Majority of car owners struggling to cope with rising costs
According to research by a motoring website, nine out of 10 drivers cited escalating petrol prices as their main complaint
High fuel costs, surging insurance premiums, badly maintained roads and continuous roadworks are forcing motorists to change their driving habits, according to research by Motors.co.uk.
Its latest survey found 75% of drivers were frustrated by the rising costs of owning a car, with nine out of 10 citing escalating prices of petrol as their main complaint. Another 71% were put off by the countless potholes and neverending roadworks plaguing local roads.
Many of those polled said they were leaving their cars at home as a result.
The online poll of 2,669 adult motorists found that four in 10 are cutting back on time spent on the road and looking to public transport (20%), walking (32%) or cycling (5%). Others looked elsewhere to trim costs, such as reducing their grocery bill or cancelling gym memberships.
Another 71% believe that government policies are not on their side, despite the postponement of a 3p-a-litre rise in fuel duty in June. Originally planned for August, the tax hike will now not be implemented until next January.
Phill Jones, Motors.co.uk's commercial director, said: "Not only are drivers tired of the cost of driving, they're exhausted by the state of the roads, maintenance of which has badly fallen by the wayside.
"The number of consumers cutting back on driving is frankly alarming, and it is imperative that both the government and the local councils do all they can to get Britain back on the roads."
Petrol prices are moving upwards again after a 10-week slump. After bottoming out at 130.81p a litre on 1 July, average petrol prices at the pumps in the UK have rebounded to 133.12p a litre, according to the AA, which expects prices to climb even further over the next two or three years.
The average cost of motor insurance rose by 2.1% for the three months to the end of June, according to the AA Insurance Premium Index. Some insurers policies, however, are cutting prices to stay competitive.
In late 2011, a survey conducted by the AA found that 76% of its members were cutting back on car use, other spending, or a combination of the two. Its findings have also shown that the average costs of owning a medium-sized family car rose from £5,519 a year in 2011 to £5,983 a year currently, based on 10,000 miles of driving.
AA spokesman Luke Bosdet said that consumption is expected to continue to fall as petrol prices remain volatile. "It's been going on for so long that it is now a mindset amongst drivers and businesses to reduce fuel consumption."
The Department for Transport's national travel survey also shows that each driver clocked up an average of 3,376 miles a year in 2009 and 2010, down from 3,679 miles in 2004 and 2005. In that same period, public transport use rose from 722 miles to 745 miles.
Danny Connolly from east London, recently switched his golf club membership from Kent to one nearer his home to save on petrol. "At the end of the day, I couldn't afford it," he said. "It was costing me more for petrol than the golf membership." The window cleaner, who makes three trips to the golf club a week, was spending £120 a month on petrol. His golf membership cost £100 a month.
Connolly, a divorcee who earns about £35,000 a year, has also cut down on the number of times he visits his children in Essex. "The cost can really add up. It's insane," he said.
Millie Plinston, an architect who lives in London, will be visiting her mother in Dorset by train next year. The train journey to Dorset and back, she said, costs £20. The same trip by car costs double that. "We use the car minimally," said Plinston, who does not drive to work. "Next year, when my daughter is older, we'll be travelling to Dorset by train instead."
Europcar allowed me to drive a car with no brakes … then fined me
I hired the Fiat 500 at Nice Airport and it failed after 70km
In June I hired a Fiat 500 from Europcar at Nice airport in France. The brakes failed 70km down the A8 when I was exiting the motorway. I reacted quickly, managed to control the car, and continued with great care to my destination. In the morning I called Europcar to report the fault. Its solution? "Drive the car to our nearest branch or wait three days for a mechanic."
I needed a car to pick up my girlfriend, so had little choice but to drive to Hyeres, 50km away. I asked Europcar if this was what it wanted me to do and if the insurance would cover me driving a car with no brakes – it said "yes".
When I arrived at the Europcar branch, the staff were unapologetic. They made me pay another deposit for a new car and said I must pay a €40 fine for returning the faulty car without a full tank or fill it up at a garage 5kms away.
I think its attitude, and lack of regard for my safety, is unacceptable. PL, London
This is an extraordinary story – and one that could have ended very badly. I'm disturbed that a hire car company would rent a vehicle with faulty brakes, let alone compound that error by allowing the customer to continue driving a dangerous car. The firm swiftly apologised, saying safety is of paramount importance.
A spokesman said your experience was "totally out of keeping with the high standards of safety and customer service the company sets". He said the firm operates vehicles that are, on average, under six months old and that the fault your car experienced (a leak in the brake cylinder) would not have been detectable. It added that it was "unfortunate" the rental agent in France "followed standard procedure" in telling you there was an additional charge for a half-full tank. He said you will receive a refund for the total cost of your car, which is €694 (about £545).
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Austin-Healey and US owner back together after 42 years apart
Bob Russell reunites with much-loved and much-searched for British sports car stolen after second date with future wife
Bob Russell had not seen his much-loved British sports car since the morning after the second date with his future wife. But he never gave up hope of being reunited.
Years of internet searching has paid off with his 1967 Austin-Healey 3000 back outside his US home after a separation that lasted nearly 42 years.
Russell, a retired sales manager from Southlake, Texas, spotted the car on eBay in May, and finally managed to recover the vehicle – which he bought from a friend for $3,000 (£1,930) in 1968 – last month after proving his credentials with authorities. He had first called a Beverly Hills car dealership that was selling it.
He said the identification number matched that of his car and had the original key and car title, but not a copy of the stolen-car report to prove that it was stolen from him. Russell contacted Philadelphia police for help and learned that the stolen-car report did not show up at the FBI's national crime index because one vehicle identification number was entered incorrectly. The report was finally found and the file was reactivated, enabling Los Angeles authorities to impound the car.
"It still runs, but the brakes don't work well. We're going to put it back the way it was," he said.
"The fact that the car still exists is improbable," said Russell, who had reported it stolen from an apartment complex in Philadelphia where he then lived. "It could have been junked or wrecked."
In the years that followed he eyed similar Healeys he passed on the road, he told the Dallas Morning News.
Russell said ever since eBay started he periodically search the website for his beloved motor. "I checked it on Friday, 11 May, and there it was." Once the authorities had verified his story, Russell and his wife, Cynthia, drove to LA to take possession of the car, paying roughly $600 in impoundment fees. They also paid about $800 to have it shipped to their Southlake home, he told the Dallas Morning News.
"We were probably out $1,500 plus six days of travel and hotel costs," Russell said. "I'm not complaining about any of that. I couldn't get the credit card out of my pocket fast enough."
He reckons the car would probably be worth $50,000 when restored.
"I had a hobby car but got rid of my Porsche 911 a year ago," he said. "I used to have an antique Corvette and a couple of motorcycles. Now I have a grandpa [Toyota] Camry."
He and his wife were graduate students when they met and went on their first two dates in the car, which he was too cash-strapped to insure.
"It's a bit of a relief," said Russell on having the car back. "Nothing's ever linear – you're up, you're down, you're being whipsawed back and forth, and suddenly it's over."
Petrol or LPG … do the fuel cost savings add up?
Converting your car to LPG can cost more than £2,000, but after that you can fill your tank for less than half the price of petrol
Spending upwards of £2,000 to convert a car from petrol to LPG is a big ask of any driver but after a year's trouble-free driving, I've saved £650 on running costs. Would I spend my own money on an LPG conversion? Yes, I would. But I would probably go for one of the cheaper systems that have since come on the market.
Over the last year and 16,000 miles we have saved £800 in lower petrol bills – £650 after other costs are deducted – which means that over three years the £2,040 top-end "Prins" system installed on our Toyota Avensis 1.8 petrol estate would have roughly paid for itself.
After some minor teething problems at the start, the car has run faultlessly since, and we have also done our bit for the environment because LPG – liquefied petroleum gas – is a much cleaner-burning fuel.
Since our car was converted, Prins has launched its cheaper "Silverline" version aimed at the standard car market that has reduced the basic price to £999 plus VAT – £1,370 in total with something called ValveCare, and, if I were embarking on the project now, I'd go for one of those.
Drivers who do higher mileage, and those who run cars that are fuel inefficient (such as a 4x4) will find that the payback period for switching to LPG could be as little as a year.
It is mystifying that more drivers are not going down the LPG route. Sceptics told us that we would never be able to find LPG, fuel consumption would be poor and reliability iffy.
But 12 months on, with 88,000 miles now on the clock, our car has performed perfectly.
Best of all, we've become used to paying £32 to fill our car compared with £70 if we were buying petrol. We paid an average of around 74p a litre for LPG, while the price of petrol has been close to £1.36.
Each tank (about 9.6 gallons) gives us around 290 miles. Running costs on gas – we still use a little petrol per tank – have been 12p a mile, compared with 17p if running purely on petrol.
The conversion was carried out at Prins in Southampton and took around four days at a price of £1,500. ValveCare cost £150, although that's not necessary on German or Swedish cars.
Where our spare tyre once sat there is now a gas tank. We carry a tyre repair gas canister instead. Inside, the only sign of the conversion is a control panel mounted on the dash which shows which fuel you are using, and how much gas is in the tank.
You wouldn't know that you are driving a gas-powered car. It starts on petrol and after a mile or so, seamlessly switches. The only sign is the lights changing on the control panel.
If you run out of gas, the car automatically switches back to petrol, and, again, you wouldn't know except the system alerts you with a short buzz.
Before the car was converted, it was achieving around 38mpg depending on the journey type. Most converters say you will get 15%-20% fewer miles per gallon because gas has less energy than petrol.
Over the year we have got around 29mpg, a reduction of 23%. The biggest disparity is on fast motorway runs. On slower roads and around town, the fuel reduction is closer to 15%.
Our car's variable valve engine appears to suffer a bigger loss than most other LPG users, but the savings have still been substantial.
One thing I have not got used to is the huge disparity in LPG prices. On a recent trip to the West Country, in Bristol it was 65p a litre. A few miles down the road they were charging 78p. Our two nearest garages, five miles apart, charge 73.9p and 83p. In Luxembourg this summer we paid 53p.
The key to making LPG work for you is to locate a cheap local source. Website FillLpg.co.uk is the best I've found as it gives the location of filling stations and a recent price. It can be a pain sometime to detour for a fill-up. But hey, £650 is a good saving.
Other running costs have been small. Most insurers don't load premiums for properly-installed LPG systems, and ours – the Co-operative – was no different.
ValveCare fluid has cost £50 over the year. A service of the system every year at our local Prins agent costs £120 plus VAT, although this can be reduced if the car has its standard service at the same time.
The LPG system in this test was installed and paid for jointly by Prins and Autogas, supplier of LPG fuel.
London motorists face Olympics parking squeeze
The number of car parking spaces in four of London 2012's host boroughs will be more than halved during the Games
Commuters and residents who work and live in London are being warned some parts of the capital will become virtual no-go zones for cars during the Olympics, with motorists finding it almost impossible to park as space is commandeered for delegates for the duration of the Games.
Ordinarily there are 36,000 public parking spaces, both free and paid for, in the four key Olympic boroughs of Newham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest. But during the games this will drop to fewer than 16,500 because of Olympic parking regulations, according to Park-Up.com, a website and app that provides parking information.
It said every street in the four boroughs would be subject to new restrictions running from early in the morning until late evening. Only residents and business permit holders have the right to park, but they will still have to apply for a paper or virtual permit in advance from the relevant council.
Visitors to homes in residents' parking zones (RPZ) can park with an existing paper parking permit during the RPZ hours, but will need to apply to the organising committee Locog for a free one-day virtual visitors' permit if they want to stay longer.
Parkup.com's managing director, Norman Olaniran, said: "Locog's new parking proposals aren't easy to access or understand online and for specifics, citizens and visitors are expected to check with individual council websites.
"It's a total nightmare. I was surprised by how confusing it was – they could have made it so much easier to understand. The parking attendants will have to work double time."
Locog said temporary resident and business parking protection areas are being put in place around Games venues to prevent spectators from trying to park there and to prioritise parking for residents and local businesses.
Research by insurer swiftcover.com has revealed that the number of parking spaces provided by carpark operator Q-Park for "rolling traffic" will almost halve from 4,466 to 2,428, and that the firm will be closing its Park Lane/Marble Arch car park to the general public. The car park, which is one of the biggest in London with spaces for 981 cars and 313 motorcycles, is being reserved for the exclusive use of Locog.
NCP is also closing one car park – the Great Eastern Street car park – between 16 July and 6 August, while hundreds of spaces are being reserved in the Portman Square, Carrington Street, Park West and Lanark Road car parks for use by Locog.
Ben Heath, head of operations at NCP, said season ticket holders will still be able to leave their cars in their regular car parks, with the exception of those who use the Great Eastern Street car park: they are being accommodated in other car parks.
However one commuter, who has a season ticket for an NCP car park in Brewer Street, Soho, was told at the end of May that he would face problems parking his car because two levels in the car park were being reserved for Olympic delegates.
In a letter to him, NCP said: "Parking at Brewer Street will be restricted to the ground and lower level only. Of course, as a season ticket holder, you'll be given priority, but we're unable to guarantee you one of these limited spaces. The restrictions will begin on 27 July and last until 12 August."
Locog has in the last week decided it does not need the space in Brewer Street, but the commuter, who prefers to remain anonymous, has still not been informed officially of this decision and is annoyed at the way he has been treated. He said: "Although I have repeatedly chased for more information, the NCP has been very vague about the whole thing, and didn't come up with any solutions."
Heath admitted the firm had obviously failed to communicate information properly. He said NCP had intended to open up the basement of the car park to ensure season ticket holders could still park but added that the firm would be writing to all Brewer Street season ticket holders in the next seven days to let them know about Locog's change of plans.
NCP has set up a temporary car park opening on 25 July for six weeks in Leyton, just minutes away from the Olympic park, and is offering special parking deals to Olympic volunteers.
Albany and Elephant car-crash claim turned into a tale of excess
A straightforward no-fault insurance claim became a case of insurer disagreement and communication confusion
In January this year I had a minor car accident, which was not my fault. The other party was reversing the wrong way up a one-way street and collided with me as I attempted to cross a junction. I informed my insurers, Elephant, part of the Admiral Group, and at first everything seemed fairly smooth. The collection of my vehicle was arranged and I was to contact Albany Assistance, the legal services arm of Admiral, to arrange vehicle hire. Albany informed me that it was a no-fault situation and that my excess would not be payable and I would have a replacement vehicle within a week.
For reasons I'm still unsure about, I could not be provided with a courtesy car and was left without a car for three weeks, incurring train and bus fare costs of at least £200. I was then informed by Albany that my car had been written off because the damage was so extensive. It was only then that I was provided with a hire car.
Then, sometime later, I was informed that my car had been repaired and was ready for me to collect. The adviser informed me that the write-off had been a mistake and that they had repaired my car.
Elephant is now requesting I pay my excess in order to retrieve my vehicle from the garage. I refuse to. Firstly, they informed me my car was a write-off and did not tell me of an intention to fix the vehicle and, secondly, they assured me I would not have to pay my £600 excess.
I am hoping you will be able to assist me in my claim to get my insurer to give me my car and compensate me accordingly for the time, energy and money. IR, Hereford
Your claim was complicated because, unbeknown to you, Albany was having difficulty contacting the other driver's insurance company. Admiral had since issued legal proceedings against the other insurer because it is continuing to deny liability. Albany should have told you this straight away, rather than leaving you wondering why you had been refused a hire car and subsequently leaving you with a lot of hassle and travel costs. Admiral has apologised on Albany's behalf.
Because Albany could not get an acceptance of liability from the other insurer you then agreed to claim under your comprehensive policy and pay the excess on completion of the repairs. This is standard practice, with the insurer claiming this money back once (if) an admission of liability is received. It has a recording of a conversation in which you acknowledged you understood this was the case.
The waters were then muddied further because Admiral disagreed with the company repairing your vehicle that your car was a write-off. Its in-house engineer decided the car could be repaired. Admiral should have told you this straight away but, due to a "slight backlog", didn't get in touch with you for another week, so you were oblivious to the change of heart. Admiral messed you about by changing its mind about the repair of your car but, as it says, whether the car was repaired or not you would have still had to pay the excess.
In the meantime it debited the renewal fee for your policy – £1,500 – from your account. You were not happy as you did not want to renew and cancelled the policy but it retained £156.87, which covered the time you were on cover with Admiral after the renewal date.
You still have to pay your excess, as explained, but, since we became involved, Admiral has agreed to waive the £156.87 and will also pay you £200 by way of apology as it obviously hasn't handled your claim very well. It also says it will reimburse you the cost of the calls you have had to make chasing your claim. We have since learned that the other party has now accepted liability, so you will get your £600 excess back too.
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