Save on repairs

We reveal how you can save a packet on repairs simply by getting your car checked over as it nears the end of its warranty...

Want to know a secret? You can get your car’s niggling faults fixed for free – and Auto Express can prove it. We could have saved one driver a bill of more than £650. How? It’s all about knowing how to play the system.

Every new vehicle comes with a warranty, which in most cases lasts for three years. In that time, if there’s a problem with something that isn’t a general wear and tear compo­nent, the dealer will sort it out, with the manufacturer picking up the tab.

But how do you know if anything is wrong? A knob on the dashboard that’s worked loose is easy to spot, yet if you’re not mechanically minded, it’s difficult to identify the issues. The trick is to get your car professionally inspected a short time before the warranty expires, then take it to the dealer with the problems you want fixed.

To prove the point, we brought in RAC vehicle examining engineer Ron Waldock, and asked him to run a crit­ical eye over six popular models, all approaching their third birthday.

He does two or three checks similar to this every month for customers who’ve already worked out how to save themselves a potentially hefty repair bill. “A car I saw had a knocking noise coming from the engine. It finished up getting a brand new one fitted, all under warranty, because of my inspection,” explained Ron.

Of the six random models we lined up for him to check, three had faults that could reasonably be expected to be fixed under warranty. And, ironically, it was the car with the lowest mileage which needed the most work. The black Citroen C2 had only done 10,800 miles, but when our expert got under­neath, he quickly found an oil leak.

There were recent deposits on the exhaust pipe and all round the sump. “My guess is there’s a problem with the rear main oil seal, which would be fixed under warranty,” said Ron. But he reckoned a smart customer might also be able to get the clutch fixed for free at the same time. “If it is the rear oil seal, lubricant could also be dripping on the clutch. That may cause slipping,” added the RAC man.

“To repair the seal, you need to remove the clutch anyway, so it would be worth arguing for a new one. The dealer won’t have to do much extra and, after all, the maker is paying.”

The offside rear shock absorber was also weeping oil. An inspector wouldn’t normally take the wheel off to view it, but Ron did so it was easier to see. He explained: “This is quite a common problem in all cars, but it certainly shouldn’t be happening on one of this age and mileage. It could also cause an MoT failure, which is something to consider on a model approaching three years old.”

So how much could our expert have saved the C2 owner? We contacted a Citroen dealer and were quoted £665 for the work, including a new clutch. Worth the £188.95 cost of Ron’s expertise, we’d say!

The next offender was a Mercedes A160 CDI Elegance which had covered 15,000 miles. Time on the axle stands revealed a seeping seal on the front nearside wheel bearing, and Ron was certain the manufacturer would pay up here. “At the end of the day, it would rather replace the seal than the whole bearing and hub,” he said.

Under the bonnet, he unearthed another problem: diesel pooling on the horizontal top of the fuel filter. “My guess is there’s a tiny hole in the soldered join where the fuel line comes in,” Ron explained. “That fault will be covered under warranty as it’s not something you’d expect to happen.”

Our final car was a Peugeot 307 CC. The rubber seat for the front nearside suspension had come away from the spring, and was dragging on the tyre. It obviously needed fixing, but Ron wasn’t sure if it would be done for free. “It may or may not be a warranty issue, because it could be classed as wear and tear,” he said. “It dep­ends on how charitable the garage is.”

Ron couldn’t find any warranty work on the other three cars, but still managed a 50 per cent hit rate. Admittedly, an inspection isn’t cheap, but as our investigation shows, you’re likely to get some or all of the fee back in free repairs – not to mention the peace of mind which comes from owning a safe, properly maintained used car.

RAC vehicle inspectors can be contacted on: 0800 975 5867 or via www.rac.co.uk

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