A Driving Instructor's Blog

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Audi embedded in houseA DVSA alert came through yesterday informing us that they’re investigating the possibility of introducing graduated driver licences (or something along those lines). Again.

First of all, let’s look at the facts surrounding this news (i.e. what’s actually in it, and not what the media headlines are saying).

  1. They’re only exploring the possibility. It won’t happen anytime soon.
  2. There will be a consultation before – and if – any changes are made.
  3. They are talking about new drivers’ “first few months on the road”.
  4. They don’t know exactly what – if anything – will be introduced.
  5. “New drivers” means everyone, and not just 17 year olds.
  6. Any changes would be for future new drivers.
  7. The impetus for this comes from the Government, and not DVSA per se.

Don’t forget that it took over 40 years to get learners able to go on the motorway, and even in my time as an ADI there were numerous “nearly” moments within different governments. Even the final kickstart took over two years to implement.

So why is the issue of graduated licences coming up once again?

Data show that 20% of new drivers have a significant accident within the first 12 months of passing their test, and it is that statistic which is being addressed. However, if we look at separate data, which has been reported many times previously, there is an enormous blip in the accident statistics where the following points are identified from individual cases of those involved:

  • 17-25 year old
  • male
  • rural road
  • on a bend
  • at night
  • more than one occupant in the same age group
  • excessive speed involved
  • no other vehicle involved

If you translate this data, it basically means young show-offs with little experience driving too fast for their skill set, distracted by their mates, and whipping the wheel round to take a bend they only saw as they entered it, then spinning off into a tree or field. Frequently, at least one passenger is fatally injured. Although males feature highly in these figures, females are still represented, where the distraction is often slightly different but equally stupid. This whole scenario is why insurance is so high for that age group.

It comes down to inexperience. Inexperience of driving, and inexperience of self-preservation. And whether you like it or not, it applies to more 17 year olds than it does 40 year olds – a) because there’s more of them, and b) 17 year olds are more likely to exhibit behaviours which compound their inexperience. The whole issue is about actual accidents and actual deaths. It’s not some random game to moan about because you think your son or daughter is an angel and shouldn’t be treated in a manner that you consider to be unfair.

I’ve mentioned this before, but many years ago I had what was then my best ever pupil. He was a smart lad, from a wealthy (-ish) family, high-achiever at school, pleasant (as was the whole family), and a quick learner. He was an excellent driver when he passed his test first time after only 23 hours of lessons. And he promised me he’d drive safely.

His mum wanted him to do Pass Plus, because she was concerned at his lack of experience – a sentiment I readily agreed with because he’d passed so quickly. Six weeks later – during which time he’d been driving in the beaten-up little Fiesta his mum had bought him – I was amazed at how far he’d drifted away from what I’d taught him. He was cornering too fast and taking chances when crossing the path of other traffic. I pulled him back during the Pass Plus and left him with some words of wisdom once it was completed.

Sometime after, I began teaching his then girlfriend, who his mum had referred to me. The girlfriend told me that he had already damaged his car by hitting a kerb cornering too fast (he hadn’t told me that), and that when he was out with his mates he would drive very fast, sometimes over 70mph in 30mph zones (he didn’t tell me that, either). I was concerned for her, but she said he’d never do it with her or with his mum in the car, because his mum would kill him if she knew. And I can promise you that he was in no way unique. Some of those I’ve taught since have made it absolutely clear how they’re going to drive when they pass. And they do.

And that’s why something has to be done. Far too many young people behave like this as a matter of course. They know full well they are in the wrong (which is why they hide it), but they do it nonetheless because it gives them street cred with the other monkeys in the jungle, and is the next best thing to sex for a 17 year old. Being inexperienced doesn’t enter the equation as far as they’re concerned. It’s no use pretending that your little darling doesn’t do it, because he or she almost certainly does to some extent. I even saw an ADI making this claim. Quite frankly, if a teenager is in rebellion mode – as many are – being the offspring of an ADI might even increase the likelihood of them behaving like prats.

So although I think DVSA isn’t addressing the root of the problem, it is at least trying to deal with the possible outcomes of that problem. Any restrictions placed on new drivers would at least give them time to gain some experience before they’re let off the leash, and the testosterone (or oestrogen) is able to kick in fully.

Not all young people are dangerous

Potentially, yes they are. They are inexperienced, and that alone is enough to lead to errors of judgment. Bad behaviour just compounds it.

When I was younger, going skiing every year was risky and fun, and resulted in a broken collar bone the first time I did it through going too fast when I was still crap. I discovered that snow-ploughing at speed (i.e. as fast as possible) over moguls on a glacier in Verbier with almost no surface snow down a black run is actually not as good an idea as I had originally thought. At the time, having the entire lift system shut down so mountain rescue could get me off the glacier and to the hospital, then being temporarily disabled and off work for a few weeks when I got back was a badge of honour. These days (and as soon as the following year, in fact), I would see it as bloody dangerous and wouldn’t be that stupid again – even though I’m a much better skier. Being unable to drive and off work now would be a royal pain in the ass, and enormously embarrassing. That’s what maturity and experience does to you.

It’s unfair to penalise only young people

They’re not. They are talking of penalising all new drivers. The fact that younger drivers would be most affected is a statistical thing, as is the fact that 20% of new drivers have a significant accident in their first year of driving.

I see older drivers driving more dangerously

That’s a separate issue. The one being addressed here is lack of experience.

My son (or daughter) doesn’t drive like that

This makes me laugh. Yes they bloody well do! Inexperience, by definition, applies to all new drivers. Furthermore, unless you are with them every time they drive, you haven’t got a clue what they get up to. I’ve lost count of the times some prat (often with “P” plates on) has pulled out in front of me or cut me up, and the only reason there hasn’t been an accident is because of my anticipation and reactions (both as a driver, and as an ADI using the dual controls). Those drivers could easily be your son or daughter. You have no knowledge of it and no control over it whatsoever. In my opinion, coming out with this statement is one of the contributing factors as to why there is a problem in the first place (along with letting them have an Audi or BMW as their first car).

Actually, that’s another thing. The only reason anyone buys an Audi (or BMW) is to drive fast, so a new driver who gets one is not going to be sticking to the speed limit or driving cautiously. The only time you’re likely to be stuck behind one being driven slowly is when the driver is texting or pissing about with the stereo. The rest of the time, they’ll be trying to get in front. You can argue as much as you want about that, but it is a simple fact. I see it every day.

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Warning! Contains swear words.

Sync 3 after updatingSince I got my new Ford Focus last year, 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 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 their 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.

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National speed limit on dirt trackOn lessons, it is quite common for pupils to query why there is a national speed limit in force in places where it is obviously not possible or safe to drive above about 30-40mph. One particular road around here is a single track with crude passing places on it (not the one shown in the photo above, but similar).

The history of the national speed limit (NSL) is quite interesting.

The first speed limits were introduced as long ago as 1865 for vehicles which were not powered by animals. A limit of 2mph in urban areas, and 4mph everywhere else, was in force, and someone with a red flag had to walk in front of the vehicle. The first speeding ticket was issued in 1896, when someone was assessed to be driving at 8mph in a residential area.

Obviously, the maximum speed capability of vehicles improved, and people were flouting the Law on a regular basis. So in 1903 the maximum speed limit was increased to 30mph.

By 1930, that speed limit was being ignored, too, and the Road Traffic Act got rid of speed limits completely. Of course, at that time, not many cars could go much above that anyway, so it wasn’t a problem for a while. However, the number of road deaths began to increase and in 1935 a 30mph limit was introduced in built-up areas, and that remains the case up to the present day. However, there were no limits anywhere else.

The first motorway appeared in 1958. Most cars could only manage up to about 50mph, so having no speed limit wasn’t much of a problem. But in 1964 – with motorways being the straightest and flattest roads available, and still unrestricted – the rally driver, jack Sears, took a test car (a Cobre Coupe) on the M1 and got up to 185mph. The newspapers were all over it, citing it as dangerous driving, and debate still rages over whether he was to blame for the trial the following year of a 70mph limit on motorways, though the foggy winter and number of accidents it led to was probably a factor. In 1967, the 70mph limit became Law. It applied to all non-urban roads.

In 1973 there was a major oil crisis. To conserve fuel, the NSL was temporarily dropped to 50mph. This was lifted in early 1974. However, later that year, as part of a fuel conservation initiative, the NSL on non-motorway roads was reduced to 50mph. But in 1977, this was relaxed and the NSL on those roads went up to 60mph. The two NSLs were made permanent in 1978.

And that’s why we have the speed limits we have today.

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A lot of people are finding this article based on the search term “UKCPS scam”. I’m seeing another surge close to Christmas 2018, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise. My experience most definitely WAS in a UKCPS car park, so read on and don’t be put off by the fact I didn’t identify it as such in the title – at the time I had no idea UKCPS were such cowboys.


After seeing this story in the newsfeeds I thought I’d mention something that happened to me in late 2013. In fact, I mentioned it in this article back in January of 2014, but there’s a bit of a follow up.Leeds Arena

In December 2013, I went to see Status Quo at the new Leeds Arena. I picked up my mate (let’s call him Bob) from his house just outside Leeds and we drove into the City Centre. Bob directed me to the Edward Street car park not far away from the Arena and we parked there. This car park has ANPR cameras that detect your registration number as you drive in, and you have to enter your registration into the ticket machine – if it doesn’t match what the ANPR system picked up you apparently don’t get a ticket. I paid using my debit card (which turned out to be a wise move). There was only one price available at the time from the machine – the £8.50 overnight charge – in spite of a list of hourly tariffs being shown on signs. We arrived at shortly before 6pm and drove out at just after 11pm, where ANPR cameras apparently once again log your exit.

As we walked to the Arena, Bob told me that a few weeks earlier his wife (let’s call her Sarah) had been Christmas shopping and parked in that same car park. A few days later she was stung with a fine for “insufficient fee paid”. Now, Sarah isn’t the kind of person to take things lying down, and in any case she’d kept the receipts proving that she had paid the correct amount. She kicked up a stink and they dropped the charge. It was normal chit-chat, and I didn’t think much of it after that.

I lease my school car and the arrangement is that any traffic fines are automatically paid by the lease agent (most lease companies operate this way, I believe) if an infringement is submitted to them. This avoids the fine escalation if you don’t pay within 14 days. Anyway, in January I got a letter from my lease company informing me that they had paid a fine submitted by UKCPS (United Kingdom Car Parking Solutions). I was spitting feathers (this is another one of the things that can create stress in this job) because I hadn’t done anything wrong.

I immediately wrote an appeal to UKCPS. I also wrote to Leeds City Council, because I didn’t realise at the time that the car park in question was a private one, but all this did was teach me what a bunch of dickheads work there. The Council told me it wasn’t their problem (it seems Leeds has a similar bunch of morons in charge that Nottingham does). I pointed out in my letter to UKCPS that they KNEW I had entered the car park, they KNEW I had left it, and they KNEW how much I had paid. Furthermore, since I’d paid by debit card, my bank statement was proof of how much I’d paid. There was no reply after 20 days. I wrote a further harshly-worded letter demanding a response from them within 14 days, which was not forthcoming. I then phoned them on the number that says not to use it for claims, and they said immediately that they’d refund it. I never had to provide proof of the amount I’d paid, and I eventually got my money back in February.

I stress again that UKCPS KNEW I had paid the right amount. Their ANPR system and ticket machine would tell them that clearly. And they asked for no proof when I phoned them, which suggests they were well aware of enough information – either from my letters that they’d ignored, or via said systems – to immediately admit they were wrong. So it doesn’t take a genius to work out what they were up to, particularly when you consider they’d tried the exact same thing with Bob’s wife. I’m updating this at Christmas 2018, which is further evidence: they try this same scam every year.

In fact, if you Google “UKCPS insufficient fee” – which I did when I appealed – you find that the same scam has been pulled on hundreds, if not thousands, of other innocent members of the public. Take a look at this single link – particularly the reviews on the left hand side, where 16 out of 17 reviewers have had the same scam pulled on them and most appear to have coughed up! The hits that Google throws up are mainly the ones where people have actually tried to do something about it. It’s anyone’s guess how many others have blindly paid up thinking they made a mistake. UKCPS is cashing in on the fact that it knows a significant number of people won’t appeal. So they’re either scam artists, or are so incompetent that they make a lot of “mistakes”.

UKCPS are the sort of vermin who, until the Law changed making it illegal, would have happily clamped everyone who parked in their car park. The Law now needs to change to put these thieving parasites out of business for good. You will note that their (crap and amateurish) website graphics imply that they manage car parking for Tesco, Harveys, and Boots, since these are featured.

And Leeds City Council needs a good slap to remind it that it cannot just shake off all responsibility for cowboy operators in their City.


More recently (mid-2016) I had a run of hits on this story. I did a bit more reading and it would appear that UKCPS is becoming less likely to accept an appeal on the first contact. Perhaps their owner – who is still not behind bars where he belongs, based on the false charges his scumbag company has brought against innocent people – is worried that his profits are not increasing as much as he’d like, so he’s ordered the parasites who work for him to put up a defence.

Don’t be put off. UKCPS’ false charge scheme IS a scam, sanctioned by the city councils who allow UKCPS to operate within their boundaries.

If you know you were not guilty, don’t pay – and argue like mad. Often, and hard. Just don’t ignore the charge notice.


Is UKCPS a scam parking operator?

Well, me and my mate’s wife have direct experience of the kind of things they get up to. But take a look at these links:

These are a tiny sample. Try Googling for “UKCPS parking scam” or “UKCPS Ltd parking ticket” and see what you get. There are hundreds and hundreds of people like you who these cretins are trying to intimidate (including disabled people parking in disabled bays that these gutter trash operate). That Responsive link sums it up nicely by pointing out that UKCPS usually backs down at the first appeal – and that’s because they know that they can make money from those who don’t appeal. You don’t need to be a genius to work out if it’s a scam or not.

Are UKCPS fines legitimate?

There is no straight answer to this. In my opinion, they are not – and that explains why anyone appealing to UKCPS, and making sure the appeal is heard (i.e. don’t let them just ignore you) appears to get the fine refunded or overturned rather easily.

UKCPS are scammers, that’s for sure. They seem to operate on the principle that if they issue 100 bogus fines, only a small minority of people are likely to complain and see the complaint through. Even if only one person out of that hundred didn’t appeal, they’re making money. But I suspect that more like 80% of people simply pay up and leave it at that.

If someone ever had the desire and the money to take them to court, I think we’d find out rather quickly just how legitimate these cowboys are.

Should I just ignore the fine?

No, don’t do that. By all means, withhold payment while you contest it, but don’t just ignore it. These scammers walk a very fine line between being legal and illegal, and they know full well what they’re doing. If you ignore it, they’ll likely pass it over to debt collectors, and the amount you owe will go up by hundreds of pounds (you must have seen the Bailiffs programmes on TV).

Just fight the putrid parasites on their own terms.

Is UKCPS a legitimate company?

Unfortunately, yes. There is a big question mark over the legality of their business practices, however. There is a also a big question mark over the role of councils such as Leeds City Council, who are effectively authorising this illegal behaviour – presumably because UKCPS pays them money in order to keep operating. The list of scumbags directors who operate UKCPS are given as:

  • Ms Helen Claire Hilton
  • Ms Lorraine Doyle
  • Mr Gary Deegan (twice)
  • Mr Michael Bullock
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Asda forecourtFor as long as I can remember – from way before I was a driving instructor – I have repeatedly heard the old story trotted out about how supermarket fuel is of inferior quality and can damage your engine. I even got it from an Esso cashier a few years ago when I told him I could fill up at Asda for up to 10p per litre less than what the Esso garage had just hiked its prices to.

Before I go into any detail, let me just say that that claim is a load of bollocks, and is perpetuated by people who don’t have a clue.

All fuel sold in the UK must conform to EN228 or EN590 (petrol and diesel, respectively), and unless you have a car which states otherwise in the manual, it will run comfortably on fuel which meets these specifications. The only difference is that some major garages may include extra additives designed to improve performance of their basic “premium” grade (and note that I said “may”). The “super” grades definitely contain additives, along with that other “additive” of about 10p per litre on top of the forecourt displayed price. EN228 and EN590 ensure that any fuel does not damage your car, and they also ensure that you don’t get the famous “residues that gunk up your engine” crap that people love to tell you about. You can read more about it here.

There is no way that the majority of driving instructors fill up with “super”. They use regular “premium” like the rest of us. If I used “super”, my fuel bill would increase by about £500 a year.

When I drove a petrol Ford Focus, the handbook told me I needed to use a minimum of 95 RON fuel. “RON” is the Research Octane Number, and the larger the RON number, the more expensive the fuel. Normal “premium” petrol is the bog-standard grade, and is 95 RON. The higher grade 97/98 RON is the “super” type, and often has an amusing comic book name like “Super-X Excelleratium Ultra Hyper-Q Unleaded Fuel”, alongside some graphic likely to appeal to chimpanzees in fast cars. Higher performance cars tend to specify 97/98 RON as a minimum, but normal cars don’t. Unless your handbook specifically tells you to use higher than 95 RON, you will have no trouble with it. I never did.

A similar thing applies to diesel fuel. The big garages may have a “super” grade alongside the basic one, but smaller garages don’t. For the last 5 years or so, I have exclusively used Asda for my diesel fuel. I have had no engine problems, and I get excellent mileage (over 50mpg).

In 2010, while I was still driving petrol cars, I had a problem with erratic idling on my Focus (across several cars, I should add). Even the dealer tried to argue that it was down to the fuel, and advised me to use “super” and give the car a “good blow out” on the motorway. It was absolute bollocks – the pre-2013 model cars all had the same fault, and a mechanical fix was needed. But if the dealer trotted out that same crap to other owners, the myth would just get perpetuated for another generation.

Supermarket tankers fill up from the same places the bigger garages do. Sometimes, you’ll even see one of the “bigger garage” tankers delivering to a supermarket. But it all meets the EN228 and EN590 specifications.

As an additional tip, I fill up at Asda – where the fuel is always about 5p cheaper than the local garages to start with. I use an Asda Cashback+ credit card, which gives 2% cashback on all Asda purchases (including fuel), and 0.2% on all other purchases. I pay it off before any interest is charged, and since I shop at Asda anyway – spending upwards of £150 on groceries most weeks, and over £100 on fuel – cashback soon mounts up. I know 2% doesn’t sound a lot, but it is the equivalent of about 3p per litre of fuel, so if Asda is charging £1.32, I end up paying £1.29. I save at least £150 a year just based on fuel purchases, and at least double that on everything else.

But I get better mileage from the more expensive fuel

No one is saying you don’t. However, it’s only a few mpg (go on, be honest – it’s not like you double your mpg or anything), and you’re paying for it. I bet it took several tankfuls for you to work out that you were getting an improved mpg.

After all is said and done, the fuel companies want profit, and it’s the customer who provides it. So if you work it out again, I expect that you’ll be paying more for the higher-grade fuel than you’re gaining from extra mpg. If it’s a driving school car, the improved mpg will be minimal – and I know you won’t admit to that.

However, if you try to claim that the standard fuel damages your engine, you’re talking crap. If it meets the EN standards it won’t do any damage at all.

Branded fuel is better quality than supermarket fuel

Look, the tankers fill up at the same depots from the same storage tanks. The only difference is whatever the likes of Esso and Shell put in it afterwards to justify the increased price. And those additives don’t turn the fuel into Superfuel – they’re just intended to keep injectors and nozzles clean, which theoretically gives better mpg because the engine allegedly runs more smoothly. The jury is still out on whether that works or not (some people say it does, others say it doesn’t). The jury has been out for the last 30 years.

The simple fact is that any car that is less than 5-10 years old, and which has been serviced regularly, will not really see any major benefit from an additive because there’s nothing to put right. Older cars with claggy engines, maybe – just maybe – but not new ones.

The only thing that will boost your car is the octane number of the fuel. And you pay for that. The big question, though, is do you really need to?

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Slave CylinderAbout a month ago I noticed my clutch pedal on my Ford Focus 1.5TDCi felt different. It started off where as you lifted it, your foot would leave it, then the pedal jumped the last few centimetres and bounced on to your sole.

The next morning was quite cool, and after the first depression to start the car, it stuck half way down. Hooking your toes underneath and pulling it up righted it, and it would be OK for a while – but you could still feel something odd in that as you pressed it, there was initially not much tension until you’d gone several centimetres down, then it would bite.

Over the next week or so, cold mornings made it worse to start with, but pumping the pedal a few times would make it work again for a while. During a warmer period it was less noticeable, but still apparent as the day wore on. As I switched between pupils each day, I’d sometimes realise that some of them had been driving with it stuck part way down. Several of them had commented on it – one asked if I had used the dual controls a couple of times, because she’d felt the pedal move.

It went into the garage (a main dealer, as it happens) for a day, and they could feel the bounce, but I got the usual spiel that made it sound like they’d never come across it before. They bled the system (sigh) and asked me to try it for a few days. The mechanic said it might be the master cylinder. He assured me the clutch was still working fine, it was just the pedal return.To be honest, it still didn’t feel right even driving away, but after a couple of hours it was back to the way it was before, so I booked it in again. They said they’d need it for three days, and I scheduled lessons around it as necessary. It went in this week.

Before it went in, I did a bit of Googling, and it seems that this is not an uncommon problem either with Fords or various other makes. I told the dealer that when I dropped it off.

Long story short, they replaced the slave cylinder (which meant taking the gearbox out) and it is now fixed. No more clutch pedal sticking down.

I’ve seen a few instructors asking about it in various places, and a lot of normal drivers elsewhere. I wish people who haven’t got a clue wouldn’t try to behave as if they do, because some of the suggestions authoritatively given across instructor and motoring enthusiast forums are complete bollocks. It isn’t because the floor mats are jamming the pedals, and it isn’t because the dual controls are playing up. Like many such issues, it is a real fault which needs fixing properly, and a can of WD40 is unlikely to resolve it.

Note that from what I have seen on Google, this fault is absolutely not confined to Fords. Modern clutch systems are hydraulic much of the time (they used to be cable-controlled). So if you get a clutch pedal not coming all the way up, this may well be the problem you are experiencing. A slave cylinder for a Focus costs about £40 (probably more at a dealer), plus there’d be labour on top, but it’s not the end of the world in terms of total cost of repair. Fortunately, mine is covered, so I didn’t have anything to pay.

If dealers know about the problem, why don’t they fix it first time?

In many cases, it is down to warranty issues. It would appear that Ford will not cover repairs under warranty unless every possible alternative has been investigated first. Even if your bloody car is shooting flames out of the engine compartment, Ford will insist on it being checked for slight overheating until they’ll accept there is a problem – even if every Ford on the road has been doing it.

I had a similar issue recently with my new Focus (2018). The DAB radio wouldn’t remember the settings when you switched off the ignition, and Sync 3 kept locking up intermittently. My dealer wanted it in for a day to “look at it and do a Sync 3 update”.

At the time, there was no Sync 3 update – I’d been checking – so that suggestion was bullshit, and since it was intermittent, there was no way they would observe it themselves. I’d just be flinging £200 of income down the drain.

But a month or so later a Sync 3 update was issued. I installed it myself and it fixed all the problems completely. I conclude that:

  • Ford knew there was a genuine fault
  • my dealer knew there was a genuine fault
  • at the time, there was no fix
  • it needed something that didn’t exist
  • my dealer was taking the piss asking me to bring it in

In fact, it was the conversation I had with them at the time which provided me with Ford’s corporate approach to not dealing with warranty-based issues until it was absolutely unavoidable.

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The Audi LaneIt’s funny, but ever since I became a driving instructor I have often explained to my pupils about the “caterpillar effect” on motorways. This is where you will be travelling along at a steady 60 or 70mph, suddenly to be faced with a wall of traffic at a complete standstill. You’ll be wondering what has happened – and be lucky if you move more than a few metres over the next 10 minutes or more – when suddenly everything starts moving again and there’s no sign of what might have caused it. Then, if you’re on a long journey, it could happen again some time later – perhaps several times. It’s like a huge caterpillar, in the sense that you have chunks of motorway moving freely, and others at a standstill, and these alternate along the network – just like a caterpillar moves.

What causes it is people not driving either at the speed limit, or exceeding it, by more than about 10mph either way. A slower driver will cause cars behind to have to slow down, and the laws of physics mean that each car slows down a little more than the one in front, so eventually someone has to stop. It might only be for a second, but the same laws of physics then mean that each subsequent car stops for longer. It happens both when a normal driver encounters a slower one, or when a speeder encounters a normal driver.

Obviously, less confident drivers will usually be in one of the inner lanes, and the faster ones in the outer lanes. It usually starts in the Audi lane (the one on the far right), and then quickly spreads as the Audi (or BMW) driver moves over to try and get past, and begins to encounter all the Miss Daisys on the opposite side.

Now, to me, the most obvious fix would be to ban Audis, BMWs, and old people from the motorways. Then we could all drive at 60 or 70mph in peace. But the Americans reckon that Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) would address the problem better.

In the USA, they use the term “phantom traffic jam” – a term I can’t get my head around, because the traffic jam is actually very real when you encounter one, and it has been caused by the very real situation of people driving badly. The article I’ve linked to says that drivers cause the problem themselves due to their “delayed reactions having a ripple effect”. It’s a rather naïve and politically-correct assessment, since I’ve already pointed out quite correctly that it is mismatched speeds that are the problem and, if anything, it is over-reaction, lack of experience, and bad attitude which causes it. In other words, crap drivers.

ACC uses radar to detect what’s in front of it and adjusts the car’s speed accordingly. Hopefully, it is a few notches better than reversing sensors which are great both at detecting things which aren’t important (blades of grass and twigs on bushes), and missing things which are (lorries, metal barriers, and other big heavy things which are not in the sensor plane).

Given that the typical Audi driver is likely to set their standard cruise control at 90mph, I suspect they’d be switching ACC off the minute it tried to take them below 80mph.

I still think my solution would work best.

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Ford Focus oil change messageThis article was originally written a few years ago, but it has become extremely popular, and gets hundreds of hits a week.

The original article refers to all models between 2016 and 2018 (not the latest model). The reset procedure is different on the 2019 Focus, and be careful with that because there may be an issue with the latest model that Ford is being very cagey about (see later).

It all began back in 2016, when I got a message on my brand new Ford Focus TDCi Titanium centre display 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 my official service points (set by my lease agent) are every 12,500 miles.

I spoke with the local dealer and they said just to book it in so they could reset it. I wasn’t too keen on that, since visits to the dealer inevitably mean at least half a day in lost lesson time.

I didn’t for a moment think it was anything other than an erroneous message. There is an oil warning lamp on the dash which I would never ignore, but centre display messages are a different matter entirely. I mean, how many of us have been driving up a 40% slope only to be advised to change the gear to 4th, 5th, or even 6th? The car just won’t do it. Before I quite realised this, my first action was to buy an OBD II monitor tool so I could check/reset the message myself, but the OBD found no faults, and there was nothing to reset. I should have realised this – 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 gives an oil change warning at various points based on how it thinks the car is being driven. No fault is logged, since the trigger is software-based and is “calculated”. Apparently, you used to be able to set different trigger points manually (in America, at least), but there is no such option in the UK that I can see.

Since 2016, and across at least four other Focuses, I’ve had it come on at as low as around 1,000 miles, and at other silly points shortly after a service. None of my pupils (or me) drives it that badly, of that I’m certain.

How to reset the oil change warning

Resetting it is incredibly simple (pre-2018) – though completely undocumented by Ford. 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

After a moment, the centre display will tell you that the reset is in progress. Keep the pedals down until it informs you that reset is complete. No more oil change warning! From what I understand, this applies to all Focus models from MkII up until the last of the pre-2018 models.

Does this work on other Ford cars?

You’ll have to try it and see. Logic would dictate that Ford has implemented the same procedure on all its current (pre-2019) vehicles. However, when you consider Ford’s indexing system at the back of the User Manual, logic isn’t something they seem to waste much time on, and there’s every possibility that the reset procedure is totally different on other models. If you try it and it works, drop me a line so I can add it here.

I am told it also works on the Ford Fiesta and C-Max.

Does it work on the latest (2018) Focus?

No. Resetting the oil on the new model is done through the settings page on the information console (this is how it ought to have been on the earlier models). You simply scroll to the little cog symbol, then select Information, then scroll down to Oil Life. Press and hold OK and it resets after a few seconds. Mine came on after 3,900 miles!

However, be aware that many people are experiencing the problem in the new (2018) Focus. The dealers are playing as ignorant as ever, and Ford as secretive as ever, but piecing information I have received from readers together there may be an issue with the 2018 Focus where the oil change warning ought not to be ignored.

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 (but check that with your local agents). My lease company allows me the range of 11,500-13,500 to book it in for a service [note: service points were every 12,500 miles up to 2018; they are at 10,000 and 20,000 miles on the latest 2018 models]. Whatever your local agent allows, outside of that might affect your warranty, so I say again: check with them before assuming anything.

Of course, if the oil change warning message appears before 12,500 miles (or whatever your service points are) then you can safely ignore it (or reset it, as explained above) in the pre-2018 models. It isn’t a sensor warning, just a software-based calculated value. If the oil warning dashboard light comes on, though, you mustn’t ignore that.

Note that the 2018 Focus may have an issue, so be careful if you ignore the warning.

You shouldn’t ignore the message because you could damage your car

Someone wrote to me making this point (and that was in 2017, so the previous model). As I have explained above, the alert (it isn’t a warning) is calculated based on how the in-car computer thinks you’re driving. Frankly, when it comes on at around 1,000 miles when you’ve only had the car a few weeks, or several days after it has had a service, and the oil definitely isn’t old, yes you can ignore it. Having said that, read the update at the end of this article relating to the 2018-onwards models (between the lines, there may be an issue that no one at Ford is revealing).

My lease agent sets the service points at every 12,500 miles (pre-2018 models). They will not allow me to have it serviced any earlier (±1,000 miles). I know that Ford talks of 7,500 mile service points, and that’s fine. If you have a private vehicle then follow their advice. But if the warning comes on at any other time before that you can safely reset it – if nothing else, until you can get it in for its service.

However, note that the 2018 Focus has service points at 10,000 and 20,000 miles, and there may be an issue with oil degradation, so be careful if you ignore the warning.

Update 10 April 2019: I have heard from an instructor who is with the AA that they’ve been told not to reset the message if it comes on with the 2018-onwards vehicles (the latest model), but to book it into the dealership. My own lease agent hasn’t said anything.

I must say that this would be extremely annoying, as my personal experience of my dealership is that even when there is indisputable video evidence of an intermittent fault occurring several times, they will still insist of having it in for a full day, then not find anything wrong (even though it was obvious they wouldn’t because of what “intermittent” means), and then want it back again the next time it happens. Every lost day costs me up to £200 in earnings.

They did it when I had the floppy clutch pedal problem last year. It turned out to be a known issue with one of the cylinders, and the engineer actually witnessed it sticking down, but they still wanted the bloody thing in, did a namby-pamby hydraulic fluid bleed, then had it in for another day when that didn’t work – which I discovered about an hour after taking it away the first time.

Right now, Sync3 has a habit of freezing (though as of April 2019 there is an update which fixes that). Judging from the Google results on that, it is another known issue. I have videoed the damned thing in its frozen and unresponsive state and shown it to them at the dealership. And… they want it in for a full day to test it. Aaargh.

Update 12 May 2019: Another reader tells me that their dealer has suggested there is a problem with the latest Focus engines and “the oil degrades”. Personally, I cannot see how the oil – synthetic motor oil – can degrade ten times faster than it should, but be aware of this if you have a 2018-onwards Focus.

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility if an oil change really is needed and you ignore it – especially in the new (2018-onwards) Focus, which may have an issue that Ford isn’t letting on about.

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