I nearly wrote my car off today

Because I spent the first 24 years of my life near Toronto, Canada, I have seen my fair share of winter driving, occasionally in some pretty extreme conditions. So it was to my surprise today to find myself in the middle of the most terrifying winter driving experience I’ve ever had, in the North of England, with only a couple of inches of snow on the ground.

Wandering into the North Yorkshire Moors for a lazy morning of recreational motoring, I found myself on a rather narrow, snow-covered road. The road had a few hills, but was relatively flat, and I was having no trouble with traction in the E39. Following the map, I could see that I was about to rejoin a proper two-lane B-road, so decided to press on. What I wasn’t expecting was for the last half mile of the road to feature a 15-20% downhill grade. Or that it would be covered in a sheet of ice.

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Why learning to maintain your car makes sense

Here I am pouring oil into the engine of my BMW.

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I do this a lot. Well, not oil changes specifically, but maintenance on my cars. If you’re like me and prefer to buy inexpensive cars, learning to do your own maintenance and repairs is key. If you rely on your local garage to do everything, you soon find yourself spending quantities of money that come perilously close to what you paid for the car in the first place. As I’ve written over on Not2Grand: Continue reading “Why learning to maintain your car makes sense”

Life with an old banger, two years on

Two years ago today, I got up before dawn, took a train to the south side of Glasgow, and returned home later that afternoon with this.

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Yes, I’ve now shared two years of my life with a 1999 BMW 528i. I’m starting to think about selling it soon – I’d never planned on keeping it anywhere near this long to begin with, and it’s time for a new adventure – and so I thought the two-year anniversary would be a good chance to reflect on the experience of owning this car. Continue reading “Life with an old banger, two years on”

A perfect evening drive

Someone, somewhere, has probably concocted a recipe for the perfect drive, using some sort of advanced scientific analysis. But as science was never my strong point, I am more inclined to think that there are probably several different recipes that would do the trick, depending on the circumstances.

As a case in point, I went out for a drive on Friday evening. Taking a familiar route, I circled through Northumberland and the southern end of the Scottish Borders, mostly using A-roads. Normally, if I want an enjoyable driving experience, I look for less-travelled B-roads that require more attention and engagement. However, after a long week of work that left me feeling tired and worn out, I wanted something more relaxing.

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I gots to Getz in front!

Why yes, student in the 53-reg Hyundai Getz, I see you coming. It’s hard not to – you’re the only car in the outside lane of a fairly empty motorway. And I see you are approaching at a speed that I can only assume is making your little 1.3L engine cry out in anguish. But even though you’re travelling considerably faster than I am, you are still a ways behind me, and I would like to get around the lorry that is sitting in my lane. So I will speed up a bit and pass, because I will safely be back in the inside lane before you have closed the gap on me.

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The Bugatti Chiron is boring

I said this last year when it was first revealed at the Geneva Motor Show, and I say it again after last night’s feature on Top Gear: I think the Bugatti Chiron is boring.

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There is no doubt that the Chiron is something of a technological marvel. Put your foot down, and the 1487bhp quad-turbo 8.0L W16 will catapult you to 60mph in 2.5 seconds, and only 11 seconds later, to 186mph – yes, that’s nearly 200 miles per hour in less time than it takes most cars to do a standing quarter mile. Hold on long enough, and you’ll reach a top speed that has to be limited to 261mph because the tyres can’t handle more than that. At £2.4 million, it’s almost the definition of exclusivity.

But that’s part of the problem. It’s so exclusive, and so out of reach, that it’s not even worth dreaming about. Never mind the fact that you will never own one, the possibility of even seeing one in the metal is virtually nil. It almost exists in another realm, where only oil sheiks fear to tread. Continue reading “The Bugatti Chiron is boring”

Fuel mileage testing can be fun

As my driving is largely for pleasure, I don’t generally worry about fuel mileage too much. That being said, every now and then I do try and see what kind of mileage I can coax out of my machines. My record with my E39 is 40.3mpg over 154 miles (according to its onboard computer), a figure I have managed twice on some careful motorway journeys.

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Sometimes attempting those kinds of records can be fun – I always enjoyed the Top Gear challenges that focused on fuel mileage, such as that in series 12, episode 4, where Clarkson, Hammond, and May attempted a run from Basel, Switzerland to Blackpool on one tank of fuel in a Jaguar XJ, Subaru Legacy, and Volkswagen Polo, respectively. It seemed a fairly boring challenge at first, but ended up being edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Continue reading “Fuel mileage testing can be fun”

The drivers of 50mph work zones

You’re cruising down the motorway, eating up the miles, when you see that dreaded sign. Roadworks, two miles ahead. And not just that, but it’s a 13-mile long stretch of 50mph road, peppered with everyone’s favourite government revenue maker, the average speed camera.

You continue along until you see the first of the 50mph signs. Two things happen at this point. First, a number of cars slam on their brakes, seemingly taken by surprise at the sudden change in speed limit and expecting heavy fines if they are doing anything over 50 the instant they pass the sign. The rest all dive for the outside lane, forcing a bunch-up, and thus more heavy brake usage. You hang back a bit, taking your foot off the accelerator, letting the car gradually slow to 50, and then switch on the cruise control.

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Wisdom dictates that this would be the easy way through this section of road, and you think most people would figure this out. But alas, it’s only a matter of moments before you realise that no one knows what they’re doing. Continue reading “The drivers of 50mph work zones”

Why do some roads attract all the bad drivers?

It is interesting that some roads seem to attract all the bad drivers at once. You can drive miles and miles of motorway or cruise around town only occasionally encountering a bad driver, but then suddenly find yourself on a stretch of road where you feel like you’re fighting for your life with every passing mile.

The A171 between Middlesbrough and Whitby is such a road. Continue reading “Why do some roads attract all the bad drivers?”

Beauty and power

Some properly beautiful cars came out of Britain in the 1960s, including AC’s Cobra. Just look at those lines!

The car became well-known when the American tuner, Carroll Shelby, begin stuffing powerful V8 engines under the bonnet, most famously Ford’s 7.0L 427 ‘side oiler’, making 425bhp (on paper – manufacturers of the day notoriously understated power figures for insurance purposes). Though it was a financial disaster for Shelby, it dominated on the track due to its power-to-weight ratio.  Continue reading “Beauty and power”