Category Archives: Cars


I don’t know if its just me, or every red-blooded man, but on the morning commute, driving to the station… if I have an inkling that one of my neighbours is driving the same route, I like to win.  Or at least, not to lose track of them on the drive in – whilst staying within the speed limits, obv.

I’m not a massively competitive person in general; it comes from a lifetime of not winning that many things (except with Amanda and Emily of course, best wins ever), but there’s something about that early morning drive that just makes me want to punch it on. There’s also the challenge of breaking the seven minute commute time – it used to be six, but then I changed car-parks. This somehow felt more significant when it was a cycle time, in my days of cycling into work when I lived in London.

Of course, the sensible thing would be to try to negotiate some kind of car-pool, but the practicalities of that (particularly the return trip) escape me. And of course, against one neighbour’s 350z I struggle to keep up…

Perhaps when the weather warms I’ll think about cycling in, like BIL… Much healthier competition.

Eyeing the car upgrade

2010 BMW 5 Series Touring [F11]I blame Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocolfor having me pointlessly looking at cars again. The two hour advert for BMW got me thinking about what happens when we outgrow our current tourer (which can already barely cope with the amount of stuff we need for longer family trips).

So of course, I pointlessly configured a 5 series on the BMW website. And it came out at a ludicrous, ludicrous sum of money. On looking at the second hand options, a 3 year old equivalent is going for 25% of the cost. I don’t know why I allow myself to be stunned by the depreciation on cars, but it never fails to cause my jaw to drop.

This of course sparked me into looking into how much my car has depreciated since we bought it – and according to my Parkers iPhone app, we’ve lost about 45% of the value of the car in the year and a half that we’ve had it. So on track to lose 75% in three years. Other than initial capital outlay and absolute losses, the proportional depreciation of a new and second hand car may be more similar than I realised.

Of course, there are other factors coming in to play right now – like the fact the economy is in tatters, and replacement cars might not be the top priority on any/everyone’s shopping list… but still, somewhat surprised, as had always believed that new cars lost their value substantially more quickly than used cars. Of course, this is a one-off observation rather than an absolute trend… What’s the received wisdom here?

Sidebar: I’m not actually planning on upgrading anytime soon. In 2016, I may consider a 2013 model for an upgrade!

Silverstone’s booking policy sucks

Silverstone Entrance

I’ve been very frustrated in recent weeks by Silverstone’s booking policy. You may remember I blogged my excitement about heading out on a rally day, courtesy of my friends at my last birthday. Due to my own ineptitude, I booked it for a weekend on which we had another commitment, so I tried to move the date – to find that – despite the fact this was within three days of the original booking and I hadn’t (and still haven’t, in fact) received a confirmation of the booking, I couldn’t shift it.

The rationale is it stops Silverstone being left with last minute-cancellations and empty race slots, but seriously – the booking and re-booking attempt were both made two months in advance of the day itself. Silverstone’s margins can’t be so tight that they can’t make the occasional exception, especially as the two months would give them plenty of time to re-sell the slot! In case there are any Silverstone fans out there waiting to tell me off for not buying the cancellation indemnity insurance – I checked up about this. It only covers you in the event of a crisis on the day, not any personal conflicts.

So it’s all very annoying, and whilst several of Silverstone’s customer support staff have been unfailingly polite throughout the proceedings, they’ve also been stern and unbending; the only silver lining is that I’ve been able to transfer my birthday gift to someone else.

So thanks, Silverstone, but no thanks. You’ve ruined the birthday present my friends clubbed together to buy me last year, for a not insignificant birthday. I’m blaming you, as I find your rebooking policy insincere and I have no respect for an organisation that can’t flex for exceptions when its important for their relationship with their customers and immaterial to them in any real terms.

That Greenpeace / VW campaign (con’t)

Green Peace The Dark Side Volkswagen - Buzzmania

I continue to be a bit perplexed when it comes to the anti-VW campaign Greenpeace is mounting (latest here), for a number of reasons.

Greenpeace is upset because…

  1. VW advertises its eco-line, Bluemotion, heavily but…
  2. Only sells about 6% of their cars under this badge…
  3. And charges an ‘unfair’ premium for them
  4. VW is lobbying against EU regulation to enforce CO2 emissions caps

Now… my view is this this is poorly thought through on counts 1-3. Here’s why.

  1. Most people think of eco-cars as under performing, slow, unexciting, and generally less fun than their full-powered alternatives. If you don’t think this is true, have a read of some of the comments on Greenpeace’s own blog! People believe them to be "unsafe" because they believe them to be underpowered. This is not true, I can say with the voice of experience, as our 107g/km Bluemotion Golf is zippy in the extreme despite its 1.6l TDI engine, but it’s not VW’s fault that people don’t know / believe that. That’s now how they advertise their cars, oddly enough.
  2. Because people believe them to be slow and underpowered, they don’t want to buy them. If you’re spending £20kish on a new car, are you going to pick the fun one or the not-so-fun-one, even if it is marginally cheaper to run? I know which one I’d pick, but I would never buy a new car as I have a good understanding of the economics of depreciation. So the heavy advertising of Bluemotion must be helping change people’s minds, or at a least addressing the fundamental issue that people don’t think they want this sort of car, on the whole. Good on them for investing in a market only 6% of their customers currently want.
  3. When I looked into it (when buying our second hand Golf) to get a sense of prices, the premium on a new Bluemotion car that was otherwise pretty much like-for-like identical to the standard car was about £800. On a £22,000 car. Which amounts to about 4%. When I did the maths, for any decent mileage you drove, that premium was paid for within three years (between road tax discounts and improved mileage), and sooner if you live in an area where you get parking or congestion charge discount for driving a low-emissions vehicle, or drove more. So I’d hardly call that an ‘unfair’ premium. It’s true, second hand they command a much heftier premium, but again, that’s a supply/demand issue; most people aren’t buying the car new so there’s lower stock of them second hand. And therefore trying to buy one second hand is more expensive (for those of us that recognise the value of the low-emissions cars). Again, not VW’s fault.
  4. I’m in two minds about the lobbying issue. Whilst I do think that heavier regulation can shift consumer demand, it has implications for the free market model and consumer choice. I tend to think prohibitive National taxation is a more effective tool than EU legislation in this sort of context. After all, in the current economic environment, it would be very, very hard indeed for the automotive lobby to successfully push back a policy which upped tax disc costs by 30% for (new) cars with emissions over 200g/km or 20% for cars over 150g/km (or something like that). Or even more dramatic charges; it reminds me of the episode of Yes Prime Minister where the tobacco and anti-tobacco lobby were both trying to get Jim Hacker to support their cause; the anti-tobacco lobby were suggesting raising taxes on cigarettes to the point where a pack of 20 cost as much as a bottle of whiskey… could be an effective policy for deterring all but the most hardcore of smokers, and the same holds true for people’s choice in a new car!

Finally, for an organisation that’s campaigned against cloud computing, advocating the use of social media for protest as they are here basically adds to the burden of the data centres hosting their George-Lucas-ripping-off content, so they’re actually hurting the environment by their own logic (that’s another poor argument, but I’ll leave it for now)…

Rally experience

Ford FiestaLast year some friends clubbed together and bought me a rally experience for my birthday.

As my birthday comes around again this year, it occurred to me that I’d failed to book it in, an error I’ve since remedied. I’ve never done one of these things before so am looking forward to the trip to Silverstone in a  couple of months time to power a Ford Fiesta through some dirt and mud. I imagine, however, that I’ll be moderately terrible at it – my friends have always commented that my go-karting skills resembled someone driving a Mercedes-Benz whilst not in anything approximating a hurry.

But hey, maybe that’ll look good on a rally track….? Or not…. Anything I should particularly aim to do, petrol head friends, please tell me.

Driving an automatic

vwautoThe new car is very nice indeed. Full of lovely tech, smooth, fast (amazingly so for a 1.6) and comfortable. It has been dubbed ‘Polo’ by my lovely wife – somewhat confusing given that it is a Golf – but somehow it fits.

It is strange to be driving an automatic. My foot keeps reaching for the clutch, especially when I’m braking to a stop. It’s like a phantom limb, making its ghostly presence felt, only to turn intangible when I reach for it.

Practicality means, however, that I’m driving the other car at the moment. Those of you that know what that is know that I am absolutely not complaining…

Fuelsmart UK iPhone App

fuelsmartMy friend Ali’s fuel-price finding app made it onto Radio 4 last weekend (last 10 mins). I didn’t know Ali had an app, but was pleased for him that it got some profile (and apparently lots of new downloads), and even more pleased that it seems useful – it helps you find cheap petrol based on reports from other app users. Hampshire seems pretty well covered by Fuelsmart’s users so it’s going to be bought soon.

More info in this helpful review or on the website.

Independent vs authorized car dealer

We finally got around to buying our new (second hand) car. It took a while as the specific model we were looking for was relatively rare second hand and we were waiting for one with sensible mileage to turn up at a dealership within easy driving range of us.

Was astonished, in the process, to discover the difference an ‘official’ second hand dealer made. The car we were looking at – a relatively recent (automatic transmission, hence rarity) Golf – had dropped a disproportionately small amount from its ‘as new’ price as far as I could tell. I paused to be astonished at the second-hand value of VWs.

The moment one of our target cars turned up at an independent dealer, a further 10% off the original retail price vanished – for a car with lower mileage than the ones I’d been looking at. I’m avoiding ‘official’ dealers like the plague in the future, although with our current car portfolio we won’t be buying anything for a long while, unless we happen to win the lottery…

The ROI on @UKVolkswagen Bluemotion

Dashboard 08

You’ll know from recent posts that I’ve been obsessing somewhat about the ‘new car’ decision. I thought I’d put the new ‘eco-efficient’ technologies to the financial test, trying to get a sense of how much money they’d save me on an average year.

This spreadsheet lays out the detail; but the essence of it is that I worked out the range of a Bluemotion VW Golf compared with a normal diesel car and divided it by the total estimated distance I anticipate driving per year (4000 miles or so). This gives me a theoretical number of refuels per year, on which basis you can estimate a saving.

Well, the saving, taking a pessimistic perspective on fuel prices and rounding up in a few other places to give Bluemotion the advantage, comes to about £250 a year. The tax-free status of the car saves you another £165 a year or so – for a total annual saving of £415.

Given that Bluemotion cars currently cost about £6,000 more than a slightly older, but not ludicrously less efficient 1.9 litre TDI Golf (30% odd), I’m trying to work out if the investment is justified. It comes to an effective return of 6.9% a year on the additional investment, which is not bad.

The resale value point might swing it though. If you enhance the rate of return with the possibility that Bluemotion cars will be worth more on resale (even if that’s only £100 a year more than the older car)  – on account of the desirability of the tax break and presumably the increasing expectation that a car is eco-efficient – then that 6.9% might be more like 8% or 9%- at which point it’ll be doing as much for me as a reasonable rate of return on a regular investment. And given that tax rates and fuel prices are only likely to go one way – it might make good sense.

Is my maths right? What does anyone think? I obviously haven’t allowed for inflation or modelled for tax / fuel price changes beyond fuel at £1.50 per litre.