Honest John: can we get our money back on a rattling Volkswagen Golf?

Our consumer champion advises on your rights to reject a car if a dealer can't fix it. Plus: always use the official DVLA website

Volkswagen Beetle cars arranged in the company's emblem to celebrate the end of Beetle production in 2003 at the factory in Mexico
Volkswagens have long been popular but troubles aren't unkown Credit: AFP

If your car has developed a fault, or for consumer advice, turn to Honest John by emailing [email protected]

Golf coarse

My partner’s daughter bought a 13,000-mile, one-year-old VW Golf 1.0 TSI in June on my recommendation. Four weeks ago it developed a vibration/rattle; from her description, I thought it might be a faulty clutch thrust bearing. The vibration occurs in neutral or in any gear when stationary at between 1,150 and 1,250rpm; it sounds like a panel or component resonating. The dealer acknowledges the problem but has had the car for two weeks and cannot indicate when it will be fixed. We gave them one more week and said that if they had not succeeded by then we would like our money back, or an alternative car of similar condition (plus compensation for the inconvenience). What do you think? RS

Judging by my postbag, VW Golfs are proving to be such solid, reliable cars that repairs are frequent. It’s most likely an engine software issue. This is the previous-generation Golf, not the current Mk8 which went on sale in February 2020.

I sent RS a FAQ of the relevant consumer rights. The buyer has no right to a refund of the purchase price, of course, but she should be entitled to market value or a like-for-like replacement. If the dealer does not capitulate, be aware that legal and court fees – even for a small claim – can be a lot more than you might think.

Licensed promises

When I applied for a new photocard driving licence I mistakenly used a third-party website rather than the official DVLA one. I spent ages unsuccessfully chasing the other site before I realised my error, after which I found that the DVLA service was excellent. The processing started immediately and I received my new licence through the post within six days. GS

Many thanks for the feedback and the repeated warning to use only the official website: www.gov.uk/renew-driving-licence

Quest of a wave

We are looking for a Tardis – a vehicle big enough on the inside to hold two large surfboards, but small enough on the outside to negotiate narrow Cornish lanes and tight parking spaces. We’d be happy to reduce the capacity to two or three seats. Current thinking is a  used Citroën Berlingo or similar. The alternative is a secure roof rack. Any ideas? RF

Berlingos have become fatter over three generations – and I thought the second iteration looked awful. Pick-up trucks have become bigger and fatter, too. It might be better to think about an estate car, because they usually have a longer roof than vans should you want to add a rack. You propose no budget, but a general rule is that older cars tend to be narrower. A 1990s Vauxhall Astra or Ford Focus estate might be OK, though a Kia Cee'd SW would be more reliable. A Dacia Logan MCW could be an option, but best of all might be an old Volvo 940 estate – long, narrow and with all the traditional attributes of a Volvo.

Electricity strike

I am concerned that the battery electric vehicle (BEV) is the main direction being followed, with fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) being left behind. Transportation often requires higher mileages in one day than the BEV can support and many car owners in apartments or flats will never have access to convenient charging points. The FCEV can have a hydrogen refill in about three minutes, giving a range of 300-plus miles. I read that in the UK, ITM Power is working on renewable hydrogen for transport in conjunction with many major companies. It appears necessary that both systems will be in future use. Do you think our Government should encourage hydrogen infrastructure with as much zeal as it appears to have for electricity? MP

The new Toyota Mirai's hydrogen fuel cell stack

Very much so. I'm an FCEV fan but politicians are falling down the EV plughole at the moment due to lobbying by vested interests, and Tesla is the biggest battery company in the world. But fortunes are made from change (ask Apple and Microsoft), so the only thing you can be sure of is that things are going to change. Read Andrew English’s review of the new Toyota Mirai FCEV at telegraph.co.uk/cars.

Cell block

My car is old but manages my daily commute of 15 miles each way and an occasional cross-country round trip of 500 miles. There have been great improvements in electric/hybrid cars recently, but I am interested in the possibility of hydrogen fuel cell propulsion. I have read about the improved efficiency of wind energy and hydrogen production and how fuel cells are being developed for commercial vehicles and trains. Will these eventually become suitable for cars? FG

A Hyundai Nexo fuel cell car at a hydrogen refuelling station

Andrew English has just driven the latest Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell-powered car. I have driven the Honda FCE Clarity, Kia Borrego FCEV, previous generation Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo. The Nexo was best. Unfortunately, some manufacturers appear to be abandoning FCEV because of the production costs, but it represents a more sustainable future than cobalt EV batteries. This article in Forbes magazine is worth a look: https://tinyurl.com/y6zevgv4.

Premium bind

I was surprised to find that my insurance renewal quotation includes an 11 per cent increase. I queried it, based on having only done an average of 50 miles per week since lockdown and predictions that falling claims during lockdown would help insurers to hold premiums down. The well scripted reply blamed whiplash and delays to legislation, storm damage claims affecting home insurance and Covid-19 increasing travel insurance claims. However, they did offer me a reduction to the increase to only pay six per cent more. In my day as an insurance industry professional, a negotiable amount with lower premiums to offer to customers who query it would have been seen as unethical. We should all challenge insurers over increases. Have you experienced this before? BB

What's the real reason for insurance premiums going up significantly? Credit:  Media Mogul

The same happened to me with my broker-bought trade insurance. The original insurer wanted to raise it to £1,500 third party. My broker found another who would do it for £1,500 comprehensive. In the past, insurers treated car premiums as investment income, but the returns from this are now greatly reduced and that’s the real reason for premium increases. One piece of good news is that Direct Line is now offering reduced rates for low-mileage drivers.

Season two

I change the tyres on my 2009 Audi A4 Avant 2.0 S-line every winter and spring. This summer, I was still running on the winter tyres due to Covid, knowing that two summer tyres would have to be replaced at the next change. I want to switch to all-weather tyres but should I buy new wheels as well, since I have low-profile rubber? ED

All-weather tyres work most effectively at profiles of 55 or 60. You should be able to go down to 16-inch wheels with 225/55 tyres as long as these wheels will fit around the front brake discs (which they should). Next size up is 17-inch wheels with 225/50 rubber. Lower-profile all-weather tyres are available, but less effective. Go for Continental AllSeason Contact, Michelin Cross Climate, Goodyear Vector 4 Seasons, Vredestein Quatrac or all-season Pirelli Cinturatos. You will have to disclose this “modification” to your insurer.

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