Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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UK PassportThis question pops up from time to time. I often gets hits on terms like “can driving instructors sign passport applications” or “can my instructor sign my passport photo”. The short answer is: no. They can’t.

On the forums, no one knows the answer – but it doesn’t stop them offering one up all the same. Their answers are mainly based on the fact that they’d like to think they can sign, and proceed from there.

The GOV.UK website lists recognised professions, members of which can countersign passport applications. It is worth pointing out right away that driving instructors are not mentioned. The closest is “teachers and lecturers”, and as much as ADIs like to consider themselves teachers, they are not teachers in the sense the word is intended in an official context.

I have asked the Passport Office for guidance on this before. Their initial answer was:

Yes you would be able to sign a passport application if you are self employed and VAT registered or a Limited company.

I queried this further (most instructors would stop reading after the word “yes”), pointing out that most driving instructors are not VAT registered, nor do they operate Limited companies. The Passport Office responded with:

…a driving instructor can be considered a suitable countersignature not because they are a driving instructor, but if they would be considered the owner/manager of a limited or VAT registered company.

If they would not be registered in this way we cannot guarantee they would be accepted by the processing team.

There it is in black and white. Driving instructors (the vast majority of them, anyway) cannot officially countersign passport applications. If they are VAT registered or owners of Limited companies, they can. But most are not. If they do countersign a passport application, the application may be rejected because they do not meet the requirements.

Of course, some ADIs might operate a larger school and their greater turnover would mean they would have to be VAT registered, thus becoming eligible to officially countersign passport applications. And if their company is big enough, it may well be a Limited Company. But that’s a very small proportion of those on the Register.

I have successfully signed passport applications for friends over the years on the back of being an instructor, but I was always wary because I knew it was a grey area. Any one of those applications could have been bounced back. I’ve never signed one for a pupil because I simply don’t know them well enough (as well as being from a “recognised profession”, you also need to have known someone for at least two years, and I’ve only ever had a handful who’ve been with me that long in all my years as an ADI). It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if it turned out that some instructors are signing applications for pupils and even charging money for the service (like some GPs do).

So, technically, the answer is no. The typical instructor cannot sign off passport applications. And that’s the official Passport Office stance.

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TomTom Screen GrabI originally published this article in January 2018, but it is due an update.

It was announced mid-2017 – sometime before the 4 December start date – that when the DVSA introduced satnavs as part of the independent driving section, the model the examiners would be using was going to be the TomTom Start 52.

After briefly considering buying one, I decided against it. I’ve used standalone satnavs before, and the problems with mounting them and all the bloody cables has pretty much put me off for life. Even the latest ones are just too bulky to sit anywhere unobtrusively.

In the more recent past, if I’ve ever needed to navigate somewhere, I just use Google Maps in one of its forms on my smartphone. In the weeks leading up to 4 December 2017, I tried using it with pupils. It works (if you know what you’re doing), but its choice of route can be creative to say the least. And it isn’t the most chatty of navigation apps. Worse still is the inability to save pre-determined routes – and that’s essential for a driving instructor.

More recently still, I tried using the satnav in my Focus. The graphics on that are straight out of the 80s, and you half expect Super Mario to bounce across the screen. It, too, can be rather creative with its suggested routes, it can’t save pre-determined routes, and the erratic split-screen thing it does at unfathomable times is confusing to pupils. And I think the last map updates were drawn up by personally Christopher Columbus.

The more I thought about these issues, the more I realised that the only realistic way forward was to use a TomTom in order that pupils wouldn’t be intimidated by a different looking map, different instructions, or different voices. I asked TomTom if there were any plans for an approved app that would run on Ford’s software. It seems that they did have an arrangement with Ford to develop such an app at one point, but that fell through for some reason. But then I came across the TomTom GO app for Android. It turns your phone into a fully-blown TomTom satnav, with the added benefit of a high-res display (see the screen capture, above). TomTom GO gives you 50 miles of free navigation per month, but that gets used up in a couple of hours on lessons. However, you can subscribe for about £5 per month, or £15 for a full year, and get unlimited navigation (you can also subscribe separately to other TomTom services). You get unlimited world maps for this, and any updates are included. I bought the year subscription – it means I can have an absolutely up-to-date satnav for up to ten years for the same price as a standalone unit that would be out-of-date within a year.

A massive additional benefit is that by logging into your TomTom account on your PC or laptop you can create entire routes using a drag-and-drop map and save them. When you sync them to your device, they appear in the list of saved routes. This is how DVSA has created the routes it uses. The benefit of these pre-determined routes is that you can force a specific journey around specific roundabouts or road features, rather than have the satnav try and re-route you through a shorter route to a specific destination. Of course, you can also save favourite places – like test centres or retail parks – and just set one of those as a destination and let the pupil follow whatever route the satnav comes up with. It’s all extremely flexible.

The TomTom GO speaks through the vehicle audio system via your smartphone’s Bluetooth link.

How are pupils managing with the satnav?

At the time I started teaching it for the test, some of those I expected to have problems took to it remarkably well. A year down the line, I don’t even think about that anymore. It’s just part of what I have to teach them.

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You know how I’m always going on about the prats I have share this planet with? How about this one?

He goes into a garage and tries to put £10 of fuel in his car. He overshoots by 3p, but he doesn’t want to break into another note, and the garage won’t let him off the 3p (he’s actually got the money, remember). So what does he do? He phones the Police on 999.

Better still is the fact that he’s now gone on to Reddit to ask how he can get the Police to remove the video because it’s gone sort of semi-viral. As you can imagine, he doesn’t have much support (incidentally, to some of the smart arses on Reddit, that doesn’t sound like a Nottingham accent – more like a Derby one).

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Shopping in AsdaWell, well, well. I just did a bit of delving to find out why someone had found the blog on the search term “why is UK productivity so low”, which had thrown up an article I’d pretty much forgotten I’d written. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I mentioned Asda in that.

Then, browsing the BBC website, I found this article which says Asda is considering cutting up to 2,500 jobs.

Asda has two problems: 1) too many chiefs, and 2) most of them are incompetent.

I shop in Asda regularly, though I am increasingly having to complete my shop elsewhere because of the stock levels. My branch is open 24 hours, but its shelf stock does not match that detail in any way, shape, or form. Asda stocks up in the middle of the night and early morning, then that’s pretty much it until the next night. On top of that, they keep running “Rollback” offers on things, and haven’t cottoned on to the fact that this encourages the owners of corner shops to come in and buy everything up so they can resell it at the RRP in their own store. By 10am, the shelves are empty of those items. I’m also pretty sure some people buy some things on Rollback to sell on Ebay at the normal price.

That’s the thing about large retailers. They can buy at much better prices than smaller sellers can, and even their normal retail prices are better than you can find in the cash & carries. Beer is a prime example – Asda’s normal prices for a case of 12 bottles are £3 – £4 cheaper than the cash & carry offers, but when they put it on Rollback, it can be as much as £10 cheaper! When that happens, even pub owners  go in and buy up stock. This Rollback discount problem also applies to many items in grocery, snacks, and confectionery.

Asda also has a problem with stock control. The amount of shelf space it gives to various products is fixed for long periods of time. So it doesn’t matter if they repeatedly sell out of one particular item (even a chimp would realise that’s because people want it), they will still maintain row after row of slower selling items, and maintain the 2 sq. ft. they allow for the item that is selling. Then, when they run out of warehouse stock, they will make no attempt to get anymore of that product until the next scheduled delivery – often weeks later. Management cannot see that if they held stock of things that sell, they would sell more of it.

Then there’s the Dairy items. I don’t piss about with low-fat stuff – if it’s got 50% less fat, it’s also got 50% less taste – yet they have shelf after shelf of that, whilst the normal-fat stuff sells out completely every day, and the shelves stay empty until the next midnight re-stock.

It’s no wonder that they’re struggling. And they’ll keep struggling until they start taking on managers who have a clue.

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Shaun the SheepPeople often find the blog on something to do with sheep. The latest was asking what you should do when you encounter them in the road.

The word “sheep” isn’t specifically mentioned in the Highway Code in this context, but the following rule is the relevant one (it comes under “other road users”):

Rule 214

Animals. When passing animals, drive slowly. Give them plenty of room and be ready to stop. Do not scare animals by sounding your horn, revving your engine or accelerating rapidly once you have passed them. Look out for animals being led, driven or ridden on the road and take extra care. Keep your speed down at bends and on narrow country roads. If a road is blocked by a herd of animals, stop and switch off your engine until they have left the road. Watch out for animals on unfenced roads.

It’s happened to me before where I’ve rounded a bend on a country lane and the road is blocked by a herd of sheep being moved from one field to another (twice in 18 months, though I haven’t had one for a few years now). I’ve also come across sheep just wandering on the road in the Peak District, and one time a lamb had escaped from a field and was being chased by someone trying to recover it.

I’ve also encountered cows browsing on the bushes on the outside of their field (I’m not sure who shit themselves the most that time I came round a bend on a single track road – me, or the bullock that had got through a fence, a stream, and then a hedgerow to meet up with me). Then, of course, you have horse riders – the normal ones who give you a wave, and the ones with attitude problems who take racehorses out.

In the case of the sheep being herded, I stopped and turned off my engine (and had a quick chat with the farmer who was at the front). If they were just wandering around in small groups, I passed slowly, keeping my eye on them. In the case of the lamb, I stopped, then put my hazard lights on when I saw a car come over the brow of a hill behind me.

What should you do when passing sheep on the road?

Someone found the blog with this question recently. It’s from the theory test, and the correct answer is to slow down and drive carefully. In reality, though, stopping and turning off your engine is often the best course of action, so make sure that’s not an option if you see this question.

Should you report a sheep in the road?

Of course you should, if it’s running loose from a fenced field or on a main road (as opposed to being herded by someone), and clearly shouldn’t be there. Someone could get killed. Use your own common sense – I’m no expert on sheep, but I know if one’s meant to be in the road or not.

This doesn’t apply to extremely rural roads, such as in the Peak District, where there are no fences and sheep wander freely across roads. You just drive with care and deal with them as necessary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve seen a few instructors asking about it in various places, and I can assure them it isn’t because the floor mats are jamming the pedals, and it’s got nothing to do with the dual controls (two of the answers given that basically equate to “I don’t know”). In fact, when the clutch pedal sticks down, you can tell by touching the duals (a few times, I thought pupils had their foot on the clutch when driving).

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

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All the Es

This article was originally published in 2011, but I’ve updated it a couple of times since, this latest one in 2018 following a run of hits.

The original article came about after watching an argument flare up on a forum concerning the 4Es. Basically, no one knew what they were, but they’d all done a quick search and were arguing their own interpretations of the first hit they’d come across on Google. It’s funny watching people trying to put each other down when none of them have a clue.

Since the original article, some idiot organisations have turned the 4Es into the 5Es. I suppose it means they can have more meetings and do more flipcharts instead of getting on with some bloody work. There’s even the 3Es out there somewhere. And even if you find an explanation from the UK, the order and even the word for each of the Es will create still further confusion!

One of the big problems trying to get to the bottom of what the 4Es are all about is that even the people apparently implementing them obfuscate things so much that it is obvious they really don’t have a clue, either. That’s the classic sort of behaviour that I had to endure when I was in the rat race. The best place to go for a serious explanation is America, and this public safety site for Nevada is probably the best I’ve seen.

Nevada gives them as:

  • engineering
  • enforcement
  • education
  • emergency response

The Wikipedia entry explains:

Accident prevention and improvement of traffic safety

This comprises education and information, above all following the “4 Es”: enforcement, education, engineering, encouragement/economy. The main goal is promoting safety by influencing and modifying behavior using legal, educational, vehicle- and road-specific measures; driver training, driving-instructor education, information on traffic issues, campaign design and marketing, effective enforcement.

You will note the slight difference with the fourth one, though if you think about it, Nevada has it covered with their version – and bear in mind that they actually use it.

“Engineering” means things like road design, lane markings, footpaths, and so on (design things with safety in mind). “Enforcement” means publicity, policing, and so on (remind people, and pull them up if they don’t comply). “Education” means giving out information, conducting campaigns, and so on for all users (pedestrians and drivers). “Emergency response” refers to maintaining a “first responder” system.

India has been looking into it, and they refer to:

…included engineering of safe roads, provision of emergency care, enforcement of traffic rules and regulations, the use of ITS for improving road safety, and the creation of an educational and awareness campaign for changing road user behaviour to improve road safety.

The same headings as Nevada. And the ITE – an international organisation – says:

Within the 4 E’s of transportation safety, “engineering” and “education” are two of the more traditional focuses for transportation engineers and planners. However, the importance of “enforcement” and “emergency responses” should not be understated, and both are critical elements of a successful roadway safety management program.

I’m not completely sure where the hits on the blog are coming from, so I don’t know who is searching, or why. It does seem popular, though, and mostly the search terms being used include the word “discuss” – which is why the 4th E is particularly interesting. However, from a driving instructor’s point of view, the education part is the one they are going to be dealing with, though perhaps with a little enforcement thrown in.

Remember, though, that it is the dog which wags the tail – not the other way round – and decent instructors are covering their part automatically without having to worry about acronyms and the inevitable flipcharts and Powerpoint sessions.

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Woman gets tattooI’d imagine that many people are aware of the BBC’s obsession with women’s rights, and its ongoing policy of generating alternative history stories to muddy the past. The one that irritates me the most is how they use every opportunity to portray Charles Babbage as secondary to Ada Lovelace. But that’s another story.

This one is a confusing piece about the suffragette movement. And one section of it concerns a woman who had a tattoo of Emmeline Pankhurst put on her leg to… well, that’s about all, really. She had a tattoo of an historical figure from Victorian England put on her leg because she’d watched the film “Suffragette”.

The first thing that jumped to my mind when I saw the photo (above) was “that looks like bloody Ada Lovelace, again”. When I saw the name, Pankhurst, I then thought “but she didn’t look like that” – a memory from my History lessons at school – so I did a quick bit of Googling.

The tattoo alongside a true imageHere, you can see the tattoo image and a photograph of Emmeline Pankhurst contemporary with the period during which she was an activist. That is the image everyone associates with Ms Pankhurst.

I’d get a refund from the tattoo parlour.

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TumbleweedIt’s funny, but I keep seeing instructors claiming on forums and social media that they all still teach turn in the road (TIR) and reversing around a corner (RRC). I mean, 99% of them are all doing it, same as they ever were.

For anyone who doesn’t know, DVSA stopped testing these manoeuvres in December 2017.

Before then, instructors would be queuing up to use corners that the examiners used. There’d sometimes be three or more cars waiting to muscle their way in (I’ve written several times about how I’d “had words” with the prats who’d tried it when I was somewhere with a pupil and they’d got in my way). A lot of them would spend a full hour there, boring their pupils witless with try after try. Right now, the only time there are any problems is in car parks used by examiners for bay parking. All the old, favourite corners and quiet roads for turning have tumbleweed blowing across them.

So I’m wondering where they’re doing these manoeuvres now, because it sure as hell isn’t in the places I go – and I travel significant distances with my pupils. I reckon I’ve seen two cars having a go in the last year – and they were private runners or PDIs by the look of them. There must be some mythical place out there, like the “elephants’ graveyard”, where all these instructors are when they reckon they’re still covering them.

I show my pupils how to do those old manoeuvres once or twice, so if something happens on their test (or once they’ve passed) and they have to turn around they’ll at least be able to physically do it (and that has happened a couple of times on tests). I bring it in sneakily, by wanting to turn round and go back the way we came for some reason, pointing out afterwards that “that used to be on the test”. That way, they realise what they’d use it for without worrying about the finer details too much, and it means they can’t accuse me of teaching them things “they don’t need”. But there’s no point spending hours on it so they can do the original ultra-polished pre-2018 test version.

What annoys me, though, is that DVSA took TIR and RRC out of the test in the first place. It was bloody obvious that instructors would gradually stop teaching them, even if they were “still on the syllabus and should be taught”, as DVSA stated. Pupils – and especially their parents – are highly likely to object to paying for lessons if they’re being taught stuff they don’t “need”, in their eyes. Christ, before any bay parking was included on tests up here, no one taught it at all. TIR and RRC are no different to that now.

What makes it all the more annoying is that it wouldn’t have cost DVSA a penny, or caused them any extra work, to keep both on the test as possible manoeuvres that could be requested, along with the newer ones. That way, instructors would have had to teach them – and pupils would have had to accept that. It would also have resulted in better trained drivers. I’d like to think DVSA will come to its senses and bring them back, because if they leave it too long it will be a major problem, since ADIs won’t remember* how to teach them properly.

Unfortunately, as with most large organisations, logic is not DVSA’s strongest point.

* You think I’m kidding? When they first introduced bay parking at one of the then two test centres in Nottingham, 80% of ADIs boycotted that one and went to the other. They didn’t know how to teach it. Several retired because of it.

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