Tag Archive | "motoring"

Crackdown On The Uninsured

Having a car accident is bad enough; having a car accident with an uninsured driver is worse. Some of these people will claim poverty in which case how can they afford to run a car; others just couldn’t care less about other people’s property and treat society with contempt.

Apparently, the actions of this, it has to be said, large minority group leads to an effective surcharge of £33 on all our insurance premiums. Not for the first time there is a bit of an uproar about this. Despite it being a known problem it is still going on. A reduced number of traffic police doesn’t help but, with the added advantages of modern technology like ANPR cameras, you’d think that this is something that should pretty well be eliminated.

In short, four out of every five of Britain’s law abiding drivers are fed up and want a crackdown on these misery makers. According to a leading insurance provider around one in twenty five drivers are not insured. There are millions of cars on our roads. Think about it. This statistic means that the chances of being hit by one of these people is greater than almost all other European countries. How come they can do it and we cannot?

New rules have recently come into force raising the fixed penalty for driving without insurance from £200 to £300. Big deal. Uninsured drivers know their chances of being caught are slim and even if they are, £300 is hardly a deterrent. Many of these illegal motorists have a string of convictions anyway and, even for those that don’t, the fine still will probably be less than they would pay for a premium! For example, offenders are often young men, but the typical cost of car insurance for a man aged between 17 and 22 with a clean licence is four times the size of the new fixed penalty at £1,211. So, in insurance terms that’s a pretty good deal.

It is sobering thought that uninsured drivers are responsible for the deaths of around one hundred people every year. Thousands more are injured. It seems that a majority of drivers favour prison and even more believe electronic tagging is also a viable choice. Obviously cars should be confiscated and crushed. Of the 11,000 illegally driving individuals that were actually prosecuted last year most had already been banned from driving! No wonder safe drivers in the UK are up in arms!

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The Hidden Costs Of Car Ownership

As we’ve mentioned before on Motor Blogger, cars used to be simple and many owners would routinely service and fix them at home. Over the years the vehicles we drive have become increasingly complex and the dark arts of home mechanics, have, to a large extent, died out. We rely on manufacturers to make cars that don’t need fixing and, on those rare occasions when they fail, we rely on garages to sort it out. At a price, obviously.

That’s all fine and generally everyone accepts this as the way things are; but have we now reached a stage in the technological advances in auto manufacture where we don’t really know the long term effects and potential issues of those advances? What follows in just one example of what we mean.

Car engine flywheels function on one of the simplest principles in the world of physics: objects in motion tend to stay in motion. The flywheel helps an engine to run smoother and last longer. Without it the vibrations from the internal combustion would drive us all mad. That’s the short version. Historically, all being well, the flywheel would last the lifetime of the car.

Thanks to the modern rise of diesel and some petrol engines that are extremely frugal yet very powerful, the basic flywheel has had a bit of a make-over and become a dual mass flywheel. Car manufacturers are wringing the maximum amount of performance from the minimum amount of fuel. This in turn means that the force of the ‘explosions’ in the vehicles’ cylinders has increased necessitating more complex flywheels to cope.

Dual mass flywheels, as the name suggests, means a conjoined pair – one attached to the crank and the other to the clutch. They are joined by a series of springs to act as cushioning and it is these which weaken over time. The result of this is that many dual mass flywheels may need replacing – unlike their simpler predecessors – somewhere around the fifty to seventy thousand mile mark. This is an additional cost brought to you by modern technology. It could mean that the money you save on fuel will be needed to pay for flywheel replacement.

The only good thing about it is that dual mass flywheels tend to fail around the same time as the clutch. As they work in conjunction with one another then it is as well to have the flywheel changed when your clutch goes. On a big diesel Audi, as an example, the cost of replacement of the flywheel alone would be something of the order of £1000, give or take.

Clearly, most technology is tried and tested before it appears on our cars but as things get more and more complex – without wishing to sound like alarmist doom-mongers – we simply cannot know what the long-term outcomes will be. All we can do is wait and see.

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Motoring Issues That Affect Us All

With the excellent news that car insurance premiums are starting to come down, the time has come to keep up the pressure of complaint. Naturally, we peace-loving folk at Motor Blogger do not advocate revolution but surely motorists must keep speaking up against those things which blight their lives. This is why (astonishing as it may seem) we have Members of Parliament – to speak on our behalf so maybe it is time to contact yours.

Drivers remain beset by unfair practices, sky-high costs and potentially dangerous roads. For years the average motorist has held his tongue but, and this is now apparent, increasingly we are beginning to speak up aided by sensible voices from the motoring organisations.

We already contribute a very large amount of money to the government’s coffers through taxation and duty. We contribute even more through over-zealously applied fines for very minor infractions. We have to fund repairs to our cars, often through expensive insurance companies, thanks to dangerous potholes and road surfaces that are increasingly becoming the norm.

Because of ‘cuts’ we now have so few traffic policemen that those who truly transgress on our roads often go unpunished yet unwary drivers are still – despite all the talk – subjected to unfair penalties and actions by unscrupulous parking companies or greedy councils.

What’s worse is the fact that the goalposts keep moving as if they’ve been erected on quicksand. A driver might buy a new car based on a zero road tax decision only to find the following year that his car has slipped into a tax paying status. Penalties are rising across the board. A motorist who fractionally over-steps the speed limit and is caught by a speed camera which has no decision making capabilities will pay the same fine as the speed merchant who drives badly at an accident black spot. Cameras should be about road safety.

Fuel costs too much and that is down to allegedly fiddled pricing and to successive governments increasing duty as an easy way to bolster their previously profligate spending. We didn‘t make the mess we‘re in. Car insurance remains too expensive, still partly due to fraudulent activities. Thankfully, we are now seeing some movement on this front.

Drivers are penalised for being drivers, it’s as simple as that. We are treated as a cash cow by authorities who seem to be bereft of fresh economic ideas. The groundswell is growing. Motoring organisations and magazines are lobbying the government about all these issues. Time to speak your mind – repeatedly if necessary.

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Highway To Hell

Jam today; more jam tomorrow. Not a statement that says everything is going to be OK but rather one that foretells forebodingly of our future as motorists. Unlike the Jetsons our future driving lives will not be spent whizzing about in space-age airborne vehicles but sweltering in our cars as we wait to move forwards by ten metres.

Those of you who are French and have long memories might remember a traffic jam outside of Paris in 1980. A combination of bad weather and thousands of drivers returning from holidays in the South resulted in a snarl-up around one hundred miles long. In the wait that followed many roadside snails died and a pall of garlic hung in the air.

Elsewhere, a scant three years ago on China’s Highway 110, a massive set of road works reduced the road capacity which eventually became overwhelmed by assorted vehicles until the queue stretched for over sixty miles (pictured). Some unlucky souls where blocked in for twelve days. Seems incredible but it is true.

Both of these countries are big and have huge road networks yet still these things happened. The British Isles are not big but they are crowded. They have a road network which, thanks to poor management and massive underinvestment by successive governments, is now not fit for purpose.

Things, to paraphrase D:ream, can only get worse. The Department for Transport have produced a report called ‘Roads of the 21st Century’. This apparently is meant to see into the future and what it sees is not good. For the next couple of years they reckon that traffic levels will remain fairly constant. However, with the predicted economic recovery after that they calculate that the number of cars on the road will steadily rise by nineteen percent by year 2025.

In a further fifteen years they have estimated that figure will rise to forty three percent. That is, give or take, around fifteen million more cars. That, incidentally, is just their middling estimate. Their worse case scenario is, erm, much worse. This inevitably will lead to greater congestion and more misery for motorists.

The Report believes that fuel-efficient cars will bring down the price of motoring (pause while we all stop laughing because here in the real world they will counter this with higher taxation) and the population will rise by an additional 10 million by 2040 – hence more cars on the road.

Of course, this is based on economic recovery and there are no guarantees of that despite the recent hopeful noises, but at least it has spurred the government into the investment of £28billion’s worth of road projects. We’ve mentioned this before on Motor Blogger. It is very laudable but is only a drop in the ocean if the report’s figures are to be believed. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime keep emergency food, drink, blankets and a portaloo in the car just in case.

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Driving In France

Just across the Narrow Sea we call the English Channel (and rightly so) is a foreign land. It is called France and they do things differently there. Considering that they are so nearby it is amazing that there are so many cultural differences. Some are well known: they can’t play football, for example and they insist on eating the limbs of amphibians. The casual observer, standing aloft on the White Cliffs of Dover, will, if the wind is on-shore, catch a whiff of garlic.

So it is with some trepidation that the average motoring holiday maker drives onto the ferry or into the belly of the railroad beast. It is another country and when you arrive everything is different. The road signs, if you can believe this, are in a foreign language. What’s that all about?

The wary driver will also notice that the popular hearsay that they drive on the other side of the road is actually true. More worryingly, they have their own rules of the road and woe betide any UK resident who transgresses. Imagine being banged up over night! Who likes jail food that moves about the plate in a shell? For the benefit of newbies at this foreign travel lark here are some facts from the land that brought you Audrey Tautou and noxious cheese.

All drivers and motorcyclists must carry a breathalyser kit that contains not one but two disposable breathalysers that must conform to French NF Standards. They sell them cheap at the ferry terminals. In the manner of all governments around Europe, the French have decided that for now any penalty issued will be postponed. Why? If you’re going to have a rule, have a rule. What’s the French for ‘fudge the issue’? Drivers still have to carry the kit though. Also, the drink drive limit is lower than here so if in doubt, don’t.

In France the cops can issue on-the-spot fines or, as they are amusingly referred to, ‘deposits’. So non-returnable then? They should issue a receipt but you’ll probably find that it’s not tax deductible unless your accountant is really good in which case he lives in the Cayman Islands. Exceed the speed limit by 40kph and your licence is taken from you. Comedy French accents don’t help, incidentally, when dealing with les flics.

Children under ten can’t sit in the front passenger seat, or, indeed drive. Your headlights must be set up to point the other way. You must carry a warning triangle, reflective jackets and a picture of Jean Reno. Worst of all, speed camera detectors are illegal and you must turn off static speed camera information if your satellite navigation system shows it. Not very sporting is it? Not the British way at all.

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The Most Dangerous Roads In The World

Much is written on this subject and usually it forms part of the warnings and advice freely doled out to unwary drivers planning to travel beyond these shores, or indeed, just up the road.

For example, this writer has had personal experience of the ‘Ruta de la Muerte’ on the south coast of Spain. Fortunately there is now a major road for safety’s sake but it is easy to miss the turn out of Malaga and end up on the coast road at which point the hunched and terrified driver, white-knuckled hands gripping the steering wheel, will still encounter massive trucks, sozzled Spaniards and boozy, beery Brits who left their brains behind in Bromsgrove.

Depending upon who you ask, Spain has several ‘roads of death’ and the name can also be found in every other Spanish speaking country. In Norway they have the Trollstigen (The Troll Ladder – is it any wonder that trolls get such a bad press?) and Italy the Stelvio Pass. Even in the UK we have roads to die for and they are many and various. Mention the Peak District’s Cat and Fiddle to any automotive health and safety officer and you’re sure to provoke a reaction. Basically, it depends where you live.

The A682 between junction 13 of the M65 and Long Preston has a very bad reputation yet it doesn’t even appear on a BBC News top ten dangerous roads listing from 2010.

The road outside your children’s school could well head the list merely because you deem it so. There need not have been any injuries or fatalities – a near miss will turn mild-mannered parents into car-hating zealots overnight. This is an understandable reaction and this brings us finally to the point.

Traffic rules and regulations abound. Never a day seems to go by when there isn’t another restriction put in place and yet still people die on dangerous roads. Why? It’s a bit of a conundrum. Do some drivers and riders see these highways as a challenge? Does a red mist descend when the long and winding road appears? Whatever the cause, there seems to be a point at which the rules cease to have meaning to some people.

Most motorists understand the clear and present dangers inherent in operating a car. They enjoy their driving but draw the line at recklessness. Ultimately all roads are the most dangerous roads in the world. They are made dangerous by daredevils and the terminally stupid. The problem is, an attitude of mind is hard to legislate against. At some point we need to learn the lesson before cars become nothing more than state controlled shuttles.

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Spoil Your Dad This Coming Father’s Day.

You know your Dad, right? He’s that suspicious looking old guy sitting at the computer reading Motor Blogger and paying scant attention to your long-suffering Mother. The one who leaves oily engine parts on the kitchen table and towels on the bathroom floor and who consistently refused to lend you his wheels when you first passed your driving test. Your Dad. The man who has driven you crazy but has also driven you all over the country; to friends and sporting venues and nightclubs and A&E. The man who, possibly through gritted teeth, bought you your first car. Well, once a year you are officially allowed to show your appreciation. June 16th is Father’s Day, so get planning.

Forget the male grooming products, he gave up on that caper as soon as he said his marriage vows; but there are many gifts available that are auto-orientated and will bring a smile to his face – but you have to get it right. For example, if he drives a Suzuki there is a whole range goodies available in the form of clothing or merchandise with a subtle Japanese motif; but not all Dads drive Suzuki’s. Most manufacturers have a selection of products.

It is not possible to separate a man and his motor so how about some driving music? There are many compilations out there but they have to have a driving beat so none of your soppy Coldplay or that incessant EDM racket. Dads are like Lemmy from Motorhead: old and warty but always ready to rock. Inside every middle-aged man there lurks a head-banger just under the surface. In true Jekyll and Hyde fashion this ‘dad-dancing’ alter-ego often appears at weddings and family celebrations.

If you’ve got some cash on the hip, why not treat him to a race or rally driving experience day at your local circuit or venue. Times are hard and there are some great deals on offer. Or you could rent him a classic car for the day or take him karting – there are a wealth of opportunities to spend some time together.

If however you are cash-poor or just irredeemably tight-fisted then how about doing something for him? Cleaning the car is always appreciated. A proper clean mind, no taking him to the supermarket to get one of those trolley blokes to do it. Give his pride and joy a good going over with some familial TLC.

There is nothing like some parent/child activity, no matter what your age and remember – Mum’s appreciate the children taking Dad out on Father’s Day too. They see it as a form of respite.

What do you mean you’re too busy? It’s one day of the year for pity’s sake. So give the old guy a break. Treat him. You never know – if you don’t have a car of your own he may lend you his before the tears of pleasure dry in his eyes. It’s called bonding. Get used to it.

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Dad – What’s That Noise?

It is one of the great truisms of life that, when transporting the mother-in-law in the family car, she can always smell petrol and becomes convinced that she is about to be consumed by fire. Thereafter she will always smell petrol when riding with you, even on a tandem bike. Similarly, no one can be an experienced driver and not have had a relative in the car who asks about a curious noise that the driver had been studiously ignoring in the forlorn hope that it would go away.

The fact is a car will always tell you when something is wrong; mostly only after it is too late admittedly, but it will speak up for itself. Funny noises or smells, irksome rattling and general auto dyspepsia means the car needs at best a service and at worst, radical surgery. As we head into another delightful motoring Summer maybe it is time to investigate any strange automotive phenomena fully before that big family holiday and that big breakdown (see gratuitously posed image).

It’s a known fact that a percentage of car accidents are caused by some failure on the car, usually tyres or brakes but other parts like suspension or steering could be at fault. Listen to the car and try to grasp what it is telling you. For example, a growling noise that changes in pitch could well be a wheel bearing and it is essential this is dealt with immediately. A competent home mechanic should be able to handle this job.

A mysterious creaking or a nagging whine could be a track rod (part of the steering) or maybe a ball joint. Either way they are signals that something is not right and needs attention. A high-pitched squealing – assuming it isn’t children – will possibly be brake related. Hissing, after the car has been shut down, could subsequently result in smoke or steam issuing from under the bonnet. That can’t be right.

It is not always easy to diagnose a car. Groaning could be suspension and a loud humming noise could be a faulty or worn tyre and so on. The trick is not to simply turn up the stereo and hope for the best but rather to stop and investigate. The fault may not be apparent but it is a fairly safe bet that it’s there. Home mechanics have an ear for this sort of thing but when in doubt consult your local friendly garage.

Over the years the staff will have become experts in assessing the many and varied car impersonations that customers make. They can solve all dilemmas just by kicking the tyres and writing down large numbers with pound signs in front of them. Be pro-active, make sure the car gets its regular service on time and in full. Good dealers should always check over a car for safety’s sake. The car is used to transport the family and it is the driver’s job to keep them safe. Even the mother-in-law.

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The Auto Name Game

Americans are christened with really cool names. Amongst the car guys past and present, there’s Boyd Coddington, Wayne Carini, Chip Foose, Ryan Friedlinghaus and the legendary Carroll Shelby to name but a few. Why aren’t our names like that? Even the great John Wayne changed his name from Morrison so as not to reveal his early life as a British grocer.

The same goes for their cars. The Ford Mustang is one of America’s most iconic motors. Say it out loud – Muss-stang! It conjures up images of the great sweeping plains of the West where rugged men in lumberjack shirts – with the sleeves rolled up over their biceps – neck Bud from the bottles. (Top tip: If they are drinking Piña Coladas then you are probably in the wrong bar). Would it have been the same if Ford had just called it The Pony?

Then of course there’s the Dodge Charger, the Challenger, the Plymouth Barracuda, the Corvette Stingray and the Pontiac GTO and loads more, often with really butch names that belie their automotive incompetence. And what do we get here? The Fusion. The Picanto. It is names like this that make the British and European car market so devoid of any real auto expectations.

Even when manufacturers decide to get trendy there is no real flair. The Juke. The Roomster. These names don’t really give a sense of the open road or driving as it should be. They are just names. Even the soft Yank tanks have good names like Eldorado or Lacrosse. To be fair, there are also mistakes. Ford made a car called the Probe. It wasn’t very good and if nothing else brought to mind a variety of medical procedures. Plans to use the names ‘Thrust’ and ‘Lunge’ were subsequently withdrawn.

Manufacturers seem to go out of their way to find safe names like the made up ‘Mondeo’, which one assumes is meant to suggest a world car vision but very little else. Unfortunately, the new Mondeo (pictured) will, in America, be known as the Fusion which just goes to show that you can take a car out of Britain but you can’t take the Britain out of the car.

It all begs the question as to whether or not names sell cars. These days new car buyers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and they will look at factors such as economy, luxury and accessories before they worry too much about what it is called. They may be concerned with the maker’s badge – which explains the otherwise terminally dull number sequence on BMWs – before they are concerned about the name, but there is a limit.

Chrysler/Dodge once offered a version of their ongoing Dart model which they called The Swinger. It would be a brave man who would consider driving this car today. That is unless he wanted to make some new friends.

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Autonomy In Oxford

Over the last couple of years there has been much talk and some demonstration of the so-called autonomous car – cars that drive themselves. The thinking is that we don’t really like driving at all and is a function best left to the vehicle itself. Once considered a sort of Jetson’s science fiction, the reality is now coming closer.

Boffins at Oxford University, amongst others around the world, have been working on this for some time. Up to now they have only been able to test their experiment on private roads at the Begbroke Science Park but David Willetts MP, the minister for science, has been on at the Department for Transport to relax the rules and allow testing on public roads.

This all stems from the fact that in California the operation of autonomous cars on public highways was legalised last year. The demand for this was lead by mighty Google who have been working on a fleet of computer controlled vehicles for some time and are saying they could have a viable model on the roads in just five years. Mr Willetts, who has tested the Google motor, believes that this has allowed the American company to steal a march on British efforts to develop similar transport.

As a result he has persuaded the DfT to relax the rules – although they say no final decision has been reached – and allow the Oxford RobotCar team to do the same thing. The long term strategy seems to suggest that we could see driverless cars on our streets in twenty years time. Right now the experimentation is based on a Nissan Leaf which has been suitably modified with cameras and laser sensors. An on-board computer controls all the usual functions. As with America, for now, a real human being has to be in the car as well to take control if necessary.

Although the driverless car is sure to become a reality, there is still a long way to go. We already have camera and sensor technology in the cars we buy today. What needs to be achieved with absolute certainty is the ability of the car to understand and react to all the many and various different circumstances that drivers presently encounter on a daily basis.

Once that has been achieved the next stage has to be for an autonomous vehicle to navigate its way around a route that it has never travelled before. Pre-programming is all very well but it is the unknown which brings forth the challenges faced by the scientists. The feeling is that by taking away the human element, the use of cars on the road will reduce or even potentially eliminate death and injury on the road as well as aiding fuel economy.

This can only be a good thing but whether motorists will go for it is another matter. It is clearly of no interest to politicians but a great many people enjoy the experience of piloting a car and will no doubt take great exception to being told they can’t do it. It remains to be seen if our Dear Leaders will listen. Then of course there’s the insurance…

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