Monday, 30 December 2013

Michael Schumacher

To echo my colleague David's comments what a tragic irony it is that an F1 legend, a record breaking seven times world record holder, should be felled while skiing in the French Alps with his family.

At this moment the doctors say he is fighting for his life and had he not been wearing a helmet the blow to his head would surely have killed him.

We all hope he will survive unimpaired to enjoy a well deserved retirement with his family.

Graham Benge

Get well Schumi

As I type this, seven-times Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher lies in an intensive care ward fighting for his life following a ski-ing accident in the French Alps.

Initial reports that he was a bit concussed but otherwise ok have proved to be depressingly wide of the mark and he is currently in a medically-induced coma following two rounds of surgery to relieve bleeding and pressure on his brain.

These are early days of course but we hope that you'll join all of us at UKMT in wishing Michael a full and speedy recovery.

Dave Wakefield

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Seven Ways to Make Your Car Insurance Cheaper

No-one likes to be paying out more money than they need to, but when it comes to motoring it seems increasingly unavoidable.

From fuel prices to insurance, the cost of motoring continues to increase in the UK on an annual basis.

Thankfully there are a few things you can do to bring down insurance costs. Here are seven suggestions to get you started.



1. Choose the right car

Every car is assigned one of 50 different insurance groups, and the cheapest cars are found in categories one to five. The simplest and most effective step you can take to reduce your insurance premium, either for an annual policy or for short term car insurance, is to drive a car in one of these five categories, which include popular models such as the Vauxhall Corsa and Fiat Panda.


2. Avoid modifications

Whether you want to improve your car's performance or add some detailing such as alloy wheels or body-kits, you should be aware that insurers can see these additions as high-risk improvements. Expensive detailing makes a car more attractive to thieves, and increased performance increases the chances of the car being involved in a collision - a risk that is magnified amongst young drivers.


3. Improve your driving skills

Insurance companies often offer substantial discounts for drivers who have demonstrated advanced driving skills. This can be done via the Pass Plus Scheme that aims to make drivers more considered and conscientious when they are behind the wheel.


4. Increase your excess

Insuring a car is about assessing risk and charging accordingly. If you are prepared to cover more of the costs associated with that risk - in the form of a higher excess - your insurance company is likely to reward you with lower premiums.


5. Buy only the cover you need

If you only drive your vehicle on an ad-hoc basis then you could be wasting money paying out for an annual policy which more often than not you are not using. Switching to short term car insurance for one to twenty-eight days or utilising one day insurance as and when you require your car could help to lessen the costs. When adding an additional driver for a trip away, again, short term car insurance could prove cheaper than extending your existing policy.

However, if your car is uninsured it MUST be declared SORN (see and kept off the public road (in a garage, on a drive or on private land).


6. Adding a more experienced “additional driver

It is sometimes possible to reduce the cost of car insurance by adding an older, more experienced driver to a policy. However, it should be noted that adding an “additional person” to a policy when that driver is actually the “main driver” - in an effort to reduce premiums - is illegal, and it will invalidate any subsequent insurance claims.



7. Add additional security features

Insurance companies prefer cars with alarms and immobilisers, as the risk of them being stolen is greatly reduced. Also, storing your car off public roads at night will also secure you some significant discounts on your insurance premiums. So this could be a good time to get on the good side of any friends or neighbours you may have with an empty lockable garage!


Hiten Solanki

Hiten Solanki is a digital marketer and freelance writer currently based in London and writing on behalf of a number of clients including TempCover.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Most Commonly Stolen Car Parts

According to insurance companies the frequency of car thefts where one or more parts of a car are stolen is on the increase. The statistics show that this is most likely to happen if you leave your car out on the street overnight – so the importance of locking your vehicle in your home garage cannot be overstated if you want to make life hard for criminals. What are the most commonly stolen car parts - and what steps can you take to make it harder for the thieves to target your vehicle?


Car Rims

There’s nothing like pimping up your car with a set of smart looking custom rims. However, these are like magnets for thieves who easily jack your car up and use special equipment to quickly remove these expensive additions to your vehicle. If you think locking lugs will deter such criminals, then think again as these can often be broken with a considerable amount of brute force. Fancy looking car rims also alert thieves to the fact that you’ve probably got an expensive media centre in your vehicle too – whilst it might be cool to stand out, it’s not cool to advertise your car as the one with the richest pickings on the inside. The simplest way to deter thieves from stealing your expensive rims is by simply not buying them in the first place – it’s very difficult to hide something that’s designed to make your car stand out.


DVD and Media Entertainment Systems

Everyone likes to travel in style these days. There’s nothing that keeps the kids quiet quite like a Disney movie whilst you’re dealing with the difficult task of keeping your eyes on the road as you drive from A to B. These systems are very popular with thieves who often have a number of tricks to remove them from the seating in your vehicle. In order to make things difficult for the thieves out there you can purchase special DVD players and media centres with detachable screens that won’t function without them. Carrying a screen round with you whilst your car’s parked might not seem the most convenient thing at the time, but trust us when we say it’s a lot better than having to buy a whole new device – and a new side window too.


Car Tyres

Just as car rims are a favourite target of the car part thieves – so are expensive tyres. These can be removed from your car in a matter of minutes and before you know it you’re not only down the cost of a new set of tyres, but you may also have to get your wallet out for a costly ride home. It’s very difficult to stop thieves from taking your tyres if they’re really committed, however you can make your vehicle less of a target by parking in well lit areas and avoiding backstreets. Ideally you should always try to leave your car in a public parking facility and if you’re worried about thieves attacking it late at night, then you can always take a taxi for those midnight runs.


GPS Systems

Global positioning systems that help drivers find their way are a popular target for thieves. Even if you go to the trouble of hiding your Tom-Tom or similar device, the holders, which often use a suction cup that’s attached to the windscreen, leave a tell-tale ring on the glass. This alone can be enough incentive for robbers to break into your car to look in the glove-box and under the seats for this expensive piece of tech equipment. The best thing to do is to lock it away in the trunk of your car, and make sure you use a cloth to wipe away the any marks the holder has left on the windscreen.


Catalytic Convertors

Believe it or not many thieves are on the look out for catalytic convertors. These large systems sit underneath the car and remove harmful particles from its exhaust fumes. However, these robbers are not interested in environmental issues – they’re just after the large amount of expensive metals and alloys that are used in the composition of this equipment. It’s easier than you might think to quickly jack up a car and get under it to remove the catalytic convertor, which in today’s world of ever rising metal prices can prove a decent haul when sold to a less than reputable scrap-yard.



Any part of your car that will wear out over time is likely to be targeted by thieves. Expensive high intensity xenon headlamps and the gas cylinders that are used in airbags are now almost as popular with robbers as stereo equipment and DVD players. The black market trade in these items has risen considerably in recent years as both parts commonly need replacing on cars. Of course, in order to steal these parts the robber will usually have to gain entrance to your car – by making sure that you’ve got a good alarm system or that your car is safely locked away from public access you’re making it difficult for the thieves to get into your vehicle.


And Finally…

If there’s one thing you should take away from this article it’s that the best form of prevention is down to where you park your car. Really committed thieves can break through most forms of car alarm – and many people in urban environments are also oblivious to the noise they make, leaving no one to notify the police about a car alarm until its been going off for long enough to become an annoyance. Immobilizers are also no help in these situations as the robbers aren’t trying to steal your whole vehicle. Do whatever you can to make life difficult for thieves and you’re less likely to get targeted – it really is that simple.

Justin Smith

Justin Smith blogs regularly at second hand car parts finders – BreakerLink

Monday, 2 December 2013

Using your loaf when using your lights

UKMotortalk contributor Steve Houlihan vents his spleen..

There seems to be a growing trend for the misuse - or lack of use at all in some cases - of vehicle lights. 
Now that more cars have daytime running lights -or DRLs - drivers seem to think that having these on negates the need for the proper vehicle lights to be on. 

Why on earth would anyone think that?!

Only the other week I was driving along the M4, it was dark - not getting dark, actually properly dark, when I came upon a car, a black car I might add, without lights on. 
So naturally I politely flashed the driver to hopefully prompt him into putting his lights on. 

No response. 

I flashed again - I always flash vehicles who don't have lights on in dark conditions or bad weather (more on bad weather later).

Still no response from the black car in front, in the dark. So, as he was driving at 50 mph in fast moving traffic, and I didn't fancy hanging around, I did the obligatory mirror, signal and manoeuvred around the black car (in the dark) to pass him. 

As I got alongside him I could see a faint glow from the front of his car which meant his DRLs were on. 

So, I gave him a couple of toots on the horn, hoping he'd look at me, so I could wind down my nearside window and tell him he didn't have his lights on. Instead he just turned his lights on, then back off again a second later, all in one movement. 

Bemused, I shook my head and carried on, I'd done my best to tell him but seemingly he wasn't listening.

Since this event I've given his actions and reasons a bit of thought. Did the sudden glow in front of his car tell him he'd put his full beam on? Does he not know the controls of his car? 

Or were his dashboard instruments lit?

This last, it seems to me, is a bad idea that car makers and designers have incorporated into their machinery. 
You don't need instruments lit during the day. If you go through a tunnel, where it's less bright even if lit internally, you're supposed to put your lights on, which will illuminate the instruments too. I think that drivers honestly forget their lights aren't on, 'cause the instruments are lit!

My company has a new van, which I'm the sole driver of. 
It's a Mercedes Sprinter. It has DRLs. The previous one didn't. In fact this is the first vehicle I've driven a lot that has had them. We've only had the van a week at time of writing. My instruments aren't lit all the time.
But. I still switch my lights on in dim light or bad weather (no, later still for the bad weather thing!) because I use my EYES to see whether lights should be on or not.
As a rough, very rough, guide, if I cannot see my instruments easily, as in if the panel looks a bit dark, lights go on. I don't believe in sidelights. Mine are either on or off.

Now, with mention of sidelights we can at last move onto bad weather.

Sidelights are not enough when driving along a motorway, or any road really, in heavy rain or snow, or thick fog (more on fog later). 
It's not about seeing where you're going, it's about being seen by vehicles you're approaching or passing. This applies especially on motorways. 
And, if your car is dirty, the front usually gets especially dirty in spells of cold, damp weather when salt has been spread on the motorways. 

So, a point to note at this, er, point, is that lights should be cleaned if they become dirty. Most vehicles still don't have headlamp wash systems. But who does that really? It's a bad habit we have that we don't do things we should, or we do things we shouldn't (more on bad habits later!).

In heavy rain/snow or fog, if you look in your mirror, it's virtually impossible to see a car with only its sidelights on. And actually impossible to see a car with no lights on at all. It's just downright dangerous.
And, as a bit of a sideline to the sidelights issue (see what I did there?), if it's raining heavily enough to have your wipers on, surely it's raining heavily enough to have your lights on.
I should point out, but I really shouldn't need to, that by "lights" I mean dipped headlights, not full beam. 

Just to clarify..

Car makers are seemingly taking more driver input away from actually driving a car - auto lights, auto wipers, anti collision... Surely they can make it so that if the wipers are on constant mode the lights come on too? That would make perfect sense and is a no-brainer to me.

And, whilst we're on the subject of bad weather, a little bit of fog... 

Foglights to be precise. And rear ones to be even more precise. If it's a bit misty, with patches here and there, you do not need foglights on. 

The Highway Code states that foglights should be used if visibility is down to less than 100 metres. As a rough guide, very rough, again, I use this; if the car in front of me is hard to see, the car behind me - if it's a similar distance away - will find it hard to see me. So, on go the rear fogs. 
When the car behind gets nearer, off go the fogs. Unless you have a classic with small rear lights, such as a Triumph Spitfire Mk1 for example, most cars' normal rear lights are easily seen from quite a distance even in fairly heavy mist. Mist and fog are the same thing, by the way. Water droplets in the air.

These points about lights and wipers bring me onto my final point. 

Bad habits.

We all have them. All of us. Except possibly those drivers who have passed the IAM advanced driving course, which I haven't. 


I firmly believe if you put any driver into a proper driving test situation, we'd all fail - due to bad habits. 
We can all drive, we can control the car safely, we know our Highway Code, or should do. But we all have bad habits. 

Not indicating, bad lane usage at junctions or roundabouts, excessive speed, yes we all do that. Even if you say you don't you probably do. 
Slow down for speed cameras? Yep, well you wouldn't need to if you were already driving at the correct speed.

These bad habits could be corrected if we had a re-test, say, every 5 years? 


Not a proper full test, more a refresher course on what we should, and should not be doing behind the wheel. 

It can only be a good thing, as I see it. Better drivers, better road manners, less road rage. More importantly, safer roads. For drivers, cyclists, bikers, and pedestrians.

Food for thought maybe?

Steve Houlihan

Follow Steve on Twitter @bandit4070

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Six Safest Cars

Thanks to the resurgence of Top Gear in the last decade, and the zany antics of Messrs Clarkson, Hammond and May, the way in which many television motoring shows review cars has changed greatly.

In the past we may have had considered segments on technical aspects, on fuel consumption or whether you can get daily insurance. Now instead we tend to see the focus switch to power and speed instead and are more likely to find out how well a vehicle performs against a bobsled, or a bullet train, or Linford Christie on a turbo-charged mobility scooter than how suitable it is for the school-run. 

But whilst the TV shows may focus on performance, for many of us the key selling point lies elsewhere. Safety. We have families, we have loved ones and we want to ensure that there are protected should the worst happen on the road. Thankfully for us vehicles are being made safer, and there are an increasing number of organisations which test to see just how safe our cars are, with Euro NCAP being one such group. Each year Euro NCAP organise crash-tests and gives realistic advice to consumers on the safest cars on the market.

Euro NCAP’s testing looks at four key areas; adult occupant protection, child occupant protection, pedestrian protection and safety assist systems. And in accordance with this testing, below you’ll find the six safest cars on European roads today, as per their 2012 testing.



Renault Clio

The Renault Clio scored a remarkable 99% in Euro NCAP’s safety assist system area boasting as it does effective seatbelt reminders for all occupants as well as speed limitation assistance and electronic stability control. All this contributed to the Clio being crowned the safest car in the ‘Supermini’ category.



Volvo V40

The five-door Volvo V40 vehicle scored very efficiently for ‘adult occupant safety’ for both front and side impact with the seat and head restraints providing good protection against whiplash injury in the event of a rear-end collision. Its overall effectiveness makes it the top car in Euro NCAP’s ‘Small Family’ category.


BMW 3 Series

Like the Volvo V40, the BMW 3 Series scored particularly well when it came to adult occupant safety. Leading the field when it comes to safety in ‘Large Family’ vehicles, it offers good protection to all areas of the body for adult passengers of varying sizes according to Euro NCAP’s data.




The Fiat 500L continues to pave the way when it comes to safety in the ‘Small MPV’ category. The car’s City Brake Control, an autonomous emergency braking system which helps the driver to avoid a low-speed crash  by using sensors to detect potential accident points was key to the Fiat 500L’s effective scoring.



Ford Kuga

A 100% score in Euro NCAP’s ‘safety assist’ category helped the Ford Kuga to leave the other vehicles trailing in the ‘Small Off-Road 4x4’ vehicle section. The Kuga’s SYNC Emergency Assistance feature, which makes an automatic call to the emergency services if the Kuga is involved in a serious accident, giving the vehicle’s GPS position as it does so, was central to that high rating.



Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai’s Santa Fe sits as top dog when it comes to safety amongst ‘Large Off-Road 4x4’ vehicles. Performing particularly well for the safety of child occupants the Hyundai Santa Fe allows for the passenger airbag to be disabled if a rear facing safety seat is placed on the passenger seat.

When it comes to safety and security it is important to make sure you have all bases covered. Even when making a one-off journey it is important to ensure you have appropriate short-term car insurance in place as you never know what can happen on the road.

So next time you’re looking to buy a new vehicle, forget how impressive the car looks when racing a submarine, being turned into a hovercraft, or going the long way to Tipperary on a single tank of petrol, and instead take account of the vehicle’s safety performance a little more closely which is sure to help reduce your temporary car insurance quote.

Hiten Solanki


Hiten Solanki is a digital marketer and freelance writer currently based in London and writing on behalf of a number of clients including TempCover.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Winter is coming!


With predictions of “freezing winds” bringing “snow and ice chaos” (Daily Express!) for a prolonged spell of cold weather, now seems like a good time to politely nudge you all towards the UKMotorTalk Winter Driving Tips pages…..

Monday, 23 September 2013

Vettel booed on podium

What is F1 coming to when Vettel is booed by part of the audience as he takes the win in Singapore?

Yes, he dominated the race. Yes, he is likely to take the championship with 3 or 4 races to go, but this is hardly the first time a team and driver have dominated the championship.

It may not be Bernie's ideal scenario but McLaren won 15 out of 16 in the 80's and Jim Clark won 7 out of 8 for his first championship in 63…

There are other examples where a genius driver, genius team boss and genius designer have dominated F1.

None of this justifies undeserved booing… It is for the others to catch up, or do Mercedes, Fiat et al lack the resources to do so?

Graham Benge

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Karl-Heinz Kalbfell 1949-2013

Karl-Heinz Kalbfell died following an accident during practise for a classic motorcycle race at Brands Hatch on 17th August.

Graham Benge talks to Karl-Heinz Kalbfell at the 2008 Goodwood Revival

Karl-Heinz, whom I interviewed several times in recent years, died racing bikes as was his lifelong passion, despite being in his 60s, but I knew him as one of the most far sighted men in the global motor industry.

A senior member of BMW’s main board his extraordinary vision brought them to global prominence.

Among other remarkable achievements, he was first to build a production facility in China, years before others recognised the buying power of their developing economy.

But probably his two greatest triumphs were persuading BMW to firstly buy Mini, then a loss making part of the British car industry, and soon after to buy and revive the greatest car in the world, Rolls Royce. Both companies have thrived under BMW ownership.

He led both projects not just with his business head but as a passionate fan of both marques.

He will be remembered as an extraordinarily farsighted member of an industry not noted for the number of its visionaries, and being the man who probably saved two Great British marques from oblivion.

Graham Benge

GB’s F1 gossip…

I have said in the past that a surprising amount of F1 business is conducted between team major players when they convene at Goodwood’s motor sport events…

For example a few years ago at the Festival of Speed, Mark Webber canvassed team bosses to get Daniel Ricciardo a test, and years before that, the deal for Adrian Newey  to leave McLaren and join Red Bull was done at the Festival of Speed and finalised at the Revival.

So what next?

Just a week after this year’s Revival and I hear we should expect a new F1 team to appear on the grid next season… Rumour perhaps at this time, but I believe David Richards of Aston Martin is about to embark on a buying spree.

With successes in many areas of motor sport, and a lot of middle eastern money to hand, I believe former F1 boss Richards is seeking to buy 2 of the grid’s 26 places and may well have Bernie’s support in doing so.

My money is on Sauber. Mid-grid with potential to be regular top ten performers, and rumoured to have financial problems, they would be an attractive buy.

Watch this space!!

Graham Benge

Friday, 12 July 2013

Fangio Mercedes W196 sells for staggering £17.5m

Yesterday we mentioned this sale, and it proved to be no disappointment….

2013-07-12 14.51.38-2

The Bonham’s auction-room was standing room only, and even then the crowds spilled outside on to the grass, such was the anticipation!

There were several gasps when the initial bids were made… £3m got quite a yelp from a woman standing behind me!!


Slowly it climbed to the (probably) record breaking figure of £17.5m…. £19.6m once you’ve added tax and commission…. Not a bad day at the office!

2013-07-12 14.37.12

AND we spoke to Stirling Moss about driving HIS version of the car….

Not ALL about speed at Goodwood…

2013-07-12 11.45.49

Breakfast view...

People, trucks and no fewer than 7 iterations of Maserati... :-)

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Mercedes W196 going under the hammer

As Goodwood celebrates its 20th anniversary so do auctioneers Bonhams who have provided many highlights over the decades but none greater than this.

The highlight is not rare, its unique, the 1954 mercedes, a double race winner driven by legend Fangio.

One of these races, Fangio winning the 1954 German GP at the Nurburgring, is widely regarded as one of the greatest races of all time!!

Now you could own that car but we suggest you win the euromillions first, the target price is 11 million pounds!!

We'll bring you an update tomorrow post sale....

Goodwood's very own Motor Show

... and a few planes too!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Looking forward to a few days at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.....

Lots of the usual thrills, spills, sights and smells from the 2013 Goodwood Festival of Speed....


For more ticketing and visitor information, visit

5 tips for happier journeys this summer

The summer holidays are beckoning, and with them brings the prospect of long car journeys, sharing the roads with millions of other drivers hell-bent on getting from A to B as quickly as possible and our vehicles themselves with children who think a good way to pass the time is another round of ‘Are we nearly there yet?’.

This year, with more people holidaying in the UK and fuel prices climbing inexorably higher, it’s set to be more expensive and more miserable than ever.

Veterans of these annual trials will have learned their own tricks to stay safe, sane and solvent on the roads. Here are five to get the rest of us started.


1. Packing

Before you pack the car, empty it. Unless you have too much time on your hands, it’s highly likely that your footwells and boot will be full of hidden treasures/junk. Either way, it doesn’t need to be there. It takes up valuable space, weighs the car down and contributes to the general sense of chaos associated with summer holiday driving. Give the car a once-over and a clean – you’ll thank yourself for it and you’ll improve your fuel efficiency too. If you have to store things on top of the car, a roof-box rather than a roof-rack will keep you nice and streamlined.

When it comes to packing, spend a little while making sure the things you’ll need – or might need – are accessible. Otherwise you’re only going to have to unpack and repack again in the middle of a journey, and possibly on the hard shoulder (that spare wheel you’ve never needed, and is now hidden under an untidy pile of bags and boxes...). Keep snacks, drinks, games (for the children), blankets and so on where you can reach them. Again, you’ll thank yourself for it when a request for a biscuit or favourite teddy doesn’t entail a fifteen-minute interlude at the side of the motorway.


2. Fluids

That’s you and the car. Although you’ll probably want to limit your fluid intake while driving for obvious reasons, dehydration is uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst – it compounds tiredness and saps concentration. Keep a bottle of water or your favourite soft drink to hand. If you’re driving at night or for long distances, stock up on energy drinks to give you a boost. If you’re tired, stop at the nearest services: it’s not worth pushing on. Grab a coffee, a blast of fresh air, a half-hour nap, or all of the above – whatever’s going to get you to your destination safely.

For the car, you’ve got four fluids to keep topped up. Check oil, coolant and windscreen fluid before you go. If you’re on a long journey and will need several tanks of fuel, it can be worth doing some research before you leave to target the cheapest petrol stations.


3. Check the tyres

Always make sure your tyres are in decent condition and pumped up to the right level before a long journey. Good tread and correct pressure improve the car’s handling (and therefore safety) and fuel efficiency. And you can find yourself on the wrong end of a very hefty fine if you’re stopped with worn tyres.

Bear in mind that the tyres on a fully loaded car will need to be at different pressures than under normal circumstances. If you’ve checked them recently, don’t assume that they’ll be ok. There should be a note with the right pressures for front and back tyres somewhere obvious – often by the petrol cap or at the base of the driver’s seat, inside the door.


4. Keeping cool

A hot car is an uncomfortable car. Hot children are miserable children. Hot drivers are grumpy drivers. You get the general idea. On the off-chance the sun deigns to shine, be prepared. Have a windscreen shade ready so you’re not stepping into a sauna after a break. Remember that opening the windows will make a big difference to your fuel efficiency, especially at high speed. And don’t put the air conditioning on if the windows are open – you’re just cooling the entire outside world, and that’s also bad for fuel consumption. Once the car has cooled down, try turning the air-con off – you may not need to have it running continuously. Buy stick-on mesh screens for the back windows, to filter out the sun and stop the children getting burned. (Up front, you’ll need to rely on sunscreen.)


5. Be nice

Lastly, spare a thought for all the other people in the same position as you. Keep that two-second gap from the car in front. Indicate before you pull out, not when you’re already halfway there. And please, stay out of the middle lane unless you’re overtaking. Pay it forward: if you act nice to other people, they’re more likely to act nice to others too. Spread the love. We’re all in this together, after all.


Many thanks to who suggested these tips.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Get thee (further back) behind me?

So then, stereotypical Audi driver  - it appears that you're soon going to have to de-activate that bumper-seeking electromagnet lodged under the bonnet of your TDi A4 and start leaving a safe gap to the poor sod in front of you that you're pushing along at 80-plus.

And you're going to have to dig out the manual for the inbuilt hands-free system..

..not to mention dusting off that long-discarded copy of the Highway Code to find out just what that other lane to your left is actually for..

Yes, finally -  in answer to the countless prayers from those of us who don't subscribe to the Sociopath's Method, Her Majesty's Coalition has announced a shake-up of the rules relating to careless driving in the UK.

This means that The Boys in Blue (or rather more accurately these days, The Boys & Girls in Black & Day-glo Yellow) will have more powers to deal at the roadside with those who persist in driving like pillocks rather than referring miscreants to the courts.

Up until now, careless driving offences such as the afore-mentioned tailgating could only be dealt with by means of a summons to the local magistrates, whereas now your shiny-suited bumper-hugger can expect to be issued with a fixed penalty notice and licence endorsement right there & then in the back of the nice police-person's BMW estate.

And it doesn't stop there;  also - praise be - the long-hated tendency of the ignorant to remain steadfastly in the middle/outside lane of motorways/dual carriageways when there are patently no other vehicles within overtaking distance is to receive the scrutiny and attract the punishment it so rightly deserves. Lane hogging, the bĂȘte noire of so many motorists, is also set to be dealt with in a more forceful manner with fines of up to £100 being issued for the worst offenders, along with the dreaded three points on the licence.

And it's this offence in particular which most will find particularly irksome as it can effectively reduce what typically would be a free(ish)-flowing, 3 lane, high-speed carriageway to a bunched-up, frustrated 2 lane queue all having to merge into one lane to get around the seemingly-oblivious mobile chicane.

And it could also be argued that this behaviour also leads to even more tailgating as irate & otherwise law-abiding drivers try to bully the lane one refugee out of their way, or perhaps even more dangerously, drive up the inside of them with the obvious dangers inherent in doing so..

Of course, these motoring misdemeanours are already currently punishable by law, but the fact that the penalty for committing them - along incidentally with everyone's favourite - yakking into a hand-held mobile phone (or cell-phone to those of you who sit on the other side of the car to drive it) - has been increased nearly threefold in certain cases means that finally, those who persist in making driving on the UK's crowded roads even more stressful & hazardous than it already is might finally think before doing something stupid.

All very well in principle then, we here at UKMT will be applauding this news, but any crackdown on anti-social driving is only really going to have a meaningful effect if the Police are able to devote adequate resources to enforcing it.

Anyone who's ever watched the seemingly-interminable shows about the traffic cops on BBC1/Dave/Really/Watch/insert channel name here will attest to the fact that the chaps & chapesses of the nation's various Roads Policing Departments are as likely to be found attending to a domestic incident as they are pulling over a photocopier salesman on the M6 who is suffering delusions of being the next Jenson Button.

Whilst it's true that particularly on Motorways & trunk routes you're as likely to get nicked by a dark grey VW Golf bristling with a multitude of antennae & cunningly-concealed blue lights as you are the standard Polar White Volvo estate in battenburg trim these days, errant motorists are only ever going to alter their bad habits if they can expect to see a fully-marked police vehicle on their journey every once in a while.

And, whilst this isn't a rant about any potential underhand sneakiness of using unmarked police cars - really, it isn't - those regarding the matter from a more..cynical viewpoint might fear that these new powers, and especially the increased fines which go with them, might just tempt those in charge of HM Government's somewhat strapped Treasury to encourage even greater use of the more subtly-hued vehicles in order to catch offenders at it rather than preventing such behaviour in the first place..

Let's hope we they're wrong, eh..? ;-)

Dave Wakefield

Friday, 18 January 2013

Winter Driving Tips

Yes, it is that time again... and a few common sense precautions can save you a lot of worry.... But if you are stuck in snow today, it might be a bit late to wish that you'd checked a few things before the snow came!

There are lots of helpful tips and a pieces of advice on our Winter Driving Tips pages of the website... but to give you some food for thought, here is a brief excerpt relating to getting stuck out in the cold...

You're driving along in awful conditions, it's dark and snowing and suddenly your lights or wipers have gone... What next?

Well, ease gently into the side of the road and try to stop in a position where you are not at risk from passing traffic.

If you have to get out of the car ensure that you are dressed warmly first and you are visible with light coloured clothing or some form of reflecting clothing, a hi-visibility vest can be bought for just a few quid.

The problem is obviously an electrical one and is most likely a blown fuse, so check the handbook for the fuse box location [ usually inside the car in the driver or passenger footwells or the lower edge of the dashboard ], locate the relevant fuse and if it has blown replace with the spare which you have with you... haven't you ??

If not take a similarly rated fuse from elsewhere in the fuse box, ideally from a non-essential piece of equipment - the stereo for example - and use that.

Perhaps the car has ground to a halt in the outside lane of a dual carriageway or motorway, hit the 4 way hazard warning flashers immediately as you are now at great risk.

You are faced with the option of moving the car or deserting it immediately. If you do desert, do not cross to the hard shoulder unless there is no other traffic in sight. You are safer between the central barriers until help arrives.

Should you elect to stay in the car, attempt to drive it on the starter. Keep the flashers going, select second gear and keep the ignition key turned as far as it will go, there should be enough power in the battery to move it across the lanes to the hard shoulder. If this does not work in a couple of minutes, abandon the car safely.

The snow is already thick and coming down fast, you have to climb a steep slope, keep in second gear and try to keep moving steadily, with no jerky steering or acceleration, don't rush at it and you should get to your destination while others flounder with spinning wheels.

If you do get stuck in the snow the key to getting out is to drive very gently so as to avoid losing traction. You can improve the tyres grip by putting something under the wheels, old carpet or sacking is ideal. If the snow is deep try to dig out a passage for the wheels to follow towards a clearer area. Lay old carpet or sacking in front of the driving wheels to maximise grip. If you have some string, tie the sacks or carpets to the door handles so that you don't need to stop to pick them up until you have reached a better surface.

and also in blog posts we've made over the years...:

Monday, 14 January 2013

Italy, what’s wrong.

italy_02aEarly December is time for the annual Italian Motor Show. It's not held where you might think, in the sparkling city of Milan or Turin, home to Fiat's old Lingotto factory, famous for being the scene of the roof top chase in The Italian Job. Instead, it's held at a miserable 1970's concrete complex, just outside Bologna.

Bologna itself is an incredibly beautiful medieval city, home to a number of dizzy towers, which have just as much right to be famous as the Leaning Tower of Pisa but, because they're not white, aren't. Perhaps the reason for holding the show in Bologna, is due to the proximity of the supercar manufacturers in the region. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and more recently, Pagani are all a short drive away.italy_01a

There's a lot of industry nearby and centres of population. Maybe it's a cold-headed commercial decision, conceived to get as many punters through the door as is possible. Important in these straitened times, because the Italian car industry seems to be in need of as much help as it can get.

I'll qualify this first though, because Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini seem to be doing rather well. Domestic sales are poor, but otherwise sales figures are on the rise worldwide. Ferrari seem to launch a new car every year and are no stranger to killing off cars in their prime. This takes confidence. Likewise Maserati, who are about to launch not just one, but two new Quattroporte saloons and a brand new SUV.

But whilst this is all going on, it's hard to wonder if it is all at the expense of the more down to earth brands that you and I might actually be able to afford. With every decade that passes comes another claim of an Alfa Romeo renaissance, or a rejuvenation of the Lancia badge. Group parent Fiat seem to come in fits and starts with alternating generations of cars going through a cycle of praise and derision. But it'd be difficult for even the most diehard Alfa advocate to deny that things are in seriously bad shape.

Back to the Bologna motor show, 2012. An annual pilgrimage - a two hour flight from London and a night in a cheap hotel, together with a shiny Christmas market for unusual gift opportunities. Not the biggest or best show in the calendar, but normally a fantastic opportunity for those like me - with a penchant for Italian cars - to have a good look around the local specialities. Only this year, there were none on display.

italy_08aWith the exception of a handful of Panda 4x4s, the Fiat Group had no formal presence at this year's show. No Fiat. No Alfa. No Lancia. No Maserati. No Ferrari. There were a few third parties there, but otherwise that was it. Why? Money. The people of Italy are poor. You can tell from the way they dress (winter coats that look like bin bags), the way they smell, what they eat and how easily they were distracted by a skanky girl's backside, draped over a Corsa on a tuning stand.

italy_03aIt hasn't always been this way. There has always been an unbridled love of ogling girls but at least in the past, they were pretty and sitting in a Ferrari. This year, the best a pretty girl's posterior was going to get was a Renault Clio estate, the only world premiere on offer. Renault had a presence, comprised of small cars, electric cars, small electric cars and Dacia. Economy cars, in other words. VW had the new Beetle convertible and latest Golf, but that was about it. The reverse psychology in employing male models to sit in the Beetle rag top wasn't working either. No girls expressed any interest.

italy_04aEven the profligate Mercedes Benz, with their bewildering array of niche models could only field a handful of cars and GM could show you either an Adam, or a Mokka. The show was rubbish and locals voiced their disapproval by tearing up pages of brochures and guides and depositing the refuse on the floor. By the end of the day, certain areas took on the appearance of a really cheap ticker tape parade. In short, the show was crap.

A flight back to the UK and it's time to start taking this all in. This isn't the first recession felt by the Italians but have their attempts at bailing out the US car industry with the acquisition of Chrysler, got something to do with the poor showing in the European market? Why is Lancia basically dead, with Alfa hot on its heels? Why can't Fiat sell anything other than 500s and Pandas?italy_07a

A friend of mine recently acquired a brand new Alfa Romeo MiTo - Alfa's MINI. Like me, he has a day job which requires extensive travel by car, and he is able to choose a new company car every few years. Enchanted by the MiTo's pretty looks and comparatively athletic Diesel engine, he overlooked the possibility of quality issues and the lack of a nearby dealer and filled in the order form.

The car arrived in May 2012 and was pressed into service. It started to fall to pieces within weeks. The first issues were corrosion of the wheel nuts and plastic interior trim falling off. "You've never had an Alfa before, have you sir?" was the response he got from the service reception when he set out his complaints. Only the rusted nuts were replaced, despite it being clear that the others would fail shortly thereafter. The trim was reapplied, only to pop off again.

Since then, the list of complaints in just 6 months is beyond comprehension: Wheel nuts replaced, mirror trim replaced, ventilation ducting replaced, centre console trim replaced, clutch foot rest replaced, aluminium pedal branding rubbed off completely (warranty claim refused), carpet mats worn right through, the passenger door has dropped off the hinge, and the oddment stowage box has been replaced.

The plastic under engine cowling has fallen off and the front wipers are so badly aligned that they have scraped the paint off the rear edge of the bonnet, right back to the bare metal, necessitating a respray. Whilst it's true that the car does more miles than most others, this is beyond a joke for a car that has not yet even seen out its first year. I should also observe at this point, that not every Alfa is like this. Perhaps this is just the Italian equivalent of the infamous BL 'Friday Car' or it's simply just a lemon.

But, given so many of these issues seem to relate to poorly designed trim and finish elements, it makes it hard to believe. When the oddment storage compartment failed, I examined the components carefully and was able only to compare the quality of the moulding and spring with something that you might find in a Christmas cracker. Why even bother making a car like this, if these simple things can not be made right? Perhaps the MiTo's bigger sister, Giulietta, is of superior construction but beyond this, who can tell? Because there are no more models in the range - the handsome 159, Spider and Brera models having silently shuffled away from showroom floors during 2011.

Instead, Fiat tried to fool us into buying Lancias badged as Chryslers. The Ypsilon, a peculiar looking but strangely appealing 5 door supermini and the Delta, a now very much late mid life stretched Fiat Bravo with LED lights being the only truly memorable feature. Both of these cars have little or no future beyond the point at which the rental fleets that bought them at a massive discount dispose of them at auction. Lancia is dead and this is perhaps no bad thing. It's a controversial thing to say, not least amongst car lovers because both Lancia and Alfa feature so heavily in the developmental history of the motor car. But unless Fiat Group do something truly drastic, and soon, they will be finished in their current form.

Alfa Romeo need to start selling cars. They have been suggested as the Italian equivalent of BMW and with their heritage and modicum of remaining enthusiast loyalty, it can be done. But not with a two car range. A genuinely premium small hatch needs to start rolling off new productions lines, with new staff and then they need competent executive saloons and SUVs to follow. It'll be these that get people into showrooms and if they proliferate in significant numbers, the badge kudos will get those with less money to spend in to buy the smaller cars. It almost happened with the 156 and 147 a decade ago, before the awful dealers ruined it all.

italy_05aThey, therefore need to be fixed too. It's not enough to give a Fiat franchise an extension to sell Alfa Romeo. There's an Aston Martin dealer in Surrey that sets a good example for what should be happening, by selling MiTos alongside the Vanquish, and having them serviced at the same location. But this sort of thing takes time, and time is not on Alfa's side. Which begs the question, would it not be better just to kill the brand off, and take a fresh view?

Maserati's star is rising. A great brand, a great name and, since having Ferrari take over, rarely has a foot been put wrong. Why not have an entire Maserati badged range, from premium hatchback right through to sports limousine? In so doing, an incredibly bright halo would be cast across the range and in the same period, whilst Alfa would be having yet another attempt to reinvent itself, factories would be busy churning out cars with the trident badge. Yes, the brand would be cheapened somewhat in the eyes of many - but how many BMW M6 customers care that in the same showroom is a flat white 116i with steel wheels?

Completely do away with Lancia, dispose of Alfa Romeo and then have three tiers - Fiat doing what they do best, namely building innovative small cars like the 500 and Panda, with associated, profit-generating spin offs. Maserati catering from the middle ground up to the limousine market and Ferrari turning out aggressive supercars using the latest technology. Any money saved can be spent on producing some decent TV adverts, something which Fiat have been completely awful at doing. And so more cars get sold, problem solved, economy fixed.

Alex Wakefield

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

A Classic Day Out.

For the last couple of years now, the New Years Day gathering at Brooklands Museum in Surrey has been a firm fixture on the calendar for those with a penchant for the sweet tang of Castrol R.

This year saw the biggest turn-out yet as hundreds of fans of classics - old & in the making - headed down to Weybridge to blow away the festive cobwebs in the presence of some remarkable metal.

Back in the heady, pre-war years Brooklands' famous slogan was 'The Right Crowd and No Crowding' and, whilst the sights and sounds might have changed more than a little in the 70-odd years since the likes of Sirs Malcolm Campbell & Henry Seagrave thundered round the daunting circuit, they would certainly recognise the enthusiasm for all things automotive evident in the audience gathered on this sunny New Years Day.

Last year, alas, the weather gods saw fit to rain on Brooklands' parade which took its toll on numbers, but this year was very different - the blue skies and Winter sun acting as a superb backdrop to the wide gamut of auto & aero-related exhibits assembled at this uniquely-historic venue.

The majority of cars on site dated back to before 1973 but there were a goodly number of cars judged to be modern classics or if not, certainly classics in the making - one very well-presented example being an immaculate late 70s Mark 2 Ford Escort, replete with period gallons-litres-gallons conversion chart displayed proudly in the rear window nearest the filler cap..

Amidst all the usual suspects - the serried rows of beautifully-preserved & painstakingly-restored Triumph TR4/5/6s and lithe Jaguar E-Types, nestled the more mundane yet equally-engaging & cherished Morris Marinas & Ford Cortinas  - cars which once were so ubiquitous as to blend into the background but now conspicuous due to their scarcity and, arguably, thinner on the ground now than the preserved exotica arranged alongside them on the famous banking.

And those with a taste for the more exotic weren't to be disappointed as pedigree examples - old & new - from the stables of Bentley, Rolls-Royce & Ferrari jostled for the affections of the automotive faithful.

Alfa Romeo is a name synonymous with beauty & poise (the more unkind amongst us might also suggest such alternatives as 'unreliable' and 'fragile' - we couldn't possibly comment..) and as well as the achingly-pretty chrome-laden GTVs, Spiders & Montreals present in the paddock there lurked an equally-attractive yet more modern interpretation of what constitutes beauty & poise in the 21st Century for Alfa Romeo; the jaw-droppingly stunning, limited-edition only Alfa 8C Competizione.

The fact that only 500 of the things were made for worldwide consumption rendered this car one of the rarer items on display at Brooklands and consequently it received more that its fair share of attention from congnoscenti and those who recognise beauty alike.

And, were you to suspect that the 8C was just another Brera (all mouth, yet without the cojones to back up the matinee idol looks) we can assure you dear reader that this thing goes as well as it looks.

A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to find myself in the passenger seat of none other than Nick Mason's personal copy as it was hurtled up Goodwood Hill by a very handy racing driver by the name of James Wood and it went every bit as fast as it looked.

Brooklands is such an evocative place. Everywhere you turn there's history, whether it be in the sheds where Sir Malcolm Campbell fettled his record-breaking Bluebirds or upon the towering banked circuit where brave men and women diced for the lead and risked their lives on a race by race basis and it's surely a fitting place in which to celebrate the sheer diversity of the motor car on days like this.

You'd do much worse than to pencil this one into your diary for 2014...

Dave Wakefield