Archive | November, 2013

Motor Blogger Says – Drive For The Season

Well, we – in the UK at least – have been lucky with the weather so far this winter. Certainly it’s been a bit chilly but otherwise – like the man said who fell from a skyscraper every time he passed a window, ‘so far so good’. But, like that man’s ultimate outcome, things can swiftly change for the worse as the fickle finger of Mother Nature gets a bit of a strop on. If your used car is your pride and joy or if you are buying a new car, it’s time to take care.

At any time we could suddenly see the first snow flurry of this dark and dismal season; some northerly parts of the country have already had a first taste of this year’s winter worst feature and temperatures could drop significantly anytime now. With that in mind, now’s the time for Motor Blogger to remind you of the tips for driving on snow and ice.

Keep to the main roads as they’re more likely to be salted. Also bear in mind that after the frost has gone, ice can remain in areas which are shaded by trees and buildings – and it forms there first, so be careful in the evening as the temperature drops.

It may seem obvious yet every year people do forget, so ensure you have de-icer and a scraper. And don’t be one of those people – and despite all the warnings they are still out there – who only scrape a small area and drive looking through a miniscule clear patch that quickly mists over. Clear the whole screen to be able to see properly and don‘t set off until you‘re satisfied.

If the road is slippery when you start off, try it in second gear, releasing the clutch and accelerating gently, absolutely avoiding high revs – this will help prevent wheel spin. Wheel-spin could cause the car to slew around. As you drive, stay in higher gears to help avoid that same wheel-spin. In an automatic be gentle with your feet, and use whatever gearbox features that the car handbook says will help in slippery conditions. There may be a suitable setting.

It seems obvious, but cars go in ditches every winter because drivers haven’t taken icy roads seriously enough. If it’s cold outside treat wet looking patches with great care – they could be ice, not water. Stopping distances are increased by up to 10 times in icy conditions, so leave plenty of distance between your car and the car in front – plan so that you’re not relying on your brakes to stop – on ice they may not do that for you. If it is really slippery slow down early and use the gears to do it.

If the worst happens and your car loses grip and starts to slide sideways, take your foot off the accelerator, and point the front wheels where you want to go. These are just a few pointers to get you thinking and preparing. Being mentally prepared as well as having the right equipment is vital, so think about any past winter problems and what you need to do to avoid them or overcome them if they recur this year. Take a leaf out of the Boy Scout manual – be prepared.

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Drivers Must Be More Vigilant

Anyone who has seen the television public service film about the motorcyclist crashing into the side of a car that has pulled out of a junction can’t help but be alarmed at how easily and suddenly accidents can happen. As drivers, it is easy to become complacent and we forget the constant need for vigilance on the roads.

It seems that fifty-eight per cent of drivers say they have been cut-up by another road user who didn’t look properly, according to a recent Institute of Advanced Motorist’s poll. Forty per cent of these near misses took place in 30 mile per hour zones, apparently. Fifty-eight per cent of drivers are most likely to blame others for not concentrating. These incidents have become known as SMIDSYs – ‘sorry mate, I didn’t see you’. The usual reaction when an accident occurs.

The Cyclists Touring Club have been campaigning for years about SMIDSYs – other driver’s negligence – when it comes to bikes. They say, rather hysterically, “Bad driving intimidates and harms innocent people. Cyclists and pedestrians are particularly endangered by negligent or aggressive driving because we’re not encased in a few tonnes of metal every time we set out on the roads.”

The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) have analysed the figures and note that failure to look is a contributory factor in 29% of serious collisions and 36% of minor accidents. Often it is cyclists, motorised or otherwise, who come off worse. 83% of drivers said that these accidents would decrease by improving drivers awareness of two-wheelers. This is rather stating the obvious and, on the other side of the argument, 59% of drivers thought that there should be more enforcement of the law for cyclists. Fair comment.

The IAM wants drivers to signal clearly and be more alert to two-wheeled vehicles by checking mirrors carefully, both behind and down the sides of cars, especially when making a manoeuvre. Many cyclists in particular have been cut up by cars turning left. IAM‘s head honcho, Simon Best says:

“SMIDSY moments are happening far too often, and very few people are prepared to take responsibility for their part in them. It’s always someone else’s fault. All road users need to be more aware of who they are sharing the road with, and the risks they present. Other road users’ intentions can often be guessed by their body language and position on the road, so drive defensively, and leave room so that if somebody does do something unexpected, you have time to deal with it.”

All good advice, of course, but all road users whether on foot, two wheels or four, need to be vigilant. You can’t always blame the driver for your own stupidity.

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Staying Safe At Night

As usual, the pointless exercise when we put the clocks back means that the colder months are officially rolling in. And while this may have given us all an extra hour in bed – for one night only – it also means the evenings are becoming much darker, much earlier. So what does this mean for drivers? For most, the five o’clock commute home will be reminiscent of night time with very low visibility, automatically putting us in a much more dangerous environment than during the peak of summer.

To ensure the safety of all drivers and cyclists (given the recent news from London) during this time, we’ve compiled some useful tips for drivers this winter. For example, plan your journey. In Gloucestershire there is a notorious roundabout where accidents often occur. Regular drivers using this route have developed a way to avoid it by planning ahead.

If you have a long night time drive build in extra breaks into your journey and check all car lights before setting off. Check that the indicators, rear lights, brake lights, sidelights, headlights and main beams are all working properly. Regularly clean your lights and windows. You don’t need any other restraints on your visibility! Get in the habit of giving your lights a regular wipe.

Operate your own dazzle policy. If you find you’re being blinded by someone else’s full beam, slow down (if it’s safe to do so) or even stop until they’ve gone. Don’t match it with your own full beam – that‘s heading for road-rage territory. Increase gaps between yourself and the vehicle in front. Make sure you build in extra time and space between yourself and the car in front as you won’t be able to see hazards as easily as you can in daylight. In other words, keep alert.

Make an extra effort to look out for other road users. Pedestrians on country lanes without pavements; cyclists, tottering revellers, they’re all much harder to see at night, even if they’re wearing fluorescent jackets or luminous bunny ears.

Many motorists find night driving a challenge at the best of times but in winter weather even the most competent drivers will encounter additional hazards. Making simple changes to your driving techniques could make all the difference to both your own and other road-users safety during the dark winter months. We might be preaching to the choir but it never hurts to be reminded about road safety.

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MB Drives A Mazda

Pictured is the Mazda 6 Tourer 165PS Sports Nav; a rather clumsy name for a very versatile and sporting family car. The standard version costs £24,995 and the one in our image costs £530 more, thanks to the pearlescent paint, which is very striking despite not being enhanced by the dull weather.

Long gone are the days when Mazda could be considered the second-class choice. The fit and finish on this 6 is first class. Inside it is nice and leathery with a very comfortable driver’s seat offering loads of adjustment and posterior heating. Keyless entry obviously; a reversing camera, a quality Bose surround system with no less than eleven speakers and TomTom technology all add up to a very well featured car. Even the passenger seat has four-way adjustability. Outside there’s 19” alloys, LED running lights and Bi-Xenon lamps with an adaptive lighting system.

Under the bonnet lives a straightforward two litre, four cylinder DOC petrol engine pushing out, as the name suggests, 165PS along with 210Nm of torque and a modest 136g/km of the nasty stuff. In the very capacious boot (extendable by lowering the rear seats as usual) Mazda have supplied a ‘space-saver’ spare wheel. Personally I like a full size spare but it’s still way better than those wretched kits.

So what’s it like to drive? Surprisingly good. As a perfectly happy Mazda owner in the past I was looking forward to this car and it is great to report that I really enjoyed the drive. The Mazda 6 Tourer is not hugely fast obviously, but it can certainly crack on when required. It doesn’t feel fast either but 62mph comes up in a brisk 9.1 seconds. That’s plenty for safe and secure motoring and, in any event, that figure belies the snappy in-gear overtaking performance. On the road the car feels planted and settled with a good combination of ride and handling so any long trips will be dealt with without arriving feeling like a wet rag.

The Mazda6 Tourer is what most families need. Roomy, yet easy to park; quick yet dependable. As mentioned I have previously owned a Mazda 3 that went everywhere reliably and without complaint. This new car is a real step up from that.

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Winter Classic Car Care

For most of us the daily grind will involve driving somewhere. We have become used to our cars starting and performing properly, even in the depths of winter, such is their dependability. Classic cars however require a rather more dedicated approach.

Any car over, say, twenty years old, is likely to be feeling its age and the astute owner will ensure that pretty much any small problem or minor breakdown can promptly be resolved by ensuring that the car is equipped for the job. These days motorists are complacent and are rendered helpless when it comes to DIY repairs; but, to be fair, modern cars are way too complicated for most anyway and we need to rely on specialists in vehicle servicing. This is not the classic car way.

It’s important to remember that auto science has moved on in leaps and bounds and older cars were more likely to suffer problems even when new. With a classic car it makes sense to check all the fluids, belts and moving parts before setting off on any journey and going tooled-up when on the road. It’s obviously impossible to carry the entire contents of the garage in the boot but it is a good idea to take some essential items to deal with the odd eventuality.

Packing a toolbox with a generous selection of the right tools is a no-brainer but it’s easy to get carried away. Don’t forget those basic items that are always needed but never seem to be at hand. Also, as anyone who has ever suffered a breakdown knows, you are rarely wearing overalls at the time. A pair will roll up easily into a corner and could have a pair of those snappy rubber gloves in the pocket.

All classic owners need spare parts and your local specialists can usually find the most obscure things. Seeking out appropriate parts that are manageable at the roadside makes a lot of sense. Fan belts, starter motors and fuel pumps are all notorious, although, of course, there’s a limit to what can be carried. The serious minded may feel that a portable power pack – which these days are light and compact – wouldn’t hurt either.

Finally, a little box containing the usual bits and pieces is essential. Fuses, wire (assorted) and gaffer tape, for example. Often, a lot can be achieved with very little but there is one thing so important, like life itself, that cannot be omitted and that’s a can of WD40. Whoever came up with that should go down in history as the patron saint of drivers!

If none of the above works then a tow rope and a mobile should be your last resort. In the meantime it pays to remember that winter can take its toll on any classic or vintage car and it may well be that the best course of action is to lay the car up over the darker, damp months. Correct car storage is a bit of an art form. You can leave it to professional storage firms or, with a bit of thought and planning, your garage could become a place of hibernation. Use the winter months for maintenance and be ready for the Spring when you can take to the road again. Just don’t forget the toolkit and some wet wipes.

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Let There Be Light

An estimated 2.6 million cars are being driven illegally on the roads with defective lights, a survey has found. Over one in ten vehicles checked by the authorities across ten major UK cities was found to have a failed headlight, sidelight, rear or brake-light which would significantly increase the risk of an accident.

The scale of the problem is also reflected in MOT failure rates with 1.16 million cars tested in 2012 falling short of required standards because of the condition of their lights.

The survey coincides with trade reminders for drivers to prepare their cars for winter weather and darker driving conditions. It’s a simple enough job – and inexpensive – to fix these things and if you really can’t do it yourself well, there are plenty of professionals to do it for you.

Glasgow fared worst in the study, with just under one in eight of vehicles having defective lights. Newcastle was a close second with more than thirteen percent of cars observed with blown bulbs.

London proved to have the best maintained vehicles with just under seven percent revealed with faulty lights, but even this would mean thousands of drivers in the capital were breaking the law and potentially causing a danger on the road.

Latest figures from the Department of Transport, compiled from police records, show that in 2010, 357 accidents were blamed on vehicles not displaying lights at night or in poor visibility. Over 25,000 accidents were the result of drivers misjudging other vehicles’ speed, often as a result of failing to slow down.

During the survey, researchers monitored cars over a set period of time at busy junctions in the early evening rush hour and recorded the number of cars with faulty lights. The penalty for the offence is £60 and three points.

Missing or non-working brake lights, which can leave drivers unable to judge when the car in front is slowing, showed up as the biggest problem followed by non-functioning headlights.

Owners don’t know when a light has gone out so regular checking is essential, especially in these increased hours of darkness and often more difficult and hazardous autumn and winter conditions. It is an easy job to wander around the car checking these thing out. If in doubt get a family member or friend to help.

In these difficult financial days motorists are delaying essential repairs and waiting for the dreaded MOT but this is a false economy and, frankly, a danger to all. Get them fixed before it’s your life lights that go out or you see the image above in your rear view mirror!

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Break It To Them Gently

The sad fact is that we all get old. There are many plus points to getting older in terms of knowledge and wisdom but the fact is that old age brings with it a certain frailty to a greater or lesser degree. As a matter of course older people deal with these things stoically and continue to enjoy life and this, of course, includes driving.

Nevertheless, for many older people there comes a time when it is no longer appropriate to be in charge of a tonne of hot rushing metal. The trouble is, some elderly drivers can feel quite defensive about their driving and any criticism of it. Either the change is so gradual they don’t notice or they know very well but see the alternative as a lost freedom.

To counter this some drivers change their style to demonstrate to the world that they have still got what it takes. It has been shown that they tend to drive much faster, more aggressively and assertively than they had done before. When challenged, these people become even more defensive and the whole thing spirals out of control.

Talking to an elderly relative about driving – especially if the goal is to get that person to hang up the car keys – needs to be part of a properly planned approach that’s sensitive and constructive. It is best not to say anything off the cuff but rather line up some sensible ideas and suggestions to help my them, rather than simply expressing panic and concern at his driving style. By showing care and compassion, we can help an elderly person make a smoother transition to a less mobile lifestyle.

Put yourself in their shoes. The best way to do this is by experiencing life without the car yourself. This will help you appreciate both the drawbacks and the advantages. Raising the matter of safety and retiring from driving a year or more in advance might mean you’re spared the need to spring it on them at the last minute. You can work together over a period of time to make a few small adjustments in driving style, vehicle and journey type. Explore the practical options your relative will have to remain as mobile as possible. If you’re going to talk about using the bus, then research the timetable, for example. Don’t focus solely on the necessary journeys. Shopping and the like is something we all do regularly but remember folk also like to go on outings or, indeed, just for a drive. What are the alternatives for them?

The matter of ageing and lose of mobility comes to us all. Perhaps by helping an elderly relative come to terms with it will help you when it’s your turn. And it will be your turn.

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Could Ultimate Car Control Be Taken From You?

A few days ago Motor Blogger queried the intentions behind technology whereby your car could be controlled by others. You can refresh your knowledge here. Now there’s a new, or additional, threat – depending on your point of view. It is called Intelligent Speed Adaptation.

It seems that seventy five percent of European drivers are concerned that the use of Intelligent Speed Adaptations (ISAs) will compromise safety, according to new research. Last month, the European Union announced that they were considering rules for new cars to be fitted with ISA technology. This would be capable of detecting speed limits through cameras or satellites and automatically applying the brakes of your car without so much as a by-your-leave. Even existing vehicles could be forced to have the technology fitted, no doubt at the owners expense.

Seventy-eight per cent of motorists don’t want to see the retro fitting of ISA technology onto older vehicles. The research also shows that fifty-seven per cent of drivers feel that ISAs would not have a positive impact on road safety – avoiding crashes, deaths and injuries and so on.

However, there is overwhelming support for the science when car control remains with the driver. Sixty-seven per cent of respondents would prefer ISAs to operate with warning messages with no control of the vehicle. That does make sense.

Respondents do feel that there are some benefits to ISAs. Fifty-two per cent see a reduced likelihood of speeding convictions and less money spent on traffic calming measures such as road humps. Thirty-one per cent of respondents – presumably older, more experienced ones – feel that, if enforced, ISAs should be restricted to younger drivers, newly qualified drivers and drivers with previous road-related convictions.

Certainly this high-tech stuff could help to save lives but it’s clear that drivers remain dubious about the benefits of the technology. More research into the benefits would help to reassure the public that this will improve road safety.

In short – we don’t trust it. We suspect – with good reason – it is yet another way to control drivers. The real answer is of course to ensure that drivers are trained properly in the first place.

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