Blog : Winter tricks and winter tips…

Mike Humble

You've all seen these signs -often done to releive you of you festive folding stuff with many less reputable outlets scaring people into paying for work that quite often doesn't require attention

We live in a fairly quiet commuterville cul-de-sac for those who don’t know and, as a consequence, anything motor-related means the word travels fast. Now that winter is well and truly upon us, most of the garages up and down the land brace themselves for the influx of dead batteries and temperamental alternators.

My heart goes out to the patrol guys who are looking forward to spending the next three months lying on a damp road underneath another failed Focus or knackered Nissan – those guys really earn their stripes at this time of the year. But you also have the dishonest brigade all ready and waiting to scalp the next motorist that comes their way.

The winter checks

I have just been speaking to a local resident who has taken advantage of a garage close to her office that’s doing one of those billion point winter checks all for just £15.99. Her husband collared me as I was arriving home spitting fire and brimstone over the estimate for the family Galaxy following a visit to this garage in Guildford. The paperwork decreed that two new tyres were needed along with pads, discs and a rear exhaust silencer – but it got much worse. They had also noted that a driveshaft boot was ‘deteriorating” which justified replacing the outer C.V joint, too. She had opted to seek further advice before handing over the thick end of £700 – and quite rightly too.

You see, I know the car very well and I also know they keep it in first class condition by using a local spanner man who is a time-served ex-Ford fitter. We had a casual look at the car and noted that the front tyres had at least 3mm of meat on the bone, the discs do indeed have a lip but nothing you would regard as life expired while the rear silencer had nothing more than age-related surface corrosion – everything you would expect to see on a ’59 registered car.

Here we have another classic example of a business out to capitalise on the gullible and uninformed car owner. I have nothing against maximising sales… it’s sound business practice, but robbery is something else.

How about treating your nearest or dearest to a course of basic car maintainance? Great fun, money saving and invaluable
How about treating your nearest or dearest to a course of basic car maintenance? Great fun, money saving and invaluable

These winter checks make me chuckle most of the time. Any decent trader will offer these services free – charging only for the consumables, but for most of the time the checks include little more than kicking the washers and squirting the tyres.

Don’t be fooled

If your car starts on the button every day the battery and alternator are both fine, anyone can visually check tyre depth/condition and the same applies to the wiper blades. Winter checks are a good idea if carried out fairly but remember one thing – they are designed to make you spend money at a time when people are reluctant to spend their hard earned bunts on the car when Christmas comes along.

If you want to buy your loved one or a novice motorist something really useful this Christmas, treat them by enrolling them onto an evening course of basic car maintenance. These are held at Colleges up and down the land and they are seriously great fun to do – often run by retired mechanics or patrol staff that really know their stuff.

Most tend to be really personable folk too being able to teach and instruct without being patronising or sarcastic covering all aspects from how to change a wheel or the best way of preparing a car for winter. It’s not rocket science, it’s not expensive and it is great fun to do – all you have to do is search the web to find out more!

My new smoker - A 2004 (04) Focus 1.8 LX in Neptune Green... the epitome of modern Bangernomics
My former smoker – A 2004 (04) Focus 1.8 LX in Neptune Green… the epitome of modern Bangernomics.

So what else has taken place this year? Well, I have shocked myself, ‘er indoors and one or two others by opting out of the company car scheme, selling the Rover and buying something else. Of course, it was going to be another Rover but, then, as I was driving along the road to domestos… I saw the light and opted for a Rover sabbatical. So say hello to my slightly battered and bruised Ford Focus 1.8 LX in Neptune Green (even the colour sounds yawn-inducing) – my first Ford since 2001 – and the last was a Sierra. It handles like a go-kart, is well equipped and almost everything works. Ok, so it’s not BLARG but it is the epitome of modern Bangernomics and that’s what I like about it!

All that needs to be said is safe motoring to you all, Happy Christmas and, in the words of my late Father… Keep away from naked flames – both old and new!

Mike Humble


  1. Great advice indeed and excellent idea of giving car maintenance classes to the less mechanically minded.
    Also be wary of contractors working for the main breakdown services.
    Many many years ago I was a member of one of the big two that shall remain nameless, when I needed to call them when the battery died on my mk2 fiesta Ghia, after 2 hours an approved contractor turned up, he proceeded to try and jump start my car with what I can only describe as bell wire with loose crocodile clips,after puffs of smoke from the melting bell wire jump leads he told me the problem was the ignition switch which in his words ” they are a common problem”, he then offered to tow me to his garage and relive me of triple digit money’s to fix the “fault”.
    I declined obviously as I knew 100% it was the battery and my car was only 200 yards from my house.
    I bought a new battery and the car was fine, a phone call and letters of complaint to the head office of the breakdown service saw the contractor removed from their list and hmv vouchers for me as consolation.
    So take care out there kids and be on your guard.

  2. Many years ago I had a used MK3 Escort that needed a service from a main dealer to keep up the warranty. I took it to the local main dealer in Bedford who called me to say the rear brakes needed replacing due to the slave cylinder leaking. They weren’t covered by the warranty (of course) the dealer quoted a price that was way over the top so I said no and collected the car. I took a look at both rear brakes and found NO leaks and NO problems, in fact the car passed the next 2 MOTs without a problem. I never went back.

    Mike, if you want to get back in a BLARG car we have a nice MGF 75th in red you might like!

    Happy Christmas to everyone.


  3. Advice which you may find in youe vehicle handbook of which few drivers are aware:
    Do not use Cruise Control in conditions of low adhesion, it may lead to loss of or inabilty to control the vehicle in the event of a of adhesion problems

    • I used to like flicking through the handbooks of my parents car, often when I was waiting for them to finish shopping.

      Some of the dos & donts were interesting reading, like how to drive a Metro with an AP automatic gearbox, or Vauxhall’s tips for winter driving in a Carlton.

  4. In the dimmest of ages ago I used to teach these evening classes, we even had ladies only classes. They were great fun all round and the ladies were far less inhibited as there were no husbands/partners about. I like to think they learnt a lot about their ADO16, Fiesta, Vivas etc, we certainly had a good time taking them apart and putting them back together. Amazing what you can get done in two hours if the caretaker is on your back to go home! Happy days!

  5. Sage advice, Mike, as always.

    And a very sound choice of motor- although having driven the 1.8 and owned a 2.0 Ghia, I’d probably go for a mid-range 1.6, given the choice.

    Won’t be too long before Mk1 Focuses start becoming a rarer sight on the roads, methinks, although very plentiful at the moment.

  6. Never rely on exhaust centres to do anything else than fit tyres, exhausts and recharge air conditioners. Since most of the staff are on commission to boost their awful basic wages, dreaming up hundreds of pounds of work means more commission. I once used an exhaust centre to carry out a service, they quoted half what the dealer was quoting, but then decided the car needed new brake discs, pads and a new tyre( always a favourite), trebling the bill. After this, I decided never to use exhaust centres again and relied on either a local independent, who was known for being honest, or a dealer service plan.

  7. The college car maintenance classes are great.

    I did mine with an ex-Citroen mechanic, covered the basics of properly jacking, checking all levels, basic servicing, brakes etc.

    At the very least gives a bit more confidence to get the hands dirty.

  8. A safety tip, when working on a car whenever feasable, disconnect the battery!

    I have seen the danger of not following this advice on a motorbike stripdown, the engine was spiininng over on the starter motor due to a short in the solenoid, the solenoid failed in the morning, we were to change the head gasket in the afternoon, think of the injuries we could have suffered

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