George Osborne announces fuel duty freeze 

Chancellor George Osborne has announced that fuel duty is to remain frozen until at least the end of the current parliament in May 2015, with the next planned rise delayed until at least September, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

Some motoring groups had predicted an early return of the fuel duty escalator, the government’s system for increasing costs by the level of inflation plus 1p per litre.  Had the escalator returned it would have led to almost immediate increases, with the government looking to take advantage of the recent fall in oil prices.

However, Mr Osborne said that he was ‘freezing fuel duty to help hardworking people be more financially secure.’

‘Despite falling fuel prices let me make this clear; we’ve cut fuel duty and we will keep it frozen.’

Duty on unleaded petrol and diesel will remain at a cost of 57.95 pence per litre.  It’s remained at this price point since the government first scrapped the escalator and introduced a ‘fair fuel stabiliser’ in 2011.

When the stabiliser was introduced, the government stated that a fall in oil price below $75 per barrel for a sustained period would lead to the escalator being re-introduced.  Brent crude is currently trading at around $71 per barrel.

The OBR also announced that from April 2016 onwards, rate rises would stay in line with Retail Prices Index (RPI) inflation.  This will lead to receipts growth of 2.5 per cent on average between 2016-17 and 2019-20.

Chief engineer at RAC, David Bizley, said:

"The negative impact of fuel duty on economic growth is now acknowledged by the Treasury.

"We had feared an early return to the fuel duty escalator system - a deeply unpopular practice which led to a series of fuel duty hikes - but, for now, it appears that is not going to be the case."

Motorway signs

The Department for Transport (DfT) also announced it is set to trial fuel signs in motorway petrol stations early in 2015, the aim being to ensure that drivers can see the cheapest places to fill up, and to foster more competition between service stations.  There is currently no date set for the trial.

Transport minister Robert Goodwill said:

"For too long drivers have been ripped off by petrol prices on motorways."


£15bn to be invested in Britain’s roads

A new ‘roads revolution’ is set to take place in Britain, with £15bn to be invested in improving a number of key areas in the country’s motoring network.  100 road improvement schemes will be put in place, and an estimated 1,300 new miles of extra lanes to motorways and ‘A’ roads will be added.

The impact of the schemes will likely have a substantial impact on the UK in terms of jobs, with the following areas in particular benefitting:

  • North West.  600 new jobs across 9 new schemes at an estimated cost of £800m.
  • North East & Yorkshire.  1,500 jobs across 18 new schemes at an estimated cost of £2.3bn.
  • Midlands. 900 jobs across 17 new schemes at an estimated cost of £1.4bn.
  • East of England. 1,000 jobs across 15 new schemes at an estimated cost of £1.5bn.
  • South West. 1,300 jobs across 7 new schemes at an estimated cost of £2bn.
  • London & South East. 900 jobs across 18 new schemes at an estimated cost of £1.4bn.

Each area has a number of specific major schemes already planned, with costs and sizes varying substantially. Some of the major schemes include:

  • Improving links to the Port of Liverpool.
  • Completing the ‘smart’ lane currently partially in place on the M62 between Manchester and Leeds.
  • Completing the conversion of the A1 into a dual carriageway from London to Ellingham, 25 miles from the Scottish border.
  • Improving the M42 to the east of Birmingham.
  • Upgrading the east-west connection to Norfolk through converting sections of the A47 to a dual carriageway, and improving connections to both the A1 and the A11.
  • Making the entire and A303 and A358 to the South West dual carriageway, and installing a new tunnel at Stonehenge.
  • Making £350m worth of improvements to the A27 and improving one-third of the junctions on the M25.

Whilst announcing the plans, Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin said that roads were ‘key’ to British prosperity, and had suffered from under-investment for far too long.

"Today I am setting out the biggest, boldest and most far-reaching roads programme for decades. It will dramatically improve our road network and unlock Britain's economic potential," he said.

Chancellor George Osborne, meanwhile, said that the plan would transform some of the country’s most important strategic routes.  The focus in particular is on both tackling congestion and fixing some of Britain’s major ‘trouble spots’.

Reactions to the plan have been quite positive, with motoring groups in particular welcoming the news. RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said:

"This is not about concreting over the countryside with new roads but upgrading many existing routes which have been the source of misery to motorists for years if not decades.

"That the government is investing money along whole lengths of roads and not just a mile or two here and there is to be welcomed."

As well as the improvement of the road network, the document also outlined more detail on the plan to turn the Highways Agency into a government-owned company. The coalition claim that the move would mean funding could be allocated on a longer term basis, saving the taxpayer at least £2.6bn over the course of the next 10 years.

Richard Threlfall, head of infrastructure at consultants KPMG, said:

“We have heard about some of these road schemes before. The real news is the government is fundamentally changing the way we build roads in this country," he said.

"What the government is saying now is let’s have a really long-term plan. By making the Highways Agency a bit more arms-length from government it allows it to plan ahead and invest for the future. It should drive down the unit cost of road building in the future."


What to look for when buying wheel rims

Wheel rims are one of the most popular replacement car parts around: they’re a sure-fire way to make virtually any car look that little bit cooler. Aside from the aesthetics, they’re also a fairly common replacement through necessity.  This is our guide to the things you need to think about when purchasing new rims.

Know the jargon

There are a number of key terms nearly always used when wheel rims are under discussion.  Whatever reason you have for needing new ones, it’s in your best interest to understand them:

Bolt pattern.  Otherwise known as a lug pattern or bolt circle, this is the diameter of the circle formed by the wheel lugs, as seen on the exterior of the wheel rims.  This is comprised of two numbers.  The first is how many bolt holes are on the wheel, and the second describes the diameter. (For instance, 5x108 would indicate a 5 lug bolt patter within a 108mm diameter).

Hub centre bore.  This is the central hole that keeps the wheel centred on the hub of the car.

Torque.  Wheels are always installed using a torque wrench, and freshly installed wheels should always be re-torqued after the first 100km in order to ensure that everything remains tight. 

Offset.  This refers to the distance from the hub mounting surface of the wheel through to its centreline.  There are three types of offset: zero, positive and negative.  For zero offset, everything is even, positive offset means that the mounting surface is leaning towards the front or wheel side of the centreline. Negative offset means that the mounting surface leans toward the back or brake side of the centreline.


Wheel rims are available in two main types of metal: aluminium and steel.  (Those reflective chrome wheels are actually aluminium based). Aluminium wheels are shinier, but are more susceptible to scratches, dents and dirt.  Steel rims are strong, durable and easier to keep clean, but aren’t as shiny.  Choosing is simply a matter of preference!

Wheel rim sizes

A key to proper performance is ensuring that wheel rims fit perfectly.  Wheel rims that are too big reduce stability and proper suspension, creating poor steering control, whereas wheel rims that are too small don’t support a car well.  Customising a wheel rim to fit your car takes two forms:

Plus sizing. Plus sizing on a wheel rim increases the size of the inner line diameter, not the outer line.  This offset provides more stability and control to the steering of the tyres.

Inching up. Inching up refers to making the wheel rim larger in diameter whilst matching the tyre so the height remains the same overall. This provides better performance, traction and manoeuvrability.

Check the condition

As with all car parts, anyone investing in used car wheel rims should take the time to check for dents, scratches, tears and other signs of wear before handing their money over.  As ever, if you’re not sure how to replace the current part, then take the time to consult an expert: you don’t want your wheels to come rolling off whilst you’re driving on the M4.

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What to look for when buying a complete car engine

Engines are literally the heart of any vehicle: if something goes wrong with the engine, your car won’t be going anywhere until it’s fixed!  Engines – like most car parts – can be purchased second-hand, but as with all pre-owned parts, it’s important to keep an eye out for certain things.  This is our guide to what you need to know.

How many cylinders are there?

Each engine comes with an individual cylinder arrangement, into which there are a number of different parts.  You’ll find that these parts can often be purchased individually as well, which is ideal if the rest of the engine is actually fine.

  • Spark plug.  A traditional style engine that ignites a mix of air and fuel by giving off spark to allow combustion.
  • Engine valves.  These two valves work together, one taking in an air and fuel mixture whilst the other expels exhaust.
  • Piston.  A piece of metal with a cylindrical shape that moves upwards and downwards within the cylinder.
  • Piston rings. These seal off the area between the cylinder’s inner edge and the outer edge of the piston and prevent the leakage of fuel and air into the sump during the compression and combustion phases.
  • Connecting rod.  This allows the crankshaft to be connected to the piston; both ends may rotate to allow for full movement of both pistons.
  • Crankshaft. Changes upward and downward strokes of pistons into a circular pattern, allowing the pistons to perform their function.
  • Oil sump.  Otherwise known as the oil pan, this surrounds the crankshaft.

In order for the engine to work properly, all of the above features need to be working, so check with a specialist whether or not it’s a single part that’s the problem rather than the whole thing. 

Assuming it’s not, here are our tips on buying an engine whole:

Check the outer structure

One of the most valuable things you can do is to simply check whether or not there are any signs of wear and tear.  Check for any cracks in the exterior engine housing, and also in the individual parts.  It’s also important to ensure that all of the nuts and bolts are securely fastened, and that there are no leaks.

Check the individual parts

Some individual parts in particular will have some tell-tale signs that there’s a bit of long-term wear in the engine:

  • Check the oil dipstick for signs of rust, discoloured oil and oil foam.  This can signal that water or coolant may have entered the oil chamber.
  • Check the rockers located on the underside of the oil cap for contaminants.
  • Ensure that the spark plugs are clean and that there’s no rust build-up on the thermostat housing. 
  • The motor should spin freely when the crank pulley is spun at the same time.

If you can’t carry out a physical inspection

If you’re unable to actually check out the engine yourself, then definitely get in touch with the seller and ask for a full service history of the engine.  At the very least it’s important to ask whether any parts have recently been replaced, roughly how many miles the engine has driven and whether or not there have ever been any known issues.

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Dartford Crossing information released

Information regarding the new Dartford crossing has finally been released, informing drivers exactly what they need to do to stay within the new regulations. 

The Thames crossing is to have a new barrier payment system put in place known as Dart Charge, which will replace the current toll-booth payment process.  Originally, the details of the scheme were set to be announced in October.  However, the Highways Agency responsible delayed the release of the information.

The new scheme will now go live on 30th November.  The free flow tolling has been brought in to try and reduce overall congestion and ease traffic flow, with drivers no longer having to stop at the barriers.  Instead, motorists will be able to pay their fees in advance online, by phone, by post or at thousands of retail outlets around the UK.

However, there are concerns that awareness of the change isn’t high enough.  A survey sent out by the AA ahead of the new launch found that up to 85 per cent of those surveyed were unaware that the new system would require them to pay online or by phone.

This could cause millions of UK motorists get hit with fines.  It’s estimated that the crossing is currently used by 170,000 motorists every single day.

Fines for incorrect crossings will then rise to as high as £105, with cameras snapping the car number plats in both the two northbound tunnels and over the southbound bridge.  If drivers fail to pay the fines by midnight on the same day that they use the crossing, they will automatically be fined £35, which will increase to £70 within 14 days.

A spokesperson for the Highways Agency said that they were hoping for full compliance, but did estimate that around seven per cent of drivers would probably be fined overall, amounting to 3.5 million people or so. 

The spokesperson also said that it had been running an activity since April in order to inform motorists of the new changes, and that 50,000 people had already signed up to the emails.

The new charges will be as follows:

  • Cars £2.50
  • 2 axle goods £3.00
  • Multi-axle goods £6.00

The crossing will continue to be free between 10pm and 6am, with the last toll booth payment being taken on 29th November.

There are a number of different ways in which you can pay:

  • Online using the government gateway at
  • By calling the government hotline at 0300 300 0120
  • Via using a Payzone retail outlet
  • By post (but only in advance), with payment sent to Dart Charge Customer Service PO BOX 842 Leeds LS1 9QF

The highways agency are also planned to carry out some work on the Kent Marshalling Area (the KMA) – the holding area in which abnormal loads or vehicles carrying dangerous goods are checked before making the crossing.