Don’t turn roundabouts into Russian roulette

Too many drivers are making negotiating roundabouts a guessing game by not using their indicators, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

Driving on to busy roundabouts is a bit like Russian roulette – any moment you expect a big bang.

Roundabouts are difficult enough without the added complication of playing the ‘guess where the car is going’ game.

With many drivers failing to use indicators, or even the right lane, it can be virtually impossible to know where they are going… assuming they even know themselves!

I felt very sorry the other day for a learner driver trying to get on to a roundabout where five major roads converge. They weren’t confident enough to nip into a gap in the traffic, and understandably so. But with so few cars indicating their intentions I was finding it difficult to judge when it was safe to go.

I am always careful on roadabouts, even more so since being forced to continue round one on my way home when a driver who approached it in the left-hand lane decided to sail round the outside of the roundabout and leave it at the third of the four exits… I just missed him and ended up leaving at the fourth exit and heading back to where I’d come from!

So I am delighted road safety charity the Institute of Advanced Motorists is offering tips to avoid problems at roundabouts.

Information: Look well ahead, check your mirrors so you know what traffic is around you. Give any signals in plenty of time. Try and identify a gap in the traffic before you reach the roundabout, but keep an eye on the car in front – it may not go for the gap you would.

Position: Approach the roundabout according to which exit you’re taking. Keep to the left lane to turn left or go straight and the right lane when taking an exit on the right. Watch for any road markings guiding you and try to give other vehicles plenty of space.

Speed: Slow smoothly to a speed appropriate for the roundabout, taking into account the position of other road-users

Gears: Once you’re at the right speed, and before turning, select the correct gear. Do a final mirror check, especially the mirror on the side you are turning towards.

Accelerate: At a roundabout choose a gap in the traffic and accelerate smoothly into it – the same applies to any other junction

IAM chief examiner Peter Rodger  said: “At roundabouts, it is useful to try and consider the whole thing as one manoeuvre – that way you have a plan about which lane to be in, when to move into that lane and what signals you expect to use. But you need to prepare to be flexible – other road users don’t always behave as we’d expect them to.”

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Clever in-car cams can dash those ‘crash-for-cash’ scams

With ‘crash-for-cash’ scams on the rise, Archant Anglia motoring editor Andy Russell finds out how dash-cams can be an ever-present eyewitness in your vehicle.

Many years ago, not long after passing my driving test, I bumped into another car… well, actually, it bumped into me.

I maintained the car pulled into my path from a side road on the right. The other driver insisted I was straddling the central white light and on his side of the road.

It’s so long ago I can’t recall the final outcome but I know I was concerned about losing some of the no claims discount I had carefully built up – no NCD protection in those days.

If I’d had a modern in-vehicle journey recorder – better known as a ‘dash-cam’ – it would have been so easy to prove who was where on the road and at fault.

Dash-cams simply suction on to the windscreen and rear screen and record the view, capturing events before, during and after a collision.

The camera records on to a memory card and is instantly available as evidence in any insurance claim for or against the driver.

Aviva saw a 51% surge in crash for-cash car insurance scams last year. And the Association of British Insurers says fraud reached a record £1.3bn last year with £811m of fraudulent claims attributed to car insurance. Crash for cash was the main contributor to a 34% rise in false motoring claims which it is estimated could be adding about £50 to each of our premiums.

I borrowed a couple of dash-cams from motorist discount strore chain Wilco, part of the Shortis Group which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, to find out how affordable and effective they are as an ever-present witness in the event of a collision.

Wilco is fitting the £29.99 Streetwize HD In-vehicle Video Journey Recorder to all its vans after a hefty insurance claim in the hope it could help cut its premium.

This budget camera, which has a 90-degree wide-angle lens and 2.5in flip-down screen, switches on an off automatically with the vehicle ignition and charges via a 12-volt socket. The downside is that the suction-mounted bracket is quite large and the pivot points need to be adjusted and tightened once you have the desired view.

I much preferred a mid-range dash-cam in the shape of the Nextbase 202 Lite but it costs a lot more at £69.99.

With its smaller bracket and built-in 2.7in screen this more compact dash-cam felt sturdier, easier to set up and fitted neatly at the top of the screen behind the driver’s rearview mirror.

The picture quality also seemed better while the 120-degree lens angle gave an even wider view.

Both include infrared night vision and continuous loop recording on to an SD card of up to 32Gb (which is not included). They can also be used in picture mode, have an audio recording mode and motion sensing activation. If an impact is detected when the vehicle is parked the camera will start, record for a set time and automatically save the file.

Just as satellite-navigation and Bluetooth phone kits have become must-haves for millions of motorists expect to see more vehicles with dash-cams – for not a lot of money they can save an awful lot of hassle.

For more information visit the website at

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Fuelling the great petrol or diesel debate

The diesel or petrol dilemma gives real fuel for thought with today’s hi-tech, modern engines. Motoring editor Andy Russell explains why.

Caption: The 1.0-litre turbo petrol EcoBoost engine powers more than 40% of Fiestas sold in the UK.

Whenever people question me about whether they should buy a diesel the first question I ask is how many miles they do a year.

Over the years various figures have been bandied around about how many miles a year you need to do to make the extra outlay of deciding on diesel pay dividends.

But now there is another reason why mileage has to be taken into consideration – one that can have serious consequences on the longevity and reliability of the diesel engine itself.

As the EU puts more and more stringent emissions regulations on modern cars, car-makers are having to crank up the technology to meet them.

The result is that modern diesel cars – now meeting Euro V and VI emissions standards – are fitted with diesel particulate filters or DPFs for short.

These particulate filters do exactly what it says on the tin – they trap particles of soot to prevent them being released in the atmosphere. This soot is then burned off when the vehicle is driven at a constant speed for a decent distance or time when the exhaust gets really hot.

If the filter needs to ‘regenerate’ itself, to prevent it getting partially blocked by soot, but the exhaust is not getting hot enough to burn off the collected soot the engine’s electronic control unit (ECU) initiated the regeneration process.

The ECU will inject extra fuel into the system to trigger regeneration by increasing the exhaust temperature. If the journey is a bit stop and start or you take your foot off the accelerator while regeneration is taking place, it may not complete the process. The AA says it should be possible to start a complete regeneration and clear the DPF warning light by driving for 10 minutes or so at more than 40mph.

If regeneration is unsuccessful the extra fuel injected will not burn and will drain into the sump. This means the oil level will rise and quality will deteriorate. and the danger is that it will rise above the maximum level on the dipstick which can cause serious damage.

It sounds scary and certainly caused me some concern when the mileage on my wife’s diesel car dipped considerably when our sons bought their own and mum’s taxi was no longer required.

And it certainly gave some fuel for thought when it came time to change our car. With our mileage down to no more than 7,000 a year petrol was the best bet.

That was a couple of years ago but now car-makers are making their petrol offerings even more appealing with small-capacity turbo petrol engines that give diesel-like economy and low CO2 emissions so are not only kind to the environment but also kind on the wallet with no annual road tax to pay.

Because petrol cars warm up faster than diesel ones they are better suited to short trips as well as generally being priced lower and petrol costs less than diesel.

Most major car-makers now offer such engines but let’s take Ford’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost engine because it goes into a range of cars including the UK’s best-selling Fiesta, where it accounts for more than 40% of sales, and the Focus and has won international engine of the year two years running – no mean achievement.

In 100PS guise – there’s also a 125PS version – it’s as powerful as a non-turbo 1.6-litre petrol engine and has official combined economy of 65mpg with 99g/km of CO2. By comparison, the new 1.5-litre Ford turbo diesel engine has an output of 75PS, official combined economy of 76mpg with 98g/km of CO2.

And the EcoBoost petrol Fiesta is £500 less than the equivalent diesel version to buy. Even if the MPG is not quite as good, £500 buys a lot of fuel especially when it costs seven or eight pence a litre less at the pumps.

Twitter: @andyrussellauto

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Price often right on popular PCPs

Andy Russell, motoring editor. Twitter @andyrussellauto

If I had a pound for every time I have been asked for a bit of motoring advice, normally while on the driveway washing our car, I would have enough to put it through the car wash each week!

Last week a retired neighbour asked me what PCPs are whether it would be a good way for him to get his next car.

PCPs – or personal contract purchases – have been credited with the big rise in cars bought on finance and helped boost sales month after month.

A PCP is similar to hire purchase (HP) but instead of paying off the entire value of the car in monthly instalments, you pay a deposit and effectively only the depreciation so making monthly payments less. And many manufacturers offer deposit contribution and subsidised APRs.

At the end of a PCP agreement, generally 36 months, you can either pay off the pre-agreed outstanding value to own it outright, give it back or start another PCP on a new car.

The guaranteed minimum future value (GMFV) – often called the balloon – is the key to how a PCP works. The finance company calculates the car’s predicted minimum value at the end of the agreement – the deposit and monthly payments pay off the difference between the buying price and this predicted value. If your car is worth more than the GMFV you can use the extra money as deposit towards your next car.

So back to my bit of neighbourly advice about why a PCP suited him.

Being retired he had a decent monthly pension so could afford a couple of hundred pounds or so each month.

He had money in the bank but, being a great traveller, preferred to use some of his savings seeing more of the world while he still fit.

He now covers only 5,000 to 6,000 miles a year and the lower your mileage the higher the GMFV.

He looks after his cars so no damage penalties when returning it.

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Smoking in cars becomes burning issue

Smoke gets in your eyes according to the classic hit song… and that’s the last thing you need if you are at the wheel of a vehicle and trying to keep your eyes on the road.

I used to smoke and thought nothing of lighting up in the car and shudder when I recall the scary moments and near-misses I had when my eyes were watering or I was groping on the floor for a smouldering fag end I had dropped.

Just as bad was cleaning the car’s interior and trying to freshen it up when you sold it. I once spent ages getting rid of traces of nicotine only to sell my car to a smoker… who lit up as they drove off!

That’s by the by but it brings me to the hot topic of smoking in cars.

I’m not one of those reformed smoker, fresh-air freak zealots, but I struggle to understand how you can be fined for using a handheld mobile phone while driving but it’s not actually an offence to smoke, snack or slurp while at the wheel.

Admittedly, while eating, drinking and smoking while driving are not illegal in the UK, police can charge drivers with careless driving if they feel they are not in control of their vehicle as a result. This is in contrast to more specific laws which exist around other potential distractions such as mobile phones – the use of which attracts an instant penalty.

But research shows reaction times of motorists eating or drinking while driving are slower. Another problem with doing things that involve taking a hand off the steering wheel is it can cause you to swerve or drift across the highway, while drivers take their eyes off the road to reach or unwrap items.

Surely it would just be easier and, ultimately, safer to take the hand-held mobile phone approach and just ban all these activities. A little heavy-handed you might say but it would promote safety and stop some seemingly ludicrous situations that make the news.

Only this month we had the story of a woman taking a sip of a Slush Puppie while stuck in a late-morning traffic jam in south London. A police officer who saw her called back-up from three more officers and the woman ended up with a £100 fixed penalty notice and three penalty points on her licence.

A total ban would probably go down well with road safety charity Brake.

Julie Townsend, Brake’s deputy chief executive, has warned drivers not “to treat our cars as an extension of our kitchen or bathroom”, following a survey in which 62% of respondents admitted to eating while driving and 20% to doing their hair, make-up or tidying up their appearance while driving.

Of the 1,000 drivers, 2% admitted to narrowly avoiding a crash, or having to brake or swerve to avoid a hazard because they were distracted by food or drink.

Brake says research suggests eating a meal at the wheel is as dangerous as talking on a phone. It wants the government to increase fines for distraction and careless driving offences to stop risky multi-tasking drivers.

And it seems there would be support for a complete ban on smoking while driving. We are part way there with the Children and Families Bill, recently voted on by MPs, that empowers the government to ban smoking in cars carrying children.

Hot topic – should smoking, drinking and eating be banned altogether in cars? Twitter-@andyrussellauto

Now a survey of driver attitudes, commissioned by Motorpoint, says smoking in cars should be stubbed out
completely with 71% of 7,500 people polled wanting the government to go much further than the current plans that will make it a criminal offence to smoke in cars where children are present.

So there’s a little food for thought. As the saying goes… there’s no smoke without fire.

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Why traffic lights can leave me seeing red

Andy Russell, motoring editor. Twitter @andyrussellauto

I’ve always had something of a dilemma when traffic lights change from green to amber as you approach them – do you brake or carry on?

I don’t think there is any easy answer – it depends on so many factors including the state of the road, the weather and whether anything is behind you and, if so, how close.

When I was learning to drive in the late Seventies I recall a set of traffic light turning to amber and, feeling I was too close to stop, carried on, only for my instructor to brake. We ended up halfway across the lights and I never want to be in that predicament again!

I make every effort to stop at traffic lights when they turn to amber if it is safe and I have the distance to do so. But a couple of times, when I have had a car or a van following me, I have played it safe and gone across on amber only for the next one or even two vehicles to follow me through when the lights must have been red. Had I decided to brake I surely would have been shunted from the rear.

It would be so much easier if you had more warning, such as the green light flashing for two or three seconds before the amber light came on ahead of it turning red. It would just give a bit more warning and thinking time although there is also the argument that it might make the ‘amber gamblers’ put their foot down to get across before the lights go red.

A few years ago on a family holiday on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast we hired a car and I was fascinated by a set of traffic lights on a main road near Varna which actually showed a countdown in seconds of how long the lights would stay green or red so you could prepare to slow down and get ready to pull away.

It worked brilliantly and, although I passed through them no more than a dozen times, I never saw anyone abusing it by speeding up to them nip through.

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Classic cars enjoy rolling road tax exemption in Budget 2014

Although the 2014 budget has been a controversial one (namely the beer and bingo tax breaks) it’s good news for classic car owners.  From April this year, the classic car tax exemption from Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) will begin automatically rolling, with all cars over 40 years old eligible for a zero-rated tax disc. Previously, the exemption was fixed.

This means that from the 1 April 2014, vehicles manufactured in 1973 will be exempt. This exemption changes with the year, so in 2015 cars built in 1974 will be eligible and so on. Whilst this might seem a little confusing, just look at it this way: as long as the vehicle is 40 years old at the time of taxing, it’ll be considering classic (or more accurately, historic).

This measure was announced by Chancellor of The Exchequer George Osbourne last week and according to the Overview of Legislation and Tax rates for 2014-’15, the rolling benefit will affect around 10,000 newly exempt  classic car owners a year.

In the overview, which was formally issued after the budget, the Government states that the rolling exemption is motivated by a perceived need to preserve British heritage vehicles and its healthy industry, which is incredibly positive for those immersed in the classic car industry.

Gerry Bucke, general manager at classic car insurance broker Adrian Flux, said: “We’re firmly behind the rolling tax exemption, which should help to encourage the owners of older cars to keep them on the road and in good condition. Cars from the 70s are becoming increasingly rare sights on our roads, so anything that can keep them in use is a good thing, bringing pleasure to their owners and those of us who enjoy seeing these classics out and about.”

So which classic cars will be newly exempt in April 2015, and does this give us a legitimate excuse to buy a beautiful old banger?

Jaguar XJ-S Series II

The XJ line had a distinctive yet contentious facelift for the 1974 model year, with the 4.2 L I-6 XJ6 becoming a popular model in the UK. The contention came when it emerged that the Series II model was poor quality and this was widely attributed to the major trade union and labour relation issues at the British Leyland Group at the time.

Indeed, much of industrial England was affected by the problem so in a way, owning a Jaguar XJ-S Series II like owning a little slice of history – even if it’s not the most well-made motor around.

Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna S3

From 1974 through to 1976, the Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna was produced as a one-model Laguna S-3 Coupe, with the new-for-1974 Malibu Classic series taking the top-luxury series position. These striking Colonnade coupes lasted just three short years, with a limited run of 9,100 making them a very rare model.

Interestingly, NASCAR driver Cale Yarborough earned the first two of three consecutive Winston Cup Championships piloting a Chevelle Laguna.

Ferrari GT4 308

The 308 GT4 2+2 was a groundbreaking model for Ferrari in several ways. Firstly, it was the first production Ferrari to feature the mid-engined V8 layout that would become the bulk of the company’s business and secondly, it was the first production Ferrari to feature Bertone rather than Pininfarina bodywork.

Poor Pininfarina was actually quite upset about the decision, considering all they had done for Ferrari. We hope they’ve made up by now.

Volkswagen Passat B1

The Passat was one of the most modern European family cars at the time, and was intended as a replacement for the aging Volkswagen Type 3 and Type 4. It was incredibly popular, and was named Wheels magazine’s Car of the Year for 1974 – with its sister model Audi 80 winning a yearly earlier.

These days, it’s considered overlooked and underrated, which is why it has its own Facebook appreciation page.

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5 Gadgets all cars will have by 2025

Here are the gadgets we’ve seen around the net that we think will be made standard on all new cars over the next few years. And with cleverly communicating cars and voice activated hands-free, we can’t wait to see what the future has in store for the gadget side of the automotive world. All the tech covered in this piece either currently exists or is being developed by major automakers – so it’s not too high of a bar to set. In the past, they assumed we’d have hover-cars and wear spacesuits when we hit the millennium – but let’s just take baby steps and be a little more realistic here.

Collision avoidance systems and pedestrian Detection

The Volvo S60 comes with a pedestrian detection system called City Safety, which will automatically stop the car if it detects a person or a vehicle stop in front. Hyundai, Lexus and Mercedes all offer services on their more expensive models, which help the driver when the vehicle detects that a collision may be imminent. These range from pre-charging your brakes when a potential collision appears, to tightening seatbelts and automatically applying brakes. But we’ve seen some plans for the future that indicate these systems could go as far as to detect car indicators flashing when they’re looking to merge into your lane – and automatically steer your car around the hazard.

Rearview cameras

Thanks to a proposal by the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a lot of people have been looking into rearview cameras to help give the driver a better indication of what they might be reversing over. Wing mirrors aren’t enough to spot a child standing directly behind your car, and they also minimise accidents caused by your blind spot. Currently, these systems can cost around £100 – but in 6 years’ time, the cost should be negligible and manufacturers will think nothing of adding it to the gadget arsenal new cars come fitted with as standard.

Adaptive cruise control

Currently an optional extra on BMW’s new cars, as well as on a few select models from other manufacturers, adaptive cruise is just a slightly cleverer cruise control. Before it used to be so annoying cruising along the motorway when someone slows in front of you, meaning you have to stamp on the brake and then reset your cruising speed. Now adaptive cruise uses radar to keep you a safe distance from the car ahead and still give you that relaxation of cruise control. Just like cruise control became a standard addition to most new cars, we think this upgrade will slowly be rolled out to all new models before 2020.

Vehicle to vehicle communication

Ford is currently developing clever systems which use advanced Wi-Fi technology to broadcast your car’s current and expected location to other vehicles with the same system. If all cars came with a similar system, vehicles could interact with each other and warn drivers of obstructions on blind corners and – we’re hoping in the not-so-distant future – even detect crashes and take evasive manoeuvres when needed. If all the clever cars are talking to each other, none of them should hit each other. Properly implemented systems like these could make traffic collisions a thing of the past!

Voice control

With all the options available to sync your devices with your vehicle, people are becoming increasingly sceptical about how safe using these devices while driving can be. Even with all the hands-free options available, it’s still unsafe to be reaching over and playing with your iPhone – so we expect in the next few years that all of these vehicles with wireless hands-free connections will have fully integrated voice control too – allowing you to ‘call home’ or ‘skip this song’ as easily as speaking the words.

Christopher is a writer for The Car Loan Warehouse and an avid motorist who loves writing about one of his favourite subjects.

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