Honk for bright red car conk all for good cause

Press fleet test cars are often seriously kitted out with optional extra but a red nose was a first for motoring editor Andy Russell.

A Comic Relief red nose is not the usual optional extra on Toyota press fleet cars.

Test cars from the manufacturers’ press fleets often to come with several tasty optional extras… to show them off and create a good impression.

But I was amazed to find a big Comic Relief red nose on the front of a Lexus NX 300h in our car park. I actually walked past it because I did not think it would be a test car. It wasn’t until I the indicators flashed when I press the remote control that I believed it.

Toyota, of which Lexus is a part, is obviously having a bit of fun with motoring journalists by putting red noses on all its press fleet cars to mark it being an official partner of this year’s Comic Relief Red Nose Day on Friday, March 13 and trying to raise £1m.

With a stern warning not to remove the nose from the test car, there was a new one still in the packet on the front seat for me to buy for a minimum £5 donation and satisfy my ‘want it now’ urge… I did willingly.

Toyota’s UK businesses are committed to bringing in as much money as possible to support the work of Comic Relief through events and activities across the country that capture Red Nose Day’s spirit of fun and fund-raising.

The official 2015 stand-out scarlet schnozzles are available exclusively from Toyota’s UK dealerships, or can be ordered with a couple of clicks online at Toyota’s official UK eBay store – stores.ebay.co.uk/ToyotaOfficialStore

The price is just £5 per nose with every penny of that goes to straight Comic Relief’s grants programme.

And don’t forget, these noses aren’t just for Toyotas, they will look just as great on any make or model you choose.

 

 

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Why, given option, heated car seats get cold shoulder from me

 

Motoring editor Andy Russell comes up with some of his hot options for a car… but heated seats aren’t one of them.

 

With the new 15 registration plate arriving on March 1, many people will be thinking of changing their car.

On a recent launch, myself and another motoring hack were discussing the increasingly extensive list of options and customising kit available to tailor a car to your needs and tastes.

It all used to be so easy – stripes, spotlamps, mudflaps and floor mats was the order of the day when I was young.

Now the brochures for all those options and accessories seem to have as many pages as the ones for the cars themselves.

Anyway, while driving the new Volkswagen Passat – a car that comes with a lot of class and creature comforts as standard – we discussed what we’d be prepared to pay extra for if we were shelling out our own hard-earned cash.

Safety plays a big part in any buying choice now and there are some excellent accident-avoidance systems out there to detect vehicles in your blindspot and even stop the car if you are not paying attention or another vehicle pulls out or pedestrian steps in front of you.

Hi-tech head-up displays are an attractive convenience and safety feature but the thought of heated seats leaves Andy Russell cold

We also decided we like those traffic sign monitoring systems which flash up the speed limit on the instrument cluster in case you have missed the sign.

And jet fighter-style head-up displays which project essential information, such as speed and instructions from built-in sat-nav systems, on to a screen on top of the dashboard, so it appears to be floating over the front of the bonnet, allow you to keep your eyes on the road and take in data without being distracted.

And if a digital DAB radio was not standard I would happily pay more to have all those extra stations.

So they’re all on the wish list then, but what would I not pay extra for?

Bigger wheels for a start. They may fill out the wheelarches and look good but they often have lower-profile tyres so ride comfort suffers and there is more road noise – my ‘boy-racer’ days are long gone.

And heated seats – the bane of my life and a positive pain in the posterior.

I find that feeling of getting warm round the nether regions rather disconcerting. And I clearly never got over being told that if I sat on a hot radiator on a cold day I would get piles!

I’ll happily put up with a numb bum but when my wife sees the heated seat buttons she’s quite content to roast her rear even in the height and heat of summer.

Sometimes she presses the wrong button or both of them so, without warning, I get a warm feeling which is even more worrying.

And don’t get me started on heated steering wheels – they really leave me cold. You really don’t need one if you’re wearing your string-back driving gloves!

 

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On your marks, get set… go

 

With a £6bn purge on potholes, motoring editor Andy Russell hopes there will be some money left to sort out disappearing, dangerous road markings.

A third of motorists put tackling the pothole problem at the top of their wish list and 2015 will see a start to the dream becoming reality.

The government has earmarked a record £6bn fund for potholes and local road improvements over the next six years. And, although the Local Government Association says “there is still a very long way to go to bring the nation’s roads up to scratch”, it has to be seen as progress in the right direction.

I hope it will also mean some of the disappearing road markings on well-worn stretches of highway also being repainted and refreshed.

I, like many motorists, have noticed how white lines, directional arrows and other warnings on the road have been fading or wiped out by crumbling surfaces and a patchwork of minor repairs.

It’s all right if you know where you are going but can be a hazard when in a strange town or city.

Between Christmas and new year, my wife and I visited our son in Bradford and barely-visible road markings on the approach to many multi-lane roundabouts proved particularly wearing to me too when I found myself in the wrong lane.

It wasn’t helped by a late-reacting satellite-navigation system that seemed confused by the terms ‘turn left’, ‘bear left’ and ‘straight on’. But at least I helped confuse it by bearing what I thought was left only to end up at a huge car park in the dark which, with so many aisles and no entry signs, left me disorientated.

Back to the road maintenance funding, the Department for Transport estimates the £976m yearly investment will be enough to fill about 18 million potholes across the country but councils say the cash will not cover the overall funding gap on road repairs.

The east of England has been allocated £644.6m to support long-term maintenance scheduling rather than short-term fixes.

More than £4.7bn will be shared between 115 councils, while another £575m will be available through a challenge fund for maintaining infrastructure such as junctions, bridges and street lighting.

An incentive fund of £578m will also open in 2016 to reward councils delivering value in carrying out cost-effective improvements.

Let’s hope it’s the road to recovery.


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Tax disc holder could hold key to save life

Don’t know what to do with that empty tax disc holder? Motoring editor Andy Russell has learned of a police initiative that could save your life.

Having said that one of my new year motoring resolutions was to finally throw away the now defunct paper tax disc from my car, I will be leaving the holder in place.

While one reader has pointed out that it makes an ideal place to keep cards bearing emergency contact numbers for breakdown and insurance companies, Brian Ramsey told me about a new police initiative for those redundant tax disc holders.

After a bit of research on the internet, it seems many police forces around the country are suggesting that the tax disc holder can be used to store an emergency contact disc – downloadable from various constabulary websites.

Basically, the emergency form is the same size as the tax disc but gives the car owner or driver the opportunity to fill in the details of who to contact in an emergency, name of the driver, date of birth and any medical alert information. Then cut it out, fold in up and put it in the empty old tax disc holder.

In the event of a medical emergency or road traffic collision that renders the occupants unable to communicate, a first responder will be able to obtain vital information that is not otherwise accessible at the scene. All the information, which cannot be viewed by passers-by, is optional and you can put in as much or little as you like.

The information within the disc could be vital to save lives or quickly locate a casualty’s next of kin – something that can be time consuming at the scene of a serious incident.

Police said all information is optional and the blank discs can be used to add customised information, or attach a passport photo to help link the information to the right person. If there is more than one regular driver, or even regular passengers, consider printing multiple discs and add a photo or description of each person. The emergency contact disc can be used alongside existing medical alert products such as bracelets and necklaces.

If people have concerns about security of information, they can omit certain details.

Police advise that if the next of kin address is the same as the driver’s address, it may be sensible to leave this portion blank but they add that the information within the disc would give little or no information away that could aid potential criminals and any slight risk is far outweighed by the benefits.

Several police force websites are promoting the emergency contact disc so if you want to download one to print off just type ‘emergency contact disc’ into your search engine to find the relevant sites.

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These Caribbean traffic islands see me motoring back and forth

A Caribbean holiday combines a trip down memory lane with a highway to the future for motoring editor Andy Russell.

Caribbean island streets are motoring past, present and future and my first sight of the forthcoming Ford Edge sport utility vehicle, above right, in the metal.

Even when I’m on holiday I never completely escape from the world of motoring but I do find checking out cars in foreign climes a real pleasure.

I’m just back from a Caribbean cruise which, while wandering round the various island ports, proved a cross between a blast from the past and the shape of things to come.

And it was rather timely – a bit like A Christmas Carol with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future replaced by the cars of motoring past, present and future.

Turning the clock back there was a wealth of Japanese cars of various ages and conditions with almost forgotten names – such as the Nissan Sunny and Primera. And it seems the standard of driving takes more of a toll on the bodywork than any extremes of weather, especially given that there is no salt on the roads.

That said, while many of them are still being driven, I was amazed by how many homes have a dilapidated old car in the front yard in various states of disrepair, many being swallowed by the vegetation. In fact, I began to wonder if there might be more cars off-road than there are on the road. What most of them have in common is they are all on bricks – much like many of the wooden houses – without wheels.

The blossoming Korean car-makers are also playing a big part in the current crop of models and it seems the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson – badged as the ix35 in theUK– are particularly popular. And around the harbour at Gustavia, the capital of St Barts, just about every other car seems to be a MINI Cooper Convertible.

And I was rather amused to see the smaller version of Nissan’s Murano sport utility vehicle is called the Rogue – not very enticing.

The highlight for me was seeing the Ford Edge which goes on sale in Europe for the first time next year.

The large SUV will become the third in the Ford fleet, joining the compact EcoSport and mid-size Kuga.

It’s a good-looking model which, combined with the Ford Blue Oval badge, should also make it attractive to potential buyers.

As for the drivers, I found them particularly courteous and well-mannered – just as well as I was on a cycle tour so that made life easier.

The most difficult thing of visiting a different island each day is working out which side of the road you should be on because, with British, French and Dutch influences going way back in history, some islands drive on the left and some on the right. Confused… I was!

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Removing disc from screen has become such taxing decision

It’s the end of an era and I can’t bring myself to tear up my final paper tax disc, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

Removing the now defunct paper tax disc from your car marks the end of an era.

While cleaning and polishing our car, ready for winter, I noticed the tax disc is still on the windscreen despite no longer being necessary since October 1, so ending a 93-year tradition.

Although it runs until the end of January, I could have taken it out but I don’t want to for two reasons:

1. After years of having to display a tax disc, and facing a fine for not doing so, I can’t get my head round not having one yet. Not seeing the disc on the screen might have me diving into the passenger footwell or scrabbling under the seat to find it.

Remember those tax disc-holders you rubbed on the seat cover or your clothing to create some sticky static and the self-adhesive ones which dried in the sun. The one thing they had in common was that, sooner or later, they fell off.

2. Quite simply, it marks the end of an era with ‘Big Brother’ cameras now able to process and cross-match millions of registration plates against computer records to make sure the vehicle is actually taxed.

And I am not alone. Just looking at passing traffic, it seems a good half of all vehicles still have the disc in place. One survey suggested 61% of drivers had not removed the disc – 34% couldn’t be bothered, 17% hadn’t got round to it and 10% weren’t aware they no longer needed to display it.

Women are more likely to have removed the disc, along with the younger generations.

So if not disposing of my tax disc just makes me sound like a grumpy old man, my wife won’t disagree!

I plan to dump the disc when it expires.

But there is one group of people who didn’t want to see the end of the tax disc – the velologists who are avid collectors of the old paper ones.

The demise of the paper disc is causing some velologists to despair and pushing up the prices of those being sold online.

On one site I saw lots of paper discs which either expired on 30.09.14 or during 2015 being offered for between £500 and £1,000. I doubt anyone would be silly enough to pay that kind of money for them but you can’t blame the would-be sellers for trying to cash in!

The real money is in seriously old ones – the record for most expensive tax disc was recently smashed by a quarterly issue released in September 1921 – the year a disc became a legal requirement. It started at £230 and finally sold for £1,087.80, beating the previous record of £810 which was also for a 1921 disc.

Perhaps I might keep my last tax disc after all. You never know, it might be worth something one day!

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Take care when horses meet horsepower

Horses are a common sight on our roads so it is vital drivers and riders know how to respect each other’s needs, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

If you live or drive in the countryside you have to expect to come across horses using the road.

The British Horse Society estimates there are 3.5 million regular riders and nearly a million horses in theUK.

It is important riders and drivers know how to behave what is expected to share the road safely.

Drivers also have to expect the unexpected – no matter how well a horse in kept under control, it is large and powerful and a ‘flight’ animal which makes them unpredictable and easily spooked.

A friend was riding her horse on the road when a barking dog came running across a field towards them. While she was aware of what was happening, an approaching car driver would not have been able to see or hear the potential hazard.

If a speeding car or barking dog scares a horse, its natural and sudden reaction will be to get away from it. That could take it straight into the road in front of a car for even an experienced rider could struggle to regain control of it.

Responsible riders try to avoid fast or busy roads and wear hi-vis clothing so they stand out. You are most likely to encounter horses on country roads so drive carefully, particularly round bends, to help you spot horses and riders in time and react safely.

The AA’s advice for drivers who meet a horse on the road is to:

  • Slow right down and be ready to stop.
  • Give them a wide berth – at least a car’s width – and pass slowly.
  • Avoid any actions likely to spook the horse – such as splashing them with puddles, sounding your horn or revving the engine.
  • Look out for signals from the rider to slow down or stop.
  • Don’t expect all riders to raise their hand in thanks when you drive considerately – if they are not able to take a hand off the reins and maintain control most will smile or nod their thanks instead.
  • Accelerate gently once you have passed the horse.

And drivers should be aware that:

  • The rider and horse may both be inexperienced and nervous in traffic.
  • A cyclist or motorcyclist will move to the centre of the road well before turning right but a horse and rider intending to turn right will stay on the left until they reach the turn.
  • Horse riders will generally try to avoid difficult junctions such as roundabouts. If they do use them expect riders to keep left and signal right across exits to show that they’re not leaving.  Slow down and allow them plenty of room.Rule 215 of the Highway Code says: “Be particularly careful of horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles, especially when overtaking. Always pass wide and slowly. Horse riders are often children, so take extra care and remember riders may ride in double file when escorting a young or inexperienced horse or rider. Look out for horse riders’ and horse drivers’ signals and heed a request to slow down or stop. Take great care and treat all horses as a potential hazard.”

    Rules 49 to 55 give detailed advice to riders including:

    • Riders should wear light-coloured or fluorescent clothing in daylight and reflective clothing if riding at night or in poor visibility.
    • It is safer not to ride on the road at night or in poor visibility.
    • Always ride with other, less nervous horses if you think that your horse will be nervous of traffic.
    • When riding on the road keep to the left.
    • Move in the direction of the traffic flow in a one-way street.
    • Never ride more than two abreast.
    • Ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends.
    • Avoid roundabouts wherever possible.

    So whether you are on four legs or four or two wheels, rein in the horsepower and be prepared for the unexpected to keep everyone safe.

     

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Seeing is believing with this potential life-saver

One cyclist will never know how grateful they should be to an innovative Volvo safety feature, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

Volvo’s blind spot information system proved a potential life-saver for an undertaking cyclist.

I nearly wiped out a cyclist last week and it was one of the most frightening driving experiences in nearly 40 years of motoring.

It would not have been my fault, but that would not have made me feel any better about it had the worst happened.

And I suspect that had I not been driving a Volvo it might not have had such a happy ending.

It was the morning rush hour and I was approaching a T-junction. There was a car waiting to turn right at the splayed junction but it was not a problem as I was indicating to turn left and there was room to go up the nearside of the other vehicle.

With nothing coming from my right I was just starting to pull out of the junction when a flashing orange light on the nearside front passenger door near the exterior mirror grabbed my attention.

Looking in the mirror I was astounded to see a cyclist, with no helmet or hi-vis clothing, coming up the inside to also turn left. Even though I had already started to move forward they continued to undertake me and then move into the middle of the lane in front of me having made the turn.

Fortunately for them, and me, this Volvo had the optional driver support pack which includes Volvo’s blind spot information system (BLIS) which uses cameras and radar to watch for vehicles, cycles or pedestrians to the rear of the Volvo who might be hidden from the driver. When something is detected, a warning lamp comes on close to the nearside or offside door mirror, giving the driver time to react.

It made me realise Volvo’s safety features are not just designed to save those inside the car but can be a life-saver for other road-users too.

Email andy.russell@archant.co.uk

Twitter @andyrussellauto

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