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Warning Signs I’d Like To See On The Dashboard

Modern cars and even not-so-modern cars have warning signs on the dashboard that light up like Christmas trees at the slightest provocation.  However, unlike Christmas trees or fairy lights, the emotion experienced when one sees a dashboard warning light twinkling away isn’t one of joy but more like one of “Oh, heck!” to put it politely.

There seems to be warning signs for just about anything these days, which is why a few new cars use head-up displays for displaying the really important stuff.  Some of the warning signs monitor you, rather than the car, such as the tiredness recognition system in some new Mercedes models. These apparently look at your facial expression and behaviour and can use some fancy algorithm to figure out if you are getting sleepy.  The larrikin in me would probably want to mess with one of these systems by pulling faces at the camera, or seeing if I could fake tiredness well enough to fool the system (a challenge for any would-be actor or actress).

However, there are probably a few more warning lights or systems that could be handy to have amid the myriad of other ones. I daresay that someone somewhere has already thought of these, and has possibly created an app for them that will use your phone to talk to a car’s display system.

Seatbelt warning light 2.0. Yes, I know these already exist and have been around for a wee while.  However, most of them just say that the driver doesn’t have his/her seat belt plugged in properly. However, the EU is requiring new cars from this year forward to have warning lights and sounds for the front passenger seat and possibly for rear seats as well, although rear seats only get a beep and/or light if the buckle is undone while travelling.  I can understand the need for the “buckle undone during travel” trigger, as I’m not the only person who’s put a load on the back seat, and the big bag of dog biscuits, the hefty haul of library books and/or the groceries probably weigh as much as a small child.  What I’d like to see in these new and improved warning light systems, speaking from experience as a parent, is a system that lets the driver know WHICH seatbelt is undone, especially in an MPV, to avoid the “OK, which one of you has undone their seatbelt?” “It’s not me, Mum; it’s Jessica!” “Tis not!” arguments.

Cabin air quality sensors.  This wouldn’t be so much a warning light as a system. It’s no fun to be stuck in a car with a passenger who has had a meal of beans, onions and eggs with helping of some nice healthy brassica on the side, if you get my drift.  A flatulent dog in the luggage compartment of a station wagon or even a hatchback can be bad enough to cause a distraction when you’re driving.  In my dreams, this sensor and system would detect when the methane or sulphurous compounds in the air cabin reach a critical level, and would then open the vents a bit wider and get that smell out of there.  A warning light would probably be needed so that you don’t wonder what the heck has gone wrong with the climate control system.

Toilet reminder. Related to the previous one, I’m surely not the only person who’s been a passenger on a long car journey who’s politely and quietly asked the driver to stop at the next handy public convenience or large bush, depending on the location, only to have the driver completely forget about it and keep on driving straight past one, leaving you in desperation. You don’t want to sound like a whiny little kid going “I need to pee!” every two minutes but being forced to hang on for far too long isn’t brilliant for the plumbing.  If a system can detect that the driver is getting sleepy, it can detect that the passenger (or the driver) is fidgeting about in the seat, jiggling and all those other strategies that we use once we’ve grown out of wetting our pants – and it can take over the job of reminding the driver that somebody is in desperate need of the loo.  Or the passenger can activate the warning system so it can do the embarrassing job of reminding the driver.  Perhaps this system could work in with the GPS to give directions to the nearest convenience.

Passenger G-force calculator: Another rather irritating habit of drivers, from the passengers’ perspective, is to barrel around corners quite fast.  Yes, the car can handle it and is designed to do this.  However, as more than one passenger has grumbled, the driver has the steering wheel to hold onto and can anticipate all the upcoming G-forces involved in a corner.  A passenger often gets taken unawares and may not be ready for that fast corner, with spilled coffee being the result some of the time.  And if we had two other siblings, we probably all remember the game of Squash The Person In The Middle When Cornering on the back seat during trips along winding country roads.  If a car can detect that there’s a passenger in the front seat, then it should be able to work out whether he or she will get thrown about during fast cornering and remind the driver of this, or possibly work in with the suspension or even seat positioning to minimise the passenger getting chucked about as much.

I’m sure there could be others invented.  What are some that you’d like to have?

 

50-11: Man’s Greatest Small Step.

“Houston. Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

“Roger Tranquillity, we copy you on the ground, you got a bunch of guys here about to turn blue, we’re breathing again, thanks a lot.”

These two sentences marked the ending of the first part of mankind’s most audacious mission ever. Just eight years before, on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy had presented a speech which included the words:”First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”Through an intensive recruiting process, the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Mercury and Gemini missions with one and two astronauts, the tragedy of the losses of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White in a test inside what would be called Apollo 1, those eight years would culminate in words spoken by Neil Armstrong just before 10:52pm Greenwich Mean Time on July 20, 1969.

“Ok, I’m just about to step off the LEM now.” And moments later:”That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”Barely seven hours before, the lunar module dubbed “Eagle” had landed safely, but not without some peril, in an area of the moon called the Sea of Tranquillity. The proposed landing site was found, with barely a couple of minutes of fuel left inside the LM, to be dangerously strewn with boulders of a size that, if the Eagle had landed, would have been at an angle that may have resulted in the two level craft tipping over or at an angle that would not allow the upper or ascent stage to fire back into lunar orbit with Armstrong and the second man to walk upon the moon, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, aboard.

In orbit 110 kilometres above was Michael Collins, aboard the Command Service Module, named Columbia. He would soon be the loneliest human being in existence as Columbia would orbit to the far side of the moon and be the furthest human from Earth for up to 45 minutes.At 13:32 GMT, or 11:32pm Sydney time, on Wednesday July 16, 1969, the massive Saturn V rocket fired upwards from Cape Kennedy. The five F-1 main stage rockets, delivering a million and a half pounds of thrust each, drinking 15 tons of fuel each, took the 363 feet tall behemoth to a low earth orbit point before separating from the second stage.

Once upon the moon’s surface the pair would speak to President Richard Nixon, lay out and perform experiments, and read the words printed upon a plaque fitted to one of the four legs of the descent stage. “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind” The first lunar moon walks would occupy just two and a half hours, which also included the collection of moon surface samples to be returned to earth.Live footage of the descent of Armstrong descending the LM’s ladder was beamed to the world via the radio telescope in Parkes and Honeysuckle Creek, near Canberra. The back story of this, including the powerful wind storm that hit Parkes just as Armstrong began his historic descent, is immortalised in the film “the Dish”.

After just under 22 hours on the surface, Aldrin and Armstrong would lift off, but this too, was not without issue. A small but incredibly vital switch, the switch to fire the ascent stage engine, had been broken by Aldrin accidentally. Aldrin managed a quick fix with a felt tipped pen, jammed into where the switch should have been.On July 24, the conical Command Module would re-enter the atmosphere, and successfully landed the crew and their ship in the Pacific Ocean. Battered and discoloured from the immense heat, this module now resides in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. The ascent stage’s whereabouts are unknown but is thought to have crashed onto the moon after a series of decaying orbits.
The three astronauts would receive a hero’s welcome upon their arrival aboard the USS Hornet, the aircraft carrier tasked with retrieving them, and would be given a bigger welcome back in the U.S.A.

To date, just twelve men have walked upon the moon.

July 20, 1969, is the date, 50 years ago, that Apollo 11 landed the first two of those 12.

 

The Right Cars For Your Inner Geek

        This BMW that makes you feel like you’re driving the Batmobile is just the start…

Quite a few of us are geeks at heart, even just a tiny bit.  We might not spend our spare time putting together outfits so we can cosplay at conventions or be able to quote all of the script of Star Wars off by heart, but who among us hasn’t, at some point, said “May the Force be with you” to a friend, called somebody a muggle (hey, even my spellchecker doesn’t flag that one, which shows how engrained it is) or enjoyed a good superhero movie (let’s not get into the DC versus Marvel debate here – it’s as heated as Ford versus Holden). So there’s a little tiny bit of a geek in all of us – and a loud, proud and enthusiastic geek in some of us.

Of course, when you select your chosen set of wheels, you should consider a range of practical factors. However, if you’ve got a range of possibilities to choose from, why not please the heart of your inner geek and get something that’s appropriate for your particular fandom (fandom, for those of you who aren’t up with the lingo, is the particular branch of pop culture that you love).

Just to get you started, here’s the shortlist for vehicles that fit in nicely with some of the more popular fandoms out there. Apologies to any fandoms I’ve left off the list – for the simple reason that I’m not familiar enough with them to come up with an appropriate set of wheels to match – but if I’ve left out yours, then feel free to include it in the comments along with the car makes that work.

Game of Thrones: Well, Ssangyong translates as “double dragon”, so any from this Korean marque would be the obvious choice!

Marvel Universe: Thor was originally the Norse god of thunder and lightning, so if you can get your hands on a Saab with the Viggen badge, you’re in luck, as this is Nordic and Viggen means Lightning.  Otherwise, try out an Alfa Romeo Spider or any Jag that comes in black (a black panther being, of course, either a leopard or jaguar with black colouring).

DC Universe: the DC-verse is lucky in that one of the stars actually drives an equally iconic machine: the Batmobile, of course.  An old racing version of the BMW 3-series was known as the Batmobile when in full body kit, but anything sleek, black and powerful with lots of tech can be your very own Batmobile. The more modern BMW i8 or one of the sporty Zs would work well.  However, I have to say that the current version of Citroen’s logo is reminiscent of Wonder Woman’s logo… makes you wonder (ha!) if the designer was a fan.

                               Once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it.

Lord of the Rings: Either a Ford Ranger to take you on an epic journey through the wilderness, or a nature-loving Nissan Leaf if you see yourself as a Child of Leaf and Star.  However, anything that has performed well on the Nürburgring qualifies as a Lord of the Ring.  If you’re one of the diehards who know the books (like me), then you may know that the brother of the Lord of the Eagles is called Landroval, which I always misread as Landrover.

Sherlock: This calls for an iconic British classic of some variety – your choice of either Mini or Jaguar.  Maybe the Mini for Watson and the Jag for Holmes?

Harry Potter: If you can get your mitts on a classic Ford Anglia as owned by Arthur Weasley, then you’re very lucky indeed.  If you want something more up-to-date, then your best picks would be either Peugeot (which has the Gryffindor lion as a badge) or Alfa Romeo (green + white + serpent = Slytherin).

Star Wars: Really racked my brains about this one.  Oh for a marque called Jedi or Skywalker!  The best I can come up with is a Ford Falcon, as a nod to the Millennium Falcon (piloted by Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford, so that works).

Star Trek: What else but the Chrysler Voyager , helping you to boldly go, etc.?   Well, maybe the Landrover Discovery , depending on which era is your favourite. We’ll have to wait until someone calls a make Enterprise (which would make a pretty good car name, actually).

The Least Useful Bells And Whistles On Modern Cars

You really have to hand it to the car designers and developers.  They really do a great job of putting out new models all the time and coming up with all sorts of new things.  Some of these innovations are fantastic and useful – improved battery range in EVs, increased torque alongside better fuel economy in a diesel engine, and finding more places to stash airbag. Inside the car, you have delights like chilled storage compartments where you can put your secret stash of chocolate where it won’t melt on a hot day, and comforts like heated seats.  Some of the innovations and nifty luxury features you find on cars today aren’t quite as useful.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not knocking any of these things.  In fact, I quite like a few of them, especially as I’m a major sucker for anything that involves sparkly lights and LED technology. It’s just that they’re kind of pointless and not really necessary.  They definitely fall into the category of “nice to have” but if an otherwise decent new model didn’t have these features, it wouldn’t be a deal-breaker.  Kind of like having a cool print on a ski jacket – it won’t keep you any warmer than a plain jacket but it looks nice.

So what are some features that you can find on modern vehicles that could be classified as “useless”?  Here’s a selection…

  1. Colour Changeable Interior Lighting. This is one of the ones I actually quite like while admitting that it’s not really necessary to good or safe driving.  LED technology can do all sorts of pretty things, and this is one of them.  At the touch of a button, you can select a different shade for the lighting inside the cabin of the vehicle, either from a pre-set selection or a customisable shade.  It’s quite fun but it’s not going to make you a safer or better driver unless you let fractious children play with it so they don’t bug you and whinge, causing a distraction.
  2. Illuminated Door Sills. Another example of LED technology being put to use, this involves a wee light, possibly showing a brand logo or badge, on the doorsill.  Right where you put your grubby shoes.
  3. Lane Departure Warnings. Look, if you can’t tell you’re drifting to one side by, you know, looking out of the windscreen, you shouldn’t be behind the wheel.  These sensors and warnings also have no way of telling if you’re carefully easing around the council mowing machine that’s bumbling along the grass verge, overtaking someone in the bicycle lane, avoiding a trail of debris or edging into a median strip – or if you’re really drifting out of your lane.  Active lane departure correction is even worse…
  4. Integration with Social Media. You should not be checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or any other form of social media while behind the wheel.  If merely texting is distracting and the cause of more than their fair share of accidents, then seeing someone’s loopy video share is worse.  Checking your social media on a display screen at eye height is just as distracting and takes your eyes off the road just as much as a phone does.  Are you really that hooked on your online presence and that full of FOMO that you can’t even stop while you’re driving?  If it’s that bad, then just take the bus and use your phone or tablet.  (I don’t count the ability to access your Spotify playlists while driving to be useless, by the way, which is probably the only thing that justifies this feature.)
  5. Paddle Shifters on Anything with CVT. The whole point of a CVT system is that it doesn’t have regular gears and doesn’t change from one to the other like your standard manual or auto transmission.  What, then, do paddle shifters on a CVT actually do apart from looking cool and making you feel like a racing driver?
  6. Gesture Control for Audio. It’s very cool and sci-fi: you wave your hand or make a similar gesture and your audio system turns up the volume or turns it down.  OK, it might be fractionally safer than reaching down to fiddle with a knob while driving. However, it will also respond to any hand motion in the sensor’s vicinity.
  7. Dinky Roof Rails. Roof rails are very useful if they are large enough to actually strap something like a kayak, skis or a ladder.  If they’re teeny-weeny things, however, they’re just there to look sporty but don’t really do anything much.
  8. “Door Open” Alarms. I’ve got this on one of my Nissans and it’s a feature that’s been around for a while. The idea is that if you have the door open and the key in the ignition, the car beeps at you so you don’t lock your keys in by mistake.  The trouble is that it keeps beeping if you leave the door ajar while refuelling or if you have to hop out to open a gate, driving passengers nuts.  I don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to find that beeper and smash it!
  9. Images in Puddle Lamps. Puddle lamps in themselves are not useless, especially not in a Landrover or other 4×4 driven how they were originally intended to be driven (i.e. off road), as they help you see if you’re about to step out of the car into a pile of horse or cow crap.  Even around town, it’s nice to see if you’re about to step out into a puddle while wearing your nice shoes.  But is it really necessary to cast a shadow of the image of the car into the middle of the light?  Cool, yes.  Useful, no.
  10. Automatically Switching Off The Cabin Lights When The Door Opens. Now try and retrieve your cabin baggage by feel in the dark with the lights off, and hope you don’t miss your wallet.  Honestly, the old-school system where the lights came on when the door opened was better, although it could lead to drained batteries if you left the door open too long… but a manual switch usually took care of that.

There are some honourable mentions that could go on this list but they might possibly be useful.  One is the ECO light, which comes on when you’re driving fuel-efficiently.  As I could give the stereotypical Scotsman serious competition in the stinginess stakes, this one might help me save a few dollars here and there… not that I’d pay extra to have this feature!  Night vision is the other one I’m unsure about.  Yes, knowing that there’s a warm body somewhere on or near the road might be useful and help safety (as well as looking really cool) but in most cases, headlights will let you know about any obstacles – and night vision requires you to look at the dash display rather than the road.

I’m sure that there are other features found on modern cars that are cool and fun but not really useful – give us your top picks in the comments!

How To Clean Car Seats

Hello, I’ve left tons of hair and drool over your upholstery. What you gonna do about it, boss?

In my post last week, I discussed the advantages and the disadvantages of the different seat upholstery materials.  In that post, I mentioned the ease of cleaning as a factor that might be the deciding one for you

Now, it’s super-easy to clean car seats if you have vinyl, which is about the only good thing about vinyl. Wipe it down with a damp cloth and there you go. If you have a classic that is cursed with vinyl seats and you’ve done the sensible thing and put aftermarket covers on them, it’s still simple. Take the covers off the seats, toss them into the washing machine on the gentle cycle, dry them on the old Hills Hoist and pop them back on. Simple.

It’s not so simple if you haven’t got car seat covers that come off for washing quite so easily.  You’re going to have to get in there and clean it yourself.  Tackling this job is going to be different depending on whether you chose the leather or the cloth.

OK, let’s start with the cloth seats.  If you decided against leather on the grounds that you have messy children or dogs that would wreck leather, you’re definitely going to have to get the grub out of the upholstery from time to time. Banning really messy food or sticky drinks in the back seat might help keep the muck to a minimum but accidents happen and everybody has the odd icecream in the car now and again. Plus there’s always that small child who needs the loo while you’re stuck in the middle of heavy traffic with no way to pull over… In short, mess will happen!

Here’s how to clean cloth car seats front and back.

  1. Get out the vacuum cleaner and go all over the seats, the back and the headrest, plus any armrests. You may as well give the footwell a good going-over and the cupholders too, while you’re at it. This gets off dog hair, human hair, dirt particles and other loose grit.
  2. Hire one of those carpet shampooing machines and make sure that you get the upholstery head. Follow the instructions and leave the seats to dry out before you sit on them again… which could be a problem if you need to drive back to where you hired the upholstery cleaning machine from before your time runs out.
  3. If you don’t hire one of those machines but want to give it a go yourself, you still have to allow for plenty of drying time, during which you can’t sit on the seats. It’s also a good idea to leave the windows open for better evaporation and air circulation.  Also avoid the temptation to use lots of water – use only just enough. What you’ll need plenty of is elbow grease.
  4. Sprinkle the seats all over with baking soda. Be generous. Use one of those kitchen shaker things or a reclaimed talcum powder container.  Baking soda absorbs smells, so if your car interior is particularly stinky, then leave the baking soda on overnight.  If you want to spot-treat just one stain or area, you can do this, but you might be left with a conspicuously clean patch.
  5. Get a spray bottle of the spritzer or plant mister type and spray the baking soda. Don’t overdo it – you should spray on just enough to make the baking soda pasty.
  6. Grab a toothbrush (if you’re feeling masochistic) or a larger scrubbing brush that isn’t too stiff or scratchy. Now get busy scrubbing the fabric.
  7. Once you’re done scrubbing, get an old towel and blot up as much moisture as possible.
  8. Get your spritzer bottle and fill with a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and warm water. You can add some essential oils if you feel like it or if you want a nice smell.  Detergent like you use for handwashing dishes can go in, but no more than a couple of drops.  Now spray this all over the baking soda – again, not excessively.  The vinegar will react with the baking soda and it will fizz up.
  9. Blot again with another old towel – or possibly several. This will absorb the moisture plus the grime loosened by the baking soda, the vinegar and the elbow grease. Once you think you’ve blotted it all, do it again just to make sure.
  10. Open the doors and windows and leave the car interior to dry out. If you can leave the car in the garage with the windows open overnight, all the better.

Admittedly, this process is going to be easier if you have a small city hatch rather than a van or MPV. With larger vehicles, just spot-treat any obvious bits of awfulness (e.g. the place where the dog threw up) and keep up the regular vacuuming.  If you really want a perfect interior, then use the hire machines.

Now for leather seats.  With leather, you have to be really careful with moisture (which will leave leather tough and hard after it dries) and with scratching.  You can start with vacuuming but be very careful to use a proper head with a nice soft brush.

The trick for cleaning leather is that you will wipe rather than scrub.  The good news is that this will work.  Baby wipes and damp cloths will work but be sure to have a towel handy to dry the leather off immediately.  There are truckloads of recipes for cleaning leather, most of which use some combination of soap and water, or detergent and water plus a nice soft cloth.  The alternative is vinegar, which has the added bonus of killing mould and bacteria.  Actually, a rag moistened in water or vinegar followed by drying could be all you need. Just be careful not to let the water/vinegar soak into the leather – you need only enough moisture to loosen the dirt.

However, you might want to add a bit of sheen to the leather and something to help it stay supple – kind of like a moisturiser for the cow skin (or goat skin) covering the seats.  If you’re a horsey type, you probably already have access to saddle soap – and what works for the leather of a saddle or bridle will work for leather seats.    However, the rest of us needn’t despair.  You can buy some overpriced fancy specialist product for cleaning leather seats. Or you can look for a cheaper option in your pantry: mix up some oil and vinegar, just like you would for a salad.  A lot of recipes out there call for olive oil but the secret is that any sort of oil will do the job.  Again, essential oils can be added if you fancy but these are optional.  If you want to add them, my advice is to use lavender (for calming) or eucalyptus (for mental alertness).

Shake the mixture up in a spritzer bottle (and you’ll need to shake before every spray) then spray sparingly on the seats, treating one part at a time.  Again, don’t use too much.  Buff the leather well with a nice old towel or a nasty old T-shirt that’s seen better days – the vinegar and the oil will loosen grime, and any leftover oil will soak into the leather and give it a nice natural shine that helps keep the leather supple. If you’ve got any of the mixture left over, then you can actually use it in a salad – unless you’ve added essential oils, in which case, use it in the bath or as a body oil.

But what about Alcantara, that synthetic suede from the motor racing world?  How do you clean that?  OK, it’s a beast to clean because the suede-like finish shows marks so easily.  However, it is stain-resistant, so the dirt will at least be surface dirt.

To clean Alcantara, you will probably need a proper cleaning product. Stay away from steam cleaning machines and from products designed for leather.   If you can’t get hold of the products made by Alcantara for their product, then you can make do with a lightly moistened sponge or a soft cloth – and make sure that the cloth in question is white just in case the colour bleeds from the rag to the upholstery.  Car detailers have been known to use old-school shaving brushes.  Run the cloth over the upholstery, taking great care not to (a) crush the soft little floofy finish down or (b) use too much moisture.  You’ll need to do it several times, and it’s best to work in a circular motion to avoid leaving streaks in the suede-like finish.  Leave to dry overnight, then get a very soft brush (that old-school shaving brush) or a dry sponge or a dry terrycloth face flannel and gently fluff up the finish again.  Imagine that you’re stroking a kitten and you’ll get the action about right.

 

Coping With Car Clutter

You might be scrupulous about washing the outside of your car, and possibly waxing it as well, but what about the inside of the car? If you’re the typical Aussie driver, whether you’re doing the daily commute or the school run, or if you’re a tradie, consultant or sales rep who’s always on the road, it’s all too easy to let the inside of your vehicle get a bit on the cluttered side.

In-car clutter takes a range of forms, from obvious mess and rubbish that you’re going to get around to cleaning up one of these days, through to that spare jumper or raincoat you stashed in the luggage compartment of your hatchback (and another spare raincoat and a puffer jacket and…). And there’s everything else that you’ve put in the glovebox or the centre console because it might be useful at some point.

Clutter in your car is a problem for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s visually annoying and it doesn’t make for a very pleasant journey if you have to spend a long time in a car that’s full of stuff. Secondly, having a large number of loose objects rolling around in your car can be something of a safety hazard in the situation of an emergency stop. Thirdly, you end up having trouble finding what you want in a hurry if your car is full of all sorts of odds and ends (I know I had that change for the parking meter in here somewhere…). Fourthly, all those little things add up and you could be carting about a kilo or even more of useless junk that shouldn’t be in your car, and this will decrease your fuel efficiency, even if only by a tiny bit.

So how do you go about decluttering and organising your car so that you have the useful bits you need in the car for emergencies but don’t have too much? The good news is that decluttering a car is a lot easier than decluttering your garage (we won’t go there!), as it’s not a huge space. OK, decluttering a little Mini  is going to be quicker than decluttering a Range Rover ! However, from a small city hatch through to a big bush-bashing seven-seater 4×4, the basic principles are the same. (Here, I’ve got to do a shout-out to US clutter-free guru Kathi Lipp  for the outline of the basic principles and stages of decluttering anything).

  1. Get it all out. Pull everything out of your car. Everything. Including the mats, as there could be something underneath them that needs to go.
  2. Sort it. Here, the most efficient system seems to be the “Three Boxes, Two Bags” method (thank you, Ms Lipp!). The three boxes take items that are fall into the categories “Put It Back”, “Give It Away” and “Put It Away Somewhere Else”; the two bags are for rubbish and recycling. Of course, you don’t need to get too hung up on whether you’re using a bag or a box! Put some music on while you sort and don’t stop to read anything or put anything away just yet. Stick to the job and concentrate on what you’re doing. It’s best if you don’t enlist help from your nearest and dearest at this stage, as this could lead to arguments about how many CDs or aux cords need to live in the car. Call them in at later stages.
  3. Clean it. Now that you’ve got everything out of your car, this is a good moment to grab the vacuum cleaner and maybe a rag and some cleaning spray of your choice, and give the interior of your vehicle a good going-over. You probably don’t need to polish the leather seats or shine up the chrome – unless you’ve got lots of time set aside for this job.
  4. Put it back. The first set of stuff that you’ve taken out of your car that you will deal with will be the “Put It Back” items. Exactly what you will put back in your car will vary from person to person, but for me, the items to be put back would always include the manual, a first aid kit, a phone charger, hand sanitiser, some tissues (which can be used to clean the inside of the windscreen as well as to blow your nose), an old-school paper map for when you’re out of reception or when Google Maps has decided to send you round the long way, the logbook (I use my vehicle for business purposes and have to track this) and a pen. Spare change for parking meters also doesn’t go amiss, and nor does a packet of nibbles such as rice crackers or almonds for those moments when you’re stuck in traffic and getting hangry. These days, it can be wise to keep your reusable shopping bags in the car as well so you don’t forget them. Other things that may be best kept in your car include jumper leads, ropes suitable for towing, fuses, and a blankets for chilly mornings when the heater is sulking and/or impromptu picnics (and for first aid).
  5. Put it away. All those jerseys, toys, coffee mugs, etc. that really belong in the house go into the house right now. You probably want to drop them off in the dishwasher or kitchen sink, or the laundry as appropriate, as they’ll probably be grubby after a stint in the car.
  6. Throw it away. The recycling and the rubbish – you know what to do with it.
  7. Give it away. These are the items that you don’t use or need any more, such as the charger or aux cable for a phone or MP3 player that you no longer own, the cardie that’s been sitting in the back for so long that the child it belongs to has outgrown it and… oh yes. The bags of stuff that you were going to take down to the nearest charity shop next time you were out. No more procrastinating! As soon as you’ve finished all the other steps, get in the car, start your engine and off you go to get rid of them RIGHT NOW. If this really isn’t practical (you live in the country and the nearest charity store or bin is half an hour’s drive away, for example) then make a reminder for yourself so that you don’t forget those bags of old clothes sitting in the boot yet again!

Now enjoy having a nice clean car and make a commitment to yourself to keep it that way – or at least try to!

A Wee Rant About Road Works

I’ll slow down… if there really are road works ahead.

Yes, yes, I know that roads need to be repaired regularly so they stay safe to drive on.  I also know that we need to keep the guys and girls working on the roads safe and that we shouldn’t just roar through road works at our usual speed.  However, there are times when seeing those “road works ahead” signs up ahead really makes me see red.

I particularly see red when I’m on my pushbike and the road works people have decided the bike lane is the best place to put out their warning signs, forcing me to either nip into the main stream of the traffic or onto the footpath.  However, there are times that even when I’m behind the wheel of a car that those road works signs arouse my ire.

Not that I’m complaining about the road works themselves.  I don’t mind slowing down when something’s actually going on or there really is something I need to take care with – lots of busy people, a single lane or stacks of loose gravel.  If there’s one of those traffic controllers with a stop/go sign on a pole, I’ll give them a friendly smile and wave, or even say hello if I’m close enough – after all, traffic controlling work is one of the most mind-bogglingly boring jobs out there, although it’s probably better than it was 25 years ago, seeing as one could now probably listen to a podcast or audiobook on the smartphone through one ear.  And I’d much rather see a real human employed for traffic control duty than one of those temporary traffic lights that keeps going at night and will hold up a huge line of cars for no reason whatsoever thanks to its internal programming.

The problem happens when the road works warning signs are the only type of road works out there.

You know how this scenario goes.  You’re travelling along and you see one of those temporary warning signs on the road up ahead of you, so you slow down. However, as you get closer to where the signs are, what do you see?  Do you see bulldozers and bitumen mixers?  Do you see sweaty guys in high-viz with power tools jackhammering the road surface open?  Is there a massive hole in the road or similar amusements?

Nope.  The only thing that you can see is maybe a single road cone marking where the road works have been… and beside that sits a tiny little patch of loose gravel over where they’ve repaired a pothole. Alternatively, all you can see is a few spraypainted marks where they’re going to repair something.  Or possibly, there’s a half-done kerb on the side of the road that they’re going to finish off when it’s stopped raining or when the weekend is over.  Or the road works are taking place on a side road that intersects with the road you’re driving on (but don’t affect the road you’re driving on, except indirectly).

You have to ask yourself sometimes: are the warning signs the first things that they put up before beginning a job and the last things they take away?  Honestly, I’m convinced that the road signs go up as soon as they’ve decided to fix something on the road and stay there until they’ve finished the paperwork to sign the job off after it’s done.

And then they wonder why people don’t like to slow down when they see those signs.  Haven’t they all heard the fable of the boy who cried wolf?  You’d think that they’re trying to condition us to ignore the road signs. I know for one that my reaction upon seeing those road signs is “What road works where?” I’m probably not the only one who gets into the very bad habit of not quite slowing down to the temporary speed limit when seeing these signs.

Dear road workers, us drivers appreciate all your hard work, we really do, and we don’t want to put you in danger.  However, you guys need to do your bit.  Let’s do a deal: you put the warning signs up when you’re actually working on the road, not three weeks beforehand, take them down when you’re finished and maybe even lay them facedown during the weekend if the road isn’t actually hazardous.  It can’t take you that long to put them up and take them down. In return, we’ll pay much more attention to the signs and really will slow down to 80, 50 or 30 as the case may be, and we’ll probably be nicer to you when we drive past.

Particularly annoying road works signs I have seen over the years (with specific locations removed) include:

  • The ones on a large chunk of main road that could only be fixed on a sunny day… and the road signs went out in the rainy season when sunny days were few and far between. They stayed there for at least three weeks with no sign of action on the roads before the work began.  I’m not sure when they came down, because by that stage, I’d found an alternate route on a minor road.
  • The traffic control light that stopped a major highway for ten minutes (I was counting) just so they could set up a line of road cones. Honestly, after having waited that long, I was expecting to see something major going on!  Couldn’t they have maybe set them out in small batches rather than letting a long line of traffic build up?
  • Not quite so annoying this time: the sign warning that road marking was going on ahead. We’d kind of guessed, as the tank of yellow paint had sprung a leak and there was a thin trail of yellow in the middle of the lane near some very new, very white centre lines.

Right, that’s my rant over.  Now it’s your turn.  What’s your worst experience with road works and pointless signs?  Have a good old grizzle in the comments and let us sympathise with you.

Your Teenage Daughter* Is Learning To Drive… The Conversation You Need To Have

keep-calm-and-learn-to-drive-properlySo you’ve got your licence – you go, girl!  It’s not that long (from Mum and Dad’s point of view) that you were just heading off to school for the first time, so it definitely won’t be long until you will be on your P-plates and really getting some independence.

During this learner licence phase, we’re going to get the basics in place so you become a competent driver who can hold her head up high and won’t give berks an excuse to sneer about women drivers.  OK, there will always be some berks who do this, but if you know what you’re doing and you actually are driving well, you can ignore them (and don’t respond – the rule about not feeding the trolls applies to real life as well as on social media).

For a start, I don’t care if your friends are learning to drive in a vehicle with automatic transmission, blind spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, cameras and all the rest of it.  You won’t be.  If you learn to drive on a vehicle that has all the driver aids out there, you won’t learn how to do it for yourself and cope when you buy your first car… which will probably be some second-hand thing from the 1990s or early 2000s that isn’t quite as likely to have any of these things.  Yes, this means you will be doing heaps of gear changes up and down the street and the boys from school may see you when you get it wrong… and you will get it wrong occasionally.  If they laugh at you, they’re not the sort of guy you want to impress, so just brush them off.  Doing it the hard way now will mean that you don’t look or act like a dumb bimbo later.

Before you get behind the wheel, you will hand your cellphone over and remove those high heels.  Trainers are fine, but you can’t drive properly in heels. If your outfit requires heels, then change when you get to your destination and don’t wear them when you’re driving.  Ditch the flip-flops as well, as they can flip and flop into nasty places, like under the brake pedal so you can’t apply it properly.

Adjust the mirror before you start driving.  You should be able to see the road behind you; it’s not for checking your lip gloss.

As well as learning all the basics about driving a car, you are also going to learn a few maintenance basics.

Hooray - there are some decent and realistic images out there!

It’s a nasty fact, but there are a few mechanics and similar types who try to rip off women on the grounds that they don’t know anything about mechanics.  The more you know about your car and the more you can do yourself, the less likely you are to be ripped off.  You will also learn how to change a tyre.  If you do get a puncture on a lonely road (or anywhere, really), you want to be the one holding the big heavy metal wheel jack even (or especially) if some guy comes along and offers to help.  He may be genuinely trying to help a damsel in distress or he may see you as a vulnerable target. If you have a flat tyre and a guy pulls up and offers to do it for you, smile nicely and tell him “I got it – thanks for the offer.” And keep hold of that jack and your phone just in case he’s a creep.

When the time comes for you to get your P-plates, don’t take it for granted that you’ll be just able to use the family car Shakira-style (whenever and wherever – although you probably think this song is horribly old-fashioned and so yesterday).  With privilege comes responsibility, so if you do get the use of our car, you’ll be helping us out either with money for fuel or running errands.  We will also be particularly tough on you keeping to the conditions of your licence.

As you learn to drive and start loving it, you may start thinking about what you’d like as a car of your own. Never let anybody tell you that girls don’t drive big bush-bashing 4x4s and vans, or that little hatchbacks are girlie cars.  Although cars have names like Megane, Mercedes, Clio and Octavia , they don’t have gender and you can drive what you want to. In any colour you want.  In spite of what some people tell you, there is no such thing as a woman’s car or a man’s car.  It’s not like bikes, where seat style and frame style make things awkward for skirts or knackers.  Cars are built for all humans.

Now grab those keys and let’s get driving!

 

* The majority of the advice in this article applies to guys as well (although the bits about lip gloss and high heels may not be applicable).  It’s just that my daughter did just get her learner’s licence last week.  Tailor it to your situation as applicable.