Chinese smog levels force government action on polluting vehicles

China has been cracking down on high-emission transport in an effort to lower the huge amount of smog evident in its major cities.

Subsequently, a vast number of scrapyards and recycling sites now contain thousands of completely abandoned buses, cars and trucks.  None of the vehicles in the scrapyards were able to meet even the most lenient of emissions standards.

Reports of Beijing having over 20 times the amount of air pollution considered healthy by the World Health Organisation led to the initiative: it’s believed that vehicle emissions accounted for almost a third (31.1 per cent) of toxic air in the capital at the time of reporting.

Hangzhou, one of the most picturesque cities in the country, registered 239 days of smog during 2013 – almost 90 days more than the annual average.  40 per cent of the city’s air pollution levels are currently due to vehicle emissions.

The Chinese government has been consistently pushing for ‘green’ upgrades to vehicles and has recently set new carbon-cutting targets.  All new transport vehicles will have to comply with National Standard IV fuels from January 2016.

The fuels should guarantee seven times fewer sulphur emissions than the country’s previous standard.  However, this fuel only represents three per cent of the current market due to a lack of availability, leaving many residents simply unable to upgrade.

There is currently one car for every two people in the city, with a fourfold increase in income taking place during the last 15 years.  The mayor recently introduced 2,500 green public transport vehicles, but the escalating middle class in Hangzhou continue to prefer travelling by private car.


Driverless cars could shave £265 off insurance premiums

According to the latest figures, car insurance costs may halve by as early as 2020 due to the increase in the number of driverless vehicles on British roads.

It’s estimated that annual premiums could be cut by up to £265 on average within the next five years, with the influx of driverless vehicles expected to ‘eliminate’ bad driving: still considered to be responsible for 90 per cent of road accidents.

Are things really moving that fast?

Yes.  According to the latest figures, the technology is developing so quickly that road accidents arising from human error could almost be eliminated in the next half-decade.  All new cars will drive and park automatically on the motorway, and communicate with other vehicles in order to avoid collisions.

John Leech, head of auto at consultancy, KPMG, said:

“Insurance could halve once vehicles which communicate with each other and an ‘autopilot mode’ when driving on the motorway are developed”.

During the last 12 months, insurance premiums have continued to decline, with fully comprehensive cover now costing an average of £530.

Accidents cost

Cover costs have nearly always been kept high due to ‘avoidable accidents’ accounting for the majority of pay outs, with whiplash claims and car parking disputes a good example.  Combined, these issues cost more than £3 billion a year and account for 94 per cent of insurance claims.  Hi-tech cars could completely eliminate this type of accident.

What does the future hold?

Driverless cars are already being tested on American roads, and it’s currently estimated that the first autonomous vehicles could be on British roads by as early as 2018 according to manufacturers such as Volvo, Tesla and Mercedes; all of whom are developing cars that can drive without the need for drivers to even touch the controls.

Why does this affect insurance?

With autonomous cars, the responsibility for injury or damage to the vehicle will be passed to the manufacturers.  Car crashes will become a matter of product liability rather than cover.

Will we have to wait the full five years to see the effects?

Though this change could take between three to five years to go through, it’s possible that insurance premiums will start to fall before then, with one-in-three of all new cars now using driverless technology in some form, with emergency braking systems a common example.

According to predictions from the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA), nine-in-10 new cars owned in the UK will be fitted with some form of smart technology within five years, and accident numbers are expected to fall sharply as a result.

Matthew Avery, safety researcher at vehicle rating firm Thatcham, said:

"Because of these technologies a lot of commentators are predicting an 80 per cent reduction in killed and seriously injured on our roads within 15 to 20 years which is great news."

By 2030, new automatic vehicles should prevent 90 per cent of cases where drivers are killed or seriously injured on the road, according to predictions from KPMG in a report published in March.

The emergency braking featured in many new vehicles can reduce accidents by as much as 45 per cent in the best systems, and insurers are already offering 10 per cent off premiums for cars that are fitted with the technology.

Will motorists still be responsible for paying anything?

Drivers will still be expected to pay for cover against theft and damage, both of which comprise of less than half of current premium costs.

According to Thatcham, it takes around 15 years for the entire fleet of British cars to change, but it’s expected that some cars will remain on the roads.  Classic cars are expected to remain popular, especially given that they can’t be retro-fitted with driverless technology.


Emissions fall for 17th consecutive year

The UK has again beaten CO2 emissions targets, with the average new car in the UK posting emissions of 4.2 per cent lower than the EU-wide target of 130g/km.

The new annual report from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has been published, and shows that carbon exhaust emissions in the UK have decreased for the 17th consecutive year and are now as low as they’ve ever been.

During 2014, new cars averaged only 124.6g/KM, improving on the previous year’s average by 2.9 per cent and 2007 levels by almost a quarter (24 per cent).

A great deal of improvement is down to the fleet sector, with the average levels of CO2 emissions falling 7 per cent just within the last year.  The fleet sector has made efforts to move to more efficient diesel and petrol engines, and the alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFV) market has also continued to grow.

Sales of plug-in vehicles increased fourfold during 2014, and saw the UK move to the front of the market in Europe, with no other country registering more plug-in vehicles during the year.

At the year’s end, 52,000 AFVs (alternative fuel vehicles) had been registered - a 58.1 per cent increase on the previous year.  The resulting impact on CO2 levels was substantial.

More than two-thirds of new cars registered either met or fell below the 130g/KM threshold.  When compared with the 2000 figure of 0.9 per cent, the increase is considerable. 

A strict EU-wide CO2 target of 95g/km by 2020 is still a concern and a second report from the Centre for Economics and Business (CEBR) explored the central challenges arising from the issue.  It recommends a moderate and fair approach to reform in order to avoid undermining future uptake of the latest technology.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “The UK automotive sector has made enormous strides in cutting emissions across the board and should be proud of its achievements.

“However, there is a long way to go, and meeting ambitious targets in 2020 will require ongoing support and investment.

“Striking the delicate balance between influencing buying behaviour, encouraging investment and maintaining critical tax income will be a big challenge.

“SMMT is committed to working with the next government to make the changes now that will help the industry meet the even greater cuts in CO2 demanded in the future.”

To view the latest SMMT report, click here.


Basic Car Maintenance: Changing a car horn

Your car horn is integral to keeping yourself and other road users safe at the wheel.  However, car horns can sometimes suffer from issues such as a lowered tone or simply the inability to sound at all.  If you’re able to replace your car horn yourself you’ll often save quite a bit of money.  Here’s our guide to taking the DIY approach.

Quiet car horn

  1. If the car horn is sounding at a low volume, then have a friend pop the hood and check it again.  If it’s overly quiet, the chances are that one of the horns (many cars actually have more than one) has stopped working and will need to be replaced.
  2. Locate the car horn, which is usually either behind the car’s grille or on the radiator core support.    The horn usually resembles a fuse, with wires coming off it.  You’ll need to remove the wire connector, which you can do by pressing down on the lower end of the connector and then pulling it out.
  3. Remove the mounting bolt and the spade jugs, which are attached to the wiring, and give them a good clean before re-attaching all of the components.
  4. Ask your helper to try the horn again.
  5. If this doesn’t help to recover the horn, then you’ll need to actually purchase a new horn and replace it.

Non-sounding horn

  1. The first thing to do is check your fuse box to check the specific fuse used to sound your horn (your operator’s manual will tell you which one it is). 
  2. Remove it using a pair of needle nosed pliers or tweezers.   If the metal strip inside the fuse is broken, then the fuse has failed and is no longer functional, so will need to be replaced. 
  3. Try the horn again – if it works, problem solved.
  4. If the issue isn’t the fuse, then check to see if the airbag light is illuminated on the dashboard.  Issues with the airbag can sometimes affect the horn, with the bag having expanded, and interfered with the clock spring.
  5. If the airbag light is on, then this is the one circumstance in which it’s best to take your car to a technician.  Replacing the airbag to stop it hindering the horn is a more complicated task.

Basic Car Maintenance: How to repair a leaking sunroof

If ever there was a maintenance problem to rain on your parade (so to speak) it’s a leaking sunroof.

There’s nothing worse than being stuck in the car in the midst of winter with freezing rain dripping onto your head!  Fortunately, a leaky sunroof is usually a fairly easy problem to fix.

Most of the time a leaky sunroof is simply a matter of a clogged up drain tube.  The result is that the water overflows inside the vehicle.  This is usually no more than a 20-minute repair.

Here’s our step-by-step guide to carrying out the repair yourself:

  1. Open up your sunroof and locate your drain holes: they’ll usually be found in both front corners.  (The tubes run through the door pillars and then drain through).
  2. DON’T start poking through the tubing using coat hangers or blast them with compressed air: doing so risks piercing the tubing, which could result in the whole tube having to be replaced.  Also, don’t disconnect it from the drain hole.
  3. The best way to remove any debris is with a traditional vacuum cleaner and a trap adapter: these can be fitted to the end of the metal part of the neck of the vacuum cleaner to send all the air through a smaller piece of tubing.
  4. Simply attach the adapter end of the tube to the drain hole and then turn on the vacuum cleaner: any debris should be sucked through. 

If the sunroof still doesn’t clear, then it’s probably a good idea to take the car to a specialist: at this level, you’re actually talking about bending and moving the metal to get a better fit, and that’s not really a DIY friendly task.