Look at the size of my deck

The shed might not yet have a roof, but it does have a nice deck out the front now…

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Hand made by my amazing coconspirator and a large hammer.
We did buy the materials to make a roof…

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They were almost too large for the car. Almost.

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Tomorrow I’ll at least get around to cutting the roof sheets to length and working out how to build the structure. If we’re both not too knackered or it’s too dark we’ll try to assemble it.

A car that has been clamped by the DVLA due to having no road tax

Looks like someone forgot to pay their road tax, and the DVLA noticed…

A car with no tax that has been clamped by the DVLA

The rules for owning a car in the UK are fairly simple

  • It needs to be Insured
  • Which means it needs to be taxed
  • Which only happens if it has a valid MOT
If not, the roaming hoards of ANPR equipped police cars will catch you (and then you’ll be turned into cheap late-night TV entertainment) or they simply turn up at your house and make it immobile.

Every vehicle registered in the United Kingdom (UK) must be taxed if used or kept on a public road. If the vehicle is kept off-road it must either be taxed or have a SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification) in force. If not it could be wheelclamped or removed.

 

It appears its owner now has 24 hours to produce a valid tax disc, or the car gets towed away – at the owner’s expense. Then, if they still don’t produce a tax disc it gets turned into scrap.

The evil NCP and their parking

This bloke will de-rez your car if you fail to display a valid parking ticket

(Image of Tron Guy taken by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid)

I’ve never liked NCP carparks, they have always seemed overly expensive compared to other places to park in towns. They also tend to have new innovative features such as requiring £9 in cash or non-working credit card based parking meters.

The other night I had the entertainment of trying to use their phone based payment system after failing to find £4.30 of change for a few hours parking.

It’s a fun game, stood in a carpark trying to talk to a computer that does voice recognition to work out your car’s registration number, colour and make. I tried, it misheard me and asked how long I wanted to park my black Landrover for (how it got that from ‘silver Citroen’ I will never know!). Hanging up had the Wargames style situation of when I rang back it continued from where it’d left off!

Eventually I managed to get it to understand me, and I hung up £4.70 (yes, it cost more than the actual machine) poorer, but with car parking for two days, despite only asking for four hours.

Voice recognition systems seem to be getting better, but that now means people try to get them interpreting meaning as well as just accepting voice input from a limited vocabulary. I used to phone up for credit card authorisations when I worked in a shop. They were quite good, you could rattle out a monotone string of numbers at high speed and the voice software on the other end of the phone would understand. Phone Microsoft to tell them your XBox 360 is dead and you end up speaking to some voice agent that doesn’t understand “My XBox 360 has three red lights”.

The carpark people have an iPhone app, I installed it. Next time I should be slightly better prepared for this. I might even manage to buy parking for a sensible amount of time.

I’m off to drink my cup of “Tea, oil ghee yacht”.

Running on empty

Like most modern cars, mine contains a small computer which attempts to tell me how much petrol I have and how far I can drive before it all runs out. I’ve always been intrigued just how far I can get before the engine stops, it’s something handy to know when miles from the nearest petrol station too.

Last night I forgot to fill my car with petrol and this morning my car told me it had 27 miles of fuel remaining. I was late for work and based on previous experimentation knew I had enough to at least get to work. A 16 mile journey with 27 miles of fuel should be fine.

It was a bit ominous passing the last petrol station for six miles with the petrol meter saying 18 miles left. I put my foot down to go up a hill and was immediately told “—” miles left. I’m not entirely sure how the petrol meter works, but it’s evidently taking an average of the current MPG and some estimations programmed into it because rolling down the other side of the hill told me I once again had 18 miles left, and was doing an amazing 999.99MPG.

I made it to work fine, with a fuel meter telling me “—” miles left. The nearest petrol station was two miles away and I made it without incident, but really curious just how empty the tank was. From looking at Google Maps I’d driven six miles to work with the gauge saying “—” and a further two to the petrol station.

My car took 41 litres of petrol to fill it, before the pump’s cutout activated. I didn’t try to top the tank off and assume the pumps stop delivering fuel when liquid blocks the small hole in the end of the nozzle. According to the car’s handbook it has a fuel tank with an approximate capacity of 47 litres.

So I had six litres left and nothing to worry about really? maybe… probably not though. My car does, on average 40MPG which is the same as approximately 10 Miles per litre. My car told me I had 27 miles left which converts to around three litres of fuel. Except it stopped telling me how much was left after only ten miles of travelling. And then I drove a further six miles to work and two more to the petrol station.

The car will be programmed to err on the side of caution, with an unknown reserve to stop idiots like me getting stranded by the roadside. So according to the petrol station and car’s handbook I had six litres remaining which would have got me a further 8 miles approximately. However according to some very average maths I set off this morning with just three litres of fuel.

I’m guessing I rolled into the petrol station with less than half a litre of petrol remaining, probably a dribble in the bottom of the tank and whatever is in the fuel lines and filter.

41 litres of petrol cost me 48 quid 🙁

Automobile harmony restored

Yesterday my car went for its MOT, service and “fix the nasty sounding clanging noise from the front wheels”. All was silent from the garage until about 12 when I got a call saying it was all fixed and well again. The source of the hideous noises? A worn anti roll bar drop link.

I have a nice red VOSA VT30 certificate to say my car is completely unsafe to drive because

001 Nearside front anti-roll bar linkage insecure [2.4.G.1]

Which isn’t as bad as my old Peugeot which once failed because “Drivers’ seat insecure” and “excessive play in steering wheel” and “rear brakes inoperable”.

There is a corresponding nice green VOSA VT20 certificate to say everything is now OK. My car also has some new oil, a new oil filter, new pollen filter, a new set of spark plugs (good, that might stop the random warning light coming on) and the usual environmental waste and labour charges.

It’s good to know I’m driving around in a car that now meets the minimum legal requirements according to our road traffic act. It doesn’t guarantee the car meets all the legal requirements, nor does it guarantee that today – the day after the test – it still passes the minimum ones. I bet by September it’s making hideous noises again.

Book early or your car won’t get fixed

Lucky for me I booked my car in last week for its MOT tomorrow. Unlucky for some woman on the phone to the garage, she didn’t… and they’re full, and then not doing MOTs until the 12th. Sorry madam, they can’t test your car no matter how annoyed you get at them, they’re full.

Since I’m working tomorrow I took my car over this evening, dropping the key off with a suitably dirty looking mechanic. Now to wait for the phonecall tomorrow telling me what’s wrong. Going off the noise it makes, it sounds like the suspension is knackered so I fully expect to be relieved of a wad of cash, and then in six months time have something else fall off.

The exhaust has been suspiciously good so far, that must be due that to fall off soon. Mind you, it seems expensive or important things are failing on my car at the moment… cambelts, they’re expensive… let’s not have one of those fail. Or head gaskets. Actually, apart from running out of electricity, my car’s engine works very well.

So far in this MOT year it’s had the following replaced

  • Two front coil springs
  • Two front brake pads and disks
  • One windscreen
  • A front headlight bulb
  • Two tyres

And the only thing that I actually broke myself was a tyre, snagging it on my neighbour’s back door step. I wonder how many litres of petrol I’ve used…

Finally back home, also full of curry

Today’s been a bit of a weird one. Since my car was in the garage being repaired, I was fortunate enough to have a lift to work with someone I work with. During my first lesson nobody turned up because they were in an exam, which was nice. By half twelve the garage had rung to tell me my car was ready, so as soon as my bus duty at 3pm had finished I was off to catch a bus into town to collect it.

And there I learnt a handy, but annoying fact; there are several local bus companies, they all issue some form of ‘Day Saver’ or ‘All Day’ ticket. And since I needed to catch two buses to get home (the garage is a half mile or so walk from my house) I bought an ‘All Day’ ticket. Did the second bus driver even understand what this ticket was? Did they buggery. Did I have to spend more money? Yep.

Personally I don’t think the second bus driver understood English, my stop has a very ambiguous name – it simply being the name of the road – and I have yet to find a bus driver that understands what the hell I’m on about. I end up pointing at his destination card and finding something recognisable. It’s a right farce.

Walked to the garage, which was fairly pleasant. It’s a long enough walk to count as mild exercise, but not so long you want to give up half way. I collected my car and drove back to work, arriving in time to do a bit of marking and then go for parents’ evening.

And parents’ evening should finish at 8pm, so why was I still there at half past? I think I had nearly all my students from one group come to talk to me, and even weirder I actually had meaningful stuff to say to their parents. Rather than some vague made up stuff I could say “They have done x, y, and now need to do z. After z we do u and v, followed by p and q”. It was all very specific and structured. Quite odd, I normally prattle drivel for a bit before abruptly stopping and getting bored.

After work we went out for a curry, which was very nice and is now digesting inside me. I think I might burst.

Tomorrow I’m leaving the instant the kids have gone, and not a second later.

Car seems better, it makes what I hope are normal clunking noises and I hope the mild paranoia I have about holes in the road goes away soon. Your car contains big metal springs, they can go at any time without warning. They can go when you’re driving, or when the car is safely locked in your garage. They can also go without giving any outward signs until something Serious breaks off.

Car back in the garage

My local garage is a no-nonsense place, the type of place that says “we’ll fix it tomorrow” or “we’re too busy, we can’t fix it this week”. They’ll also tell you when the car is undrivable and needs fixing before you attempt to move it again.

Which is why tomorrow I’m getting a lift to work, and then somehow getting back home again in the afternoon. One of the front coil springs has snapped which is bad news. Effectively one corner of my car is now supported by some snapped metal and its shocks. The bloke in the garage was probably laying the drama on a bit thick to make a point, but should the snapped spring come off its mounting, the end can get stuck in the tyre (bad) or cut through the brake line (very bad). Having broken metal that is attached to my car’s steering jamming into a moving tyre would make a big mess.

Tomorrow is also parents’ evening, starting at 6pm and at half 8 it’s staff curry night. Hopefully the garage will fix it before I finish work, allowing me to catch the bus home, get the car, then drive back to work. I have a three hour window so this is possible, if a bit of a faff. Still, I’m going to drive down to Oxford in two weeks and don’t really want any roadside dramas on the way there or back.

At least it means it should pass its MOT in April, all the important bits will have been replaced by then!

Expensive mechanical objects

If you’re reading this, and you’re someone who cannot drive, take my advice and don’t even start to learn. Catch the bus, walk, run or get a bike. It’s so unbelievably expensive keeping a car working it’s unreal. I’m glad computers don’t wear out this easily or I’d have no money at all.

After filling the tank (at 110.9p/litre) with £40 of petrol, taxing it, insuring it, servicing it and giving it an MOT every year, the car gods demand a yearly sacrifice. Usually the sacrifice occurs at a really inappropriate time – 7:35am is the usual time. The sacrifice can be anything – a tyre with no air, a battery with no charge, magically unlocking central locking, or important bits of the car going bang, scrrrraaape or falling off.

Last year I had to have a coil spring replaced, after it spectacularly went kerbang!, and I managed to tear a hole in a rear tyre. Nice sidewall damage, that’s 60 quid for a new tyre mate. This year I found my spare doesn’t have a slow puncture, it has a split sidewall (bye 60 quid again) and now I need new front pads and disks. When slowing down my car sounds like the wheels have come off and the car is skidding on its undercarriage. Oh, and now the other coil spring has gone too. I didn’t really notice the coil spring had gone, but there was a few loud clunks coming from the car when I hit some speed bumps the other day.

Can I please get through the rest of this year without having to get anything major repaired? It’s not so much the cost since I’m sensible enough to put aside 10 or so quid a month specifically for car repairs, it’s the inconvenience and hassle of getting this crap fixed.

Or if stuff has to break because mechanical objects wear out when whizzing round at 70MPH covered in road salt, can it happen before the MOT is due so that it can all be done in one visit to the garage, not afterwards. Afterwards is taking the piss.

And if the local councils of this country could fill in the potholes in their roads, that’d be great too.