10 easy pre-MOT checks to make sure your car passes

MOT test checks

It’s October, which means a new batch of September-registered cars recently hit the road. It also means that many of 2016’s new cars will be due their first MOT test.

Following a raft of changes introduced in May 2018, the MOT test has never been more challenging. Under strict new rules, faults are graded depending on how dangerous they are, and greater emphasis has been placed on diesel car emissions. It’s as a result of this that MOT emissions test failures have nearly doubled.

According to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), nearly 50 percent of all faults found on MOTs could be avoided by carrying out regular maintenance or by checking some basic items before the test.

Further MOT analysis reveals that around 40 percent of cars fail their MOT at the first attempt, costing motorists time and money. We can’t guarantee that these simple steps will result in a pass, but they should minimise the chances of a failed MOT.

Lights

This one is blindingly obvious, but so many motorists forget to check the lights before the MOT test. Indeed, a surprising 30 percent of faults found during the MOT test relate to lighting and signalling.

Make sure you check all of the lights – headlights, sidelights, rear lights, hazard lights and indicators – and be sure to include the brake lights in your inspection. Either ask a friend to press the brake pedal, or reverse up to a reflective surface. Make sure the high-level brake light is functioning correctly.

Number plate

Number plates (also known as licence plates) must show the car’s registration number correctly. You could be fined up to £1,000 and your car will fail its MOT if you drive with incorrectly spaced letters or numbers.

The number plates will also be inspected for condition, secure attachment and colour. Give yourself plenty of time to order a new set of plates – you can only order from a registered number plate supplier. You will need to prove your identity and show that you’re entitled to the registration number.

Wheels and tyres

Pre-MOT checks

Firstly, check that the wheels and tyres are undamaged – you can do this yourself or at a local tyre fitter. The minimum tyre tread depth is 1.6mm, and anything less than this will be marked as a ‘fail’.

However, we’d recommend changing the tyres when the tread reaches 3mm. While spare wheels and tyres are not inspected, it’s worth noting that cars first used on or after 1 January 2012 will be checked to make sure the tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS) is working.

Note: 10 percent of all MOT faults are related to tyres.

Seats and seatbelts

Check that the driver’s seat can be adjusted and that all seats are securely fitted. It’s essential that the seatbacks can be fixed in the upright position.

While you’re there, check the entire length of the seatbelt for damage and pull on them sharply to ensure that they react appropriately.

Windscreen

Take a look at the windscreen to ensure that there are no cracks or damage to the glass. Any damage larger than 40mm will result in a ‘fail’, as will any chips or damage wider than 10mm in the area swept by the wipers.

Wipers

Checking a windscreen wiper blade

On the subject of wipers, make sure they are able to clear the windscreen of rain. If it’s not raining, use a watering can or a hose. The wiper blades should be free of damage or tears – it’s likely to be cheaper to buy a set of new blades in advance rather than relying on a distress purchase at the MOT test centre.

Note: 8.5 percent of all MOT faults are related to ‘Driver’s view of the road’. So, if you have stickers, toys or air-fresheners obstructing your view, remove them before the test.

Fluids

Your car could fail its MOT for having no screenwash, so make sure the washer bottle is topped up in advance. You’ll also be turned away from the MOT test centre if the vehicle has insufficient engine oil or fuel. The MOT tester will also check the power steering oil.

Horn

Again, it’s a simple one to check, but when was the last time you used your horn? Make sure it works and is the suitable horn for the vehicle.

Warning lights

If your car’s dashboard lights up like a Christmas tree you could be in for a rough ride at the MOT testing station. A failed main beam warning light will result in a fail, as will the ABS light, engine warning light, brake fluid light and airbag warning light. Get all dashboard lights checked out in advance.

Suspension and brakes

Pressing the brake pedal

One in 10 of all MOT fails are related to brake issues, and you can minimise the risk by testing the brakes every day. If you hear any strange noises or the car pulls to one side, consult a garage.

Similarly, the MOT tester will check the suspension, so press down on each front wing to check for worn shock absorbers. If the car ‘bounces’ up and down rather than returning to the correct position, they may be worn. Also, listen out for knocking noises

These simple checks should only take a few minutes, but it’ll be more hassle arranging for any repair work to be carried out or booking a re-test. For a full list of the car parts checked during the MOT test, visit the government website.

Remember, an MOT test isn’t the same as having your car serviced and doesn’t provide an accurate description of the vehicle’s general mechanical condition. Regular service and maintenance will almost certainly improve your chances of an MOT pass and fewer advisories.

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A dangerous false economy: why you should avoid fake car parts

Warnings against fake car parts

“The parts market is rife with counterfeits.” That was the warning from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) last year as it reported on the dangers of fake car parts.

The production of fake parts is often seen as a victimless crime. After all, if a motorist is able to purchase a car part of equal quality to OEM (original equipment manufacturer) but for a cheaper price, what’s the harm?

Unfortunately, while the fake parts might look the same, the quality is likely to be very different. At best, the motorist could be left with an expensive repair bill. At worst, the consequences of fitting a part with a safety defect could be catastrophic.

Counterfeiting is also linked to other criminal activities such as organised crime, drugs, child exploitation and prostitution. Not so victimless after all.

Sparked by Australian discovery

Fake spark plugs in Australia

The problem of fake car parts recently hit the headlines in Australia following the discovery of a large batch of counterfeit spark plugs purchased online. As many as 60 percent of spark plugs for sale over the internet have been verified as fraudulent parts being sold as genuine parts.

Drivers who have used the fake spark plugs will notice a major drop in engine power, particularly under heavy acceleration or load. If the plugs overheat, they will melt and cause extreme engine damage, costing the driver thousands in engine repair costs.

Tony Weber, chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) in Australia, said: “The best way to avoid a fake? Make certain your parts are purchased from the authorised dealer network.

“We have experts examining the packaging and spark plugs and even they can barely tell the difference. You won’t know it’s a fake until it’s too late.”

Fake airbags are common

That’s the key: many parts are indistinguishable from the original. The most common fake vehicle parts worldwide include filters, brake pads, alloy wheels and airbags.

The FCAI has found oil filters that don’t filter oil, alloy wheels that shatter when they come into contact with potholes, brake components containing asbestos and, in one case, brake pads made of compressed grass clippings.

Closer to home, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) estimates that more than €2 billion is lost every year due to counterfeit tyres and batteries alone.

According to the IPO, an estimated 90 percent of counterfeit crime is unreported, while as many as one in six online purchases are fake goods. Around 10 percent of consumers are deceived into buying counterfeits, while seven percent of consumers intentionally seek them out.

As this video showing a BMW 5 Series demonstrates, saving money by using fake car parts is a false economy.

Last year, Porsche confiscated 33,000 fake car parts worth an estimated $2.2 million and believes 80 percent of the counterfeit items came from China. The vast majority are sold via online platforms like Amazon and eBay.

Thomas Fischer, a Porsche brand protector, said: “This is where things get dangerous. These spare parts are neither tested nor approved. It goes without saying that we want to prevent products like this ending up in our cars.”

How to reduce the risk of buying fake car parts

  • No such thing as a free lunch: if a spare part is too cheap, it may well be fake. If in doubt, research the seller and the product – improved product verification means that spare parts are now uniquely identified.
  • Prove the provenance: thanks to Manufacturers Against Product Piracy (MAPP), all spare parts have a unique barcode. In conjunction with holograms and digital fingerprints, all OEM parts can be verified.
  • Original equipment: vehicle manufacturers and legitimate parts producers provide original or approved spares. If in doubt, check with a reputable garage, dealership or parts distributor.
  • Too good to be true: vehicle design improves incrementally, meaning manufacturers will make ongoing adjustments to components. Counterfeiters are more likely to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Dr. Daniel Dünnebacke of vehicle authenticity specialists OneIdentity+ said: “With the increasing networking of entire vehicles or individual components, the originality of the involved sender/receiver is of elementary importance. In addition to ‘classic’ mechanical defects, there is the risk of faulty sensor technology and IT.

“Trust in the supply chain, and thus in the dealer and workshop, is vital. The members of the Manufacturers Against Product Piracy (MAPP) initiative, well-known, trusted suppliers such as Bosch, Continental or Schaeffler, offer easily verifiable MAPP codes on their products and/or packaging. A real aid against counterfeiting.”

Knowingly purchasing fake car parts is a fool’s game, but unwittingly buying counterfeit goods could be an expensive mistake. Do your homework, and if it seems too good to be true, it most probably is.

Does your car deserve a dehumidifier this winter?

A dehumidifier for use in a garage

As summer ends, many motorists will consider putting their car into hibernation for the winter. Which is where a dehumidifier comes in.

Used correctly, a dehumidifier will minimise the effects of rust, stop mildew growing on seats and prevent carpets and cardboard boxes from going soggy.

If you’re storing a car, motorcycle, machinery or tools in a garage, you probably need a dehumidifier. But how do you choose the right one?

For unheated garages, a desiccant system is preferable to a compressor unit as they operate at lower temperatures. They also tend to be lighter, which could be a factor if you intend to move the dehumidifier.

Crucially, from a classic car perspective, desiccant dehumidifiers have the ability to reduce the relative humidity to 40 percent or lower – below the rusting point of metal.

A basic compressor unit will be ineffective at temperatures below 15ºC. 

DehumidifiersUK recommends buying a unit with auto restart, which means the dehumidifier will restart after a power cut, rather than going into standby mode. Meanwhile, a unit with continuous drain-off means you have the option to feed a hose into a sink, drain point or separate holding tank.

How to get the best from a dehumidifier

Using a dehumidifier

Manufacturer Meaco has the following advice for motorists storing a car in a garage:

  • Place the dehumidifier on a level surface
  • Drain the water using a hose, preferably into a sink, to avoid the unit going into standby mode when the tank is full
  • Use as little hose as possible as too much will create a negative air pressure
  • Don’t use a plug-in timer, as desiccant dehumidifiers have a cool-down facility to prolong the life of the unit
  • Seal the garage the best you can
  • Leave the doors of the vehicle open so that damp air can migrate to the dehumidifier
  • Cleaning the filter will increase the lifespan of the dehumidifier and maintain efficiency

A quick look on the Meaco website reveals desiccant units are available from £170. Cheaper than repairing a rusty vehicle or replacing damp carpets in the spring.

London Car Free Day: how to reduce your emissions

London Car Free day reduce emissions

London’s Car Free Day is coming this Sunday (22 September) but only on 12 miles of road. What can you do, if you’re outside that zone, to reduce your car’s emissions?

Road transport is responsible for 30 percent of particulate emissions in Europe. In London alone, emissions related directly to cars, buses and lorries contribute to 9,000 premature deaths a year.

CO2 emissions

“With London’s Car Free Day approaching, it’s important to recognise the harmful effects our vehicles have on the environment, especially in congested metropolitan areas like London,” said Candace Gerlach of Green Flag.

“Green Flag is dedicated to helping drivers understand this impact by sharing advice on how we can be more environmentally conscious when travelling, especially in congested cities which suffer from increased air pollution.”

The breakdown cover provider has come up with a few clean-driving tips, and we’ve added some of our own. They could save you money, as well as help save the planet.

1. Plan your trip

Reducing emissions on Clean Air Day

Reducing polluting short trips is a big help when it comes to emissions. A warm engine is a cleaner engine, and it can’t get warm if it doesn’t get the chance. Get everything done on one drive, rather than scattering lots of short trips separately.

Do research ready for a trip – have your target parking space ready, to avoid circling around looking for a free spot. Plan when you’re going to leave, too. Avoid the polluting traffic, rather than becoming part of it.

2. Check your tyre pressures

Reducing emissions on Clean Air Day

According to Michelin, a tyre under-inflated by 20 percent can give 20 percent less fuel mileage. Over the course of 25,000 miles, that’s the equivalent of losing 5,000 miles in fuel. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

In short, low tyre pressures increase fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, so you should check your rubber at least once a month. Typically, a tyre will lose around 1 psi of pressure a month, but air might also be lost via a slow puncture, a leaking valve or old wheels.

3. Keep your car well-maintained

Reducing emissions on Clean Air Day

A happy car is a healthy car, and other such cliches. But the fact remains: a well-maintained vehicle will perform better, use less fuel and be better for the environment. Oil is the lifeblood of your car, lubricating the engine, keeping it cool and preventing wear. It should be changed at regular intervals to maintain maximum efficiency.

Similarly, changing the oil, air and fuel filters is essential for a smooth-running vehicle, so check your handbook for the recommended service intervals. Deterioration is gradual, so don’t leave it too long before visiting a garage.

4. Smooth driving

Reducing emissions on Clean Air Day

How and what we drive has a significant bearing on efficiency. While changing your driving style won’t convince the tax man that you deserve a rebate, it will extend the time between fuel stops and will save you money.

The key is smoothness: accelerate steadily, don’t come straight off the power and immediately apply the brakes when slowing down. Look ahead and anticipate: coast, engine brake and so on. It’s a good feeling – saving you money on fuel and braking components.

5. Turn off the air-conditioning

Reducing emissions on Clean Air Day

We know of a few people who have spent a hot lunchtime in their air-conditioned car, as it was cooler than in the office. But the fact remains, the air-con system makes the engine work harder, increasing fuel usage and CO2 emissions. That’s not to say that opening the windows is the answer, as this can create drag, negating any benefits associated with keeping the air-con switched off.

As a rule of thumb, opening the windows is probably the best option for urban driving, switching to air-con for A-roads and motorways.

6. Reduce idling time

Reducing emissions on Clean Air Day

Many modern vehicles are fitted with a stop-start system, which automatically shuts down the engine when idling at traffic lights or queuing in traffic. Make sure it is switched on to maintain efficiency.

If your car isn’t fitted with a stop-start system, you should turn it off if you’re likely to be waiting for longer than 10 seconds. Equally, don’t leave your car idling on the driveway before you set off.

7. Maintain your car’s aerodynamics

Reducing emissions on Clean Air Day

Car manufacturers invest millions and spend weeks in the wind tunnel perfecting your vehicle’s aerodynamics, only for you to ruin things with a roof rack. Sure, you might need it to carry that extra luggage on your summer hols, but be sure to remove it when it’s not in use.

An empty roof rack can increase fuel consumption by as much as 10 percent, and there’s also the issue of added weight to think about. The advice is simple: if you’re not using it, remove it.

8. Remove any unnecessary weight

Reducing emissions on Clean Air Day

Open the boot and you might be surprised at how much clutter you’ve been lugging around. Foldaway furniture from the summer of 2016, Christmas crackers from 2011, the gym equipment you never actually used…

Even the most innocuous of old tat can add up to a significant heft – and you’re paying to lug it around. Reduce weight, use less fuel – it’s as simple as that.

9. Buy the right car

Reducing emissions on Clean Air Day

When all of the above isn’t enough, it’s time for a change. This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how much we confuse our needs with our desires. The shift to EVs is underway, with many people beginning to realise how comfortably electric cars can fit into our everyday lives, especially if your commutes and regular journeys are short.

Alternatively, a hybrid or plug-in hybrid could deliver substantially reduced CO2 emissions, as could swapping your old banger for something a little more modern. Every drop in emissions works towards the greater good.

10. Carbon offsetting

Reducing emissions on Clean Air Day

Got all of that? Good. This one will almost certainly not save or earn you any money, but it should ease your conscience.

What do cars belch out? Carbon dioxide (CO2). And what do trees, bushes, flowers and grass consume? CO2.

The noble act of carbon offsetting is easily achievable. It can be as simple as keeping a potted plant or maintaining a lawn, or as grand as a tree planting expedition. Either way, you’re nurturing greenery – the stuff that almost literally eats the stuff you’ve been pumping into the atmosphere since you first fired up a car. It sounds far-fetched, but a lot of people making a little effort can go a long way.

How to buy the right tyres for your car

How to buy the right tyres for your car

Tyres are the most important part of your car when it comes to safety. They’re the only bit of the car that actually touches the road, so every input you make – acceleration, steering, braking or otherwise – goes through them. 

The contact patch is smaller than you’d think, too – about the size of your computer keyboard across all four tyres.

There’s a reason all racing drivers are obsessed with tyres, then – and they’re just as important for road driving. Read our five-minute guide to make sure you choose the right tyres and stay safe.

Are premium brands better?

How to buy the right tyres for your car

Never has the mantra ‘you get what you pay for’ been more true than with tyres. They’re one of the few products where you really are better off plumping for a premium brand.

In a recent back-to-back test by Fifth Gear’s Jonny Smith, the dramatic differences between the name-brand and budget tyres was made apparent. Comparing two identical Mercedes-AMG C63 cars, the car with ‘premium’ Continental rubber performed much better in handling, braking and agility tests.

“Many people want to know why premium tyres are preferable to budget brands,” said Smith.

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“With tyres the only part of your car in direct contact with the road, it makes sense to ensure they’re the best quality possible.”

It’s not all about the high-performance stuff, though. Some tyres won’t be the right fit for your car. The track-focused Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R is perhaps not the choice for a Toyota Prius, for instance. Likewise, an eco set from a well-regarded brand won’t carry a McLaren Senna to a blistering lap time.

In direct comparisons using the tyre energy label, however, it’s still name brands that do best. A good mid-range tyre that performs well across fuel economy, wet weather and noise should suit most needs.

Tyre energy labels: explained

How to buy the right tyres for your car

Speaking of the tyre energy label, what is it? Briefly, it’s a good way of comparing tyre performance – and performance per pound. 

Every tyre sold since 2012 comes with an energy label, much like you find on fridges and other white goods. This allows you to compare products at a glance, with simple graphics showing how they compare for fuel economy, wet-road grip and noise.

Fuel economy

This is based on a tyre’s rolling resistance – i.e. how much friction it generates with the road. Measurements are taken on a calibrated test rig: the lower the rolling resistance, the better the fuel economy. The most efficient rubber earns an ‘A’, while the least efficient are rated ‘G’.

Wet-road grip

Good grip is most important when the roads are wet, so this rating is based on wet-braking performance in a straight line. Experts say an A-rated tyre can stop in 30 percent less distance than a G-rated one. That’s potentially the difference between a near-miss and a dangerous crash.

Noise

Anyone who regularly drives the concrete section of the M25 will know just how noisy tyres can be. This final infographic puts the tyre into one of three categories, based on the noise it emits in decibels – measured from outside the car – when cruising at a steady speed. One black bar means a quiet tyre, while three bars is noisier – albeit still within legal limits.

Do I need certain tyres in certain weather conditions?

How to buy the right tyres for your car

The effects of the right rubber in the right conditions are immeasurable. Many experts believe that a two-wheel-drive car with winters will fare better than four-wheel-drive SUV with standard tyres. It doesn’t matter which wheels are driven if their drive isn’t put to the ground effectively. 

Winter tyres offer much-improved grip on snow and ice – and indeed on dry roads if the temperature is below 7deg C. Winter tyres are even mandatory during the colder months in some European countries. Just as slick rubber will dramatically increase performance on a dry track, so too will a winter tyre boost grip in colder, slushier conditions.

There is also rubber suited to all types of conditions. ‘All-season’ doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll only work in a blizzard…

We’ve had good experiences with the Michelin Pilot Sport 3, Uniroyal Rainsport 3 and Falken Azenis FK510 as strong performers in wet and dry conditions on the road.

Are your car tyres safe?

MOT advisories

The law says you must replace a tyre once the tread-depth drops below 1.6mm across three quarters of its surface. An easy test is to place a 20p piece in the groove of the tyre. If the outer band of the coin is hidden, your tyre is legal. 

However, bear in mind that a new tyre has a tread-depth of around 8mm, so grip will be reduced – particularly in the wet – well before it reaches the legal limit. Consumer group Which? recommends replacing your tyres when tread depth reaches 2-3mm.

You should also check tyre pressures regularly. Over-inflated rubber could increase your risk of skidding or having a blowout, while too little pressure will increase fuel consumption and have a detrimental effect on handling. In both instances, your tyres will wear at an excessive rate, too. The correct pressures for your car will be listed in the handbook. Alternatively, use the Tyre Pressure Checker tool on the TyreSafe website.

Regularly check for flat spots, bulges, cracking and rubber degradation. A sun-dried tyre can be just as dangerous as insufficient tread. Also check they’re are still in-date. Yes, tyres have a use-by date.

Part-worn tyres: should you take the risk?

How to buy the right tyres for your car

On the subject of safety, part-worn tyres are often a false economy. If you’re paying two-thirds of the cost of a new set for tyres with 4mm of tread left, you’re paying more than half the price for half the product. 

Recent research has also indicated that as many as 90 percent of part-worn rubber in the UK aren’t safe for sale.

It isn’t illegal to sell part-worn tyres. Talk of a ban is in the air, however. If you really must, check for the usual factors: tread depth, pressure, flat spots, bulges, degrading rubber and damage. Also check the date on the tyre.

Tyre sizes: explained

How to buy the right rubber for your car

Tyres come in a wide range of different sizes. Check your car handbook, or read the markings on the outer sidewall to see what size your replacement tyre should be.

For example, a typical tyre size is 195/50 R15H. Breaking this down gives you:

  • 195 – tyre width in mm
  • 50 – tyre sidewall profile, as a percentage of tyre width
  • R – stands for ‘Radial’. All modern tyres are radial-ply
  • 15 – diameter of the wheel rim in inches
  • H – speed rating (see below)

Regardless of the national speed limit being 70mph, you must fit tyres rated for the maximum speed of your car. Speed ratings are marked with letters and range from N (88mph) to ZR (over 149mph). You’ll find a full list of speed ratings on the TyreSafe website.

How to save money on tyres

How to buy the right tyres for your car

We really can’t say it enough – don’t scrimp on rubber. They are the most safety-critical part of your car, so buy the best you can. And there are ways you can avoid paying over the odds for good quality rubber.

If you need a tyre at short notice, the cheapest option will probably be an independent tyre fitter, rather than a franchised car dealer. Make a few phone calls to compare prices and ensure the fee you are quoted includes new valves, fitting and balancing. Remember, you can haggle.

If you have more time, buying online will almost certainly prove cheaper – and you may be able to have the them fitted at your home or office. Again, it pays to shop around as there are plenty of retailers competing for your business. Popular websites include Asda Tyres, Black Circles, MyTyres and Tyre Shopper.

What does that car dashboard warning light mean?

Our guide to dashboard warning lights

As a driver, you get a front-row seat to what goes wrong with your car via the warning lights on the dashboard.

A diagnostic tool or a robust familiarity with your car’s owners’ book might be required to know exactly what they mean. Some lights are more or less universal. Here, we have a general guide as to what warning lights could mean in your car.

First of all, colours. lights can generally be split into three categories. Red usually means ‘bad’ problems, orange for advice and blue and green for everything else. Generally speaking, whether it’s a solitary light, or your dash is lit up like a cul-de-sac at Christmas, you should address the issue swiftly.

We’ll deal with the red issues first and quickly, as you should when you see them…

Battery

Car dashboard warning lights: everything you need to know

A red warning light in the shape of a square car battery showing positive and negative terminals indicates an issue with charging the battery. This could be a problem with the battery itself, or the alternator or alternator belt.

Brake

Brake

A brake warning light could be triggered by something as simple as the handbrake being on. If it doesn’t turn off when you disengage the handbrake, check the brake fluid level or get a professional to look into it.

Low oil pressure

Low oil pressure

A light which looks like an oil can signifies low oil pressure. You should not drive with this light illuminated as it could cause damage to the engine. Turn the engine off and check the oil level – it may need topping up. Seek assistance if the light remains lit.

Seat belt

Seat belt

A light showing a person sitting with a seat belt across their chest is warning you that someone in the car is not wearing their seat belt. If you don’t wear a seat belt and you haven’t got a valid reason why, you could be hit with a £100 on-the-spot fine. The driver is also responsible for any children aged 14 or under not wearing their seat belt.

Coolant temperature

Coolant temperature

Although you should keep an eye on your car’s temperature gauge to identify any issues with its cooling system, some cars have a temperature warning light for when it gets hot. This looks like a thermometer with wavy lines. Like the oil pressure warning light, you should stop and turn off the car’s engine to prevent further damage.

Washer fluid

Washer fluid

We’re now moving onto orange or yellow lights, which signify advice rather than urgent issues. A shortage of washer fluid can trigger a warning light on some cars. Simply top up the washer fluid reservoir to turn the light off.

Traction control

Traction control

Occasionally you might see this light appear for a brief moment while driving. Most likely to appear in slippery or wet conditions, the traction or stability control light means the car is having to brake a wheel or cut power to prevent wheelspin. Driving more cautiously with the conditions in mind will prevent it appearing again.

ABS

ABS

The ABS light is likely to come on during hard braking. This is when the anti-lock braking system is triggered. Essentially, during heavy braking the system will modulate the brakes to prevent the wheels locking up and causing a skid. Like traction control, if this kicks in while driving, adapt your driving to prevent it.

Engine management

Engine management

The engine management or ‘check engine’ light could mean a wide range of things from an open fuel filler cap to a serious engine problem. You’ll need to plug a diagnostics reader into your car to establish exactly what the issue is.

Lane assist

Lane assist

If your car is fitted with lane assist to nudge you back into lane if your car starts to drift on the motorway, a light might display to show it’s enabled.

Cruise control

Cruise control

If your car is fitted with cruise control, a light showing a car’s speedo with an arrow pointing at it might display when the system is turned on.

Glow plugs

Glow plugs

If you drive a diesel car, a glow plug light might display when you’re first turning it on. This means the glow plugs are warming up and the ignition shouldn’t be turned on until the light goes out. If the light flashes, it suggests a problem with the glow plugs.

Bulb failure

Bulb failure

Some cars will display a warning light when they detect a failed bulb in one of the car’s lights. Replace the bulb to extinguish the light.

Airbag

Airbag

A light showing a person with a circle in front of them suggests there’s a fault with one of the car’s airbags. Investigate it as soon as convenient.

DPF

DPF

If you drive a modern diesel car, it might display a DPF light when the diesel particulate filter becomes blocked. This is most likely to happen if you do lots of short journeys at low speeds. Allow it to regenerate by driving on a long motorway journey.

Indicators

Indicators

When you turn your indicators or hazard lights on, left or right arrows will display on the dash to show which way you’re indicating.

Main beam

Main beam

When you’ve got main beam engaged for driving in the dark, a blue light like the one in the picture above will display on your dash. You should make sure you dip your headlights when there are other cars about to prevent oncoming drivers being blinded.

Fog lights

Fog lights

A curved ‘D’ shape next to wavy lines will indicate that your front or rear fog lights are turned on. These should only be used when visibility drops below 100 metres.

Stop/start

Stop/start

An exclamation mark below a curved arrow relates to the car’s stop/start system. Depending on the car it could mean that the system is turned on, allowing the engine to turn off when the car’s stopped to save fuel, or turned off. It could also mean there’s an issue with it – consult your owner’s manual.

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How to slice your monthly fuel costs

How to slice your monthly fuel cost

Where do you fill up?

The cost of fuel varies greatly depending on where you buy and who you’re buying from. Paying 123p per litre of petrol instead of 129p equates to 30p per gallon. 

If your car manages 40mpg and you do 800 miles a month, that’s £6 back in your pocket just by being picky about where you buy fuel.

We have an extensive guide and regularly updated guide to finding fuel at the right price.

How do you drive?

How to slice your monthly fuel cost

How you drive is the main factor in much fuel you use. Here’s how changing your behaviour can save you money.

  • Speed

The easiest way to stop burning so much fuel is to slow down. A few miles per hour here and there can make a difference. Speed limits save your wallet as well as your licence.

Figures from the Department for Transport suggest that driving at a steady 50mph instead of 70mph can improve fuel economy by as much as 25 percent. You’ll use around 10 percent more fuel at 80mph than you will at 70mph, too. 

  • Engine revs

Don’t over-rev, either. Generally speaking, you’ll be able to feel in the rev range where your engine is most comfortable. 

The Department for Transport recommends changing up a gear before the rev counter reaches 2,000rpm in a diesel car and 2,500rpm in a petrol. Read the road ahead to ensure you’re not in too high a gear for hills and roundabouts.

Stay safe driving in Europe

  • Smoothness and preparation

By accelerating and decelerating in a smooth and relaxed manner, you can expect to save around 20 percent in fuel. Figures suggest that non-aggressive driving and anticipating the road ahead could see this rise to as much as 30 percent.

Anticipate where stops are coming and let off the throttle to coast down. Last-minute hard braking is a serious waste of energy, unless you’re driving a hybrid. Even then, there are precious yards of distance you were still using fuel where you could have been coasting. 

Keep acceleration smooth, too. How close your right foot is to the floor directly relates to how much fuel is being pumped into the engine.

How to slice your monthly petrol and diesel costs

  •  Fuel-burning features

Turning off air conditioning will improve your fuel economy, but opening windows on the motorway could decrease it. As a guide, keep windows shut at speeds in excess of 60mph. In general, air conditioning will have the greatest impact on your economy at lower speeds, especially during city driving.

Remember, air conditioning can also help de-mist a car, so using it is preferable to leaving the car idling while you wait for windows to clear.

  • Plan your journey

When you drive and which route you take can have as much of an effect on fuel consumption as how you drive. Avoid busy periods, plan shorter or less congested routes. Not only is driving on a clear road a joy, it’s also nice and efficient.

Apps like Waze and Google Maps can help with establishing the best route. And while we’re talking about planning, let’s circle back to ‘Where do you fill up?’ quickly. Whatever you do, don’t fill up at a motorway services. All this is for nothing if you wind up paying 10p a litre over the odds. Start with a cheap full tank and know where your fuel stops will be.

Do you look after your car?

How to slice your monthly fuel cost

Look after your car and it’ll look after your wallet, both in terms of maintenance and fuel costs.

  • Servicing

An engine is only efficient if looked-after. Sticking to service intervals and making sure your fluids are at the correct levels is essential for getting the best performance and economy. A well-maintained car will also last longer.

Consult your handbook to find out when your car is next due a service.

  • Tyres

The tyres are the only bit of the car that touches the road, so they’re important to keep an eye on. Too little tread is dangerous, while too little air is dangerous and expensive.

Research by Continental suggests that tyres account for 20 percent of a car’s total fuel consumption, so it pays to take care of your rubber. Reduce rolling resistance by 10 percent and you can expect a 1.6 percent drop in fuel consumption. 

Make sure you’re car is tracking straight, too, as incorrect alignment can cause unnecessary drag and wear on the tyres.11

How to slice your monthly fuel cost

  • Unnecessary weight

The more your car has to carry, the harder it has to work, which in turn leads to reduced fuel efficiency. While forcing the kids to get a gym membership might be a bit excessive, it’s worth ridding your boot of excess luggage.

The RAC says that, on average, every 50kg you carry will increase your fuel consumption by two percent. That’s based on the percentage of extra weight relative to the vehicle’s weight, so the smaller the car, the greater the effect.

  • Remove the roof rack

Anything that reduces your car’s aerodynamic performance will have a negative impact on fuel consumption. More figures from the RAC suggest that even an empty roof rack can increase fuel consumption by 10 percent.

Add the additional weight of a fully-loaded roof rack and the net result could seriously hamper your chances of saving money. If it’s not being used – remove it. And that includes the roof bars, too.

Air con

Why you may find water under your car in hot weather

Parked car in summerWith the summer weather now turning into a heatwave, some motorists may be alarmed to find pools of water beneath their cars – sometimes with drips still falling from the engine bay.

But don’t worry. Chances are, it doesn’t mean the radiator has sprung a leak and the car is about to overheat. You can take your head out of your hands.

More advice on Motoring Research

Rather, it’s most likely to be water dripping from the air conditioning system – and there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.

It is caused by the air conditioning compressor working hard in hot weather: due to thermodynamics, the unit itself can freeze over as it takes moisture out of the car.

Air con

When the car is parked and the air con unit deactivated, the ice on its surface melts: this is what causes the puddle under the car (and the hotter the weather, the bigger and more alarming-looking the puddle may be…).

RAC spokesman Pete Williams revealed the motoring organisation had received lots of calls from drivers worried by pools of water under their cars.

“The advice is to check whether this is simply odourless water of if it has coolant in and a clear smell and colour.

If it’s is the former, then there should be no need to worry.”

Hopefully, that’s panic over. Meaning it’s only the sunshine that will leave you hot under the collar during this heatwave. 

JD Power servicing satisfaction

JD Power: the UK’s most satisfying car brands

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Every year, JD Power publishes its Customer Service Index Study, which asks drivers about their experiences with dealers during the first three years of car ownership. Each brand is given a rating out of 1,000 for overall satisfaction. Join us as we count down all 24 carmakers in the 2018 survey – from worst to best – and reveal their scores.

24. Citroen: 764

JD Power servicing satisfaction

The study measures customer satisfaction with service experience at a franchised dealer facility for maintenance and repair work. JD Power uses five measures, listed in order of importance: service quality, service initiation, service advisor, vehicle pick-up and service facility. You won’t be surprised to find a French manufacturer propping up the table.

=22. Renault: 766

JD Power servicing satisfaction

And, predictably, there’s another French brand in the number 23 slot. JD Power spoke to 7,899 motorists who registered their new vehicle between February 2015 and April 2017. Sorry, Renault, but this is one to file under ‘could do better’.

=22. Nissan: 766

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Not that Nissan can rest on its (Datsun) laurels. The Qashqai might be Britain’s best-loved crossover, but Nissan owners have failed to connect with the dealers. Swipe left if you agree with the JD Power study.

21. Ford: 767

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Josh Halliburton, vice president and head of European operations at JD Power, said: “These results illustrate the importance of developing passionate advocates, not only for the product but also for the dealership itself, when trying to attract younger people as new customers,” This is a reference to the fact that young customers are less likely than older customers to be loyal to a dealer.

20. Skoda: 771

JD Power servicing satisfaction

This might come as a surprise, not least because Skoda prides itself on delivering good customer satisfaction. It will need to up its game if it wants to attract – and retain – new customers to its expanding range of crossovers and SUVs.

19. Peugeot: 774

JD Power servicing satisfaction

If there’s one crumb of comfort for Peugeot, it’s the fact that it’s the highest ranked French manufacturer. According to JD Power, vehicle pick-up satisfaction is 15 points higher among customers who handled payments with their customer service advisor than among those who dealt with a cashier.

18. Seat: 777

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Next up is Seat, which scores six points more than its Volkswagen Group sibling, Skoda. Czech, mate.

17. Volkswagen: 779

JD Power servicing satisfaction

The industry average for volume manufacturers is 779, which must leave Volkswagen feeling decidedly average. Vanilla. Mediocre. Straight down the middle. Par for the course.

=15. Mazda: 780

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Back in 2016, we were surprised to find Mazda at the foot of the table. While finishing 15th suggests there’s still work to be done, the Japanese company will be delighted to have escaped the relegation dogfight. It’s not time to call in Sam Allardyce just yet.

=15. Hyundai: 780

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Tied with Mazda is Hyundai, which offers a range of great value cars and a comprehensive five-year, unlimited mileage warranty. The new i30 N hot hatch is proof that it’s not afraid to let its hair down once in a while.

14. Toyota: 784

JD Power servicing satisfaction

The same can be said of Toyota, which has gone bonkers with the crazy Yaris GRMN. A 14th place finish is surprising, as the Japanese giant tends to finish closer to the top in satisfaction surveys.

13. Fiat: 785

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Fiat is so pleased with its 13th place finish, it has issued a press release. Sebastiano Fedrigo, MOPAR service, parts and customer care director at FCA said: “We have made a considerable investment in training, genuine parts distribution and new aftersales programmes which has helped Fiat to improve customer satisfaction. We are supporting our network with more efficient parts delivery service to increase availability of Mopar genuine parts, which will not only reduce off-the-road time but also increase the longevity and value of our customer’s cars.”

=11. Vauxhall: 786

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Vauxhall hasn’t issued a press release to celebrate finishing joint 11th, but the people of Luton will be glowing with pride once they discover the name of the other brand to score 786 points.

=11. BMW: 786

JD Power servicing satisfaction

That’s right, Vauxhall dealers are on a par with BMW dealers when it comes to customer satisfaction. You’re unlikely to see a press release from Bavaria, not least because this puts BMW at the bottom of the premium brand table.

10. Suzuki: 791

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Suzuki finishes 10th overall and fifth on the list of volume manufacturers. We rather like Suzuki’s range of value-driven cars, and it would appear that you are a fan of its dealers.

=7. Dacia: 792

JD Power servicing satisfaction

In a victory for rational common sense and fit-for-purpose motoring, Dacia finishes seventh overall and fourth on the list of volume brands. The budget brand has just released the prices of the all-new Duster, which start at £9,995.

=7. Jaguar: 792

JD Power servicing satisfaction

There’s a three-way tie for seventh, with Jaguar joining Dacia on 792 points. The big news this summer is the arrival of the I-Pace electric car. Our verdict: “Jaguar has delivered the car all the others now have to beat. And it’s set an impressively high bar to battle over. Such is the all-round ability of the Jaguar I-Pace; prepare to start seeing a lot of them out and about, and rightly so.”

=7. Audi: 792

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Audi is the third manufacturer to finish with 792 points, placing it below the premium brand average of 798. A decent score, but there are three volume manufacturers further up the table.

6. Mercedes-Benz: 805

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Mercedes-Benz finishes third on the list of premium brands and sixth overall. Stay tuned for our first drive review of the new A-Class (pictured).

=4. Kia: 808

JD Power servicing satisfaction

There are two manufacturers tied on 808 points, with Kia maintaining its reputation as the automotive equivalent of a teacher’s pet. With such excellent dealers and a seven-year warranty, it’s not hard to see why Kia owners are so satisfied.

=4. Volvo: 808

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Volvo is the brand that can do no wrong, scooping awards left, right and centre. A score of 808 points will put the Swedish brand in a state of happiness.

3. Honda: 815

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Hoorah for Honda, which ranks second on the list of volume manufacturers and third overall. If one vehicle could sum up ‘car reliability’, it would be the Honda Jazz.

2. Mini: 822

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Mini might take issue with JD Power’s decision to include it on the list of volume manufacturers, but it will be delighted with the overall result. Can you guess which manufacturer pipped it to the post?

1. Land Rover: 824

JD Power servicing satisfaction

Blimey, it’s Land Rover, which ranks highest among premium brands for a second consecutive year. Take a bow, Land Rover dealers, and feel free to take the rest of the day off. Just check with your manager, first.

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What the new MOT test changes mean for you and your car

What the new MOT test changes mean for you and your car

What the new MOT test changes mean for you and your car

The current MOT system is to be scrapped from May 2018 – with a new, more challenging test taking its place.

From 20 May, all cars being put forward for their annual test of roadworthiness will be examined under strict new rules. These will see faults graded depending on how dangerous they are, and greater emphasis placed on diesel car emissions.  

Currently, all cars on UK roads between three- and 40-years-old must be MOTed annually by an approved garage. Any major faults will result in a fail: these include things like tyres below the minimum tread depth, or CO2 emissions above a certain level.

Other faults, classed as ‘advisories’ include things like worn tyres (but not below the 1.6mm minimum tread depth) or rust that doesn’t affect the structural integrity of the vehicle. The idea is that car owners should consider fixing these issues – especially as they may get worse over time – but they don’t prevent the vehicle being roadworthy at the time of the test.

The new rules essentially rename ‘advisories’ as ‘minor faults’. They work in the same manner – issues that they owner needs to be aware of, but things the tester has no qualms over allowing the car’s owner to drive away with.

However, other faults will now be split between ‘dangerous’ and ‘major’ faults. The former will include things that make the car dangerous to drive away from the garage – even if it’s to be repaired or if the existing MOT is still valid. Major faults, meanwhile, will trigger an MOT fail but won’t be flagged up as dangerous.

What the new MOT test changes mean for you and your car

The changes, which are being brought in to meet a new EU directive, have attracted criticism from motoring organisation the RAC.

“While on the surface this change seems like a sensible move, we fear many motorists could end up being confused by the new categories which give an indication as to the seriousness of vehicle defects identified in an MOT test,” said RAC spokesman Simon Williams.

“Rather than MOT failures simply being black and white, the new system creates the potential for confusion as testers will have to make a judgement as to whether faults are ‘Dangerous’, ‘Major’ or ‘Minor’. This will surely be open to interpretation which may lead to greater inconsistency from one test centre to another.

“Motorists may also struggle to understand the difference between ‘Dangerous’ and ‘Major’ failures. The current system ensures that any vehicle with a fault that doesn’t meet the MOT requirements is repaired appropriately before being allowed back on the road.”

There will also be new rules for diesel cars which could make it more difficult to pass the MOT test. Vehicles emitting ‘visible smoke of any colour’ will be issued with a major fault and therefore an instant fail, while cars with diesel particulate filters that have been removed or tampered with will also fail. That’s unless the owner can prove that amendments have been made to clean the filter.

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