What Car?'s top reader stories of 2019

We answer thousands of reader questions each year, providing advice and helping owners of faulty cars to get redress from car makers. Here are some of the most popular stories from the past year...

Audi R8

What can I do about my faulty Audi R8?

Last May, I bought a 2011 Audi R8 Spyder for £60,000. It had one previous owner and 30,000 miles on the clock. 

I bought the car from JCT600, a franchised Audi dealer, and it came with a 148-point check and the provision of a year’s warranty to provide me with reassurance that if a fault did occur, it would be covered. However, the car has suffered a catalogue of problems since then, so I’ve had to take it back to my local Audi dealer repeatedly. 

First, a warning light came on to say that one of the tyres was under-inflated. Walton Audi found that one rear tyre had a nail in it and the other was worn below the legal limit, so both were replaced. 

Then the warning light came on again. This time, Walton Audi changed one of the tyre pressure sensors, because it was faulty. 

Next, as I was driving into London, I noticed steam coming off the engine, so I stopped driving and the car was recovered to Walton Audi. The diagnosis was that the expansion tank had cracked, allowing coolant to leak onto the engine. The tank was repaired and I collected the car again. 

A day later, the car’s battery failed, and I had to pay £300 for a replacement. After that, the ECU [engine control unit] warning light came on. After diagnosing a leaking gasket on the left side of the inlet manifold, Walton Audi replaced the gasket. 

Soon afterwards, the ECU light came on again, and this time the cause was the right inlet manifold gasket, which also had to be replaced. This didn’t appear to fix the problem, though, because the ECU warning light came on once more. This time, some pipes around the inlet had to be replaced. 

However, the ECU light soon came on yet again. This time, the crankshaft damper and two sensors were placed, costing me £990. 

JCT600’s used car warranty expires in a couple of weeks’ time, and I’m seriously concerned that more problems will happen, landing me with massive repair bills. 

During the past year, around a quarter of the 9000 miles the car has done have been road testing to find out about faults. Needless to say, this really has taken away my enjoyment of driving the car. 

I’ve been left feeling extremely disappointed, because the R8 Spyder was my dream car, but I no longer have any faith in it and don’t enjoy driving it, because I’m continually expecting another fault to occur. 

I’ve written to JCT600 stating that if the car develops another fault, I would like them to pay for an independent inspection once it has been fixed to ensure the issue really has been resolved. 

If all is okay, I would like another year’s warranty to give me continued peace of mind. If the car isn’t okay, I would like to reject it and either get a like-for-like replacement or receive a refund. Am I being reasonable, and do I have the right to reject the car?

Wailoon Chung

What Car? says…

The engine issues you’ve told us about sound serious and a big cause for concern, so if the dealer isn’t able to fix the car, you have the right to reject it under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This law gives a main dealer one chance to rectify a fault that happens six months or more after purchase, and yours has already exceeded this limit. Your request for another year’s warranty if the car needs to be repaired again seems reasonable, too.

However, you’re only entitled to a full refund if you reject a faulty car in the first 30 days after purchasing it. After that, the seller is allowed to deduct a reasonable amount for your use. You should get the car’s market value, though; this can be checked on our valuations tool.  

With regards to getting a like-for-like replacement, this might not be easy, because not many second-hand R8 Spyders are available and the dealer or Audi won’t buy one to do a swap for you. If you do want to swap your car, it will be easier to exchange it for a different model that JCT600 already has in stock, with the proviso that you should get a good deal to compensate for the expense and hassle you’ve had with your R8 Spyder. 

Armed with our advice, Wailoon went back to the dealer and was given the extra warranty. Audi also paid half the cost of the full service his car was due. A few weeks later, he was happy to report that he’d just taken his car for a spin on the track at Goodwood and all is well so far. 

Catalytic converter theft - why is it so common?

Catalytic converter theft

I own a 2012 Toyota Prius and I went to start it yesterday morning to drive to work and was surprised to hear a loud noise coming from the exhaust. I called out my breakdown service and the patrol told me that someone had cut out the catalytic converter from the exhaust system underneath the car. 

What can I do about replacing it and why on earth would someone do this? 

Joyce Winterson

What Car? says...

There has been a problem with catalytic converters and even entire exhaust systems being stolen from cars for some years. Replacing the catalytic converter and exhaust on a car like the Prius is expensive, so there's a demand for cheap secondhand systems. 

Unfortunately, the situation has been exacerbated recently due to a rise in the value of certain precious metals that are found in catalytic converters. In the first half of 2019 thefts of catalytic converters in London jumped to 2894; that's nearly 60% higher than the figure of 1674 for the whole of 2018. 

The catalytic converter is housed in a box on the car's exhaust system. It cleans up exhaust gases before they're expelled from the exhaust pipe.

Hybrid cars, such as the Prius, are targeted by thieves because they have two power sources – an electric motor and a petrol or diesel engine – so their catalytic converters are used less frequently to process pollutants. This means the metals inside them are less likely to corrode, so they're more valuable and therefore more desirable to thieves. 

A catalytic converter contains palladium, platinum and rhodium. Palladium is worth around £1375 per ounce, platinum is worth about £700 per ounce and rhodium £4000, and although it's illegal to pay for scrap metal with cash, illegal scrap metal merchants will buy stolen materials for cash. 

On car models where the catalytic converter is underneath the car, thieves can slide under it and simply cut it off. Those with the unit in the engine bay are less susceptible to theft. 

Catalytic converter theft

Toyota acknowledges that the 2004-2009 and 2009-2016 Prius and 2012-2018 Auris Hybrid have been particular targets for thieves. In a bid to help deter thefts, it has produced a protective casing for the catalytic converter called the Catloc, which it sells to owners at no profit for around £200 to £250 including fitting. 

If, like you, an owner needs to replace the catalytic converter and exhaust, Toyota charges £1050 for a bundle containing the catalyst, exhaust and Catloc; again this is supplied at cost, so the brand doesn't make a profit from supplying it. 

Other protective measures you can take include parking your car in a garage or somewhere that makes it difficult for anyone to access its underside, and installing CCTV and an alarm.