A Driving Instructor's Blog

ADI

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Smearing windscreen in rainI’ve mentioned this in the smearing windscreens article, but we’re approaching that time of year where it gets wet and cold, and a lot of crap gets thrown on to your glass and builds up into a nasty film that doesn’t easily wash off.

I’m always amazed that some people only put water in their wash bottles (if they have anything in at all). I’m even more amazed that some of those using just water are ADIs – and my amazement maxes out when I hear them trying to justify it.

Water on its own does not have sufficient wetting properties to attack oil, wax, and grease. Even proper washer fluid can have problems, which is why you get that mosaic pattern left behind when you wipe in the wet. You need a good detergent to clean off oily deposits, and a small amount of alcohol to assist with wetting. Alcohol also functions as an antifreeze, so whereas using just water means you’re going to get a popsicle with the first frosts, a proper washer fluid will protect you to well below freezing.

A typical concentrated screewash that you dilute yourself is usually used at levels between 10% and 25% in water depending on the weather, and a 5L bottle costs about £5. Depending on whether you’re making a summer or winter mix, every 5L of diluted washer fluid therefore works out at between 50p and £1.25. If you use the concentrate neat – I’ll talk about that later – then obviously a batch costs the full £5.

In a bad winter, with lots of rain and slush, I will easily get through 5L of washer fluid each week. In a dry summer, I might use only a quarter of  that. Over a whole year, I would be paying around £30 for washer fluid if I made it from concentrate. It’s not really a lot of money, but it’s still an overhead.

Of course, you can buy ready-to-use washer fluid, where the dilution has already been done for you. If you find a suitable bargain, you can pick it up for between £2 and £3 for 5L, but the normal retail price is similar to that of a bottle of concentrate. It means that you’re paying between £1.50 and £5 extra for what you can essentially get out of a tap! A lot of people buy this ready-to-use stuff, but if I were to do so, it could cost me between £75 and £170 a year depending on how much I’d paid for it.

Also remember that retailers are sneaky and they put prices up in winter. At one time, for example, my local Makro was doing BOGOF on the concentrate I used to use – and it was a good price to start with. But they only did it during the summer when demand was low, and in winter the price doubled and there was no BOGOF. If you buy it, stock up when it’s cheap.

So, is it possible to make your own screen wash cheaper than this? Washer fluid needs to be able to do two things:

  • clean
  • not to freeze when it gets cold

It’s basically just a mixture of alcohol and water with a bit of detergent.

Alcohol – as ethanol – functions as an antifreeze and a wetting agent. The whole subject of freezing point depression in alcohol/water mixtures is a huge topic in physical chemistry, but the bottom line is that pure water freezes at 0°C, whereas adding different amounts of alcohol lowers the freezing point. A 10% ethanol/water mixture freezes at -4°C, a 20% mixture freezes at -9°C, and a 30% mixture freezes at -15°C. A typical commercial concentrate (£5 for 5L) which claims it freezes at -6°C when used neat must therefore contain 15% alcohol.

Alcohol is the most expensive ingredient in screenwash, and a 15% solution will have 750mls of ethanol in a 5L bottle of concentrate. Ethanol can be purchased for around £2 per litre, so a 15% concentrate will contain about £1.50 worth.

Whatever detergent you use has to be relatively non-foaming – you don’t want bubbles blowing down the street when you use it – and it has to be the kind that is actually going to attack the crud that get on your windscreen. This is another big chemistry subject, but to cut a long story short, Traffic Film Remover (TFR) is ideal. TFR gets anything off your car – tar, oil, mud, insects, bird crap, dead squirrels, that sort of thing. I get mine from JennyChem, and it costs £12.50 for 5L. However, you only need to use it at a concentration of between 1% and 2%, so 5L will go a long way – you need about 15p to 30p worth of TFR in your DIY concentrate. One 5L bottle of TFR will make up to 70 batches.

A batch of DIY concentrate will therefore cost around £1.70 versus £5 for commercial brands. Each batch of diluted washer fluid will cost you between 17p and 45p.

What if the temperature goes below -6°C?

When we had those two cold winters some years back, the first one caught me out, and my washer fluid froze – even though I’d followed the directions on the concentrate bottle. I’m a chemist, so the solution was simple: I nipped into a hardware store and bought a small bottle of methylated spirit, and poured that in. After half an hour or so, my wash bottle was defrosted. That was when I got the idea of making my own washer fluid – I would always know what temperature it was good down to.

So, the answer is to increase the amount of alcohol in your mix. Even using your DIY mix neat is going to be a lot cheaper than buying a low-temperature version – the price is proportional to the amount of alcohol in them. But for even lower temperatures, increase the alcohol to 20% or 25% in the concentrate and use it neat. It’s still cheaper than buying it.

How can I prepare for cold temperatures?

You just have to use common sense. In summer, using concentrated screenwash neat is just a waste of money, so it makes sense to use it at the 10% dilution (negligible antifreeze properties). When it gets colder, a 25% dilution will be good to about -2°C. If it gets very cold, use the “concentrate” neat to protect down to -6°C. If it gets really cold – below -8°C or so – add extra ethanol to the neat concentrate. An extra 500mls (£1 worth) will protect down to about -12°C.

Can I make it with more alcohol in it?

Yes, but be careful. Ethanol is flammable, and on its own has a flash point of 14°C (that means that at that temperature and above, a combustible vapour exists that can easily be ignited). A 10% solution in water has a flash point of 49°C, which is much safer. A 20% solution has a flash point of 36°C, which is still safe unless you store it in a very hot place. A 30% solution has a flash point of 29°C, and this is quite likely to be encountered in hot weather. My advice is not to exceed about 25% of ethanol.

If you make up the DIY concentrate using 1L of ethanol instead of 750mls, it’ll be good down to  -9°C. In fact, I am fairly certain that the brand I used to use was once safe down to that temperature, but somewhere between 2010 and the present it started referring to -6°C as the lower limit. I suspect they reformulated to cut costs, and dropped the alcohol content from 20% to 15%.

Don’t store a strong winter mix in your car during the summer. And definitely don’t carry any neat ethanol during the summer months, and only the smallest amount in winter in case you have to do an emergency defrost like I did that one time.

It seems complicated making your own

That’s why there is a market for ready-to-use screenwash. It’s up to you.

What kind of water do you use?

Tap water will work for most people. It’s probably what they use when they’re diluting commercial concentrate. However, tap water contains dissolved minerals – especially in hard water areas – and it leaves white streaks when it dries. It’s best if you use distilled or deionised water. Distilled/deionised water doesn’t do that. The only problem is that unless you already have access to it – and you might – buying such water is relatively expensive (50p per litre), and would add £2 to the cost of your DIY concentrate.

Personally, I used either rainwater (boiled) or the condensate from a dehumidifier we have to inhibit condensation and mould growth. If you store this source of water, make sure you store it with the alcohol already added, as that inhibits the growth of algae.

I just use water

Water on its own is no good. If the temperature falls, it WILL freeze. Even if it doesn’t freeze in your main washer bottle, it will in the pipes and at the nozzles. Water alone also doesn’t clean many things off the glass – it won’t touch oil, grease, or squashed insects, and it will struggle with tree sap.

If you do get a freeze up, trying to use the pump might cause it to burn out. Although I haven’t come across the problem recently, it can also cause pipes to burst or become detached from the main storage reservoir in your car (many years ago, that was a regular occurrence on a Citroen Xantia I used to have).

And remember that if you are driving without the ability to keep your windscreen clear, you are committing an offence. The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 says:

Every wiper and washer fitted in accordance with this regulation shall at all times while a vehicle is being used on a road be maintained in efficient working order and be properly adjusted.

Arguably, you are not complying with this if you just use water. If it freezes (or the bottle is empty) and you drive, you’re definitely not complying with it. It is shocking that some ADIs are apparently doing this.

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This is an older article. It has been updated several times to maintain the link to an up to date DL25. However, note that since November 2019, DVSA has switched to using an electronic version of the DL25 via iPads during the test. There is no longer a paper record created during the test.

What happens is that the candidate is told whether they passed or failed, a debrief is given the same way it always has been (referring to the faults displayed on the iPad), and a copy of this same results list is emailed to the address given when the test was booked.

It’s a straightforward exercise getting the pupil to email or text you a copy if you really need it. Quite frankly, in most cases you don’t – you can refer to the pupil’s copy the next time you see them, and you’ll already be aware of what they failed for by listening to the debrief.

For the time being, the original DL25 is still available for you to print off, and using these on your lessons is still perfectly valid. I have a laminated one I refer to.


This link (click the image) points to the official PDF DownloadDVSA DL25 form. All pages of the DL25 are included in the file.

A blank DL25 consists of a front marking sheet (DL25A) and two carbonless copy pages (DL25B and DL25C) underneath. There is an explanatory sheet (DL25D) at the back.

The examiner gives the candidate the back two sheets (DL25C and DL25D) at the end of their test, whether they pass or fail. They also get a Pass Certificate if they pass the test.

DL25B has a back side, which the examiner completes back at the test centre. I haven’t a clue (or any concern about) what happens with DL25A and DL25B within the DVSA once the test is closed.

DL25C (the candidate copy) also has a back side, detailing the appeals and complaints procedure. DL25D is also double-sided.

The PDF file contains all sides of the relevant pages.

The test report is explained in detail in this article.


Can instructors use an iPad when doing mock tests?

The short – and correct – answer is no, they cannot. There’s no point arguing about it: you can’t.

When a candidate is on their test, they are not classed as a learner driver. Therefore, the examiner is not the supervising driver. That is why the examiner is not breaking the Law by filling in an iPad form.

However, when they are on lessons, pupils are still learners, and that means the instructor is the supervising driver. It is illegal for whoever is in overall control of the car to use a handheld device while the car is moving (or if the engine is on, even if you’re stationary, if you’re going by the letter of the Law),

Personally, I have never understood the fascination many ADIs have with “mock tests”. The only test that matters is the real one – because it is conducted by someone who is specifically trained and authorised to administer them. Anything else is just play-acting. This is even more true when the test conductor insists on dressing up in hi-vis jackets and farting about with a clip board, when they’re either going to mark more harshly than an examiner would, or more leniently simply because they’re not examiners and can’t mark properly. While staging this performance, they are still the supervising driver.

Having seen paperless tests in action, I can assure you that filling in a DL25 by hand is not going to ruin the impression you give during your mock test pantomimes.

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Fogged up windowsThis is an old article from 2013, but it is due an update. When I originally published it, one of the show-me-tell-me questions was:

Show me how you would set the demister controls to clear all the windows effectively. This should include both the front and rear screens.

At the time of updating, the relevant show & tell questions (they changed the name) are:

When it’s safe to do so, can you show me how you’d set the rear demister?

When it’s safe to do so, can you show me how you’d demist the front windscreen?

For the windscreen – that’s the one on the front of the car – the universally correct answer would be that you’d switch the airflow to blow out of the vents on the rear of the dashboard up at the windscreen, turn up the fan speed, and increase the temperature of the air from these vents. That would work for any car, although the actual knobs to twist and buttons to press will vary from model to model.

For the rear window, you’d turn on the electric heater that warms those little metal wires stuck to, or embedded in, the glass. There will be a button somewhere on the dashboard that turns it on and off.

You will note that the original broad question has now been changed to two rather more specific ones. This is relevant, because most newer cars also have air conditioning, electrically heated front windows, and often a button labelled as “MAX”, which turns everything on to demist all the windows very quickly at the same time. One press and you turn on the front and rear window electric heaters, the air conditioning, and redirect the hottest air possible at the windscreen (and often the side windows, as well, if your car has that feature).

When asked the original show-me-tell-me question, operating the MAX button was a perfectly correct response – as were playing around with the air flow controls, using the heated front windscreen if you had one, and turning on the rear window heater. However, with the much more specific Tell questions currently used, pushing the MAX button isn’t strictly the right response to either of them. It is also worth noting that whereas the original question would have been asked whilst stationary, if either of these new ones are asked, it will be while the candidate is driving. Ever since they started doing it this way, I’ve had nightmares about people fiddling with buttons and dials while taking a bend and losing control (I know the examiner would prevent that, but at the very least it would result in a test fail).

Arguably, operating the MAX button is a satisfactory response to either question, because it will achieve the desired result. But it is technically not the correct response if you’re being pedantic about it, because it does several other things at the same time.

It makes sense to understand all the controls rather than just blindly push buttons and twist knobs. If nothing else, if you inadvertently turn the car into a sauna, you ought to know how to turn the temperature back down again – and you’d be surprised by how many people can’t work out for themselves that if you turn something on by pressing a button or flicking a switch, you can usually turn it off by pressing the button again, or flicking the switch the other way. It also means that if you respond to the examiner’s question by pressing the MAX button, you’ll probably be able to recover if he specifically asks you to demist either the front or back – but not both.

How does the air-blower demist windows?

It involves a bit of science, but it is enough to know that hot air will demist windows, whereas cooler air probably won’t.

The reason it works is down to relative humidity. Air can hold water vapour as a gas, but if the amount of vapour reaches the maximum that the air can hold, it precipitates out – condenses – as water droplets. That’s the “mist” on the glass. The problem is that the maximum amount of vapour the air can hold before condensation occurs gets less and less the colder the air is. If you refer to water vapour in air as the “humidity”, then the amount of vapor relative to the maximum possible is the “relative humidity”. In summer, a relative humidity (RH) of 70% might feel horribly sticky and sweaty – but there’d be no condensation. In winter, you can easily get 100% without feeling it because there’s a lot less moisture there– but since there’s no room for any more vapour in the air, any extra causes condensation to take place. Think of it as a bucket overflowing, where the colder it is, the smaller the bucket is.

What happens is that on cold mornings, with the air at – or very closer to – 100% RH, as soon as you get in the car, breathing and perspiring, you overflow the bucket and condensation takes place. You see it on the glass as mist, but everywhere feels slightly damp. When you initially turn on the heater, it is blowing cold air, and if anything you get even more misting. But as the car warms up, it starts to blow warmer air. This warm air can hold more water vapour, and it evaporates the mist as it blows across it and keeps hold of it.

What does the air conditioning do?

Air conditioning (A/C) units pass the air over a radiator filled with coolant – just like what you have in your fridge at home. If you look back at what I said about humidity, above, you can probably work out that if you cool very moist air, you send it above 100% RH. The excess moisture – and if you cool humid air at 30°C down to 8°C, there’ll be a lot of it – condenses out (usually as a pool of water under your car in summer if you’re stopped), and much cooler and drier air is blown into the car. You can play around with the temperature of the air that is blown in by passing it over the heater radiator, so you have crude climate control.

Since it removes moisture, A/C is extremely efficient at demisting and preventing further misting.

How do the heated windows work?

In a similar way to the air blower. As they heat up they create an area around the metal wires which is warmer and so the mist evaporates back into the air. They work best in conjunction with the car heater, which heats the bulk of the air in the car, and which can then keep hold of the vapour, preventing condensation. They work even better with the A/C, because it strips the vapour out and dumps it outside the car. The MAX switch activates everything in one go.

How do you control these features?

It varies from car to car, but for the heater blower, there will be several rotary controls usually located in the centre of the dashboard and below the level of the steering wheel.

Heater controls

One of them controls the speed (and noise) of the fan, one controls the temperature (blue is cool, red is warmer), and another allows you to select which vents and grilles the air will be blown through (at your feet, at your face, at both, or at the windscreen – possibly with other combinations).

Higher spec cars may have digital temperature displays, and some will have independent control for each side of the car. Some will even have controls in the rear for back seat passengers.

Heated Front Window Symbol

Heated Rear Window SymbolThe heated rear window button will have an icon like the one on the left, and the heated front windscreen will have one like that shown to the right.

The air conditioning will be activated with a button or switch marked A/C, and the MAX button (which activates all of these features) may also have one of the window icons.

Isn’t the heated windscreen for de-icing?

Not specifically, no. It serves the exact same purpose as the heated rear window – to demist. However, every demisting feature in the car can also de-ice if necessary. Even blowing cold air can lead to de-icing if it isn’t too cold, because the air passing through even a cold car is still warmer than that outside. However, a heated front window is noticeably useful at de-icing since that’s the very window that needs de-icing the most.

Having said that, a heated windscreen is only good at melting frost or dislodging a thin layer of rimed ice. If you think it’s going to get rid of a couple of inches of snow, think again. It doesn’t actually get that hot – if it did, it could cause the glass to shatter.

Why do my windows steam up in summer if it’s been raining?

That’s because water cools as it evaporates. If it’s already humid when it rains, the air passing over the windscreen evaporates the rain drops, so you get cooling around them. The humid air inside the car is then above 100% RH close to these spots on the windscreen, and condensation occurs. You usually see it around spots of rain.

You can also get it if you’ve had the A/C on. It cools the windscreen right down, so when you turn the A/C off and humid air gets back in, the cold zone near the glass sends the RH there above 100% and condensation occurs. In this case, misting is more uniform, but often concentrated on the lower part of the windscreen where the A/C has been blowing.

So what should I tell the examiner on my test?

Your best bet is to answer the question he’s asking you. If he asks how you demist the back window, operate the heated rear window switch or button. If he asks how to demist the front, either demonstrate how to redirect the air flow and increase the temperature and fan speed, or operate the heated windscreen button or switch (if your car has it).

In Nottingham, examiners have not been querying use of the MAX button, so use it by all means – but just make sure you know how to activate just one of the features as necessary if your examiner presses you on the subject. You are being tested on “safe driving for life”, so you ought to know what the buttons do anyway – you’re going to need to if you pass.

Since these questions are asked while you’re driving (and since you’ll be driving when you use them once you pass), be careful not to stare down and lose control of the car.

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Ford Focus One-Touch Window ButtonsMy Focus has one-touch electric windows. On my last car, shortly before it was due for a service, the driver-side window developed a fault whereby when it was closed and hit the top of the frame, it bounced half way back down. What I had to do was carefully inch it up and make sure it didn’t hit the top each night when I got home and locked it up. There was still a small gap, though, but it had a service booked and we had no rain, so it wasn’t an issue.

The dealer fixed it and simply said it had been “reset”. I had no further problems with it.

I have another car now, and it has started doing the same thing. It isn’t anywhere near ready for a service yet, so in order to avoid the inevitable assessment visit and probable brake bleed my dealer would insist on before fixing it under warranty, I looked into it a little further. And big surprise, it is quite common on Fords (and other makes, apparently).

From what I can gather, the reset procedure is to put the window all the way up holding the button, and then keep it held for 3 seconds. Then, push the button and put the window all the way down, then keep it held for another 3 seconds.

But that doesn’t work by itself, because as soon as the window hits the top of the frame, down it comes again. It seems to be connected with the safety feature that prevents idiot kids (and dogs) getting their heads squashed if the window goes up while they’re leaning out. A sensor detects the resistance and winds the window back down again.

The trick is to use a piece of paper or thin card when you do the reset. Hold it just under the top window frame recess and put the window up. Hold the button for 3 seconds. The paper acts as a cushion and prevents the sensor triggering. Now put the window down and hold the button for 3 seconds. That should now have reset the sensor and the window goes up and stays up.

It ought to go without saying – but I’d better say it anyway – do not use anything hard as your cushion, otherwise you’re likely to break the glass. Use paper, and fold it once or twice as necessary to get enough cushioning to stop the auto-retraction kicking in while you do the reset. And keep your bloody fingers out of the way when you’re doing it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

My windows bounce back when they reach the top

You may have a faulty motor or sensor, but from my experience it is most likely just needs a reset. Follow the instructions above. That should reset it.

My windows come down on their own

I have read that on some models there is a feature which automatically opens the windows when it gets hot – even when it is unattended, and sometimes in the middle of the night. I have also read that the windows in some cars can be controlled from the key fob, and this can get pressed whilst in someone’s pocket. The sources for this are various web forums, and are not really to be trusted, but even if such a feature existed, I can’t believe that would be available in the UK because the car would get stolen almost immediately in some areas.

It is possible you need to do the sensor reset without knowing it, and the windows actually opened before you locked it up but you didn’t notice. That’s just a thought, and I’m not saying it’s right. But the first time I experienced the bounce back I didn’t realise until I went out again and saw the window open.

If I woke up to open windows, I’d book it into my dealer pronto.

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Li-ion generic batteryI’ve had a Nextbase 612GW for over a year now. It records in 4k – meaning that you can see number plates and other details much further away and much more clearly than on other dashcams.

I’m actually on my second unit. Within a year, my first one stopped turning on automatically, and after discussions with Nextbase, they gave me an authorisation code so that Amazon would accept the return and refund me. I bought another in lieu of the refund.

What had happened was that the internal battery had died. It would barely run for 30 seconds after a four hour recharge, and since it is the battery that provides the camera with enough residual power to detect when the power systems in the car are activated (which tells it to turn on and start recording), it was kaput. It worked perfectly if I powered it on manually each morning once a bit of charge had gone to the battery, but any power down lasting more than an hour and the battery would drain again.

Any 4k video device right now gets warm when it is in use, and the 612GW is no exception. I wouldn’t say it gets hot, but certainly very warm, and with the summer we had in 2018, it got warmer still. Li-ion and Li-Po batteries are degraded by high temperatures, and I suspect that overall this contributed to the battery going as quickly as it did. OK, it may also have been a bad batch (or just a bad one in my case), but I didn’t go into that with Nextbase. I’d had it replaced, after all.

It is worth noting that Nextbase told me replacing the battery is quite easy, and they supply them if you ask. It does involve a bit of soldering, but I will bear it in mind for the future.

As I understand it, some cheaper dashcams use a capacitor to hold residual power. However, where a battery is involved, this problem of degradation could occur with any model of camera. Indeed, any battery-based dashcam will effectively “break” sooner or later once the battery dies. Exactly the same thing happens with laptops, phones, and tablets – and it is amazing how many people don’t realise it’s just a dud battery which, in many cases, could easily be replaced. It even used to happen with desktop computers, when the coin battery which held the BIOS settings that enabled the PC to boot died (I’ve replaced a fair few of those in the past for people who thought their PC was broken).

I suspect that a lot of the complaints you see about dashcams dying could be a result of this – along with using the wrong types of SD card.

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Apologies to anyone who has followed the Jennychem links and been met with a 404 error. They updated their website, and it wasn’t until I came to place a new order that I realised. The links are fixed now.


The problem of smeared windscreens in the rain has driven me nuts ever since I started driving, but it became a major headache when I became a driving instructor.Smearing windscreen in rain

We’ve all 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, and 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 – from scrunched up newspaper (no good), to sodium lauryl sulphate (not bad), to various solvents (fair), to Clearalex (quite good) – but things came to a head when my lease company replaced my car a few years ago. In rain you couldn’t see anything, and absolutely nothing would get rid of whatever it was on the windscreen. I was so bad, I seriously thought that the glass must have been damaged in some way.

Essentially, what causes smearing most of the time is oil, or something related to oil (grease, wax, and so on). Virtually every vehicle on the road leaves deposits behind. Some of it is dusty, some is gritty – but a lot of it is oily or greasy. 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 oil sits on top of the wet tarmac before being eventually washed away. Obviously, any road spray is also going to be 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, but eventually the oil seems to bond to the screen such that removing it is no longer easy.

As an aside, actually washing your car can be a major cause of smearing in the wet. If your rags (or the brushes on the auto-wash at the garage) have any wax on them at all, it will transfer to your windscreen. If you’ve ever noticed how a single greasy fingerprint is capable of smearing across the whole windscreen, it doesn’t need much wax to result in smearing on the outside when the glass gets wet. The wax also on to the rubber of your wipers, and collects underneath them when they’re off, so even if you manage to clean the glass the wax is smeared back again from the rubber as it dips into the stuff in the gutter, just like a pen dipped in ink.

The particular problem with my lease car this time around turned out to be, as far as I can tell, the result of a manufacturing residue. Something greasy gets on the glass during manufacture, and it’s still there when you get hold of the car. You also get it on the inside, too.

How can you get it off?

Most detergents and surfactants will remove the normal deposits of wax and oil with varying degrees of success, though car wax is particularly stubborn (and the manufacturing residue even more so). Even Fairy Liquid works up to a point. Some cleaners are more powerful – for reasons of chemistry – and are much more effective. Clearalex can be purchased (these days it’s a liquid, but you used to be able to buy it in sachets in powder form), and you add it to your screenwash. The problem with it is that it leaves a horrible white residue when it dries. I have had some success with Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS), which is an anionic surfactant used in many household products. It removes quite a lot of windscreen gunk, but it didn’t seem to touch wax or my residue (it also leaves annoying white marks on the glass when it dries).

Then I came across 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 looks exactly like Clearalex powder, and I suspect that there may be some similarities in chemical composition. However, compared to Clearalex, sugar soap is dirt cheap – one 5g sachet of Clearalex costs about £1.50, but sugar soap is about £2 for nearly half a kilo from Screwfix. This means you can make up a bucket of the solution and give the screen a good going over. I bought some, made up a batch, and soaked some soft cloths in it, then gave my horrible new windscreen a good scrub and rinse. Then I then took the car out for a run in the rain.

Initially, I thought it hadn’t worked, but with each wiper pass 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 soaked the rags again and 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 is great for one-off cleaning, and it got rid of the residue I’d had trouble with, but it leaves the same horrible white residue as Clearalex if you put it in your screenwash for normal use.

Not long after this I stopped using my local ESSO garage because the new management had added 5p to their fuel prices (they used to match Asda, but overnight became one of the most expensive in Nottingham). I shifted from using their Tiger Wash machine to a hand car wash, and I was intrigued at how clean they could get the car just using some small garden hand pumps and a power spray. The next time I was in, I did a bit of snooping around the bulk containers of the concentrates they were using, and discovered “TFR” – which is “traffic film remover”.

After reading up on the subject, I bought some TFR from a company called JennyChem. They also supply the mysterious cherry-smelling shampoo the hand car washes use. In a nutshell, a 1-2% TFR solution gets all the oil/wax film off a windscreen in one go, and it also seems to also attack the residue I’d been plagued with on my lease cars since that first one that had it, though sugar soap is still best for this. The same 1–2% concentration of TFR in your screenwash keeps it off, and it doesn’t leave much residue.

As time has gone by, I have started using the TFR in a small spray bottle to clean my alloys and bodywork in between visits to the hand car wash when I have an upcoming test. It removes brake dust from alloys like all get out, as well as summer tree gum and bird crap (especially when the little sods have been eating blackberries and insist on sitting on the telephone wire right above my driveway).

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).

And a final note. You can make your own screenwash using TFR.

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.

Strongly 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 not strongly caustic as far as I am aware, and is specifically designed for use on cars.

Does TFR leave a residue?

The stuff I use doesn’t – well, no more than normal windscreen washer solution does. You’ve got to remember that when you use your windscreen washers, you’re doing it to remove dirt on the windscreen. That dirt is visible, so when you wash it off it will leave visible streaks outside the wiper area when it dries. It’s like when a bird drops a load on the screen – when you wipe it off there’s a good chance it will sit on the screen at the edge until you scrape it off by hand. There’s not much you can do about that.

Is there a non-chemical solution?

A reader (from Australia) wrote to me 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.

Can you put oil on the windscreen to prevent smearing?

Or, as it was put to find the blog, “can u put oil on wind screen 2 prfent rain”? NO. It will make it worse. It’s oil (and suchlike) you are trying to remove. Put it on deliberately and you could end up killing yourself – you won’t be able to see properly.

You can buy things like Rain-X, which are intended to make water bead up and roll off more easily, but those who use it often complain that it is patchy in coverage and leads to worse problems with smearing when the wipers pass over the glass, especially as it starts to wear off. I nearly tried this, once, but the risk of it causing more problems put me off. I’m not saying it doesn’t work, just that not all reports about it are as positive as the advertising is.

My windscreen is smearing when it snows

That’s probably a different thing, and not “smearing” at all.

When the windscreen wiper rubbers get cold, they also get stiff. As a result, instead of flexing to the windscreen contours and bending forwards an backwards on each stroke of the wiper, they snag and bounce across. They may even not touch parts of the screen properly on the wipe. All of this is often accompanied by a horrible grunting sound, and it leaves behind a trail of water streaks.

Also, if there are remnants of snow on the blades, this can leave a trail of melt water as the blades wipe. You get similar effects if a leaf or small piece of blossom gets stuck on your blades.

There’s not much you can do if it’s really cold except put up with it, or let them warm up as the windscreen warms up (a cold windscreen will also smear until it warms up). But scrape off any snow or ice and at least you won’t get melt water (and they’ll warm up quicker if they’re going to).

I see rain spots after my wipers wipe

You’ve got wax or some other coating on your screen. I get it after I’ve been to the car wash, and I get it off using TFR and/or sugar soap. I would guess that you also have a visible line where the wipers stop at the end of their wipe span – that’s where they pull wax or oil residues from the bottom of the screen and leave it behind as they change direction. Like I say, TFR gets it off.

Don’t forget that the wiper blades must also be cleaned. There’s no point cleaning the glass of wax if the rubber still has it on it. The wipers will put the wax back as soon as you use them.

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They’re at it again. Someone has asked for advice on car leasing, and one of the replies (answering the wrong question, anyway) has stated that someone on a franchise pays £1,000 a month, whereas if you buy your own car and go independent, you save £1,000 a month.

How many more bloody times? NO. YOU. DON’T!

However you obtain your car, you have an ongoing cost associated with it. Unless you’re driving a 15 year old banger that never goes wrong, needs no maintenance or servicing, never has anything wear out or get a nail in it, and doesn’t need insurance, you are probably paying at least £250 a month for it all told. If it’s less than about 8 years old, this overhead cost could easily be £400-£500.

It isn’t just about how much you are paying for it per month if it’s on hire purchase. Or how much you initially paid. You have to factor in depreciation and having to replace it periodically, any maintenance, insuring it (lots of complaints about insurance hikes lately), getting dual controls fitted/removed, repairs, and so on. It isn’t costing you “nothing”. It’s costing a lot more than nothing.

Even if there is someone out there who has a banger, and does all their own servicing and repairs, they still have to get hold of parts and consumables. The equipment they use to do the work has got to be paid for somehow. And so does the time it would take them to do it – how on earth can you be a full time ADI if you are also a part time mechanic?

There is absolutely no such thing as an instructor car that “costs nothing”. But there are a hell of a lot of ADIs who don’t understand this.

I’ve explained it before in the article Should I Become A Driving Instructor?

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Not all advice is good adviceThe article on the blog, Should I Become A Driving Instructor, is very popular. Yes, it’s very long, but there’s only so much information you can convey in a single Tweet, or with a couple of rows of emoticons in a Facebook post, and sometimes you have to go into the grown-ups’ world and actually read more than a handful of words to learn anything.

One of the points I make in that article – indeed, in a fair number of articles on this blog – is that many independent driving instructors have a completely blinkered view of the world, and genuinely believe that when they’re independent, every single penny they take from their pupils is profit. In particular, they sincerely believe that compared to a franchisee with a driving school who pays maybe £180 per week, they earn £180 extra by not having to pay a franchise.

When they’re giving bad advice to prospective or recently qualified instructors, they readily advise them to go independent and not to pay money to any of these thieves and robbers (aka driving schools). They say that they can get their own pupils just like that (and their car is free, of course), so why waste money paying someone to do it for you?

So it makes me smile when I see them online asking about pupil referral companies, and then seeing the replies that show a lot of other independents are already using those same companies. You’re not “independent” if you’re relying on someone else to get pupils for you. It doesn’t matter, of course – but it means the “independent” claim is simply untrue.

When someone is with a franchise, in most cases that franchise supplies pupils. If it’s a decent franchise, then a decent number of pupils will be available. So the £180 the franchisee is paying covers the car, insurance, pupil supply, and probably a few other things.

As I explain in the Should I Become A Driving Instructor article, an independent instructor will likely be paying between £70-£150 for a car if he or she is leasing it. If they buy outright, they’ll be paying about the same per week if they keep the car for three years (£70 for a Corsa, £130 for a Ford Focus, at least £150 for a BMW 113i) then sell it. Even if they have a banger, it’s still going to have a weekly cost for tax purposes of £30-£50. And if other Facebook posts are anything to go by, most independents are being asked to pay about £300-£400 a year on average for insurance (£6-£7 a week, though some are up to double that). These pupil referral companies charge around £20 per pupil.

Independents will deny all this, of course, but it’s true. Even an ADI using the cheapest (non-banger) car option is paying around £100 a week if he is taking these referrals. If the ADI has a BMW, he’s paying more like £170.

And franchises are a rip-off for new instructors, right?

Don’t get me wrong. I have no issue with these referral companies. I only have issues with instructors who mislead others by making false claims about how much it costs them to run their businesses (I wonder if they tell HMRC the same?) and how easy it is to source your own pupils, when they end up paying someone else to do it for them.

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I had a heart stopper today.

I was on a lesson with a pupil who has her test booked in about a month’s time. She’s a good driver, and we’d done a two-hour motorway session in heavy traffic, road works, and rain. We were on our way back to her house, and I’d asked her to follow the signs towards Nottingham. She’d done really well, successfully interpreting signs saying “all routes” as we passed through Loughborough, as well as those specifically referring to Nottingham. Apart from Q&A and chit-chat, I wasn’t having to say much at all.

We approached a dual carriageway from a side road (T-junction) with Nottingham to the right, and it looked like she’d checked and decided it was safe to move into the central reservation. I know I would have gone if I was driving. Suddenly, she braked, stopping right in the middle of the carriageway closest to us. Cars travelling along the 50mph dual carriageway were forced to stop.

I got her moving, and when there was finally a chance to pull over I asked her why she had done what she did. Then it dawned on me, and I asked “did you realise it was a junction?”

She didn’t. She’d just driven straight out on to a 50mph road without realising it was there!

We all make mistakes, and this one was mine. Many of my pupils are occasionally freaked out by the fact that it seems I can read their minds. Obviously, I can’t. But what I can do is pick up on the smallest twitches, eye movements, inappropriate speed or acceleration,and so on, and realise what they’re thinking (or not) before they do something. In this case, I’d committed the cardinal sin and been complacent. I didn’t expect my pupil to make such a mistake and so wasn’t looking for it to happen – when usually, I am. But it did happen, and I wasn’t prepared for it.

We were lucky not to be involved in a pile-up, and I’m kicking myself for letting it get to that stage.

I would have liked to have apologised to the woman who had to stop, but obviously on a dual carriageway that’s not an option. In fact, it wasn’t for another few miles that we had the chance to stop to discuss it ourselves, and I was careful not to mention it until we did.

Anyway, if my hard lesson helps anyone else, that’s good. Just remember: never forget that your learners are learners all the time they’re with you.

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Road works map of NottinghamThis is getting beyond a joke now. Take a look at the map of current road works in Nottingham (click the image above, or click here, for the full-size version).

This section of the map doesn’t even show the whole of the county, nor does it include at least two of the telephone pole replacement operations I’ve been caught up in over the last few of days.

There are literally hundreds of the f***ing things (every dot represents at least one, but sometimes several separate works). You get diverted by one set, then you get held up on the diversion route by another – made worse by the fact that traffic is being diverted that way from multiple locations.

If you think that’s bad, look at the 12 month forecast. And yes, the prats are going to be closing the A60 at some point at Daybrook and diverting Ring Road volumes of traffic through the side streets in Arnold – where other works are also planned. It’s just going to get worse and worse.

This is the result of incompetence of the highest order across many organisations. The Council, Severn Trent, Cadent, the electric companies, BT… all of them. The whole thing is made worse by the fact that relatively small jobs are invariably scheduled to last ten times longer than they need to – and frequently over run.

Cadent has been working on multiple sites on a rolling plan for getting on for a decade now. A typical example of their efficiency can be seen at the junction between the Ring Road and Beechdale Road. It’s one of the busiest junctions in Nottingham, and a few weeks ago (30 September) they blocked off part of the left-turn slip road into Beechdale. This caused major tailbacks because only one or two cars could get into the slip before the lights, which meant that fewer overall passed through the junction with each sequence. That was bad enough, but last week they blocked the left turn completely, and now traffic either follows the official diversion, or – if it knows better routes – goes through the narrow side streets. But it now means that all Ring Road traffic has to go ahead at the junction, causing bigger tailbacks than ever beyond the Crown Island. To add insult to injury – and the reason I’m singling them out – on at least two days last week absolutely no one from Cadent or anywhere else did any work whatsoever on that junction. There was literally no one there. No one at all.

Those works are scheduled up until 11 November. Over a whole f***ing month. And yet they could do it in a much shorter time if they didn’t employ time-wasting arseholes, and who actually worked for a living, and did proper hours, instead of the standard two in the morning,  two in the afternoon, and two in the van eating and not talking to each other. And who didn’t spend half of their “work” time pissing about with their phones. And incidentally, there’s no absolute reason for the slip lane to be closed in the first place, because they’re working on the verge – it’s the usual Health & Safety thing, where work can’t take place if traffic is passing within 5 metres, so they close off lanes to make sure it isn’t. Oh, and they aren’t working weekends or – it seems – if it’s raining. They are a joke outfit.

Severn Trent is also worth a mention. They are different to the others in that they never do any maintenance work (unless it involves maximum disruption in the first place), but instead wait until there is a leak. Then, they still do nothing until the leak has either damaged the road to the point of being dangerous, or has worsened to the point where people are reporting sightings of sea mammals going past the shops, and passing pilots heading to East Midlands are moaning about wet windscreens. At this point, they install temporary lights – the batteries of which they frequently allow to drain, resulting in the lights staying on red – then go away for a week. Then they come back, dig a hole, and go away again. A week later, they come back and fill the hole in, then go away again. Eventually, someone puts some tarmac over the filled-in hole, then goes away again. Several days later, someone comes to remove the traffic lights to use in a similar pantomime somewhere else. The whole process of fixing a leak takes at least two f***ing weeks (several months if you allow for when water was first reported gushing out of the ground), when it should be done in a day. And I know they could do it that quickly, because when they have one of their not-infrequent catastrophic leaks, they can dig up an entire road, replace a main, and put the road back in a fraction of the time it takes them to do one of the small ones. And Severn Trent is the only company I know that seems to think tarmac takes four days to cure before it can be driven on.

I often tell my pupils about how we didn’t used to have wheelie bins when I was their age. Instead, we had cylindrical metal dustbins, which had a small handle on each side. Usual custom was to fill it to overflowing with filth that was almost alive (in hot summers, it often was), possibly because of the batteries and any other electrical item you could cram in with the food waste, then wait for the bin men to come round every Monday, pick it up and sling it over their shoulder, and take it out to the dustbin van and manually empty it in there. A common follow up custom for some residents was to complain to the Council because the bin men hadn’t put the dustbin back exactly where it came from, or had left the lid off (these dustbins had round metal lids). Christ, you could have filled the dustbin to the brim with wet cement the night before, and they’d still take it out and empty it for you. They’d also take cupboards and almost anything else you left next to the dustbin. But these days, if the lid of the wheelie bin isn’t shut properly they’ll refuse to empty it – and you have to take it out to the roadside yourself, and bring it back in once emptied.

It’s the same with road works. Once upon a time, they could resurface several miles of road in a day, because they worked almost continuously – overnight and weekends. I mean, back in the day you could go to bed one night, and wake up next morning with a new motorway ready to drive on. These days you’re lucky if they do ten feet of road a day and work for more than an hour at a time. And it still takes a week or two more before someone comes and paints the lines on again (but only on the newly laid surface, because the faded lines on the old bits they haven’t touched “aren’t part of the contract”). And as for the signage… well, fixing that can take years (they still haven’t put signs up for the Virgin and Racecourse roundabouts after building the eco-clown route on the Colwick Loop Road, and that was finished almost two years ago).

Something has got to be done about this.

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