Over a third of UK drivers regularly get behind the wheel without having fully de-iced their vehicle. Not only is this dangerous, it’s actually against the law.
So, as part of our Can’t See, Won’t Drive campaign, we’ve put together some expert advice on how to de-ice your car safely, even in the toughest conditions.
How to de-ice your car
Is your car’s stop-start system on the blink at the moment? If it isn’t working as you think it should, there might be a very good reason for it. Stop-start is designed to save you fuel and cut a car’s exhaust emissions by reducing the amount of time your engine sits idling without going anywhere. And it’s on nine out of every 10 new cars sold. But if it stops stopping, is it a problem? And should you take your car to the garage?
It might be due to the cold weather
Emergency stops can be frightening enough without having dodgy brakes too (Picture iStock/RapidEye)
Braking and brake pads are vitally important when it comes to road safety. We’re frequently so consumed with how fast cars can go or the economy they return that we forget how important stopping is. And anyone who’s had any kind of brake failure will testify to what a terrifying experience it can be.
But some recent research revealed that the confusing way garages measure brake pads isn’t helping. It could mean drivers are leaving it too long to have their pads changed. Or they might even be changing them too soon, without getting the full amount of wear out of them.
How is brake pad wear measured?
Replacing a battery used to be so simple (Picture iStock/Igor-Kardasov)
We usually think that cold weather takes its toll on car batteries and causes them to fail. But it’s frequently hot weather that does the damage. Heat dries batteries out, causing them to lose their charge more quickly.
Then when temperatures fall, oil thickens up, it takes more current to turn an engine over to start it, the battery struggles to perform as it should and eventually fails.
One thing’s for sure: no one wants to be stranded with a dud battery. Bearing that in mind, it’s a good idea to think about replacing your car’s battery when the weather starts to cool. Here are some tips on doing that.
What kind of battery does your car need?
Running out of fuel at the roadside is a bad idea for many reasons. For a start it can put you in unnecessary danger, stranded beside speeding vehicles. And depending on the kind of car you drive and its age, it could cause mechanical complications when you do get fuel.
But that doesn’t stop hundreds of thousands running out of fuel every year. I read a survey a little while ago which said that 70,000 drivers a month run dry on the road. The problem seems to be that owners overestimate how far their car can travel when its tank is nearly empty. Here’s what you need to know.
How do you know your car is running dry?
The MOT test changes this weekend but you can be forgiven if you didn’t know. New research conducted by Green Flag reveals that six out of 10 drivers (58 per cent) haven’t realised the MOT changes are happening.
More worryingly perhaps, nine out of 10 drivers (89 per cent) are unaware that driving a car with an invalid MOT might result in a £2500 fine. And a quarter (25 per cent) don’t realise that driving a faulty vehicle results in a penalty. Read on to find out more about the changes and how drivers might be able to save themselves money.
What are the MOT changes?
Being able to fix a broken fuse in a car is one of the handiest pieces of knowledge any car driver can deploy. At some point in your motoring life a fuse in your car will blow. And very often you don’t need to pay an expensive motor mechanic to fix it.
You should be able to tell instantly if you’ve got a blown fuse because a function that you take for granted will stop working. It might be the 12-volt power socket, the windscreen wipers or the indicators. If it is the fuse that’s causing the problem, you may be able to fix it in a couple of minutes with a part that costs pennies rather than paying a mechanic. Here’s how.
Find the fuse box
Even a basic tool kit can prevent you being stranded roadside. A working mobile phone is an important part of it (Picture: iStock/South_agency)
This might sound very old school but I think carrying a basic tool kit can be one of the most sensible things a driver does. I’m not suggesting here that you go out and buy a full socket set. And I’m not advocating dismantling a conked out car at the roadside. But a simple tool kit might make the difference between a car being repaired roadside and it being recovered to a garage.
Of course, all cars come with a rudimentary tool kit. But buying and checking a used car can be stressful enough. We often don’t have time to find out what tools it does and doesn’t have. Frequently handy tools get lost during a car’s life time and you only find out they’re not there when you need them. Here’s what I suggest you have in your tool kit.
Jack and wheel brace
A mobile phone could be a life saver
As the Beast from the East bites and many of us wake up to almost unprecedented winter weather, I thought it a good idea to put together a snow set. And along with the equipment drivers should carry in their cars, I’ve also given some advice if they get stuck.
Of course, the best thing to do is to get the fire on, relax and watch the TV until the thaw sets in. But as appealing as that sounds, it isn’t always an option. If you must drive, here are some tips.
Put your snow set together
Don’t try to fix it yourself. Read our five dos and five don’ts for stopping on a motorway hard shoulder
A motorway hard shoulder can be a dangerous place to spend time. That’s why all our technicians receive comprehensive training on what to do and how to behave on the hard shoulder. While it’s part of their job to spend time at the side of the motorway, it’s also something every driver could have to face at some point in their car-owning career.
For that reason, I’ve compiled five dos and fives don’ts for the motorway hard shoulder.
DO take care entering the hard shoulder
Water can make its way into a car in all sorts of ways. Here’s how to find a leak
One of the most frustrating elements of car ownership is when you discover a leak. You might be alerted to it by a stale musty smell. Or perhaps the carpet feels damp. Or you may notice that the car steams up of its own accord when there’s no one in it.
All are depressing because cars are supposed to be like a home from home; something that will keep you dry and warm whatever the weather. Finding water on the inside of a car is as unsettling as having a leak in your home. But leaks in cars are trickier to find than those in a building. Cars have lots of hidden pipe work and virtually every wall is an outside one. But it is possible and here’s how.
Where is the water gathering?
Going off to college can be a great adventure. Our tips will help ensure your car doesn’t spoil it
I’m sure there are some exceptions to every rule, but I’ve never yet met a student who’s rolling in money. And running a car that keeps on conking out can be like having a hole in your pocket. The key with cars is prevention rather than cure. Keeping on top of regular maintenance will prevent all manner of mechanical mishaps.
But more than that, a regular maintenance routine will actually help save you money. Tyres that are properly inflated don’t wear out as quickly and mean your motor won’t use as much fuel. And having the oil and filters changed when the maker suggests will guarantee your car performs as economically as possible. Read on to see my top car care tips.
Overheating cars used to be a familiar sight, stopped at the road side, bonnet up, steam pouring from the engine. Thankfully it’s not so common now as cars in general have become more robust.
But overheating – when the engine’s water literally boils – does occur. Here we look at why, what you can do if your car does overheat, and offer some tips on how to prevent it.
Why do cars need water?
You’ll quickly know if the air-con is working or not in hot weather
Air-conditioning in our cars is something we’re beginning to take for granted. But for many drivers the hot summer sun is going to expose a problem they didn’t know they had: their air-con isn’t up to the job.
The reason for this, and something not every car owner realises, is that air-conditioning needs regular servicing. And it’s not usually attended to when a car has its regular service.
Why does air-conditioning need servicing?
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
He might think he looks cool but in the UK, heavily tinted front windows could get you in trouble with the police and your insurer
Tinted windows or privacy glass are becoming an increasingly popular option for new car buyers. But if you decide to have the windows of your existing car tinted, you have to be really careful. The law is strict about car window tinting. And rightly so because excessively shaded glass can reduce a driver’s ability to see in the dark. It can also prevent drivers confirming through eye contact that they’ve seen other road users and pedestrians.
Although the tint of car windows isn’t part of the MOT test, you could still end up breaking the law and invalidating your insurance. Here’s what you need to be aware of.
Which windows does it apply to?
If your car suffers one of these you’ll need the characters in the picture below
You may never have looked at the writing on your tyre sides. And if you have, there’s every chance you’ll think they’ve been written in another language. But strange as these codes may look, they’re important because if you have a puncture, or your tyres wear out, they give you all the information you need to choose a replacement.
If you look at the side of a tyre, you’ll see characters like 205/55 R16. This is the most basic information you’ll need to tell a retailer if you’re hunting around for new tyres. But other details are vital too. You must choose a load index that is right for your car. Use tyres with the wrong one and you could invalidate your insurance.
The speed rating is important as well. If you have the wrong speed rating and you suffer a tyre failure, you may not be covered by your insurer. You’ll be able to find the correct load index and speed rating for your car in its user manual. Here’s my guide to what the most important characters on your car’s tyres mean. Continue reading
As millions of British families enjoy a staycation during the first half term of 2017, experts at Green Flag are warning drivers to beware of being left stranded by a flat battery.
Whether staying at home or exploring a new part of the UK, this week will see huge numbers of drivers park their car and leave it until the half-term break comes to an end. But in the current wintery weather, many of those cars won’t start for the journey home because of a flat battery.
This Saturday (18 February) is National Battery Day. And Green Flag’s expert technicians expect to have to ride to the rescue of 2800 drivers whose car batteries have packed up.
Battery trouble is the number one reason that Green Flag’s technicians are called out to broken down cars. So it’s true to say that the battery is the weakest link in a car. New research by parts company Mopar shows that every year, around a fifth of car batteries in the UK need to be replaced.
The reason people get caught out by battery trouble is that frequently there are few pointers that it’s about to strike. That’s why Green Flag’s new AlertMe technology is such a breakthrough. It can tell drivers when a car battery is on the verge of failing in sufficient time for them to do something about it. If you don’t have AlertMe, here’s why your battery is the power behind your engine.
How the battery starts your engine
Up to the 1960s, pretty much every car had a hole in its front bumper where you could slot in a starting or cranking handle. By putting your back into it and turning this you turned the engine over and hopefully it fired into life. That job is now done by a starter motor which is powered by the car’s battery. Although the starter motor doesn’t operate for long, it can sap a lot of power from the battery. Turning an engine over does require a bit of oomph. Anyone who’s done the job using a cranking handle will know. And the bigger the engine and the colder the weather, which makes the oil thicker – think running in mud!– the more effort that’s required to get an engine going. Once the battery has done that main job, you might forgive it for feeling a little jaded. Continue reading
A mobile phone and reflective jacket could save your life if you break down
Many of us treat our cars like a home away from home. Yet frequently we don’t have even the most basic equipment to cope with the unexpected. So I’ve created my own list of in-car must haves. These are the essentials that I carry in my car and I recommend that you do too. You can buy most of them for less than a fiver. It could end up being the best money you’ve ever spent.
First aid kit
I read somewhere that fewer than one in five of us know even basic first aid. I like to think that I do know the basics and I always carry a first aid kit just in case. For a start, you never know when something as simple as some bite or sting cream will come in handy. Equally, if you’ve got kids, plasters can be needed when you least expect it. And if you have bandages at the scene of an accident and you don’t know what to do with them, someone else might. Continue reading