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Top ten tips on avoiding expensive car repairs

09 May, 2014

Want to avoid a breakdown and cut down on expensive repairs? You have to take action We know from the AA that the number of models and complexity of modern cars mean that there are a huge and varied number of things that can go wrong at any time. So where do you start? We asked the AA to tell us about the most common faults they come across; here’s a brief run down on what they are and what you can do to stay safe on the road and avoid expensive repairs:

Flat or faulty battery

Most common problems are caused by terminals and clamp connections or by a loss of voltage, often caused by constant use on short journeys without regular recharging. At every service, check that the terminals have been cleaned and protected from corrosion with a layer of petroleum jelly or grease, and that clamps and connections are secure. If you don’t make long journeys, a fortnightly overnight charge prolongs battery life; modern maintenance-free batteries don’t need a top-up.

Lost keys

Most modern cars have a ‘transponder’ key combining a conventional mechanical key with an encrypted electronic chip to prevent theft, which means if you lose the key, recovery to an authorised dealer may be the only answer. As it might take several days to get a replacement, you should always carry a spare key. Flat/damaged tyres and wheels You manual will tell you what the correct tyre pressures should be and you can adjust the pressures to suit different speeds and loads. You should check the pressures once a month – don’t leave it for the mechanics to do at your annual service. When checking tread depth, look out for uneven tyre wear – it’s possible the wheels may be misaligned and you should consult a tyre specialist for advice. And don’t forget the spare tyre. A worn or flat spare won’t help you in an emergency. Finally, check that the jack is in good condition and that the key/removal tool for the locking wheel nuts is accessible.

Alternator faults

Persistent battery problems and dim headlights when the engine is idling can indicate alternator/generator faults. Belts driving the alternator may also operate the radiator fan and water pump. A red ignition warning light, plus a rapid rise in engine temperature, could indicate a broken belt, in which case you need to stop straight away and get assistance.

Starter motor

Though usually robust, starter motors can fail. A regular service should highlight potential faults.

Fuel problems

Empty fuel tanks cost a lot of time and inconvenience. Fill up at the start of your journey and well before the warning light comes on. Don’t drive on fumes. Every year more than 150,000 motorists put the wrong fuel in their car – petrol in diesel is most common but drivers put diesel in petrol cars too. When that happens you’ll need to drain and flush the fuel out of the system before filling up again.

Clutch cables

Clutch cables are under high stress, and abrasion can weaken the wire strands until they break. Temporary roadside repairs can be made, but replacement at the first signs of wear is the best solution.

Spark plugs

The spark plug is a much-neglected part of the ignition system. Make sure that the plugs are replaced at the manufacturer’s recommended service intervals.

High Tension leads

High-tension (HT) leads and their connections can deteriorate with age; water and dirt enter cracks in the insulation, reducing ignition voltage. Damp-repellent sprays like WD-40 are only a temporary solution. You should ask your garage to check the condition of the leads and replace as necessary.

As you can see, there are only nine top faults, so we thought we should make it a nice round TEN by adding this tip: don’t forget to read the manual. It tells you everything you need to know about your car and can help you become more aware of any small niggles and stop them becoming expensive problems.

Mine’s a VW Golf; what’s yours called?

23 April, 2014

The VW Golf has been around for years and, looking at the latest model, it’s easy to see why. The Golf may be a little more expensive than its rivals, but it also looks better built, both inside and out. And it has an excellent range of engines from the very economical BlueMotion up to the super-fast R model.  Another strength of the car is the interior trim, which feels a class above its rivals. The dashboard in particular is built from soft-touch plastics and is very easy to use. Even the entry-level S model gets decent levels of equipment including a DAB digital radio and air conditioning, while top-of-the-range models can be customised to match an executive saloon.

Environmentally friendly too

The cleanest Golf BlueMotion model returns an impressive 88.3mpg and is exempt from road tax because of its low CO2 emissions. The 2.0-litre 184 TDI model is much quicker, but can still manage almost 70mpg and low CO2 emissions, meaning road tax is just £20. The new petrol-electric hybrid Volkswagen Golf GTE does a good job of offering the best of both worlds – performance close to the GTI’s, economy of 188mpg, and road tax exemption. It can also run for 30 miles on electric power alone, meaning short journeys cost pennies.

Comfort and performance inside and out

The Golf’s standard suspension does an excellent job of soaking up the worst that UK roads can throw at it and buyers can also specify suspension that can be adjusted for comfort or more sporty driving. Even the stiffest setting is comfortable, though. In the same way, the Golf GTI’s suspension is stiffer and lower to improve driving dynamics but still manages to be comfortable.

At speed the Golf’s interior is extremely quiet and relaxing on the motorway, and all models get an armrest for the front-seat passengers, a DAB digital radio, air-con, and a Bluetooth phone connection. It’s also a spacious family hatchback, with 15mm more rear legroom in the back than the old model and also a decent-sized boot of 380 litres. The back seats also split 60:40 to reveal a total of 1,270 litres of capacity, and the boot gets a 12V plug, luggage hooks and a low load lip. If you need more load space, the Golf Estate is significantly bigger again. There are plenty of storage spaces too including a cubby under the front armrest, a glovebox that can be cooled by the car’s air-conditioning and numerous cup holders.

Dependable could be boring, but not when it’s a Golf

The latest Golf got a five-star safety rating when it was tested by Euro NCAP, with every area of protection being rated as good, apart from the driver’s right leg area, which was marked as ‘adequate’. Even the basic S model gets airbags all round, a post-collision braking system (which applies the brakes to stop the car being involved in a secondary accident), and a tyre pressure warning buzzer.

A range of quiet engines make the Golf great to drive in any situation

The basic 1.2-litre TSI 85 petrol isn’t particularly fast, but the model up, the 1.2-litre TSI 105, is significantly quicker and keeps the same impressive economy of 57.6mpg. If economy is paramount, then the BlueMotion model is the best bet and it still gets from 0-60mph in 10.5 seconds. All the diesels are economical, though, and the 2.0-litre TDI 150 drops 0-60mph down to 8.6 seconds, while the 2.0 TDI 184 can dispatch it in 7.5 seconds.

Although all Golfs are fun to drive, the Golf GTI and Golf R models offer even more driving thrills. The GTI is quick with 217bhp and 0-60mph taking 6.5 seconds, while the R is quicker still, taking 4.9 seconds to get from 0-60mph. The latter also gets Volkswagen’s 4MOTION four-wheel-drive system.

More for your money  

The cheapest Golf still gets good levels of equipmnet such as a DAB radio, Bluetooth phone connnection, air-con and cruise control, while SE models add adaptive cruise control (which maintains a safe distance from the car in front, before returning to a pre-set cruising speed), autonomous emergency braking, and VW’s Driver Alert system, which warns you when to take a break. GT models, meanwhile, get part-leather seats, front and rear parking sensors and sat-nav.

Despite the improved technology and efficiency, the new Golf will cost you about the same as an equivalent version of the current car. Isn’t it good to know that the V in VW still stands for VFM?

John Austin sponsors football team

19 March, 2014

Manchester United has Aon, Arsenal has Emirates, West Ham has Dr Martens and now Cornard Dynamos Under 9s has John Austin VW and Audi Specialists of Marks Tey!

This sponsorship deal wasn’t hammered out after weeks of hard-nosed negotiations but settled, understatedly, on the telephone.  Marc Linch, the owner of the John Austin garage is a bit of a football fanatic, so when John Austin’s son (John Austin was the previous owner of the garage) asked for help to pay for the kit, he couldn’t say no.

Speaking about the sponsorship deal, Linch said: “I love football, but my four daughters aren’t that interested, so I was delighted to get involved with this great young team, especially given the family connection. John’s grandson is the goalie, so I feel my investment is in safe hands.”

This Suffolk team is doing its Essex sponsor proud and is on a winning streak, having won 13 of their 17 games this season and scoring more than 40 goals.

There may be trouble ahead!

27 February, 2014

Many of us have been lucky in our part of Essex. It’s been wet and windy, but we haven’t had the floods. We haven’t had snow and ice yet either.

To make sure your car’s ready for whatever the great British weather may have in store for us, please take advantage of our FREE health check. There’s no need to book, just drop by the garage in Marks Tey and we’ll check out the battery, lights, windscreen wipers, oil level, screen wash and tyre pressures and tread.

If you can’t make it over to us before the weather sets in, here are three actions you can take now to make sure you’ve got as much sorted out as possible to cope with whatever might hit our part of the country over the course of the next few weeks:

  1. Cover the bases. Make sure your tank’s full; if you get stuck in bad weather you can keep the engine running and stay warm until help arrives or conditions become less severe.  Having the right tyre pressure is vital whatever the weather, but in wintry conditions check the tread: the legal minimum is 1.6mm, but it’s better to have a deeper tread of at least 3mm, as it will be more effective at clearing water.  If you haven’t put antifreeze in your car since the summer, now’s the time to do it.
  2. See and be seen. The combination of icy conditions and grit on the roads means you’ll use more screen wash than normal, so put a spare bottle in the boot with a can of de-icer and a plastic scraper.  Keep a second can of de-icer at home and you’ll be able to deal with frozen locks quickly first thing in the morning.  Windscreen wipers should also be checked now because worn ones won’t be effective against sleet and snow and you can’t drive blind.  If it gets misty outside, keep dipped headlights on, if it gets foggy, then turn your fog lights on; you’ll be more visible and you’ll see more too.
  3. Put the right equipment in the boot.  Take an old sleeping bag (which makes a great duvet), a hoodie and a pair of gloves; shove them in a dustbin liner, put the lot in the boot and forget about it. You may never need to use them over the winter period, but you’ve got the kit just in case. You probably already have a torch in the glove compartment, right?  If you haven’t, put one in now. Should the weather forecast indicate that snow is a possibility, it makes sense to keep a shovel and a couple of pieces of cardboard or old carpet in the boot too; it could help you or another motorist out of a tricky situation.

If you do set off on a journey, run out of petrol, a snow storm starts and you’ve forgotten to put warm clothing in the boot, at least you’ll be able to call for help, because you’ve kept your mobile phone fully charged. Right?

New year, new leaf

16 January, 2014

Now Christmas has come and gone, we’re approaching the saddest time of the year. Next week sees the meeting of all the downsides of Christmas. The New Year’s resolutions have already proven too hard to keep, you’ve definitely found it difficult to resist yet more alcohol and the credit card bills are on their way. We can’t do anything about the money spent enjoying the festive period (unless you make it a New Year’s resolution for next Christmas), but those New Year’s resolutions…

I decided to turn over a new leaf this year by actually make resolutions I can keep. Unsurprisingly it’s car related. I have a VW Passat and it’s going to be eight years old this autumn. It’s done a lot of mileage and it’s got more much more to give and it has never, ever let me down. I, on the other hand, have let my Passat down. Of course I have it serviced regularly, only use genuine VW parts, but it’s looking a little forlorn, like it’s seen better days. It’s the car equivalent of a donkey/cow/horse chained up on some western European wasteland with just traffic for company. In short it looks unloved; all it needs is a good old-fashioned wash and scrub-up; why is that so hard? When it was new it positively gleamed after it had been washed, but now the years of gritted roads, careless door openers (I know who you are!) and the odd collision with low level signage and bollards, have taken their toll. Same goes for the inside, as I have ferried my son and his friends to and from endless cricket, rugby and football matches – and cricket is the only game played in decent weather isn’t it? The gleam has definitely gone. So my first resolution is to make sure my car looks healthy. It will never regain its fresh faced looks, but it can still look cared for and it’s not hard to do either. At the top of my road is a hand car wash where, for a fiver, six men and sometimes women apply water, soap and huge amounts of elbow grease to make your car look clean and polished. For a tenner they vacuum, dust and polish the inside too. And they’re fast, sometimes so fast the car’s ready before I’ve finished my takeaway latte.

My resolution is to have my car cleaned inside and out one a month, and my Passat’s worth it. And, in true recycling spirit, I’m offsetting my £10 with my second resolution: to drive more slowly. Like a lot of people I know, when I’m going somewhere I just want to arrive as quickly as possible. Sometimes that’s because I should have left earlier but, for the most part, if there’s a speed limit I rarely drive slower than it. But one of my friends has been on a go-slow for years and has saved a small fortune in fuel costs. According to the Energy Saving Trust, driving more slowly can knock 25% off your fuel bills and driving smarter will save up to £350. So I think this resolution should become habit-forming. If you want to drive smarter, save money and a bit of the planet, read on:

Switch it off – if it is safe to do so, turn off your engine when stationary for more than a minute or two. Modern cars use virtually no extra fuel when they’re re-started without pressing the accelerator so you won’t waste lots of fuel turning the car back on.

Shift to a higher gear as soon as possible – driving at lower engine speeds reduces fuel consumption. Change up a gear between 2000 and 2500 revolutions per minute (rpm).

Drive smoothly – anticipate the road as far ahead as possible to avoid unnecessary braking and acceleration. Decelerate early when slowing down.

Slow down – avoid excessive speeds when possible. Driving at 85mph uses approximately 25% more fuel than 70mph.

Close your windows if travelling at 60mph or more – the aerodynamic drag on your car of an open window at speeds of 60mph or more adds to your fuel usage. Keep your windows closed at high speeds.

Here’s to positive resolutions! Have a great 2014 and happy motoring!

It’s been a good year…

16 December, 2013

… it’s also happened really fast too! Weren’t we just celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee and our sporting heroes’ fantastic successes at the London 2012 Olympics? Yes, that was all of 16 months ago, but 2013 continued to have some great highs. First we welcomed Prince George into the world, Andy Murray finally won Wimbledon, the economy grew in the third quarter by 0.8% and Kian Egan became King (of the Jungle).

At John Austin’s we’ve also been enjoying a great year.  This may not be in quite the same league but we put another ramp in our newest workshop, (you may remember that two years ago we doubled our workshop area to accommodate more vehicles and improve on turnaround times); this addition has been helping us to work on even more cars and further improve on those times. We now have three fully qualified MOT testers too. Earlier this year we also launched a dramatic new website, if you haven’t seen it, please visit: www.johnaustin.co.uk. And, finally, our latest recruit, John Finch, a very experienced car mechanic, was promoted to Workshop Manager. John is taking some of the workload off manager Paul Miller, allowing Paul to focus on the business and get the best deal on parts for our customers.

The fact that we keep expanding is because you keep using us; the customer surveys that you complete tell us that 95% of our new customers come to us through personal recommendation, and we’d like to thank you on both counts.

We’d also like to wish you and your family a very merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year and look forward to seeing you again in 2014.

Best wishes from your John Austin team – James, John, Marc, Paul, Simon, Sharon and Tom.

VW quality, technology and extremely cool credentials

17 November, 2013

Next month the VW camper van which, 64 years ago, started life as a goods van in postwar Germany, became a symbol of 1960s peace and love, and is a vehicle which has somehow retained its cool credentials while simultaneously occupying a warm place in all our hearts, will retire. Changes to health and safety rules in Brazil – where the bus is still manufactured three decades after it stopped being made in Germany – have made further production impossible.

While you can still buy and rent VW camper vans they will soon not only be cool and warm, but incredibly valuable too. In 2011 a 1963 Samba version was sold at auction in California for $198,000. For any of you interested in the history of this classic van, take a look at this:

1949 The Volkswagen Type 2 is unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in November (Type 1 was the Beetle), writes Jocelyn Petrie. The Type 2 had been developed while VW was being run by the British military; control had been returned to the German authorities the previous month.

1950 Production begins at the Wolfsburg factory on March 6. The Type 2, also known as the Transporter, is a basic commercial van, with an aircooled engine at the rear and a split windscreen (hence the nickname “splitty”).

1951 Major Ivan Hirst, a British army officer who played a key role in reviving VW in the postwar years, commissions Westfalia, a coachbuilding company, to convert a Transporter so it can be used for camping. The result, with a cooker, sideboard and folding bench seat, was so successful that the company put it into production.

1953 VW Brazil is founded, quickly becoming the company’s largest foreign subsidiary.

1956 Westfalia sells its 1,000th camper van. Several other companies go on to create camping versions of the Type 2 – VW itself did not make a “camper van” with beds until the California was launched in 1988.

1962 The millionth Type 2 leaves the production line.

1963 Popularity spreads to the US, and Bob Dylan’s secondThe Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan features a van on the cover. Later, fans of Grateful Dead start following tours in a camper van convoy.

1967 The “splitty” is superseded by the T2 version, which has a single “bay” windscreen.

1969 According to VW, sales are boosted by the appearance of the “Mystery Machine” van in theScooby-Doo.

1979 Production stops in Europe as a result of tighter safety regulations, and the classic “smiley-faced” T2 is superseded by the, squarer, more robust T3, nicknamed “the Wedge”. T2 assembly continues in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.

2001 VW sets fans’ pulses racing by showing a futuristic reimagining of the T2, the Microbus concept car, at the North American motor show, but plans for it are cancelled in 2005.

2011 Early Type 2s are considered valuable classic vehicles. A 1963 Samba version is sold at auction in California for $198,000.

2013 When production ceases in Brazil on December 31, 6.23m of the T1 and T2 will have been built.