Tag Archive | "car maintenance"

More MOT Pain To Come

As if things weren’t bad enough for UK motorists, yesterday saw the arrival of new MOT rules. To be fair to our own Ministry for Transport, all they are doing is implementing changes to bring us in line with the latest Euro-rules. Politicians across Europe feel they must be seen to be doing something about road safety so they are constantly thinking up new ideas, although sometimes we could wish that they might be tempered with a little bit of common sense.

Nevertheless, here we are. Manufacturers are partly to blame as cars have become increasingly complex. Sophisticated new systems and gadgets are added whether we want them or not. Many of these now fall under the new MOT rules. The downside is that many motorists could face hefty bills as more and more cars fail.

Warning lights are a case in point. There is no doubt that there are many vehicles out there with a little light twinkling away on the display. The car may well be running fine but that’s not the point. The term ‘warning light’ signifies a problem – now it means a potential failure. It could for example mean an airbag issue which may not be of immediate concern because you have no intention of having a shunt. Too bad.

The cars of today have computers and much complex technology on board. For the most part it is there for a reason, although some will argue that a lot of it is superfluous. The trouble is that the current MOT rules have been around for twenty years now and it stands to reason that they are in need of updating. Unfortunately, financially crippled drivers are hanging on to their cars for much longer. The older the car the more likely it is to have faults.

If your car has tyre pressure monitoring – compulsory on any car since January 2012 – then this will be checked. The movement of car seats back and forth will be tested to ensure compliance and if the seat has electric power then that too comes under the rules. Can you imagine the potential cost of fixing a powered seat – something that drivers have never needed?

Even if the seatbelt is actually about your person but the little light stays on – fail. Brake fluid a bit low? Fail. Car doors must open and close properly and the warning light extinguished; all the dials, catalytic converters, stability controls and so on all come under examination. You have been warned.

In some parts of Europe, testing doesn’t start until four years after first registration and some countries allow two years between tests. Our government are resisting this and will stick with the three year / twelve month rule for now. Now that is something you can blame them for.

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Learn Car Maintenance And Save Money

As you know, when you open the bonnet of a modern vehicle, it all looks a bit complicated. It wasn’t always so. If you get the chance, open the lid of an original Mini and you will see just how comparatively straightforward cars used to be. Once, most drivers knew how to attend to basic maintenance or servicing issues and would even attempt more complex jobs – usually successfully.

The modern motorist seems to have forgotten those skills of yore as cars have become increasingly and wilfully complex. We prefer to leave it to the professionals with their computer readouts and specialist tools. On the other hand, this is often an expensive exercise and in these days of driving austerity the chance to save some cash seems like an attractive prospect. Is it possible to do at least some of the jobs yourself? Seriously – how hard can it be?

DIY car maintenance is all about common sense. New cars under warranty are probably best left to the dealer as any dodgy tinkering with the works could make a small problem bigger and could also invalidate the warranty. Basic maintenance on older used cars however does make a lot of sense.

If you don’t feel confident to proceed but like the idea in principle then a little training might be just the thing. There are literally hundreds of maintenance courses around the country. Most are organised through local colleges and adult learner schemes. They don’t cost a lot and some candidates may be eligible for financial help. You can also find distance learning courses although it seems better to get your hands oily directly under experienced supervision and practice on someone else’s car. You never know – a new career may beckon. There are many qualifications available.

The only problem with practical learning of this sort is that the equipment and technology may not be the latest thing, but a spark plug is a spark plug and the basics of the internal combustion engine haven’t changed much. The course is likely to be general and won’t deal specifically with your car so it is always a good idea to locate a workshop manual on paper or online that covers your exact needs.

A simple service of oil and filter change, spark plugs and air filter will always be beneficial to a car and you will save pounds in the process. As you learn you will become more confident but don’t get too cocky. It is easy to underestimate the length of time a job will take and this could result in being too hasty. You can always phone a friend.

You need to allow for the cost of tools and parts but with care and due diligence it is possible to drive safely and save money. Probably best not to work on electric cars just yet though. Too many volts can really spoil your day.

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Married To The Motor

Car ownership is like marriage. It goes through stages. First there is the anticipation stage. This is where the goods are examined closely and a selection process takes place. In the early days it is possible to make mistakes and, although they are likely to be expensive, they won’t be insurmountable. It is important to choose with the utmost care and attention. It may be helpful to consult a friend but on no account should you ever ask your mother.

These days it is popular to go online to find your new partner for the road ahead. There are many websites that cater for all tastes, some more, erm, quirky than others. The final choice might be virgin territory for first timers – although a used model may attract, ensuring that depreciation is taken into account, obviously – and it is important to make the correct decision before signing on the dotted line.

The pomp and circumstance of the union can be a bit tiresome and over-the-top as most are simply keen to get on with it; but the paperwork still has to be done – only then can things move forward with that heady mixture of apprehension and exhilaration. Next comes the honeymoon stage. This is the phase where the happy couple get to know each other more intimately, discovering that new and cool things are possible and a lot of mileage can be gained although it becomes apparent that love is like car insurance – more expensive than was first thought.

There will be pitfalls along the way. Arguments involving inanimate objects will happen and, like a spilt take-away coffee, the fabric of the relationship will have to be repaired. So the years pass. Routine maintenance will from time to time be needed to keep things running smoothly until one day some surprise accessories are added and life will never be the same again.

Sadly, time waits for no man. Although some go the distance others will notice a certain dimming of the headlights and have a sense that some parts are just about hanging in there. A certain amount of rededication to the relationship may help but for some it really is the end of the road. Why maintain an old model when there are new shiny delights out there? It is a choice all will have to make but remember, there is still a great sense of satisfaction to be had from maintaining a classic.

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The Shame Of Britain’s Roads

The British government’s rail minister has been pilloried for refusing to commute from his Essex home on the railways because he prefers a chauffeur driven limo at your expense (est. cost £80k p.a.) instead. This is surprising because the roads in this country are in such a state that crossing the remote Himalayas on the back of an arthritic donkey seems like a more appealing prospect than driving from Chelmsford to London.

The roads in this country are, as you well know, in a poor state. The latest news is that, as the floods subside, more potholes than ever will be revealed as allegedly cash-strapped councils and the Highways Agency fail to keep up with the work of putting back that which nature removes. What’s worse is that some of the flooding has been so bad that whole sections of tarmac have been swept away meaning that road closures will be more common whilst the inevitable funding ‘issues’ are resolved.

Potholes are probably unavoidable (in both senses of the word) but better, more lasting repairs and improved road building techniques might help to alleviate the problem but that simply isn’t going to happen. The number of car-damaging craters is expected to rise to in excess of two million and the authorities can’t cope. It is a sorry state of affairs.

What has happened to our road infrastructure must be a bit of a joke around the world. Sparsely populated areas of Spain have far better road surfaces than us thanks to EU grants funded in part by British taxpayers, as any European traveller knows. Most of us are unlikely to ever be lucky enough to visit the more remote areas of mainland China but we now know that their roads are better than ours too.

We have been made aware of this by the Dongfeng Motor Corporation – China’s second biggest motor maker – who have been testing a prototype van over here because, they say, our roads are worse than theirs! Closer to home the Ford Motor Company have apparently surveyed a battered stretch of road near Basildon to enable them to build an artificial track in Belgium to better test the suspension on their cars. It would be funny if it were not true.

The Local Government Association have been quoted as saying that even when all the post-weather assessments have been made, repairs will still be delayed because we can’t afford it. Where is all the money that we pay out in road tax and sundry other motoring levies? Perhaps some of it is siphoned off to help fund our expensive rail network that ministers aren’t using? Whatever, it isn’t being spent where it should be, and that is maintaining a road network that right now would be derided in any so-called third world country.

The answer is of course to rent an under-used donkey from a sanctuary. It won’t be as fast of course but it may manage your commute to work without breaking its suspension.

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Car News Updates

Last year Motor Blogger reported on news from the motoring world and for some of these reports things have moved on. For instance, over the last couple of years there’s been a bit of a buzz (sorry) about electric cars. They were thought to be the coming thing but now they are not going anywhere. New car buyers are all very aware of the drawbacks of this technology and now it seems that this has begun to sink in with the car makers.

Nissan had high hopes for its Leaf EV yet it has failed to achieve a planned sales figure worldwide of 20,000 Leafs (or should that be Leaves?). In the UK, less than 1500 electric cars were registered in 2012. Meanwhile Audi have had a bit of a think and have pulled the plug (sorry) on the A2 EV that was planned for 2015. Toyota, Peugeot and Citroen are all scaling back their electric plans. Renault – trying a slightly different approach whereby they lease batteries – are sticking with it for now and hope to turn on (sorry) buyers with the new Zoe (pictured), but even that has been delayed. Electric cars are a great idea but unfortunately the science isn’t there yet and the customers know it.

Another trend that is rather more worrying is the recent rise in accidents. Broadly speaking, statistics show that car accidents have been slowly reducing over the years as new car technology improves safety but now they are on the up again. Despite what you might hear officially this has at least got to be due in part to the drop in the policing of our roads as forces cut back. The number of traffic cops has dropped significantly.

The other reason for it as we have previously mentioned is that car owners are cutting back on servicing. The number of fatal road accidents caused by defective vehicles has risen for the first time in ten years. There were over 1600 accidents in 2011 that involved fatalities, of which some 52 were proven to have been caused by faults on cars. That’s only a small percentage now but the figure is going up. Worn tyres and bad brakes were predominately to blame.

The reason for this seems to be that motorists are cutting back on car costs without considering the ramifications. It’s a form of desperation caused by our dire national financial situation. As garage prices have risen so it appears that some cars never get serviced at all which means that defects are even less likely to be discovered until it is too late. A sorry state of affairs for which, right now, there doesn‘t seem to be an answer.

For sure new car buyers are increasingly looking at small inexpensive cars with low running costs in order to save money on motoring expense; but they aren‘t buying electric vehicles – preferring to go for frugal diesels and hybrids. We’ll have to wait and see how the industry responds.

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Car Parts We Take For Granted

Take spark plugs for example. When was the last time you saw one in all its bright metal and porcelain glory? Exactly. Well did you know there are people out there who actually and avidly collect them? There is even a Spark Plug Collectors of America club. How fascinating would it be to go away on holiday with them? Seriously, these are people who should get out a whole lot more.

Nevertheless, without the spark plug we wouldn’t be going anywhere – in a car at least. These small cheap items of motoring magnificence have been with us pretty much from the automotive dawn and, since there isn’t much to change, they haven’t changed much over the decades. In these days of financial woe drivers are scrimping on things like this in the hope they’ll save some cash by using them well over their due date. Yet plugs are a crucial part of vehicle servicing and are neglected at your peril.

Another essential element that is not given the credit it is due would be the brake fluid. In proper order it will save your life – unless you drink it, that is (no, look: seriously, don‘t OK?). When pressure is applied to the brake pedal this noxious liquid is compressed hydraulically to provide braking force at the wheels. Simple and effective. The snag is, especially and particularly on older cars, this stuff can leak resulting in loss of pressure which you’ll only really know about when the pedal goes to the floor and you fly screaming into a hedge.

It is worth occasionally checking this fluid level whatever the age of the car. You want to see it between the minimum and maximum marks in a little tub somewhere under the bonnet. Your handbook will show you where. If there’s any doubt or if you see a little pool of what looks like cooking oil under the car at the wheels or under the engine bay, go and see your local friendly mechanic asap.

As you drive you are hopefully holding onto the round thing in front of you. The steering wheel can rarely give you cause for concern but it is much more likely that it is the steering mechanism itself that can develop issues. Any vibration felt on the wheel is probably a wheel alignment problem but any mysterious knocking noises or vibrations when you turn are probably down to any one or more of a number of linkages, bushes, joints and arms that may vary according to the type of steering. Another possible fault is if the wheels don’t respond exactly to your steering inputs. Whatever, it should be obvious just how important perfect steering is.

At this stage you might be thinking that you know all this and maybe you do; but as you use your car on a day-to-day basis how many times do you really think about it. So it’s just a note of caution: give your car a break and check it over regularly before it gives you a nasty and expensive surprise.

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Notes About Buying A Used Car

New cars are great but for many people such a purchase is out of the question. Not that this matters because there are plenty of high quality used cars available to choose from around the two or three year age bracket. Mileage shouldn’t be too high which means there is still plenty of life left for trouble free motoring.

The problem is that it is easy to buy in haste and end up with a car that, for one reason or another, is not quite as appealing as you thought it was. The early thrill of a shiny new motor is replaced with an aggravating sense that it is not really all the car you hoped for.

It might only be small things. Maybe – in your initial burst of enthusiasm – you didn’t notice that there isn’t quite enough seat adjustment to suit your frame. With the current surge in small economical car offerings a new buyer might suddenly find that, on the sort of trip routinely taken, the car isn’t quite up to the job or that the engine at motorway speeds is a tad noisy and strained.

All this points to the need to really ensure you are making the right choice by checking back on old press and internet reviews of the model and taking it for a truly meaningful road test. Past reviews will help the prospective buyer to get a handle on the quirks and foibles of any particular car. On some websites the opinion of owners is often sought and these can be an invaluable source of information.

The test drive is crucial. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed. A car needs time to warm up and be given a decent drive over a variety of roads. This is when issues will start to show themselves. Strange knocking noises from the corners or curious rattling sounds from under the bonnet should make the canny buyer take notice.

Does the power and performance seem commensurate with the type of car? Do all the electrical components work, like the windows or heater / air-con system? Also, it pays to watch the dashboard for any tell-tale warning lights.

In some ways, what’s worse than this sort of mechanical defect – things that can and should be rectified before purchase – are mystery squeaks and noises. Anyone who has ever suffered from small but puzzling noises from behind the dashboard or a dead-leg from awkwardly spaced pedals will know how debilitating it can be. Hatred of these small things can grate until the whole car ceases to be the pride and joy you once saw gleaming on a forecourt. If you want happy-ever-afters then make your choice with care.

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Birds Hate Cars

Remember an old Hitchcock film called The Birds? If not, it concerned the massed ranks of assorted feathered fiends menacing a community. OK, look out of the window. Is your car outside? If so, look around at the trees and buildings and see if any of the avian enemy are lurking nearby, because they cannot be trusted.

Obviously life is not a movie and these birds are probably not going to try and peck your eyes out or pinch your kebab. No. It’s much worse. They are planning to poop on your beloved motor. It’s a fact; and now it appears that the colour of your car may well dictate the extent by which your bodywork is soiled.

Red paintwork is, to a bird, like a red rag to a bull, apparently. They just can’t stand it and owners of such cars are the most likely to complain. Not that other colours fare much better. In order of preference to these winged marauders blue is next, closely followed black, white, silver and grey with green rounding out the most popular hues. Presumably they think that green cars are just grass and they can do that anytime.

Of course, this is just based on motorists’ responses and there is no actual proof as such that birds are that vindictive. It may be that they just like admiring themselves in reflective surfaces or prefer cars that are parked under trees. Whatever, seed-eating birds (and that’s pretty much all of them) deliver grainy poo which is worse than, say, that belonging to meat eating raptors or seagulls.

As if the offence wasn’t enough, leaving their deposits on your precious paintwork can cause damage that could cost money. Bird droppings contain acids but it is the softening effect on paintwork that causes the real problems because moisture mixes in and forms a mould.

The solution is in preventative cleaning and quick action when assaulted. Always make sure you’ve got a goodly coating of wax which helps protect the lacquer layer of your paintwork. A couple of branded wipes designed for the job should be in every glove box – but remember, these will take off not just bird droppings but also protective waxes so replace it ASAP.

If all else fails then a good polish should put the shine back. Car polish almost infinitesimally removes a layer which is why wax is best for everyday shining. As a last resort a stronger product is needed that removes blemishes, swirl marks and surface scratches (one’s that are so light you can’t feel them when a finger is run across). Again, the car must be re-waxed.

Birds are like politicians. They do things we don’t like and they make a mess. Mass destruction is out of the question as old ladies will come to your house and fire-bomb your ride. As with politicians, you’ll just have to live with it.

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Wheel Meet Again

As the cost of motoring rises inexorably so some drivers are beginning to cut corners when it comes to servicing their cars as they struggle to balance the household books. Understandable perhaps, but the snag is -this is one area where neglect can quickly turn into disaster.

There is one corner of motor maintenance that is, if you like, out of sight and out of mind. Well, four corners actually. Sure, we all periodically check our tyre pressures (or we should!) and as a consequence give a cursory glance at the rubber but otherwise who really thinks about the wheels on their car?

Everyone likes a nice set of alloys or, if you’re not fussed about these things, some tidy wheels trims over the standard steel hoops but how often do you examine them? Hmmm? Be honest. Be aware that the condition of your wheels is critical to the safe operation of your vehicle as much as the rubber on them.

Alloys are soft. They sustain damage easily if banged against kerbs or plunged into potholes. They also accumulate brake dust and other detritus caused by corrosion and oxidisation as the lacquer on the wheels erodes through damage or pitting. If you’re really unlucky this can work its way into your (tubeless) tyre and cause deflation issues. Nobody wants that.

It’s a good idea, if your alloys are a few years old, to get them refurbished. It seems like an expense you don’t need but it does pay dividends in the long run. Smart wheels look good and will definitely add to your car’s re-sale value. Definitely. It is also an opportunity to have them professionally examined because, even in this day and age, they may have some other faults.

The process of refurbishment requires that the wheel be shot blasted, powder coated in the original colour and re-lacquered. Voila! New wheels. Prices vary – a lot – so shop around. If the cost is too rich for you then at least get a mobile wheel repairer round to tickle them up and examine them. It’s not as if you have to do it often.

Steel wheels are tougher and cheaper but are also heavier and, let’s be honest here, don’t look as good, as wheel trims are rarely that attractive. But if you’re not bothered then remember that steel wheels are painted and this can wear over time. If not attended to long term, they can also rust. They need as much care as their fancy siblings.

We’ll be dealing with the need for correct wheel alignment in a forthcoming article. Watch this space!

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