Government planning biggest road reform since 1935

The government is in the process of planning the biggest set of motoring reforms since the driving test was first introduced in 1935.

A number of major changes have been tabled as part of a new consultation document, including the closing of test centres, part-privatising the practical exam, increasing the age limit for licence renewal and higher fees for motoring services.

The driving test pass rate currently stands at just under 50 per cent, and it’s believed that improving the rate is one of the main targets for ministers.  Anecdotal evidence has suggested that learners are booking tests early in order to avoid having to wait for too long and are failing as a result.  Due to a shortage of examiners, the wait time hit eight weeks for the first time last year – well above the government’s six week target.

More flexible driving test slots, with an increase in evening and weekend appointments, have been offered as a solution.  The idea of examiners taking photos of the drivers as soon as they pass – in order to help speed up processing – has also been suggested.

Government officials believe that extra revenue could be raised by increasing non-essential services such as custom number plates, the costs of which were actually cut earlier this year but could be re-introduced.

Calls were made to raise the age for when a driver must declare themselves fit to drive from 70 to 80, as this would cut costs in administration, with the new report suggesting 75 as a potential new age. 

The official report, which was published in October will coincide with the 80th anniversary of the driving test, will form the basis of next year’s strategy on the future of the DVSA (Drive and Vehicle Standards Agency).

The Department for Transport (DfT) is already believed to be conducting trials into a new driving test where learners will be required to drive independently for 20 minutes whilst following a sat-nav.  It’s hoped that the new form of test will help drivers to prepare for the future of driverless cars.


UK write-offs worth £2 billion

According to new data from the Accident Exchange, the number of write-offs in the UK during the last twelve months has reached a substantial 257,000.  This amounts to more than £2 billion’s worth of materials.

The Exchange voiced the opinion that dealerships don’t currently provide adequate post-accident care when dealing with total write-offs, and often don’t take up the sales opportunity that a total loss represents.  Accident Exchange, meanwhile, try to get motorists back on the road ASAP, but many of their leads simply aren’t followed up on.

Winter is the most common time for write-offs, with November seeing more than in any other month. May, June and July, meanwhile, are the months with the fewest total losses.  Interestingly, new car owners are more susceptible to write-offs, with more than 2 per cent of vehicles written off being fewer than twelve months old.

According to the data, one in ten car crashes in the UK currently result in a write-off, with dealers most certainly missing out on car write-off sales opportunities.  Post-accident leads can provide better revenue for dealerships.

Accident Exchange also warned motorists of the importance of filling in section 9 of the V5C registration and sending it to the DVLA to notify them that the car has been written off.  The remainder of the V5C should then be sent to the insurance company.


New non-smoking law for drivers to be introduced

A new law is set to be introduced that will make it illegal to smoke in a vehicle carrying a person under the age of 18 from 1st October, with a fixed penalty charge of £50 for anyone breaking the law.

The Department of Health has recently started to step up publicity to increase awareness of the law, in order to avoid a surge in fines when it is introduced.

Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, said:

“Children breathe faster than adults so they are much more exposed to the dangers of second-hand smoke. Their airways, lungs and immune systems are still developing so are much more at risk from harm.

“We want children to grow up free from harm and we need parents to understand why smoking in vehicles is so dangerous. 80% of smoke is invisible so even if you think you are being careful you cannot see where the smoke is going.”

Government surveys suggest that around 3 million children are exposed to smoke in vehicles.

Exposure to toxins could result in diseases such as bronchitis, pneumonia, meningitis and cancer.

Fixed penalty notices are already in place for breaches of bans on smoking in public places, and it’s already illegal to smoke on work vehicles and in public transport.  However, the new health measures will remove uncertainty, and will represent a big extension in power for both police and staff working for local authorities.

Private cars – with the exception of convertibles and coupes with the roofs down and stowed, will now have to be smoke free if they carry anyone else but the driver.  Smoking in a car with an open sunroof will still render adults liable to fines if under-18s are in the car, though if the driver is 17 and alone in a private vehicle, they will not be fined.

Sitting in the open doorway of an enclosed vehicle will also be included, though e-cigarettes will only be included for motorhomes, campervans and caravans when they’re being used as vehicles, not as living spaces.


Which car parts need to be replaced the most often?

If you’re visiting our site, the chances are you know your cars!  However, we know we do attract some beginners too: beginners who want to learn more about the inside of the vehicles we all use every day.  So, first things first: which car parts are most likely to need replacing?  We’ve put together this list, in order of which parts are likely to need swapping first:

  • The Oil and the Oil Filter – typically, these need replacing every three to six months, or between every 3,000 and 5,000 miles.
  • Windscreen Wiper Blades – these usually need replacing every year or two (though they will sometimes wear out more quickly in hot climates, especially if the car sits outside a lot).
  • Air filters – these will usually wear out every three to four years, or every 30,000 to 50,000 miles.  The exception is if the vehicle is regularly driven down very dusty roads!
  • Brake pads – usually, brake pads will last for between 30,000 to 70,000 miles, or three to five years.  Again though, this can be drastically affected by variables like the type of vehicle, the type of brake linings (ceramic linings will last much longer than non-asbestos) as well as the type of driving you do.
  • Batteries – these will usually last between four to five years: mileage doesn’t typically impact battery life – they run out when they run out!
  • Headlight and rear light bulbs – these usually last five to seven years, depending on how much they’re used.  Conventional bulbs can also be impacted by lots of driving on rough, bumpy roads.
  • Tyres – usually, tyres will last for between five to seven years.  Though of course, this will be impacted by how much driving you actually do, as well as the wear rating on the tyres (the higher the wear rating, the longer the tyre should last).
  • Spark plugs – platinum and iridium plugs will normally last around 100,000 miles, or eight years.  Spark plugs will sometimes need replacing if they foul as a result of frequent short trip driving.
  • Belts – serpentine belts usually last around six years, or 75,000 miles.  The timing belt (if you have one) will last 100,000 miles or 8 years.
  • Brake callipers, wheel cylinders and master cylinders – these all last more than 100,000 miles typically, but will eventually succumb to internal corrosion.

Obviously, all of these figures aren’t guaranteed, but they should provide a reliable estimate.

Beyond this point, you’re looking at parts that are more major and will usually take more than 5 years of driving to start wearing.  They usually won’t be things that you can replace yourself.

Remember, you can find replacements for nearly all of these parts in the ASM online store.


How to change your serpentine belt

Because automatic belt tensioners are now standard in most cars, a serpentine belt (also known as a drive belt) is usually a DIY-friendly job.  (This definitely didn’t use to be the case – so double check if you’ve got an old or classic car!)

Follow these instructions, and you should be able to swap the belt around in around 15 minutes.

Check the tensioner arm first

It’s important to ensure that the tensioner itself is where it needs to be before you think about swapping the belt around: a good tensioner belt needs to exhibit a slight vibration of around 1/32 inches or less of movement, and the belt should be able to move smoothly, with no jerks or visible vibration.  If this isn’t the case, then the tensioner is bad, and will need to be replaced first.  (Not a DIY task – take it to a mechanic!).

Check the belt actually needs replacing

Typically, the earlier serpentine belts crack with use.  If you’ve got cracks in more than three adjacent ribs of the belt that are bigger than an inch or so – or, there are four or more cracks per inch on one of the ribs – then the belt will need replacing.  It will also need replacing if you notice any of the following:

  • Chunks missing from the ribs
  • Torn or frayed fabric
  • Glazing on the belt’s back
  • Debris trapped anywhere in the ribs

In the case of more recent belts, cracking is less common and you’re better off looking for wear.  Wear is harder to locate than cracking, but there are actually smartphone apps that can detect wear (PICguage by Gates is a good one) – or, you can use a gauge.  Measure the belt out and ensure everything’s level.

Get the right tools

It’s worth picking up proper serpentine belt tools.  The job can theoretically be done with standard tools, but we don’t recommend it.

A standard serpentine belt tool will come complete with an assortment of sockets, so you’ll always find a use for it: it’s worth the investment. 

So, let’s get going:

Make a note of the current decal of the belt – you’ll need to refer back to this when adding the new one.  If there isn’t a drawing already there, draw one yourself.

Remove the belt, using the serpentine hand belt tool to rotate the tensioner in order to remove tension from the belt.  It should then be easy to remove.  Slowly release the tensioner once the belt is off.

Using the belt placement tool, you can then route the new belt around the belt path you made a note of earlier.  The belt will usually need to go first around the crankshaft pulley, and then the grooved ones.  Finish the job by sliding the belt into a rounded, non-grooved, smooth roller.

Ensure that the belt is aligned with the pulleys, and that it follows the correct path.  Once this is the case, you can slowly release the tensioner.

This should now be ready to go!

Remember, you can always find new parts at the ASM online store.