Driving Hints and Tips

Tips to cut insurance

Renewing your policy early can be a smart move. With some insurers, you can buy cover 30 days ahead of the renewal date, and this can make a saving compared with buying the day before. This is because some insurers view organised people as more risk averse, and therefore less likely to take a chance behind the wheel – or miss a premium. Note that while paying for your insurance in monthly instalments may help spread the cost, it often works out more expensive than paying in one go upfront as insurers treat your premiums as a high-interest loan.

Again, consider your job title when you apply. You may want to tweak it because job descriptions are important and determine how risky an insurer will view you. An illustrator will often get cheaper car insurance than an artist. The same goes for an editor rather than a journalist and a PA rather than a secretary. Protecting your car from theft by fitting a car alarm or immobiliser can also bring down costs and if possible, try to park in a garage or driveway rather than on the road. Insurers look kindly on this.

Codes on your licence

Are you aware that the back of your driving licence holds a code that could catch you out, incurring a fine or penalty points? This code comes under Section 12 on the reverse of your licence. One of the most common codes is ’01’ and this relates to the quality of your eyesight as stated by you at the time of receiving your licence.

If you declared having minor sight defects, then on signing for your driving licence you will have legally agreed to wear glasses or contact lenses at all times while in the car. Being caught at the wheel without these aids means police can fine you £100 on the spot or take you to court where you could be charged up to £1,000 and receive three to six penalty points. Best advice: if you need glasses for driving, always keep a pair in the glove box.

Rear-view mirror trick

Getting dazzled by another driver’s full-beam lights is an annoying pitfall of driving at
night. Happily, there’s a handy trick to ensure the lights from the motorist behind you no
longer dazzle and distract you. It’s all down to the rear-view mirror in your car which has a
hidden switch. Simply by flicking this you will help reflect the light beams from the car behind
upwards and away from your eyes.

What looks like a flat mirror suspended from the middle of your windscreen is actually a
prismatic wedge, this is because your rear-view mirror is positioned at an angle which gives
off a glare when driving at night. By simply flicking the switch on your mirror you swap the
angle around, so any blinding light disappears as it is reflected upward and away from your
eyes. That little switch has been there all along, so check it out and make the most of it.

Driving too slowly

Road conditions aside, slow drivers can be just as dangerous as motorists caught speeding. If you’re driving 30mph in a 40mph zone for no logical reason, then speed up. Look in your rear-view mirror. See that build-up of traffic behind you?

Interestingly, there is no minimum speed limit in the UK, except on certain stretches of road, such as tunnels to keep traffic moving. These minimums are marked by a round blue sign with white numerals. However, driving too slowly is an offence, coming under the scope of ‘inconsiderate driving’. You could be fined because a car that’s travelling far below the speed of the vehicles around it poses a hazard to other road-users. Best advice: if weather, road and traffic conditions allow, drive at whatever the speed limit is on that particular road.

Think before you follow

Drivers who follow a friend in a car are more likely to take risks according to psychologists at
the Arizona State University. Researchers found that when drivers are asked to follow another
vehicle it can lead to risky behaviour such as driving faster, making more erratic turns,
speeding through traffic lights and following too close to the car in front. This is most likely
caused by fear of getting lost or losing sight of your friend. To avoid this behaviour, the
research offers simple advice: if you are faced with this situation, get the address from the
lead driver and use a map or sat nav so you know how to get there safely yourself.

Brimming with fuel

Ninety-nine per cent of drivers do this, but brimming your fuel tank to the top is not the best way to fill up. Doing so leaves no room for fuel vapour to expand inside the tank, and can damage your car’s vapour collection system. This consists of a charcoal filter that could be flooded – and damaged – by excess fuel. Moreover, inefficient fuel vapour collection is not good for the environment.

Fuel savers

Just like your body, your car needs more fuel to move around more weight. So just as you wouldn’t wear a heavy rucksack unless you had to, don’t cart stuff around in your car boot unless you really need to. Ironically, the heavier the item the less likely you are to bother taking it out of the boot and the greater the effect this will have on your fuel consumption.

Also, you may not be aware that when you drive a car that’s been parked for a few hours the engine is cold and it therefore uses much more fuel for the first five miles or so? To conserve your petrol or diesel avoid popping out here and there, try to combine your daily errands into one trip.

Fuel mix-up

More than 150,000 motorists put petrol in their diesel cars by mistake every year, so you’re not alone if this happens to you. Nor is it an expensive mistake, providing you immediately take the right action. Remove your keys from the ignition and do not attempt to start your car. Petrol acts as a solvent, weakening the lubricating effects of diesel and turning on your ignition will start the fuel pump causing damage. Simply put your car in neutral and ask for help to push it away from the petrol pumps to a safe place. Call your breakdown service to take you to a garage to have your fuel tank pumped out. Alternatively, call the AA Fuel Assist team on 0800 072 7420, they will drain the wrong fuel and fill your car with the right one on the spot – and you don’t have to be a member.

Fortunately, putting diesel in a petrol car is less likely as the nozzle on a diesel pump is bigger than the one for petrol, making it almost impossible to put into your car’s filler neck. However, if you do manage to put diesel in your petrol car, the advice is the same. To avoid mishaps, focus when you pull into a petrol station: don’t rely on the colour of the hose or nozzle before filling up. Properly read the pump’s trigger label and fuel grade indicator.

Pet passengers

If you drive with your pet, the Highway Code states that any animal travelling in a moving vehicle must be suitably restrained. If your pet is not properly secured, you could invalidate your car insurance so make sure you take the necessary precautions ranging from pet cages to specialist safety harnesses. To help create the perfect driving conditions for your pet and other passengers, try the following tips:

Make sure your dog is exercised before travelling so it will be more inclined to rest during the drive. Don’t feed your pet within two hours of starting a long journey as this could make it carsick. Pack a favourite toy or blanket to create a sense of familiarity. Never leave your dog in a hot car as they can quickly become dangerously overheated. When the outside temperature is just 20 degrees, inside a closed car in sun it can rise to 45 degrees in minutes. Always carry a large water bottle (five litres minimum) in case your dog overheats and needs rapid cooling. Don’t let your pet ride with its head hanging out of the window, this is potentially dangerous and could lead to an injury. Always leave a lead on your dog so it can be instantly controlled in an emergency. Many dogs suffer from anxiety when travelling, so keep initial journeys short for puppies and extend them as they mature.

Horn blower

Make sure you know the rules about honking your horn as you could face a fine ranging from £30 to £1,000 if you don’t comply. Never use your horn out of frustration at another driver or in stationary traffic. According to the Highway Code, you should only use your horn when your car is moving and you need to warn others of your presence. It states that the horn is not a tool to alarm others ‘without reasonable intention’. In addition, there are only certain times of day when you can use it. Rule 112 of the Highway Code states you must not honk your horn when driving in a built-up area between 23:30 and 07:00.