Hire car hell? 10 ways to avoid it this summer

Car hire

Ensure your holiday hire car is all smiles by following our top tips

Hire car problems are one of the biggest bothers for holiday makers going abroad. But it should be one of the easiest parts of the trip. After all, it’s not as if it’s a new industry. And the modern automobile is a fairly bullet-proof piece of kit.

However, with a lack of transparency over pricing, exorbitant insurance to cover excesses, punitive charges for fuel, and occasional blatant overcharging, some hire car companies can make a holiday memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Things are improving slowly. The industry has been ordered to clean up its act by the Competition and Markets Authority and its European counterparts. But although the key five players – Avis-Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt – have all made changes, there is plenty drivers can do to protect themselves. Here are 10 ways you can save money and ensure you have a trouble-free holiday – at least when it comes to the hire car. Continue reading

Could traffic lights with artificial intelligence end road congestion?

Could traffic lights and artificial intelligence mean the end of congestion 2

 

That familiar feeling of waiting for traffic lights to wake up and turn green could be a thing of the past thanks to new intelligent signals.

Currently the majority of lights on Britain’s roads are programmed to change at timed intervals. And with the number of signals growing from 23,000 in 1994 to 33,000 in 2014, it’s estimated traffic lights add two minutes to every car journey made. Incredibly, that’s calculated to cost the nation’s economy £16bn a year, or one per cent of GDP.

So what can be done about traffic lights and hold-ups? Experts say the answer is a new generation of intelligent traffic light.

Aren’t some traffic lights ‘smart’ already?

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Scrappage is back! How Vauxhall’s scheme works

Scrappage

Chop in a banger and Vauxhall will give you £2000 off a shiny new Corsa (Picture © Vauxhall)

The scrappage scheme is back. However, this isn’t the proposed government-backed scheme to remove the most polluting diesel vehicles from the road. This is an incentive devised by car maker Vauxhall in a bid to sell more motors.

Anyone buying a new Vauxhall Adam, Corsa, Meriva, Astra or Mokka X will have a contribution of £2000 towards their new car. But they must trade in their old model. Here’s how it works.

What is scrappage?

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Quiz: How well do you know your film cars?

Film cars

The actors may get the fame and the money but in some films it’s the cars that are the real stars. While some movies are famous for their car chases and death-defying stunts, in others the car plays a slightly more understated role.

Even so, the car can most definitely be the star. Take our quiz and find out whether you’re A List or don’t warrant an invitation at all. It’ll test how well you know the Batman movies as well as your James Bond Aston Martins. If you can answer all our questions correctly, you truly are that special combination of a car and film buff. Whatever, why not challenge your family and friends to this tricky piece of trivia?

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Driving abroad: all you need to know plus cover for insurance, breakdown

Driving abroad arranging insurance and breakdown cover checking local laws and loading the car safe

When it comes to setting off for a holiday on the continent, drivers and families have a packing list as long as beach towel. But it’s easy to forget one or more vital elements. European insurance, breakdown cover, extra kit to comply with foreign laws and your driving licence are all indispensable. And unlike a missing tube of sun cream, these aren’t easy to organise abroad and missing them can take the joy out of a much-needed break.

That’s why it’s important that drivers write out a list of everything they and their car need for the trip. That way, there should be no danger of conking out on the hard shoulder only to find that your car insurance doesn’t include breakdown cover abroad. Or that the tool to release wheel nuts is at home in the garage.

Millions of Brits prefer to drive rather than fly, given the affordability, practicality and flexibility it gives them. Here are the things you’ll need for a road trip abroad.

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Expert advice: premium or budget tyres – which should you go for?

Budget tyres

For most of us, whether we’re talking about premium or budget tyres, a tyre is simply, well, a tyre. They’re round, black, and have a patterned tread on them. But that’s not the full story. For a start, tyres are the only direct connection your car has with the road. That little area at the bottom of the tyre – called the contact patch – dictates how your car goes round corners, how quickly it’ll stop on a wet road and even how much fuel it uses.

A car engineer once told me that the tyre can contribute as much as 50 per cent towards the way a car behaves when you drive it. So tyres are vitally important, but it can be difficult to tell the difference between the various kinds. After all, the most expensive tyres in the world can look very similar to the cheapest, so how do you know which to buy?

Start with the label

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HGVs: How car drivers can stay safe around lorries on the road

 

It makes for shocking viewing: an HGV swipes a tiny Nissan Micra in its blind spot then pushes it along the road. In another film, an articulated truck crunches onto a Toyota Yaris and drags it round the corner. They’re graphic proof that car drivers need to be aware that sitting in the blind spot of a large lorry can be very dangerous.

Put yourself in the cab of an HGV for a moment. Lumbering, unwieldy, and as athletic as a pile of logs, vision towards the rear is restricted and the thing you’re driving can weigh as much as 40 tonnes and might be nearly 19m long. In addition, it folds right behind your head. And anyone who’s ever towed anything in a car will know the problems that can present. So how can we as car drivers do our bit to help? We asked Laurie Moore from HGV driver instruction company Tockwith Training.

What’s the most common mistake car drivers make?

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Car safety equipment: the key kit drivers want to be fitted as standard

Car safety equipment

Car safety equipment such as self-braking can stop cars crashing if the driver isn’t paying attention (Picture © Thatcham)

More than four out of five drivers want safety equipment such as automatic braking to be standard on new cars. And safety campaigners are urging drivers to buy only cars with it fitted as standard. They hope this will pressure car makers into fitting the tech more widely.

Currently, only one of Britain’s top 10 best-selling cars – the Mercedes-Benz C-Class – comes with automatic braking as part of its normal equipment. But research has found that when it’s an optional extra, car buyers ignore it. Instead they favour more tangible everyday kit such as sunroofs or upgraded sound systems. And according to studies, a fifth of car buyers refuse to pay extra for safety equipment.

Despite this, researchers for Stop the Crash found that 83 per cent of drivers actually want safety kit such as automatic braking to be standard. Chairman of Stop the Crash David Ward said: “This research shows how important safety is to the consumer. But it highlights how this often fails to translate into safety options being purchased in the showroom. Manufacturers must offer safety systems as standard with proven ability to save lives.”

What is automatic braking?

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Bright idea: how to change or upgrade car headlight bulbs

Headlights

Whether driving at night or motoring in the rain, fog or snow, one of a car’s most important safety features is its lights. The headlights in particular are a vital component for keeping drivers secure on the road. They dictate the view of the road ahead and surrounding environment, and help other road users see the approaching vehicle.

But as cars age, so do their bulbs. And nobody can have failed to notice that lighting technology has raced on over the past decade. The latest cars have ultra-bright LED lights. These can often make traditional halogen bulbs seem no more effective than a candle in a lantern.

If you’ve found yourself cursing your car’s lighting performance, or felt a pang of envy as you’ve shielded your eyes from other cars’ dazzling headlights, there is, ahem, light at the end of the tunnel.

Upgrading a car’s headlights is one of the simplest maintenance jobs drivers can tackle. It’s also highly affordable. And when you consider the safety benefits of changing a car’s bulbs for brighter items, it’s little wonder that sales of aftermarket bulbs are booming. Here’s how to do it.

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Road rage: How to cope with confrontation from other drivers and riders

Rage against the machine how to cope with confrontation on the road

Is road rage on the rise in Britain? Increasing numbers of incidents in the headlines suggest it might be. Often, these can be attributed to the boom in sales of dashboard and helmet cameras as video clips of confrontations are shared across social media and news outlets. But surveys have suggested that despite the UK’s roads getting safer in terms of accident rates, more people claim to have been a victim of road rage.

For the vast majority of drivers it can be a harrowing experience. Nerves are left frayed and a good day can be spoiled because another driver or road user’s temper has got the better of them.

The good news is, there are steps everyone can take to guard against road rage from others. Read on to help yourself stay safe and calm behind the wheel.

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