Tag Archives: motoring

“Oh… that looks serious”

As my avid reader (me) will know from this post, our car was damaged in a car accident last month. The insurance company told me that it is considered a write-off so my father offered me his car as he is no longer driving it. Last Wednesday afternoon I flew down to my old home-town of Crawley in West Sussex to pick up the car and spend some time with my Dad. The car seemed to be making a slight knocking sound, it may have just been the sound the car always made but I felt safer having it checked out before driving 336 miles back up north in the vehicle. The following morning we took the car to one of my Dad’s friends who works at a garage.

Dad’s friend confirmed that the noise did not seem too serious but he had a good listen around in an attempt to figure out where the noise was coming from. His guess was that the alternator bearings were knocking, the worse case scenario would be that the car would lose power somewhere and require a new alternator (cost approx. 100 pounds) to get going again. He could not be sure without spending more time with the car and I wanted to get back to Newcastle that evening, but he said that if it was his car he would drive it, the car had been doing very little for a couple of weeks and might just need a good run.

A little later that day I set off in my new 1998 Vauxhall Vectra, 1.8 litre, in black. It drove wonderfully well. I took a while to get used to the gear changes… well… I’m still not quite there… but the extra 0.5 litres was making a clear difference to the acceleration compared to our VW Golf, which I have always been more than happy with. The Golf was Ladan’s before wee got married, the Vectra will have to do well for a significant length of time before it can gain the same sentimental value as that Golf, but it was certainly proving itself a worthy friend on this journey.

I had chosen the A1 for this drive, over the M1, I always regret making that choice. It is probably 30-50 miles shorter but it takes at least as many minutes longer. The A1’s roundabouts and lorrys overtaking lorrys at slow speeds mean that even with long stretches of roadworks on the M1 the motorway tends to be the better choice. I will hopefully remember this next time.

So, eventually, I arrived at the nursing home in my smart black Vectra, spent the next seven hours with Ladan, and drove back to the flat in the early hours, still hearing that slight knock but pleased that 336 miles of driving had not caused it to develop into anything more serious.

Last Friday morning, after getting to the nursing home fairly early, I took the car to collect some parcels that were waiting for me at the post office, just 1.5 miles away. On my return from the post office my new Vectra started knocking more loudly and then the power went from under my feet. It was exactly as I had expected it to be with the alternator going, a loss of power that merely allowed me to pull over to the side of the road before coming to a complete halt. I tried starting the engine, but it was dead. There appeared to be a little smoke coming from the engine, but I concluded it was some hot oil buring off. I called the RAC to come and get me going again, they thought it was probably steam rising from the car but advised me to phone the fire brigade if it became more smoke-like.

After about half an hour the orange van appeared and I popped the car bonnet for him. As he lifted the bonnet his first words were “Oh… that looks serious”. This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I mentioned the alternator bearings and he had a good look around. “Something seems to have come away from under the engine”, he informed me. The car would have to be towed to a garage.

On closer inspection it was determined that the water pump had probably collapsed. Such was the nature of the damage caused by this that a new timing belt kit would need to be installed, as well as a new water pump, at a cost of about 300 pounds before they would be able to determine if any of the valves had been bent, and if they had it would cost almost another 500 pounds to fix the car from that point. So, I was looking at a bill of between 300 and 800 pounds, and later that day the call came and the final repair bill was going to be 780 pounds. Initially the fear was over whether any of the engine valves had been bent, in actual fact all 16 of them were bent and the head gasket needed replacing. Obviously the final cost of the work comes close to the overall value of the car but it has only done 50,000 miles and I would have been landed with a 300 pound bill for nothing had I not had the rest of the work done.


This is just a quick note to say that…

  • Ladan is much more stable and is hopefully over her infection
  • The friend that I reported to be in intensive care a few weeks ago is now at home
  • My own car crash did me no harm and I have an offer of a replacement car

It has been a very crazy three or four weeks and I am still feeling a little bowled over by it all, but it looks like we are all well.

As if there wasn’t enough drama…

As many readers will know, my wife Ladan – who is in a minimally conscious state – became seriously ill on the night of 17th October (Wednesday) and I was also shocked the following morning by the news that a very good friend was in a serious car accident at much the same time that Ladan became unwell. I was contacting Diana (his wife) and other people to find out what was going on. I soon became reassured that my friend was doing well and that his manager, Bryan, seemed to be doing a sterling job of looking after his needs. But it was reported to be a very serious accident

A few days into our hospital stay I also had a little car crash of my own, I was driving up toward a junction on an A road where the oncoming traffic can turn across the main carriageway onto a central motorway when the road is clear or the traffic lights display a green arrow. The lights were green for me and I saw a car pull up to the lights in the lane for turning across me ahead. Having two sets of lights green in front of me and knowing I had right of way I proceeded at about 50mph toward the junction but as I reached it I saw that the other car started turning into the road. I have previously seen the results of other accidents at this junction and they have not looked good. Not only was I about to hit a car at 50mph but there were also a bollard and a lamp-post to the side of the road that I have seen other cars damaged by. I have also had a similar accident, many years ago, at 40mph and then I was knocked unconscious for a while, suffered temporary amnesia, and was in a lot of pain for about 5 months. “DON’T DO THAT!!!”, I shouted at the top of my voice as I slammed on the breaks unsure that I was going to see another thing in my life, feeling it ironic that my friend had just had a car accident a few days earlier. If you have never been in a car cash there is a strange sensation that you may be unaware of, and that is that time almost stands still for a few seconds. I swerved to try and get in front of the vehicle to avoid the passenger who was in my initial line of travel, then realising that, in spite of having had some kind of impact, I could still steer the car I looked for the bollard and lamp post and aimed the car for the kerb such that I thought it would not hit either, but knowing that the kerb was unavoidable. Kerbs can throw a car over or send them into dangerous spins, sometimes into other traffic. One last deep breath. A terrible smell of smoke. The road was louder, but I was sitting, the wind had been knocked out of me but I was still okay in my car, conscious, half on the kerb, the right way up. The other driver admitted it was his fault and seemed thankful that I had managed to manoeuvre such that everyone was okay. The other driver was planning to drive back to Cambridge following the crash so I hope there was no serious damage to his car. It was a very close call, the car is almost certainly a write-off, even though it drives, the side is dented from wheel-arch to wheel arch and the door is bent out of place at the top, but with everything that was going on the last two weeks I haven’t taken it to the garage yet. Ordinarily this would have been a frightening event in itself, but under the circumstances I just drove back to the hospital where I spent the rest of the night by Ladan’s side, which I enjoyed doing on the occasions I did it in the hospital, I would pray and just enjoy being quietly together through the night. A few hours of near-normality!

Being Fooled by the Signs

Over the weekend I made a brief trip to the South East corner of the country to meet my Mum at Heathrow airport and bring a car load of our belongings back with me. I set off from Ladan’s room at just after 6am and enjoyed the wide empty roads before me as the crisp light of dawn arose around me.

When I was about a third of the way down the country a sign above the almost deserted motorway informed me that there was a queue ahead and that I should slow down to 40mph. Sceptically, I started slowing down only to find that the next overhead sign, just around a bend from the first, said “End” meaning that I had passed the congestion.

I wondered, for a moment, what had prompted the sign to flash such an unlikely warning at me, before forgetting about it and pondering more interesting and important facts such as when and where I would get my breakfast. However, it was not to be the only overhead sign to flash nonsense warnings at me during my 14 hours of driving that weekend, I was warned numerous times of imminent danger by overhead signs on the A1(M), the M1 and the M25 and on every single occasion the warning was false.

Motorway Warning Sign

There were a couple of occasions on the M25 where it is possible the traffic conditions had been different a few minutes earlier, but for the most part the warning signs were not just wrong they were verging on the impossible. The last instance of this that I experienced was on my way back where a sign warned of congestion ahead and suggested I slow down to 50mph, doubtful I ignored it and decided that I would only take notice if the next sign repeated the warning and recommended a drop to 40mph… actually the next sign did repeat the warning and suggested 30mph. The road was flowing so well that with all my experience of false signs I merely ensured I wasn’t above the speed limit, then the next sign was blank. Either it wasn’t playing along with the previous signs or it knew that nobody was taking any notice and took a “What’s the point?” attitude to giving any kind of warning. Of course, there were no delays and the next sign said “End”.

I am reminded of the parable of the boy who cried wolf. During my journey I saw a few accidents and delays on the opposite carriageway. One man I saw sent a cloud of smoke across the road as he burned his tyres coming to a sudden stop from over 70mph… had he seen a warning sign about queues ahead or were they only telling lies this weekend, or had he indeed seen so many false warnings that he had decided not to take any notice anymore.

I have no idea why the overhead warning signs were so outrageously wrong this weekend, but it is dangerous for them to be so. The overhead signs are a means of communicating important information to drivers but if the drivers lose their trust in the communications they are receiving then the communication becomes useless and it can no longer be used to improve safety on the road.



I had intended to get back to the old flat, pack our remaining things and give it a good tidy before collecting my Mum from Heathrow airport. I had forgotten how much stuff was still there and so I didn’t even finish the packing part, though I did pack as much as I would be able to bring back the following day. My Mum is in the country for a few weeks and should be coming up to Newcastle to visit me here soon. On Sunday morning I had the pleasure of seeing my brother Robert, his partner Anne and my nephew Finlay for the first time in over a year. It was a relatively short time before I felt the need to get back on the road but it was really great to see them all. Finlay is so very cute and cheerful.

Unfortunately I will need to make another visit to the flat to get the rest of our things from there, I had hoped this trip (my second quick visit) would be the last so that next time I go south I might just spend my time visiting friends or family rather than packing and loading. Hopefully the next trip will be the last.


Picture 041
Originally uploaded by Princess T.

A few days ago I commented on this photo of driving on the M6 by Manijeh Afnan-Murray that there must be something wrong with the suspension on their car, well, it was only a joke but our own car – obviously being indirectly related to any car that Manijeh drives (Ladan, who bought it, is a cousin of Manijeh’s) – has got all sulky and started playing up just a few months after a service. It often sounds like the exhaust has come loose, Ladan’s car loving uncle thinks our suspension has gone, though it feels fine to me and photos are quite steady from it, and the acceleration isn’t always what it used to be. Unfortunately I’m not sure I can even afford to buy the car flowers to make it feel better at the moment, I’ll have to keep up the charm offensive and hope it stops playing up in such a sulky fashion. In future I’ll be sure to get our car’s approval before making any comments about other vehicles it may feel a connection with.

Humour: Baha’i Car Stickers

The following list was first published on the old UK Baha’i youth website Phoenix Online:

Potential Car Stickers with a Baha’i theme.

  • Fast in March
  • Too far to travel? Bahá’ís work to make the world smaller!
  • I’d rather be in Haifa!
  • If you’re trying to meet your Maker there IS a better way!
  • Beam me up Unknowable Essence!
  • Fed up of this highway? Try the Bahá’í way!
  • Restricted Vision? Read World Order of Bahá’u’lláh.
  • There’s an old sticker under this one. It quotes the Hidden Words.
  • Dizzy Lives!
  • I don’t have another car, my other journey’s a spiritual one!
  • Enjoy stops on your journey? Join The Bahá’í Faith for services in this world and the next.
  • Báb’í on Board!

Martins Volks Werks Ltd

Martins Volks Werks of North Farm Road, Tunbridge Wells, offer a very polite and friendly service, but their invoices can be almost three times their initial quote without warning or explanation either while they have your car or when you are querying the invoice.

If you are not in the Tunbridge Wells area then this will probably be of much less interest to you, but when my wife, Ladan, wanted a service and MOT for her VW Golf in Tunbridge Wells she initially wished to use the main VW Dealer, but as their quote was well over 200 pounds she was encouraged to hear from an employee at that dealership that other VW specialists may be of similar quality but cheaper, she was even given a couple of names. One of those names was Martin’s Volks Werks Ltd. Ladan called them and got a quote of “about 120 pounds” for a service and MOT on her vehicle. Ladan liked the sound of the man on the phone and chose them over a slightly lower quote elsewhere.

The job was done within one day and Ladan arranged to collect the car, the owner of the garage offered to pick her up half way between home and the garage using her serviced Golf. He was very friendly with her and chatty and said that he had even found a problem with the rear brakes which he had fixed free of charge. Ladan, expecting to pay there and then, asked how much the work had come to and she was told that an invoice would be put in the post and she should not worry because it had not come to much as the car was in very good condition. The car’s driver side wing mirror had been broken while in the garages possession and they replaced it with a smaller one as the specialist did not have the correct size for her car in stock.

I know that the motor trade has had a bad reputation in the past for trying to get extra money out of people, in general this is done by phoning the customer part way through a check-up or service to announce that something serious has been found wrong with the car and that it will cost several hundred pounds to fix. I say “in the past” because I have received excellent service and spot-on quotes from Brake Thru in Tunbridge Wells for many years now, and even Kwik Fit are now proving excellent at carrying out only the work that is needed and giving clear, VAT inclusive quotes, in advance (they later phone you and try to sell car insurance on the back of their good service). I was working from home on the day of Ladan’s service and Ladan had her mobile phone with her, we were relieved to receive no such calls from Martin’s Volks Werks. A few days later an invoice arrived, and ‘not much’ against a quote of “about 120 pounds” turned out to be over 300 pounds.

Having just got married and had an exotic honeymoon money was in short supply for us. Ladan visited them and asked what had gone wrong, the man she spoke to said that he did not understand why we had not received a call during the day before they proceeded with the extra work that added the extra costs and apologised for the error, but he said the invoice was correct and that they would split it into two invoices and allow her to pay it over a long period of time without any interest if she wished.

I analysed the invoices that we had been sent, beyond a service and an MOT the only additional cost I could see was a single wiper blade. We decided to write and ask them what they believed cost the additional sum over and above the quote, because everything on the invoice, apart from the actual figures, seemed in keeping with their earlier statement that the car was in good condition and had not required much work. As a show of good faith, which I am now unsure was justified, we sent them a cheque for about 200 pounds with this letter.

That letter was sent in August, the reply was received several months later and did not contain any justification for charges being nearly three times the quote other than, in addition to a wiper blade, the changing of a set of spark leads and an emissions test. Their letter also now claimed that, whilee they did acknowledge that they had no authorization to carry out the additional work (an emissions test and spark leads?), they had tried to call before proceeding with it – a claim which I, having sacrificed my lunch-time walk that day, knew to be false. I was slow in replying to this letter, Ladan had fallen into a coma several weeks before this letter came and I was not sure then whether her condition would be improve quickly or not. That said, I still face every day with the optimism that Ladan may make a substantial recovery during the course of it. Another couple of months on, Martins Volks Werks wrote again saying that if Ladan did not pay the remaining amount within 7 days then they would take legal action. I wrote back immediately informing them of Ladan’s condition and stating that while, if they wait for Ladan to recover she might have another opinion, I did not feel their reply had referred to any work that should not have been included in the original quote. I gave them my mobile phone number in case they wished to further try to settle the matter through me. Although I replied immediately it was still two weeks on from the date of their letter because most of my mail is being forwarded from Tunbridge Wells to Newcastle by a neighbour and there is therefore a delay in correspondence reaching me.

Martins Volks Werks did not, however, try to take any legal action, but nor did they try to contact me, instead they forwarded the matter to a debt collection agency called Network Debt Recovery who have persisted in sending threatening letters addressed to Ladan in spite of me contacting them several times and them assuring me that the matter would be put on hold. Included among the threats was a letter, sent after I had informed them of Ladan’s condition and location, threatening that somebody would come to visit Ladan and if she did not pay the requested amount (doubled by fees) before that visit then she would not be dealt with amicably, Network Debt Recovery’s staff were unable to tell me exactly what this threat had meant and the man I apparently needed to speak to in order to understand what this meant, a Mr. D. Steele, has never been available for me. Thankfully this threat was not carried out. I sought legal advise on whether I should pay or not and I was told to send a letter by recorded delivery to Network Debt Recovery explaining the whole situation, my advisors said that any reputable debt collection agency would drop the case but that in any case I should get back to the legal advisors with their reply. Network Debt Recovery ignored my letter and continue to send threatening letters addressed to Ladan, even though they are clearly fully aware that Ladan is in a comatose state and the letters only serve to cause me additional distress. All further attempts to contact Mr. D Steele by email and by phone have also been ignored. I may blog some more about Network Debt Recovery and their methods at a later date, if you have found this article and are receiving threats from them at the current time, especially if it is also over a claim that you have disputed, email me via jherbert@warble.com with “blog” in the subject.

For the record, Martins Volks Werks are fully aware of the kind of actions that Network Debt Recovery are taking on their behalf as they were copied in on my letter to NDR in which everything to that date was summarised. Asking what seemed like a simple question over how an invoice was triple the price they had led us to expect it would be has resulted in Martins Volks Werks taking actions, while aware of Ladan’s inability to act, for which they have added over 200 pounds worth of additioonal fees, this will make the matter difficult to settle even if they finally extend the courtesy of explaining what the original charges were actually for.

If you have any comments to make about Martins Volks Werks of Tunbridge Wells, good or bad, please do add them below.

Bumper to Bumper on the M1

This evening I drove down to Tunbridge Wells from Newcastle and made excellent time. The roads weren’t quiet as such but they were moving very well. When you take a drive of over 300 miles it is inevitable that you will see some dangerous driving along the way, lately it seems very common to find two cars involved in a high speed road rage showdown on the M1, driving bumper to bumper not because of slow traffic but in a tit-for-tat battle between two angry drivers who keep undertaking and cutting in front of each other at speeds of between 90 and 110mph. It is insane, not only do such drivers put themselves at risk through such frivolous driving but they put all other road drivers at risk too, just because they can’t let it go when another driver acts irresponsibly. If a bad driver isn’t going to be reported to the police then it is best to put as much distance between you and them as possible, rather than letting him or her provoke us into being bad drivers too.

Of course these men and woman with their fast cars do benefit from high response breaking systems as well as incredible acceleration, the equally fooolish are those who drive in standard cars and abide by the speed limit but still drive very close to the tail of the car in front. Again, this endangers the passengers in that car, the car in front, and several surrounding cars on the road. If it were possible I would favour removing speed restrictions on motorways in exchange for enforcement of the 3 second distance rule being sctrictly enforced by technology and heavy fines. Today I saw a couple cruising happily just as metre or two behind a large truck, they would not have been able to see what was in front of it, they would probably not have survived if the truck was brought to a sudden halt, and the truck driver wwould probably not have known there was a car so closely tucked behind his truck. Speed may make accidents worse but accidents are caused by careless driving, you’re not driving safely just because you are sticking to the speed limit. The three second rule involes counting three seconds (try “one elephant, two elephant, three elephant “at a moderate pace) from when the car in front passes a particular point and ensuring that you do not pass that same point before the three seconds are counted.

I’ll be on the road again tomorrow, same journey in the opposite direction. My wife has been admitted to hospital in Newcastle because nobody has been able to work out what is causing her intense stomach pains and vomitting… no, she isn’t pregnant. Nobody thinks it is too serious but after two and a half weeks she has barely kept any food down, the doctors best guess at the moment is that the underlying cause is a parasite picked up on our honeymoon in Egypt, but we’ll know more as the tests take place. I’ve come back briefly to grab some things and save the fish from starving.

Essential Pollution?

The rising cost of fuel in the UK

It’s happening again, fuel prices are steadily rising toward the point where they can cause serious and unexpected damage to personal financial planning. Four years ago the cost of commuting by car went up by £50 per month for me within a matter of weeks, this time I am working from home so I am not so directly affected, but what concerns me most as I see fuel prices rise again is that I am not convinced any lessons were learned four years ago.

It has been common practise for the government of the day to announce in its annual budget that the tax paid on fuel would rise by some small amount. Currently when I pay 83 pence for a litre of fuel about 61 pence of that goes to the government and the UK has one of the highest rates of tax on fuel in the developed world. Generally the Chancellor of the Exchequer uses the preservation of the environment as the excuse for raising taxes as an incentive for us to stop driving cars, but when lorry drivers blockaded fuel depots in 2000 there were no politicians praising the good this was doing to our environment, instead it was proven that much of the countries infrastructure relies upon fuel and that many who rely on it cannot simply switch to using public transport.

Of course, that blockade of fuel was not expected and therefore it caused more problems than a planned-for shortage would. What has always seemed silly about the environmental incentive argument for fuel tax is that the cost of fuel (and thus the tax paid on it) in large cities, particularly London, is substantially cheaper than it is in rural areas, yet public transport into and within these cities is very good while public transport in more rural areas is very poor. In south east England a commuter can easily commute any number of miles toward, or directly away from, London but travelling less than ten miles east or west can often require a car or an 80 mile train journey via London. So where the choice really exists to leave your car at home and jump on a train or a bus there is substantially less incentive to do so, while those who have no choice are hit with higher and higher living costs.

When the fuel protesters rolled up in 2000, however, and suggested that the government drop tax on fuel by just 2p per litre, the governments response was very revealing. The government informed us that losing 2 pence from fuel tax would require a public spending cut of over one billion pounds in an essential service such as education, health or the emergency services. What this information suggests about the UK’s reliance on fuel is that the government needs the public to buy fuel just as much as the public need it to operate their lives. Simple mathematics suggests that if just a few percent of UK drivers were in a position to stop using their cars completely for the sake of the environment then the government would be in that same predicament of lacking funds for essential services. So long as the UK government needs the tax from polluting fuels to fund the rest of the economy they are not going to have an incentive to make real improvements to public transport or offer powerful incentives to speed up the take-over of cheaper and cleaner fuels on our roads.

Back in 2000 there was talk of change from the government, a ten year plan had been introduced to improve transport throughout the UK, one suggestion in the plan was that Britain’s most congested roads might benefit from using tolls, but we were pomised that public transport would be greatly improved before this plan would be considered. Now, in 2004, the suggestion of tolls for congested roads is being considered again but without the promises of an improved public transport system. I worry for M25 users because this must be one of the most congested roads in Europe, nicknamed the M25 car-park by many regular users. One of the main reasons that the M25 is always so busy is the lack of alternative transport moving in a direction other than London, if there were such alternatives I think it is obvious many people would choose them over hovering between the break and the clutch in the bottom two gears for an hour. Most regular M25 users already suffer enough having to face the congestion nightmare twice every day, forcing them pay more for it just doesn’t seem fair and will likely make getting to work too expensive for some of them.

Obviously pollution is a problem that the people of the UK take very seriously, most people proudly switched to unleaded fuel as quickly as they could when it was introduced because they thought they were making a big difference. If the incentives and advertising were put in place to encourage drivers to convert to LPG (Gas) and it was sold at every fuel station then I am sure this would also be a popular move for most Britons. Even with cleaner fuels in place we still need to discourage non-essential travel that pollutes the environment, and some kind of toll charging may still be a good idea, but I would want it to be made conditional upon needs. If you can prove that your journey to work, or your actual work, or even your shopping trip or school run reasonably requires that you regularly use certain motorways then you should have free access to those sections of the road network, on the other hand if you are using your car for those purposes when there is a public transport alternative, or you are on a journey outside the part of the network that you require use of for your day to day life, then I think it fair that a charge would be made for occasional, luxury or liesure use of Britain’s motorways.

Ideally, of course, taxation needs to be re-thought so that tax taken from polluting transportation fuels that we should be trying to be rid of is only used to fund and improve transport and environmental projects and the funds required for our essential services are raised from other sources which we, as responsible and environmentally friendly citizens, would want to see available as a source of funds in the longer term.