Car clinic: Do I need a breathalyser in France, faulty parking sensors and a surprisingly old Civic

Your motoring problems solved


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.


Q. I thought the French government had introduced a law requiring motorists to have a breathalyser with them at all times, but my French friends tell me this is not the case. When I consulted the AA at Eurotunnel, however, I was told it is still a requirement. Who is right?

WL, Tunbridge Wells

A. The truth lies between the two. The law states that all drivers in France — including visitors — have to carry at least one fully functioning and in-date breathalyser, known in French as an “éthylotest”.

In practice this means at least two testers on board, because they are single-use devices, so when one has been used, another must be on board to allow the journey to be continued lawfully. At present, however, there is no penalty for those who break the law.

The fine was going to be a mere €11 (£9) but there was stiff opposition to the law, not least because several independent magazine tests suggested that many breathalysers were inaccurate. The French government has indefinitely postponed enforcement but to save face has left the law in place. The outcome is that while drivers are required to have a working breathalyser on board, there is no consequence if they don’t.

In France breathalysers are commonly available for the price of €2 for two, so it’s not a bad idea to pick up a pack next time you are there — should you be stopped by the gendarmes you will at least be seen to be complying with road rules.

Note that the maximum permitted concentration of alcohol in the blood of drivers on French roads is 0.5mg/ml, as opposed to the UK’s considerably more tolerant 0.8mg/ml.



Q. My 2006 VW Passat estate, which has factory-fitted rear parking sensors, has an unusual problem. The parking system bleeps sometimes when nothing is behind the car. I can see no pattern to the fault other than that it’s more frequent in cold weather. Any ideas?

MF, Sutton Coldfield

A. A fault with the sensors is indicated by one long bleep when reverse gear is selected and then no further bleeps. You seem to be getting a false signal — the sensors detecting an obstacle where there isn’t one. It can be hard to pin down the cause because of its intermittent nature, but you can at least carry out some basic checks for yourself.

Sometimes the sensors detect a slope in the road.  Look carefully at the car’s parked attitude when you next get the problem; do you park the car at the bottom of the slope with the nose pointing uphill overnight? The sensors might detect the level tarmac behind by mistake. Or might there be a kerbstone or long grass immediately behind?

If you have a towbar fitted, one or more sensors might be detecting its presence from time to time.

The ambient temperature and different atmospheric conditions can also affect the sensitivity of sensors, so they might detect the towbar only below a certain ambient temperature. It is not unknown for car owners to remove the towing hitch when it’s not in use, to prevent such problems.

Another possibility is that a sensor is loose, causing it to move and sometimes point in the wrong direction — down at the road surface, for example.



Q. The handbook of my 13-plate Honda Civic 1.8 i-VTEC ES claims the car has a useful feature known as “coming home/leaving home lights”. This feature apparently ensures that when it’s dark the headlights remain on for a short while after you leave the car, and that they come on as soon as you unlock the car. Either I can’t make it work on my Civic, or it’s missing. Can you help?

CE, Maldon

A. Honda says that early examples of the new Civic — which was launched for the 2012 model year — did not have the feature you describe. Although your car is a 13-plate model, registered on or after March 1, 2013, it was actually manufactured in 2012, so it is an “early” version.

Handbooks are almost always designed and printed some time before the first cars come off the production line, and it is for this reason that they typically include all the features likely to be fitted — usually with asterisks to denote where they might be an option rather than standard.

The same applies to promotional brochures. To cover itself for the inevitable changes in specification that are made before cars finally appear in showrooms, Honda — like all car makers — makes it clear in lengthy disclaimers that everything is subject to change.

For example, the disclaimer in the current Civic brochure says, “The manufacturers reserve the right to vary their specifications, including colours, with or without notice and at such times in such manner as they think fit. Major as well as minor changes may be involved.”

The surprising aspect, in your case, is that your Civic was already at least four months old by the time it was registered. This is quite a timelag, particularly as Civics are now manufactured in Swindon. If your documents suggest you were getting a newer model with more features (including, perhaps, the coming-home lights), you could make representations to your dealer, to Honda directly or even to Trading Standards — although that last body is a long shot in view of the length of time you have had the car.




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.