Five questions you were afraid to ask about your car answered

Experienced mechanic, Daniel O’Brien, of Hulley Road MOT & Service Centre, Macclesfield, answers the questions many car owners want the answers to, but are afraid to ask...

1. How do I know when my brake pads need changing?

There are a number of symptoms that might suggest it’s time to change your brake pads, but they mainly fall into three categories: unusual noises, changes in the way the car feels when braking, and visual clues:

  1. If your brakes start making clicking, screeching or grinding sounds, and these continue for more than a short period when you first start driving, there’s a good chance your pads need to be changed. Some cars include a piece of metal that extends into the pads to deliberately make a high-pitched squeal, to alert the driver when the pads have run out.
  2. If the brakes feel like they are pulsating when braking - that is, grabbing hard and then releasing over and over again very quickly when you apply the brake - or if the car feels like it’s pulling to one side when you’re braking, it’s likely you need new brake pads.
  3. If you can see grooves appearing in your brake discs through the spokes of your wheels, this is also a sign a replacement pads are needed.
Man opening bonnet

2. Does ‘premium’ fuel make any difference to the way my car runs and, if so, what?

The difference with the premium fuels you see at many petrol stations is that they contains more octane - an ingredient in petrol that allows it to compress more easily in the cylinder, and potentially improve power and efficiency.

Different cars respond differently to premium fuels, so it may be worth trying it out in your tank, and seeing whether you notice a visible improvement in mileage and, if so, whether this justifies the extra cost.

Another difference is that some premium fuels include detergents that can help remove build-ups and blockages in the engine. If you don’t normally use premium fuel, it may be worth filling up with a single tank-full occasionally to ensure any build-ups are removed, as this will improve the mileage you get when you return to normal fuel.

3. What’s the difference between normal and run-flat tyres?

Run-flat tyres are designed to give drivers added convenience if they get a puncture. Whereas a traditional tyre will deflate if it loses air pressure, run-flat tyres have strengthened side-walls that mean you can still drive on them for a short distance after you get a puncture. A light on the dashboard will let you know if you’ve lost pressure in one of your tyres.

They are only an emergency measure, and not designed for long-term use following a flat - most manufacturers only recommend driving for around 50 miles on a punctured run-flat tyre.

Filling tyres with air

4. How much should I be paying for a mechanic’s time?

This is a difficult one to answer, as rates will vary significantly depending on the location, how well equipped the garage is, and whether the garage is a manufacturer franchise or independent.

Rates at franchised garages - those that trade in association with a major car brand - will tend to be higher, but this comes with the guarantee that the mechanic will have the specific training and equipment for your particular vehicle. However, you definitely shouldn’t rule out independent garages, as many of them work to the same standards, have mechanics with the exact same qualifications, and have access to the same technical equipment and information as franchised operations.

The best way to be sure you’re getting a good deal is to speak to a few different garages and compare their rates and their facilities.

Before you choose any particular garage, it’s a good idea to take a look around first to get an idea of how well it’s run - if it’s clean and tidy, that’s a good sign. Ask friends and family for a recommendation too.

Finally, always try to speak to a mechanic rather than a sales person - they will be able to tell you what your car needs, rather than trying to sell you additional services.

Mechanic under car

5. What does my car’s warranty cover?

Warranties usually cover all the main components of your car against faults and defects. This will include elements like the engine, transmission system, electricals, the gearbox, steering, suspension and braking systems.

Normal wear and tear is usually excluded, so routine replacement of things like tyres, brake pads, lights and catalytic converters probably won’t be included. Third-party systems, such as audio and navigation systems, may be covered by a separate warranty from their manufacturer.

If you’re getting repair work done under warranty, it’s probably a good idea to go to a main dealer, as this will make the process of claiming the money back from the manufacturer more straightforward.

Read our guide about other checks you can do to make sure you’re safe on the road.

Swinton Insurance is not liable for any of the views expressed by tradesmen within this article.

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