Car clinic: Noisy Up! clutch, best DVD player for back-seat children, removing ballpoint pen stains from leather and sat nav postcode query

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. My Volkswagen Up! is less than two years old and has done 22,000 miles. The clutch has been making odd noises when I change gear, and now my dealer tells me the car needs a new clutch plate at a cost of £700, and that this is not covered by the warranty. He insists this is the first such problem he has encountered on an Up!. Do you know if this is a common problem on this car, and whether £700 is excessive?

AB, Leicester

A. All motor manufacturers exclude clutch failure from their warranties because bad driving habits such as using the clutch pedal as a footrest (known as “riding” the clutch), will cause the clutch plate or bearing to wear out prematurely. But even with that sort of abuse 22,000 miles is still very early for a clutch to wear out. The dealer should give you a much better explanation of what has gone wrong and why.

Some Up! owners have reported a clicking noise when the clutch pedal is released. It seems that dealers have tried various cures for this, from changing the pedal assembly to replacing the clutch, to doing nothing and saying it’s just a characteristic of the car.

Certainly a worn clutch plate is unlikely to make a noise when you change gear; a worn bearing is more likely. Your dealer should be able to show you the damaged part and explain why it needs replacing, because you don’t want to be buying a new clutch if the problem actually lies elsewhere.

The price of £700 you have been quoted is not unusual, though. A large proportion of the cost of replacement (as much as 40% in some cases) will be for labour because to get to the clutch, the gearbox has to be removed first.



Q. We would like our two children to be able to watch DVDs on long journeys in the back of our Volvo XC60. The car doesn’t have screens fitted. What would you recommend?

AS, London

A. The most cost-effective way is to attach portable, battery-operated screens over the back of the two front headrests. I’d recommend a pair of Nextbase products because they are designed specifically for the purpose and come with all the accessories needed to fit and use them in the car: strong Velcro straps to attach the displays firmly to the front-seat headrests, a cable to charge the batteries — if required — from your vehicle’s 12V socket and a robust DVD mechanism to minimise disc-skipping, even on bumpy rides. They can also be detached and used elsewhere.

For about £130 the Nextbase SDV48-AM gets you two 7in screens, one of which is the master and contains the DVD player (you can also play films from a USB stick or SD card). To prevent back-seat battles over what to watch, the Nextbase SDV49-AC 9in screen twin-tablet system at about £170 has a player in each screen. Both are available at a range of retailers.

To avoid distracting the driver, the displays should be used with headphones. For younger viewers opt for the JVC HA-KD5 Tiny Phones (around £14, for age four upwards), or the Griffin GC35863 KaZoo MyPhones (around £19, for age three and up). Both are available from and include noise limiters to ensure the volume does not damage young ears.



Q. My new Audi SQ5 4×4 has ballpoint pen marks on one of the light grey leather seats. I’ve tried removing them with a leather cleaner but to no avail. Any ideas?

FB, High Legh, Cheshire

A. Ballpoint pen marks are notoriously difficult to remove because leather is porous and tends to soak up the ink. So it is always best to try to remove them as soon as possible before the ink has time to penetrate too deeply.

An old but generally effective remedy is to rub the stain with pure alcohol, available from most chemists for £3-£4 for 500ml. Apply a little to a small swab of cotton wool (don’t use a coloured cloth as the dye could be drawn out and onto the leather). Before you start on the stain try it on a small section of leather not normally in view, such as the part of the seat squab that is visible only when the seat folds forward, to make sure there is no adverse reaction.

Assuming all is well, move on to the ink stain and gently dab at it in a blotting action, starting from the outside and working in. Take your time and don’t rub as this will only spread the mark further. You should see the ink colour gradually appearing on the swab; keep turning it so that you’re always using a clean area.

Don’t try to remove the whole stain at one attempt — be patient and settle for teasing it out a little at a time.



Q. I am looking to fit an aftermarket Comand satellite navigation system to my 2011 Mercedes C-class, but I have heard that the company’s original and aftermarket systems offer only five-digit postcode search. Is this correct, and do you have any other suggestions, apart from buying a portable sat nav?

IW, Redcar, Cleveland

A. The reason five-digit postcode searches were until recently the norm for Mercedes sat navs (and some other marques) is that many European countries, including Germany, have shorter postcodes. Mercedes did not introduce six-digit searches on its sat nav systems until 2012. On pre-2012 cars it is not possible to upgrade to one of these units.

Assuming you still want to go ahead, it is indeed possible to retro-fit a Comand system to your car (Comand is the name Mercedes uses for its in-car audio, telecommunications and navigation system). We spoke to Neil Braybook of the Mercedes retro-fit specialist, who said the best model for your car would be the Comand NTG4, which includes a radio/CD player and sat nav.

Although NTG4 has some impressive features, such as a screen that unfolds electronically from the dashboard, it would only be able to do five-digit postcode searches. The system would cost about £1,440, including fitting.

If you want to be able to do full postcode searches, opt for an aftermarket unit from another supplier. You will need a “double DIN” system. DIN stands for Deutsches Institut für Normung,  a German standards body, and has been adopted as the international sizing standard for car radios and head units. A double-DIN unit aperture measures 180mm wide and 100mm high.

A good option would be Kenwood’s DNX4230DAB, produced in collaboration with Garmin, which would give you a 6.1in colour screen, digital radio, iPhone input and full postcode search. It is likely to cost about £1,200, including fitting. Find your nearest installer at





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.