Car clinic: How to deal with neighbour's wreck, faulty Mondeo diesel and when to use Toyota's "B" gear

The Car Clinic experts

Nick Freeman is a solicitor who runs a legal practice in Manchester and specialises in road traffic law.

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


Q | My neighbour has left a decrepit old car parked on his driveway for months. (I think he has vague plans of restoring it.) I’m about to put my house on the market and am worried this eyesore could put off potential buyers. Is there anything I can do to get the vehicle removed?

BE, Cambridge

A | Assuming the owner has obtained a Sorn (statutory off-road notification) a car parked on private property does not have to display a tax disc, be insured or be roadworthy. So no matter how bad a shape the car is in, your neighbour is not breaking any laws. Instead your complaint is described in law as a “nuisance”.

There are two types of nuisance: public and private. A public nuisance is a criminal wrong and is defined as an act or omission that obstructs, damages, or inconveniences the rights of the community. This is not the case with your neighbour’s rotting car.

However, it might conceivably be considered a private nuisance. This is a civil wrong, so would be tried in a civil court and could result in a fine or other form of reasonable restitution. A private nuisance is defined as making unreasonable, unwarranted or unlawful use of one’s property, in a manner that substantially interferes with the enjoyment or use of another individual’s property, without there being a trespass or invasion of someone else’s land.

The law also recognises that landowners have the right to the unimpaired condition of their property and to reasonable comfort and convenience in its occupation.

All this might persuade you that you have a strong case — but the test for whether something is a nuisance is actually very high and has nothing to do with your own, subjective opinion. Examples of nuisances interfering with the comfort, convenience or health of an occupant are foul odours, noxious gases, loud noises and excessive light. The interference must be “substantial” in the court’s judgment, and that tends to mean something hazardous.

Your neighbour’s car may well be an eyesore but it is almost certainly not a hazard. I suggest instead you resort to friendly entreaties and ask him to cover it while you conduct house viewings. NF


Q | My 2007 Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi has a potentially dangerous fault. Without warning the engine can cut out, and power is also lost to the steering and brakes. Diagnostic tests have found no fault, so my dealer replaced the fuel filter, but the fault has recurred. Now he’s recommending the same solution. Do you have any better suggestions?
SC, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire

A |  A poor fuel supply caused by a dirty filter can cause an intermittent drop in fuel pressure, which will make the engine cut out. This explains why — in the absence of any recorded fault — your garage fitted a new filter. But trying the same remedy twice makes no sense.

We think the problem probably lies instead with the crankshaft sensor or camshaft sensor, both of which have been known to develop intermittent faults on 2-litre TDCi engines of this vintage. The crankshaft sensor detects engine speed, and the camshaft sensor identifies where the engine is in its four-stroke cycle, so that the car’s computer knows when to open the fuel injectors. If it does not receive a signal from either of these sensors, diesel will not be injected and the engine will stop.

It’s hard to be sure which sensor is at fault until you try replacing one, but the camshaft sensor is the more common cause. The sensors are easy to get to (and labour should amount to no more than an hour). Expect to pay about £40 in replacement costs for the camshaft sensor, and £50 for the crankshaft one.

Be assured that when your engine cuts out there will still be power assistance for the brakes for about three presses of the pedal. If you have a manual gearbox the power steering will still work while the engine is turning over, so try to stay in gear until you get to a safe position. TS


Q | My 2010 Toyota Prius T-Spirit has a “B” gear. I’ve been told that when engaged it will apply an “engine brake” and that it should be used at low-to-medium speeds (less than 40mph). Will it damage the engine if I use it at motorway speeds? LS, Slough

A |  We are used to slowing down whenever the accelerator is released because in a conventional car when you take your foot off the pedal the wheels force the engine to turn, making it pump air in, compress it and push it out of the exhaust. This all takes quite a lot of effort, so the wheels slow down — an effect known as engine braking. You can increase the effect by changing down a gear: that way the wheels have to turn the engine faster, taking even more effort — useful if you are going down a long hill.

The hybrid Prius is different because its wheels are permanently connected to an electric motor. Because such motors operate with very little friction, the engine braking effect is minimal. However, when the pedal is released on the Prius, the motor turns into a generator and charges the battery, which means it has significant resistance and slows the wheels down.

The Prius’s “B” or “brake” gear simply increases the level of engine braking. Using the “B” gear at high speed will not do any damage, but it will waste energy and increase fuel usage. It is really designed for long descents. TS



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