A Driving Instructor's Blog

Transport

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Bill and Ben - Flower Pot MenThis came in via the Google newsfeeds. It seems that Bill Plant driving school went into administration on 27 April 2017. It has since been bought out by Ecodot, which is:

…a specialist in car vehicle preparation and dual control vehicle hire. Our main services are, Dual control vehicle hire, Alloy refurbishment, Porfessional (sic) Valeting services and Body Repairs

I would have used an image above which related directly to Bill Plant, but from past experience I know that they’re a bunch of prima donnas who threaten court action unless you’re saying anything good about them. Of course, such behaviour makes it even more difficult to say anything good about them.

The reason for the titsup is given as being due to:

…exceptional costs associated with a change in operating model.

Or, in other words, they were a bunch of incompetent prima donnas. Most of the other belly-ups in the driver training industry went bust during the economic downturn during the last decade and the early part of this one. Bill Plant has managed it during a period of economic growth, and that doesn’t bode well for their future.

This industry is not high-margin. Driving lessons can only cost so much before learners won’t pay for them, and at the moment almost everyone is charging the same (in the region of £25 an hour, give or take a few quid). Similarly, instructors who work on a franchise will only pay so much before they walk away, too. The amount they pay for the franchise lines the pockets of the franchiser, who is at the top of the pile, and that franchiser will not be happy unless he or she is pocketing enough to keep a new X5 on the driveway. A kind of status quo is established, whereby the only loser is the instructor – lesson prices can’t go up by much, and the franchiser will still want to increase profits year on year, so the franchise fee goes up. It’s a simple Law of Nature.

It makes you wonder what the numpties did to their “operating model” to screw things so badly. I wonder if it had anything to do with introducing BMW X1s as tuition cars – the prices of which range from £23,000 to £35,000, which is at least double (and up to five times) the price new of most instructors’ tuition vehicles? If it did, I can’t see Ecodot – which is apparently now trading as Bill Plant Driving School Ltd – keeping them. Someone somewhere in the chain has to pay for the overheads.

As I say, this industry is not high-margin, and anyone who buys a top marque as an overhead and then delivers lessons costing the same as they would in a vehicle costing a quarter of that is not going to stay in business long without someone on the outside pumping them money intravenously. Having hubby (or wifey) supply the financial drip feed to their other half is one thing, but for a limited company it’s a different matter altogether.

Ecodot isn’t big enough to pump money in indefinitely, and I can see big changes coming.

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Bus LaneThis BBC story reports that bus lane enforcement cameras make £31m per year in fines. One particular lane, in Newcastle, made £1.5m on its own – and that’s after you consider that the BBC contacted 160 local authorities for financial data.

The fun part is where a spokeswoman for Newcastle said:

We would firmly stress that bus lanes are not there to generate income – they are there to help us to manage our road networks efficiently.

Liar. Bus lanes CAUSE congestion, and they have done so since the day the first one was introduced. You have to be a complete idiot (or pathological liar) either not to realise that, or to argue the point. So sticking cameras on them can only be to make easy money.

A prime example in Nottingham is the A52 Derby Road heading into the city via the Priory Roundabout. It used to be three lanes in merging to a single lane going out, past Wollaton Park. There was always serious congestion during rush hour. Then, they turned the left lane into a 24-hour bus lane, and suddenly three lanes of traffic was forced into just two, with still just a single lane leading out. The only benefit was to buses, which were now able to skip about three-quarters of a mile of gridlock and force their way back in at the roundabout (“force” being the operative word when Barton, Indigo, or YourBus are involved). Since much of the congestion was caused by buses stopping for extended periods of time on the single lane side (all the stops are next to the University, and you can imagine the difficulty most students are likely to have getting on a bus), having them all get down there more quickly made the congestion even worse. Admittedly, it doesn’t have cameras on it, but there are plenty that do.

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Ford Focus oil change messageI got a message on my 2016 Ford Focus TDCi Titanium centre console the other day telling me that it was due for an oil change. I wouldn’t have minded, except that it was only on 5,500 miles and service points are every 12,500 miles.

I spoke with the local dealer and they said just to bring it in so they could reset it. I wasn’t too pleased with that since visits to the dealer inevitably mean at least half a day in lost lesson time. Therefore, my first action after that was to buy an OBD II monitor tool so I could reset it myself. The tool worked fine, except that it didn’t find any faults and so there was nothing to reset – and the oil change warning remained stubbornly visible.

Then I did what I should have done in the first place and Googled it. It turns out Ford has a system which can be set to give an oil change warning at various points, so when it triggers it isn’t an actual fault and therefore doesn’t show up as one.

Resetting it turned out to be incredibly simple – though completely undocumented by Ford, of course. All you do is:

  1. Turn on the ignition (or push the start button with the clutch up)
  2. Press the brake and accelerator fully down for about 20-25 seconds

The display tells you when reset is complete, and the warning light goes out. From what I understand, this applies to all Focus models from MkII onwards.

How soon should I get my oil changed when the warning message comes on?

For a Focus, if your car is under the manufacturer’s warranty then I think they allow 1,000 miles on top of the normal service points at every 12,500 miles. After that your warranty might be affected.

Of course, if the oil change warning message appears before 12,500 miles then you can safely ignore it (or reset it, as explained above). It isn’t a sensor warning, just a timer based one.

If the oil warning dashboard light comes on, though, you mustn’t ignore it.

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MotorwayActually, it’s only a small section of the M1 – near Sheffield – but the media likes to distort these things.

I wrote about this subject a few years ago. That was at a time where they had only recently been talking about raising the speed limit! My main point was that although cars emit less pollution when driven at 60mph instead of 70mph, they they take longer to pass through a given area at 60mph, so the reduction in pollution is pretty much negligible. It’s a case of comparing a quick but pungent fart with a longer, less smelly one.

The other thing I think I mentioned is the stench when you drive on the M1 past Sheffield and the wind is in the right direction. And it doesn’t come from cars – it’s from the factories around there, and a smell like that isn’t going to contain anything that is good for you.

An even greater irony this time around is that London is currently in the grip of an extremely poor period of air quality. They haven’t quite got round to blaming it on cars and lorries yet – that’s been done before – but at the moment the most direct blame has been placed at the feet of pretentious people burning wood during the cold weather (though that detail seems to have been removed from some reports).

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Over the years, I have updated this article several times as I have found progressively better solutions to the problem. I’ve now found pretty much the complete solution.


The problem of smeared windscreens in the rain has been driving me nuts ever since I started driving, but it became a major headache once I started teaching people to drive.Smearing windscreen in rain

I guess everyone has experienced it. You get a few spots of rain, and when the wipers wipe you get a mosaic pattern left behind for a few seconds. But in heavy rain it’s like someone poured chip fat on the screen and you just can’t see properly. I’ve had varying levels of success removing it – scrunched up newspaper (no good), sodium lauryl sulphate (not bad), various solvents (fair), Clearalex (quite good) – but things came to a head when my lease company replaced my last car. In rain you couldn’t see anything, and absolutely nothing would get rid of whatever it was on the windscreen. I was close to assuming that the glass must have been damaged in some way since it was a brand new car.

Where does it come from?

In normal circumstances, every vehicle that uses our roads leaves deposits behind. Some of it is dusty, some is gritty – but a lot of it is oily. That’s why when it rains after a period of dry weather we’re advised to take care, because the road can be very slippery as water and oil sit on top of the tarmac before the oil is eventually washed away. While it is fresh, road spray is obviously going to be a mixture of dirt, oil, and water, and when this gets on to your windscreen you start to get smears. Now, up to a point, your screen wash can deal with it (unless you just put water in your tank, in which case you’ll get smears all the time). Eventually, though, the oil seems to bond to the screen such that removing it is no longer easy.

Another source of windscreen contamination is, oddly enough, washing your car. Even if you don’t choose the waxing option in the car wash, the brushes will be contaminated with wax from people who did, and if you’ve ever noticed how a single fingerprint can be smeared across almost a whole mirror or windscreen unless you use something which lifts it off, you’ll realise that a little wax (or oil/grease) can go a very long way. Even if you hand wash your car, small amounts of wax and oil gets on to your rags and gets spread on the glass. It also gets on to the rubber of your wipers, so it is smeared back on as soon as you use them, even if you got it off the glass. People often forget that the wax (and oil) collects below the wipers, and if you don’t clean that area properly, the wipers dip into it like a pen dipped into ink and spread it across the glass again.

The particular problem with my lease car turned out to be the result of a manufacturing residue as far as I can tell.

How can you get it off?

Most detergents and surfactants will remove these normal deposits with varying degrees of success, though car wax is particularly stubborn. Even Fairy Liquid works up to a point. Some materials are much more powerful and are much more effective. You can buy powdered products like Clearalex, which you add to your windscreen washer fluid. Clearalex works quite well, but leaves terrible white residues when it dries (which I find very distracting). I have also had success with Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS), which is an anionic surfactant used in many household products. SLS removes quite a lot of windscreen gunk, but it won’t touch wax and it leaves a slight residue when used at the required concentrations. I was very happy with SLS until my recent vehicle change, where I found that no matter how much I used it would not touch whatever was on the glass.

After a lot of research, I found a reference to sugar soap. I’d not heard about this before, but it is used by decorators and builders to remove grease and dirt from surfaces prior to painting. Sugar Soap - from Screwfix

Wikipedia describes it thus:

Sugar soap as typically found in Commonwealth countries is a cleaning material of variable composition sold for use on surfaces affected by greasy or tarry deposits which are not easily removed with routine domestic cleaning materials. When in dry powder form it looks like table sugar thus causing the name.

The solution is alkaline and its uses include cleaning paintwork in preparation for repainting.

It also turned out to be dirt cheap, at about £2 for nearly half a kilo from Screwfix. I bought some, made up a batch using information on the pack, and gave the windscreen a good scrub using it. I rinsed it and took the car out for a run in the rain.

Initially, I didn’t see any difference, but after a few wiper passes the glass was getting noticeably clearer. The sugar soap appeared to have softened whatever it was on the glass and it was gradually coming off. So when I got back home I made up another batch and soaked some rags in it, then left them covering the windscreen (including the bit at the bottom) for about half an hour. I also cleaned the blades with it. This time the windscreen was absolutely crystal clear.

Sugar soap was great, but being a solid there was still the problem of residues if you used it in your normal washer fluid. However, that might have been the end of it had I not started using a local hand car wash. I was intrigued by how easily they managed to remove every trace of dirt and oil from the car with only a power spray and some mysterious hand-pumped spray guns with various liquids in them, so while they were working I did a bit of snooping and noted the names on the various drums and containers lying around. The important one turned out to be “TFR” – which I discovered means “traffic film remover”. Already this was sounding quite exciting (well, it’s exciting if you’re a chemist) due to the way TFRs operate.

In a nutshell, a 1-2% TFR solution gets all the oil/wax film off a windscreen in one go. The same concentration in your wash bottle keeps it off. I bought my TFR from a company called JennyChem. They also supply the mysterious cherry-smelling shampoo the hand car washes use. I use a combination of sugar soap (soaking using rags) and TFR as required, and a 1% solution of TFR in 10% ethanol/water as my screenwash. I also use this solution in a hand spray bottle for spur-of-the-moment cleaning, and for doing the inside window surfaces.

I’m getting a lot of hits on this now I’ve mentioned TFR.

As a footnote, my hand car wash has just started using what I am assuming is a liquid wax (I haven’t yet identified it) that makes water bead very easily (and very impressively) when it rains. The problem is that it gets on the windscreen, and it is a sod to get off (two sugar soap treatments did it).

Does TFR damage the windscreen?

No.

Does TFR damage paintwork?

If it is the non-caustic type, and if it is used at the manufacturer’s recommended concentration, no. But remember that TFR will remove any wax you have applied, so you will need to re-wax  after using it on painted surfaces. However, removing wax is exactly what you want if it’s on your windows.

Caustic types – which are cheaper and harsher, and often used to shift several centimetres of crap off the undersides of lorries – could damage painted surfaces if used at high strengths and if left on for too long.

The stuff supplied by JennyChem (linked to earlier) is non-caustic and is specifically designed for use on cars.

Is there a non-chemical solution?

A reader (from Australia) wrote to me recently to tell me that he had had success removing that new-windscreen film using Cerium Oxide paste. You can buy it easily from various places (including Amazon) in various forms – powder, paste, or block – and it is specifically used for polishing glass. If you buy it, make sure you get the finest grade possible – ideally, one which is specifically sold for the intended purpose.

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About a month ago I wrote about crap parents who can’t (or won’t) control their kids, with the result that everyone else has to suffer. I mentioned how other crap parents rise up against anyone who objects, citing all manner of illnesses and disorders as possible causes of unruly behaviour, even though we all know that – in the vast majority of cases – it is just crap parenting.Crying child

Coincidentally, I was driving between lessons yesterday when movement out of the corner of my eye at lights drew my attention to a passing bus, A woman was lifting a baby/young child in the air – well, I say “child”; actually it was just a huge mouth with tears squirting out of one end and legs dangling out of a nappy the other. I could just imagine the mega-decibel buzzsaw bawling everyone else was having to endure, and I remember thinking “God help anyone who is on that bus”.

Then I saw this story on the BBC website. When you strip it down, it’s just another example of some dipshit who isn’t in contact with reality ranting on Facebook and having it go viral as a result of huge support from a load of other dipshits.

It all starts with a flight from Ibiza to Manchester.

Imagine the situation. You’ve had a nice holiday, but you’re going home in the morning. It was  a package tour, so your departure flight officially takes off at something like 5.30am. Your hotel or chalet is at least an hour away from the airport, and you’ve been given strict instructions to be in the car park outside at 3am to board the bus to take you to there. You’re in Ibiza and you’re flying back to Manchester, so there’s a good chance you’ve had to put up with some teenaged yobs for the whole week. Naturally, they will have gone out last night and drunk more than they’d done on any other night. Consequently, at 3am you’ll be sitting on the bus going nowhere while the reps try to find them – at least one will be borderline comatose, and several will be puking up everywhere. When they eventually do arrive their mouths will be turned up to 11 (the usual yob setting is 9 even when they’re being quiet). The reps will have faces like thunder – quite the opposite of their cheery bonhomie when you were freighted in last week, and you’re now going to have to put up with the loud yobs all the way to the airport (and at the airport, and all the way home). Once you get there, you will have to wait until check-in begins and the couple of dozen seats – totally inadequate for the 200 people milling around at the best of times – will be taken up by a handful of sleeping backpackers. The floor will be covered in sleeping, puking, and screaming humanity, so you’ll have to be careful not to tread on anyone. Any cafes will be shut, even if your departure hub (i.e. shed) has any, and the vending machines will have been emptied by more yobs providing the traditional Coca Cola and crisps breakfast for their kids. When the check-in call finally comes, all the backpackers and yobs will somehow make it to the front of the queue. The check-in process will take over an hour instead of the usual 10 minutes because the Spanish authorities’ approach to an increased terrorism threat is to use half as many people to do six times as much work. Once through, none of the duty free shops will be open so you’ll have to kill the next 30 minutes watching the planes land. An hour later, and some 30 minutes after the time you were scheduled to take off, you’ll suddenly realise your plane isn’t even here yet. Eventually, you will casually watch it come in, land, taxi over, disgorge the new intake of holidaymakers and their luggage, get loaded up with your luggage, and refuel. Somewhere around 8am you’ll flop into your seat, simultaneously smashing both buttocks on the arm rests as you do, and then spend a further 30 minutes being jostled by all the other passengers, who appear transfixed by the overhead storage compartments and that clunk-click noise they make, and block the gangway for everyone else instead of bloody sitting down. You’ll finally take off, knowing that you have two and a half hours in the air plus any time for stop offs. Within five minutes you’ll start to get cramp as a result of the non-existent leg room, and develop breathing problems as you sit with folded arms to try and keep out of the personal space of the person next to you, who is twice as wide as the seat they’ve been given and who has no qualms at all about occupying both yours and their personal space all at the same time. If you’re lucky, the pissed yobs from your hotel will burn out, and the need for an emergency diversion to the Galapagos will be avoided.

The first $64,000 question is this. After all of the above, if someone has a screaming kid which just will not shut up sitting immediately behind you, are you going to smile and ignore it, or get angrier and angrier inside?

The second $64,000 question is: will you blow?

Well, it would appear that on the flight referred to in the story, someone did get angry and blow – if “blow” is the right word to use. When bombarded with the incessant and painful noise coming from a screaming child on a cramped and lengthy journey back to Manchester, a female passenger in the seat immediately in front (from what I can gather) shouted “shut that child up”.

I can absolutely sympathise with her.

But we are in the Facebook age, and nothing is ever that simple. The mother has taken to social media to effectively blame the irate passenger for the behaviour of her child, saying that the kid was having “a meltdown” and that the comment “didn’t help” the child’s anxiety levels. “Meltdown” and “anxiety levels” are the favoured phrases of parents who can’t control their offspring, even though it is they who usually created the environment for such behaviour in the first place. Another favoured ploy is to blame some sort of illness.

In this case, the child apparently suffered from a rare condition called Sturge-Weber syndrome, and naturally her behaviour on the plane was – according to the mother’s implied words – entirely and completely due to all the bad things that go along with that condition. The possibility that she was just acting up because of the early start and all the arseing around at 3am in Spain didn’t enter into it. On the other hand, Sturge-Weber can have some nasty symptoms, though if these were genuinely the cause of any such behaviour you’d have to ask why the child had been taken to Ibiza in the first place (she has a huge port-wine stain on her face, and my understanding is that you should avoid the sun if you have one), and why she’d gone economy (where even a full-grown adult might feel like having “a meltdown” and suffer “anxiety”).

Of course, barring any law which forbids it, the child’s parents had every right to take her to Ibiza in this manner. But then, other people – the majority, in fact – have rights too, one of which is to be able to sit quietly without someone else’s kids bawling in your ear and ruining something you probably paid a lot of money for.

So, it isn’t as one-sided as the mother with her Facebook rant would like to think.

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The US Transport Secretary is quoted as saying that a crash between a Google self-driving car and a bus in California a few weeks ago was “not a surprise”.Google autonomous car

It seems that the accident was the fault of the Google car – the bus didn’t do what the Google-bot’s program said it should – and that’s what caused the collision. Mind you, I’m sure that Google’s scientists see that as a fault of the bus driver, and not of their car. Perhaps the solution is to make autonomous vehicles more visible for we inferior humans so that we automatically sense danger when one is near?

Maybe they could stick a lot of Audi badges on them.

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This time of year you get some real idiots on the roads. I’m not talking about boy racers, but middle-aged plus fossils who simply don’t know how to drive. To make matters worse, they usually have big 4x4s specifically to advertise how much money they’ve been able to borrow in order to get it. If only they’d spend some money on refresher lessons.

A good example came just now. I was doing a merge in turn just after a set of lights, and so as not to cut anyone up I was dropping back to merge behind a grey 4×4 in the lane next to me (registration number: FN15 CDK). In actual fact, this would have meant I was giving up my “turn” in front of the 4×4, who had accelerated away just fast enough to show that he was going to “fight” over the issue. At no point did the front of my car extend further forward than his rear bumper while this was happening, so it was obvious I was not in any way trying to get past him. I was freewheeling at about 15-20mph – no gas whatsoever – so he could make progress into the gap. The problem then was that just as the road narrowed the f***ing idiot slowed right down, forcing me to brake quite sharply as I found myself alongside him. He had no reason to do this – the cars in front had accelerated away, and there was a gap.

This, of course, gave him the opportunity to shake his head and explain to the woman sitting in the passenger seat next to him how great he was and also, no doubt, to utter the immortal phrase “[insert adjective] learners”.

He was a silver-hair, and these are among the worst drivers on our roads – irrespective of how many accidents they have. A minor accident was only avoided in this case by me taking evasive action. I have no idea what was going through his fossilised brain cells. He didn’t want me to get past him, that was clear. But having “won” he then proceeded to slow down unnecessarily. Quite possibly just to “make a point”.

Drivers – and especially older ones, who have difficulty in the brain department – need to understand the concept of “merge in turn”. When a road splits into two lanes at traffic lights, it is not a mandate for you to block both lanes or attempt to prevent anyone overtaking you at any cost (it’s actually illegal for you to do that). Nor is it a mandate to sit in the right hand lane and then pull away slower than everyone else (technically, that’s illegal these days, too). Yes, your aged grey matter is probably already thinking fixedly about boy racers going faster than you, but although they are also wrong if they break the speed limit or drive discourteously or dangerously, the simple fact that they’re younger than you and drive faster (both of which are liable to put you off your Horlicks) is not reason enough for you to get involved.

And if you can’t understand that, hand over your licence before you kill someone.

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Someone found the blog on the search term “are blacked out windows ok for driving instructors?” I think the terminology used speaks volumes, but let’s look at the Law.

The official government policy states:

Vehicles first used on 1 April 1985 or later

The front windscreen must let at least 75% of light through and the front side windows must let at least 70% of light through.

Vehicles first used before 1 April 1985

The front windscreen and front side windows must both let at least 70% of light through.

You will note that there isn’t that much difference between the two parts of the Law. But there’s even less flexibility when it comes to actually doing it. One window tinting company states:

Most modern car windows are made of glass with a 80-70% VLT [visible light transmission], so even a very light film applied to the front windows will take the VLT the wrong side of 70% and therefore will not be legal.

In other words, “blacked out” front windows are illegal, and even attempting to tint existing windows so they look darker is pretty much guaranteed to make them illegal, too.

Rear windows (side and back) are not included in the legislation so they can be as “blacked out” as you like. Of course, everyone knows that a car with almost opaque rear windows and normal front ones looks stupid, which is probably why people ask questions like this.

The government website also points out:

The police or the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) vehicle examiners use light measuring equipment to measure window tint.

If your windscreen or front side windows are tinted too much you could get:

  • a ‘prohibition notice’ stopping you using your vehicle on the road until you have the extra tint removed
  • a penalty notice or court summons

As you can imagine, companies who provide window tinting are anxious to explain this in much greater detail. The same tinting company linked to above says:

An instrumented check is performed by a suitably trained officer with a ‘TintMan’ VLT meter. These checks are normally from Vosa roadside campaigns.

65%-46% VLT: Advise only – The driver will be advised that the legal requirements have been breached.

45%-30% VLT: Delayed prohibition – The driver will be given a prohibition notice and will usually have 10 days to have the film removed before going to a vosa testing station to have the VLT re-checked.

<30% VLT: Immediate prohibition – The vehicle is considered dangerous and cannot be driven until the film is removed.

However, another company is less willing to identify apparent loopholes. It says:

The Window tinting Regulation was amended from 1st January 2004 which now clearly rules out any tinted films being applied to driver windows (Front doors).

What they are saying is what I said above – that windows already have 70-80% VLT, so any further tinting sends them out of range.

Many instructors use cars which have tinted rear windows. They are not a problem on test, though I would imagine that if someone had been stupid enough to tint them so much that you couldn’t see out of them properly, the examiner might decide that they were a problem. And that says nothing of the disservice such an instructor would be doing their pupils by teaching them in a dangerously modified vehicle.

But any tinting of the front windows is likely to get you a cancelled test, a wonderful reputation, points on your licence, and perhaps a shiny new Job Seekers Allowance claim form if you get thrown off the register of approved instructors.

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