore tube and is slow but it is largely effort free. My favourite is like an old fashioned tyre pump, Pump it up and down. It takes 4 litres and they are marked on the translucent upright container (so you have to stop for large sumps) and has a powerful vacuum and a large bore tube which fits in a Peugeot 206. Mercedes ML and Ford Maverick, so basically any dipstick hole. It is marketed by Draper but I have seen it in other guises. Only snag is that, however you do it, the tube drips oil when you remove it, so slightly messy . It works just as well on conventional automatic transmissions which often have no drain plug and thus ensures a long transmission life. This is where the litre marking helps as it enables you to know how much to refill. Some will say you do not get out all the grot but I often wonder how thorough garages are when they drain a sump as the last residue can take ages and this is not conducive to good productivity. I argue my method is as good.

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I just experimented with the peristaltic pump because it was free. It works by squeezing liquid along silicone rubber tube and is self-priming. I’ve used it on the lawnmower too. I share your reservations about what garages do. I’ve have also used a Pela (vacuum) oil extractor, but not for extracting oil, and this is much like what you describe as your favourite pump.

I am slightly amused by the picture of an engine minus the cylinder head in this article about basic car maintenance. Regular removal of the head for decarbonisation was deemed unnecessary in the 1950s, though I remember my father doing the job on his Austin A35 when I was a young lad.

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Bert Jones says:
25 August 2012

Decarburising the cylinder head has been necessary long after the ’50’s. Quite recently my friends Audi had to be done at around 90,000 miles as the valve heads were completely covered with carbod to the extent that the performance had dropped off significantly. The job was done by a main Audi dealer. No explanation was given, and the car had been serviced by this dealer from new. I suspect inferior grade engine oil was used, but this feature is not uncommon on Audis..

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Brian of East Sussex says:
17 August 2012

Although it did not feature in maintenance schedules, even in the 60’s it was still recommended in most motoring mags. It was relatively easy to do (looking back there was never much carbon or valve problems though, so a crazy thing to do). I did it on so many cars, I became pretty accomplished at it, and they ran much the same thereafter but I imagined they were all running better.I was always secretly relieved when the engine fired up. After removing the carb, it always took a good few turns to spring into life. It felt like a major dismantling and very skilled but it was straightforward looking back. If nothing else it gave me confidence for more difficult jobs.I still have the little rubber sucker each end valve grinder, unused for decades. I later got a tool which fitted in an electric drill and claimed to be pretty automatic.

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Absolutely – my father quoted this advice from his CSMA motoring magazine. I helped my father with his A40, the car I learned to drive in, and later with his Viva HB, though that was only decoked because the head gasket had a slight leak. I’ve probably inherited a tin of Chemico grinding paste in an intriguing double-ended tin. I’m glad that modern engines with 16+ valves don’t need need attention.

In the 70s I build electronic ignition systems from scratch, including making my own circuit boards. No more cleaning and adjusting contact breakers. Happy days.

The most ingenious car tip I have read is to cut a timing belt along the centre line and remove one half. That makes it easy to slip on the new belt and ensure that the timing remains correct. I had planned to do this on my Golf 4 but decided that it was a job for the garage.

Some ‘sealed’ batteries have plugs hidden under the label, and can easily be topped up, prolonging their life. When I decided to trade in my 10 year old car I put back the original battery which had been unused for four years because I had fitted a higher capacity battery to run an inverter when working away from the mains. The 10 year old battery started the car instantly despite not having been charged for 6 weeks.

One of my favourite convenience tools is a 9.6 volt Bosch cordless tyre pump that came free with a cordless drill. When the batteries died I wired it up to a cigarette lighter plug with speaker wire, to provide a suitable voltage drop. Maybe Tony was right to call me a maniac, but mains-powered radios of the 50s often used the mains cable as a voltage dropper.

Despite manufacturers making life very difficult for the DIY mechanic, most modern cars are incredibly reliable and require little maintenance compared with what we had to cope with 50+ years ago, and I’m grateful for that. And I did not even think of having a ‘Running in – Please pass’ notice on the back window my new car. 🙂

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Phil says:
17 August 2012

There was a period in the 70s-80s where a lot of cars suffered from inlet valve oil seal problems. This required removal of the head and more often or not a clean up of the residue left by the burnt oil and a re-seating of the valves.

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Good point. As the executioner would say, ‘off with the head’.

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Brian of East Sussex says:
18 August 2012

And of course the Chemico double ended tin was used with the double ended valve grinder to keep the different abrasives separated. I am seriously impressed with Wavechange’s technical skills but fear many of these skills are in decline with the new generation of drivers. My son, and my daughter’s boyfriends, none of them know anything about cars, (or have any interest) and I end up doing their tinkering.

But key to this is indeed the decline in the maintenance need of modern cars. My brief list of things that no longer need doing or doing less often and parts that last longer:-

no greasing joints/grease nipples
no handbrake adjustment (or at least less of it)
no points and rotor arm changes with the occasional cap/lead changes
longlife oils, longlife antifreeze
longer plug change intervals (just as well as they can be so inaccessible nowadays)
hoses seem to last without cracking/leaking
disc pads easier to change than shoes
no battery top ups (although noting wavechange’s point maybe not a good thing)
no fuel pump dismantling to clean them out (although maybe in line filters are harder to get at)
less belt changes as the ribbed belts last longer (however against the trend cambelts need changing but were non existent in former times when chains were universal)
axles/gearboxes intended to be topped up but not drained and changed
rubbers in master cylinders/brake cylinders last much longer
tappet adjustment
longer life exhausts
replacing choke cables/speedo cables
no clearing blocked jets in carburettors or checking the mixture (nightmare on multi carb cars)
Again, against the trend, wheels are much heavier and often harder to align and mount again (or am I getting weaker?)

Things that are harder today include:-

all bulbs (and the need to keep so many as spares) including flimsy clips holding headlight bulbs.
most things under the bonnet as access so much more difficult
changing batteries (preserving radio codes etc)
removing all parts held on with plastic clips (they get brittle and break), including all engine shields
complications added by air conditioning fitted on most cars
regular brake fluid changes
problems with DPF on diesel cars
rubbish hose clips which are largely unusable if removed
“funny” nuts/bolts/clip on fittings/screw in fittings (the latter breaking into bits when you turn them the wrong way)
complex wiring and electronics
ECU’s and fault codes
warning light errors (when it’s the sensor rather than a fault)
Having to remove the whole of the front and the aerial on the nearside wing to replace the offside wheel bearing on a Smart car (don’t ask, but I have acquired an aversion to working on them and other cars will have their impossible jobs relating to modern design)

Have I forgotten anything?

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Phil says:
18 August 2012

Clutches don’t need adjustment anymore.

On the other hand timing belts need more frequent replacing than chains.
Steel brake discs need replacing at regular intervals whereas the old cast iron ones would last the life of the vehicle.
Pollen filters to change, mine requires removal of the glove box.
Problems with electric windows.

Not affected me personally but I hear more reports of broken springs, don’t know if this is due to poor standards of manufacture or the trend towards skinny tyres.

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That’s a brilliant summary, Brian. You ought to write an article for a magazine. People like us would appreciate it and those familiar only with modern cars could see how lucky/unlucky they are.

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Brian of East Sussex says:
18 August 2012

Good additions Phil, I agree with all of them and I have experienced the broken spring issue variously attributed to poor manufacturing quality and/or road humps

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Colin says:
18 August 2012

Why is it lamely accepted that a service is automatically necessary after a year? Nice for garage income but surely not required for, e.g., the increasing proportion of retirees doing sub 4000pa mileages. Servicing should be based on the service life of the lubricants and, in the case of engine oil for instance, this is 10,000miles, or service intervals of 2.5 years. Neither have I heard of brake fluid boiling on the way to the golf club because it has been unchanged for 4 years. Also, the MOT is much more stringent than standard service checks, which are aimed at finding extras to charge. It is high time that servicing for cars received a comprehensive Which investigation aimed at an all new approach to bring science and logic to what is at present a golden goose for the motor trade. One could be forgiven for thinking that obscure fittings and unpublished procedures are a deliberate ploy by manufacturers to extend returns. My current favourite dislike is the nagging service message that ‘must be obeyed’ and cannot be switched off by the owner!!!!! Time for a change when they are using electonics to issue commands in this arrogant fashion. Surely it contravenes one’s human rights? Everything else seems to. You Tube is a great resource and, bless ’em, someone will always be there to explain how in video.

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It is well known that low mileage vehicles can suffer problems. Short journeys, in particular, can leave oil contaminated with water and acids. Brakes are far more likely to bind on low mileage vehicles.

Brake fluid is hygroscopic and will absorb atmospheric moisture, which is the reason given for routine replacement every two or three years. Even if you only chance the fluid in the reservoir it would be something. Your life and that of others depend on having brakes in good order.

I once questioned a regional VW engineer who had authorised a free replacement engine due to a manufacturing defect. I said I thought that oil changes every 10,000 miles were not sufficient and he agreed, saying it was just for the convenience of the customer. I should change the oil more frequently if I wanted to prolong the life of the engine. To be fair, this was before fully synthetic oil was specified.

If you don’t want the expense of paying for servicing, then DIY is very cost effective. I must say that resetting the service indicator is the one job I have always got out the book for, or followed instruction on the Web.

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Colin says:
19 August 2012

Given the astonishing technological advances across the board, I think that a revolutionary approach to servicing is possible but deliberately ignored by manufacturers. It should easily be possible to monitor the condition of fluids rather than dumping them by rote. The capability of these products is not really broadcast. Oils contain many sophisticated additives whose value in prolonging the service life of the product is simply ignored in the time-based schedule. Also, brake fluid can, and should contain anti-hygroscopy additive. Water is just as incompressible as oil, anyway, and the danger of it boiling during trips to Tesco is remote. I have, though, heard rumblings about dangers to the ABS system, which I do not understand. Another deliberate mystery to unnerve us? Why is the oil filter on my car placed at the top of the engine for convenience but covered with a plastic moulding that seems to be welded in position? If I change the oil every week, will the engine last 1000 years? I haven’t got 1000 years. 15 (equal to 60,000 miles) is supremely optimistic! 😉

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Brian of East Sussex says:
19 August 2012

Wavechange is right about brake fluids being hygroscopic and brake components are more complex (various valves on the way) so rust is an enemy. I have often wondered why for most of my motoring life it did not need changing and this seemed to appear 10-15 years ago although when you did open a nipple it was always rusted, so freeing them up at intervals does no harm. You can buy moisture testers to moderate the fluid changes but it is not an expensive job if you choose your garage with care. It is one of those fiddly jobs I no longer do. I have kit for it (gunson’s, a compresssor driven one too), but it is a faff without a lift or pit. Having just had two of the family cars done by a local tyre/exhaust/brake/MOT outfit, the going rate is under £40. One of those jobs ,as I age, that I say, “not worth all the hassle”, jacking up, removing heavy wheels for good access (I know you can do it without taking a wheel off but I barely fit under a car these days!)

But Colin has a point, and there is duplication in work and obvious money to be made. So, I coincide my home maintenance and MOT (which has free retests and costs £26.95). The MOT takes care of the underneath joint/ bearing/gaiter/steering/exhaust tests of regular servicing and I do , as my earlier posts says all the “above the waist” tasks. I have the MOT and my servicing all aligned during the summer months for pleasant working (as I age, working in the rain/cold/snow etc appeals far less). none of family do high mileages but I still do them yearly (by the method I detailed earlier) and always use premium synthetic oils. I get the oils over the internet from Opie oils who have free or reasonable delivery and many offers. Halfords have good offers on their synthetic oils too and I have free screwdrivers and sockets from previous offers there. So Colin has a valid point and I work with this by doing it smarter, particularly as I am older. I am not sure I am smarter but with a tad less energy, there are plenty of safe and effective workarounds even on cars and the MOT/home service is one of these. I have another godsend as I age. I use a very powerful xenon torch (Dealextreme on the internet) which is great to peer into the tiny gaps of modern engines to check for leaks and makes up for the inevitable diminshing light input into the eyes, brought on by ageing (and I do not have a sight defect). One final inconvenient consequence of ageing and cars. is wearing glasses which I did not need in my early years of fiddling with cars. When you tip your head up to do a job (headlight bulbs is a really good example), glasses swing from your ears and up over your forehead. Age is not kind when you work on cars!

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Brian of East Sussex says:
19 August 2012

Perhaps Colin has a point. Why change oil to make your engine last for ever when you will not (I’ll avoid saying your own oil needs changes too with cod liver oil which may be good too). Given that surveys suggests many people do not change their oil, cars seem more resilient to neglect as roadsides are not full of cars with bust engines. I think we are all suckered in by the advertising and I am sure I have been brainwashed by reading motoring mags all my life. I guess I shall be changing oils yearly with the best oil. Interesting advice on oils here http://www.machinerylubrication.com/Read/529/motor-oil-selection

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I used to trot along to the local Halfords on a regular basis. It is convenient, open in the evening, and when it opened over 20 years ago it claimed that it would get any part even if it was a dealer-specific part. This excellent service was not promoted for long and I believe it was stopped when Halfords pulled out of car servicing.

My first choice is now the local motor factors that carries an excellent stock of good quality parts at excellent prices. I bought a battery for a friend’s car on Friday. I rang to check that the motor factor had one in stock and when I picked it up a couple of hours later I was charged less than the quoted price by about £4. That’s just typical of their service. 🙂

The motor factor is usually cheaper than Halfords (over £20 on the battery mentioned above), but Halfords does have good offers from time to time. The motor factors offered to order me a 40Ah Power Pack but Halfords had them on the shelf for £25 less. I’ve also got the free screwdrivers (2 sets) that Brian has mentioned and other useful bits and pieces from Halfords offers.

I strongly recommend that anyone that does their own maintenance should try their local motor factor. You could save a lot of money. Mine is so obliging that they swapped incorrect brake pads that I had bought there 11 months before and I had forgotten to bring the receipt.

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Phil says:
19 August 2012

I’ll second that and add that a lot of Halfords stuff has declined in quality in recent years. Their batteries for example used to be re-branded Yuma and quite good but not any longer. I think the rot really set in after MDC went bust.

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Halfords batteries are guaranteed for 3, 4 or 5 years and I don’t know of anyone who has had a problem with having faulty goods replaced. They tend to have a good turnover at Halfords. I remember some very dusty offerings in MDC.

Even well known brands of battery can fail, or so I have been told. I bought an expensive Lucas/Yuasa battery direct from Lucas and it was confirmed as faulty when I took it straight back.

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Colin says:
19 August 2012

I’ve just come back from France. Diesel is £1 per litre and there is a price differential with petrol as there used to be here. And so there should be, it’s easier to fractionate, transport and store. Also, France has no oil whereas Brent Crude is almost diesel at the point of extraction and an international price indicator. But we get no benefit. The French would not stand for that. Premium branded engine oil is about £20 for 4 litres and that’s in the supermarkets. Roll on Rip-off Britain!
Anyone know how to remove safely the plastic lid over a C Class engine?

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Bert Jones says:
24 September 2012

That’s cheap! The “new” very thin oil specified by Toyota for the new Yaris is around £80 for 5 liters.
It’s 20/20 grade. (It is sold to dealers for around £32.)
Interestingly, Toyota have reverted to changable paper cartridge elements for their oil filters instead of the more usual complete canister change. Back to the ’60’s? The new paper cartridges come with a plastic drainage tube that can be fitted to the small drainage hole revealed when the plug at the bottom is removed before the main casing. This allows for the oil in the chamber to be drained before the casing is removed to minimise spillage. Neat.

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Brian of East Sussex says:
19 August 2012

Re C class assuming it is not a metric nut or a philips type screw it is more likely to be like an ML with recessed torq fittings which unscrew conventionally (anticlockwise). They are likely to be easy to do, but perhaps recessed somewhat deep (maybe even with a plastic cap over the hole itself which you prise out). I use a mini socket set and short extension, with the appropriate head (they are numbered in 5’s say 10,15,20,25, 30, 35,40 and all are used on cars) but providing you can get enough leverage, you can get torq screwdrivers too and some with T heads instead of a conventional screwdriver handle (for leverage again). Torq is one of those fittings that sprung from nowhere, to catch me out, after I had gone through Whitworth, AF and Metric. I thought I had them all until they invented torq. When they bring back Whitworth, I am ready for them this time!

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Colin says:
19 August 2012

Can’t see any screw positions. It’s a black plastic rectangle 27″x21″ that nearly fills the entire engine bay.

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Brian of East Sussex says:
19 August 2012

Sorry Colin, I go it wrong, it’s torx fittings not torq (I confused it with torque). To get the general idea, Amazon has a range (but then so do Halfords etc)

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Colin says:
19 August 2012

Brian mentions the possible side effects of reading motoring magazines. I think they are responsible for the decline in comfort of the modern car in favour of ‘performance’, which is boy racer in concept, as been made increasingly illegal and is dangerous in practice. For years, the likes of Autocar criticised pedal layouts that did not facilitate ‘heeling and toeing’ and I bet less than 1% of readers, including myself, knew what it was! Because of the likes of Clarkson, we have to travel feeling every bump in increasingly bumpy roads whereas the old French cars, with long travel suspension and deep soft seats to accomodate French cart tracks, afforded a luxurious, if swaying, progress. I would buy the old Renault or better still the Citroen DS given half a chance.They would be perfectly suited to modern urban motoring and ageing bottoms. As far as I know, no brand has a model that favours comfort over cornering and I think it would sell like hot cakes.

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I wholly concur Colin. This is one of the things that makes driving such an ordeal nowadays. It’s not often that we get the chance to experience riding in a car with a longer wheelbase, a softer suspension and deeper seats but a recent funeral saw us ensconced in a ten-year old Roller. I wouldn’t actually say we thought we’d gone to heaven but you get the idea.

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Bert Jones says:
24 September 2012

The latest edition of Auto Express mentions that one of the drawbacks to the new Toyota Sports car is that the pedals are too far apart for “heel and toeing”. I have cancelled my sunbcription because of this stupid comment, and other similar ones.
The new report on tyres tests features like braking, cornering, etc, but not on tyre life, which is importent not only in terms of miles, but also UV resistance. I have had to replace the last 2 sets of tyres solely due to UV cracking, with still over 4mm of tread depth remaing.
It is recommended that tyres be changed when they are around 6 years old, regardless of tread depth.

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Brian of East Sussex says:
19 August 2012

Colin is right and modern motoring trends in the media have much to answer for. My son was very proud of his then new Mercedes CL500. I thought it was rubbish, with every ripple in the road felt through my backside. Karts with pram wheels I made as a kid were more comfortable. Mind you I could see well with its xenon lights. I find myself upgrading my cars to the latest “bright” ordinary bulb. Philips is the best contender here according to Auto Express.

Onto the C class. If it does not simply lift up and is a snug push on fitting,then I suggest joining one of the “Mercedes owners forums” (the term I used to search in Google). You will need to join, free of charge, to post a question and keen owners/specialists will offer advice. That is how I saved £700 on repairs on my wife’s ML and I found a great Mercedes specialist in Stowmarket that way, and happily drove a long way there to save a fortune because he knew what he was talking about when I posed a question

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The BBC encouraged many of us to get started with computers in the early 80s, despite the fact that learning to program in Basic was not universally useful.

Now might be a good time to run a series of programmes on basic car maintenance. This might interest inquisitive teenagers as well as adults.

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Brian of East Sussex says:
19 August 2012

The nearest to this was the satellite channel carrying “a car is born” starring Mark Evans. Later it covered an e-type, mgb and a land-rover and maybe others. Very practical and I watched many of them. Presumably programme commissioners regard it as limited interest. Even general DIY has to do quirky DIY, starring strange presenters or strange needy people who want tiger stripe ceilings or people who hand over their life savings to a dubious oik who then disappears and the programme comes and sorts them out (both the builder and the needy recipient of TV largesse).

The nearest to good programming is gardener’s world but gardens have a huge interest. Going back on Colin’s point, programming on cars is restricted to crashing cars into caravans, getting from a to b fast and lots of burnt rubber. I did not drive like this when I was young (come to think of it an HA Vauxhall Viva probably would have struggled)

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Colin says:
19 August 2012

Wheeler Dealers is a firm favorite of mine on the Discovery Channel.Mike Brewer buys a classic car within a limited budget and star mechanic Ed China refurbs it to perfectionist standard. Mike then seeks to sell it at a profit.The programme is aimed squarely at the DIY enthusiast/restorer and covers every aspect of engineering work as well as upholstery and bodywork.Only the parts used are added to the purchase price to calculate the profit. I.e. DIY labour is excluded. It is beautifully presented and comprehensive in its instruction. I am a fan!

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I am well into my retierment now. Just about to complete the head rebuild of a couple of Renault 16v cam belt opps’es. A bit more complicated than my old Morris Minor. But routine maintenance, whats that? I may give one of these cars a tri-annual oil change when I get it back on the road.

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Oh, and yes, I am insured by SAGA.

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Brian of East Sussex says:
20 September 2012

Gravity is great, but the problem is often removing the under engine shield to get to the plug. I once spent all day removing seized bolts to remove the cover to get to the plug to drain the oil. “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…..” Hence sucking it out of the dipstick hole avoids the problem.

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You have to jack up the car to remove the shield, lower it to drain the oil, jack it up again to replace the plug and the shield. I suppose it is dead easy for garages with a hydraulic ramp.

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Thanks, I have never had a car with an undershield fitted. Like the under wing panels they can be removed and never re-fitted.

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I have been tempted not to refit the undershield. Even more annoying is the fact that they catch nuts and bolts that would otherwise fall on the ground and could be retrieved easily. 🙁

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Oil changes (always a filter change too) are best left to a garage – no question, get them to do an engine flush as well for about £10 – they have to dispose of the oil and you can have a refreshing coffee while they do it. Exterior bulb changes are generally easier today than 20 years ago and are well within the capability of drivers, wiper changes, tyre checks etc all day to day maintenance tasks. Checking the timing? Probably not. Changing brake pads, maybe.

Choose what you can do and do it, all cars are slightly different, so are the drivers.

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Exterior bulb changes are generally easier today than 20 years ago….

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

I am not sure that everyone would agree with this statement, Tony. In this short discussion, there is reference to removal of a bumper assembly and a wing.

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Agreed Wavechange, that’s why I said generally. I have heard strange things about removing Skoda wings for bulb changes, that’s one reason I didn’t buy a VRS. I have a Volvo S40, pull 1 pin inside the bonnet and slide the whole headlight out, change the bulb and replace the unit in 5 minutes. Previously my Kia Sorento, undo two bolts inside the engine compartment, slide out the whole unit.

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I do agree that there are big differences between cars. A bulb can fail at any time and common sense suggests that it should be easy to replace at the roadside without needing any tools.

I recently tried and failed to replace a headlight bulb on a friend’s Toyota. The garage charged £60.

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Brian East Sussex says:
15 November 2012

My view is that bulbs have become disproportionately tedius to change. Still a cheap part to buy but even ignoring those where parts have to come off, modern computer generated designs leave little room. You need hands like “Edward Scissorhands”, plastic clips are much more fragile and there is the recurring tendency for a spring clip to fall away. You end up trying to refit a clip by feel alone. I have volunteered to change bulbs thinking it would be a 10 minutes job and have virtually hung upside down in my efforts to change them. Modern replaceable headlight bulbs (xenon substitutes) also have a shorter lifespan (guess the filaments burn brighter) so the job of replacing them is rather too frequent. None have beaten me, but what a faff! Many cars need whole light assemblies to be removed front and back and the plastic bits get fragile over time adding to breakage risk

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Bert Jones says:
14 January 2013

“The ONLY way to change oil is to get a garage to do it with an engine flush at the same time. Takes them 30 minutes, costs about £30, and you don’t have any waste to deal with.”

This doesn’t make much sense. (if any) It is clearly not the ONLY way. It may be one, but it is not the best or cheapest.
Sucking oil out from the top via the dipstick leaves crud/sediments that would be removed if the oil is drained when hot from the drain plug hole. That is what this hole is for. Some modern dipstick holes are quite small-too small for a reasonably sized tube, and who is to say that this tube will be at the lowest point in the sump?
Flushing oils should be avoided. They are not good lubricants, and are difficult to remove completely, especially if they are sucked out in the manner suggested. This sucking method is American in origin, which should be enough for most to realise its value.
Also the cost of £30 for an oil change is a bit wide of the mark. Modern synthetic oils alone cost about £80 for only 4 litres. and labour charges can be over £100.hour. Not many garages (main dealers) will charge less than 1 hour for this job, which also should include a filter change.
I always do the job myself, but recently, being pushed for time, I asked a main Honda dealer to do this job, providing the oil myself. The initial invoice I got was for 1 hour labour charges. I pointed out that the Owners Manual had 18 minutes down for this job, not 60! I was told that they never charge less than 1 hour for anything, but I insisted, and they changed to bill to 18 minutes. They could hardly do otherwise.
My local garage accepts old oil, so there are no disposal problems there.
Doing the oil change oneself ensures that the correct oil goes in the engine, not some cheap non-synthetic mineral or semi-synthetic oil taken from some bulk supplier.

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Colin says:
14 January 2013

Absolutely agree with your post, Bert.

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Tony Brooks says:
14 January 2013

Well, for what its worth, I had my first car in 1970, I did the usual stuff myself as well, including tuning twin carbs etc, changing shock absorbers, brake shoes, exhausts etc.

For my MGTF I used an independent garage, not a main dealer to change the oil and remove the “crud and sediments” which would otherwise settle in the sump

They used trade products – Forte engine flush £12

– Motaquip oil and filter £30

– labour £20 (inc waste disposal)

The garage will not use owner supplied materials as they cannot issue a guarantee on parts, the engine runs sweetly, has clean oil on the dipstick after 12000 miles – due another flush and change I guess – and I’m more than happy with the quality and appropriateness of the materials.

If you have a car under warranty, then it’s very likely that changing your own oil will invalidate the warranty. Servicing – under warranty – must be carried out by a VAT-registered garage using OE spec/manufacturer’s parts.

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Bert Jones says:
15 January 2013

The supply of engine oil to a main dealer for use in your own car will not invalidate the guarantee. Some main dealers do not use fully synthetic oil when they do an oil change. That is why, in one instance, I supplied the oil. It was also much cheaper than the the price the dealer would have charged for an the same oil. (as an example, I bought the oil for £30 when the dealer’s retail price is £80.)
I have always done the servicing myself, including for new cars under guarantee, (and I have done this for about 10 new cars in this country since the early ’60’s), but I would not recommend this practice for relative novices.
One can not compare experience with older cars with modern ones, particularly when it come to the selection of engine lubrication. Many newer engines require engine oil with a 0-20 grade, and have larger filters with the old fashioned replaceable paper elements; they are very thin by comparison with even recent synthetics. Some are even designed for a 2 year life between changes. The performance of modern engines per unit size is far higher than it was some years ago, with some approaching 100bhp/litre with normal aspiration, (ie. no turbo) and require a higher standard of maintenance if the performance is to be kept at or near this level. This matches the output of GP cars not that long ago. There are many reasons for this, but I feel outside the scope of this discussion.
The cheaper oils not only have less detergent properties, but they also cause considerably more carbon buid-up, particulary on things like valve heads. A friend recently had to have an expensive cylinder head decoke job on an Audi after only 60,000 miles, and the main dealer had carried out all the servicing since new.
It takes a bit more than 12,000 miles to damage an engine, even an older one, but the fall off in performance will be perhaps imperceptively slow, but sure.
For what it’s worth, I had my first car in 1949.

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Bert Jones says:
14 January 2013

Thanks, Colin, for your concurance.
Some flushing “oils” are water based emulsions with detergent like properties. It needs even more flushing with good oil after it’s use to remove all traces of the flushing mediam. I would not let this stuff anywhere near a car engine where high contact surface pressures exist, even on ticking over. I used it in industrial aplications in the early ’60’s, but the development of synthetic oils has removed the need for this kind of flushing.

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Colin says:
15 January 2013

Couple of queries, Bert.
By ‘designed for a 2 year life between changes’, do you mean ‘twice the usual mileage between changes’? Oil does not degrade sitting in the sump. Ater all, it has been underground for about 300 million years!
By GP do you mean GT?

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Bert Jones says:
15 January 2013

Colin,
You are quite right about oil not degrading in the sump, but the service intervals do not really cater for this. I have a 1998 Honda Prelude which now does less than 1000 miles/year, so the oil hasn’t been changed for about 3 years. The 2 year life oils are now specified for mainly German cars; Audi, VW, and now Ford. Perhaps Mercedes do this as well but I don’t concern myself with Mercs.
These 2 year life oils are very expensive relative to the other synthetics, and as some of the German rules re cars are not very smart, I avoid them. The 2 year life will also be associated with a maximum milage, whichever comes first I expect. But too little milage can be worse than either none at all or too much. Many short journeys are not long enough to heat up the oil to evaportate the water vapor produced by the combustion, and some of this ends up in the oil. A milky crud on the underside of the oil filler cap is a good indication of engines not having the occasional long run.
Back to the Germans. My Toyota Yaris has 2 different instructions for starting the engine; in Germany, it says thet the car should be moved off as soon as the engine starts. For other countries, it says the engine should be allowed to run for between 30 seconds and 5 minutes, depending on the outside air temporature to allow time for the engine oil to be sufficiently heated to be properly circulated before any load is put on the bearings, etc. I find this very sensible advice, written in the Owners Manual. The now popular “stop-start” feature is because of German rules; a rather stupid and counterproductive idea to reduce pollution.
I meant GP, not GT, and was referring to many years ago.
My 3 year old Yaris specified very thin and expensive oil, 0-20.

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Bert Jones says:
15 January 2013

I forgot to mention that the oil that has been in the ground for 300 million years has no bearing on modern synthetics. The modern oils have little or no mineral oil in them. Many of them, the best, are 100% synthetic.

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Bert Jones says:
6 April 2013

I have been working/repairing cars for over 65 years, and still do. Until today! I decide to carry out a service on a 2005 Nissan Micra, one of the tasks being the changing of the spark plugs.
However, I have discovered that to do this routine job entails removing the engine inlet manifold, and all the associated ducting, clips, plugs, cables, gaskets, etc, etc.
I discussed this with a local garage, whose advice was “don’t bother”. I would never buy a car with this feature. I have not met it before.

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Colin says:
5 June 2013

Has anyone changed a cambelt or ever heard of one failing? Another nice, and huge, earner for the garages, with terrifying warnings of the consequences of not handing over multiple hundreds of pounds at 60,000miles or so. Cheaper for the manufacturer, no doubt but a nasty sting in the tail for owners. Bring back timing chains! When will some genuinely user-friendly outfit carry out an objective investigation into optimum rather than profit motivated maintenance. Wake up, Which?!! There are massive savings in prospect to the environment and specially the consumer.

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Bert Jones says:
11 June 2013

Most, if not all, sensible manufacturers have, for some time now, reverted back to timing chains instead of belts. I have a 13 year old Yaris with a chain. It does not need changing at service intervals.

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Tony Brooks says:
10 June 2013

I had a cambelt fail on a Volvo many years ago. It isn’t something that I want to experience again as it ruined the engine top end. The advantages of cam belts as opposed to timing chains is that they are quieter, less prone to mechanical wear and therefore hold timing better, drive the water pump as well which timing chains don’t tend to do, and are much cheaper to make.

I have just had a head gasket change on my MG and a new cambelt, cambelt tensioner and water pump were integral parts – £275 all inclusive of new oil as well.

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Many years ago, I thought using the timing belt to drive the water pump was a very good idea, but an RAC engineer once told me that if the pump fails it can result in severe engine damage. Fortunately, I never experienced the problem.

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Tony Brooks says:
10 June 2013

Interestingly, my water pump had failed – after 11 years, it was original equipment – and that led to a hot spot on the head which in turn led to the head gasket failing. The garage that I bought the MG from had replaced the head gasket before I picked the car up but had not replaced the water pump – probably the cause of the original failure of the gasket. With an MGTF, the coolant depends on the water pump to get the coolant up front to the radiator, without that….

It depends on the nature of the water pump failure, if it were to sieze then yes, serious stuff could happen.

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Although I would be very happy if manufacturers were to return to using timing chains as Colin has suggested, Tony has pointed out the main advantages of timing belts.

I would like to suggest that manufacturers should make timing belts more accessible. That would minimise the cost of having the job done and make it possible for a reasonably competent DIY enthusiast. It is vital that it is easy to inspect the condition of a timing belt. Spotting signs of deterioration could help avoid major engine damage and a costly repair job.

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Colin says:
10 June 2013

I am intrigued by the earlier posting by Wavechange in which he mentions brilliant DIY solution of cutting the existing cambelt down the middle, sliding half of it off, sliding the new one and cutting off the remaining original. Someone HAS to try this, though Wavechange admits to bottling out!

I would like to see a campaign to curb the costs slapped onto motorists by the trade for routine servicing. What, on top of the ever more stringent MOT, can they do? Just poke a tube down into the sump, suck out ( some of ) the old lube, pump in some unknown substitute and, meanwhile, screw on a replacement filter canister. 30 minutes would be generous and monkeys could be trained to do it, never mind £150 an hour brain surgeon rates! £150, inc. MOT, should be plenty for any major service.

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It took me about ten seconds to find a website that mentioned the tip about timing belts, so I suspect that the technique is in common use. It is obviously essential to ensure that there is room to fit the new belt before attacking the old belt with a knife.