Car clinic: Dealing with old tyres, retro-fitting automatic boot lids, affordable open top sports cars

Your motoring problems solved

The Car Clinic experts

Jason Dawe is our used-car expert and has appeared on Top Gear and the Morning Show

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

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


Q. My wife is finding the heavy boot lid of her newly acquired BMW hard to open — so much so that she has resorted to putting her shopping on the back seats. When new, the car came with a self-opening tailgate as an optional extra, but BMW will not fit one retrospectively. Do you know of anyone who can?

GD, Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan

To modify the tailgate, find a specialist that adapts vehicles for disabled drivers. One such is David Relph Adaptations (, based in Norfolk. The system offered by the company comprises a large strut (effectively like a large cycle pump) fixed at its base to the vehicle floor and at the other end to the tailgate, plus a small compressor hidden out of sight.

When the tailgate opening system is activated, either by the remote key fob or by a manual switch inside the car, the tailgate lock releases and the compressor pumps air into the strut. This in turn pushes the rod out of the end, and the tailgate opens. The tailgate can still be opened and closed manually if required. The price would be £2,034 including VAT and installation, which would take between one and two days.



Q. What will happen to my 10-year-old tyres when I replace them? I wouldn’t want them sold on and for someone to have an accident.

PS, Guildford, Surrey

You are right to replace your tyres after 10 years because, although there is no legal age limit for them, this is the time limit recommended by major manufacturers and safety associations. The rubber compound used to make them degrades over time, even if the tread is still within legal limits.

Unfortunately there is no practical way for drivers to stop their old tyres from being sold on. There are regulations covering the sale of second-hand tyres, but the age of a tyre is not one of the factors considered and the rules are believed to be regularly flouted. The official position is that used tyres must be thoroughly inspected for flaws inside and out, pressure- tested and then marked “part-worn” on the sidewall in letters at least 4mm high.

In reality, few part-worn tyres are labelled in this way, and even if they have been, it is impossible to tell whether any safety checks have been carried out. So anyone considering buying part-worn tyres should avoid buying any tyre more than five years old, whether the markings are present or not.

To check the age of any tyre produced from 2000 look for the four-digit code at the end of a series of letters that begin “DOT” (a reference to the US Department of Transportation) on the sidewall. The numbers stand for the week and year of manufacture, so “4508”, for example, would be week 45 of 2008.



Q. I’m thinking of spending £10,000-£15,000 on an open-top sports car, both as a bit of fun and as an investment. I would like to run it for five years and then sell it at a profit. What would you recommend?

LC, Anslow, Staffordshire

Depreciation-free motoring is possible — as long as you choose wisely and keep your purchase in good shape. My first suggestion would be a TVR Griffith. Although TVR has not made a car for years, the marque still has a loyal following and an active owners’ club ( What’s more, there is a good supply of parts. Griffith values have remained static for the past couple of years and are now beginning to creep up. Your budget should just stretch to a decent car of 1995-6 vintage.

Also consider a Vauxhall VX220. This mid-engined, two-seat, targa-topped sports car was built at the Lotus factory in Hethel, Norfolk, and is based on the same underpinnings as the Lotus Elise.

It was produced from 2000-5, and later models had a 2-litre turbocharged engine and a 0-60mph time of 4.7 seconds.  They fetch £12,000 and upwards. (Earlier models with a less-powerful 2.2-litre engine are cheaper.) Superb performance and handling combined with distinctive styling and relatively low production numbers have made this car a future classic.

If you are more concerned with the romance of open-top motoring, consider the MG RV8. Only 2,000 were built between 1993 and 1995. The RV8 looks like the original MG roadster but has a 190bhp 3.9-litre V8 engine. The V8 gives it a glorious engine note and performance is lively. Prices start at about £12,000, rising to £18,000.




Got a car problem?

Email your question to, or write to Car Clinic, Driving, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST, with a daytime phone number, your address and as much detail about your car as possible. We can’t reply personally, so please don’t send original documents or SAEs. Advice is offered without legal responsibility.