Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Fri, 16 Apr 2010

Hi and Drai

Our old Rover car had been showing its age and so we had been looking at getting a replacement. Our diesel Zafira is a perfect family car, so we wanted something small and economical to get me to work. The Zafira did pretty well with 47mpg, but with fuel getting more expensive I wanted better than that, without blowing the budget.

We could have gone for second hand, but the government's scrappage scheme could give us £2000 off a new car in exchange for the Rover, which was worth a lot less than that. The most appealing option was the little Hyundai i10. It comes with all the features you need and worked out cheaper than a second hand Toyota Yaris. We did test drive a new Toyota Auris, but I couldn't see why I would pay that much more money for that, although it did offer better mpg.

So we ordered the i10. We went for the mid-range 'Comfort' model to get features like a height-adjustable driver's seat and remote central locking, but I wasn't really fussed about getting alloy wheels and coordinated trim. We opted for the stability control system. It took a few weeks to arrive from India and I'm very happy with it after around 1500 miles. I'm not a 'sporty' driver and it moves along perfectly well in traffic, including on the motorway, without too much noise. The quality of finish is better than most cars I've had in the past. Having an aux in on the standard radio is great for me to plug in something to play podcasts.

So far I'm getting economy between 50 and 54mpg calculated when I fill up. I'd have loved a real-time economy meter to optimise my driving, but that was not available. I'll also be saving money on road tax as it's only £35/year. I'm still getting used to driving such a small car. Yesterday I ended up some way from the petrol pump when guestimating where the filler cap would be. Mind you, the old Fiat 126 I had in Germany was smaller, but much more basic.

[10:20] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 17 Sep 2009

Return of the micro-car

My job requires me to drive around 40 miles into London several times each week. I travel alone in a medium-sized car and the roads are full of other single occupant vehicles. My car, Vauxhall Zafira diesel, is reasonably efficient for its class at 46mpg, but it's still a relatively inefficient way of getting around. A few years back I was doing the journey by motorbike. That did a slightly better 60mpg, but there are cars that could do similar. The bike saved me a bit of time in general, but came with the disadvantages of increased risk and getting cold and wet in winter. I can get the train to work, but it costs more than using the car and takes a lot longer.

We're a two car family, but that's almost essential with us both working whilst living in a large village with limited public transport. If we got rid of one car and I always took the train would not save us much, if any money. Much as I want to be green we have to live within our means. I could try and find a job that required less travel, but it's not the best time to be doing that.

What I'd like is a much more efficient vehicle that still offers the comfort and safety of a car.For a couple of years I've been following the progress of the Loremo car, a lightweight diesel car that promised up to 180mpg. It's still not out and currently scheduled for a 2011 launch. It has some unusual features like lifting the front of the car to get in and having a pair of rear-facing seats in the boot.

This week I saw that Volkswagen were showing off their own mini diesel hybrid. This is even more minimal with only two seats, but that's perfectly adequate as a commuting vehicle. So what's stopping them putting it into production? I'd buy one if the price was reasonable.

That VW reminded me a lot of the old Messerschmitt bubble cars. Perhaps the time has come again for a more human-sized car. Not that they would be any use to this chap.

[21:09] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 18 Jun 2008

Frugal Driving

Even before fuel prices started going mad I was trying to drive economically. My commute is about 30 miles of motorway and 10 of London dual-carriageways. That generally takes anything from 60 to 90 minutes with odd exception of much longer when the traffic gets totally messed up. So at best I am averaging 40mph. I drive a 2004 Vauxhall Zafira 1.9 Turbodiesel. The official fuel consumption figures are Urban: 37.2mpg, Extra Urban 55.4mpg, Combined 47.1mpg. The only way I have to check mine is by calculating from how many miles I get from a full tank to when I when I next fill it and I was getting around 47mpg. I try to keep a light right foot with minimal braking and gentle acceleration. I was doing 65-70mpg on the motorway and keeping to limits in town.

Recently I have been trying to improve on that. The main change is going down to 60-65mph. I still go over that if I need to overtake and not hold up the rest of the traffic too much. Going up hills I may slow a bit more. The result has been figures of 50 and 51mpg on the last two tanks. That is saving me nearly a penny per mile. The thing is that it probably doesn't make much difference to my journey time. For a fair bit of the motorway travel I can't even get up to 60mph. Those who do overtake me will just reach one of the several pinch points a bit sooner. So they may save a couple of minutes, but that's no big deal. I find driving a bit slower less stressful. I don't have to do too much overtaking. I try to go slightly quicker than the trucks so as not to slow them up, but also pass a few cars.

I would like to do even better, but that may require more radical methods. The so-called hypermilers go to extremes like coasting with the engine off and making major modifications to their cars. I would be prepared to invest some money on car parts if the payback time was reasonable. What I could really do with is a computer as featured on many cars that tells you the mpg at any given time so that I could adjust my speed, but I'm not sure I want to go much slower. I could try removing the roof bars that serve no real purpose, but I don't know if it would make a measurable difference. Any suggestions?

Another aspect of my driving is trying to help the general traffic flow. The first rule is good lane discipline. Often I see the overtaking lane full and the middle empty. Then someone will take a chance on speeding up there. I try to keep things moving at junctions. When it's busy then any dawdling can mean many people missing a change of the lights and spending more time burning fuel whilst getting nowhere. When the traffic starts speeding up after a slow patch I try to get away as quick as I safely can. Others leave huge gaps and so don't help the jam to clear. I'll often move into a slower lane where there is a big gap and let others get past me. I doubt that I make much difference, but if more people drove a bit less selfishly then it could.

The biggest difference I can make is by driving less. I am trying to do this by working from home more. In my line of work that is easy to do and saves me 2.5 hours of daily travelling. My employer is being fairly accommodating about this.

We hear a lot about carbon footprints and there are various sites that will calculate yours. The Carbon Account uses details of your mileage, meter readings and flight details to give a visual impression of how you are doing in certain aspects. I've just started using it. It's scary how big a contribution even a flight within Europe can make. I've done a lot of flights for work in the last few years, but not so much lately. We might do one a year for family holidays, but will look at other options such as the train. We recently took the train to Edinburgh and it was very convenient apart from a bit of waiting around. It was quicker than driving and no more expensive. Flying would have involved getting to and from the airports and probably not saved much time.

[21:40] | [] | Comments | G

Sun, 10 Feb 2008

Wishy Washy

A while back I started having problems with the windscreen washers on my Zafira. Something was blocking it. I found that I could pull the pipe off the washer and blow down it. That sometimes cleared it, but not permanently. Then one time I went to do this and snapped a bit off the nozzle. I just got a new one that cost all of UKP2.30, but fitting it was not easy. Basically you have to destroy the old one by hacking bits off it as it pushes into a hole, but will not come back out. I couldn't find any details of this on-line, so perhaps this information will help someone else.

I'm guessing that the blockage was due to something in the reservoir, but that is fairly inaccessible in the wing of the car. I thought I would fix that by siphoning it out. I managed to get some lovely bright green screenwash in my gob, but managed using a bit of hosepipe. I did it a few times for good measure and, fingers crossed, it seems to be okay now. So it cost me a couple of quid, a chunk of my time and the skin of a couple of knuckles. I just don't have the time and money to take it to a mechanic.

I don't think too much of interest has been going on in my life lately. I have had some use of the Wii wireless to send things back and forth to our friends. My computer audio problems persist. I think I will have to reinstall Kubuntu and accept that I will have to set a load of stuff up again, but at least most user settings survive as my home partition will still be there. The problem tends to be finding a spare few hours to do it all.

[21:20] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 19 Apr 2007

Catch the car crooks

According to the BBC less than half of drivers caught on speed and traffic light cameras get fines and points. A third cannot be traced. Surely it is more important to catch that third than to just put up more cameras. If they can get away with speeding then they are likely to not be paying insurance or road tax either. I begrudge having to subsidise them. I bet that a fair few have false number plates and so someone else may get the blame for their offences. Perhaps if they are detected more than once on a given route then the police could go out and trap them. The roads are dangerous enough without these idiots.

I've never been done for speeding myself and am unlikely to be as I don't speed. I'm more concerned about cutting my fuel consumption so I drive up and down the A1(M) at around 65mph. A lot of people overtake me, but I still pass a few and it all evens out at the regular slow points, so I don't think it costs me more than a couple of minutes on my journey. It's generally less stressful than trying to drive fast. If you want thrills then get them away from the public roads.

I've just seen a separate story about turning pig fat into diesel. Another crap idea from the oil industry and not appealing to a non-meateater like myself. The meat industry itself uses vast amounts of energy and the animals emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases. The whole biofuels from plants idea is not viable either. We should be growing food to feed the world rather than to keep our cars going and there just isn't enough land to grow enough fuel for everyone.

[22:07] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 20 Dec 2006

Haven't the Foggiest

There's been a little bit of mist/fog about in the mornings this week. Some people seem to think that this means they must have their fog lights on. The Highway Code is quite clear on this. Fog lights (front and rear) are only to be used when visibility is 'seriously reduced', i.e. when people other drivers would not be able to see you clearly otherwise. I have emailed the local radio stations in the vain home that they might mention this on their traffic reports when they are saying there is fog about.

Don't get me started on those people who always have their front fogs on to try and intimidate others. And what is it with those who drive around with front fogs and side lights? Trying to make up for their general dimness?

[09:48] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 08 Dec 2006


One of the pet hates of motorists over the last few years has been the use of wheel clamps and the extortionate fees charged for getting them removed. Up until now we have been unaffected, but this week it caught up with us.

My other half went shopping in Stevenage with a friend. They parked in the free carpark by the cinema, intending to use one of the restaurants there later. When they got back with the shopping they had been clamped. They obviously look out for people parking and walking away then pounce, without giving those people any opportunity to remove their cars. Of course they charged a lot to remove it. As it's private land there doesn't seem to be much chance of appealing. It would be easier against a council.

I can appreciate that carpark owners do not want their spaces taken up by people who are not spending their money there, but this response seems to be totally out of proportion. We will not be going to that cinema or the nearby restaurants again in the near future and will let them know this. Bedford and Hatfield are not much further away. If either of my readers is likely to go there then I hope they heed this warning.

I needed to get that out of my system. Meanwhile, I've managed to read a fair few books this year. I've been inspired to re-read my Douglas Adams collection. I've just completed the Hitchhiker 'trilogy'. I'm not really reviewing them, but I'm logging them all on my book list. The Amazon links will all contribute to the school if you use them. I'm hoping that my affiliate links will raise a few quid from Xmas shopping.

[14:36] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 20 Apr 2006

Money to Burn

I saw my first 1 Litre of diesel this week. 100.9p at the Hendon Way BP. I suspect they have been trying to delay going to triple digit pence, but had to give in. I filled up for a penny less elsewhere. I could have got cheaper if I could have waited, but I was getting very low on fuel. I don't generally drive further for cheaper fuel, but usually hang on if I know it's cheaper further along my route.

While I'm on the subject of prices, why do we have to have .9 or .99 prices everywhere? Are people really fooled into thinking it's so much cheaper? For a TV to cost 499.99 rather than 500 is silly, but for a magazine to cost 3.99 is a pain as you just end up with loads of pennies if you pay cash. If it's less than 1% of the price I just don't care about the odd penny. With fuel you are dealing with tenths of a penny. I expect the argument will be that nobody wants to be first to make the change.

The fact that everything is priced at these artificial numbers shows how contrived pricing is. Prices are rounded up to whatever it is though the market will bear. Some internet retailers are going against this and pricing at the minimum they can sustain as they know people are using comparison sites to find the lowest possible price. I buy most major items on-line these days in order to save a few quid and to avoid having to trail around all the shops.

[08:20] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 08 Mar 2006

More on the Loremo

When I looked at this car before I wondered how you got in as there was no sign of a door. Now some new pictures from a car show have appeared that show how it works. The whole front of the car lifts up. Like some sports cars I've been in it may require some gymnastics to get in. You can also see that the +2 seats are accessed from the rear and face backwards. It's a novel way to fit them in.

I'm so intruiged that I have subscribed to their mailing list to see how things develop.

[12:45] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 27 Feb 2006

At last, the car of tomorrow

For many years I have been frustrated by the motor industry not making any major improvements in fuel economy. At best the average car might be a few percent better than one for ten years ago. Our diesel Zafira manages up to 50mpg (5.5 l/100km). That's about 30% better than our old Rover, but probably largely down to being a diesel. Even the much celebrated Toyota Prius can only manage something around the mid sixties, depending on how and where you drive. If you drive mostly motorway it would not be that high as the petrol engine would have to run all the time.

Today I read about an intruiging car from a company called Loremo. They seem to be a small company in Germany who are developing a car that can manage a staggering 180mpg (1.5 l/100km)! Unlike some of the concept cars you see this looks reasonably practical with capacity for up to four passengers, but I expect those in the back would not have much room. The economy comes from using a small (15 kW / 20 HP) diesel engine in a very light (450 kg) package with very good aerodynamics. Obviously it's not going to be the quickest car on the road (0-100km/h in a leisurely 20s), but they reckon it can get to 160km/h eventually, which is quicker than anyone should be travelling on UK roads.

There's an alternative model with a much more powerful engine that manages about half the economy for those who feel the need. Both are reasonably priced, but will not be available before 2009.It's in the same sort of ballpark as the Smart ForFour, but weighs about half as much.

It will be interesting to see if they get to market on schedule, if at all. Maybe the technology will filter up to cars in general and we can all look forward to using less of the increasingly expensive go-juice.

I'm making an effort to use metric measures at the moment. It's difficult as so many aspects of motoring in the UK are stuck in the imperial age even if we buy our fuel in Litres. Changing all our distance and speed signs would be a major undertaking and would cause much confusion.

I recently read an interesting site on the history and statistics of which side of the road various countries drive on. That's another thing that's unlikely to change in a hurry.

[21:41] | [] | Comments | G

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