Driving down your repairs bill

Running a car is not cheap, but Sophie Hazan spoke to a Leeds mechanic about how to drive down the cost with a spot of DIY.

old-fashioned" mechanic Mark Frankland claims to go the extra mile with his no-nonsense approach to car repairs.

No job is too big or small for the 34-year-old owner of Motor Marque at West Park, who says his job is simple – to keep people on the road.

Mark knows how expensive it is to keep a car running, which is why Consumerwatch tracked him down to hear what people can do to keep their repair bills down.

"It's a bit boring, but prevention is the key," he said.

"If people don't have their car regularly serviced then they could cause more damage than the normal wear and tear.

"The person who drives around ignoring the strange sounds their car might be making could find that what was a worn disc has now damaged the wheel drum.

"Sadly this is exactly what seems to be happening. People are preferring to skip services and we are handing out huge bills because they didn't get that strange noise investigated."

He added: "The aim is to provide an old-fashioned service so that people can call in and get their car seen to that day."

Here are Mark's top five DIY repair tips.

Know Your Oil

"Oil is the 'blood' of every vehicle, crucial for a healthy motor," Mark said.

"You can scrimp on brand as long as you get oil for your engine type.

"This can be found in the car manual or online."

Every few hundred miles check oil levels. Take the dipper out, wipe with a cloth, put it back in, pull it out again and check the indicator level. If the 'oil can' symbol shows on the dashboard stop the engine immediately and top up.

Bright Spark: Check Your Bulbs

A common MOT fail, cause of accidents and a reason for the police to stop you, is faulty light bulbs.

You can check yours by beaming your lights on a wall. You should be able to see whether they are out and even out of balance.

Mark said: "Many modern vehicles are fitted with high-voltage Xenon lamps which are dangerous and not to be tampered with.

"If you are able to do it yourself, the bulb is located inside the bonnet round the back of the headlight. It will need unclipping from the wires and when fitting the new bulb, never touch the glass as it interferes with the surface causing the bulb to fail rapidly.

"Make sure the bulb is re-wired correctly before testing. Above all else do not feel like a failure if you need expert help, many bulbs now are difficult to change, unlike on older cars, due to changing fittings and shapes.

"A trustworthy garage should be able to change the most difficult bulb in less than half an hour. Although an initial cost, it's cheaper than having a crash because you weren't seen."

Stop: Brake Maintenance

Faulty or worn out brakes can not only cost a fortune to replace, if neglected they could cost a life.

Mark advised: "The brake fluid needs checking on a regular basis. The brake fluid reservoir is usually located towards the back of the engine bay on the driver's side and is transparent with minimum and maximum guides on the outside.

"If it is low, topping up asap is crucial. Firstly ensure the area near the reservoir is wiped clean. Lift the cap and add the brake fluid slowly to the maximum line.

"Take care as brake fluid is a hazardous substance and strips paint in seconds. If it is spilt on bodywork wash off immediately with cold water. Replace cap and check again in a few days to be sure no more needs adding."

Don't Blow a Fuse: Change it

Windscreen wipers, the radio and electric windows often stop working due to a blown fuse.

Mark said: "It's easy to check if this is the case and replace it at home. Firstly, locate the fuse box – this is usually inside the car, somewhere under the dashboard or in or around the glove box area. "Check each fuse by pulling out and looking inside at the link – if it's broken, the fuse has blown. Fuses are usually coloured and have the amp rating stamped on, so make sure the replacement matches and just slot in."

Total Wipeout – Handle With Care

Ineffective windscreen wipers are often the cause of MOT fails and can cause noise and poor vision.

Mark said: "Perhaps my best piece of advice is for drivers to be sure to gently lift the wipers from the screen during winter months before they start the engine – but even overnight.

"Frost sticks the rubber blade to the screen and can rip the blade, or damage the costly wiper motor. Blades are cheap and easy to replace, motors cost about 200."

TV licensing campaign sends citizens for advice

failing to pay your TV licence could land you in court – something that bosses as Leeds Citizens Advice Bureau are investigating.

CAB manager Mike Throssell is looking into whether the non-payment of the TV licence that costs 145.50 a year should be decriminalised.

Nearly 80 per cent of the TV licence enquiries received at Leeds CAB related to problems paying the bill. Half of these clients are disabled, while two-thirds have children living in the home.

Yet currently there is no exemption from paying the TV licence for clients on low income, even those living on the poverty line.

Poor and rich people are charged the same fixed amount, which you either pay or risk being fined up to 1,000.

Viewers aged 75 or older do not have to pay for a licence. Some care home residents and those registered blind may pay a reduced amount.

Mr Throssell said: "Presently the TV licence is treated as a tax, and non-payers can be prosecuted through the courts.

"However it would seem much fairer to treat it like other utility bills and leave collection to the civil courts where other debts could be taken into account.

"No one would reasonably expect to be fined for not paying their telephone bill.

"The criminal penalties for viewing without a licence can be as much as 1,000.

"And as payment arrangements start from the expiry of the last licence, clients are left paying for the period they have missed, the new licence and the fine.

"The poorest find this a difficult struggle, and risk re-offending."

Leeds Citizens Advice Bureau dealt with over 30,000 different client issues last year across its five main bureaux and outreach and telephone services.

Go to www.adviceguide.org.uk.