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...

Damaged Audi

My car was damaged in a hotel car park - who is liable?

I left my car in the care of the Clayton Hotel at Manchester Airport while I went away for a week’s holiday. When I got the car back it was plastered in mud and after I had it washed I found scratches all down the left side. There is also damage to the sills below the doors where there are dents and the paint has been chipped off revealing bare metal. 

Derby Audi inspected the car and estimated the cost of repairs at £2675. After extensive correspondence with the hotel and their contractor, Car Park People, they refused to accept any liability and have offered £250 as a goodwill payment. Shouldn’t the hotel or its parking company pay for the repairs? 

Paul Watson

What Car? says…

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get compensation for damage for cars parked in private car parks because the operators can have restrictive terms and conditions regarding liability. 

For example, the hotel’s parking service terms and conditions state that it doesn’t accept any liability for damage unless it’s reported to them before the car is taken away from the car park. In your case, with the car covered in mud when you collected it, it would have been difficult to see the damage. In addition, the T&Cs also state that they will not be liable for damage to vehicles unless they are caused by “proven negligence or wilful default” of the contractor. 

However, legally the hotel and car park operator are liable for accidental or wilful damage caused to your car while in their care. Both companies should have public liability insurance to cover the cost of repairing your car, providing that you can prove it was damaged while in their care. 

This is important because, if you believe the car park operator was negligent, you should contact your insurance company and ask them to investigate with a view to recovering the repair costs. 

However, if you do claim on your insurance, you’ll have to pay the excess and you could lose your no claims bonus, so you’ll need to weigh up the pros and cons of this. 

If you are unable to get the hotel or car park operator to pay for repair work, we’d recommend that you take the case to the small claims court. It may also be worthwhile getting other quotes to repair the damage - this will demonstrate to the court that you’ve tried to keep the cost down by getting competitive quotes. 

Update: Shortly after Paul wrote to us and before our article was published, Car Park People got in touch with him at the request of the Clayton Hotel. He met the Director of Car Park People, who examined Paul's car and agreed to get the damage fixed. Paul says he is happy with the outcome and will use the parking service again.

Is a 1.0-litre engine big enough?

Seat Arona

I currently drive a Seat Leon 1.4 TSI 125, and I’m thinking of changing it for a new Seat Arona. How much of a difference in performance is there between my car and the Arona 1.0 TSI, given that it has three cylinders and five gears, whereas mine has four cylinders and six gears?

We only use our car for leisure, although we do take a lot of stuff with us when we go on holiday.

Geoff Bury

What Car? says…

Our road testers reckon the 1.0 TSI 115 engine will give strong enough performance for your needs. Seat also offers this engine with a less powerful 94bhp output, but we think the 113bhp version is better suited to all types of driving. It has six gears instead of the less powerful car's five, making it a more relaxed motorway cruiser. This is likely to be important to you if you're driving to a holiday destination loaded up with luggage.

We've run a Volkswagen Golf with the same 1.0 TSI engine as in the Arona, and an Audi Q2 with the 1.4 TSI engine in your Leon, as long-term test cars. While the Golf required more frequent gearchanges for swift progress around town, it was by no means sluggish and didn’t feel a great deal less powerful than the Q2. We did a lot of motorway miles in the Golf, as well as plenty of local runs, and were happy with it.

Used Seat Ateca

We’d suggest you test drive the Arona and some bigger-engined cars to compare. If you do want more performance and are prepared to raise your budget, you might want to consider a bigger family SUV, such as the Seat Ateca or Skoda Karoq.

Can I get a refund for a faulty car? 

I bought a car 18 days ago, and, on the 14th day of ownership, the clutch failed. I informed the company I’d bought the car from and arranged for my breakdown service provider to take the car back to them. 

Two days later, the dealer told me that they couldn’t start working on the car for another five days because they had a backlog of other cars to work on. They did offer me a courtesy car, but advised me I would have to pick it up, which I couldn’t do. So I decided that I would rather reject the car under the Consumer Rights Act and get my money back. 

Used car forecourt

When I stated this, the dealer’s staff became aggressive and threatened to take me to court. I was absolutely horrified. They tried to insist I keep the car, saying I would be stupid to reject it and that they would deduct mileage costs from the sale and money for some bumper protectors I’d had fitted to the car.  

I understand that they are frustrated about the sale, but I have purchased a car with a significant fault and don’t feel confident about driving it any more. 

I am willing to lose some money for mileage, but I think it’s unacceptable that the car’s clutch failed two weeks after it had been given a full service and MOT. Do I have the right to reject this car? 

Alexia Ohene

What Car? says…

You have the right to reject the car under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and receive a full refund in the first 30 days after buying it if it's not of satisfactory quality. The fact that it’s suffered the failure of a major component so soon after you bought it should be sufficient evidence of this. 

The trader isn't legally allowed to charge you for mileage done in the first 30 days, and as long as the bumper protectors can be removed and haven’t caused any damage to the bodywork, they shouldn’t charge for these, either. So you shouldn't be left out of pocket at all. 

The best way to reject the car is to write a letter stating why you're rejecting it and that you have the right to a full refund under the relevant law. Give this to the dealer, along with the keys and any paperwork. 

If the dealer doesn’t accept your rejection, report them to your local Trading Standards office and The Motor Ombudsman. You might have to start small claims court proceedings against them to get the money, but in most cases things can be resolved before it gets to court.