Posts Tagged ‘motoring advice’

From the workshop

Posted on July 19th, 2011 by Rob Marshall

Names can be ambiguous. ‘Fun Run’ is one particular term that I think falls against everything that the Trade Descriptions Act stands for and, during the rare times that I spend away from my beloved workshop, it is one such activity that I strive to avoid at all costs. ‘Antifreeze’ is another name that is also misleading. While the designation hints at its most obvious property, many owners are fooled into thinking that, provided enough antifreeze resides within their engine’s cooling system, it is protected for evermore.

They are wrong. Antifreeze has several other qualities, one of which prevents corrosion from developing inside the motor’s various passages, through which the coolant is pumped to dissipate heat. If corrosion starts, it can constrict the channels, in a similar way to cholesterol causing eventual arterial blockages in humans, and the risk of the engine either overheating or suffering from cylinder head gasket failure increases dramatically.

Sadly, antifreeze’s anti-corrosion properties diminish with time and it is wise to request that your garage flushes and replenishes the cooling system at a next service, or prior to the autumn setting in, should you be unsure of when it was last done. Most cars need this doing between two to five years.

From the workshop

Will your car be eaten alive?

Posted on June 8th, 2011 by Rob Marshall

The activities of some little things can be deadly. It is reputed that more humans have been killed by mosquitoes than in any war. Yet, the actions of the humble mouse (or rat) are starting to claim an increasing number of our automotive companions.

Picture the scene. Mr Rat is cold and wet. With nowhere to go, he shelters beneath a parked car. With warmth emanating from a recently stopped engine, Mr Rat climbs up onto the wheel, travels along the suspension leg and arrives within a cosy engine bay. Fatigued from his exploration, Mr Rat seeks a place to sleep. After making a comfy nest, from shredding some of the car’s soundproofing, Mr Rat wafts into slumber. Upon awaking, Mr Rat feels rather peckish and indulges in a nibble. Neither rubber nor plastic are to his taste but wiring insulation will sate his appetite…

Will your car be eaten alive?

Naturally, by the time the owner notices that anything is amiss, it is too late and thousands of Pounds’ worth of damage is a consequence. A colleague’s 2010 Skoda Octavia vRS has endured a wiring loom replacement as a result of rodent damage and the primary component alone cost almost £3,000, with labour charges factoring in an additional £2,000. An insurance claim had to be made, the owner having to shoulder a £400.00 excess.

So, who is to blame? We could attempt to accuse car companies for reducing their reliance on petrochemicals, to lessen their carbon footprints. They are using ‘sustainable’ crop-based alternatives, with soy, bamboo and other natural substitute materials as wiring insulation.

The environmental lobby is certainly central to the issue, for placing pressure on car firms to cut the use of fossil fuel-based products. Not only can wiring insulation be a tasty treat but soy foam seat cushions, wheat straw-filled fascia panels and natural-fibre ‘polymers’ also combine to be the perfect buffet for local rodents. Ford USA has announced that it is researching the use of dandelions to produce certain rubber components, which means that Mr Rat’s future generations can look forward to a truly varied menu.

We could also blame local authorities, for extending waste bin collection intervals and it has been reported that this, allied to the use of smaller bins, is one of the reasons that rat populations have exploded. The problem is compounded by cash-strapped councils reducing pest control services. On the other hand, the privatised water companies, which used to carry out preventative maintenance on roadside drains but no longer do so, should also shoulder some of the blame.

Although certain aftermarket accessories are available (none of which have been tested or endorsed by GEM), some car companies (such as Audi) have produced anti-rodent kits as official accessories but it appears that very few have made it to the UK market. Yet, this may change, as recognition of rodent assaults increases. One of the best ways to protect your car is to ensure that it has adequate insurance cover, before it receives a mauling.

Looking past the plate

Posted on May 31st, 2011 by Rob Marshall

A fortnight ago, my retired neighbour took delivery of a two year-old car and spent half-an-hour of my bank holiday weekend extolling the virtues of it, while I was trying to sidle away politely and salvage what was left of my garden, which had suffered badly during the harsh winter months.

Frankly, the salesman must have seen her coming, as she trotted out the reasons for changing her 1.7-litre 1989 Volvo 440GLT for a similar-sized 1.6-litre 2009 Volvo S40 S. As she saw it, the replacement was ‘cheaper to tax’ and ‘better on fuel’ than the older model but she elected to gloss over the many thousands of pounds that she was throwing down the toilet on depreciation. Being the sort of kind chap that did not want to burst her bubble, I did not have the heart to point out that pertinent fact.

To be honest, I was envious. Not for her but for the new owner of her aged but immaculate part-exchange. Despite being over twenty years-old, her old car had covered barely 20,000 miles, exactly the same as her ‘new’ two year-old S40. It had also been flawlessly maintained and had spent the majority of its life tucked away in a centrally-heated garage. Only the number plate gave the 440’s true age away but its showroom condition did not sway the cunning salesman, who gave her a paltry £200 trade-in.

Once left to my gardening, her situation had me thinking. Ironically, despite the newness of the replacement vehicle, my neighbour had not upgraded as much as she thought. While power steering, anti-lock brakes, five-speed manual transmission and alloy wheels featured on both cars, the 440 possessed metallic paint, front fog lamps, heated seats and a spare wheel, all of which were missing from her newer base-model Volvo.

Naturally, performance, build quality, efficiency and tailpipe emission standards have moved on significantly in twenty years and her S40 possessed not only airbags but also WHIPS, SIPS and a host of other safety-related acronyms that most people, other than car bores, would not understand. Yet, in true Volvo tradition, the elderly 440 had impact bars in all of its four doors, plus a full safety cage, daylight running lamps and considerable ‘crush’ space designed into the bodyshell but it remained outclassed in the safety arena by its grandchild.

Yet, according to the table below, not much separates the cars in hard facts and figures:


  1989 VOLVO 440 GLT 2009 VOLVO S40 1.6 S
Body Type 5-door hatchback 4-door saloon
Engine Size – Horsepower 1721cc – 109bhp 1596cc – 100bhp
Acceleration: 0-60 mph 10.1 seconds 11.3 seconds
Top Speed 112mph 115mph
Fuel type / fuelling method Unleaded Petrol (95RON) / Multipoint fuel injection Unleaded Petrol (95RON) / Multipoint fuel injection
Fuel tank volume (litres) 50 55
Miles per Gallon (Urban figure provided)** 26.2mpg 30.7mpg
Service intervals 10,000 miles 12,500 miles


However, would the older car’s higher fuel consumption and higher maintenance bills outweigh the two year old car’s depreciation? To work out an answer, I performed a few calculations that evening, to see if running a highly-specified (but low mileage) older vehicle, against a newer alternative, would stand comparison:


  1989 VOLVO 440 GLT 2009 VOLVO S40 1.6 S
Retail cost @ 20,000 miles(Forecourt price)*** £1,000 £10,500
Trade-in value after a further  3-years and 36,000-miles*** £150 (scrap price) £4,500
Depreciation cost over 3-years and 36,000 miles*** £850 £6,000
Tax (VED) cost for three years (3x 12-month discs at 01.04.11 rates) £645 £570
3-year servicing cost (based on a Volvo franchised dealer quotation) £1,000 £750
MoT test cost (based on RRP of £54.85) £165(x3 needed) £110(x2 needed)
Fuel costs (based on Urban MPG figure** and 150p per litre for unleaded) £9,357.00 £7,988.00
Insurance quotation for three years* £884 £1,068
TOTAL RUNNING COST £12,901 £16,486

*** Guide figures calculated for the S40 with assistance from Glass’s Guides (a motor trade car value publication)

** MPG cost is taken from the official Volvo literature for both cars but note that different testing methods have been used by the EC between 1989 and 2009.

*The cheapest car Insurance quotation is Fully Comprehensive, insured for business use and is taken from and is based on a 35 year-old professional, unmarried male, living in Worcestershire, driving 12,000 miles per year, with a full UK licence, held for 18 years, with no endorsements. Figure shown is for information purposes only.

By looking at the figures, the older car would be saving its owner over £1,000 per year, compared to the newer Volvo. However, some people would argue that spending over £3,500 over three years is a cheap price to pay for a safer and more modern car to grace their driveway. Of course, there is always the potential of older components simply giving-up the ghost, replacements for which might put a different complexion on the exercise but this can be traded against the fact that genuine Volvo servicing (and the parts cost) for the older and less complex car is cheaper, despite the need for slightly more regular maintenance.

Yet, you do not have to drive around in either an unfashionable 20 year-old Volvo or a tatty banger to benefit from such savings. Plenty of low mileage cars, aged between 10 and 15 years-old are on the market, most with one previous (often elderly) owner and impeccable service histories for between £800 and £2,000. My other neighbour has just purchased a 2001 Citroen Xantia, with only 19,000 miles on its odometer, for a mere £850 from an independent motor trader and thinks that it is the best car that he has bought. Maybe my Volvo-owning neighbour chose not to go to him to chat for a reason…

Looking past the plateLooking past the plate

Air conditioning wake up call

Posted on May 13th, 2011 by Rob Marshall

Air conditioning wake up callThis is one of the busiest times for air conditioning repairers, as motorists find themselves sweltering in their cars, during the first warm spell of the year. Unfortunately, repairing air conditioning faults are rarely straightforward.

The main cause of the system failing is a lack of use. Many people believe that air conditioning is suitable for cooling the car’s interior during hot weather only, which results in many units being switched off during the entire winter.

Unfortunately, should the air conditioning be inoperative for more than several months, the system’s seals can deteriorate and this causes the refrigerant, which is stored under high pressure, to escape into the atmosphere and, while air conditioning gases have not contained CFCs since the early 1990s, even modern blends are hazardous for our ozone layer.

Many drivers tend to leave their air conditioning switched off on purpose, because it saps power from the engine and increases fuel consumption. However, the costs of repairing a neglected system can outweigh the fuel saving by a significant amount.

Additionally, air conditioning plays an important safety function. Apart from being capable of maintaining a lower cabin temperature than that of outside, not only does the system draw moisture out from the air but it can also be used in conjunction with the heater, which makes air conditioning very useful to aid rapid demisting of the windows.

A downside of the dehumidifying function is that moisture builds up behind the dashboard, which affords an ideal environment for bacteria to propagate. Should you notice that you air conditioning system emits an unpleasant odour for a minute or so after switching it on, it would be worthwhile disinfecting it.

Several products exist on the market, which claim to sterilise the ventilation system. A version that I have tested recently was Liqui Moly Klima Fresh, which worked very effectively in cleansing the ventilation system of my own car, judging by the pleasant odour that still lingered for several weeks afterwards.

From the garage

Posted on April 11th, 2011 by Rob Marshall

The owner of a 1997 Vauxhall Corsa thought that she was hearing things, when her exhaust started blowing again, barely a month after she paid to have it replaced.

With the car raised on a ramp, it was clear that her previous garage had fitted new front and centre exhaust sections but not the very corroded rear silencer, which had rusted through.

When the owner was quizzed, she admitted that she instructed her garage to keep the repair costs as low as possible, which explains why a gamble was taken on the old part.

From the garageFortunately, the rearmost exhaust silencer was not expensive to source, for such a popular car, and the old part was removed and replaced without any problems being encountered. Ironically, it would have been more economical for the owner to have had the entire exhaust replaced initially, rather than paying for two separate repairs.

Traffic light system

Posted on March 31st, 2011 by David Williams MBE

‘May Cause Drowsiness’ is too confusing, says report

A report by the British National Formulary (BNF) which advises doctors, nurses and pharmacists has found that labelling which has been shown on medicines for several decades is now too difficult for members of the public to understand.

It found that phrases such as ‘may cause drowsiness’ are no longer readily understood and should be simplified to say ‘ this medicine may make you sleepy’.

However, it is my view that although this is a small step in the right direction it is still not good enough particularly as far as motorists are concerned.

Traffic Light System

For many years GEM has been saying that the information on medicines was confusing and did not give proper warnings for drivers.

We believe that all drugs and medicines should carry a clear traffic light warning system.

Traffic light systemRed Marking – Do not drive while taking this drug or medicine

Amber Marking – Check with your doctor or pharmacist before driving when taking this drug or medicine

Green Marking – You are ok to drive while taking this drug or medicine

If the packing on medicines carried these warnings then motorists would clearly understand what they should do.

It is an offence under the Road Traffic Act of 1988 to drive under the influence of drugs or medicine and in most cases this offence would be considered in the same way as a drink driving conviction and carry similar penalties.

Download our FREE Motoring on Meds leaflet

The leaflet has been endorsed by Dr Chris Steele MBE who was the resident health expert on ITV’s This Morning programme.  He said “In some circumstances driving while impaired by medication can be as dangerous as ‘drink driving’.  I strongly support the advice given in this leaflet that drivers taking medication should always check with their doctor or pharmacist before they drive”.

Cost cutting cons?

Posted on March 24th, 2011 by Rob Marshall

The media is brimmed with information on reducing motoring costs but GEM’s technical specialist, Rob Marshall, puts some of the most popular quotes to the test.

1. “Drive below 60mph”
It is true that hard acceleration increases fuel consumption but encouraging motorists to reduce their speed alone, in order to save fuel, is too simplistic. A useful fuel saving tip is allow the vehicle’s speed to reduce slightly on inclines and allow it to build on downhill stretches, assuming it is safe and legal to do so.
Yet, using the controls smoothly and planning ahead does not mean dawdling progress, because a vehicle that is driven at a steady average speed on the open road is likely to use less fuel per mile than one that is moving slowly in heavy traffic. Planning ahead is not only key to advanced and safer driving but also fewer applications of the footbrake will reduce wear and assist to conserve fuel.
Many modern diesel engines self-clean their diesel particulate filters (DPF) at higher engine and road speeds only and so driving them slowly for long periods of time can cause the essential regeneration process to fail. In extreme cases, a visit to a garage might become necessary.

2. “Buy a more fuel-efficient car”
Even the quoted fuel consumption figures, championed in the dealer showrooms, are doubted by many consumers. Many drivers are frustrated, as they can neither match nor beat their cars’ Official Combined fuel figure.

Ironically, high-output, turbocharged petrol cars tend to have greater potential to beat their official calculation. For example, when I took part in the ALD Fuel Economy Marathon in 2008, with a Subaru Impreza WRX STI, its official combined MPG was improved by over 40%, compared to certain models, which are considered to be eco-friendly, that had great difficulty matching their government figures.

Despite the pain experienced at the filling station, depreciation remains the single biggest annual cost in the private motorist’s budget. Consequently, many car owners, including the fleet sector, are keeping their vehicles for longer. So, your old car might be less efficient on fuel than a brand-new one but keeping it for longer could save you thousands of pounds in depreciation alone.

3. “Visit the garage less”
Neglecting maintenance will not only increase mechanical wear but it also means that a breakdown is more likely and these can not only be expensive, unless you are a member of a reputable breakdown organisation, but also inconvenient. An incomplete service history record will also reduce the car’s value, at trade-in time.

By having your car maintained annually, you prove that you are looking after it, which is paramount to prolong the vehicle’s life, so that it can offer you the best long-term value.

4. “Turn off the air conditioning”
As the air conditioning compressor uses fuel, switching this function off might seem to be a good idea. Unfortunately, the system can either leak or fail completely, if it is not used regularly, and this will also reduce the car’s value to a prospective purchaser. A typical repair can cost at least several hundred pounds.

Therefore, more balanced advice to reduce fuel bills, while maintaining the air conditioning’s efficiency, is to operate the system for several minutes at least once a fortnight.

5. “Check the tax-band”
Although a car’s VED banding is an important draw for many car buyers, its cost is often eclipsed by that of depreciation. Still, it is more cost effective to buy a license disc that lasts for twelve months, rather than six.

Yet, VED is not the only consideration, because other fixed costs, such as insurance, must be thought about as well. Although IPT (Insurance Premium Tax) has risen, some insurance providers appear to have hiked their prices considerably more than a few percent and so shopping around for quotations is likely to shave valuable pounds from that annual premium.

Cost cutting cons?

Reduce the cost of motoring with Eco driving tips

Posted on March 22nd, 2011 by David Williams MBE

The A337 at Brockis Hill, New Forest

The cost of motoring can have an impact on both our wallets and on the environment. The good news is that by using strategies to reduce our current vehicles’ impact on the environment, we can save money, too.

By adopting the principles of Eco Driving, you should be able to reduce fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and your likelihood of being involved in an accident. By adopting smooth and safe driving techniques, you can save on average 5-10% on your fuel bill.

The Golden Rules of Eco Driving suggest you should:

Some more ways to save fuel

Drive slower because at high speeds, air resistance and friction in the engine increase. Travelling at 50mph uses 15% less fuel than 70mph, and any speed over 45mph sees wind resistance and engine friction increase, leading to increased fuel consumption.

Take a look in your boot, back seat and foot wells. Are you carrying unnecessary weight such as unneeded tools (you don’t need your full toolkit in a heavy case – indeed you may decide to leave any on-the-move maintenance to your breakdown provider), clutter and luggage that has taken up residence in your car. All of these add to the weight of your vehicle and to the fuel consumption.

While you’re considering unnecessary weight, think about unnecessary drag, too. Roof racks, bike carriers and roof boxes all significantly affect your car’s dynamics, so increasing fuel consumption. Remove them if they’re not in use.

Turn off your engine if you’re stationary – in a serious traffic jam, while waiting for a level crossing or just sitting in a car park. There’s little point in using fuel when you’re travelling nowhere.

If you plan ahead, you can avoid congestion and road works. And try to keep your car for longer journeys, because a cold engine uses almost twice as much fuel as a warm one, while catalytic converters only become effective after five miles of driving.

A few simple steps such as these and a little driving skills refinement can help the planet and your pocket. If you wish to know more about how Eco driving can save you money, read GEM’s top tips here. Why not start applying them now?

Loving my diesel car and extending my TBF!

Posted on February 25th, 2011 by GEM Motoring Assist

It’s absolutely no wonder the price of fuel is set to rise and I don’t doubt this is only the beginning.  The troubles in the Middle East are deeply worrying making the cost of fuel pale into insignificance in the scheme of things, but since there is not a lot we can do as individuals, reducing our fuel consumption will put a little less strain on our pockets.


A year ago, I abandoned the petrol engine and boy, am I glad.  Fuelled by a pathetic return of around 17 mpg on my Grand Scenic auto, I decided that a diesel was the way to go when I bought my much yearned for Peugeot 308CC.  It was so important to me that I waited over 6 months for second hand model to become available.

Since then, I have marvelled at how much less often I have had to stand on a chilly forecourt with my hands turning to blocks of ice as I wait for the tank to fill – a job that has got to be one of the most inconvenient when running a car?  I am now, positively laughing.  I have only had to fill my tank 3 times in the last 10 weeks and I’ve still got 150 ‘round town’ miles to go, according to my on- board computer.

I don’t know exactly how many miles to the gallon I am getting, but it’s got to be in the region of 30+ or so round town.  Not bad for a 2 litre auto engine? And if I now start to follow some of GEMs tips and advice on reducing my fuel consumption, I might be able to stretch my TBF (time between fill ups) by another week or so.

For anyone interested in cutting down their TBF, have a look at GEMs tips on saving fuel as covered by the Telegraph online  – or why not let us know below if you’ve get any further ideas on how to save fuel?

On the other hand, whilst it’s very tempting to have as much TBF as possible, I would however suggest you consider keeping your tank topped up and never going beyond a quarter full.  With the trouble in the Gulf States growing by the day, we might anticipate that there will be some sort of fuel supply crisis around the corner.  Having witnessed fuel shortages in the past, desperately searching for a garage and queuing up for a measly £10 worth of rationed fuel with hundreds of irate customers is not something I want to contemplate right now.

By keeping topped up, if the worst should happen, you’ll hopefully have at least half a tank of petrol to use whilst following GEM’s fuel saving tips.

Should a car servicing schedule be more frequent?

Posted on February 25th, 2011 by Rob Marshall

GEM’s technical department receives many queries from its members, who wonder if servicing a car more regularly isServicing either beneficial or a waste of money.

Thirty-five years ago, a typical car service was performed every 3,000 miles. Now 20,000 (or once every two years) is considered to be the norm. Is it really a good thing for a maintenance schedule to be so infrequent?

While engines have improved considerably, since the decade that brought us the Three-Day Week, they still need looking after. After all, would you step onto a bus, knowing that it had not been maintained for over a year?

The cynical approach would be to blame the car manufacturers, for increasing the intervals in order to lower company car running costs and bolster sales from that lucrative sector.

To shatter the illusion of some car owners, the MoT Test is not basic maintenance. Even cars with slipping clutches and worn transmissions can pass the examination, because those mechanical items are not considered.

Still, some independent mechanics think that certain service intervals are stretched beyond the technical capabilities of some cars, which has resulted an increased number of breakdowns and serious mechanical failures.

Even many Haynes manuals, which have been used by generations of DIY owners, advise that more regular servicing, especially with reference to engine oil changes and timing belt replacements, is beneficial and that home mechanics should consider giving their cars an annual service at least.