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  1. The Motorists Guide

    What’s the best oil for my car?

    Different cars require different types of oil Choosing the best oil for your car's engine can be tough, given the large number of options available. Our guide can help you make the right choice Oil is one of those mysterious substances for many car owners. Unless you’re an enthusiast, you may well open your car’s bonnet only when something goes wrong – you’ve run out of washer fluid or there’s an alarming amount of smoke coming from somewhere. But keeping the car well lubricated is one of the most important maintenance jobs, because unwanted friction in a fast-moving engine usually leads to bad, potentially expensive news. Advanced mechanical technology in modern cars means that modern oils are more complex than ever, according to David Wright, director general of the United Kingdom Lubricants Association. He says increased regulations on vehicle emissions and increasing demands from consumers for performance uncompromised by advanced fuel economy have meant that the lubricant industry of oil blenders and marketers has had to keep up with manufacturer demands as they chase better efficiency. “Smaller oil sumps mean we are all using less oil each year but the oil we are using has to work twice as hard,” Wright says. “Car manufacturers today are demanding thinner and lighter engine oil viscosities to achieve enhanced fuel consumption in a smaller, more powerful engine while at the same time reducing emissions.” This means that getting the right oil for your car is more important than ever. Get it wrong and while you won’t see instant disaster as you would if you’d put diesel in a petrol car, you will subject your engine to excess component wear. “You won’t see an issue immediately. It’s not like putting contaminated fuel into your vehicle,” says Wright. “But within 20,000 miles, you could have severe operational issues.” What kind of oil you need depends on the engine. All new cars will come with a recommended grade listed in the manual and usually a recommended manufacturer, too. The grade will be shown in numbers, separated by the letter ‘w’ – for example, 5w40. “Put simply, the viscosity of an oil gives you an indication of its resistance to flow at given temperatures,” Wright explains. “The ‘w’ rating, preceded by a number, gives you an indication of how the oil flows at winter temperatures and the last number indicates flow in summer temperatures.” However, the viscosity alone isn’t enough to indicate how well an oil will protect your engine. There are numerous tests that car manufacturers go through to formulate engine oils and these are ratified by an organisation called the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, known as the ACEA (an acronym of the organisation’s French title). The ACEA determines the exact requirements needed to meet the demands of different types of modern engine. The specifications, known as ACEA Oil Sequences, are renewed every four years but are backwards compatible for older vehicles. “The high costs of investment in engine oil technology run into six or even seven figures for a set of engine tests. Oil blenders, manufacturers and marketers have to be certain that the lubricants they sell are suitable for a given application,” Wright says. Each ACEA specification is denoted by a letter, followed by a number, which identifies the class of oil and a category within that class – for example, ACEA C3. This specification will be indicated on the oil packaging and the car manufacturer's manual will again specify which you should go for. But what if you can’t find the exact recommended oil? Wright says drivers should tread carefully, because using the wrong oil can cause damage to your car’s engine. The problem is that the oil industry is self-certifying. The ACEA defines the specifications, but it’s up to the manufacturers to make sure that the products they put out meet them. A technical organisation called ATIAL spot-checks products of its members every few years, but largely it’s down to the industry to self-police. Some lesser known oil suppliers have been known to label their products as a certain specification but not meet the standards. “Sometimes it distorts the marketplace if you get some less reputable new entrants into a market selling product below the cost price of other, more reputable blenders. That’s when you get some questions raised. “If something looks too good to be true, then it probably is,” Wright says. “If you have been offered the latest specification, fully synthetic engine oil in the pub for £1 a litre, then it probably is too good to be true.” Read more: Why engine downsizing doesn't always work To combat such products and to check the quality of products, the UKLA launched the Verification of Lubricant Specifications (VLS) service. Anyone can suggest a product for it to test, and if it’s found to be wanting, the UKLA will ask the marketer to quarantine or recall the product, and relabel or reformulate it. Wright says that since the VLS was launched in 2013, it has made a positive impact on the quality of lubricants sold in Britain. “I think we’re almost there,” he says. “Some of the newer companies are marketing strange formulation that need investigating but, on the whole, the UK market is quite compliant.” Conversely, some manufacturers produce oils that go beyond the required specifications. “Some manufacturers will blend to the base line and some will look to exceed it, to develop some form of quality positioning around their brand,” Wright explains. “It’s usually the multinationals, the big companies that will make them even better than the specifications. So if an oil specification says it’ll last for 15,000 miles, they’ll make it so it lasts 20,000 miles, for example. They’ll put a richer mix of additives into the formula to make sure that not only does it not produce wear in an engine, but it’ll help protect the engine over time, too.” Quick questions How does oil vary? Oil comes in different viscosities, signified by a grade number, such as 5w40. It’s also blended for different types of engines, signified by an ACEA specification, such as ACEA A1/B1. What oil suits what car? The type of oil recommended by the car manufacturer will be listed in the manual. It may recommend a particular brand, but the grade and ACEA specification are the important things to look for. Does brand matter? As long as the grade and ACEA specification is correct, you should be fine. However, David Wright of the United Kingdom Lubricant Association recommends choosing reputable manufacturers. Some firms will blend more advanced, expensive oils that exceed the specifications on the packaging. What about cheaper brands? Again, as long as the grade and ACEA specifications are correct, then everything should be okay. But oils from some newer, less reputable brands on the market have been found not to meet the claimed specifications. The UKLA’s VLS service investigates complaints and tests products to see if they’re compliant and has an archive of its findings on its website - http://www.ukla-vls.org.uk. What happens if you use the wrong oil? Using the wrong oil will put undue stress on the mechanical components of your engine. Badly lubricated parts will wear faster and so decrease the life of the engine. How often should you check your oil? There’s no set rule. Those who drive more should check more often. David Wright suggests everyone should check their vehicle's oil levels at least once a month. How often should you change the oil in your car? This will vary from car to car and will be mentioned in the car’s manual. Glossary of terms ACEA - European Automobile Manufacturers Association. An organisation that represents European vehicle makers and determines the requirements for modern lubricants. Specifications for different types of oil are denoted by an ACEA figure on packaging, such as ACEA A1/B1. ATIEL – Industry association of European lubricant manufacturers and marketers. The acronym comes from the French “Association Technique de l'Industrie Européenne des Lubrifiants” Grade – the viscosity of your engine oil, signified by two numbers that indicate oil flow in winter and summer temperatures (eg 5w40). The lower the numbers, the thinner the viscosity. SAE - Society of Automotive Engineers. The US-based body that defines how oil viscosities are defined and regulated. UKLA – United Kingdom Lubricants Association. Body representing businesses in the British lubricant industry. VLS – Verification of Lubricant Specifications. A non-profit service launched by the UKLA to investigate complaints of non-compliance with lubricant specifications. View the full article
  2. The Motorists Guide

    Driving Abroad

    Driving abroad is generally one of the best ways of experiencing all of what Europe has to offer and is generally completely stress-free because of empty roads, wonderful scenery, much less traffic and cheaper fuel costs On the slightly pessimistic but realistic side of the coin, there are several rules and regulations that are different to the UK and must be observed to avoid fines. We have listed some of the Laws, Hints and Tips you should know prior to setting off on your road trip. Fuel: Generally, fuel costs are cheaper in Europe than the UK and in some countries, it is considerably cheaper to fuel up your car. However, not all fuel stations work the same as the UK and one thing to note is that some won't accept UK Credit Cards, some will charge you a set amount (say 200 euros and then later on refund the unused balance), some you have to pay for before fuelling up. So in general, it is best to check out which payment methods are used prior to fuelling up. Tolls: France charges tolls for most of the major motorway routes, which is fair enough if you need to cover huge distances in a short time period but can mount up quite considerably in costs. Germany and Belguim do not charge for using their motorway systems and sometimes it is worth considering using them to drive your route to southern Europe and save some money. Austria uses a system called a 'Vignette' which is like a prepaid top-up system to use their motorways and this needs to be purchased before entering their roads. Large fines can be levied for failing to purchase a Vignette and displaying it in your car windscreen. Laws: (National and Regional) France: A new law recently passed in France is that no earpieces are to be worn when driving, as to cause a distraction. Headphones, Earplugs, Bluetooth Headsets, all of which are deemed to distract the driver by depriving the driver of one of the senses. Germany: Use headlights when driving in the rain and watch out for speed limits in small towns which can be as low as 20mph / 30kph Italy: Ensure headlights are on when driving through tunnels Speed Limits: Very strict speed limits apply throughout Europe and heavy fines can be levied on those breaking the law. In extreme cases, the vehicle can be seized and driving licenses revoked for the duration of the journey which would require a passenger to continue the journey as the driver. In towns, the speed limit varies but is generally 30 to 50 kph. In extra-urban areas, the limit is usually around 70 kph and on motorways, it can be up to 130 kph but down to 110 kph when it is raining. UPDATE: French speed limits of 90kph have now been lowered in some areas to 80kph. It is therefore worthwhile taking notice of the signs or seeking guidance beforehand to know the speed limits in the country you are traveling through. Parking: This is in general, a pleasurable experience in so much as Parking costs are usually a lot cheaper, if not free in a lot of cases. Overnight parking and rest breaks would be best in the generally more secure Toll roads service stations as there are CCTV cameras covering the service stations, car parks and all vehicles are checked in and out of the Toll stations. Insurance & Breakdown Cover: It is worthwhile ensuring that your vehicle is adequately insured to drive in Europe and that the Breakdown cover also extends into Europe. There are numerous bolt-ons available from Insurance companies to further enhance the level of cover and excesses for driving abroad, so it may be worth contacting your Insurance company before setting off to check everything is in place. Breakdown cover can exclude vehicles of a certain age or size, so again it is worth checking with your Insurance company before setting off. Security: This is an important factor to consider if you wish your holiday to be as stress-free as possible. The 'Golden Rule' is do not leave the car in an area that could be considered as remote or not within coverage of CCTV or witnesses. Do not leave anything on display as this is an invitation to thieves to break into your car and quite often cause damage trying to enter the vehicle which can seriously dent your holiday budget. You would be best locking everything in the boot and out of sight. Permits: Driving in French Cities read article on Crit'Air permits here Vehicle Requirements: A motoring kit needs to be packed in the car before venturing abroad. Below is a list of the minimum required kit to take with you in order to comply with all the rules and regulations: The below items are linked for your convenience and for easier searching. First Aid Kit (comprehensive) Spare Bulb Kit (bulbs for all the lights on the car) Breathalysers (necessary in France) GB or Euro Sticker on the rear of the vehicle Headlamp Deflectors Warning Triangle (sometimes two, depending on country) Fluorescent Jackets (one per passenger and packed within the car so as accessible) Vehicle Documents (Insurance, MOT, Registration Documents) Driving Licence(s) Other items that you may wish to take with you: Spare Key, it's no good being left at home! Best to give to a passenger. Dash Cam (plenty of false claims occurring on the continent) Sat Nav (no speed camera location software to be used in France) Games and entertainment for the Kids Food and Drink, although the motorway services are of a high standard and are generally quite reasonable costs. Change (coins of the local currency) are needed for the Toilets in motorway services - HINT: some toilet turnstiles issue an entry ticket which can be redeemed at the shop checkout for the full amount paid FURTHER READING & INFORMATION Toll Roads and Driving Abroad http://bit.ly/TollTag
  3. For the short amount of time that it takes to check your car before setting off is a worthwhile investment, even if it does highlight a problem that you have to resolve, it is still more beneficial to get it sorted before leaving home. What you should check on your car before you set off on your Summer holiday Fluids – Engine coolant and oil levels, power steering fluid, screen-wash, Electrics – Battery condition, lighting, warning lamps, horn, washers and wipers Tyres – Pressures, condition, spare wheel or sealant Brakes – Pad wear, brake fluid level Other areas to consider having checked over by a Garage before setting off Drive Belts – Camshaft Timing Belt, Auxiliary Drive Belt (Alternator, Air Conditioning, Power Steering) Air Conditioning – Does it blow cold air? Does it smell? What else have you forgotten to check? Insurance policy covers driving abroad Breakdown Insurance policy SatNav is updated / route planned Motoring Kit – Warning Triangle, Bulbs and Fuses, Fluorescent Jackets, Breathalysers, First Aid kit Vignette to travel in certain countries and cities (similar to Road Tax) Travel Insurance (home and abroad) Passport and Driving Licence Dash Cam Credit Card for Toll Roads All of this is common sense and can easily be eliminated by having the car serviced before setting off. There are always other factors that can lead to a breakdown, such as mis-fuelling, accidents or even getting lost en-route. This is when Insurances are invaluable and even if you don’t need to use it, it gives you peace of mind. It is also a good idea to check for the latest motoring rules and regulations of countries that you may be travelling through on your journey. It seems that many more are being introduced on a regular basis and if you are unaware of any then it may cost you dearly. Staying comfortable during your trip Refreshments are a must when driving long distances and particularly in hot climates. Drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding eating bread can lead to higher levels of energy and concentration. Keeping the Air Conditioning on but on ‘Fresh Air’ rather than ‘Recirculate’ which can lead to dehydration. Entertainment is an absolute ‘must have’ when travelling long distances or even when sat in a traffic jam. DVD players are great to keep the kids entertained for hours on end. Sunglasses and prescription glasses are also a ‘must have’ along with suitable window tinting in hot climates to protect skin from burning. Plan your journey with plenty of convenience stops and to pick up additional fuel which gives you an opportunity to walk around for a few minutes to avoid cramps and to stay alert for longer. Above all, enjoy the road trip and get to your holiday destination in one piece and as stress-free as possible, but remember to check the car for the return journey. Happy Summer Holidays !
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