Car clinic: Auction advice, faulty Ford windows, a tailgate that won't open and rusty brake discs

Car Clinic

The Car Clinic experts

Tim Shallcross used to train AA patrols to fix cars. Now he advises the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

Dave Pollard has written several Haynes manuals and has tested just about every car-related accessory.

Jason Dawe is our used car expert and has appeared on Top Gear and The Morning Show.


Q: I have a budget of about £4,000 to attend my first car auction. Do you have any tips? And are auctions still the place to get a good deal?

SH, Birmingham

A: Modern auctioneers are increasingly slick, offering better photos and more detailed descriptions of vehicles, and cleaning and delivering any cars bought. Auctions remain a good place to pick up a bargain, but there are disadvantages: you are unlikely to be able to take a car for a test drive, and you will have limited comeback if anything goes wrong — unless the car has been misdescribed by the seller.

There are also buyer charges to consider — typically 4%-5% on top of the hammer price. In the case of a £4,000 car, that would add about £200.

Try to visit a few auctions to get a feel for how they work, and what sells and what doesn’t. In your area you could try British Car Auctions in Birmingham or Measham, Derbyshire, ( or the Birmingham branch of SMA Vehicle Remarketing (

Get to the auction early, inspect the cars and write a shortlist. Read the sellers’ descriptions and talk to the auction house about what rights you will have if you buy a car that has problems. Then set yourself a maximum budget. Don’t worry if you miss the first few cars you target: it’s better to walk away than spend too much.


Q: The electric window on my Ford Fiesta is not working properly — the second time this has happened since I bought the car new, four years ago. Any idea what is going wrong?

PM, Petersfield, Hampshire

A: We take it that the window is working intermittently or is moving slowly and perhaps juddering. If there is still some movement, the problem is not with the fuse, usually the prime suspect in these cases, because that would have stopped the window dead.

It could be that all that is needed is some lubrication. You should squirt silicone spray into the channel in which the glass moves up and down (try Halfords silicone lubricant, £5.99 for 400ml at If that fails, have a look at the regulator, a scissor-shaped metal mechanism in the door frame. It’s this that makes the glass move up and down with the help of a motor. Moisture can cause the regulator to seize, especially if the window is not used often. In this case a squirt of WD-40 or GT85 lubricant should free it up. You’ll need to remove the door trim for this — a Haynes manual will tell you how. The frame is held in place by plastic pegs and some soft sealant.

The last resort is to replace the motor, which is bolted to the regulator. A new motor would cost about £150 (and a new regulator, if needed, £90) from a Ford dealer. You might be able to get one for about half that price from a breaker’s yard. Fitting either component would take a garage about two hours. Do not attempt it yourself if you are no good with a screwdriver.

Although this is the second time the window has failed, the cause could be different from the first time. You could ask your dealer for a contribution to the repair/replacement if it turns out to be a recurrent fault.


Q: The tailgate on my 14-year-old VW Golf will not open with the remote key, although the doors will. The keyhole on the tailgate is vertical and the manual key will not turn. I recently removed and recharged the battery — could this be the problem?

JS, London

A: You have two problems here, rather than one, both of them fairly common on the Golf Mk 4 and neither related to removing the battery. The first is that your lock has simply seized, which is why the manual key does not turn it. To solve this, spray a lubricant such as WD-40 or GT85 liberally into the lock and wait 24 hours, after which the key should work.

Once the lock is in the horizontal position, the boot can be unlocked only with the manual key. However, yours is in the vertical position, so the remote control should work just as well as it does on the doors. That means it’s not the key that’s at fault — it’s the tailgate release that has packed up, because of an electrical failure, a problem with the lock mechanism or a defective motor.

To get to the locking mechanism, lower the rear seats so you can climb into the luggage area, remove the screws from the corner grab handles and unclip the tailgate trim panel. Move the release lever to the left to open the tailgate and then inspect the mechanism. A common cause of failure of the motor is leaking windscreen washer fluid from the tailgate window washer, caused by the rubber pipe coming off the nozzle inside the tailgate.

Try an online parts broker such as or for a replacement motor. If a leaking washer pipe seems to be the underlying problem, cut the pipe back half an inch or so to an undamaged section and use a small cable tie to secure it permanently to the nozzle.


Q: The brake discs on my two-year-old Volvo XC90 need replacing. My garage says this is because of low mileage, which has led to a build-up of rust, and which it also blames for the vibration I have felt when braking. I am told that this repair is not covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. What can I do?

PS, Wokingham, Berkshire

A Brake discs and pads are classed as “consumables” (items designed to wear as part of their job) and so are rarely covered by warranties.

Heavy corrosion is often the result of a car standing for long periods. Corrosion starts to attack your discs almost as soon as the car stops. A light coating of rust can form overnight but is worn off on the first application of the brakes. If the car is left unused for long periods, the rust bites a bit deeper into the discs, which eventually need to be replaced.

That said, it is unusual for any sort of corrosion to cause the kind of vibration you describe, often known as brake judder. This is more usually caused by discs that are not sitting correctly on the hub or that have been warped by excessive heat. This kind of heat could be the result of sticking brake callipers. You should ask your garage to investigate and show you (or a technically savvy friend) the discs.



Got a car problem?

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