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We ask you to keep your correspondence to no more
than 250 words, although we reserve the right to edit or
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We cannot guarantee your e-mail will be published and
regret we are unable to answer individually to letters,
except by way of occasional comment in this column.
Advice/comments are made without legal responsibility.

Cruise Control Economy
S.K. writes:
Does cruise control increase or decrease fuel economy?

Further to earlier letters on this subject, I have personally found better fuel economy can be achieved by not using this device and this is probably due to you being able to apply greater sensitivity to the accelerator pedal with your right foot, as well as visually reading the road ahead and acting accordingly, ie., not maintaining a given speed up an incline and losing, maybe, 10 mph, which you can make up for on a descent; under both these conditions, cruise control is likely to lessen fuel consumption slightly.

Buying New
D.B. writes:
For the first time in many years I am in the market for a new car. The last time I brought from new I managed to secure a 5% discount, but with increased competition nowadays do you think this could be bettered? I have no part-exchange and will be paying the full price from existing savings.

Depending on the make of car and whether it's in demand or not, if likely to soon be replaced by a newer version or indeed whether the exact model specification is in the dealers stock, we would say anything up to 20%. Other factors such as the urgency of the dealer to shift stock - to earn manufacturers bonuses - and your negotiating skills will all come into play.

Roundabout Etiquette
V.P. writes:
Recently I had to brake sharply while negotiating a roundabout due to an impatient driver entering as I was approaching the junction. Is this the latest bit of the Highway Code to be ignored?

I know exactly what you mean and it is bad etiquette as well as being dangerous. My personal view is if they can accelerate sufficiently not to impede your progress, fine. What doesn't help is that some drivers on the roundabout often indicate left too early, giving those entering the roundabout the impression they are leaving before their intended exit so inadvertently pulling out.

Cruise Control
A.S. writes:
Is it eco-friendly, and hence more fuel efficient, to use cruise control on a motorway?

In the right circumstances, cruise control is an important boost to fuel economy. It is particularly beneficial on motorways to maintain a constant speed which can be difficult due to your foot allowing the speed to vary slightly.

   One or two exceptions you should be aware of. On steep uphill gradients cruise control tends to cause wider throttle openings to maintain speed, and it may cause an unnecessarily downward gear change; conversely, on downward slopes, it may brake to slow the car to maintain the selected speed thus losing momentum. By not using cruise control in the aforementioned circumstances, you can maintain a steady pressure on the throttle (rather than pushing it to the floor) giving a slight decrease in speed uphill which can then be offset by picking up speed (on the same accelerator pedal opening) on the downhill gradient.

   Overall, certainly on the UK motorway network, and discounting other factors, such as heavy traffic, then cruise control is probably a saver of fuel to the order of five percent or so.

Parking Ticket
Y.B. writes:
Recently I received a parking ticket as the owner of the vehicle, although it was not me using it at the time. I subsequently gave the name and details of the driver (at the time) to the authorities, but as they cannot locate the driver they say I will have to pay or be prosecuted. Where do I stand legally?

Difficult one, but our thoughts are that once you have promptly named the driver who was using the vehicle, then you should not be liable for any alleged debt. Further, we would argue, that any paperwork placed on a vehicle must be the drivers responsibility because the registered owner may not even be aware of it. In a case like this I would 'stick to my guns' and let them proceed with their prosecution threat.

No Claim Bonus
C.B. writes:
I have used a company car for the best part of 20 years, but am about to change jobs and will be using my own car in the future. I have a clean licence and have never claimed on the company insurance all the time I was using their car, but I cannot find an insurer who will accept my years of blemish-free motoring and give an appropriate no-claims discount. What do you suggest?

Contrary to what you understand, most insurers welcome former company car drivers who have proof of a clean driving and claim-free history. As you prefer searching on-line, the problem (as we see it) is finding the part of the insurers website to be able to show your status as a claim-free former company car driver.

   We suggest you complete the online details as if you had the maximum no-claims discount (which you have), note the reference number and then phone the insurer to clarify things. You will need to provide proof of your no-claims status from your old employer's insurer. If the worse case scenario, you should be able to obtain an introductory discount, but hold out for a full discount.

Booster Bag
R.S. writes:
My grandson,
who is five years old, often sits in the front seat of his parents car in a child booster seat. Should the airbag be de-activated in these circumstances?

Difficult one and one where we feel the law may be a little vague, but regulations indicate that the airbag should be turned off if the child carrier is a rear-facing device; my own personal opinion is that common sense must prevail and that all young children and babies should be correctly seated in the rear - but how often is common sense applied nowadays!

  That said, if you cannot persuade your family to seat their off-spring in the back, then check carefully the manufacturer's handbook for their advice on the particular car, ie., pushing the front seat right back if the airbag is still turned on may be advised.

  Another problem is that while some vehicles' airbags can be deactivated simply by operating a switch, others require a visit to the dealer to get the bag switched off; the disadvantage with the latter is that adult passengers would be left vulnerable with no airbag protection in the case of an accident.

Steering Strain
B.Y. writes:
Is damage likely to occur to my car as my wife insists on turning the steering wheel (when stationary) to engage the column lock? The reason I ask is that years ago I was told not to turn the steering when stationary as this could strain the steering linkage and cause undue tyre wear.

It is not necessary to engage the column lock as the internal lever would soon snap into place if anyone tried to turn the steering wheel with no key in the ignition, such as if a thief was trying to drive away your car after attempting to 'hot wiring' it.
   By engaging the steering lock each time the vehicle is parked, it makes it difficult to release the mechanism later when the ignition key is engaged without jiggling the steering wheel to-and-fro against resistance. This action (as you are aware of) causes undue strain to the key, lock mechanism and the steering system; it is a habit that is best avoided.

Insurance Dilemma
T.P. writes:
Could you explain why insuring a vehicle with a replacement value of, say, £1500 at most, costs me almost as much as obtaining cover for a brand new car which has a much higher value?

This is due mostly to third-party liability, ie., the damage you are capable of doing with your car (whether new or old) to another vehicle, or in fact anything that could be damaged if you hit it. Another factor of increasing importance nowadays is the claim for compensation that can result after a personal injury and, of course, the high cost of litigation that usually accompanies a claim. See also our reply to J.A. later in this postbag.

Fuel Consumption
J.S. writes:
When air conditioning first came out, I was led to believe that its use would mean less miles per gallon. Is this still true with the more economical car of recent years?

   Yes, or maybe no, depending on your speed. During warmer weather and up to about 40 mph (or thereabouts) then it may be more economical to open a window. At faster speeds, however, the extra drag caused by the effect of an open window may interfere with the aerodynamics to such an extent that it may cause more fuel to be used than the little extra consumed to run the air con with the window closed. Obviously, this can depend on how aerodynamic the car is to begin with.

Footwear
M.L. writes:
I often drive without footwear as this gives extra sensitivity on the pedals and helps towards better fuel economy. Could this be considered a driving offence if I had an accident?

   It says in the Highway Code that clothing and footwear must not prevent you operating the controls in the correct manner. If you, therefore, have full control of the car, then it shouldn't be a problem. That said, if a police officer reported you were not wearing footwear after an accident then it might well have implications with your insurers or legal defence.

Wiper Squeak
D.J. writes:
In heavy mist or light rain the wipers squeak as they move across the windscreen; they are ok in heavier rain. I have replaced the blades, but the problem soon re-occurred. Any ideas?

   Obviously, the rubber blade edges are satisfactory as you have recently renewed them, along with the blade itself which should rule out incorrect tension against the screen. Your problem must, therefore, be some form of contamination of the windscreen glass, such as oily deposits from diesel emissions or tree sap. It could also be caused (although this is unlikely) from the car shampoo used to wash the car which can sometimes leave a residue if not sufficiently rinsed.
   Any contamination of the screen surface can cause the wiper blades to drag rather than pass cleanly over the glass; in heavier rain the excess water tends to act as a lubricant with little dragging and hence less or no noise at all.
   Use a good quality car glass cleaner to remove contamination and always use a propriety windscreen washer fluid in the reservoir - not washing-up liquid from the kitchen!

Driving Licence
E.A. writes:
In conversation the other day someone said that my old-fashioned driving licence (paper type) is no longer valid and that it should be exchanged for a new one with a photograph. What are the regulations on this?

We appreciate your concern, but provided your personal details are correct, ie., address, then your present licence is valid until you reach the age of 70. However, if you have had your paper licence for a number of years, then it's probably very creased or even split so it can be changed (at your cost) for a new photocard licence.
   If you opt for a photo licence, then a charge of £20 is levied (unless you are reporting a change in your personal circumstances) and it will still expire on your 70th birthday. If, on the other hand, you keep your paper licence until that age, you will be issued with a photocard licence free when you have reached 70 years. After the aforementioned age, licences must be renewed every three years, or sooner if you have an underlying medical condition, but no charge is levied.     
   A photocard licence is useful if you are driving abroad as most EU countries have this type of licence and officials understand them which could save a long difficult-to-understand explanation

Oil Viscosity
D.G. writes:
My car handbook states that a SAE 0W-30 should be used, but I recently topped up with a SAE 5W-40 oil in error. Should I get an oil change carried out to prevent long term engine damage?

A small top-up of oil (there is not much difference between the two grades of oil you mentioned) should be ok. You didn't mention the quality factor of the oil (as opposed to the viscosity rating) you topped up with, ie., the ACEA figure, this should be the same as recommended by the manufacturer of your car.    

Dangerous Practice
V.G. writes:
Driving to Southampton recently, and while stationary at traffic lights, we were approached by a man armed with a squeegee and bucket who proceeded to clean our windscreen, despite our best efforts to decline this 'service', but he continued nevertheless. However, the lights changed and we were forced to drive away with a wet, partially obscure, windscreen - to the annoyance (and rude gesticulation) of the cleaner.
   I feel this practice should be banned, if it's not already against the law. We have enough CCVT cameras, so why cannot the police take action to stop this highly dangerous practice?

A sign of the times, I'm afraid.

Steering Strain
B.Y. writes:
Is damage likely to occur to my car as my wife insists on turning the steering wheel (when stationary) to engage the column lock? The reason I ask is that years ago I was told not to turn the steering when stationary as this could strain the steering linkage and cause undue tyre wear.

It is not necessary to engage the column lock as the internal lever would soon snap into place if anyone tried to turn the steering wheel with no key in the ignition, such as if a thief was trying to drive away your car after attempting to 'hot wire' it.
   By engaging the steering lock each time the vehicle is parked, it makes it difficult to release the mechanism later when the ignition key is engaged without jiggling the steering wheel to-and-fro against resistance. This action (as you are aware of) causes undue strain to the key, lock mechanism and the steering system; it is a habit that is best avoided.

Green Taxes
P.S. writes:
During a conversation recently the subject of the road fund licence was raised and whether this form of taxation should be abolished  in favour of raising the money by increasing the duty on fuel (paid at the pumps) to ensure the payment is related to vehicle use.
   By getting rid of the present system further savings would also be made on administration at the DVLC; additionally, the cost of collecting the tax through fuel duty would be negligible as it would just be a different percentage to the existing rate.
   The fuel tax would need to be pitched so that a person who drives about 10,000 miles a year in a 1.0 litre (or under) sized car would be better off; while those who chose to drive greater distances, or use a larger-engined vehicle or drive uneconomically and cause the greatest pollution, would pay proportionally more as fuel usage increases.
   I believe some other countries use this system and manage to keep the cost at the pumps lower than the UK. Obviously the tax disc would be a thing of the past, but this could be replaced by an official sticker issued by an insurance company to show the vehicle is insured which is often not the case as things stand with our present outdated system.

Couldn't agree more with your views. We also feel 'road pricing' is not the universal way forward, as does many other motorists we have spoken too.

Pack in the Power
K.G. writes:
Is it possible to connect a 12 volt supply to the car (via, for example, the cigar lighter) to maintain power and prevent the loss of memory settings while I disconnect the battery?

We know of at least two products on the market that fits the bill. Both are designed to feed enough power to the car's electrical system, ie., the radio and electronic control unit(s), through the cigar socket, to maintain existing memory settings.
   Try your local car accessory shop, or visit the website of such firms as Gunson, Draper, etc.

Booster Bag
R.S. writes:
My grandson, who is five years old, often sits in the front seat of his parents car in a child booster seat. Should the airbag be de-activated in these circumstances?

Difficult one and one where we feel the law may be a little vague, but regulations seem to indicate that the airbag should be turned off if the child carrier is rear-facing; my own personal opinion is that common sense must prevail and that all young children and babies should be correctly seated in the rear - but how often is common sense applied nowadays!
   That said, if you cannot persuade your family to seat their off-spring in the back, then check carefully the manufacturer's handbook for their advice on the particular car. Pushing the front seat right back (if the airbag is still turned on) may be advisable.

   
Another problem is that while some vehicles' airbags can be deactivated simply by operating a switch, others require a visit to the dealer to get the bag switched off; the disadvantage with the latter is that adult passengers would be left vulnerable with no airbag protection in the case of an accident.

Seeing Red
N.J. writes:
I can't help but think of the huge amount of money that must have been spent on the traffic lights on some large roundabouts; they don't seem to contribute much to easing traffic flow and, if anything, they add to the congestion.
   Additionally, it is my opinion these traffic lights are dangerous with drivers trying to manoeuvre out of the wrong lane once the lights have turned green; after all, on a roundabout without lights, if a motorist gets badly positioned it is normally easy to rectify the mistake.    Furthermore, the phasing of the lights on these roundabouts often means that when you get a green you still cannot move because the back end of another queue is in the way.

You have raised some interesting points. Does anyone else have any bad experiences on traffic-light controlled roundabouts where peak hours controls have been introduced? Do you think roundabouts work better with or without lights?

Dangerous Disabled
H.D. writes:
We are constantly hearing of measures to make the roads safer, but perhaps it's time a little thought was given to pavement users.
   What with bikes, scooters and other modes of transport (including cars parking on the pavement) often necessitating pedestrians to walk on the road to get past, we now have an increasing number of disabled, or elderly people, whizzing along noiselessly in electric wheelchairs, some of which are more akin to heavy and fast four-wheeled trikes.
   Often you are not aware of them until they are alongside you as they are capable of quite a pace. If one of these hit you, especially if the occupant is large where the combined weight is considerable, then serious injury could easily result.

A good point. Perhaps compulsory insurance, along with a registration system to identify owner-drivers, is the answer.

Repeater Light
C.D. writes:
After traveling extensively on the Continent, I feel the fitting of the small repeater lamp that mimics the action of the main traffic lights a good idea. This repeater light is usually positioned at about eye level to the driver and attached to the same post that supports the main traffic lights. I found the device most useful by not having to sit forward and peer up at a sharp angle at the traffic lights on the occasions when my car was at the head of the queue.

Squealer
T.R. writes:
Being a frequent user of multi-storey car parks, I often wonder why tyres squeal so much as cars negotiates the turns on the slipways and when parking. This noise must be something to do with the tyre tread, but I have yet to hear a plausible explanation of its cause!

The tyre noise you hear are caused by the floor in these sheltered parking areas gradually becoming coated with minute particles of rubber and other contaminates. As the accumulation of foreign matter gradually builds up and fills imperfections in the floor, an extremely smooth surface results which the tyres tend to slide over causing the noise you refer too. As these particles cannot be washed away by the action of rain water, the surface becomes even smooth over time.
   To this must be added distortion of the tyre treads under maximum turning angles. The resultant stick-slip between rubber and ground surface causes the squealing noise.

Incompetence
F.K. writes:
Governments have taxed us motorists billions of pounds over the years, so we should have the best transport system in the world.
   We are still paying through the nose for, what I believe, is the incompetence of our politicians and council officials to get our road system sorted out, or to provide good, clean, reliable public transport to all areas. I do not feel in the least bit guilty for continuing to use my car; it's the politicians and others in authority who should hang their heads in shame at the mess we're now in.

Vital Link
L.M. writes:
I often drive down to south east France for winter skiing which involves driving on snow and ice-bound roads. Although I have never used snow chains, do you think they are a good idea and what (if any) snags are associated with their use?

Snow chains are not cheap and fitting/removing them can be tedious and cold as inevitably the task isn't carried out until you hit low temperatures; so be prepared for this.
   Although chains (normally fitted to the driven wheels only) are very helpful for driving on snow, especially if it's a fresh fall, they are less useful on ice-bound roads where studded tyres are a better option. However, this has the drawback that you will need to carry an extra set of wheels so they can be swapped when you hit the snow or ice and this is not always practical due to space constraints.
   Certainly studded tyres allow you to travel at higher speeds (and for limited running on clear roads), whereas with chains your speed is restricted to about 30 mph and you cannot travel on snow-free roads for any significant distance.

Classic Isle
J.B. writes:
After more than half-a-dozen visits to Malta over the years I never fail to be fascinated by the number of old vehicles still in everyday use, they seem to trundle on forever.
   The island is still littered with old favourites of mine from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, including Ford Populars, Hillman Minxes, Austin A30s and 50s, as well as scores of Morris Minors and Triumph Heralds, all in apparently good working order. I suppose the reason why most of them have survived in such condition is down to the mild climate, and no frost means no corrosive salt on the roads.
   I left Malta feeling quite nostalgic, especially as most of these cars were right-hand drive.

Traffic Reports
R.H. writes:
It never fails to annoy me to hear on the car radio of 'major hold-ups' causing 'long tailbacks', often accompanied with advice to 'avoid the area', with no time mentioned as to when the delay started, or the probable clearance time of the hold-up.
   Often by ignoring the traffic report I have passed the spot and the obstruction has been cleared, thereby making the report unnecessarily alarmist and leading me to think that often road reports are inaccurate. After all, incorrect or unhelpful information is always bad information.

I must admit to having made unnecessary diversions myself on more than one occasion after hearing a traffic report on the radio. Perhaps, as you say, the time of the incident should be mentioned to allow an easier judgment whether to divert or not.

Dazzler
I.F. writes:
I have noticed in heavy traffic that an increasing number of drivers sit at road junctions, traffic lights or in a queue with their foot on the brake pedal, instead of knocking the change lever out of gear and applying the handbrake.
   These motorists seem completely oblivious of the effect that their brake lights (including the new high-level type) have on the driver behind who has to suffer the dazzle; it is particularly blinding as dusk approaches and the intensity is more noticeable.
   Perhaps cars should be fitted with some kind of automatic dimmer that reduces the power to the brake bulbs as the surrounding light level decreases.

You have a good point here. Brake lights can be just as annoying as high intensity fog lamps in the wrong circumstances, but it is really down to good driving practice.

Accident Definition
R.S. writes:
In conversation with a policeman the other day, he said that many road crashes are not 'true accidents', but rather collisions. This seems strange to me as surely an accident is an unplanned event where someone may, or may not, be to blame.
   It appears some constabularies may be using the transatlantic definition whereby road traffic accidents are referred to as collisions, or crashes. There may well be a collision following an event
, but that is part of an accident, unless it is a deliberate action.
   Once we stop using the term 'accident', I can envisage insurance companies trying to wriggle out of paying accident insurance claims and motorists having to prove it was a accident and not a collision.

Jeep or GP
A.P. writes:
Thoroughly enjoyed reading your feature on the Jeep. I believe the name was derived from the general purpose (GP) role of the vehicle and 'Jeep' was the easiest way to say it.

The history of the Jeep name has been debated for many years and I am sure will continue to be argued about for many years to come. According to the Chrysler & Jeep Magazine, there are two likely answers to the origins of the name.
   Firstly, as early as World War 1, US army personnel used the term "Jeep" to describe any new, unproved vehicle received for evaluation, one theory being that it might be an acronym of "just for experimental purposes". This has credence as fresh soldiers in the British Army were often referred too as "Jeeps" many years later.
   Secondly, it may come from the Eugene-the-Jeep character in the once popular "Popeye" series, first introduced in the mid-Thirties.
   What we can be sure of is that the name was first used officially in 1941 when it was given to a prototype Willys vehicle. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support the theory that "Jeep" came from the joining together of the initials GP for General Purpose.
   See the article on the Jeep in our Archives, feature number 19

E-mail: editor@gearwheelsmag.co.uk

 

                         

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