Back To School Time!

The schools go back next week, and for many of us that means our cars will start to be used more often. Perhaps you have been away for a holiday this summer, or just stayed home with the children. Either of these scenarios mean that your car has been spending more time sitting stationary, and less time being used. This can cause a car to stop working as effectively.

Before the first day of school, it would make sense to carry out some basic maintenance on your car to make sure that it won’t let you down. If you are off work looking after the children it is probably easier for you to book the car in to have any problems fixed now, rather than waiting until you are back at work. Here is a brief list of things to check:

  • tyre pressures – tyre pressure can drop even when the car is just sitting on your drive, and driving on tyres with low pressure can be damaging to the car tyres, as well as potentially dangerous.
  • tyre treads – well, while you’re looking at your tyres you might as well check the tyre treads! Check for any damage to the tyres at the same time.
  • Fluid levels – make sure you have the right amount of oil in the car, and that your washer fluid is topped up.
  • Lights – check that all your lights are working as they should. Don’t forget your foglamps and full beam headlamps.
  • Fill the car up before the first day of school so that you don’t have a last minute panic! This also gives you an opportunity to make sure the car isn’t making any strange noises and that your brakes and steering are still working as you would expect.

If you do find you have any issues, call one of our FastFit Stations in Milton Keynes to arrange for us to investigate. Remember, we are even open on Sundays!

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Keeping An Eye On Your Car Brakes

While many parts of a car are replaced as part of your regular car servicing schedule, the brakes are something you need to keep an eye on in between services. While your technician can (and should) tell you approximately how much wear is left on your brake pads, this is only a guide and you do need to watch out for any deterioration in performance.

If you hear any strange noises coming from your brakes such as grinding or squealing, call FastFit Station to arrange for one of our technicians to have a look. Similarly, any change in the ‘feel’ of the pedal needs to be checked. This could mean it is feeling spongier than usual, or you are having to push the pedal further down to have an effect. There may be nothing to worry about, but as your brakes are such a crucial part of the safety of your vehicle, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Finally, if you notice that your car is travelling further before stopping, and you haven’t recently had tyres fitted (different car tyres will have different stopping distances), you should bring your car in as soon as you can. This is not an easy one to spot as brakes usually deteriorate gradually so that you become accustomed to allowing more space for stopping.

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Sunshine and Summer Holidays

Quite often in the United Kingdom, sunshine and summer holidays don’t coincide, but after all the rain and the miserable springtime, the sun seems to have come out to play for the end of the school holidays! I’m sure anyone who is off work is enjoying the sunshine, but if you have to drive anywhere, you can find that comfortably hot sunshine has turned your car into an oven. It is unfortunately true that this is the point at which many car owners realise that their air conditioning isn’t working!

If you are lucky all you will need is a simple airconditioning regas or an aircon service, neither of which takes long so you can be on your way in a cool car in no time. If there is leak, it can take a bit longer to rectify, but rest assured that our FastFit Station technicians can help.

Once your air conditioning is back up and running, you need to take care of it so that it can carry on working well for the next year. One important thing you should do is to use your air conditioning regularly…yes, even through the winter! Air conditioning doesn’t have to be used to cool the car, it can also be used to warm the air in winter. Air conditioning systems that aren’t used can lose pressure, and of course, if you are using it regularly, you will notice a fault sooner and can get it fixed before the hot weather starts melting the dashboard! Another easy bit of maintenance is to ensure that the air vents at the top of the bonnet are kept free of any debris such as fallen leaves. Anything blocking the vents can result in unpleasant smells coming into the car when the aircon is used.

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What Attracts Car Thieves

Finding that your car has been stolen is an upsetting thing, and there are lots of things you then have to do…phone calls to make as well as transport to replace! Immediately you have to worry about how to get wherever you were going, calling the police to inform them of the theft, and dealing with your insurance company. If you’re lucky you may get your car returned to you eventually with no damage. If you aren’t so lucky your car may have been damaged, written off, or even disappear without a trace. Unfortunately any payment from the insurance company won’t include any money you have recently invested in the car for new tyres, services or MOTs, although you can usually claim back some road tax.

  • Joy Riders: You may think that joy riders would target the high performance sports cars, but actually, older cars are more frequently targeted. Older, lower value cars do not have the same security features that the high performance cars do. Less protection means a joy rider doesn’t need to spend as long getting inside the car, and is less likely to encounter a noisy car alarm attracting attention. The sooner they get in, the sooner they can be speeding around in your car. Aside from buying a newer, more secure vehicle, all you can do is make sure that you always lock your car and shut all the windows. Avoiding parking in secluded locations will also reduce the risk of joy riders targeting your car.
  • Opportunistic thieves: This type of thief will steal any car that looks like easy pickings. Foiling them requires a only a small amount of concentration – making sure you never leave the car unlocked, or with valuables on display, and definitely don’t leave your car with the engine running while you ‘just pop somewhere’. All it takes is the wrong person walking past and they can climb in and drive away before you know what’s happening.
  • Professional thieves: These are more worrying as they target specific vehicles and generally try to get the keys first. This can be dangerous for you if they try to car-jack you (targeting you while you are in the car so they can take the keys, and kick you out of the car), or burgle your house. The cars then have their identity changed by replacing the registration numbers and removing the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plates before being sold on, often being exported. Forty percent of high value cars will be out of the country within 48 hours of being stolen.

Car crime is very frustrating for car owners, particularly as you have put the time and money into maintaining your car, only for someone else to come along and destroy or steal it. Ironically, for professional thieves at least, a well maintained car is more of a target. While they can’t tell whether you have regular car services unless they have inside knowledge, it is easy to see that the tyres have been changed recently, and a clean and tidy car is more likely to be well maintained than one that is always dirty.

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Using Your Car As A Wedding Car

Nowadays, many brides to be are trying to scrimp and save for their wedding day, and if you have a nice car, whether it’s a flash roadster or a sleek saloon, you could help save them some money by offering to drive the bride to her wedding venue. However, there are a few things you should consider doing first.

  • If possible, make sure you have had your car serviced recently, or at least take it to a garage for a summer or winter check as appropriate.
  • If you have any niggling faults, get them repaired first. You really don’t want to break down on the way to the venue.
  • Carry out all your usual regular checks before the big day – fluid levels, tyre pressures, tyre treads and check the tyres thoroughly for damage.
  • Have your car thoroughly valetted – the bride will want to feel special on her wedding day, and that won’t be easy for her if the car is covered in mud and she is wading through crisp crumbs!
  • Get dressed up for the occasion. As you are probably a guest anyway, you will presumably be suited and booted already, but if you were thinking of being more casual, don’t! Make it special for her by looking the part of a chauffeur (chauffeur’s cap not essential!).
  • Add a ribbon on the bonnet and you’re good to go. You get to be a part of your friends’ wedding day and help them save money too!
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What Are Catalytic Converters?

As part of your car’s exhaust system, the catalytic converter sits underneath the car between the engine and the muffler. While it looks similar to the muffler on the exterior, inside is a core of ceramic beads covered with pores which are coated with certain catalysts. These include palladium, platinum and rhodium. Platinum is an oxidation catalyst, rhodium is a reduction catalyst and palladium does both.

The catalytic converter works to reduce the emission of harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. All the gases from the engine pass through the converter and the muffler. As they pass across the ceramic beads a chemical reaction occurs which changes the gases into water vapour and other harmless gases. The oxidation catalysts convert the carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water, while the reduction catalysts convert nitrogen oxide into its constituent parts of nitrogen and oxygen.

Catalytic converters can become clogged, but checking this is difficult for your car repair technician. It will often have to be removed to see if the engine’s performance then improves; if it does then it is blocked. Signs that you might experience are sluggishness on acceleration and reduced fuel economy. Other parts of your car can also cause the converter to fail – bad exhaust valves or dodgy plugs leading to unburned fuel overheating your catalytic converter. Finally, it can be effectively poisoned if you use the wrong fuel – leaded petrol in particular, although this is less common now that new petrol cars run on unleaded fuel.

To keep your catalytic converter in good condition, using the right fuel is crucial, and not adding too many fuel additives (it’s best to avoid these in general unless recommended by your garage). Ensuring the ignition system is working properly will also help maintain the converter as it will stop unburnt fuel getting inside it.

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FastFit Station At the Conti4x4Trophy

If you haven’t liked our Facebook page yet, you won’t have seen the photo of two lucky members of the FastFit team when they were on the Conti4x4Trophy Retailer Challenge Day 2012.

Mandy and Graham were lucky enough to spend a day driving Land Rovers around on Land Rover’s testing ground after winning the first round of the retailers part of Continental tyre’s competition. They had various challenges to complete, and by all accounts much fun was had! There may have been quite a bit of mud involved… We’re not all about car services, car repairs, tyre fitting and MOTs, you know!

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The Sun Is Shining, Time To Think About Winter Tyres!

Okay, so the sun isn’t shining quite so much this week, but I’m still hoping for some more sunny days before Autumn kicks in properly. However, I do mean that is time to think about winter tyres. Really! If you are going to be prepared, having done your research into the different brands of winter tyres so that you can choose the best ones for your car, it makes sense to start looking now.

Winter tyres out perform all season and summer tyres once the average temperature drops below 7 degrees Celsius. It is also worth remembering that if you do most of your driving at the beginning and the end of the day (as you commute to and from work for example), the temperature will be cooler than the day’s high while you are in your car.

Using a combination of a rubber compound that performs better when it is cold, and a tread design specifically developed for driving on slippery surfaces, winter tyres are more likely to keep you on the road, heading in the direction you wanted to go in. The special compound ensures the tyres retain their elasticity even at low temperatures, and this means you get more grip and shorter stopping distances. At our FastFit Station branches in Milton Keynes, we have a wide range of winter tyres available from different brands which can be fitted in one of our garages, or you can take advantage of our mobile tyre fitting service. Just call for more information.

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MK Lions Thinking About Leaving MK

If you have lived in Milton Keynes over the last 15 years, you must have heard of our local basketball team, the MK Lions. They moved here from Hemel Hempstead in 1998 and went on to win the British Basketball League Cup in 2008. Last year however, they finished in ninth position.

Unfortunately, during their time in Milton Keynes, the team have had three different homes. The lease on their latest venue in Winterhill recently expired so they have been searching for a new venue for a while. There were plans for them to move into an arena adjacent to Stadium MK, the home of the MK Dons League One football team, but they haven’t materialised. The new BBL season starts in two months, so the team have had to start looking at other towns and cities for their new home.

Here at FastFit Station, I know that some of our car repair technicians will be very disappointed to see the MK Lions leave Milton Keynes. Together with the MK Dons and the MK Lightning ice hockey team, it gives us all the chance to support our local side in national sports.

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Euro Tyre Labelling Scheme Ineffective?

The new tyre labels that will be mandatory from November 2012 cover the tyres performance in wet braking, rolling resistance (fuel efficiency), and exterior noise levels. They are laid out in a very similar way to the environmental labels that have appeared on white goods for a while, they even have a similar rating system for the wet braking and rolling resistance with grades from A to G. These labels need to be on all car tyres for sale in the EU, even those sold by a mobile tyre fitting service!

The tyre manufacturers and retailers have been preparing for this for a while, but there are already voices questioning how useful and effective they will really be. For a start, do drivers really care what the external noise is? Considering there are so many different aspects of performance that tyre manufacturers test when developing their tyres, was noise really the best they could choose?

Furthermore, are wet braking and fuel efficiency the most important things in judging the quality of a tyre, or could a tyre be of better overall quality despite not receiving a double A grade? Well, yes. Naturally, there is also dry braking performance to consider, as well as cornering performance and the longevity of the tyres. No matter what the fuel efficiency of the tyres, if they wear out sooner than other brands, they will still cost you more in the long run. So while the labels do give you a starting point, particularly if you know that fuel efficiency is more important to you, it is still worth looking at the other attributes of the tyres you are looking at. The internet can help with this, or your tyre fitter should be able to advise you.

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