Advice and Tips

Winter Driving

We previously posted a blog full of top advice on how to prepare your car for winter driving. That was the easy bit – but how do you cope with driving when the temperatures plummet and the roads are covered in snow and ice?

If you had to guess whether the roads are safest in the summer or the winter, which would you go for? It’s a no-brainer isn’t it? In the winter there’s the spectre of sub-zero temperatures to contend with, as well as fog and darkness. So if you find the idea of summer driving nerve-wracking, you’ll probably be freaked out by the notion of getting behind the wheel when things get icy. But while driving is more hazardous in the winter than the summer, if you’re properly prepared there’s nothing to be afraid of.

The key thing to remember when it gets really cold is that you can’t afford to be lulled into a false sense of security. Even when things look safe, they may not be, so always drive carefully. When the temperatures fall, road surfaces are often wet and/or covered in frost, ice or snow – but not necessarily uniformly. Here’s how to deal with it: Read more

Advice and Tips

Winter car maintenance

Keeping your car serviced is essential at any time of the year, as our blog on top car maintenance tips proves. But in the winter it’s especially important that you keep on top of things if you want to avoid a breakdown or even a crash. Fail to maintain your car properly and once the temperatures plummet you could easily be involved in an accident – and that’s when things can get really stressful.

There are lots of checks you do to ensure your car doesn’t let you down when the going gets tough. None are time-consuming or difficult and much of the following is good advice all year round. But now the sub-zero temperatures have hit with a vengeance, make sure you find the time this weekend to give your car the once over.


This is the most common reason for winter breakdowns for two key reasons. Firstly, a battery doesn’t hold its charge as readily in cold weather and secondly, turning over the engine demands more of the battery because the oil is thicker. So the temperature dropping by just a few degrees can make all the difference between the engine spinning over and firing, and there just being a click when you turn the key, because it’s all too much.

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Advice and Tips, Car Maintenance
tyres on a snowy country road

Winter tyres

If there are two things that don’t mix, it’s conventional summer tyres and icy roads. They’re the motoring equivalent of strawberries and mustard, or lamb chops with clotted cream. You just don’t want to go there. But if you’re reliant on your car to transport you whatever the weather, what can you do to keep moving when the temperatures plummet? Investing a few hundred quid in a set of winter tyres is the simple answer.

When the temperature drops below seven degrees centigrade, the rubber in conventional tyres hardens and grip is reduced. Winter tyres feature a compound which stays soft even when the mercury drops below zero, so getting going is easier, while braking distances are reduced too – from 30mph, you could stop in just 35 metres compared with the more usual 43 metres. As a result, you can get going more easily, stop more quickly, and when you corner your car will feel much more stable.

For years, some drivers in mainland Europe have been compelled to fit winter rubber in low temperatures. It’s one of the reasons why Scandinavian countries don’t grind to a halt when the snow hits; they just fit their winter tyres and keep driving. Recent harsh winters in the UK and lots of publicity has led to an increasing number of drivers here adopting European practice, but many drivers remain unconvinced.

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Advice and Tips

What happens if I’m caught drink driving?

It’s almost half a century since the breathalyser was introduced in the UK. When the technology was rolled out as part of the Road Safety Act it heralded a new era, with drink-related deaths and injuries steadily dropping. When you consider the number now stands at around 240 per year you might be shocked, but 30 years ago the figure was 990 – and in 1979 it was a massive 1,640.

Unfortunately while ‘only’ 240 people are killed on our roads each year because of alcohol, a whopping 85,000 lose their licence because they’re caught driving over the limit – and 85 per cent are men. The number of drinks you’ve had makes no difference – whether you’re just over the limit or well over the limit, in the eyes of the law you’re still a convicted drink driver and the consequences are exactly the same.

A lot of people get caught out driving the morning after they’ve had a skinful; the alcohol in your system takes time to disappear. How quickly you breach the legal limit and how fast your blood/alcohol level drops is dependent on a variety of factors including your sex, weight, metabolism and how often you drink alcohol. They key thing though is that if you’re caught out the morning after, the penalties are exactly the same.

The penalties

The penalty you receive is up to the magistrates who hear your case, and depends on your offence. You may be able to reduce your ban by taking a drink-drive rehabilitation scheme (DDRS) if you’re banned from driving for 12 months or more. It’s up to the court to offer this but there’s a variety of drink-driving offences. These are what they are and the possible penalties:

If you’re caught in charge of a vehicle while above the legal limit or unfit through drink you can be imprisoned for up to three months and fined up to £2,500. You can also be banned, although this is discretionary.

Get caught driving or attempting to drive while above the legal limit or unfit through drink and you’ll definitely lose your licence for at least a year. You also face an unlimited fine and you can be imprisoned for up to six months.

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Advice and Tips
Drive carefully

How to be a safer driver

There are about 45 million driving licence holders in the UK, although many of the people who hold a licence aren’t active – perhaps as many as one third. However, that still leaves around 30 million people trying to stay out of trouble every time they get behind the wheel.

The problem is, all too often some of those 30 million drivers end up on the traffic news because they’ve brought a major road to a halt having parked their car on its roof or driven into someone else. Each year about one in 15 of us will crash our car – that’s about 200,000 accidents, most of which are completely avoidable.

Last year we guided you through the 10 most common reasons for car crashes and gave you a few pointers as to how to avoid these scenarios. The thing is, if you drive well at all times you can avoid just about any accident, not just the common ones.

The key thing to remember is that driving well isn’t difficult, and if you want to be a really good driver, it’s our highly trained traffic cops that you need to emulate. Sure we hear about them crashing sometimes, but they cover huge mileages, often at high speeds on roads that are saturated with hazards – so it’s amazing they’re not involved in shunts more often.

The reason why these drivers are so good is because they’re trained using a book called Roadcraft (the police driver’s manual). So if you want to be a more gifted driver, what better way than to start with your own copy of Roadcraft? Read it and these are the key things you’ll put into practice every time you drive.

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Advice and Tips
Night time road accident

Roadside first aid

Every year around 22,000 people are seriously injured in road traffic accidents and another 160,000 are slightly injured. Those injuries can range from cuts and bruises up to loss of limbs and serious breakages. The thing is, would you stop if you witnessed such an incident? Many people don’t, because they’re unsure of what to do, daunted by the prospect of seeing somebody covered in blood, or incapable of moving.

Yet the basics of roadside first aid are actually really simple, and here, with the help of St John’s Ambulance, we show you how easy it is to make a difference. Familiarise yourself with these techniques and if the worst should happen while you’re out and about, you could prevent a minor injury becoming a serious one – or you could even save a life.

Step 1: Make the area safe

Before you can attend to a casualty, you must make the incident area safe, to protect yourself, any injured people, and other road users. Here’s how to do it:

  • Pull over safely, clear of damaged vehicles. Apply your handbrake and switch on your hazard lights.
  • Don’t attempt to cross a road if it’s unsafe, as it could cause another accident, or serious injury to yourself.
  • Call 999. If you think people may be trapped or there’s a fire risk, ask for a fire crew as well as the police and ambulance services.
  • If available, ask others to set up warning triangles to warn other drivers to slow down. Warning triangles should be set at least 50 metres away from the incident and in both directions if necessary.
  • Switch off the ignitions of any damaged vehicles.
  • If a vehicle is upright, apply the handbrake and engage first gear.
  • Be constantly aware of dangers such as approaching cars.
  • Make sure no one smokes; things could very quickly escalate if there’s any leaking fuel or oil…

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Advice and Tips
insurance inspector

Car Insurance Payouts

If you’re unlucky enough to have your car stolen, or it’s involved in a crash, your insurer will have to work out what it’s worth and pay out accordingly. How much it’s worth will also dictate whether or not it’s written off, depending on the cost of fixing it; you can find out more about how and why cars are written off in our guide.

Having to make an insurance claim tends to be traumatic enough, without it turning into a battle between you and your insurer. Unfortunately that’s exactly what often happens; you’ve got a sum in mind when you put in that claim and your insurer has a different figure. If you’re lucky the two aren’t so far apart that there’s no hope of meeting somewhere in the middle – but don’t count on it.

The bottom line is that your insurer will pay out what it thinks your car is worth – or in other words, the cost of buying an identical replacement. And therein lies the problem, because finding a car just like the one owned by you that’s just been crashed or stolen might be all but impossible.

When insurance companies are dealing with payouts they’re not attached to your car like you might be. They don’t care about the hundreds of hours you’ve lavished on cleaning it and keeping it as good as new. The fact that you’ve owned it from day one so you know it’s never been crunched. Or the fact that you’ve just spent £1000 on a full service and a new set of tyres. If it’s old it’ll be relatively worthless, so don’t expect to get back all of the money you’ve put into it.

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Advice and Tips

The dangers of buying a used car privately


With most things in life, the more you put in, the more you get out. That’s certainly the case when it comes to buying a used car, because the more effort you put into the purchasing process, the bigger the savings you can make – but unfortunately the stress levels can be that much greater too.

According to a 2015 article, almost half of those who bought a used car privately reckon they were deceived in some way by the seller. And with 40% of used cars sold by private vendors, that’s a lot of unhappy car buyers.

When you buy from a trader you’re paying top whack for your used car – which is fair enough because you’re pretty well protected as a consumer, as you can read in our recent blog on your rights when buying a used car from a trader. But when buying privately, while you can potentially save thousands of pounds compared with buying from a dealer, you’re not nearly as well protected. You do have some rights though.

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Advice and Tips

Can I drive my car with a failed MoT?

We all dread it; the annual roadworthiness test that might just land us with a big bill, because some vital component on the car has worn out and needs to be replaced. Once your car has reached its third birthday it must be put through an annual MoT, to ensure everything is working as it should. But just crossing your fingers and hoping for the best isn’t a great plan.

The list of what’s included in the MoT is probably more wide-ranging than you thought, so if you want to ensure your car doesn’t fail its MoT, it’s worth checking at least the basics before you submit your car for the test. After all, it doesn’t take long to make sure things are working correctly; you should do this periodically anyway, to make sure your car is safe.

Unfortunately, many car owners see the MoT as the annual opportunity for faults to be flagged up, and that’s just inviting disaster. By the time a car fails its MoT because something has worn out or broken, you’re in much greater danger of an accident being caused than if you’d kept on top of things. It’s easy to just bury your head in the sand and hope things will go away, but they won’t.

The most common reasons for an MoT failure

If your car fails the MoT it’s because for one reason or another it isn’t roadworthy. It could be that there’s serious corrosion in the structure or the emissions might be higher than allowed, because the engine has worn out or the catalytic converter has failed. Fixing these won’t be cheap and the chances are that they won’t be fixable in a hurry.

However, many of the problems that lead to a car failing its MoT are much less serious, such as a piece of electrical equipment not working (maybe just a duff bulb). These can be fixed much more cheaply and easily. They can’t be fixed while the car is being MoTed though; it’ll fail then have to go through the test again.

Almost a third (30%) of MoT failures are down to a failed bulb, so just a couple of minutes spent checking your car’s lights before MoT time could save you the hassle of a retest.

One in 10 failures is because of tyre-related problems, either because the pressures are incorrect, the rubber is damaged or there’s not enough tread left. Again, these are things that can be checked on a DIY basis in just a few minutes.

Brake problems are behind 10% of MoT fails, while issues with the mirrors, wipers or washers, is another common reason for failure. All of these things can be checked quickly and easily at home – so don’t miss the opportunity to do so.

Planning ahead

Because you might have to arrange for repairs to be made, which could involve ordering parts that aren’t available off the shelf, you’re given a month’s lee-way at MoT test time. That doesn’t mean you’ve got a month to fix things once you’ve been issued with a failure notice though – it means you can book your car in for its test up to a month before the current certificate expires.

So by planning ahead you can make your life easier, because if you book the test four weeks ahead and your car fails, you’ve then got plenty of time to scrape together the necessary cash, book it in for repairs, and get it fixed before the outgoing certificate expires.

However, there may be a complication. If your car fails because of a major fault, and you then continue to drive it because it can’t be repaired immediately, you could end up in some seriously hot water if you’re involved in a crash. For example, if the steering is severely worn and you lose control after the car has failed its MoT, the police will take a pretty dim view of your actions.

If you fail to plan ahead and your car fails its MoT on the day that the certificate expires, you can’t drive it apart from in two instances. The first is if you’re taking it to be repaired so it will pass another MoT and the other is if you’re taking it to be tested. However, in the latter case the car must already be booked into the testing centre; claim that you were on your way to the garage in the hope of finding an available slot and you’ll be deemed to have committed an offence if you’re stopped by the police.

Get caught driving a car without an MoT and it’s not an endorsable offence, so your licence won’t be affected. Maybe. The thing is, analyse the terms of your car insurance and you might find that you’re only covered as long as your car has a current MoT. Drive without an MoT and your insurance may well be null and void – in which case you’re then guilty of driving without insurance, and that’s rather more serious…

What about advisories?

Sometimes your car will be issued with a pass certificate, but it’s clear that before the next MoT is due, some money will need to be spent. It could be that the tyres are close to the legal limit or there’s some play in a component, but not enough for it to be a problem yet.

Because the car is currently roadworthy but may not stay that way for a year, an MoT tester can issue an advisory sheet, which can contain several items. This will be issued alongside a pass certificate so your car is legal to drive for a year – but if you fail to check any of those advisories during the next year and you’re involved in a collision as a result, the police might get very interested in how well you’ve looked after your car.

If doing a few basic checks once a month is just too much like hard work, some garages offer free health checks. Take the time to have one of these every few months at the very least – it might just make the difference between your car merely failing its MoT, and something much more serious.


Richard Dredge

November 2016

Advice and Tips

Your rights when buying a used car from a trader

Trading Standards has to deal with more complaints about used cars than any other product. With more than seven million sold in the UK every year, perhaps that should come as no surprise – cars are complex things and can suffer from a wide array of problems.

But what are your rights when it comes to buying a used car? Just what legal protection do you have? Unsurprisingly, where the law is concerned it’s complicated and we can’t cover all eventualities here, but we’ll cover your key rights so you know what protection you have.

Underpinning your rights is the Consumer Rights Act, which was introduced on 1 October 2015. This Act superseded all or parts of the Sale of Goods Act 1979, Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973, Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994, Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002, Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.

However, the Consumer Rights Act covers you only when buying a car for private use, from a trader. If you’re buying privately or at auction, or for business use, you’re not covered – although you do have other rights.

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