Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

UK Banks montageSomeone recently found the blog on the term ‘what bank should I use as an instructor’?

The answer is simple: It doesn’t matter who you bank with.

All you need to be able to do is pay money in and get it out when you need it. As a sole trader, you really don’t need a business account (which usually has a monthly fee of between £5-£10, and extra fees for depositing cheques), but if that’s what you want then it’s up to you. Some banks will try to insist you have a business account if you bank with them, but my advice would be to find another bank unless you’re happy to be charged for something most will provide to instructors and sole traders for free,

Personally, I bank with Halifax, and all my money goes into and comes out of the same personal account. The vast majority of my driving instructor income goes in via my PayPal Here card reader and PayPal account. Less often, it goes in via bank transfer or a direct PayPal payment. I never accept cheques as lesson payments now, and I only ever get one if I’m being paid by a corporate source (another bank, insurance companies, and so on).

Cheques were the only source of payment problems I ever had. I can’t remember any ‘bouncing’ because pupils didn’t have the funds, but I was always conscious that they could. The main source of problems was how they were filled in – missing numbers or my name spelled wrong, or smeared. It didn’t happen often – but it happened, and it was made worse by the fact that the bank can take weeks or months before sending it back, which you wouldn’t know unless you were looking at your account every five minutes. However, the main drawback was that cheques have no immediate value until you have banked them, and when I first started, the vast majority of pupils paid this way. So if I wanted to maintain my cashflow – and when you’re starting out, you most certainly do – it meant frequent trips to the bank.

Unfortunately, though, even now about 20% of my turnover is still cash, and I can easily accrue several hundred pounds in little more than a week. So I still have to physically pay money in occasionally (though I’m no longer in a major hurry to do so) by way of the ancient pantomime known as ‘going to the bank’.

I have to be honest and say that Halifax is utterly crap as far as its branches are concerned. To start with, they don’t have many left, and those they do are located in places where you find a lot of idiots (e.g. West Bridgford and Arnold shopping precincts). First of all, you have to find somewhere to park, and in West Bridgford that means having to pay (and the traffic wardens hunt in packs, ready to nab you if your ticket has a crease in it or is placed crookedly on your dashboard). In Arnold, if you’re lucky you can find a free roadside spot, but if not then you have to pay there, too. West Bridgford town centre during the day is like a geriatric village of the damned, and even if the car park has spaces, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to get to them because of elderly and disabled drivers stopping next to the fully-occupied disabled bays waiting for someone to move (or trying to avoid buying a ticket while they wait for their partner to come back from shopping). In the afternoon, mummies in Chelsea tractors do the same as they pick their kids up in the car park, or wait for a space near the shops instead of driving round the other side where there’s lots of empty places.

If you do manage to park and get into the Halifax branch, the size of the queue at the till (and the complexity of the transaction each member of it is trying to complete) is inversely proportional to how big a hurry you are in. There’ll be women with pushchairs whose kids are running around screaming, people with bags of coins, those making withdrawals as if they’ve never heard of a cashpoint, and several elderly people with bank books who behave as though they’ve never done this before when they get to the till (and who then go straight to the cashpoint to make sure the money has gone in, and often to take some out again less than five minutes after putting it in).

The number of cashiers on duty is not proportional to anything. They only ever have one unless the number in the queue is approaching three digits. Then they still have one. But sometimes two, although that isn’t proportional to anything either.

On the rare occasions I have used the cashier, the simple act of paying cash into your account takes five minutes. This, too, isn’t proportional to anything. It just takes five minutes – possibly a bit longer if you have a lot of cash and what they count isn’t the same as what you counted. The vast majority of that five minutes is taken up by their printing device, which takes nearly that long to chisel your receipt on to small clay tablet.

Of course, there is the Fast Deposit machine. This miracle of technology does exactly the same thing as the cashier, and it even takes exactly as long as the cashier. All without involving the cashier at all. Brilliant. Except that Halifax branch staff have been encouraging as many people as possible to use it to try and keep the queue for the till inside the building. Many of those thus encouraged seem incapable of understanding that those little metal things called ‘staples’ and ‘paper clips’ are not supposed to go into the machine, so it is frequently not working. And even when it is, if there’s more than one person waiting to use it, you’re no better off than standing in line waiting for the till. It was that which led to my last ever visit late last year.

I went in, and there was the usual queue for the single cashier. There was only one person at the Fast Deposit gizmo, but it quickly became clear he was having a financial discussion of some sort on his phone. He had several cards and a thick wad of cash. He wasn’t actually using the machine, but he was going to, and the supernumerary cards suggested the money wasn’t all going into the same account. So he was effectively three or more people – all of them f***ing stupid – all by himself. I stormed out – I swore audibly – and when I got home began looking for another bank.

If I’d have calmed down a bit, I would have realised that it was going to be the same whoever I banked with if I needed to visit a branch. Years ago, while I was with HSBC, I went into the now closed branch in Keyworth, only to get stuck behind a local farmer who was paying in hundreds of pounds in coins! And whenever I used to go in NatWest or Barclays, the cashier getting up and disappearing in order to deal with whatever the idiot at the front of the queue was trying to do would make my blood boil. But it was while I was angrily looking for a new bank that I discovered I was now able to pay into my Halifax account at the Post Office.

At first glance, this might not seem the panacea it has turned out to be. That’s because the people who frequent Post Offices are a hundred times more stupid than those at the bank branches. I recently got stuck behind someone who was apparently an eBay seller, and they had at least 30 small packages, each of which had to be individually bagged and labelled for some unfathomable reason (when I sell on eBay, I bag and label at home and only use the Post Office as a drop off if they won’t fit in a post box). Or in the village branches, they are gathering places for the elderly to have a chat, often with the elderly Postmaster (who also runs the tiny general store it is attached to), and if you walk in as an unfamiliar face, that chat takes absolute precedence over whatever it is you want to do. But the major advantage is that there are a lot of them, parking is usually a doddle, and there is always one either very close to home, or along the route as you are driving between lessons. And paying cash or cheques in at a Post Office is quick – I am usually in and out in less than two minutes.

I don’t know how long I’ve been missing out on this, because I looked into a it a few years ago for precisely the same reasons as I did this time and the service was only provided to the big banks (which didn’t include Halifax). But it seems to be almost universal now.

Why don’t you accept cheques?

There is no need. Anyone who uses cheques to pay for stuff will have a cheque guarantee card, and these days those things are chip & pin cards. Since I can take card payments, a cheque is a pointless complication. The only possible benefit to a pupil who wanted to do it would be to defer payment by however long it takes for me to bank it, plus however long it takes my bank and theirs to process it. If I didn’t pay it in immediately, there’s an increased chance that they will be skint again by the time I did. For me, there is no benefit at all, since it forces me to go to the bank if I want the money, and that is just wasted time and all of the hassle I have already outlined.

Other instructors take cheques

That’s because they can’t take card payments, meaning that unless they get paid in cash (including driving the pupil to a cashpoint to obtain it), or do it by bank/PayPal transfer, a cheque is the only alternative. Getting pupils to pay by bank or PayPal transfer is a hassle in itself, as is driving to cash machines a lot of the time (especially when they’re out of order or there’s traffic). When mine do it by transfer, I often have to keep chasing them because they ‘forget’. I’ve got better things to do,

What if people can only pay you by cheque?

I would imagine the number of people in the entire country who are truly in that position could be counted on the fingers of one hand. If they can write cheques, they will need a cheque guarantee card, and that doubles as a chip & pin – which I can accept directly. If the bank won’t give them one, there is probably a damned good reason for it, and I have no desire whatsoever to find out why by accepting non-guaranteed cheques from them.

As I said, I can handle cheques. I choose not to as a routine method of payment because there is no good reason for them these days as a way of paying for driving lessons. It has not been an issue, and if it ever became one then I would consider each case on its merits. It isn’t one of my accepted methods, that’s all.

Why bother with a card machine?

It’s quick, and I get paid immediately. There’s no chasing, and no risk of loss to me. Since I started using such a device nearly seven years ago I have taken well over £100,000 that way (and yes, it all gets declared when I do my taxes, as does any cash I take). It also means I have good records for tax purposes. Frankly, I wish everyone would pay by card, but it isn’t uncommon for people to have their own reasons for insisting on cash – even if it involves as much as £700 for a complete course!

Isn’t it illegal to use a personal account for business transactions?

No. You only need a business account if you are a limited company. Sole traders – such as ADIs – are operating perfectly legally if they use a personal account. The only reason for choosing a business account would be to keep things simple for when you do your tax return – but it isn’t that hard in the first place for instructors.

Note also that some banks don’t like it if you use a personal account this way and will expect you to open a business account – and close your personal one if you don’t. That’s between you and the bank’s policies, and not a legal issue.

HMRC will audit you if you use a personal account

Well, I’ve been doing this for long time and I have never been audited. I wouldn’t be worried if I was, because my accounts are clear (and true). HMRC are far more interested in you if your numbers don’t add up properly – if your profit ratio isn’t what it should be, or if your declared turnover doesn’t ring true, for example.

What I have noticed is that at least some ADIs who make this claim will also have boasted at some point how little tax they pay, and if they’re saying it because they’ve been audited, well, there’s the real reason right there. In my case, I simply pay what is required after all my overheads have been subtracted from all my turnover. If you’re honest, and doing this full time, there’s no escaping the fact that you need to pay taxes – and the annual figure when you complete your Self Assessment isn’t going to be very attractive if you haven’t been planning for it throughout the year.

Too many people start in this job, end up working 30 hour weeks, but don’t put their taxes aside as they go along. Then, at the end of the year, they need to find around £1,000 to pay their bill – usually, just after Christmas to make matters worse. Fair enough, you pay half in January, and the other half in July, but it’s still a lot.


Heavy Snow in Nottingham - 10/2/2020Caution – contains swearing.

It’s been an absolute joke, today. The A52 is still closed southbound, so traffic is having to find its way across the Trent elsewhere. But that’s why I made sure I wasn’t teaching during the rush hour.

Or, at least that was the plan. You see, I didn’t take into account the Met Office – a weather forecasting agency that gets it wrong even when it tries to tell people what it can see out of its windows.

I had a lesson at 1pm. As we drove away from his house, it began to rain. A few minutes later I commented that it was now sleet, as you could see the ice crystals on the windscreen as the drops hit. By this time we were heading up Woodborough Road towards Mapperley, and I said ‘ just watch when we get to the top – it’ll be proper snow at that altitude’. And it was, although it wasn’t settling.

Mapperley is one of the highest points in Nottingham. If it’s drizzly in the city, it’s pissing down in Mapperley. If it’s a bit hazy in Colwick, there’ll be thick fog in Mapperley. And as I predicted today, if there’s a bit of sleet down below, Mapperley will have lying snow. But I wasn’t worried, because no weather forecasts today had said we’d get any heavy snow in Nottingham. I checked.

We drove down Arnold Lane towards Gedling, and the snow got wetter as we descended and eased off. We did a circuit through Burton Joyce and Stoke Bardolph, then finished up at the Victoria Retail Park to have ago with the road layouts around there and a manoeuvre. While we were there, the snow got heavier – it was those little balls that bounce off glass – and I noticed it began to accumulate around kerbstones.

Then we headed home towards the city centre at about 2.20pm. Traffic was light around the Retail Park, and it was the same all the way back up Arnold Lane – until we got near to the top. By now, the snow was falling heavily in huge flakes, and the road was covered. The traffic came to a complete standstill and was not moving, most likely because some twat had slammed their brakes on at the bottom of the first dip and couldn’t get up the other side. We turned around and headed back down to go via a different route. Traffic was still free-moving, and we managed to get all the way through Gedling, up Carlton Hill, and through Carlton itself. Then, we were at a standstill again, just before Porchester Road. And this time there was nowhere else to go.

That was just after 2.30pm. To cut a long story short, I finally dropped the pupil off outside his house at just before 5pm. It took us over an hour to move from Nottingham High School to Russell View (a quarter of a mile) along Forest Road, and his 1.5 hour lesson had lasted 4 hours! I didn’t get home until just before 7pm. I’d cancelled my evening lesson because the pupil lives off Porchester Road with all the steep roads, and he’d told me they were bad.

The snow began at just after 1pm, and by 2pm it was falling heavily higher up. When I got home, I went to the BBC website and discovered those f***ing twats at the Met Office had issued a Yellow Warning for snow in the Midlands at 3.07pm! Over a f***ing hour after it had already fallen and caused traffic to come to a standstill.

Can someone please explain to me what the Met Office actually does? Because it sure as hell doesn’t involve predicting short-term weather conditions.


Ben BardsleyYou have to laugh. Ben Bardsley, of Warrington, was having a pond built at his house, and while he was watching the work he was struck by a digger bucket and knocked into the pond. He claimed that the accident had caused damage to his neck and back, meaning he couldn’t lift weights anymore (he’s a bodybuilder and gym owner), and that it had also given him a fear of heights.

Reading into the story, it seems that if he’d have accepted the offer of £4,500 the insurance company had initially made, that would have been the end of it. He’d been involved in an accident, after all, and the claim was legitimate in that sense. But Bardsley was greedy, and wanted up to five times that amount, claiming extensive physical as well as psychological damage. That was when Aviva became suspicious and instructed lawyers to investigate further. Reading into it again, they didn’t have to investigate very much to flush him out.

They uncovered multiple photos he’d posted of himself lifting heavy weights in the gym after the accident. Best of all, he showed how badly vertigo – a fear of heights – had affected him by posting a video of himself going down the Verti-Go slide in Benidorm, which is 33 metres high, and you travel at 62mph down it. He even showed his muscles off to some kids at the bottom.

So, from having a guaranteed £4,500 pay-out, he’s now been stung with no pay-out – and an order to pay the £14,000 in legal costs.

I have little time for insurance scammers. Every time anyone has hit my car – or cars my ex-pupils have been driving – they have tried it on.


Clifton Bridge, NottinghamBloody hell!

I was on my way to a 6.30pm lesson last night (6 February), heading north on the A52, and I noticed they were putting up cones on the southbound side. I thought ‘bloody idiots, doing roadworks at this time during the busiest rush hour of the week’ (Thursday is busier than Friday, usually).

Anyway, I finished my lesson and headed home along the A52 in the southbound direction. This was at around 8.15pm, and as I approached the QMC in free moving traffic, suddenly it was at a standstill. I remembered the cones from earlier, and quickly switched lanes, did a u-turn, and went via the city centre and Trent Bridge using all the side roads. I was heading for Asda in West Bridgford, and this was the best alternative way to get there.

Traffic was very heavy in Nottingham and over Trent Bridge. It wasn’t until I got home and came online that I discovered the reason for it all. They’ve been doing maintenance work on Clifton Bridge for a few weeks, and apparently they discovered a structural fault involving corroded steel yesterday. As a result, the southbound carriageway of the A52 is completely shut. I have read this morning that a second defect has been discovered. Until about 11.30am today, they had been saying that the bridge would be shut until at least midday.

The latest is that it will be shut until ‘early next week’. Google gives 13 February as the estimated date (and that’s late next week).

For anyone who doesn’t know, Clifton Bridge is actually two bridges. The first was built in 1958, and was a single carriageway road. By the late 60s, traffic congestion on the route was so severe that a second bridge was built right next to the first, and opened in 1972. Although the lane priorities have changed a couple of times over the years, the current configuration is that the old bridge carries three lanes northbound, and the new bridge carries one lane northbound, and four lanes southbound. This problem means that there is no southbound route, and the northbound is reduced by 25% (probably 50% or more in reality, since two of the four lanes don’t continue on the A52 anyway, but only flow on to Queens Drive for all practical purposes, which is on the diversion route as detailed below).

You can imagine the problems this has caused. The diversion route – four lanes’ worth of traffic, which is frequently at a virtual standstill heading towards the A1 (south) and the M1 (J24) – is being diverted into a single lane, along Queens Drive, past the railway station, along London Road and Trent Bridge, then either through Wilford (M1) or West Bridgford (M1, A1). It was bad enough at 8.15 last night, but I can’t wait to see what happens this afternoon with the earlier Friday rush hour. Northbound will be extremely heavy due to the lost lane. Google already shows stationary traffic on Queens Drive and along London Road/Trent Bridge (at 1.30pm).

I’ve cancelled my whole day. Even if I could get out to pupils, for most of them we wouldn’t be able to get anywhere once I did.

Update: Be careful out there. It’s gridlock on some roads for most of the day right now.

Update 8/2/2020: The latest update is that it will be closed until ‘at least Wednesday’ – which is 12th February. And note it says ‘at least’.

Update 11/2/2020: I saw a report this evening that said they were planning to open one lane on the bridge in time for the end of the Forest match tonight. A later report says they’re not now able to do that because the safety barriers aren’t installed yet.

Update 15/2/2020: They opened up a single lane on 12/2/2020, and even at 8pm last night (14th) traffic was very slow moving (largely because of prats racing up in the left-hand lane for the city centre, then forcing their way in near the lane-merge through the cones). There’s also a 30mph speed limit in force. During the day, queues are still back to the QMC.

Update 23/0/2020: In case anyone hasn’t heard, the bridge is now expected to be substantially the way it is now until the end of the year. It certainly won’t be fully open for at least 9 months!


Questions people ask search engines to find the blog. And my answers that I use with pupils, along with links to articles I’ve written on the subject previously.

Why is it important to know different terminology?

The full question was ‘why is it important to know different terminology when instructing?’

Everyone is different, with different levels of intelligence, linguistic skills, and so on. Something as simple as referring to a clock face might be a problem for people who have only ever known digital clocks on their smartphones. Or if someone didn’t have a good maths education, referring to an angle or turn in degrees will have them flummoxed. And if you have a degree in English language, using polysyllabic words (that’s one right there) that aren’t used very often on the web will come across as meaningless to many.

It’s always vital to check someone’s understanding, and to find a different way of saying it if they simply don’t get it the first time. One of the best parts of being an instructor – for me, at any rate – is trying to find the right buttons to press and switches to flip that turn on the lights in people’s heads.

Why shouldn’t you use the handbrake in an emergency stop?

The question asked was ‘what are the dangers of using the handbrake in an emergency stop?’

Modern cars have antilock braking systems (ABS). When you hit the brake hard (as in the Emergency Stop), a computer under the bonnet can detect when the wheels lock (i.e. stop turning) – if the car is still moving when this happens, it will skid. So the ABS automatically releases the brakes then grips again repeatedly until the car stops moving. This brake-release cycle is the ABS, and it repeats about 15 times every second. You can usually feel the pedal vibrate when the ABS has kicked in. Basically, ABS stops the wheels from locking (the clue is in the name).

If you are skidding with locked wheels, you have no control over where the car is going. Momentum, gravity, and the road surface make the decision for you. But since ABS allows the wheels to move a little, you can still retain some steering control when it kicks in. ABS operates on all four wheels and is hydraulically controlled.

The handbrake does not go through the ABS system, and it typically only acts on the rear wheels. It is also usually a manual system involving a cable. That means that if you pull it hard enough to lock the wheels, only the rear ones are affected and the back of the car skids and spins out. This is extremely dangerous, and can happen even at low speeds if the road surface is slippery.

On modern cars with electronic handbrakes (parking brakes), the system is slightly different. However, the car won’t let you apply the parking brake if you’re moving fast.

The handbrake is only intended to hold the car still when it is stopped, and should not be used for braking to a stop because of the risk of locking the wheels. Even in a modern car, applying the parking brake while the car is still creeping slightly (which it will allow) could be enough to slip into a gate or wall if the surface is, say, icy and on a slight slope.

Also be aware that no brake lights come on when you use the hand/parking brake, so if you brake using it, anyone behind is likely to react late and end up in the back of you.

When should I use the handbrake?

Many modern cars have advanced braking aids, such as ‘hill start assist’ and ‘foot brake assist’. They also have electronic handbrakes which are operated by a switch rather than a lever, and which disengage automatically when you pull away.

I have thought long and hard over the last five years about whether to teach people with these aids turned on (you can usually disable them). Initially, I had them turned off, but now they are becoming so common there is an increasing likelihood that the cars pupils buy once they pass will also have them fitted. So I now use ‘hill start assist’ and ‘foot brake assist’ on my lessons.

The sole purpose of the handbrake (or parking brake, as I now call it, since you don’t use your hand to apply the braking force) is to prevent the car from rolling when it is stopped or parked. Bear in mind that when the hand/parking brake is applied, the brake lights do not illuminate.

When does a signal benefit others?

The actual question was ‘what does it mean to signal only if it will benefit others?’

If you’re turning left or right, or even just changing lanes, my advice to learners is just to check your mirrors and signal, then carry out the manoeuvre if it is safe to do so. However, if there is no one around who is going to see that signal (i.e. to benefit from it), then it is not strictly necessary.

I’ve written about this before, but the upshot is that when turning left or right, in the vast majority of cases at the point where you should apply the signal you cannot possibly know if there is someone who will benefit or not, because they will be approaching from the road you want to turn into – almost always out of your view at that point – and you simply won’t know. That’s why I advise my learners always to signal for turns, and not to try and get smart about it.

The situation is slightly different if you’re just switching lanes, for example. In that case, if you can see that there is no one behind or in front of you who is going to benefit from you signalling your intentions, then you have a good argument for not doing it. The problem is that it’s only a good argument if you are right – and learners are less experienced and more likely to get it wrong. Furthermore, if they signal to change lanes on their driving test when it is absolutely not strictly necessary, no fault will be recorded (though that’s not the case on the ADI Part 3 test). But if they don’t signal and the examiner thinks they should have, it could easily be marked as a serious fault.

The same is true when pulling over and stopping, and when moving off again. If there is no one who could possibly benefit from signalling, you don’t need to do it. But the questions you might need to address are: ‘do those pedestrians need to know – even though they’re 100 metres away?’; ‘is there anyone in that van in front of me?’; ‘might someone I can’t see yet be coming the other way as I pull out from behind this parked van?’; and so on.

It can be a tricky call even for an experienced driver. For learners it is trickier still. There is no single answer, as every situation is different, but for learners it is better to play it safe rather than take risks. As long as they have done all the necessary checks, signalling when it isn’t strictly necessary isn’t a problem.

It’s also worth clarifying the original question. No one has said you must only signal if it will benefit others (well, not unless you’re going for the Golden Anorak with RoSPA or IAM). The point is that a signal is only necessary if it will benefit others, and for 99.9% of the driving population it’s better to be safe than sorry.

What do ‘S’ and ‘D’ mean on the driving test report?

On your driving test, there are three categories of fault. A driver fault (often called ‘a minor’), a serious fault (the ‘S’), and a dangerous fault (the ‘D’). You can get up to 15 driver faults and still pass, but get a 16th and you fail. You cannot get any serious or dangerous faults and still pass.

You cannot have all 15 driver faults under the same heading. For example, if you move off without checking properly (your blind spot, let’s say), if no one is around you will probably get a driver fault for it. If you do it again (and no one is around), you may still get away with it – if you’re lucky. But do it three or more times and the examiner is likely to convert it to a serious fault (one examiner once told me he went on ‘5 strikes and you’re out’, but this is not official and you cannot assume all other examiners are as lenient).

That same fault could easily be marked as a serious one the very first time you do it if someone is approaching and you don’t see them. It could be marked as a dangerous fault if the approaching vehicle is so close that there’s a chance of a collision.

Personally, I think that not checking properly should always be at least a serious fault, because if you don’t check properly you wouldn’t know if anyone was there or not, and the only difference between it being seen as a driver fault or a serious on test is that you were lucky that there wasn’t anyone coming.

How long does it take to learn to find the bite?

A recent search term was “how long to learn the bite on a new car?”

It depends on the driver. A typical beginner who has never driven before can easily pick up clutch control in just a few minutes. And over the next few hours will polish that skill as they move on to wider skills. However, it is far from rare to have people who are always going to have issues even after they pass (I can think of quite a few over the years).

As for a new car, my own experience is all I can go on. Before I became an instructor I bought a nearly new car. At the time, I only did a couple of thousand miles a year at most, and when it went for its first MOT after two years the garage told me the clutch was worn and would need ‘replacing soon’. In fact, I drove it for another four years or so, until the clutch started to slip and I had to bite the bullet.

When I went to pick it up, I couldn’t move it without stalling. Over the years, the position of the pedal where you obtained the bite had gradually risen as the clutch wore down, and I’d gotten used to it without realising it. Suddenly, the bite point was right at the bottom of the pedal’s travel – just as it will be in most new cars. My leg had a memory, and this new position came as a big surprise to it, as it tried to go higher and causing a stall. I just about cracked it in the two mile drive home, and a couple of days later, my leg was fully trained.

These days, each time I get a new car I notice no difference.

Why do I keep stalling my petrol car?

I get a lot of visitors asking this, or something very similar.

Quite simply, unless there is a definite fault with the car (which is unlikely), you are not putting enough gas on or you are lifting the clutch too quickly. It can easily be a combination of both of these, with the first making the second worse, and so virtually guaranteeing a stall.

The problem often stems from the fact that you were taught to drive in a diesel car. Most diesel engines are much more difficult to stall than petrol ones – it’s to do with the torque. It is possible that in order to teach you quickly, your instructor didn’t teach you to apply gas until you were moving. This would have been fine in their car, but as you have discovered, all they did was teach you to drive their car – and not the one you’ve now bought.

The lower risk of stalling a diesel engine would also have masked any clumsiness you may have demonstrated in finding the biting point. If you came up a bit fast or a bit too far, the diesel would take it, but a petrol car just stalls immediately if you do it the same way.

With my own pupils, I teach them firstly to find the bite smoothly and gently on a hill using no gas (and I do that in both diesel and petrol cars). If they can move and then hold the car still without braking or stalling, they will know the sort of pedal control they should be using. Then we learn to do the same by setting gas first, then moving it and holding it as before. Finally, we move on to accelerating away up the hill smoothly. Most pick it up quickly, but some take a few practice sessions to master it. In most cases, once we’ve done the exercises, we put it into practice at traffic lights and junctions, and that provides the fine tuning.

Bear in mind that if you have bought an older car, or one which hasn’t been serviced recently, it may be much more sensitive to stalling. Just remember: you need to put some gas on, and move off smoothly.

Why do my wipers smear?

Someone found the blog on ‘wipers smear after car wash’. I get a lot of hits on this.

Quite simply, it’s because you’ve got oil, wax, or something else on the glass or wiper blades. It only takes a little on either of them, and it gets spread everywhere. New cars often have a film of some sort on the glass, and this causes the same problems. None of it is that easy to get off, though there is a way.

In short, you need to get hold of some traffic film remover (TFR). I buy mine from a company called JennyChem. TFR Ultra Special is the one you want.

The car wash is notorious for putting it on because many use a shampoo with wax in it already. Or they put some water repellent on, which has a similar effect. Make sure you clean your wiper blades, and the space at the bottom of the windscreen where the wipers sit when not in use, otherwise it just smears back on when you use them.

What is the stopping distance in a tunnel?

It’s the same as anywhere else. People get confused by Highway Code Rule 126, which says you should leave at least a 5 metre gap between you and the car in front if you have to stop. It’s to allow free movement for people who may have to evacuate, and for the Emergency Services. It’s a separate issue.

Since visibility in a tunnel is often reduced, and people are more likely to do something stupid, it makes sense to leave greater clearance between you and the car in front while you are moving in case you have to stop suddenly. But stopping in a tunnel is no different to stopping anywhere else.

How far from the kerb when doing parallel park?

People often ask how far is too far from the kerb when parallel parking (or stopping normally).

The examiner isn’t going to get out with a tape measure or anything. In terms of doing it on your lessons, if you’re between not touching it and about a tyre’s width from the kerb – perfect! Two tyre’s widths – pushing your luck, but probably OK to the examiner. Any more than that, absolutely rubbish – and assume the examiner would think so, too.

The same goes for stopping at the side of the road. If you’re more than about two tyre’s widths away, then as far as I am concerned – if you were on a lesson with me – then you’re too far. And the examiner will almost certainly think the same.

Some examiners are extremely lenient and might let it pass even if you were wider than two tyre’s widths away, but don’t count on it. They might also let you get away with doing it once if the other attempts are OK, or if you have driven a really good test but only mess up a little on the parallel park. As I say, don’t count on it.

Some years ago, traffic wardens were out with tape measures in Nottingham and ticketing people who were more than 18″ (about 45cm, which is almost half a metre, and a bloody long way however you look at it) away from the kerb. Just use that as  rough guide as to what’s OK and what might not be, because it ties in with what I’ve already said.


brexit_mentalityImmediately after the referendum, Brexiters showed their true colours by putting signs up telling foreigners to go home.

Nearly four years down the line, the unimaginable has happened, and that half of the electorate with the combined intelligence of a cowpat has collectively orgasmed overnight, as Johnson delivered what he hopes will keep him in power. This story shows clearly what drove us into this in the first place.

It was placed on doors across all 15 floors of a Norwich tower block.

Make no mistake, the sentiment which drove the twat(s) who did this festers in the minds of a huge number of Brexit supporters out there. They will deny it, of course. They will take issue with it. But they have this cancer running through their veins, no matter what ‘reasons’ they now give for voting to leave the EU.

This is what did it. This is what got that tiny, tiny majority that has effectively destroyed this country. And this is what we have condemned ourselves to.


EU flag with fallen starA date and time which will live in infamy.

The idiots still can’t see what they’ve done. The warnings of the last four years have not been heeded, and nearly half a million have lost their jobs in vain.

Brexit is going to destroy this country.


Albert and his carerHere’s a worthwhile GoFundMe appeal.

Albert Johnson was one of the Windrush generation. He hasn’t been to Jamaica – where he thinks he may still have family – since 1974. He is now 89 years old and… well, you can understand what that means. He has been ill and age is taking its toll. It would seem that one big reason he hasn’t been back earlier is that there was a damned good chance this country wouldn’t let him back in again. However, he now has a UK passport and assurance of his citizenship.

He lives with his carer, who herself deserves a medal for what she is doing, and obviously cannot afford such a trip himself (he lives in a deprived area of Nottingham). You can read his full story on the GoFundMe page.


I published this article in early 2019. At the time, the Ford Sync 3 system kept freezing (among other glitches). Recently, I have noticed people complaining about the problem as if it’s the end of the world. As usual, non-Ford owners are chiming in with their ‘expert’ opinions without having a clue what they’re talking about.

All it needs is a Sync 3 update. It is easy to do it yourself (though last year it was a right pain). I have recently updated another car and the update process now goes through smoothly. Read the article for details on how to do it.

Warning! Contains swear words.

Sync 3 after updatingSince I got my new Ford Focus last year (2018), it has suffered from repeated random locking-up of the radio and navigation system. The only way to reset it once it happens has been to either leave the car and lock it for a few minutes, so it resets itself, or press and hold the OFF and Fast Forward buttons for about 8 seconds. Oh, and the radio has never remembered that I have set it to show additional information (the song that is playing, for example), meaning I have to turn that feature on manually every time I get in the car).

Both methods were a pain in the arse – the latter because doing such a reset puts some settings back to the factory default (the screen colour and the clock, in particular), and the former because having to get out of the car and lock it for several minutes as a solution speaks for itself. The frozen clock has made me late for at least one appointment, and the satnav freezing has forced a change of lesson plan several times (pupils aren’t paying me to piss about with a faulty satnav, and I can’t be doing so while they’re driving because it’s dangerous).

Before I realised other Ford owners were having the same problem, I reported it to my dealer when I took it in for its service. As usual, they played dumb – they don’t have to try very hard at that in the first place – and said they’d need it in for a day to assess it, which roughly translates to several days because they won’t be able to catch what is an intermittent fault that can’t be triggered deliberately. Well, sod that! With a single lost day costing me anything up to £200 in earnings, I decided to just put up with it and moan about it again at the next service.

Ford is no better. While I was checking for any information on the issue, I did find an update to the maps for the navigation system, and I thought I may as well install it. Or rather, TRY to install it, swear a lot, then give up in frustration. I downloaded the update file from Ford’s site and the first thing was that the zip file didn’t contain the exact files Ford’s “instructions” said it should. That was a bad start. But no matter how many times I downloaded the file, unzipped it, and tried to install it, the car reported a “lst_err05” each time. I know what I’m doing, and I’d done things exactly as Ford had written them. The error message gave a number to call, which amounted to a recorded message advising me to call a premium rate number. Thieving bastards! As I say, I just gave up.

In the meantime, the locking up problem continued it’s random appearances unabated.

Anyway, I discovered today (April 2019) that there is now a Sync 3 update which has been issued in the last few days. And when I checked, it showed up for my car’s VIN. I downloaded it (twice, eventually, because you can guess where this is going), and followed the instructions to the letter. After about 8 tries across two complete downloads of the 2.9GB zipped update file, every attempt to do the install resulted in a “pkg_err03”. I was well pissed off by this time.

Ford’s idiot instructions are written as though intended to guide monkey through complex calculus in order to crack an egg. And in Swahili, just to make it easier. Pretty much along the same lines as Ford’s vehicle handbooks, actually, where the term “radio” doesn’t appear in the f***ing index, and is implied under “audio” or “Sync 3” instead. Or the fact that 90% of the content relates to premium features that 90% of owners don’t have on their bog-standard Zetecs. Christ, mine’s a Titanium, and it hasn’t got most of what they put in there.

I digress. The point is that Ford states that you must format a suitable memory stick – it doesn’t say any particular ones are unsuitable, just that they need to be at least 4GB – using exFAT, that you should unzip the update file directly to the stick, and that the folder structure mustn’t be changed. It states that there should be two files and a folder in the root directory on the stick once this is done.

Problem. If you extract directly to the stick, the zipped package is extracted into a single folder with the stated directory structure inside it – and that’s a no-no, because the files inside this top-level folder need to be in the top level of the stick’s directory in order for the car to recognise it as an update. So you have to do a bit of file/folder moving first.

Problem. Although Ford doesn’t state this in their instructions, you need to make sure you have turned off all Wi-Fi and bluetooth functions, and that you have nothing connected to any other USB ports. You don’t quite need to go as far as enclosing the car in a Faraday cage 200 metres underground, but that’s a close call from what I can gather.

Problem. Based on what I found today, the car might not like some brands of memory stick or ones which are, say 128GB. I can’t be 100% certain about that, but I have my suspicions from what was happening earlier.

Problem. Ford’s instructions outline a plethora of screens and buttons you have to touch to initiate the process if you get past one of the error messages telling you to go and get scammed on that premium rate number. Once I finally got it going this afternoon, mine apparently didn’t do anything until I noticed the “Updating System Files” message along the top of the screen. It had started up automatically and it finished automatically without any interaction from me at any stage, apart from inserting the stick into the USB port.

Problem. Don’t plug the stick in, then start the engine. Instead, start the engine, wait until the system has given any messages it has decided it will annoy you with today, then plug in the stick.

Problem. You have to leave the engine running while you do the update, and it takes anywhere from 20-60 minutes to complete. It is illegal to leave your car with the engine running unattended unless it’s in your back yard, and stupid if you don’t lock and bar the gates if that’s where you’re doing it. Or you can just be bored for a while as you sit there waiting. In my case, it finally fired up just as I was leaving for a lesson, and it completed just as I got there (the radio kept working throughout, so I wasn’t bored at all).

Problem. The stick doesn’t have to be formatted exFAT, as Ford says. FAT32 works, which is what I’d formatted to after the 8 previous failures with exFAT. I was experimenting, and this was the next attempt.

Problem. Once the update is complete – and all the things Ford says will happen have happened – the update apparently isn’t complete after all. At some point about 2 hours after you think you’ve done it, the system will throw up a message telling you you’ve got to connect to a network to complete the process, on pain of not having full functionality of some features if you don’t.

Problem. From what a reader told me recently, her dealer has told her that automatic updates don’t work in the UK, so the f**king message won’t go away. The only way to stop it is to turn off WiFi, which is what I have done.

Summarising the process, then:

  • download the update file from Ford
  • format a 4GB memory stick to FAT32 (don’t use the stick for anything else once you format)
  • unzip the update file directly to the stick
  • copy the contents of the folder thus created out of the folder thus created and into the root directory of the stick
  • delete the original folder (anything else in the root directory with a remotely update-recognisable name might make the process go titsup, so don’t risk it)
  • turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and everything else relating to networking on your car’s system
  • disconnect EVERYTHING from the USB ports in your car
  • make a flask of tea to take into the car with you, and make sure you’ve been to the loo
  • pack some books or other reading material
  • get in the car, close the doors, and start the engine
  • disable Auto Off
  • let it get any helpful messages out of its system, particularly those you have to acknowledge or dismiss by pressing things
  • take a deep breath and plug the stick into the USB data port (on the Focus, it’s the one with a white light around it in the storage compartment under the heater controls)

If you’re lucky, the update will start. As I mentioned, mine just started and completed without any input from me whatsoever, but knowing Ford, that doesn’t mean you won’t see all the screens Ford says you will. The bottom line is that you want to see positive messages about progress, and no error messages at all. At the end, you want it to tell you it has successfully updated, and that it will be effective from next time you start the car (it did on mine). Oh, and you need to forget about your UK Focus being able to connect to the internet for updates, because no matter what network you apparently connect to, nothing happens.

I haven’t had a lock up yet, but that doesn’t prove anything, because it’s only been a few hours since the update. There’s a new button on the main radio screen that lets you turn on radio text (track playing) instead of having to go to Settings >> Radio >> Additional Information then back to the main screen. But it now remembers what I set it to anyway, and so this is not important now.

Update: no lock ups at all in the month since doing this.

Update 24/11/2019: I recently took delivery of a new car (2019 registration). I checked my VIN in Ford’s database and there was an update for it. I downloaded the package, unzipped it to a freshly exFAT formatted 4GB stick, and put the stick in the USB socket as I set off on a lesson. It installed flawlessly in about 30 minutes (no messages apart from “Updating” at the top). Onced it says it is finished, you have to get out, lock the car, and let the radio switch off (a couple of minutes) for the update to take effect. No obvious visual changes that I could see, so it must be bug fixes and background improvements.

Update 24/11/2019: A reader tells me he’s had problems with his audio speakers stopping working, and Ford has admitted this is a fault which is being addressed through a forthcoming software update. I’m not sure if that fix was included in the update I did, though I had not experienced the problem he mentioned. However, I am experiencing issues with the driver window bouncing back open when I close it (I’ve since discovered that’s got nothing to do with Sync 3).

Do you get a message telling you when the update is finished?

Yes. It tells you the update will be active when you turn off the car, get out and lock it, and wait a few minutes until the radio powers off.

You’re also supposed to upload the log file created on your memory stick during the process so that the Ford database knows your car is up to date, and so won’t keep telling you there’s an update available.


This is an old article from 2010, but it’s had a run of hits recently. Note that DVSA was DSA up until 2013, when it merged with VOSA.

A DSA (now DVSA) email alert:

Space-saver tyres and driving tests

DSA (DVSA) is getting increasing numbers of complaints from candidates whose test didn’t go ahead because of problems with car tyres.

It’s become a common feature of modern cars to be fitted with a spare tyre or space-saver tyre which is a different size in order to save room and weight

DSA (DVSA) would like to remind driving instructors that any vehicle presented for test must be fitted with:

  • the same size tyre on the same axle
  • tyres that are not subject to speed restrictions

If any tyre is not suitable for the test, the test will not go ahead and the candidate will lose their test fee.

I’m not aware that this advice has changed since 2010, and I’m surprised it was such a major issue when I first published this article. I’d like to think it is just people who turned up in their own cars who are being caught out, but I’m sure that wasn’t the case.

Can I take my test with a space-saver tyre fitted?


Why can’t I take my test with a space-saver tyre fitted?

Space-savers are not the same as a normal tyre (they’re narrower). They usually have a lower maximum speed (on a label on the tyre) of around 50mph, and this poses obvious problems on your test if you go on to a road with a speed limit above that. You could easily be failed for doing 50mph on a 70mph road if it is possible to go faster even under normal circumstances.

Space-savers have less tread even when new, and are usually made from softer rubber than proper tyres. The car will handle differently when one is fitted. The risk of skidding is therefore greater, as is being able to stop in an emergency.

Space-savers are intended for short term use only. You shouldn’t be driving on them routinely.

Can you do lessons with a space-saver fitted?

All I can say is: try to avoid it. I’ve never done it – I cancel a lesson and go and get my proper tyre fixed if I get a puncture at the wrong time.

I don’t think it’s illegal to do it, as long as you follow the restrictions, but it’s still no different to why you can’t do a test with one fitted in most respects. Personally, I think it is unprofessional if you’re compromising anyone’s safety in any way.

My garage is a long way away

Then get a full-sized spare. I would.

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