Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people looking for test route information. Once upon a time, official test routes were published by DVSA (when it was still DSA) and available for download. They stopped publishing them in 2010, but that didn’t prevent people who had already downloaded them circulating them. In later years – even right now in 2021 – certain unscrupulous instructors and money-makers were even selling them at silly prices.
One major problem with test routes is that they change over time as DVSA adds new ones or removes others. They can even change on the day of the test for reasons such as roadworks or road closures. And unless they are being officially published you have no way of knowing if ones given to you are correct – or if someone has just cobbled together some old information into a crude list of road numbers and names and perhaps charged you a tenner for it. I can absolutely guarantee that many of those advertised on old-fashioned HTML websites are these original out-of-date lists. The other major problem is that deliberately trying to teach just test routes doesn’t get better pass results, but it does produce less able drivers.
You don’t really need to know the precise test routes used. All you need is a general awareness of key features where pupils might have problems.
It isn’t difficult to work out where the examiners go on driving tests, even without using technology. They’re never going to travel more than about 20 minutes away from the test centre in any direction, so all the roads leading to the test centre are going to be involved (minus motorways in most cases). If you know the examiners to look at, you’ll see them from time to time during your lessons, so you now know they use that road or location. You can also ask your pupils where they went after their tests, and although this can produce more confusion than it does answers, you might be able to extract a bit of useful information. The examiner will often give you some details in the debrief, especially where faults were committed. And finally, you can sit in on tests (when there isn’t a pandemic) and actually watch where they go. You can quickly work out which specific areas to concentrate on by putting all of this together into your lesson plans.
The best way, though, is to use some sort of tracking device, which logs the precise route taken by the car. These days, most satnavs have a feature which allows you to do this. Personally, I don’t like that method because it tends to be tied in with the satnav software, be satnav-specific, and it can be a right pain trying to download it and manipulate it on standard mapping software. The other problem is that you’re unlikely to be able to leave it running while someone is out on test, because the examiner will be using theirs, and thinking back to my old satnav years ago, it didn’t always get a signal if it wasn’t stuck on the windscreen. I’m not saying they’re like that now, but they are designed to be used in that position – and not in the glove box. And the other weakness is that the satnav is the recorder, so you have to wait until the test is over and you can grab it before you know where it went.
Dashcams are another way. The better ones also record GPS data, though often – like satnavs – you can only manipulate this within the camera manufacturer’s specific software. And again, you only get to see it after the event.
A third option is to use one of any number of apps for smartphones. These log routes in a format that mapping software understands. I’ve tried them, and they do work – with a few limitations. Firstly, you would need to leave your phone in the car when it went out on a test, meaning you’d be phoneless for the duration. A spare phone would work, but obviously this feature uses data, so you’d need a separate phone account. And when I tried them, the free versions of apps tended to be restricted to sample rates of 20-30 seconds – and that could mean a route through a junction and roundabout system might show as a straight line across a field or lake. If you wanted a 5 second sampling rate, you had to subscribe.
My solution was to use a dedicated tracker. I use a ProPod tracker from Trackershop. It’s a small device the size of a matchbox, which I keep in the car. The main feature for me, apart from logging accurate position and even postal locations, is that it broadcasts its location in real-time. This means that at the test centre, I can watch the car moving on a map overlay (either on my laptop or the Trackershop app on my phone). It also means that if a test were abandoned for some reason – and that hasn’t happened yet – I’d know exactly where to go to find my car and pupil.
The picture at the top of this article shows an old test route for Chilwell Test Centre (click on the image for a larger view). This is my tracker dashboard ‘history’ view, with a specific historical time period displayed (the duration of the test in question) on a map overlay. The picture just above (click it for a larger image) is the same route with the satellite view enabled. You can zoom in almost to the level where pedestrians would be visible.
The Trackershop cloud service keeps journey history permanently (as long as you have an active account), and you can download and edit data as necessary whenever you feel like it – you just need to to know the date and time of a past test, for example, then go and find that route in your dashboard. As I mentioned, you can view data in real time on whatever overlay you have chosen, and watch the pointer moving every 5 seconds while your pupil is out on test – I find this useful for knowing when they are due back.
The cloud data can be easily exported and downloaded. As well as GPS coordinates it logs times, speeds, and postal addresses for every data point. The picture above (click it for a larger image) shows the same test route displayed as a KML file rendered in Google Earth (note that I had to physically extract the GPS data to create this, but it isn’t difficult if you know what you’re doing).
As I have already indicated, you should not be doing your lessons across such precise routes. But they do give you an idea of where tests go.
Where can I download test routes?
You can’t download them from DVSA. The sites that offer them are provided by people trying to earn money from something that is otherwise simple to do yourself. Given that test routes change over time, it is probably cheaper to record your own.
Why don’t you provide your test route data?
A point of principle. DVSA stopped publishing them because instructors were trying to teach only the test routes, and I know full well that that’s why people want the information now. My logged routes are for my own use – I don’t stick to test routes on lessons and never have, but I want to know where the routes are so I can deal with any weird stuff.
Should I pay for downloadable test routes?
My advice would be no. DVSA stopped publishing them for a reason, and if someone is trying to profit from selling them then he or she is going against that. There’s a good chance you’re being sold old routes, anyway, and you would never know if they changed unless you kept on buying them every month or so.
How do I know the routes I’ve bought are correct and up to date?
You don’t, and they’re probably not. In fact, unless a local group of ADIs is giving you daily copies, they couldn’t possibly be reliable. In the worst case, they could be totally imaginary and simply cobbled together to be reasonably close to actual routes. Judging by some of the ancient-looking sites that list them, they’re quite likely to be the original ones that they stopped publishing in 2010. As I said above, routes change with time.
Is it possible to record test routes?
Yes. There are free and paid for apps available for both Android and iPhone which use GPS to record journeys. Similarly, there are numerous GPS tracker devices available which do the same (I use a Pro Pod tracker). If you use a phone app as a logger, you have to leave a phone in the car.
You can also record routes using dashcams. As well as using my tracker, I also have a dashcam recording all the time. On more than one occasion I have been able to show a pupil exactly where and why they failed, even though they had no idea what the examiner was talking about in the debrief.
Do I need to know the test routes for my test?
Absolutely not. The examiner will give you directions as necessary, or ask you to follow the satnav or road signs. However, if there are one or two awkward features – big roundabouts, steep hills, or so on – your instructor should know about them and make sure you know how to handle them well before your test.
How many test routes are there?
It varies from test centre to test centre, but there could be 10, 20, or more. When they were still published by DVSA (while it was still DSA), one Nottingham test centre had 38 if I remember correctly. You couldn’t possibly memorise all of them even if you knew them all. Being brutally honest, many learners on test might not recognise their own streets when out on test, so how can they be expected to ‘remember’ multiple routes?
Can I use my tablet to log routes?
Potentially, yes. If it has a GPS chip inside, it doesn’t necessarily need to be connected to the internet or a phone network to log GPS positional data, though it would if you wanted to use it as a satnav or monitor it in real-time. However, you’d need some software that could make use of the chip. It would also depend on your device’s specification as to how accurate the data were, but you’d still be able to get decent route maps – they just wouldn’t always be necessarily precisely lined up with the roads on maps you laid them on to. I understand they are accurate to around 6 metres or better.
From what I know of Apple iPads, only the more expensive ones with phone connectivity have GPS chips in them. The WiFi only ones don’t.
A new game appeared across social media over the last year. It’s called ‘why don’t you put your prices up to £40 like me?’ Apparently, it is played every two weeks, and each round has to assume it has never been played before.
It started off fairly innocuously, but it’s turned into another tool of the mind-game brigade – these are the ones who want to sell you coaching courses so you can put your prices up, because obviously you can’t unless you pay someone some money first. The problem is, the people on the other end are often already in the group that doesn’t understand the difference between turnover and profit, the one that didn’t know there was an SEISS grant until just before Christmas, or the one that likes to collect acronyms to use in their lessons (because the more acronyms you have, the better an instructor you are, right?) Consequently, if you believed everything you read on social media, you’d be forgiven for thinking the average lesson rate throughout the country is currently somewhere between £35 and £40 per hour.
I already know what typical lesson prices are in various locations. I also know why they are higher in some very specific locations, and lower in rather more others. But I decided to do a bit of current research, and this is what I found.
I used Google Maps and searched for ‘driving schools [location]’, and then had a look at the websites that came up. I only chose the independents or small local schools I’d never heard of (I’ll mention the nationals later), and I chose as many as ten examples for each location (64 sites in total). I chose common or garden locations across England, and deliberately sought out several in what I know are affluent areas. These are the results.
Range for 1 hour (£)
Range for 10x block (£)
A few of these schools did not offer one hour lessons – it was either 90 or 120 minutes, so I adjusted the figures to get hourly rates. Some, especially around Swindon and Exeter, had extra conditions for rural locations (approximately £2 per hour greater). Many offered larger discounts for bigger block bookings (I have used the 10 hour block discount figures in all of the above).
One thing is obvious. Only a very small number of locations are charging anywhere near £40 an hour, and fewer still are offering such prices across the board. Saffron Walden came close, but one school there was genuinely advertising almost £10 per hour lower than the others. Swindon schools had the most variable charges depending on pickup location (along with Exeter).
London was interesting. Chelsea – an extremely affluent area – skewed the results significantly at the higher end. Bow, Hendon, and the eastern side had the lowest rates. Morden and the south had the highest behind Chelsea. But Chelsea aside, London was little different to most other places.
It was the south of the country where rates were highest overall. Swindon and Saffron Walden had by far the most examples of websites which wouldn’t give the prices unless you contacted them.
In all of these areas, the national schools were generally towards the higher end of the ranges.
Obviously, there are other places you could find which are affluent and where the same higher rates tend to be charged. But there are also plenty of others which mirror the lower rates. My data above is just a sample, but it is a fairly large sample which covers England fairly well, and so paints a realistic picture of what is being charged around the country. And it is nowhere near £40. Somewhere between £27 and £30 appears to be the average.
I am not criticising what anyone charges (though that school in Saffron Walden charging £10 less than everyone else is missing a trick, in my opinion). If you can charge, it, then charge it. But what I am criticising is the idiots who keep asking the damned question, and those who then throw fuel on the fire, all of them acting all smug because they live in one of the few areas where you can get away with it. It’s all very well saying ‘charge what you’re worth’, but it doesn’t work too well in places like Newcastle, where people simply can’t afford £40 lessons. And they can’t, no matter what Tarquin from Pleasant Valley (it’s in Saffron Walden) might say. North of The Thames, the average is typically closer to £30, and North of Sheffield it’s even less.
And another issue on the periphery of this is the deliberate decision to increase prices solely in order to try and make up for loss of earnings during the last 12 months. Personally, I find that rather cynical, and it is difficult to separate this from the repeated argument about £40 lessons.
Phew! That was a relief. I was worried I might not get the fourth SEISS because my 2019/20 profits were down as a result of the start of the pandemic, and it was touch and go as to whether my self-employment income amounted to more than my private pension. Fortunately, it did.
I went through the claim just after midnight, and I’ll be getting a windfall of £3,000 – which will help enormously as I gradually build back up to a decent number of hours.
It’s funny, that. I started work on the first day the lockdown was eased, but I specifically spaced lessons out so that I’d have time to sanitise the car, and kept one day free for taking the weekly Asda delivery (though I’ve started going back in over the last fortnight, and will return to a normal shopping at some stage). I didn’t try to fill each day, and if one or two were empty, no big deal. I also spaced lessons out so I could take it easy starting up again, because I knew that after a year out it might be tiring.
As it happens, it hasn’t been. It’s been fun, and I hadn’t forgotten anything. The only problem was finding out what new roads had appeared since I last went out, and which ones had either disappeared or now have roadworks on them (and Nottingham City Council decided that many roadworks should start on the same day everyone went back to work, as is their wont). But I did see that those who had tried to fill their diaries to the brim from Day One have been complaining about not enjoying it anymore (and thinking of retiring or staying in their lockdown jobs), being stressed, and being exhausted.
You only have yourselves to blame. You can’t expect to be able to run a marathon, for example, if it’s a year since you last did any jogging.
An email alert from DVSA is encouraging people to take lateral flow tests on a regular basis. I should stress that this is currently only targeted at Wales – and I have no idea why that is.
I have been ordering free test kits from the NHS, and run one twice a week. Each kit contains seven tests, and each test consists of a swab, a small pod of buffer solution, a sample tube, and a test strip/cartridge in a sealed pouch. You break the buffer pod and squeeze it into the sample tube. You open the test strip and lay it on a flat surface. Then you wipe the swab around your tonsils and up your nose. Dip the swab into the buffer for 15 seconds, squeeze it out as you remove it, and then clip the lid of the tube shut. It has a small hole in it, and you place two drops of the liquid on to the test strip. Wait 30 minutes, and your result is indicated in a window on the strip. You also get seven Ziploc disposal bags to bin everything neatly. Full instructions are provided, and there are online videos to show you how to do it.
Test kits can be ordered on the GOV.UK website. I did it on the basis that I am working with young people who might be infected. You can order one kit pack per day, and they typically arrive next day (my last one was ordered Sunday and arrived Monday). You can also collect them at various pharmacies, or get tested at a testing site.
While others can carry on arguing about whether COVID is real or not, whether it’s legal to ask people to wear masks, and threatening to appeal to the Court of Human Rights over the mere suggestion you might not be allowed to go on piss up to Magaluf unless you’ve been vaccinated or can prove a negative test result, I will carry on taking it seriously and trying to stop anyone else catching it.
Before going back to work, I was running over a few things in my head – and was worried that I had forgotten stuff!
Once I was in the car, it was like I’d never been out of it! The only fly in the ointment was the bloody roadworks. Nottingham City Council, for example, decided to wait until Monday (the first day back for virtually the entire country) to close lanes on several City Centre routes to install cameras. I mean, they’ve had nine f***ing months, and they waited until Monday.
Today, I had a lesson in Hucknall, followed by one in Clifton. I’d left an hour between for travelling time. Going out, I timed the journey (the long route, via Wollaton and Bulwell, and it took just over 30 minutes). Coming back towards Clifton I decided to risk the Ring Road, reasoning that traffic isn’t as heavy right now and it would probably be free flowing. I had to detour at the start because of queuing traffic on Hucknall Road near that new Aldi. Once on the Ring Road, everything was fine until I got to the Aspley junction to the M1. Traffic was at a standstill.
It turns out that there are roadworks there, and you can’t turn right. I was particularly impressed by the ‘advanced warning’ sign that announced this, and which was still on show – how the f*** would I have seen that during lockdown? So I was stuck in the queue. It was made worse by the fact that three twats had had an RTA at Beechdale, so it was down to one lane there. But it was also down to one lane up to it, because the f***ing twats at the council had decided that today would be a good day to cut the suckers off all the trees that line that route. I mean, they could have cut them off last week when it was quiet (or even during winter, when it’s best to do it anyway), but Nottingham doesn’t work like that – everything has to be half-assed and inconvenient. And now I think about it, the lane closure probably had something to do with that RTA in the first place. It took an hour and ten minutes.
I should have gone back the long way. In normal times, I rarely take the shortest route because it is often the longest in terms of time. The rat runs are always best, and that was the only thing I’d forgotten.
A nice easy start to work today. Began with a new pupil who’d contacted me during the lockdown, and who needs a manual licence having driven automatic in her home country. No real issues other than a bit eager with the indicators for everything, and a tendency to brake for everything. But nothing that can’t be sorted. And she’s block-booked ten hours.
Second lesson was with a pupil who is test ready, and who has been driving with his mum and dad anyway. His test is booked in June, and it is likely he’ll go in his own car for that. No problems with his driving, other than he has a Corsa and has somehow got it into his head he needs to go into 2nd gear at 6mph. I explained that that might be the all right on his petrol Corsa, but in my diesel Focus that rumbling noise is the engine saying it’s not happy with it, and he should be listening to the engine rather than watching the speedometer otherwise he’ll stall it (he did once) – or worse.
The last one was with a pupil who’d only had two lessons back in September before we had to stop again. She was a bit nervous, but she remembered most of it and we got going quite quickly.
I did a Lateral Flow Test yesterday and, unsurprisingly, came up negative. Doing the test reminded me how much I hate anything other than food touching the back of my throat – I nearly threw up.
Last weekend, a pupil who I taught several years ago booked her son in with me. His lesson is provisionally set for this weekend. However, when she called me it became apparent that they hadn’t even applied for his provisional licence, so I told her to get a move on because it might not arrive in time. Fast forward one whole week. She’s transferred a block booking of ten hours to my account, but then told me they still hadn’t applied for his licence because they couldn’t find his NI number, and needed to wait until at least Monday (today) to get it. I don’t think the lesson will happen this week.
I also discovered my local hairdresser has made it through the lockdown, and I’m booked in for a trim later this week. My hair hasn’t been cut for about 18 months, and I look like Sideshow Bob. Mind you, I probably still will look like Sideshow Bob afterwards, since I like the length – just not the split ends.
Well, just over a year since the pandemic hit, and save for a few weeks at the end of last summer when it was relatively safe, on Monday I’ll be starting lessons again.
Unlike some complete prats out there, I realise that COVID a) actually exists, and b) is quite dangerous if you get it, so I will be taking it slowly and safely. Pupils will have to wear masks (unless exempt), they get gelled at the start of the lesson, the car gets wiped down in between (and fogged periodically), and I have a supply of lateral testing kits for myself – which I will use twice per week, and feed results back to the NHS as per the system. It may come as a surprise to the aforementioned prats, but as well as not wanting to catch COVID myself, not wanting to pass it on to anyone else is still pretty high on my list. I don’t want to be adding to the 127,000 who have already died from COVID – because I have morals.
I’ve had my first vaccination (the second is due in May), and I know that at least two of my pupils have either had it or have appointments booked. More importantly, both of my parents have now had both of their jabs – it has always been them I was most concerned about. Also, my pupils who are at school tell me they’re being tested regularly, which is good.
The fun has now started. One pupil has moved house since I last saw her, and instead of a 2 minute drive she’s now 40 minutes away and will be doing her test at a different centre to the one we had originally planned for. She doesn’t know that yet, and I know she’ll argue to use the original – but if people are doing one hour lessons and live in Hucknall, Colwick is a bit off the radar. Especially so at midday. I’ve been there, done that, and the T-shirt says clearly that it can take well over an hour just get to from Hucknall to Colwick and back again depending on the traffic and road closures.
Then there are the ‘can I have a lesson next week?’ texts. Except I vaguely remember (and I was right) that several of them work rotas with Mc-You-Know-Who on zero hours contracts, and ‘next week’ roughly translates to a free hour on Thursday at 5pm and one on Sunday at 9am, because they’re working (or at school) the rest of the time. And even that is subject to change if Mc-You-Know-Who calls them in.
Several other haven’t responded to my texts yet. Young people have their phone glued permanently to their hands the rest of the time, yet I can never figure out why some of them take a day or more to reply to any text. It’s like I’ll text them on a Monday with ‘are we still on for Saturday?’ By Thursday, no response. So I’ll text again, thinking about filling their slot with someone else who wants a lesson, and that will finally prompt them to tell me they still want it, like the first text never happened.
It’s just like old times already. And I haven’t started yet.
The government has further considered the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the validity period of theory test certificates.
After careful consideration and in response to a recent petition the government has decided not to extend theory test certificates for road safety reasons.
This is the government’s decision – not DVSA – so I’d advise a lot of people to think of that before venting on social media.
Please note that screen wash – even at its most concentrated – has a very low alcohol content and cannot be used as a hand sanitizer.
I’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.
It amazes me that some people – even driving instructors – only put water in their wash bottles (if they have anything in at all). And hearing them try to justify it just cracks me up.
Water on its own does not have sufficient wetting properties to attack oil, wax, and grease, and even proper washer fluid can have problems – it’s 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 as long as you have it at the right concentration.
You can buy two types in the stores – concentrated, or ready-to-use. In most cases, the ‘concentrated’ stuff will act as an antifreeze when used neat down to about -9°C for the most expensive brands, or -6°C for the routine stuff (some brands claim -20°C). The freezing temperature is dependent on the amount of alcohol in it, and it’s obviously cheaper to make with less alcohol. For most of the year, you might use this concentrated stuff diluted between about 1:5 to 1:10 with water, but the colder it gets the more concentrated liquid you need to avoid freeze ups.
The ready-to-use stuff is used neat, but you need to be aware of what temperature it will go down to before it freezes. Some brands are good to -4°C, and with the weather in early 2021 in the UK that would almost certainly freeze up on you. If you’re somewhere where it gets really cold, it would be no good at all. They also sell ‘summer screen wash’, which contains little or no alcohol.
The price of typical concentrated screen wash varies from about £5 per 5L in summer, to about £8 in winter (when you need it the most). The ready-to-use stuff is similarly priced, even though it is more dilute. In a bad winter, with lots of rain and slush, I can easily get through 5L of washer fluid each week. I use less in summer, but over a year it can mount up. Not to a huge amount, but it’s still an overhead.
If you’re going to buy it, my advice is to stock up in summer when the prices are lower, and only get the concentrate so you’re not paying someone to dilute it for you. You often get BOGOF offers in summer.
However, it can be cheaper to make your own (it definitely was when I first published this). I got the idea when I had a freeze up one time (I was late switching to my winter mix), and solved the immediate problem by nipping into a hardware store and buying a bottle of methylated spirits. Adding that to my wash bottle depressed the freezing point and I was running again within 30 minutes. There was also the fact that my garage was overflowing with the stuff I’d stocked up on.
When I started making my own concentrate I was using bio-ethanol, which is a clean-burning fuel for home heaters. However, most of this comes from the EU (even the UK-branded stuff), and as a result of the insanity of Brexit the price has gone up to cover import duties. You can still get it for as little as £3.40 per litre, but the number of suppliers has dropped and the price of UK supplies has gone up. Alternatively, denatured ethanol supplied as a cleaning agent can also be used, and you can get it for as little as £3.80 a litre.
Washer fluid needs to do two things:
- not freeze when it gets cold
It’s basically just a mixture of alcohol and water with a bit of detergent.
The alcohol – usually 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 alcohol lowers (depresses) 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 might claim that it freezes at -6°C when used neat, and this means it must contain 15% alcohol.
Alcohol is the most expensive ingredient in screen wash, and 5L of a 15% solution will have 750mls of ethanol in it. The cost of alcohol varies depending on current circumstances, but it’s cheaper the more you buy.
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 gets 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, who also supply a range of car products the car washes use. You only need to use it at a concentration of between 1% and 2%, so one 5L container goes a long way, and will make up to 70 batches of screen wash.
Finally, there’s the water. It depends on how anally retentive you are on the subject (for me – very). Tap water is what most people would use, but – and depending on where you live – this can leave mineral deposits on the glass as streaks if you’re in a medium or hard water area. You can buy deionised water, which has the minerals removed, but it costs money – unless you have access to a supply of it, which you might. Alternatively, rain water (boiled and filtered), or – and what I use – the condensate from a dehumidifier, provides soft water which leaves no streaks.
Making your concentrate is easy. Get an empty 5L container (the kind screen wash usually comes in), add 750mls ethanol, 75-100mls TFR, and top up to 5L with water. Mix well by shaking the container. Used neat, this will protect down to about -6°C, but in summer you can dilute it as low as 1 part to 5 parts of water (1:5).
Personally, I make my screen wash fluid ready-to-use as I need it (I make three or four batches at a time and just keep them on hand, making more as required). In summer, I just make it with less alcohol – 100mls or so – and use more water.
For comparison, if I bought a 5L bottle of screen wash concentrate right now (February 2021) which was good down to -6°C when used neat, it would cost somewhere between £8 and £11. A 5L batch of my own stuff good down to the same temperature would cost £3.12.
A 5L bottle of ready-to-use summer mix would cost £6 bought online. My own summer mix costs £1.22 (though it could be as little as £0.27 without any alcohol in it).
You just need a higher alcohol content. Protection to -6°C requires about 15% alcohol, but 20% will give -9°C, and 25% will give about -12°C. However, bear in mind the flash point of alcohol solutions. My advice is not to exceed 25% alcohol by volume.
How can I prepare for cold temperatures?
Use common sense. In summer, a high alcohol content of the screen wash in your car is just a waste of money. Dilute the concentrate about 1:5 with water (it would freeze at just below -0°C). When it gets colder, and sub-zero temperatures are likely, a 1:1 dilution will cover you to about -2°C, a 2:1 dilution to about -4°C, and a 3:1 dilution to about -5°C. As we have said, the concentrate used neat would be good as low as -6°C.
Can I make it with more alcohol in it?
Yes, but be careful. Ethanol is flammable, even in water mixtures. On its own it 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.
A concentrate made using 1L (20%) of ethanol instead of 750mls will be good down to -9°C. A 25% mixture will cover you down to -12°C. Any more than that, and be careful. 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.
Can I use isopropanol instead?
Also known a Propan-2-ol, 2-Propanol, and Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA).
Short answer, yes – but only if the sub-zero temperatures are a few degrees below zero. IPA has a lower flashpoint than ethanol, and anything above 20% is risky. IPA also has a distinctive smell.
Can I use Methanol?
I’m just going to say no. It’s poisonous, and could be dangerous, so for that reason you should not use it.
Can I use methylated spirits?
Usually, this contains methanol as the denaturant – though sometimes other chemicals are used. It also has a strong smell. Apart from the time I used it in an emergency, I would advise against it. However, if you can find ‘denatured ethanol’ or ‘denatured ethyl alcohol’, and can be sure it doesn’t have methanol in it, that would be fine. It’s usually (not always) the blue stuff that contains methanol.
It seems complicated making your own
That’s why there is a market for ready-to-use screen wash. It’s up to you.
I just use water as a screenwash
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, and freezing water is quite capable of splitting pipes or closed containers. Water alone 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, even if it doesn’t split your feed pipes it can cause them to become detached inside the car (it was a regular occurrence (well, it happened twice) on a Citroen Xantia I used to have many years ago).
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.
Can you dilute ready to use screenwash?
Of course you can. It’s not a magic potion – just a mixture of water, alcohol, and detergent. I wouldn’t dilute the ready-to-use stuff more than about 50:50 with water, though, because the detergent probably wouldn’t do its job properly. And if it has a stated freezing point, just remember that diluting it means it will freeze at a higher temperature, and that could catch you out in winter.
An email alert from DVSA came through today. In it, they outline measures for handling the increased demand for tests.
I wrote recently that only specific key workers can still get tests. This email doesn’t make it clear in regards the time frames based on the key worker situation, but I am assuming that it means once we can all start working again. To that end, they are running a recruitment campaign for driving examiners.
So if the last 12 months has put you off being self-employed, that might be something to consider.
One key point in the email is that DVSA says:
How to reduce waiting times
We also need support from you, your pupils and our examiners to help us reduce driving test waiting times…
It is vital that your pupils are test-ready when rearranging their tests, as tests could be at short notice.
I know it will fall on a lot of deaf ears, but since most pupils – even those who were test ready – haven’t driven since March 2020, there’s just an incey-wincey chance that booking a test for them as soon as you can get one is going to backfire, because they won’t still be test ready.
I guess the upside to that (for some people) will be that if their little darlings fail, they can then blame DVSA about the length of time for the next test, the reason they failed, and so on.
Plus ça change…