/ Motoring

A Mini adventure, at maximum cost

After having to repair worn out parts on a car that’s only 3 years-old, it seems looking for cars that have been designed to be fixed easily is worthwile. Especially once you’ve counted in the cost of labour…

The price you pay for your car is only half the story; the devil is in what you’ll have to fork out to maintain and repair it afterwards. Some cars are low-maintenance, well-designed workhorses, while others can end up costing their own purchase price in repair bills.

I write this fresh from a spat with Mini about an astronomical bill I received for a new clutch and flywheel for my three-year-old (out-of-warranty) Countryman after 50,000 miles. Not only do I consider that a pathetically short life for a clutch and flywheel compared with those in previous cars I’ve owned, I also consider £2,500 an absurdly large amount to charge to replace them.

Mini argues, of course, that the failures are due to ‘wear and tear’. And it asserts that an upgrade it made to the clutch in Countryman models in the US in 2012 is irrelevant outside that region.

Whatever the cause of the problem, why does it cost £2,500 to replace two car parts unless they’re made of solid gold? The answer lies partly in the labour charge, which was more than £1,000.

Under the bonnet

Some cars are designed to be fixed easily, and some aren’t. In 2013, the Which? cars team uncovered one of the worst examples of bad design: the Renault Modus, which ran up a bill of £150 if you wanted to change a headlight bulb because that entailed removing the entire front bumper.

The Which? Car Survey will tell you that the average annual repair cost for a Mini over three years old is £148 for a diesel and £154 for a petrol version. For a Honda Jazz it is a tiny £16. And for a Land Rover Discovery 3, it’s £570.

These figures are drawn directly from the experiences of the 49,000 car owners who filled in our survey last year. We’ve just closed the 2015 survey, and we expect it to keep its crown as the biggest in the UK when we publish the results later this year.

Have you had a larger than expected car repair bill? Have you ever thought about the design of a car and the potential repair bills before buying?

Comments
Profile photo of wavechange
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When having the timing belt replaced on my last car, a Golf 4, my trusted engineer told me that it is necessary to lift the engines in some cars to do this job. This is a routine servicing job, like changing a blown light bulb, and should not be difficult.

It would be very interesting to compare prices for some common servicing jobs and repairs on different makes and models.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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A clutch can easily be worn in 50 000 miles by poor driving technique, but I suspect that is not its history. And dual mass flywheels can be iffy. I have never worn a clutch out – and one of my cars is on 170 000 miles.

I would agree that this is an appallingly short life unless subject to misuse; only you will know that. Have you considered using the Sale of Goods Act – “durability” (under “quality”)? Would an impartial person agree that the life was unreasonable? Small claims court?

It would be useful if Which? pulished typical costs in their car guide for all routine wear and tear repairs, including e.g. clutch, brakes, pads, timing belt, so we get a truer idea of cost of ownership. These should be published by the servicing dealers.

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paul c says:
29 July 2015

I see drivers holding the car stationary whilst they wait at traffic lights on hills ever day, there is a long hill outside my house and I can often smell clutch melting due to abuse, I personally have had two cars do 250k without a clutch change, and have not changed a clutch now for 20 years. I don’t think you can blame the manufacturer.

Dual clutch cars are failing as being driven as automatics with torque converters, I friend who owns a garage has had several in now with 10k on the clock and the cluches are gone, the price and equipment required to change them is scarey.

Profile photo of rich835
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I would class cars like a Mini, an Alpha Romeo and several others as pretty cars, but not sensible cars.

When I bought my latest car (a Kia Ceed). I asked questions such as does it have a timing belt?
I was told it had a chain, not a belt and therefore maintenance free in that regard.
The Power Steering was electric, and therefore didn’t need to be topped up with oil.
Reasonably straightforward to change the headlight bulbs too.
I’ll check for good back support in the seats and things like that.

It may not be a car for “street cred”, but it now has 160,000 on the clock, and apart from an aircon fault covered by warranty, it hasn’t given me any trouble in the 7 years since I bought it.

What doesn’t matter to me is the colour of the car or if others will be impressed by the make/model of the car. I have little sympathy for people that buy cars based on things like that!

Profile photo of wavechange
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The high cost of changing a headlight bulb on some cars is an excellent example of bad design. Likewise, cars where it is necessary to lift the engine to replace a timing belt or other component that can be replaced easily provide other examples of bad design. Any experienced mechanic working on a range of makes and models should be able to provide specific examples.

The example of a whether a clutch has failed due to a fault or driving technique is always going to be disputable, but comparison of how much the repair costs would be useful to know.

It concerns me that many people don’t check that they are buying a car with a spare wheel, so how do we encourage them to consider servicing and repair costs, unless the information is readily available and easy to understand.

I have always avoided buying recently introduced cars and other products and done my best to learn about possible problems that I encounter.

Profile photo of John Ward
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I was expecting LED lighting technology to overcome the headlight replacement difficulty by separating the light source from the lens enclosure. Obviously this is not the manufacturers’ priority as everything has to be sacrificed to the desire for an ugly, but streamlined, lighting array.

Profile photo of terfar
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One guide to repair costs is the insurance group. Significant costs to the insurance company are the costs of spares and time of repairs. They have information that we don’t. It is also interesting to analyse the DoT MoT failure statistics too.

Insurance is about calculating risks of the driver as well as the type of car being insured. The insurance company rate cars on the type of driver attracted to them (e.g. boy/girl racers in hot hatchbacks) plus how much certain prangs are going to cost to repair.

MoT failures are interesting because they often show that some cars fail their tests at a surprisingly higher rates compared to other similar cars at a like-for-like age. However, these stats have to be analysed carefully. Some vehicles like Ford Transit vans have a high rate of failure: but many Transits are on the road 12+ hours a day, 6 days a week and do horrible stop/start journey. So a high failure rate is predictable.

But these can all be guides to reliability and running costs.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Some makes and models of car have higher MOT failure rates than others but MOT failures are more of a reflection on their owners’ failure to ensure that their vehicles are fit to be on the road every day of the year.

Check your car regularly:
whatcar.com/car-news/five-daft-reasons-why-cars-fail-mot/1285768

Profile photo of terfar
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If you look at the MoT failure reports and analyse the failures, you can definitely see trends. For example, clutches in modern cars should rarely fail below 100,000+ miles. (Developments in modern glues allow clutch material to be glued to the plates, thus there are no rivets and the clutch can wear down to the plate and not the rivets.)

So if a brand has a high incidence of failures due to exhaust, fluid leaks, steering rack, gaters, etc., then it is most likely from poor materials than driver negligence. If the MoT failure is through tyre wear, then it becomes obvious that the vehicle is neglected and can be ignore from being a trend.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Terfar – As you said earlier, high mileage vehicles can have high failure rates. That is usually because of lack of adequate servicing. Good servicing should account for variation in the quality of components between models, so if a car is known to have to have a weakness with its exhaust or drive shaft gaiters, these deserve special attention.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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Car spares seem a little bit like printer ink – once you’re stuck with a car you can pay through the nose for necessary replacement bits. You would think the insurance companies would have some control over this though – do they?

Industry in my experience also makes a fortune out of spares. I well remember the large mark-ups made on OEM replacement plastic mouldings for example on street lights (they’d either get vanadalised or degrade through UV).

Profile photo of wavechange
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Many spares used in servicing can be obtained at very reasonable prices from motor factors. There are specialist companies that will repair starter motors and alternators at very reasonable prices too, or offer exchange units off the shelf.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Here’s an example of how helpful specialist companies can be.

I recently took an elderly alternator to a specialist company recommended by a friend. I knew nothing about it, other than it was for a 24V system. They identified the make model and which variant I had, and established that it was in good working order. They would not take a penny for their time.

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scott says:
8 March 2015

I wonder more if some modern cars are actually fit for purpose. I have a diesel car with 55k on it which does 17k per annum and I have to get the diesel particulate filter (dpf) regenerated every 3-4 months and an exhaust gas recirculation valve (egr) replaced. Yet lorry’s and tractor with many many more miles and hours of use do not seem to have these problems at such early stages in life of motor.

Profile photo of wavechange
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That does not seem right, Scott. It’s worth trying to find out if others are having similar problems with the same model of car.

Cleaning of the dpf should be automatic provided that you are not doing a lot of town driving without periodically doing longer runs that allow a cleaning cycle to be completed. If you are following the advice provided with the car, you have a case for complaint. None of the diesel car owners I know has had a problem with their dpf, though a friend with a Land Rover that has covered 150k miles has recently had a problem with their erg valve.

I was slightly concerned when I bought a diesel car with a dpf since I cover only 8k miles per year but it will be 3 years old this summer and I have never seen a warning light to let me know to take it on a longer run.

Profile photo of terfar
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Agreed. My Fabia 1.9 tdi is 9 years old and averaged 8000 mile per annum. It’s not had any problems with the dpf or gate. I’ve not bothered with replacing the ohc belt either. The German manufacturer of the belt states it’s guaranteed for the life of the engine. It’s only VAG that insist it must be changed. Does anyone know of anyone with a belt failure?

Profile photo of wavechange
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Except with ‘non-interference’ engines, a broken timing belt will result in major engine damage when the pistons hit the valves coming in the other direction. VAG are good at quoting a lifetime for timing belts and then issuing instructions that this should be done sooner.

Failure of a water pump driven by the timing belt can also cause catastrophic failure.

If you can inspect the condition of the belt and look for signs of deterioration, including cracking at the base of the teeth it may be safe to carry on using it.

I don’t know how many belts do break. With my last car the lifetime had been quoted as 80k and the figure was revised to 40k. I kept an eye on it and eventually had it replaced at 60k.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
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I know of 2 people owning Vauxhall cars whose timing belt broke and yes totalled the engine . My previous car a Ford Mondeo 2.5 had a chain driven timing belt ,the car I own now is one I like its an old Ford Focus ST 170 great road holding /speedy although I try to drive in 6th gear most of the time to save petrol . I had the cam belt checked at 65000 miles and it needed replaced a worn cam belt can also spoil the tuning as it stretches before it blows your engine . Vauxhalls previously had a very bad record for that. The cracks inside the teeth of the belt show its “drying up ” meaning its losing its elasticity I have changed 1000s but in industrial equipment of all sorts. Better safe than sorry.

Profile photo of terfar
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Conversely, my Fiesta 1.0 ecoboost has in board cam belt that it guaranteed for the life of the engine. So it’s possible to do.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Your cam belt is lubricated with oil, like a timing chain. Presumably this combines the durability of a chain with the lack of noise and vibration of a belt. I’ve read that it should be inspected after 150k miles.

Profile photo of briansg
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My experience with diesel cars (of only one make and model) with a dpf is that I cannot drive too gently (as one might to deliberately save fuel) or a warning light comes on after a few weeks and one has to regenerate the filter by immediately driving at high revs for ten minutes or so. Drive briskly on dual carriageways and motorways and the problem does not seem to arise.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I drive gently for various reasons and the warning light has not come on since I bought my car in July 2012. The instructions that came with the car say that I need to periodically drive at or above 40 mph for ten or fifteen minutes (I cannot remember which it is). I usually do this once a week anyway.

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NukeThemAll says:
28 March 2015

My experience of DPFs corresponds exactly to that of wavechange, but I’m intrigued by tales of owners who apparently drive in a ‘DPF-approved’ manner but still have problems – it makes me wonder if some cars are proving much more problematic than others. I also wonder if the new euro-6 compliant diesels will be more or less tolerant of ‘gentle driving’.

Profile photo of wavechange
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All new diesel-engined cars are fitted with a DPF. It is clear that they are unsuitable for those whose driving is mainly in built-up areas, unless periodic longer journeys are made.

My car dealer asked about my proposed use when I said I had a diesel car (without a DPF) and was interested in buying another diesel. He gave me a leaflet and another copy was provided as an insert in the manual.

What disappoints me is that I have no knowledge about the state of my DPF or when it is being regenerated. There are times when the fuel economy is about 10 mpg below normal, which I assume correspond to the use of extra fuel to burn off accumulated soot. Since DPF blockage is measured from the pressure differential across the filter, it would be easy to provide the driver with an indication of the percentage blockage. Understanding the process would be helpful to drivers and could help them avoid a blocked DPF.

I suspect you are right that some cars are more problematic than others. Furthermore, older engines that are starting to use oil could also have problems.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
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I damaged my passenger wing mirror on phoning the agent for that make I nearly fell off the seat in shock. Its electric with a heater built in . An hour or two on the web and I was able to see that components came in various shades of quality . AS ever everything is made in China now I actually had a price range from £25 up to over £50 . I picked one from a reliable source -wing mirror man and fitted it myself . As an ex engineer I could say the quality was reasonably good and fitting it was easy (Ford car ). But be warned China exports massive amounts of components not just in the car industry but in electronics .Over the years I have found they build to a Price ,I repair analogue electronic equipment using a soldering station adverts showed various prices for what looked like the same model -WRONG !! the cheap ones were rubbish made and in my view dangerous -be careful.

Profile photo of wavechange
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It’s wrong to think that everything made in China is poor quality. Just have a look at what you consider to be good quality and it is likely to be made in China too.

Counterfeit goods are a big problem. It is usually popular consumer goods that are counterfeited. Anyone counterfeiting soldering stations has a small market of people who are likely to be better informed than the general public. If you do find a dangerous product, report it to Trading Standards.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
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If you re-read my post you will find I said the Chinese build to a PRICE ! logic dictates that means they build BOTH good and bad products. If you think that China doesnt build cheap products well you haven’t seen as many commercial AND public products as I have in my engineering career. As regards counterfeit products then Maplin electronics and a whole host of electrical suppliers have sold sub-standard items in the past . They woudnt dare sell counterfeit products as they would lose business so I repeat China sells the same type ,even in the same case of products that range from bad to good. Seen it.done it,got the tea shirt.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I don’t think we are disagreeing, Duncan. I take your point about Maplin avoiding selling counterfeit items, and I’ve used them since they were as small mail order company advertising in the electronics magazines in the 70s. Some of what they sell is top quality and much of it could be charitably described as good value for money. Thankfully it’s possible to inspect a lot of their goods before purchase in their shops and I don’t remember having any serious safety concerns about their products.

I’m typing this on an Apple laptop that was designed in California and assembled in China. These have proved good in the past and I am very glad that I have not had to pay for assembly in the US or Europe.

It does concern me that using substandard car parts could be dangerous.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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“If you do find a dangerous product, report it to Trading Standards.” Seemingly you can’t – you have to go through overstretched CAB. And it seems difficult or impossible to know whether anything is done with your complaint. I hope I’m proved wrong, but this whole business should be made much easier and more “transparent” (that’s the current in-vogue word, isn’t it). Many complaints may be of isolated incidents or not substantiated, but we should be able to see products and companies (manufacturers and importers) that accumulate complaints. A database is presumable kept by Trading Standards, why not publish it. Or is it fragmented around lots of local authorities? If so, time we had a national body. Sorry – more questions than answers here.

Profile photo of wavechange
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As I see it, CAB provides a means of logging calls and routing them to Trading Standards or elsewhere, as appropriate. I have found CAB very helpful. Unfortunately, Trading Standards seems to do little in response to calls, based on my own experience and that of others. In one case I was told that there would be no action against a company unless there were similar complaints, and mine was the first.

Neither the CAB or Trading Standards is going to be interested in the fact that some cars have excessive maintenance costs. Which? and car magazines/websites can help here. I recall that in the 70s, Ford made replacement camshafts available at low price because of a design fault with one of their engines.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
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Your right I owned a MK3 Cortina the OH camshaft(single) was badly hardened as were the distance plates between it and the valve .Just about every car spares shop had a new camshaft kit for sale .I think at the time the price was £35 not much today but a lot more then, Your memory is as good as mine.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Thanks for the details Duncan. Do you know of any other examples of car manufacturers treating customers fairly because of design faults? Most of the examples I know are recalls due to safety issues.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
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Not offhand wavechange in the same manner as Ford did . As you say most are recalls to the main dealer for replacement rather than DIY. depending on how you look at it one of the worst for recalls is Toyota.

Profile photo of terfar
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I had the same beast, a Mk3 Cortina. It did over 100,000 miles before I sold it. No hitch with the engine at all.

At that time I live in Belgium and had access to an amateur mechanic shop with about 20 bays. Several times I caught users of the Cortina/Taurus setting up their cam/push rod gaps in the wrong place. I have a strong suspicion that as this was one of the first widely available family cars with the OHC engine, that the cam shaft problem was due to the inexperienced setting us the gaps incorrectly.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
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Your right the bodywork rusted first while the engine still ran on. Your also right about the cam followers getting the gaps right was tricky. Not everybody re-tightened the camshaft holding brackets in the right order . It could be worse ,you could have owned a Rover 3.5 with Hydraulic tappets when new they were quiet and that helped sell them(including to the police ) but just try and adjust them ,now that was another World.

Profile photo of terfar
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IIRC, they were setting the gap between the cam followers (rockers) and valve stems similar to adjusting the old push-rod gaps that they were all familiar with. They all had the same mystical look when I showed them to adjust the gap at the other end, i.e. between the cam and the cam follower (rocker). So I’m not at all surprised that new cams were flying off the shelves.

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David says:
18 March 2015

I had a Mini clutch go on an 18 month old mini, told tough and they even wanted £ 80 to confirm the fault. 1st clutch in 30 years of driving … BUT paid less than £ 1000 to the local BMW non franchise garage.

[This post has been edited to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

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William Rafferty says:
5 April 2015

Had the same clutch and flywheel problem on a Mazda 6. They failed at 44000 miles. Mazda customer service was of no help, blaming it on wear and tear and my driving style despite the fact I had a Volkswagen Passat in the drive with 129000 miles on the original clutch.
The solution in the end was simple. Mazda lost a customer. A fact they didn’t seem too worried about.
In my experience the only way “the car in front is a Mazda” is if you are in the car following the tow truck taking it to the garage. Cost of repair? £1800. Wouldnt take one as a gift now.

Profile photo of terfar
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William You had a Mazda 6 2-litre diesel car? They are fiotted with Dual-mass Flywheels and they are seriously bad. The DMF is fitted to many cars, not just the Citroen/Peugot/Mazda group. I know that VAG, Jaguar, Ford and others also use them. They all have the same problem with early failure of the DMF.

The dealers try to blame the drivers for ‘riding the clutch’ causing the clutch plate glue to overheat, but expert examination usually finds that the bolts holding the two halves of the DMF together are weak and start to stretch. Eventually they become so stretched that they start to touch the bell housing making a racket and the starter motor has difficulty engaging the flywheel making starting difficult. Often this starts to show as early as 30,000 miles.

This is probably too late, but you should have had an expert independent engineer inspect the components to prove that the failure was the DMF, not the clutch. You were robbed by crooks of the motor trade.

Profile photo of terfar
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I should have mentioned that you should search Google for ‘dual-mass flywheel failure’ for more enlightening information.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I wonder if some of the failures reflect the aggressive driving style of many motorists. In London in particular most drivers seem to alternate between brake and accelerator. It seems obvious to me that this is will be detrimental to the clutch, DMF and other components of the drive train. I doubt that it helps to get anyone to their destination any faster.

Profile photo of terfar
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I found an interesting article on the HonestJohn website discussing the problems with Dual Mass Flywheels that includes a list of vehicles with reported known problems. There’s also a link to a LandRover owner who had the failure and tried to elicit some information (without success) from the German manufacturer of the DMF. It definitely looks like it is the DMF and has nothing to do with driving style.

http://www.honestjohn.co.uk/faq/dual-mass-flywheels/

Profile photo of wavechange
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I’m not so sure. Near the start of the article: “What seems to happen is excess temperature from drivers riding their clutches affects the compound.”

Profile photo of terfar
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Yes, but it is a case of ‘seems’ rather than did ride the clutch.

There are plenty of other reports on the Internet. One interesting one because the guy had a failure on one car at 36,000 miles and he had a second car (his primary car) from new sitting on the drive with 130,000 miles on the clock. That suggests that he wasn’t guilty of riding his clutch.

It still suggests a poorly designed or poorly manufactured component.

Profile photo of wavechange
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An independent inspection would probably establish the reason for the failure. If a design fault can be established, that could help other owners.

My father taught me not to ride the clutch and gave me other useful advice on how to minimise wear and stress on the mechanical components. For most of his driving career he had no clutch problems.
In the last couple of years that he drove, he started to abuse the clutch, despite my warnings. It was no surprise that clutch had to be replaced after a much lower mileage than his previous cars had covered without problem.

So far I have followed my father’s teaching and have not had clutch or DMF problems. Only yesterday did I discover that my present car has a DMF and so did its predecessor, which I had for ten years. If I start to abuse the clutch, that will be the time to get an automatic or give up driving.

I have watched drivers slipping the clutch when crawling up hills in traffic. Sometimes you can smell the clutch overheating.

It would be very easy for a manufacturer to include a tell-tale to show the extent to which a clutch has been overheated, perhaps by incorporating pellets of alloys that melt at different temperatures. Alternatively, an over-temperature warning light could warn the driver that they are abusing the clutch.

Profile photo of terfar
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Likewise in over 50 years of driving, I’ve never had a clutch (or flywheel) failure. If it really is a clutch abuse problem, the manufacturers could easily give a warning light. VAG provide warning lights for overheating of the DSG gearboxes (I’ve never seen that come on either), so these things are obviously possible.