Getting grumps while at pumps


With filling up with fuel turning into a shopping trip, and hose woes, motoring editor Andy Russell is running low on patience.

Modern petrol stations have hoses that will reach either side of the car.

I’m fast getting to the stage where I have had my fill of filling stations… or rather some people who use them.

It should be so quick and simple to pull in, fill up, pay and get out but it seems to be taking longer and longer or is it just me being impatient?

One thing that bugs me – and contributes to queues at the pumps – is people who feel the need to use a pump closest to their car fuel cap, on the left if the filler is on the nearside, right if on the offside.

Most modern fuel pumps have hoses long enough to reach to the other side of the car, provided you park far enough forward. And the supermarket I regularly use actually has signs telling drivers the hoses are extra long but still they insist on queuing behind two or three other cars rather than using a pump that is free but on the opposite side of the car to the petrol or diesel pump.

I always try to use one of the pumps that is furthest forward so another vehicle can get in behind me.

It also avoids the situation I had the other day when I pulled up behind a car at the forward pump and, while I was filling up, the other owner was paying for their fuel. Then, while I was paying, an impatient driver had the cheek to actually reverse into the vacated space alongside that pump in front, so blocking me in when I came out as the adjacent aisle was also full of cars filling up.

So having queued to get to a pump to fill up, I had to wait to get out which really tested my new year’s resolution to be more patient behind the wheel.

And as for those people who, having filled up with fuel, leave their car at the pumps while they spend what seems like an eternity getting groceries in the forecourt shop, choosing a bottle of wine, making a cup of coffee, heating up a pie, checking out the CDs and scanning the front pages of the newspapers on sale. Don’t get me started.

I know many filling stations have become ‘one-stop shops’ but I suspect that if I left my car at the pumps while I nipped off for a few minutes the filling station staff might have something to say!

Twitter @andyrussellauto

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Do teeny petrol turbos fire you up?

Are little petrol engines going to be big business as drivers dump diesel, asks motoring editor Andy Russell.

Peugeot’s three-cylinder PureTech petrol engines are winning fans, resulting in an extra production line.

One question I am frequently asked by people is petrol or diesel. I reply with a question too – how many miles do you do a year?

Diesel engines now feature diesel particulate filters (DPFs) to trap soot particles in the exhaust gas, so reducing emissions. To maintain their performance, this soot has to be burned off, called ‘regeneration’, at high temperature to leave an ash residue. It happens automatically at speed on longer journeys but, if you do mainly short trips, the engine management computer (ECU) will initiate post combustion fuel injection to increase the exhaust temperature and trigger regeneration but it may not be completed if the journey is too short, leaving the filter partially blocked.

So, if you don’t do a lot of miles or regular long journeys, I would steer clear of diesel. Low-emission diesels still have their place for higher-mileage drivers even though they are being ‘demonised’ in some quarters for being ‘dirty’ – a perception challenged by major car-makers and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders with a campaign including a diesel facts myth-busting guide.

Lower-mileage drivers are catching on to the new generation of small-capacity, three-cylinder petrol engines.

Peugeot has revealed that demand for its 1.0 and 1.2-litre PureTech three-cylinder petrol engines is up 252% on its 308 models, which get 1.2-litre turbo versions, and expanding these engines into other models has resulted in an extra production line.

Diesel is still dominant in the 308 but PureTech now powers one in three retail sale models as private buyers see the benefits of these small-capacity, low-emission, high-economy engines.

It’s a similar story for Ford which has produced its five-millionth fuel-saving EcoBoost turbo petrol engine since launch in 2009.

EcoBoost vehicles, which come in various capacities, last year accounted for one in four new Fords sold in Europe but the star has been the smallest unit. The three-cylinder 1.0-litre, with outputs of 100, 125 and 140PS, is the first engine to win International Engine of the Year three times in a row.

More than 230,000 Fords sold in Europe were equipped with the three-cylinder 1.0-litre engine that is now available in 10 different models – from Fiesta to the all-new Mondeo.

Have you switched from diesel to the new breed of tiny turbo petrol engines and do the figures add up? Email


Twitter @andyrussellauto

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Rude, impatient drivers should really mind their Ps and queues

Trying to beat queues but cutting across lanes late is rude, dangerous and makes patient drivers see red – usually brake lights, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

In all the years I have been driving there’s obviously a road marking I have missed – the one on slip lanes off motorways and dual-carriageways which encourages patient drivers to queue sensibly and safely and others to roar up the outside and then suddenly cut across in a blaze of red brake lights.

Perhaps it could say something to the effect “You obviously think your time is more precious and you are more important than anyone else in this queue so shove in at the last minute, make everyone brake and possibly cause an accident… it won’t hold you up because you’ll be ahead of it having caused it.”

It might just work because so long a message could lure impatient drivers into the correct lane and by the time they have finished reading it they will be at the junction!

I had the misfortune of coming off the M6 motorway on to the A14 in Leicestershire – a bad junction at the best of times and currently even worse amid all the junction improvement work but at least it means things should get better.

The queue for in the left-hand lane to leave the M6 for the A14 started, according to my sat-nav 1.4 miles away from Junction 19 so I dutifully joined it.

It took about 10 minutes to get through to the junction but I was amazed at the behaviour of some drivers on the M6 who sped alongside, saw a gap between cars driving a safe distance apart and just swerved into it, causing the line of traffic to brake. I’m sure that’s a big reason why there was such a tailback and vehicle kept having to stop and start.

All it did was encourage many of the patient drivers to ‘shut the door’ by closing up on the vehicle in front so there was no longer a gap to pull in to. And that resulted in a Volkswagen Golf, still on the M6, just stopping in its lane until it could force its way into the queue for the A14. I was only aware of it when an articulated lorry suddenly locked up its wheels in a cloud of tyre smoke to avoid hitting the Golf. The consequences of such a collision – it wouldn’t have been an accident – don’t bear thinking about.

And then there was the driver of a Skoda Fabia who obviously waits for no one and left the M6 as it actually separated from the slip road, crossing solid white lines and stopping in the chevrons themselves until they could bully their way in. All it did was stop the slow flow of traffic completely for about half a minute.

Perhaps we could use traffic cameras to crack down on inconsiderate, and downright dangerous, cutting in at junctions. We wouldn’t put up with such rude and offensive behaviour in a queue in a shop so why do some drivers think queue-jumping is acceptable at speed on the road?


Twitter @andyrussellauto

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Small price to pay to cut crossing delay

New Dartford Crossing payment methods mean getting across without getting cross, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

It was one of those journeys – I knew roughly where I was going but the actual route had not crossed my mind. A couple of hours before setting off I used an online route planner to check out distance and timings. My heart sank.

I had not realised I was going to have to use the Dartford Crossing. Not that I have anything against the Dartford Crossing – I love the views from the bridge and don’t mind the thought of all that Thames water above me when in the tunnels – but I have not had to use it since the new payment methods came in.

Toll payment booths were scrapped at the bridge on the M25 on November 30, with online, phone and postal payment methods introduced to a new set-up called Dart Charge. You can no longer just roll up and throw a handful of coins in a basket or handover your cash or credit card.

If you don’t pre-pay, to make life easier, you have until midnight the following day to pay after making a crossing. If you don’t pay at all it’s a £70 penalty, reduced to £35 if paid within 14 days but rising to £105 if not received within 28 days.

I went online at Dart Charge, filled in my return journey and put £5 on my card – it’s now £2.50 each way instead of £2 but there are discounts for regular users. It took a couple of minutes and as soon as I logged off my email receipt arrived – I was impressed.

Imagine my glee when, in the morning rush-hour (assuming it is any worse then than at any other time of the day), I sailed over the bridge and, with the old toll booths gone in that direction, carried on along the M25 without stopping. It all went so smoothly I began to fear I had missed something. I used to work on 20 minutes to cross the bridge and pay sometimes.

Coming back the other way, where the toll booths are still currently there, the traffic flowed up to them at a reasonable pace and even though each vehicle has to stop for the barrier to lift –- even though no payment changes hands – the traffic kept moving for over final couple of hundred metres and off we went again.

Not quite as quick towards the tunnel but a huge improvement and, given my patience, well worth the extra 50p each way – probably saved that in fuel!

The full benefits of the new system will be felt in spring when the roadworks are finished, the rest of the toll booths gone and a new safety system built to stop over-sized or non-compliant vehicles from using the tunnel – then it’ll be so slick and quick they’ll also have to put in speed cameras!

Charging hours are between 6am and 10pm daily – it’s still free to use the crossing outside these hours.

From the phone calls I had received from motorists about the changes, I wasn’t the only one concerned but I don’t mind change when it is for the better.

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Motoring editor Andy Russell is right on track for the start of the new Formula One season.

Sky’s limit for Brundle’s ultimate F1 circuit.

Motor racing memories, good and bad, were revived ahead of the Australian Grand Prix

The 2015 Formula One season roars into life with the first race on Sunday at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

It reminded me how, when our two young sons were young, they used to set an alarm so they could watch the race live. Only problem is, being Down Under on the other side of the world, the race is in the middle of the night!

So about 3am two excited boys would switch on our TV in the bedroom, climb into our bed and elbow my wife and I every time we showed signs of nodding off.

Motoring racing led to a love to building Scalextric circuits around the living room, as we became more adventurous and acquired more track, but it was nothing compared to Sky Sports F1 expert and Norfolk racing driver Martin Brundle’s design for the Ultimate 2015 circuit brought to life by Scalextric – the biggest layout the slot car track experts have ever created.

Commissioned by Sky Sports, the only place fans can watch all 20 Formula One weekends live, the 9m by 9m track features parts from all 20 circuits on this season’s FIA Formula One World Championship calendar.

The track is made up of 177 pieces and is 45 metres long. It features the best corners, chicanes and sections from the 2015 F1 calendar that fans can watch live on Sky Sports F1 throughout the season, including:

Italy and the Ascari Chicane.

Monaco and the Casino Square.

Canada and the Wall of Champions.

Silverstone and the Copse.

Abu Dhabi and the Marina Complex.

Mr Brundle said: “The team challenged me to design my dream circuit using sections from the 20 F1 races in 2015, all of which will be live on Sky Sports F1. I immediately wanted a figure of ‘8’ like our beloved Suzuka, and could only dream of driving a series of corners such as scaling the mountain up to turn one in Austin before falling through the ‘Senna S’ of Brazil and towards Silverstone’s fearsome Copse corner. And that’s just a small section. Now amazingly, we’ve built a model and so I will revert to my childhood for many laps. It’s going to get competitive.”

Scalextric’s latest creation is a bespoke commission for Sky Sports. The track pieces making up the Ultimate 2015 Circuit will be available to buy from priced around £1,000. The slot car experts looked to their revolutionary Arc One (app race control) design as the inspiration for the Ultimate 2015 circuit. A wireless slot car system it connects to a handheld smart device, such as a smartphone or tablet. Users download the free Arc app, then connect via Bluetooth to the new Arc powerbase, bringing the real and virtual worlds together for the ultimate in racing fun.

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Mind the gap parking or you’re in tight spot

There’s a real squeeze on decent parking spots – motoring editor Andy Russell says it’s another reason to down-size your car.

More and more drivers are down-sizing cars to cut their running costs. That’s for sure but I have another theory – it’s because they’re fed up driving round and round car parks trying to find a space they can fit into.

You can be the best driver in the world with all the latest parking assist aids to guide, slide and drive you automatically in and out of the tightest spot but it’s not a lot of use if you can’t actually open the car doors to get out – there was a time you could at least climb out of the sunroof in an emergency! Multi-storey car parks seem to be even worse with the added hazards of concrete posts and structures to negotiate too.

There’s no denying most cars are growing with each generation – it is said the current Volkswagen Polo is a similar size to the Mark I Golf and there wasn’t a lot between the original Ford Ka and the first Fiesta. I knew someone who had three different generations of the same make and model and, with the last one, had to fold in the driver’s door mirror to get it into his garage – that’s another issue with cars getting wider with narrow older garage doors.

Growing vehicle size is a significant issue for car park owners and drivers, leading to frustration of not finding a space big enough or your car being damaged by other drivers misjudging the space or dinging your car when opening their doors.

My two sons, when young, used to laugh at me driving round a car park looking for a space where I was less likely to get clunked or clonked by another vehicle. It is interesting, now they have their own cars, they tend to do the same self-preservation parking. I could say don’t knock it until you’ve tried it but that seems the wrong expression as it is exactly what we are trying to avoid!

With many modern cars up to 20% wider than when most parking spaces were laid out, a standardised new car park space is needed and there are calls for SizeMark – an industry standard car park space size based on the dimensions of modern cars – to be introduced.

On the subject of car parking spaces and problems, Tony Hatch contacted me to say it appeared the standard car park bay in the UK is about 4.75m by 1.8m which is much too small even for the small car which are often two-door models. Allowing suitable clearances all round, right-angled car parking bays should be 4.8m by 2.5m minimum, with a manoeuvering width of 6.5m minimum behind.

“I have noticed that parking bays have been reducing in size over the past 30 years, making it very difficult to manoeuvre and open doors to squeeze out or in so as not to damage an adjacent car. This problem is accentuated in the case of the two-door car as these doors are wider to allow access to the rear seating. Some allowance needs to be made for the larger person and those not so agile.

“I make a point of avoiding car parks with narrow parking spaces and opt to park on the roadside when possible. I look forward to the day of wider parking bays but will this ever happen? If it does, I will certainly make a beeline for those car parks.”

And Ian Cruttenden said it wasn’t helped by some drivers ignoring no-entry signs and one-way white markings in the roadways on car parks while many of the aisles were too narrow and confined.

He said a solution might be to arrange car parking spaces at a 30 to 45-degree angle to the roadway to make it easier to park and reverse out – with no possibility of going the wrong way along the roadway.

Watch this space… hopefully!

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Clearly case of poor sight rather than bad light driving at night

Making sure your eyesight is up to scratch for driving is brought into sharp focus for motoring editor Andy Russell.

You may not realise your sight is not as sharp as it should be until you have an eye test

My wife had been complaining the headlights on her MINI were not as bright as they should be when on dipped beam on dark country roads.

As the dutiful husband, I’ve made sure they are clean and the bulbs are as bright as they should be.

Even though I know I am normally wrong, I even took her car out on unlit roads at night but could find nothing amiss with them. They seemed no different than they had been for the last three years.

It had even got to the stage where I was considering talking to the dealership about whether we could upgrade to brighter bulbs or lights if it made her feel safer and happier.

But then my wife drove me one night in her car and I noticed we were travelling at no more than 40mph on a road that was safe at 60mph in the dark.

When I asked her why we were travelling slowly she explained that the lights were not bright enough to go any faster. That’s when I thought it might be a case of her sight rather than lack of bright light.

Having had her eyes tested 18 months earlier, and not due for her two-yearly check-up, she booked an eye test to be on the safe side.

She was quite alarmed to find how much her prescription had changed – she actually now needs varifocal lenses which explains why she was peering over her glasses to read!

Road safety organisation GEM Motoring Assist says better regulation of eyesight tests for drivers would cut collisions and make Britain’s roads safer.

GEM says a detailed test of a driver’s visual acuity and field of view should be required every 10 years.

Chief executive David Williams said: “Speeding, drink or drug-driving, driving unlicensed… these are responsible for a fraction of the crashes on our roads compared with failing to look properly, according to all the official data.”

The eyesight test was introduced to the driving test in 1937 and has only been amended in minor ways over the years to reflect changing number plate sizes. It is the only eyesight test drivers are required to have until the age of 70.

According to GEM, the test is crude and outdated, as it measures only visual acuity (sharpness). It could also quite easily examine a driver’s field of view, as in many American states, to check whether motorists can see and react to what’s happening around them.

My wife’s new glasses cost about the same as our insurance excess – had she had an accident – but saved the expense of new headlights!

Twitter @andyrussellauto

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Complete colour turnaround whiter than white for car sales

Some car-makers have used the rising popularity of white cars to launch special edition models such as this Kia Picanto White.

White’s all right again when it comes to the top car colour and it has grown on motoring editor Andy Russell.

For years I had a real aversion to white cars and it went far deeper than many people’s assertion that “they show all the dirt”.

I recalled my early dislike of white cars when it was revealed it was the most popular car colour for the second year running, accounting for one in five new cars last year. Quite remarkable when you consider that 10 years ago less than 1% of UK new car buyers chose white.

The first car I can remember my parents driving was a three-door white Ford Cortina Mark I and one Christmas, when they really were white and I was still in a child’s car seat, Dad slid off the icy road, up a bank and the car rolled over on to its side. No one was hurt but for years it put me off white cars.

As for showing the dirt, any car does if you don’t clean it but there is something pure and clinical about a gleaming, newly-polished white car and they do stand out… in anything but a blizzard!

My attitude to white cars changed while visiting family in Australia when our hire car, along with so many privately-owned ones, was white – until coated in dust – because they reflect the sun’s heat.

Now I have taken a shine to white cars which really show off chrome and black and silver trim and embellishments. And a white soft-top with a dark red hood is a ray of sunshine – whatever the weather.

I was struck back in 2007 that more and more car-makers were choosing white cars for their publicity pictures and it was interesting that demand for white cars saw exponential growth from 2008 to 2012, with registerations growing from 1.1% in 2007 to 20.9% in 2012.

White was the most popular colour for new cars in the UK in 2014 for the second year running, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Of 2,476,435 new cars registered last year, 22.2% were white – the highest proportion since records began in 1996.

The colour’s record-breaking popularity follows a strong upturn in the uptake of white cars, over the past decade. In 2010, white cars accounted for just under 10% of new car registrations, making it the sixth most popular car colour, with black and silver cars the best-selling. Five years earlier, it was less than 1%.

Last year, black cars took second place with 19% followed by grey at 14% of the market. Silver – the second most popular colour in 2010 with almost a quarter of registrations – has now slipped to sixth place at 13%.

White became the UK’s most popular choice in 2013, but for many years it was one of the least-favoured choices of car colours.

It has been helped by several manufacturers creating black and white special editions but also by the fact that solid white is a standard colour and some company car drivers will choose a solid colour rather than pay extra for a metallic option so increasing their benefit-in-kind tax burden.

You could call this colour change a whiter shade of sale!


Tyre pressure alert bit of a blow

I had a car with a tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS) during a recent cold snap. Everything was fine when I drove it home from the office but the next morning the warning light came on and, checking the system, revealed all four tyres were underinflated.

Bearing in mind the pressures would have been checked the previous day in the press fleet garage there was no way all four tyres could have gone down so I did a little research.

Weather affects tyre pressures – hot weather may cause them to rise, cold weather to fall, even more so if parked outside.

You should check pressures, and set the TPMS, when the tyres are cold but it’s worth doing when they are at their coldest – probably first thing in the morning. TPMS is not an alternative to checking the pressure and condition of your tyres.

Most tyres can handle higher pressures resulting from driving and in hot weather, provided they were set at the correct pressure when cold.

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