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Honest John: Do I have to pay this extortionate Italian driving fine?

View of Siena Palazzo Publico and Piazza del Campo, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Siena, Tuscany, Italy, Europe
Burnt in Siena? What to do if you've received a fine while driving abroad in a hire car Credit: Simon Montgomery/Getty Images

If your car has developed a fault, or for consumer advice, turn to Honest John by emailing [email protected]

Strada various

I received a “contravention of the Italian Highway Code” letter, 10 months after visiting Siena in a hire car. The alleged offence is “circulated in limited traffic area without authorisation”, with a fine of 107.61 euros that is very nearly £100 at the current exchange rate. I have no recollection of doing any such thing, so do I have to pay? What could happen if I ignore the warning letter? JG

Check with the Italian Consulate that this is genuine. If it is, pay up. Under a “reciprocal agreement” (that does not seem to work both ways), you could be pursued through British courts by the Italian authorities for more. 

An optimist writes

I bought a 600-mile Suzuki Ignis six months ago. Last week the clutch burned out after 4,000 miles. The Suzuki dealer and head office say there is nothing they can do towards payment for it to be repaired, as the three-year warranty does not cover the clutch. It is costing £600 to repair. Surely they are responsible? JS

Clutch life can depend on how the car is driven, but most manufacturers regard it as a “wear and tear” item and won’t cover it under warranty. But it would be worth asking for a goodwill payment.

Question marque

What are your thoughts on using the pre-accident system of the Toyota C-HR? JB

You don’t “use” them in the traditional sense – such advanced safety systems are there to save your life and/or that of others. You can’t switch them off. And why would you want to?

Blown in the wind

Why don’t electric cars have a series of small fan blades, like turbines, in order to provide additional electricity as the car travels at speed? DB

Because such a system would cause more energy loss through wind resistance than the gain it would provide.

Great British brake-off

Recently I had use of a courtesy car with an automatic gearbox. I found it surprisingly difficult learning to left-foot brake when manoeuvring, as you frequently advise. My left leg and foot kept treating the brake pedal as a clutch, making large clumsy movements, making retardation very abrupt. Were I ever to change to an auto, a great deal of practice would be required. What do you think? TS

It can take practice. For some people the idea of one pedal for each foot is entirely natural - most famously, racing drivers. Others can't break the habits of a lifetime.

Caught in slips?

Is it a clutch or a gearbox problem that's dogging a 12-year-old Nissan Qashqai?

My 12-year-old Nissan Qashqai 1.6 Acenta is slow, drags changing gear, makes a noise and then eventually picks up. First and reverse are better. I understand that the gearbox is not a good feature on this car. Would it be clutch and/or gears? CM

This must be one of the first Qashqais. The 1.6 was always slow and underpowered. But if the engine speeds up and the car doesn’t, the clutch is slipping. 

Discussing Uganda

My daughter has held a British driving licence for 20 years. She lives and drives in Uganda, but visits family in the UK every year. I am trying to get weekly insurance cover for her but can only find temporary cover if she has been resident here for the last three years, or is hiring from a registered rental company. My insurer will reluctantly do it, but has quoted extortionate rates. Any suggestions? JM

Try aplan.co.uk or dayinsure.com

Tyre straits

What 235/55 R17 tyres would you recommend for a Ford Kuga Titanium X 2.0 TDCi with permanent 4WD, for all-year use? Is it essential to change all four at once? NH

It’s absolutely essential to change all four at the same time. All four must be the same type for safety, and within 3mm difference in tread depth or you can damage the 4WD system. I'd go for Continental AllSeason Contacts, Michelin Cross Climate SUV, Goodyear Vector 4-Seasons or Pirelli Scorpion Verde all-season.

Czechs and balances

Is a Fiat 500 better for a long-legged teenager than a Kia Picanto?

We looked at a Skoda Citigo as my son’s first car, but it was too small for his long legs. The Kia Picanto was better. To put a spanner in the works, we then looked at a used Fiat 500, which my son loved for the leg room and styling. My practical head says a Picanto is better value. Do you have a view? DF

A 500 has excellent front seats, wide door openings and plenty of headroom. I have one that is now 11 years-old. They are enormously improved by fitting all-weather tyres, which transform the ride and steering as well as the roadholding in winter. But the Picanto’s seven-year warranty and better handling should hold sway.

River ooze

I have bought a 2015 BMW 318i  from a Toyota main dealer with a six-month warranty. When I open the rear door on the driver’s side, water pours from the drain hole then stops. The other doors are OK. Where does the fault lie? CW

Water flows through all doors all the time. For it to collect like that, some of the drain holes must be blocked. When the car is parked on a slope, water then collects in the undrained section of the door bottom. The answer is to clean all the drain holes with a wooden kebab stick (wooden so it does not scratch and damage the paint).

Cat a tonic

I need to replace my fabulous 2009 Jaguar XF diesel, which has done 86,000 miles. I would like a smaller XE, but they are mainly diesel. Are there any potential problems to look for in a three-year-old XE? What other car would be comparable? BM

If you like XEs go for the petrol version – there are no reported problems with the first 2.0-litre Ford SCTI engine (later replaced by JLR-built Ingenium units). It’s better with an automatic gearbox than with the manual one. But for a sublime drive, go for the new 55mpg Toyota Camry hybrid.

High five

Loads better: what's a good replacement for a previous-generation Dacia Logan MCV?

We want to replace our 2008 Dacia Logan estate with a used car that has a similar load volume, but without the seven seats. Our budget is about £10,000. Any ideas? DC

You must have the original Logan estate that was based on the long-wheelbase Renault Kangoo. The current Logan MCV was never a seven-seater, but it's still the cheapest estate car (unless you’re buying something pre-registered and heavily discounted, such as a pre-August revamp Vauxhall Astra estate). 

Slowin’ Ranger

I have a 2015 Ford Ranger 2.2 manual. It has recently displayed the drivetrain warning light, initially intermittently then more frequently, losing power as it goes into protected mode. It has been with the supplying Ford dealer for four days for diagnostic tests, with no success. Any ideas? MN

It might be due to a disparity between the tread depths of the tyres, which the 4WD system interprets as slippage, causing it to engage when not needed and to wear unnecessarily.

Electricity supply

You recommended the Kia e-Niro twice recently. Are they available in this country? And, if not, when will they be? BT

They’ve been in the UK since April 2019. The e-Niro is one of the best electric cars, but demand exceeds supply and they cost £33,000 after the government’s £3,500 EV grant.

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