First time driving in Europe? Read about all the essential things you need to know

One of the top things on your ‘to-do’ list, if you are planning on taking your car abroad into Europe, is to speak to your motor insurer.  Your insurance policy may not automatically cover you for driving your car in a foreign country so you may need to have a temporary upgrade and there is bound to be a charge for this.

Make sure your insurer issues you with what is called a ‘green card’.  This is proof that you are insured to drive abroad to a minimum level of third party cover and is actually a statement to that effect printed on green paper, hence the name.  Give your insurer notice if you can as sometimes these can take two to three weeks to be produced.

What do you need to know about European insurance cover?

  • Many policy upgrades for driving in Europe are basic and only cover you third party whereas your insurance in the UK may be fully comprehensive. If you want to have more cover than this whilst you are away, you should be able to upgrade but there will probably be an additional charge for this
  • Sometimes, European insurance cover is an extra offered to you when you take the policy out
  • There is often a cap on your cover extension, most insurers offer a flat period of 30 days so if you exceed this, you may be doing so uninsured
  • The so-called Green Card is required in countries outside of Europe such as Iran, Israel, Montenegro, Belarus, Turkey and Russia – this list is not exhaustive, there are others

Breakdown cover

A breakdown can be inconvenient, annoying and expensive and that’s if it happens in the UK.  If it occurs abroad, then this is a whole new ball game.

Never travel abroad without European breakdown cover in place.  Contact your current provider and see whether they can offer this as an extension to your existing arrangements.  If you are just taking a holiday of a couple of weeks then a ‘single trip’ policy might be the best and most economical way to get cover but if you travel regularly taking your car with you, then an annual policy will probably work out cheaper.

Document checklist for driving abroad

  • Driving licence
  • Your V5 car log book
  • Insurance documents and Green Card
  • International Driving Permit (if required)
  • Breakdown information and policy documents – make sure the helpline number is visible and easy to find
  • Travel insurance documents
  • EHIC – European Health Insurance Card

Other things to think about

Think about how it is going to feel driving on the other side of the road.  Read up on the highway code and road traffic regulations in the country you are visiting, there may be some unusual inclusions which might surprise you, don’t expect them to be a carbon copy of UK highways legislation.

Each European country has different road traffic requirements which might involve changes to the vehicle or the addition of certain equipment in the car.  In France, you must carry a red warning triangle and a reflective hi-vis jacket.  Headlamps must be adjusted so other drivers are not affected by glare or dazzle.  This sounds onerous but it can be done simply with what is known as a beam converter kit which just fits over the top of the existing headlights.  In Germany, a vehicle must display an emissions sticker before it can enter any of the major cities.  Stickers are based on traffic light colours and indicate how heavily polluting or not the vehicle is.  The standards used for measurement are those laid down by European legislators.

The AA has produced a really handy guide to the ins and outs of what is needed in different countries.  This is regularly reviewed to ensure it is up to date.  Make sure your number plate is compliant; it has to show which member state the car is registered in failing which you will need a GB sticker on the outside of the vehicle.

There is also guidance given on the government’s own website both for holidaymakers and for those who move abroad to live and work.

The impact of Brexit

Brexit (if it ever happens) will impact on the ease with which UK drivers can motor in Europe.  If Brexit is completed on the basis of a deal then there will be time to figure out the detail as any new changes will be implemented gradually.  However, a no-deal Brexit could be a real game-changer as our current arrangments with the European Union could alter literally overnight.  The latter seems less likely now and updated information is always available on the government’s website.

Top Driving Tips for European Motoring

  • Avoid driving in the heart of large cities – you might possibly also do this in the UK. Even with the aid of Google Maps, city centre driving can be complicated and hazardous. Similar to the UK, many European cities are discouraging city centre motoring with tolls or congestion charges.  There are usually comprehensive bus or tram schemes with out of town parking to encourage drivers away from city centres
  • Familiarise yourself with the road rules for the country you are driving in, this could literally be a matter of life and death. For instance, a double white line in Germany means no overtaking but in France, this is signified by a single white solid line
  • Most EU countries require safety seats for kids aged under three but some countries also require simple booster seats for older children. In nearly all EU countries, children under the age of 12 cannot legally travel in the front passenger seat without a booster seat but some don’t allow children in the front seat per se and others keep regulations in place until children turn 18
  • Many European countries require headlights to be on permanently even during the daytime
  • Using a mobile in your hand whilst driving is forbidden in the majority of EU member states

 

 

What is going to change for motorists after Brexit?

Currently, the UK is still on track to leave the EU that is, of course, if the General Election on December 12th doesn’t upset the applecart and there is another referendum and we end up staying in!  Most people have thoroughly lost interest in the whole debate but its best to be prepared as if we do finally end up leaving and there could be significant implications for motorists.

At the moment, the UK is trying to leave the EU with a negotiated deal and part of this arrangement is to provide for a transitional period during which time, rules and regulations remain the same so that people can prepare for new regimes and this will include motoring whether you drive your own car abroad or you hire one when you are on holiday.

What is the current legal situation?

The current position is that a UK issued driving licence allows the licence holder to drive in all EU member states plus Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland – this is known as the EEA, the European Economic Area because of the inclusion of these three additional countries.  Under anticipated transitional arrangements, this status quo is likely to continue under a negotiated deal Brexit whilst the finer detail is worked out and then changes phased in gradually.

If the UK leaves without a deal then the guillotine will fall and arrangements will change immediately.  The government has issued advice on its website about the different arrangements that may be in place in each EU country.

What changes are likely to occur?

Some EU countries will continue to accept the UK photocard driving licence, others will require this and an International Driving Permit or IDP as well.  An IDP is much more likely to be required if you are staying for a longer period overseas.  You can currently buy an IDP at a Post Office for £5.50.  Always check out the specific rules of the country that you are going to.  If you still have a paper driving licence then this may not be acceptable.

Three different types of IDP

The government’s website lists country by country the paperwork you may require and what triggers the different requirements – usually the duration of your stay.  There are three different types of IDP and it will detail which ones you need and in what circumstances.  The three types of IDP are referred to by their establishment date so respectively, 1926, 1949 and 1968 but only the latter two dates are really in use.  The 1949 permit relates to Iceland, Spain, Malta and Cyprus and the 1968 permit covers all other EU member states plus Switzerland and Norway.

Most countries only require IDPs for longer visits but there are exceptions to this rule, notably Cyprus, Italy and France who require one even for short stay visits.  You may need more than one type of IDP depending on where you are visiting and how long you are staying, in particular, if you intend to drive across Europe and will be motoring in several different countries.

Most of the countries which make up the EU, only require an IDP after a specified period, usually three, six or twelve months.  A handful of countries – Switzerland and the Netherlands – don’t require one at all.

What if you are a UK national living in a European country?

Most of the legislation surrounding IDPs relates to visiting foreign countries from the UK but what will happen if you are a UK citizen actually living abroad and currently driving on your UK driving licence?  You will probably need to swap this for a licence issued by the EU member state in which you are living before Brexit happens.  If you wait until after Britain leaves the EU then you might be required to take another driving test.

What about the insurance cover?

If Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal, then you will need in addition to driving licence requirements and IDPs, to obtain a Green Card from your motor insurer.  This proves that you are insured to the minimum level of third party cover and insured to drive in the country of destination.  This may of course not be reflective of your level of cover when in the UK.  Always check with your insurer about driving abroad, what cover you have, whether you need to extend it based on location and whether there are any other country-specific requirements you need to be aware of.

European Insurance Authorities have waived the need for a physical Green Card in the event of a no-deal Brexit but this has yet to be officially confirmed by the European Commission so it is best to err on the side of caution.  You will need a separate card or cards if you towing a trailer or a caravan.  Allow enough time to obtain this card from your insurer – it is not physically a green card, just a statement issued by your insurer which the regulations state should be printed on green paper.  The ABI is recommending to allow around a month for your insurer to provide this and they may also levy a charge.

Other things to be aware of

The government is recommending that your vehicle carries a GB sticker even if this is already present on your number plate.  You should also carry your V5C logbook which is your proof of ownership of the vehicle.  There is a different document if you have hired a car in the UK and then taken it abroad within Europe and this is form VE103.

Motor accident claims within the EU could suddenly get a whole lot more complicated if Britain leaves the EU without a deal.

Be prepared!

If you are a regular European driver then it pays to familiarise yourself with what may change after Brexit and also the type of Brexit which will make an impact.  There is plenty of online advice and guidance from both the government and motoring organisations which are regularly reviewed to make sure it is up to date and accurate to reflect the changing times in which we live.

 

Should you take the plunge and go electric?

Uptake of the new fully electric technology is painfully slow and industry pundits are putting forward lots of reasons as to why this may be.  Lack of charging points which seem to be mostly found in urban centres is understandably one concern but. if you have a house with a driveway beside it why not stick solar panels on the garage roof, a charging unit on the wall and charge up your own EV for nothing or just pence?  If you have the space for off-road parking and can take advantage of another way of generating your electricity then you could end up with a huge reduction in your motoring bills.  The focus for EVs has largely been city-based but if you have the room or live in a rural area then you could become totally self-sufficient.  We look at some of the common reasons why people are reluctant to embrace the new technology and some ways around these problems.

Electric vehicles are so expensive

New technology always starts at a premium price and eventually becomes cheaper as it becomes more commonplace.  A great way to finance the cost of a new EV is to acquire one on Personal Contract Purchase or PCP or Personal Contract Hire – PCH which are already two hugely popular ways to cover the cost of a brand new vehicle.  PCH is like renting for a fixed term and then you give the car back, PCP allows you to buy the car with a lump sum payment at the end of the fixed term – anywhere from 12-48 months – or return the vehicle with the dealer often providing a guaranteed buyback value.

These schemes work particularly well for EVs where the technology is rapidly evolving and motorists don’t want to be stuck with a car which quickly becomes overtaken by something better.  Some EV sales require that you lease the battery anyway so it’s not such a quantum leap to actually lease the entire vehicle.

Availability of charging points

These are becoming more and more widespread but the other key factor to note is that charging times are increasing rapidly as the technology develops.  A concern for many motorists is not just finding a charge point but having to wait to use it because charging times are slow.

Becoming self-sufficient at home is the way to go and the government is going to introduce a requirement that new homes with a driveway or off-road parking are all built with their own charging points.  If you can generate your own power through solar panels or wind turbines then you know that you can always charge your vehicle and it will cost you next to nothing.  This is certainly the new revolution in 21st-century motoring.

Are there any government initiatives or schemes to help with the cost?

The government is straining at the leash to meet its own self proclaimed pledges to drastically reduce emissions and is, therefore, encouraging drivers to embrace new technology.  There are schemes available which will encourage drivers by helping with the cost in several different ways.

Through the dealerships, you can get up to £3,500 off the price of an eligible vehicle and this doesn’t just include cars.  The government’s website lists mopeds, motorbikes, taxis, vans including large vans and trucks.  Additionally, you can receive up to £500 towards the cost of installing a home charging point.  These incentives used to be available for hybrid vehicles in the early days but hybrids are no longer included so the cash is only there for completely electric cars.

What about the used market in electric vehicles?

It is still early days for this as totally electric cars are still relatively new on the road but it does certainly avoid the high cost of a new vehicle.  Online forums reveal concerns about the battery life and it is certainly true that brand new EVs already have a range of nearly double the miles before requiring a recharge compared to models which are three or four years old.  But if you have a home charging point or you are limited to fairly local driving on short trips then this may not concern you.

Some motorists may favour a hybrid as offering the best of both worlds, with the petrol engine there as a failsafe for the battery and the more limited range on an older car.  However, the batteries are quite heavy and impinge on performance and efficiency when they are not being used so this can be something of a false economy.

What is a REx?

A REx is a type of hybrid or PHEV where a petrol generator is utilised to keep the battery fully charged but the car is totally electrically powered.  This allows the motorist the reassurance of never having to find a charge point in a hurry and compensates for the lack of hybrid status.  Because the generator is lighter than a traditional engine, the REx doesn’t have the same compromise on performance and efficiency.  Having said that, there are not many of these types of vehicle around so the pool of choice is limited.  As electric technology improves, they will probably fade away just like the hybrid but they are a good first introduction to electric motoring and if you can find one at a good price, a REx could be an excellent option for the first couple of years to help you find your feet.  However, they don’t have the green credentials that many drivers are looking for.

Make no mistake about it, EVs are here to stay and if you look at the investment that motor manufacturers are piling into the technology then this is not going to a just a phase or a fad.  Electric motoring could say you a lot of money on your car costs as well as helping the planet, it’s one of the most exciting and revolutionary developments in motoring for decades.  Those drivers who have already taken the plunge can be quite evangelical about it and so naturally, there are plenty of online forums where information is shared and there is lots of advice and guidance.  These can be a good place to air your concerns.  Speakev is one of the most popular so what are you waiting for?

How to find the best car for a new driver?

Gone are the days when an old banger – the starting point for many a 20th-century teenager –  could wriggle its way through the MOT and come out the other side with a pass certificate, cheap and cheerful motoring for the newly passed young person and probably not very safe.  So how do you select an appropriate vehicle for a new teenage driver?  Safety and choice of vehicle is usually the biggest concern followed a close second by eye-watering insurance premiums.

New car versus used

The benefit of a new vehicle is the specification, you are going to access the latest safety technology compared to a car that is already several years down the line.  The other problem with a high mileage older vehicle is that unless you know the car, i.e. it has belonged to a family member or friend then you really don’t know how well it has been maintained and looked after.

Buying a new small car on finance is an option and has the added benefit of fixed motoring costs.  An older car might seem cheaper at the outset in comparison but you could be faced with expensive garage bills at any time.  Do watch out though for deals which offer free insurance, ideal you might think for a new teenage driver but this usually bumps up the monthly instalment payments quite considerably and a new driver may not be eligible anyway.

When you are looking at individual vehicles, safety will be probably your top priority.  In order to compare different manufacturers, you need to look at the car’s NCAP rating – the higher the rating, the safer the car.  Euro NCAP is an independent organisation who assess each vehicle completely impartially.

Motor Insurance

It’s going to be high and there is no easy way around that other than by buying a small car rather than something large and powerful which is hardly going to be the first choice vehicle for a keen teenager anyway.

According to the website, confused.com, car insurance for young drivers has actually gone down from its level a year ago but the difference is only marginal and most people will be looking at around £1,500 to £2,000 for a first year’s fully comprehensive motor cover. Premiums are based on industry-wide statistics and averages and it is no great secret that young people have far more accidents than older drivers because they simply lack experience.  All you can hope to do is try and lower the premium as much as possible but you are certainly looking at a minimum figure of at least £1,000.

Keeping a vehicle purchase within a lower insurance group will help – bigger, more powerful cars are more likely to have accidents.  The other clever device which can help mitigate sky-high insurance premiums is fitting a black box.  This is not offered by all motor insurers but it is certainly likely to reduce your premiums if you drive safely.

What is a black box?

A black box or telematics as they are sometimes known as, is fitted to a vehicle and can monitor how that vehicle is driven.  Good, safe driving is rewarded with lower premiums.  There are several companies who offer this type of insurance which is aimed at the younger motorist, also known as ‘plug and drive’ insurance.

How does it work?

In simple terms, the driver’s performance is monitored but there are other restrictions.  The technology is based around GPS and G-force sensors to evaluate the driver’s speed and the sharpness of braking and acceleration.  Also on file are the times of the day the car is driven and the journey time.  The data is automatically sent back to the insurer who calculates a points score based on this.  The concept is that the insurer can base an individual driver’s premium on their actual driving behaviour rather than generic data compiled from across thousands of other drivers in the same age bracket.  Some insurers provide an app or online dashboard where the driver can review their performance and there are even handy hints about improvement.

How does this affect the premium?

The fact that the black box is present at the inception of the insurance is enough for some companies to lower the premium.  Others will offer more discounts for good driving behaviour and also reward a driver by adding extra miles if the policy has a mileage restriction on it.

Are there any drawbacks of having a black box?

If the young driver is not behaving themselves then the premium could actually increase if they are not using the road safely and responsibly.  Many policies have a mileage limit on them and some young drivers just don’t like the fact their driving behaviour is constantly being monitored.

When these policies first came out, there was a curfew on night driving which is statistically when most accidents occur.  Most policies no longer feature an actual curfew but drivers could find their point score lowering if they drive at night so effectively there is still a nighttime penalty.  All of the black box insurance policies vary so it is important to pay close attention to the detail to really work out whether it is a suitable choice or not.

Choosing a car

Autoexpress has evaluated the Top Ten Best First Cars for New Drivers in 2019 and come up with this list of vehicles:-

  1. Volkswagen Up?/ Skoda Citigo/ Seat Mii
  2. Kia Picanto
  3. Ford Fiesta
  4. Seat Ibiza
  5. Hyundai i10
  6. Volkswagen Polo
  7. Toyota Aygo/Peugeot 108/ Citroen C1
  8. Skoda Fabia
  9. Dacia Sandero
  10. Vauxhall Corsa

 

Staying out of trouble on the road will build driver confidence and lower insurance premiums.  Legislation hits home hard on incidents and accidents within the first two years of motoring life after passing the driving test, hefty points allocations can even result in the loss of a licence. However, even after the first year trouble-free, insurance premiums will begin to lower as a ‘no claims history’ starts to build.

How To Get a Show Plate & Where You Can Use One

Anyone with a bit of smart eye will have noticed clever and unusual number plates being used on vehicles in certain situations.  These are called show plates and are not legal for use on a road vehicle but can be put on cars in other situations.

Where can a show plate be used?

Show plates are commonly used in car showrooms and at motor shows.  They also appear on television programmes where the car is never destined to leave the studio.

Some classic cars that are never used but simply displayed can also have show plates attached.  They might be exhibited at a competition or within a permanent building such as a museum.

What are the benefits of show plates?

The main benefit is that because they are not legal for road use, they don’t have to comply with the tight restrictions surrounding font, lettering size and spacing, margin depth and so on.  A show plate can feature any background, a creative or Italic font can be used and spacing can be altered so the plate can create an actual word.  Logos and colours are also available which is what makes show plates so popular to really personalise a vehicle or to link into a business brand identity.

Show plates are not just for cars

Some businesses will use show plates for signage, admittedly this is popular amongst companies connected with the motor trade but American themed diners will often use show plates.  And show plates have always been popular for the petrolhead teenage boy’s bedroom and probably the man he grows into.

What’s the difference between a show plate, a personalised number plate and a private plate?

A show plate is basically ‘anything goes’ except it can’t go on the road.  Personalised and private plates are all road legal and are really one in the same thing.  Personalised plates are thought of as plates which feature the name or initials of an individual but in fact, these are all private plates, just as much as a plate which spells out a particular word.  Personalised and private plates must comply with current UK legislation and may be used on the road.

What constitutes off-road use?

Show plates may not be used on the road in the UK.  For legal purposes, the highway has been extended to include private roads and other areas such as car parks which are now classified as public roads.  This all changed as anyone who relied on deserted supermarket car parks and old airfield industrial estates to teach their teenage son or daughter to drive will be aware.  Gone are the days when a teenager could get up to speed on the local airfield without insurance cover.  These are now classified as the public highway and require all the appropriate legal compliance for new drivers and so also extend to the governance of number plates.

What are Gel 3D number plates and are they road legal?

Think of these as more of a showy plate than a show plate.  Gel resin 3D number plates are road legal and are considered to be the premier plate make and style within the motor trade.  Gel plates are popular because of their look and finish; for many enthusiasts, the number plate is the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake and they want the best plate they can have rather than standard issue.  The confusing thing is that this technology can also be used on show plates which are not road legal.

An alternative to show plates

If you want or need to use your car on the road then a 3D or 4D plate can be a very good option.  3D Gel resin plates are subtle yet stylish and are perfectly acceptable within current road traffic legislation and MOT requirements.  Then, along comes 4D which is certainly outside the law as the regulations state that only 3D is permitted?  Seemingly not.  4D is just industry jargon and the plates are actually only 3D which are clearly allowed according to the DVLA website. 

 

What do motor insurers say as they are very hot on modifications?

Insurers need to be told whenever a vehicle has been modified in any way.  Increasing engine capacity or fitting adaptations for a disabled person are obvious trigger points for that phone call but what about your number plate?

If you change your standard plate for a private or personalised plate then your insurer does need to know this although it is a modification that should not affect your premium.  3D or 4D plates are not something the insurer needs to be notified about.

Will my vehicle pass the MOT with show plates on?

Displaying show plates on your car is a definite MOT fail, unfortunately.

When can I use a show plate on my classic car?

Whenever your car is in the backdrop at a family event or celebration, a show plate can be used to enhance the message…21 TODAY or XMAS 19 or BABY1.  The permutations are endless and are only limited by your imagination and the restriction that the car may not go out onto the road.

What is an i-Plate?

An i-Plate has no connection with a show plate.  An e-plate is an American invention devised by a company called Smart Plate which uses RFID  – Radio Frequency Identification – technology to link the vehicle seamlessly to other functions.  The e-Plate allows much more reliable identification of a vehicle – ANPR is all well and good unless a car has false plates.  An e-plate has a memory chip which can record and store information and the idea is to develop usability to benefit drivers as well.  There are however serious privacy concerns over e-plates and they are certainly not likely to be introduced into the UK anytime soon.  For now, the UK motorist must content himself with personalised or private plates, 3D Gel plates and show plates for special occasions so a plate for every day of the week effectively.

How You Can Manage Driving Stress

Driving is not normally known as a route to calming frayed nerves, reducing temper and lowering blood pressure unless you are a rat perhaps – do read on.  Driving, in fact, is well known to wind us up and there are plenty of situations that occur on the roads which can send drivers into a total and deadly frenzy.

The first important distinction to make is, does the act of driving itself cause you stress and anxiety?  This can affect new drivers and nervous drivers after an accident for example but the simple fact is that some people are less good at driving than others and this can cause them to become stressed when they get behind the wheel of a car.

 

What kind of things can elevate stress levels for a driver?

We take a look at some of the most common trigger points for an increased heart rate behind the wheel.

  • Traffic jams and queues particularly if they are caused by an unnecessary obstruction such as thoughtless parking or someone on the phone and aren’t they always when you really need to be somewhere at a specified time
  • Someone driving well below the speed limit for no apparent reason
  • A driver pulling out in front of you or suddenly turning off with late or no indication
  • A tailgater, another driver hanging onto your rear bumper, driving way too close and trying to intimidate you
  • Other drivers’ errors and mistakes can be a source of intense irritation and if you are already in a bad humour or short-tempered, can push a driver over the edge
  • Being confronted by an aggressive or angry driver

 

How to reduce your stress levels

  • Always allow plenty of time for your journey. If you leave late then call ahead and explain you will be delayed rather than trying to make up time on the journey
  • Try and travel outside peak rush hour
  • Plan your route carefully and check whether there are any scheduled delays such as roadworks or unusual issues such as the movement of a wide load
  • If you are not experienced in certain conditions such as distinct road types or severe weather then specifically go out and gain that experience or just avoid doing it altogether
  • If you are travelling somewhere new, research your parking options carefully before you leave. Driving around endlessly trying to find somewhere to park can cause great frustration and stress
  • Don’t drive when you are hungry or short of food as this can make you irritable and can affect concentration levels
  • Never drive after an argument or when you are angry – motors and mood are never a good mix
  • Avoid listening to music which at best can be distracting and at worst, affect how you drive. Upbeat rock music is well known to encourage people to drive at higher speeds and with more aggression.  Some people find calming music helps their mood and stress levels, this is fine providing it doesn’t affect your concentration or make you so relaxed that you start to feel drowsy behind the wheel
  • Try not to get behind the wheel when you are angry or stressed, get someone else to drive or change your plans
  • Avoid unnecessary distractions such as upsetting or unpleasant news reports on the radio or noisy and raucous passengers. Switch your mobile phone off and put it away out of sight
  • Take plenty of breaks if you are travelling on a long journey or if you get caught out and your journey becomes much longer than expected. This means stopping the car and getting out to stretch your legs, taking in some fresh air and having something to eat and drink.  This will restore you and refresh you ready for the next stage of your journey

It is perhaps rather ironic that scientists discovered that they could reduce the stress levels in lab rats by teaching them to drive.  Are we missing something?

A recent report in the media details how researchers at the American University of Richmond found that stress levels were reduced in rats who were taught to drive small plastic cars using cereal as a reward.  The rats could turn their vehicles to the left and right or stay on centre although it did take several months to teach them to do this.  And the point of it?  To look at developing non medicine based products to combat mental health conditions which, as far as most people are concerned, would probably not include getting behind the wheel of a car.  The suggestion was, in fact, the learning of a new skill which assuaged the stress levels in the rats rather than the actual act of driving itself.

But driving can be a great de-stresser if you avoid the daily commute or the school run and you head for open roads in good weather – there is something about that freedom.  Perhaps it is just the peace and isolation of the vehicle, that sense of escape from life’s stresses which driving away can really represent.  Scientists state that when we are stressed out, some of our more superior brain functions are closed down so actually, driving a regular and familiar route can restrict your higher brain function for a time and close out unwanted or stressful thoughts.  This is, in turn, can help clear your head and revive your mood.

There is no doubt that some people enjoy driving more than others and for those who struggle, their stress levels will rise far more quickly.  As with stress in any part of our daily lives, its all about management, taking control of the situation and trying to head off those all-important trigger points.  Stress behind the wheel of a car can be fatal for both you and other road users.

Driverless cars are here – do you want to try one?

Technology has impacted hugely on the motor industry during the later years of the 20th century and into the 21st century.  Electronics were introduced into car engines decades ago and now motor manufacturers are beginning to understand the real implications and potential of Artificial Intelligence or Autonomous Technology as it is known in the motor trade.  This comes hot on the heels of the development of electric cars and hybrid engines.  Changes in motor tech are, well, speeding away.

Driverless cars may once have been seen as the province of a Sci-Fi movie or James Bond film but they are already here and set to create the next revolution in motoring as we know it.

The stealth of AI

Driverless technology has slowly been impacting on our motoring lives did we but know it.  A beep that tells you that your seatbelt is not secured, a rear parking sensor that assists you when reversing into a tricky space, a sensor that detects when you are about to stall the engine on a hill start, this is all driverless technology integrated into your vehicle through the medium of Artifical Intelligence.  Even cruise control is a driverless feature and that’s been around for decades.

What is the point of a driverless car?

The idea behind the technology is to create a vehicle that performs better without a driver than with.  This will lead to considerable improvements in road safety and should create far more efficient vehicle movements and interaction.  It can also offer huge assistance to vulnerable road users such as new drivers, elderly drivers and those who have physical or mental limitations providing effective and safe travel for all.

The levels of driverless technology

To make it easier to evaluate, driverless technology has been broken down into five classifications by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) which are as follows:-

Level 0 – eyes on – the driver has total control of brakes, steering, accelerator, this is known as Conditional Automation

Level 1 – hands on – some of the driver’s responsibilities are taken over by the vehicle so speed for instance via cruise control and assisted parking.  This is called Driver Assistance

Level 2 – hands off – as it says on the tin, the driver does not need to control the steering and the acceleration and braking are also managed by the vehicle.  The driver does, however, need to able to react in an emergency.  This is called Partial Automation

Level 3 – eyes off – the car is in almost complete control of all functions but a driver is still required to intervene in certain circumstances.  The car is permitted to have an autonomous function in specified situations such as slow-moving traffic on a road in which oncoming traffic streams are separated by physical barriers.  This is described as Conditional Automation

Level 4 – mind off – total automation within the confines of prescribed speed limits and certain road types.  Fallback procedures for safety require the trip to cancel itself and the car to self-park if the circumstances change and the conditions are deemed inappropriate for the vehicle.  This is called High Automation

Level 5 – steering wheel optional – humans are last century and not required for any part of the driving process.  The potential to change the entire design of the vehicle is mind-blowing, do you even need windows?  This is called Complete Automation

 

This might sound like something out of a space-age film but remember, airliners have been flying on automatic pilot options for many years now.  This new technology is far closer than you might think.  Level One and Two vehicles are already in the system and the former Chancellor, Philip Hammond, made a pledge in Theresa May’s government for driverless cars at Level 3 by 2021.  Some industry pundits think that development will actually progress far faster and that we could be looking at Level 5 cars actually on the road by 2022.

This may seem impossible but the slow creep of technology has been paving the way for this for decades perhaps unseen to the general public.  For legislators and law enforcers, this is possibly the biggest change in UK and worldwide motoring since cars first appeared around 100 years ag.  Governments need to be ready with the appropriate checks and balance, statues and enforcement systems to reflect these new vehicles.

One of the central issues and one which manufacturers are keenly monitoring is, who is going to be deemed at fault in law in the event of an accident?  For drivers, many are concerned about the pure safety of the vehicles particularly where young passengers are concerned.  How secure is the technology?  Could these vehicles effectively be subject to hacking or interference, with the potential to cause horrendous accidents?

But there is no getting away from the potential benefits.  With over 90% of road accidents caused by human error, surely the roads will be safer.  The financial and emotional cost of serious accidents with fatalities or life-changing injuries could become a thing of the past.  And with most driverless cars electrically powered, this also ticks the green box too.

There are still huge challenges which lie ahead, not so much in the technology which is advancing at break neck speed but in how it should best be marshalled and the longer-term implications for society.  Cars are programmed and built by people and those people have to make complex decisions about how a vehicle should behave in challenging or emergency situations, AI in cars suddenly got a whole lot harder.  But make no mistake, this technology is not going to go away and by 2050 if not a whole lot sooner, both cars and road travel will have transformed totally from what it is today.  Insurance, the driving test even car ownership will be completely remodelled by the middle of the 21st century.

How To Prepare Your Car For An MOT

There are lots of basic checks you can make of your vehicle to ensure any minor niggles are picked up before you present it for the MOT.  This should help your car to pass first time without any advisories.

What is the MOT?

MOT stands for ‘Ministry of Transport’ test and is a legal requirement in the UK for all vehicles aged three years and older.  There are authorised test centres around the UK often attached to a garage business or motor repair workshop.  The MOT is a regulated checklist of the safety, roadworthiness and emissions levels of your vehicle.  Lots of different checks are carried out but there are also parts of the engine and bodywork that examiners don’t look at so an MOT is not a substitute for a car service or regular maintenance checks.

A valid MOT certificate is a legal requirement so if your car fails, you will not be allowed to drive it until it has been repaired and actually passed the MOT test.  To do so would invalidate your motor insurance and is an offence at law.  There are lots of simple things you can do before presenting your vehicle for MOT which could save you a fail certificate:-

  1. Tyres – check these for tread and wear, a tyre replacement company can also do a walk around the vehicle and assess these for you. Visually the tyres should be uniform in appearance with no tears or bulges.  The tyres should match in pairs across the vehicle so the same size and type on both fronts and the rear should match each other.  The minimum legal requirement for tread is 1.6mm around the central three-quarters of the tyre.  If you have had a puncture and your car is still fitted with the spare ‘space saver’ wheel then you will need to replace that with a new tyre as this is an automatic MOT failure
  2. Lights – all the lights on the vehicle need to be in working order so sidelights, headlights, main beam, fog lights (whatever is present, front and/or rear must work), indicators and hazard lights.  Check with the engine running, easiest if someone can stand outside the vehicle.  You also need to check the foot brake via the brake pedal.  If you are on your own, wait until it is getting dark and park near a wall which will reflect each light as you test it.  Remember, your rear number plate also has illumination  This used to be an MOT failure if this bulb was not working but this was taken off the fail list last year, however, you can still be stopped by the police if your number plate is not visible at night
  3. Engine Management Lights – this has recently become a bit of bugbear for motorists. The regulations changed in May 2018 and a car that is permanently displaying an Engine Management light whilst the engine is running, will automatically fail the MOT.  The Engine Management light is a warning light that can be triggered for lots of reasons, many of which are connected to emissions.  This will have to be resolved before the car is presented for the MOT test
  4. General faults and noises – if you have noticed a change in the performance of your car, it is making an unusual noise, the handling or performance of the car seems different or there are any unusual smells, you may have a fault which could mean that it fails the MOT. Many people give their cars an annual service just before the MOT to make sure that any obvious faults are detected and corrected

When can you present the car for its MOT?

The MOT takes around 45 minutes but if you don’t pre-book a slot, then you could have a very long wait if the garage is busy.  It’s always best to arrange a day/time in advance and you can do this anytime up to four weeks before your car’s current expiry date which is shown on last year’s test certificate.  You can usually choose your time slot and if your car does fail for any reason, you have two or three weeks to resolve any issues before it is re-tested.

What will it cost?

There is a maximum amount that garages are allowed to charge by law – £54.85 – and many will offer competitive rates of under £50 with a free partial re-test if your car fails.  The vehicle has to be tested within ten days to qualify for the free re-test and it cannot be removed from the premises.  If there is a workshop attached to the MOT centre, then clearly they are hoping to pick up repair business with cars that don’t pass but you should always shop around for a competitive quote.  You don’t have to have the car re-tested at the same MOT station but you may have to pay a new fee if you go elsewhere.  It would be a completely fresh test as they would not have seen your car before or had control of the vehicle following the first MOT failure.  If you have the car repaired elsewhere and return to the original testing station then you are entitled to a half fee rate for the re-test.

What are the advisories on a test certificate?  What do they mean?

A vehicle can pass the MOT but may have some advisories listed on the pass certificate.  Advisories are faults or potential problems which have been found during the vehicle inspection and which the test centre is required to inform you of.  They do not constitute part of the MOT and therefore are not illegal as such but they do indicate potential problems with your vehicle and if they deteriorate may cause the car to fail its next MOT in a year’s time.

How Much is your number plate really worth?

Every year in Britain, motorists spend thousands of pounds on number plates. Personalised number plates in particular have become big business with the DVLA raising millions of pounds on its annual auction. But believe it or not, there are people who are completely unaware that their number plates are very valuable. This stems from the lack of available public knowledge on how number plates work; most don’t even know if their plate is legal or not.

Still, the custom number plate industry has grown considerably over the years. Personalised number plates can cost a lot of money depending on the characters and the numbers on them. The top tier number plates with exclusive registrations have been known to cost their owners upwards of £500,000 with the combined cost of these special personalised plates standing at an estimated £100 million.

What’s the most expensive plate sold?

The most expensive number plate ever sold in the UK was “25 0” which went for £518,480 at auction. The second most expensive is the “F1” number plate owned by Afzal Khan who paid £440,000 for it at an auction in 2008.

Based on the two examples above, it is easy to conclude that number plates with fewer characters tend to be the most valuable. As such of the top ten most expensive number plates in the UK, 5 of them have had just two characters. They include the now world famous F 1, 1 0, M 1, 1 D and S 1.

Based on this premise, it is therefore safe to assume that your regular number plate is unlikely to be worth much. You may not be able to get the hundreds of thousands of pounds associated with rare plates, but your ordinary looking plate may actually be worth quite a bit.

If you are wondering how you can find out the value of your number plate you may be happy to note that the Guide to Value of Car Registrations in the UK has created a value calculator that can help you determine if your number plate is worth selling and how much you’d get for it. What we found out is that even the most ordinary looking number plate can be worth quite a lot. For example, number plates registered in 2010 may be worth upwards of £1,499.

Here’s a simple guide to help you get an idea of how much your Number plate may be worth;

  • Single Letter Suffix Combinations like “A 247”- £1,799 – £600,000
  • Single Letter Suffix Combinations like “4763 C”- £1,599- £500,000
  • Double Letter Suffix Combinations like “VN 442” – £799- £200,000
  • Double Letter Suffix Combinations like “6 WO” – £699 – £150,000
  • Triple letter prefix combinations without the year letters like “BP S 2” – £699-£75,000
  • Triple letter suffix combinations without the year latters like “4 JGM” – £499-£60,000
  • Triple latter combinations with prefix year letters like “G4 ABC” – £199-£6,599
  • Triple letter combinations with suffix year letters like “SUE 694R” – £199-£6,999
  • New style number plates like “NA 51 USA” – £150-£4,999

The Guide to the Value of Car Registrations in the UK is the most comprehensive guide to help you find out the value of your number plate although it is not the only one. There are currently a lot of websites where you can enter your number plate and find out its value immediately and still many more that can buy your number plate from you.

But when it comes to selling your number plate, you may need to do just a little bit more research to zero in on the best way to sell your plate. While it may seem easier to sell it using one of those websites, it pays to know that there are very many other options. You can even choose to put your number plate on eBay and get to keep all the proceeds. Whatever you choose to do, you now have a complete guide to help you value your number plate; know exactly how much you can get out of it.

Keep in mind that the price of the number plate will go up depending on the perceived value of the plate. For example, you may have a number plate that spells someone’s name, a celebrity’s name, a particular profession or a popular phrase. These tend to be more expensive since they are more desirable and you’ll find you can set any asking price.

Now that you know how to value your number plate, good luck on finding a buyer.

 

 

 

 

 

Government Considers Introducing Green Number Plates

The green revolution is catching on and government, companies and individuals are all embracing green initiatives in an effort to reduce our collective carbon footprint. From renewable energy to using less plastic, we are all innately aware of what we need to do to ease the pressure on our planet. And with evidence of climatic change everywhere around us, it is becoming increasingly clear that we need to step up these efforts; which is why our topic for today could turn out to be one of the best things we’ve heard to date, at least in relation to climate change.

Reducing Reliance on Fossil Fuels to Power Vehicles

One of the ways the motoring industry is moving towards greener, more sustainable technologies is by reducing reliance on fossil fuels to power vehicles. This has seen an increase in hybrid and electric cars on our roads as more and more people become conscious of how these vehicles reduce emissions. In fact, in recent times major manufacturers including BMW, Volkswagen and Hyundai have chosen to focus more on developing these greener cars, devoting a huge chunk of their Research and Development for this purpose.

And this focus is translating to more hybrid and electric vehicles on UK roads, accounting for more than 5.5% of all new cars on UK roads in 2018. This is a significant increase from 4.2% seen during the same period in 2017. This is a trend that the UK government is also promoting heavily with the Department of Transport announcing a plan to encourage people to drive low-emission vehicles.

Proposed Green Plates

In the very near future, clean cars, taxis and vans will be easily identified using green registration plates. This is according to a recent government consultation designed to see if the idea might catch on in the UK. The proposal is already under implementation in other countries including Norway and China, both of whom allow drivers to show that they are taking a sustainable approach to driving. These number plates are likely to give drivers access to low emissions lanes and dedicated low-emissions zones which can decongest the roads a little bit more.

But we must point out that this proposal is only in its initial consultation stage which started in September 2018. There is still no official word from the government when this new plan will be rolled out. But the plan is likely to be delayed by Brexit negotiations. But an initiative of this nature would not take too line to implement. Using the Netherlands as an example, personalised number plates in the Netherlands were on the road for a little under one year before the proposal was passed. With the same timelines, it is likely that green number plates could be on the road by November 2019.

Hurdles to Green Car Ownership

For the green number plates initiative to be successful, the number or people willing to purchase electric cars or hybrids has to increase. The truth is, more and more people are willing to purchase electric cars, but many people have raised some concerns about the viability of owning an EV. Some of these concerns include the following;

Range

The average electric vehicle has a range of about 80 to 100 miles. This means that most electric cars as they are today would not be viable for those travelling long distances. An EV may be ideal for everyday short commutes, but you would need to ensure the batteries are full if you are going on a longer trip. The only exception is Tesla models and they are out of reach for the average motorist in terms of price.

Long Charging Time

Long charging times may also make it more difficult for most people to buy an EV. On average it takes much longer to charge an EV than to fill up a traditional car with fuel. Again, this is an issue of timing. If you only use your car for daily commutes, then you could charge the car at night. It is not so practical when you have to take a longer trip.

Limited Variety

Despite most manufacturers now venturing into the electric car space, there is still a very limited numbers of EVs in the market. They are also a lot more expensive as compared to traditional vehicles and even EVs that are more affordable are unlikely to be impressive in terms of range and charging time.

As research and development continues, it is likely that this will change very soon and the future EVs will take all these factors in consideration. It is certainly encouraging that the government considers the industry important enough to introduce green number plates.