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Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Kia Rio S Premium

2015 Kia Rio profileThe small car market is populated with some pretty good cars and therefore is hotly contested in that segment. Kia’s entry, the Rio, has been an entrant since 2000 in the small car class and has undergone a few body style changes. In its current guise, it’s a three or five door hatch with a 1.4L engine (1.6L in the Sport) and archaic four speed auto (in the test car provided, there is a six speed manual as standard for the 1.4L and an auto only for the 1.6L). A Wheel Thing spent a week with the 1.4L, four speed auto, S Premium and came away more than a little surprised.

It’s a compact, almost boxy body, with the current iteration sitting on a 2570 mm wheelbase and is just 4045 mm in length. Toss in a 1220 kilo weight with driver and Kia’s claims of 5.7L (manual) and 6.3L (auto) of unleaded from a 43 litre tank seem feasible, with A Wheel Thing finishing on 6.9L, not far off (8.2L/100km highway, 5.2L/100 km highway). 2015 Kia Rio economy2015 Kia Rio distance

The 1.4L engine pumps out just 79 kW at 6300 revs and a seemingly undertorqued figure of 135 Nm (4200 revs). That light weight makes the difference but a four speed auto simply dulls it down to a lacklustre feel. Acceleration, overtaking, aren’t measured in seconds but by calendars.2015 Kia Rio engine

It’s not an unattractive car, especially in the Deep Blue paint ($520 option…); there’s the signature Kia “tiger” grille, somewhat goggle eyed headlights, plastic inserts at the front bumper extremities (driving lights get fitted in the Sports model) and, in profile, the nose rises gently to meet the A pillars in an almost constant line, with a couple of subtle crease lines joining front and rear.2015 Kia Rio front

2015 Kia Rio rearThe roofline rolls off nicely to a vertical and pert backside. Considering the overall size of the Rio, it’s a pleasant surprise to find a very usable 288L of cargo space available with the 60/40 split fold rear seats up, which increases to 923L when they’re laid flat.2015 Kia Rio cargo Wheelwise, the Rio S Premium sits on 15 inch alloy wheels and they’re clad in 185/65 rubber. Forward motion is hauled in by 256 mm vented front discs and 263 mm solid rears, with surprisingly competent brake feel.2015 Kia Rio wheel

The interior in the S Premium (model tested, there’s an S below and Si/SLi above) is spacious enough however lacks an amount of pop and sizzle. It’s a standard steering wheel nowadays with audio controls but does include Bluetooth and cruise, seats are manually adjusted and there’s more a sitting on than in sensation. The centre console is bare and the radio screen is old school, with red dot matrix lighting, sitting above some delightfully simple aircon dials and aircraft styleflick switches.2015 Kia Rio cabin

The dash dials housed in the binnacle are as basic as they come, with two large ones for speed and revs with fuel and temperature housed in two separate, small sections to the right of the speedo, which houses a similarly red matrix display. No auto headlights is also a no-no nowadays and only the driver’s window is auto up and down. There’s some class, with piano black surrounds for the audio and ventilation controls, some alloy look highlights for the gear selector and steering wheel and tasteful shades of charcoal and off white for the rest of the cabin.2015 Kia Rio dash

Driving the Rio S Premium turned out to be a mix of fun and frustration, erring on the fun side, showing you sometimes don’t need power or speed to enjoy a car. Hamstrung, as it was, by a comparatively underpowered and undertorqued engine, it still managed to raise a smile with sheer grit and tenacity. How? By exhibiting life, character, verve in its handling. It’s not surefooted, it’s not well planted, it’ll rebound a few times in freeway undulations, it’ll kick the rear around and get unsettled easily but it involves the driver in the driving, not isolating you and leaving you six inches away from the tiller.2015 Kia Rio rear cabin

There’s bump steer (and the steering tends towards understeer), needing instant attention, some body roll and a bit of sponginess, yes, but it brings you, the driver, into its world and asks you to be part of it. Absolutely, you need a water bottle, a cut lunch and a calendar if you’re thinking of overtaking but that’s the fun, the involvement because the driver is no longer waiting on the expectation of the car to do what you think it will do. There’s planning, calculation involved and that can only be a good thing.

Once the engine is wound up, there’s a bit of a rasp, a sense of rortiness, from the front, as the speedo does its impression of global warming by moving glacially at first then starts to pick up speed. The gearbox is smooth enough under normal driving but the hole between first and second is noticeable as the revs fall right off and you have to start again.

It might be a small car, but it doesn’t scrimp on safety, with a full array of airbags across the range, hill start assist is also standard but only the SLi gets rear parking sensors. There is ISOFIX child seat mounting points and pretensioning seatbelts as standard in all models.

The Wrap.
The car provided was listed as $19690 plus $520 for the metallic paint, totalling $20210, with the S Premium starting from $16990 (manual). Compared to cars it’s not in direct competition with, that’s a fair amount of coin to ask and A Wheel Thing struggles somewhat to reconcile that figure with what is delivered. Not everyone will see the fun factor the Rio has however the economy will be a strong point in its favour. Lacking a more modern looking dash, again, may not faze some, but that’s no excuse to offer something that the 1980’s quickly forgot about.

For pricing and more details, click here: 2015 Kia Rio 5 doorprivate_fleet_logo

Thoughts On Auto-Dipping Headlights

headlight-types-and-functions_auto-headlights-at-night-02_02We’ve had automatic dusk-sensing headlights.  We’ve had cornering headlights and auto-levelling headlights. Now the latest in active safety for headlights is being seen in a number of new models: automatic dipping headlights.

In a way, automatically dipping headlights use the same sort of light sensing technology as dusk-sensing headlights. However, instead of realising that there aren’t enough photons hitting the sensors so the lights come on, this technology realises that all of a sudden there are far too many photons coming in so those high-beam headlights had better dip pronto so the oncoming driver doesn’t get dazzled.

Half of me thinks that this is a great idea. Haven’t we all had experiences when an oncoming driver doesn’t dip his or her headlights until the last minute, leaving you blinking and frantically trying to regain your night vision? (Safety hint: pull over if you can until you’re no longer dazzled). It’s always a bit of a puzzle as to what to do: do you flicker your lights between dipped and full to let the driver know that he/she needs to dip in return – and run the risk of having two dazzled drivers driving at speed in opposite directions with all the risks involved in that – or whether you just grit your teeth and mutter something along the lines of “stupid idiot”, to put it mildly. Sometimes, you ARE that driver who forgets to dip the lights. There’s also the situation where one or both of you decide to take the headlights off dip just a fraction of a second too early, giving the oncoming driver the full blast of your headlights on full (no joke with some of those very bright modern headlights).  Auto dipping headlights would certainly get rid of this problem.

However, there’s another part of me that doesn’t like this idea.  This part of me kind of likes deciding when to dip the lights as an oncoming driver approaches.  It’s kind of like playing chicken legally and safely – who’s going to be the first to dip the lights?  There have been a few incidents during long night-time drives on those road trips to the relatives who live a long, long way off that deciding when to dip the headlights has been the main way to keep the driver (and the passengers) alert, as it breaks up the monotony of night-time driving.  If it hadn’t been for the shall-we-dip-yet-or-shall-we-wait decision, the risk of nodding off with the hypnotic effect of white lines and reflectors flicking past repetitively would have been a lot higher. This part of me thinks that this “safety feature” to keep you awake, focussed and alert outweighs the risk of a bit of dazzling.

I also have a host of questions. Do these headlights have a manual override so you can dip the headlights if you want to, like when you’re part of a funeral cortege? Do they dip automatically when you get to a built-up area? Do they pick up cyclists, motorbikes and those cars that only have one working headlight? You never get to test-drive new cars at night (even car salespeople need to sleep sometimes), so how do you test this out?

What do other people think about the prospect of auto-dimming headlights? Love them or hate them?

Safe and happy driving at all times of day,


Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Holden Cascada Convertible.

Convertibles and Australia should go together like ham and pineapple on a pizza. It’s been tried by many. Many have failed. Holden has another go in 2015, with the Opel sourced Cascada 1.6L turbo four. A Wheel Thing runs the optics over it and likes some of what is seen.

To kick it off, there’s immediately a problem. It’s a mix of lack of torque in a heavy car and a smallish fuel tank. Think 260 Nm, a 56L tank and a 1750 kg car. A six speed auto works well enough, but the ratios just don’t seem to offer enough to take advantage of the torque and when instant fuel economy of 40L per 100 kilometres is seen under acceleration that isn’t hard….economy is quoted as 7.5L per 100 km on a combined cycle.2016 Holden Cascada 1.6L turbo engineFrom the pickup point to home is near as damnit to 75 kilometres. Using a quarter of a tank to do so, in 95% freeway driving says more about this car than anything. On handover there was a quarter tank left after around 430 km covered. It ended up looking better than it could have been but part of the return journey was at speeds of twenty to thirty klicks, on a freeway. It’s fair to say that around town the economy would be something to give thought to.2016 Holden Cascada sillAcceleration is leisurely, rather than a sprint. There’s never a feeling of all of those torques hooking up from the six speed auto and being put down, with full effectiveness, to the road, with the weight taming any pretensions of speed the Cascada might aspire to. The mass also dulls rapid changes of direction, even with a low centre of gravity, plus the brake pedal needs adjusting for travel, with it feeling like an inch before any bite on the pads could be felt.2016 Holden Cascada rear seats2016 Holden Cascada rear seats 2Moving to the interior, it’s a sweet place to sit, roof up or down. Except for the centre console. It’s busy, very busy and one that a driver needs to study for some time before driving. There’s a button for every separate air conditioning function, including dials for the two zones. It’s overdone, par excellence’. Another downside is the somewhat cheap and chintzy feel the gear selector has, with a hard edged plastic feel to the button being pressed to unlock the movement.2016 Holden Cascada dashOther than that, it’s standard GM/Opel/Holden in switchgear on the nicely sized steering wheel, a red-orange monochrome display ahead of the driver and a classy look to the dials and layout in the binnacles, with touches of chrome brightening the black plastics. There’s a seven inch screen in the upper centre console that looks just like the one found in a Commodore, except that it’s a non touchscreen setup but does come with the similar apps.2016 Holden Cascada cabinThe extendable cushion in the front seats is handy, the padding and leather look is beautiful to behold however lacks ventilation (cooling) being heating only. Oh, by the way, there’s a heating function for the tiller…Another nifty touch is the mechanisms that power forward and back the holder for the seatbelts; hop in, twist the ignition and they travel forward a few inches, allaying any need to reach further back for the belts.2016 Holden Cascada profile roof up2016 Holden Cascada rear roof downThe selling point of the Cascada is the convertible section. It’s a sweet one, taking under forty seconds from fully up, to down and back again. It’s operated by a small chromed lever in the centre console; pull and hold and the mechanisms do their thing, swiftly, smoothly and quietly, at velocities up to 50 kmh. There’s a window switch mounted inside the roof latch, for the rear windows, however all four raise and lower along with the roof’s programming. Rear vision is an issue, with a small window incorporated into the tough triple layered fabric roof. Small also applies to the rear seat space should a driver choose to move the seats back.2016 Holden Cascada profile roof down2016 Holden Cascada profileThe exterior is sleek, svelte, with the rise of the guards sweeping up into the A pillars in an almost unbroken sinuous curve. In profile the black fabric roof looks not at all out of place, with a view from the rear displaying a bold elegance to the look and tail lights. Bootspace is, understandably, tight, with enough room for some overnight bags and houses a space saver spare. Rolling stock is stylish 18 inch alloys with Potenza 235/50 rubber.

Cascada sits on a 2695 mm wheelbase, with an overall length of 4696 mm, somehow managing to look smaller than that. It’s low, a trim 1443 mm whilst track, front and rear,is identical at 1587 mm. Holden quotes front headroom as 960 mm and rear as 917 mm. Cargo space is quoted as 280L with the roof folded, 380L up.

2016 Holden Cascada wheel2016 Holden Cascada boot

Roadwise, the Cascada is a mixed bag. Steering is well weighted, precise enough but there’s a sensation of the rack being a bit loose whilst driving, with a feeling of movement from the front end being transmitted through the system to the driver. The ride quality in the Cascada was smooth but at times floaty, with the suspension absorbing bumps well but not tying down the chassis over repeated rises and falls in the road. The exhaust note is flat, uninspiring, sounding like an unwell vacuum cleaner.2016 Holden Cascada wind blockerRoof up, there’s more noise allowed in via the thin rear windows than the roof itself. For roof down driving, a wind blocker is found in the boot and is easily installed thanks to spring loaded locating rods. At speeds up to 120 kmh, sure there’s road and wind noise but noticeable for the lack of intrusive turbulence thanks to the car’s canny engineering and aerodynamics.


2016 Holden Cascada front roof down2016 Holden Cascada front roof upCascada comes with a service interval of 9 months or 15000 kilometres and a new owner could be eligible for the Lifetime Capped Price Servicing. There’s also a year’s worth of Roadside Assistance included.

The Wrap.
It’s A Wheel Thing’s opinion that the Cascada will have an audience but a limited appeal. The consumption, the busy console, the (understandable) inability to house rear seat passengers and the need to compromise on boot space plus the floaty ride quality conspire to lower the overall appeal the otherwise sweet looking Cascada can offer. Prices start from $42K which is another tick against it. For details on the Cascada , click here: Holden Cascada range

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A Car That Turns Head For The Wrong Reasons: The Reliant Robin

And on top of the other weirdness, the bonnet opens backwards.

And on top of the other weirdness, the bonnet opens backwards.

There are some cars that turn heads for the right reasons. You look at them and think “Wow!” I remember nearly going off the road the first time I saw a vehicle that I loved the styling of (it was a 2000 model Ford Falcon XR6, by the way – although I mistook it for a Jaguar at first glance).  Others are a pure dream to drive and seem to have been created by designers who really think about what people need and want (something I’ve experienced with the Volvo and the Saab I’ve owned over the years – bravo, Sweden!).

Others turn heads for the wrong reasons. They leave you wondering what on earth the design team was thinking. You wonder how on earth the cars in question got off the drawing board, let alone the sales yard. One car in particular stands out as a real head-turner (for the wrong reasons) and head-scratcher: the Reliant Robin.

redrobinIf you’ve seen a Mr Bean episode, you’ve probably seen a Reliant Robin. It’s the three-wheeled blue thing that perpetually gets shunted out of the way by Bean’s beloved yellow Mini .  This vehicle wasn’t, as I once thought back in my teen years, specially created by the producers of the Mr Bean series as a joke. It is for real. A design team really did sit down and a car company really did make a car with three wheels. What’s more, it sold.  Apparently, the “Plastic Pig”, as it came to be called, is the second-most popular fibreglass vehicle. It also went through three facelifts (all of which kept the three wheels) and was produced up until 2001.

The idea behind the Reliant Robin was frugality and innovation.  It was developed back in the 1970s during the oil crisis, so cars with small engines were highly desirable (some things don’t change). This had the benefit of bringing the Mini and the Fiat 500 to public attention but it also produced some right horrors. As well as the Reliant Robin, another mid-1970s horror was the Sebring-Vanguard CitiCar, an electric vehicle (yep, things haven’t changed) that was great in the fuel consumption department but looked singularly hideous and had windows that zipped up.

The Sebring Citicar.

The Sebring Citicar.

But why, oh why did they make it with just three wheels?  It doesn’t make for better aerodynamics to increase the fuel economy. It certainly doesn’t make for better handling. Out of all the three-wheeled car designs (the Reliant Robin isn’t the only one in existence), the delta layout (one wheel at the front, two at the back) is the least stable and is prone to rolling when braking   The “tadpole” layout – one at the back, two at the front, as seen in the BMW Isetta – is somewhat more stable.

The reason why they made it with three wheels was to make it more accessible: because of the engine size and because it had less than four wheels, it was classed as a motorbike for licensing and registration purposes. If you were a miner working in the north of England who needed to get to work cheaply but didn’t want to freeze your buttocks off on a motorbike, and you didn’t want to pay a packet for car registration, something like the Reliant Robin kind of made sense, especially as you could fit the family in the back, like you would with any three-door hatchback.

Specifications-wise, the Reliant Robin achieved its aim of good fuel economy. The 1970s model’s teeny little 750 cc engine (with 29.5 kW of power and 63 Nm of torque and a 0–100 km/h time of 17 seconds, depending on who you ask) could do 70 miles per gallon (that’s 4 L/100 km).  The top speed of the Robin was 136 km/h, although given its performance when braking and cornering, you probably wouldn’t want to flog the little thing that hard. Especially as the body was made of fibreglass to keep the weight and fuel consumption down.  Needless to say, the Reliant Robin has a rear-wheel-drive powertrain.

The Robin is notoriously unstable, with a tendency to lift rear wheels off the ground during hard braking or cornering. This is probably the main reason why it ended up being the patsy in the Mr Bean episodes: it was easy to roll, push, tip and otherwise abuse. Top Gear episodes have also taken the mickey out of the Robin. And the three-wheel design makes it look just plain weird.

However, as with all very distinctive cars, there are going to be a few people who are passionate about the quirkiness of the vehicle in question. Some people love the Robin. Heck, one specialist website claims that HRH Princess Anne once owned one. Owners say that they like the way that people stop to stare and smile at the car. Small children have been known to burst into laughter at the sight of a Robin. So I guess the Robin has the advantage of bringing more smiles and laughter into the world. If you want to do this, fine. Just remember two important things: (1) take it very, very easy around the corners, and (2) have another vehicle for taking the kids to school unless you want them to die of embarrassment (although it would make a good parental threat).

Safe and happy driving, whether you prefer two, three or four wheels,


Stereotypes: The Granny Hatch

old lady driverUsually seen: In driveways or garages of little cottages or units, supermarket carparks in the middle of the day, outside charity shops.

Typical examples: Suzuki Swift , Fiat Uno, Honda Jazz .


(Disclaimer: although this car is referred to as a granny hatch, it could equally be driven by Grandpa. However, given the life expectancy stats for the sexes, it’s more likely that the lone elderly driver will be female.)

Granny hatchbacks are, of course, hatchbacks, usually of the three-doored variety, unless Granny has taken to breeding dogs in her semi-retirement, in which case she will have a five-door to let the doggies in and out. Even if she isn’t a dog breeder, there is a high chance that there will be something small, fluffy and yappy bouncing up and down on the rear seat when Granny is in the supermarket picking up the groceries.

Granny does her best on a small pension, so frugality is the name of the game.  When she does get down to the garage where the attendant will fill up the tank for her, she doesn’t want a nasty bill at the end of it, especially as she remembers the days when fuel was a lot less than a dollar a litre (the price of things these days….). The hatchback will have a teeny weeny engine and superb fuel economy – the engine size will never be over 2.5 litres. The granny hatch of today may be a hybrid or even an electric car. However, the granny hatch has probably been Granny’s faithful form of transport for years. In some cases, the car even has a name.

There is probably a pillow on the driver’s seat to supplement any lumbar support in the seats. Apart from this, you will not find much floating around in the cabin. Inspection of the glovebox and other storage compartments will reveal a very well-thumbed map that is somewhat yellowed and softened with age, with some bits rubbed off where the creases have been folded and unfolded for years. The map is probably also out-of-date and doesn’t have the bypass leading to the new subdivision on the edge of town. You will also find a packet of old-fashioned wrapped sweets, such as barley sugars or Lifesaver mints, a box of tissues and a few loose coins just in case. . If Granny is particularly old-fashioned, there may be a pair of driving gloves. Some cars have a strategically placed plastic bag for used tissues and sweet wrappers. Recent additions may include a doggy seatbelt to comply with the new dogs in cars laws in some states

When Granny passes on to a better world or becomes incapable of driving, used car salespeople will rub their hands in glee at the prospect of being able to sell a car that really has had one little old lady owner. However, prospective buyers ought to be aware that if this really is the truth, the engine won’t have had much hot running and the clutch has seen a lot of action and may be a bit worn.

Of course, not all grannies drive little hatchbacks.  My late grandmother bought herself an Alfa Romeo sports car when she reached her 70s.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get it in her legacy (I got the collection of vintage clothing).

Safe and happy driving,


Windscreen Washing Fluid DIY

windshield-wipersOne of the many signs on the dashboard of my Volvo is flickering on and off at the moment, but I probably don’t need to worry about it. This is because I do know the real meaning (rather than the silly meanings ) of my dashboard lights and the thing that’s showing is the one for the windscreen wiper fluid. It’s only showing when I go up or down slopes, suggesting that the liquid is slopping up and down, leaving the sensor high and dry momentarily.

Of course, no light on your dashboard should be ignored indefinitely and all the fluids need to be kept topped up. The last thing I want is to have my vision obscured by a lot of moth residue or a collection of marks created by (1) a bird sitting on or just above the car, (2) the cat sneaking up on said bird by way of the car roof and (3) the mess left by the bird as it takes off with the cat leaping at it. So it’s going to be top-up time very soon.  The choice then will be what to use to fill the tank of window washing fluid up. And there are a lot of options!

Option #1: Proprietary Windscreen Washing Fluid

This is the easy option that a lot of us opt for.  You whip down to the local automotive supplies shop and pick up a bottle of something designed for washing windscreens. Follow the instructions on the packet and there we go. The advantage of this method is that it will do the job properly and get the bugs and dirt off your windscreen with minimal effort or streaking. The disadvantage is that it’s the costliest option.

Option #2: Ordinary Window Cleaning Fluid

If you already have a bottle of fluid designed for cleaning windows and glass around your house, you can use this for topping up your windscreen washer fluid.  Your windscreen is glass, isn’t it? You don’t need to use this at full strength, as this will prove rather costly.  Dilute it with ordinary water at a ratio of one part window cleaning fluid to two parts water. Shake well and put it into your reservoir. The advantage of this is that it will clean without streaking and it’s probably cheaper than using “proper” windscreen fluid (although it’s probably chemically identical). You can also use what you have around the home or what you can pick up at the supermarket without making a special trip to the automotive supplies shop (although there goes your excuse for paying a visit there!).

Option #3: Dishwashing Liquid

This is the real El Cheapo option for those who don’t want to spend more on their cars than they have to – or who want to keep their car care budget for more exciting items. This is also what gets used by those petrol stations that helpfully provide a bucket of something slightly bubbly and a squeegee (a cross between a scrubbing brush and a wiper blade). It’s also used by those annoying roving windscreen washers who lie in wait at traffic lights trying to get a few dollars off you. It’s cheap and it washes off the bugs but it’s likely to leave a bit of streaking. Use a wee squirt of dishwashing liquid to a litre of water – just a few drops for your reservoir or you will get a windscreen covered in bubbles, which is a real nuisance.

Option #4: Vinegar

Vinegar is for the greenies out there who want to use something from a sustainable source that doesn’t produce nasty toxins. You probably don’t want to use vinegar straight, but it’s best mixed at a one-to-one ratio with water.  Cheap and doesn’t streak, but may not be the most effective at cleaning off bugs, as it needs a bit more elbow grease or wiper action to work.

Option #5: Vodka Or Rubbing Alcohol

Another one for the green minded. Mixed at a one-to-one ratio with water, it’s pretty good at dissolving off dirt, and it evaporates without any streaking.  Might be a bit on the pricey side and many people might think it’s a waste of vodka. It may also get you some funny looks from the boys and girls in blue if you go through a checkpoint shortly after applying it to your windscreen, as it will leave a rather strong alcoholic smell. (“Honestly, officer, it’s the windscreen washer fluid you can smell. I haven’t been drinking.  No, seriously.  Hey!!! I WANT MY LAWYER!”)

Option #6: Just Plain Water

The cheapest and the greenest option of them all.  It also doesn’t streak. The only problem is that it’s not super-efficient at removing gunk off your windscreen, especially if there’s a bit of gunk or grease involved.  A bit more wiper action will be needed to shift the remains of the flies if you opt for just water. In colder parts of the world, it can also freeze up.  If you are in a hard water area or somewhere where the local council dumps heaps of chlorine in your tap water, you can also be left with deposits building up in the system and blocking the pipes, which results in an expensive fix.

So what will I be doing?  I’m still trying to decide whether I’ll use vinegar, ordinary window cleaner or dishwashing liquid, with the vinegar and the ordinary window cleaner being the two most attractive, as streaking can be a visibility hazard at the beginning and end of the day, when I’m most likely to be behind the wheel.

Safe and happy driving,


Priaulx's Pole as Plato Plummets at Knockhill Qualifying

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

As the BTCC takes its annual trip to Scotland, there is never any doubt that the action will be plentiful across the weekend. As qualifying draws to an end, Priaulx has pranced his way to pole position, followed closely by team mate Tordoff. With four of the top six drivers piloting a RWD car, Knockhill makes no secrets in which cars it favours. In a session that drew two red flags, for what seemed like the first time this year Team BMR were playing catchup, with Turkington their best finisher in 9th and Plato plummeting to a career worst 22nd. 

All eyes fell to Gordon Shedden as qualifying got under way; the Scot had dominated the first two free practice sessions. At his home circuit Flash was hoping to gain some redemption; gaining only 3 points from the 3 races at a shocking Snetterton, Shedden needed a recovery drive from the gods. The Honda has always gone well around the twisty Knockhill circuit, the same of which cannot be said of the other FWD cars. Despite the efforts of the other teams, it was BMW that would go into the weekend with the most confidence.

Knockhill may well be the most physically and mentally demanding track on the BTCC calendar. Not only does the relentless twists, turns, drops and rises put great physical strain on the driver around each lap but the short length of the circuit increases the problem of traffic exponentially. Setting a competitive qualifying time is never easy at the best of times, but this is something uniquely challenging.

As qualifying began, the now weightless Ford of Jackson rocketed up to the top of the times, followed closely by Priaulx’s BMW. For the second time this year, there was not one but two red flags in the session. The first of these was caused by Jeff Smith, while the second by Matt Neal, both of whom span their way off the track and into the rough stuff. Awkwardly for the Honda team, as Neal lost control of the car and brought qualifying to its second halt, Shedden was beginning a lap that was looking good for pole. He was forced to abandon and would never come close again, settling with an eventual 5th. Now that is a team debrief I would very much like to see!

Qualifying Times

Troubles continued for Team HARD and Welch Motorsport, with both suffering early exits. Gallagher would limp back to the pits after a gravel excursion, while Dan Welch suffered a collapsed suspension. Their troubled qualifying continues what has been a miserable 2015 campaign for both teams, let’s hope their luck turns soon! Speaking of changed luck, fan favourite Rob Austin qualified 6th; it is no wonder he enjoys the track so much!

It was the final 5 minute flurry for positions that produced the most action. It was almost like somewhere in the WSR garage, the team went into DEFCON 1. As the seconds ticked away, Priaulx stormed to the top of the times, followed closely by Tordoff, while Collard managed 4th. Frustratingly for Jackson, had his fastest lap not been disallowed due to exceeding track limits, he would have been sitting on pole.

In a shocking turn of events, the usually meteoric BMR team were struggling to keep pace with the rest of the field. As with the MG team last year, they may well be the best FWD car but the challenging Knockhill circuit does not suit them at all. The best they could manage was Turkington who qualified 9th. In what must be his worst qualifying session of his entire career, it was Plato that has stolen the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Whether it was due to the traffic and session stoppages, the best Plato could manage was 22nd, a whopping 0.771 seconds off the pole time.

You may be thinking that 0.7 seconds is not that much of a gap; in any other motor sport series you would probably be right. But this is the BTCC; there is a reason why it is the best tin top series in the world. If it is proof you want then how about this; take a look at the top 23, they are all covered by less than a second.

Expect Motorbase to be challenging for the win come race day. Photo credit:

Expect Motorbase to be challenging for the win come race day. Photo credit:

It has come to the point where I must make my predictions for race day. I often have a pretty good idea what will happen, but not this time. I imagine the BMWs will secure at least one victory, but no one can discount Jackson in his Ford rocket ship. Furthermore, with Plato starting so far down, will he decide to start from the pit lane to secure pole for race two? But with the handicap of driving a FWD car, will such a strategy even work? Turkington has always enjoyed Knockhill, and fresh off his victories last year will be hungry for points. As ever, there are so many ‘what ifs’ that it is impossible to call with confidence.

Weight and uphill power are not a amicable combination. With Knockhill providing more drops and rises than any other circuit on the calendar, success ballast may play a fascinating role in proceedings tomorrow.

At the end of the day, at the same venue of his first ever BTCC win, if my money was on anyone it would have to be Priaulx.

But with a field so close together, the only way to know what will happen will be to watch the races. Qualifying at Knockhill today has been nothing short of a testament to the high quality of the BTCC; low costs but highly entertaining and fiercley competitive.

But we knew that already.

Bring on race day!

Follow my race day updates on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

Taking Rover in the Rover

Once upon a time, dogs trotted alongside whatever form of transport we humans used quite happily, as dogs and horses had similar levels of stamina. A few lucky dogs got to ride inside the cart or coach, while other dogs (e.g. Rottweilers) got to pull the cart personally.  Dogs also famously provided the grunt for the sleds that conquered the South Pole.  Some dogs still do act as the motive power of transport – just ask all the people who drive dog sleds in the Iditarod race in Alaska.

Fast forward to today. We still like to have our four-footed family members coming with us on outings. Some people need to take dogs with them for work purposes (cops and farmers).  But is it just a case of simply popping Rover in the Rover? Or is it more complex than that?

Doing it wrong.

Doing it wrong.

We all know that it’s important to wear our seatbelts (don’t we???) and that the whole point of seat belts is to stop you flying forward and exiting via the windscreen in the case of a sudden stop.  The laws of physics apply to our canine friends as well, of course.  Dogs can indeed go flying forward in an emergency stop, the same as humans will. So the logic says that a dog ought to wear a seat belt.

The trouble is that the canine anatomy is not suited to seats or to seat belts. What’s more, dogs come in a much larger range of sizes than humans do.  This means that the standard seat belt provided in the typical car won’t do the job. It might not fit your St Bernard (or Chihuahua) and putting on the Labrador might throw your dog’s limbs out.

You can buy doggy seat belts to solve this problem. These consist of a sort of chest harness thing to go around the dog while the seat belt clips into this.  These work pretty well and will secure your dog. They’re not the only option, so if you’d rather not have your dog sitting on the leather seats of your car (their nails will scratch the leather) or if your dog is too darn big to sit comfortably on the seat in a position that allows the seat belt to be used, then you don’t have to use this method of restraint.

But you still have to make sure that your dog is safe in the case of a crash.  In fact, the law in many states says you have to.  It does vary from state to state, but in Western Australia and New South Wales, it’s illegal to have an unrestrained dog in the car, especially if said dog is on your lap or interferes with your ability to drive safely.

Doing it right again.

Doing it right.

If your dog is small enough to fit there and your state permits it, you can encourage him or her to sit in the footwell behind the driver or front passenger seat. The other alternative is to pop the dog into the boot area of a hatchback or stationwagon – and to install a safety net that stops things flying forward.  Again, the boot is probably best for a massive dog, while the footwell suits smaller dogs of about bull terrier size downwards.  The third option is the carrying cage.  A lot of people who own dogs and 4x4s have a carrying cage in the back of the 4×4 specially for the dog that allows the dog to see out of the back while keeping it safe.  Not a bad option, really.

Doing it right.

Doing it right again.

I know your dog loves to stick his/her head out of the window while you’re travelling. This may have to stop, however, unless the doggy seatbelt permits this.

Utes are a different story again. The law also has something to say about what you can and can’t do with a dog in the tray of a ute or similar vehicle. The dog has to be restrained so that it can’t jump or fall off. This means either a cage or box, or a short leash. Notice the word “short” in that sentence.  A dog shouldn’t be on a leash that’s long enough to allow it to get off the sides of the ute. Oddly enough, the law (in South Australia, anyway) says that if a farm dog can be loose on a ute deck if it’s just about to, in the middle of or just finished moving livestock along the road.

The other thing that has to be said about dogs in cars is what you should and shouldn’t do when the vehicle has stopped and you have to get out of the car. Sometimes, you can’t take the dog with you where you’re going (e.g. the shops or into church).  Now, the RSPCA gets very angry (and rightly so) about dogs being left in hot cars. This really is animal cruelty. Dogs have a naturally higher body temperature than humans (some scientists suggest that this is how certain breeds of lapdog came about – they were bred to be living hot water bottles). They also can’t sweat to cool off and rely on panting instead. This means that the surrounding air temperature has to be cooler than the dog. Now, we know about how hot can get inside a car and that you can melt cheese and chocolate on the dashboard. If you leave your dog inside a car with all the windows closed up, you will slowly cook your dog alive. Shocking but true.

Doing it right on the back of a ute.

Doing it right on the back of a ute.

If you can’t take your dog with you, you’ll have to ensure that your dog stays safely cool. This may involve removing the dog from the car and tethering him/her somewhere safe outside the car. The other alternative is to park in the shade and leave the windows down a little to allow fresh cool air into the car. Obviously, you shouldn’t leave the windows down far enough to allow the dog to wriggle or jump out.  This will compromise your car security, but a thief is less likely to try breaking into a vehicle that has a yappy terrier kicking up a fuss inside it… Double that if the dog is a bull terrier or Alsatian. Better still, plan your trip so that you don’t have to leave your dog in the car!

In all cases, it’s always wise to make sure that your dog and your vehicle suit each other. This means that if you have your heart set on a Great Dane, it might be time to say goodbye to your little Fiat 500 and look for a larger vehicle.

Safe and happy driving, with or without your dog,


Enter the Oracle: Demise of Driving Standards in the BTCC

Image taken from:

Image taken from:

Since the start of the 2015 BTCC season, there has been a significant increase in talks regarding driving standards. Not a weekend goes by without multiple drivers making reference to questionable incidents and the quality of driving within the field. Many may think that comments like these exist as nothing more than excuses to explain away a disappointing race. As true as this may be on occasion, on the whole these comments do present an important question. Talk of ‘push to pass’ tactics may have escalated in the last few years, but many years ago an oracle spoke unto us all. His words, laced in brutal Brodie flavoured honesty, spoke of what may well have been the dawning of a new era: the demise of driving standards in British saloon car racing. 

After the recent Snetterton round of the championship it has been reported that the drivers were far from happy at the level of professionalism displayed. The second race saw what seemed to be a record number of cars either taking to the pits or being forced to retire as a result of contact. Even racer Rob Collard can be seen turning Hunter Abbott around at a corner just so he could get past – you may be faster than him but make a fair pass! Aron Smith made his views clear, describing the racing as diabolical with too many drivers being able to get away with knocking a driver until they’re in a wall. Having been hit nearly 10 times, Smith suffered a broken suspension which forced retirement. For him, the difference between racing with former champions compared to others in the field is staggering:

“We run side-by-side every where we go and not an inch of paint is exchanged between us. Then you drive alongside someone down the straights that isn’t a former champion or at the front all the time and they turn in on you. That’s not racing at all!”

Little did Smith know that his thoughts echoed those of an oracle from long ago. An oracle who for many may have been forgotten in the deep chasm of time. But his words from the past ring out now more than ever. At the time it may have come across like nothing more than an angry outburst, but this was something bigger. His passionate speech may have predicted what was to come.

Throughout the 2000s, the BTCC may have inadvertantly given itself a bad name, considering the rise of the ‘push to pass’ technique of racing. After the drama of Snetterton, Jordan admitted that a team can do a great deal to make a car competitive, but it really is rather difficult to engineer a car to be hit from behind. Well, unless of course you take a leaf out of Volvo’s book from 1994 when they ran their infamous Estate; a true Titanic of the touring car field! Mention of the BTCC should not immediately jump to criticisms about driving standards and crashing.

The BTCC evolved from what was the British Saloon Car Championship which was born out of the true roots of motor sport. The series used find its value on great clean racing and gentleman drivers. None of the celebrity culture from the modern era, just a group of people who wanted to do what they loved – race cars. Say what you like, but back in the day cars could be driven home after the race, not something that would be possible given the post-race state of many cars today!

As the multi-class era was giving way to what would become the BTCC we know and love, the once low-budget cars were being replaced with highly tuned, manufacturer backed machines from ever more prosperous teams. In the 1989 season, Dave Brodie entered his privately entered Ford Sierra and was able to beat many of the big names, and was subsequently accused by many teams of running with illegal fuel. Perhaps it was around this time that the rise of ‘blame-culture’ began to take shape; no need to congratulate those who were better than you when you can accuse them of cheating! What happened next was nothing short of a honest and brutal televised outburst that made his feelings perfectly clear:

“These turkeys are going to have to get up early in the morning if they want to take me and my team on. They turn up in their big transporters and their good looking motor homes and prance around the paddock all day long in their overalls. But when it comes to get the business done they’re a bunch of wallies apart from Andy [Rouse]. 26 years of driving saloon cars and there’s only one person in this paddock who’s ever been in front of me and that’s Andy Rouse. The rest of them are a bunch of Group N drivers and why should they be in front of me? They couldn’t do it before why would they do it now? Guy (Edwards) has had more spins than rock around the clock; Frank Sytner has had more rolls than a café; what sort of example is that to set to the public? I think it’s diabolical. In 26 years I’ve never seen such pitiful and ridiculous driving like it in all my life. It’s no good to us doing anything other than winning. I am on a close second or a close third but we came here to win – that’s our business!”

The Oracle lies on the left. Image taken from:

The Oracle lies on the left. Image taken from:

This speech by Brodie touches on multiple points that highlights just how much the championship has changed from its early days. In the pursuit for glory, development through spending was always an inevitability. Even in the late 1980s, the Ford manufacturer support helped propel Soper to so much success in the Eggenberger Sierra. By 1989, Brodie was one of the few Class A competitors who was still a private entry. Fast forward 10 years and the spiralling costs of the sport force many teams to leave the championship. By 2000, Renault, Nissan and Volvo had all left, leaving only Ford, Honda and Vauxhall. This was the year when Ford reportedly spent £17 million on their championship effort.

And then of course we get on to the drivers themselves, many of whom by the 90s were all paid drivers from the F1 scene (Tarquini, Warwick and Jean-Christophe Boullion to name but a few). The focus on racing had shifted to sponsorship deals and the size of your motor home (take that one how you will). The increasing popularity of the sport culminated in the evolution of ‘the celebrity’ within the series; thousands of fans cheering you on and queuing for hours to get your autograph. Driver status seemed to be dominated by money and popularity. On the talk of popularity, many people only remember those who drive dirty, which in many ways promoted the decline of decent driving standards.

Even now the costs of entering the sport are capped, the remnants of the past still remain. I have always said that the Giovanardi era of the BTCC was painful to watch as a fan; no pass could be completed without someone ending up in the gravel. For me to describe any race driver as great, one must be able to complete an overtake cleanly, however close it may be. Contact will sometimes be inevitable, but not all the time. Rubbing may be racing, but when rubbing becomes thumping, something is wrong.

Brodie had it right, as did Smith – its truly pitiful and diabolical. Most importantly, what kind of impression is that having on the public? As fans, we look up to these drivers as our heroes. Should they really be promoting such behaviour on the road, racing or otherwise? Of course there are drivers who are not as I am describing – just in the same way as Brodie gave Andy Rouse an exception. As long as the majority are proper race drivers, then hope remains. Its when the bad habits catch on that trouble starts.

BTCC in 1963: How times change... Image taken from:

BTCC in 1963: How times change… Image taken from:


The best proof I can muster in my brain is a comparative study of famous BTCC rivalries over the year; there are none bigger than Rouse and Soper in the late 80s and then Neal and Plato of the modern day:

– When one thinks of Rouse vs Soper, we all think of their famous battle of the ’88 season, most of all at the Brands Hatch. Fiercely close racing, even a rain shower, yet no contact at all. Either driver could have punted the other off, but they did not. Relive it here: Rouse vs Soper at Brands Hatch 1988

– If we now move to Plato vs Neal, clean friendly racing is not what comes to mind. Their rivalry has ammased infamous status down the paddock, with such highlights coming in 2006 at Snetterton where the final lap was spent with both cars seemingly trying to push each other off. And then the equally infamous Rockingham qualifying where Neal thought Plato had held him up; he stormed up to him in the pits and claimed he would ‘rip his f****** face off’. Relive their rivalry here: Plato vs Neal: The Infamous Rivalry

…need I say more?

It seems strange that so many drivers now complain about driving standards, yet nothing seems to be changing. The issue may be that they can be used as an excuse so easily, as well as the fact that people can get away with it so easily!

With such a focus on these bad driving standards, we can hope that things start to improve without having to impose harsh penalty systems into races. The past is always in the present; if these drivers look back to their heritage they may learn something now. The last thing we want is to give BTCC a bad name.

What Brodie said in 1989 was right – the focus should be racing, not the celebrity status or the money. And we are moving in the right direction, but more needs to be done. We need to set a good impression for the thousands of fans out there!

All hail the oracle!

Until next time, keep driving people!

Follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Peace and Love!

I’m Getting A Ticket For What???

copcarI’m sure that the powers that be for traffic control have a quota system going. There can’t be any other explanation for it. Why else would they hand out tickets for tiny little things seemingly at random? Why else would the people who do the roadworthiness tests fail vehicles for teeny little things? Why else would the drivers’ licence testing people fail people for very, very minor issues – which may have nothing to do with the driving? You know perfectly well that on other days, there would be no problem at all.

Blame Key Performance Indicators and all that management hooey.  Traffic cops, inspectors and testers have to be Seen To Be Doing Their Job, which means that they have to find something to fail or ticket to justify their jobs. I kind of understand this, as when I’m not having fun writing driving-related blogs, I work as a proofreader; picking out a missing full stop or a typo the spell-checker missed shows the client that I actually did do some work. The difference, however, is that my clients want error-free reports and research papers, so are happy to get barely noticeable typos picked up, whereas nobody wants to be ticketed or failed.

I’m sure these picky little fails and tickets have happened to you.  They certainly have happened to people I know.  Here’s a selection:

  • The cop who ticketed an elderly woman for “driving without her seatbelt” because she had turned the engine on before putting her seatbelt on (to warm up the engine of her little old hatchback on a cold winter’s day, naturally).
  • A teenager sitting their provisional licence test who failed because he didn’t stop for “long enough” at a stop sign, even though the road was quiet.
  • Another teenager who turned up to the licence test in a farm vehicle that smelt of dogs and substances on the bottom of gumboots even after having a good clean out (said teenager had come into town from rural area, as this was the only place to sit the test). Squeamish townie tester decided the car wasn’t in adequate condition for the test = fail.
  • The cop who gave my other half a ticket for driving too slowly while towing a heavily loaded trailer.  This happened not too far away from a road packed with those billboards warning people about excess speed.
  • My friend’s car failed a roadworthiness test because of a bit of stick-on window tint that was deemed to be “too dark” and obscuring the driver’s vision… although it was on a rear window more or less in the driver’s blind spot and had been applied to keep my friend’s red-haired, pale-skinned little kids out of the strong summer sunlight.
  • The cop who we saw coming the other direction but, after we had gone past, decided to turn around and follow us for the next 20 or so kilometres until the other half’s attention went off the speedo for a few seconds and the Volvo crept over the speed limit. Actual quote from said cop:  “You weren’t going much over the limit when I clocked you but I could tell that you were going to go faster.”  What – do they fit cop cars out with crystal balls as well as speed cameras these days?

So here’s your chance to have a bit of a rant.  What teeny little things did you get pulled up and fined for or failed for?  Tell us about them (but please keep names and easily identified places out of it or we might be looking at lawsuits and we’d rather not have the hassle).

Safe and happy driving (hopefully without tickets),