Monthly Archives: December 2013

5 ways to tackle winter sun glare

5 ways to tackle winter sun glare

It’s perhaps ironic that during winter, the darkest and most coldest season of them all, one of the biggest dangers for motorists is the sun. You’ll know the feeling of having no other choice than to squint or close your eyes when the sun dazzles you, and doing that whilst driving can be a dangerous, yet avoidable, issue.

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Glare problems persist all year round, but during the winter it’s particularly dangerous because the sun is low in the sky during the morning, which is when the roads are at their busiest with people driving to work and taking their children to school. There’s also the additional issue of the sun reflecting off snow, ice and water on the road.

An AA report released earlier this year claimed that sun glare is responsible for 36 deaths every year and causes nearly 3,000 accidents. Due to the danger associated with turning corners whilst temporarily ‘blinded’, most accidents occur on minor roads, rather than on the motorway. The report states that of the 2,905 accidents caused by sun glare last year, 1,203 were on A-roads, 428 on B-roads, 1,222 on other minor roads and only 52 were on the motorway.

Here are five tips you can use to ensure you drive safely and counter the damaging effect of low winter sun.

5.      Ensure your windscreen is properly washed

With sun glare reducing visibility, it’s vital that you ensure your windscreen is clean and free of debris. Regularly check your windscreen washer fluid levels and top up when necessary. If you’ve got debris on your windscreen then the sun’s reflection will scatter through, making it even harder to see. As soon as you notice your windscreen starting to look a bit on the grubby side, give it a quick spray, but if you’ve got stubborn marks that won’t budge then clean the windows properly or head to a car wash immediately.

It’s also important to note that your wiper blades must be in good condition because they’ll fail to properly clean your windscreen if they’re worn or split. Wiper blades are fairly cheap to buy and simple to attach.

4.      Lower your speed

Drive with caution and resist the urge to brake suddenly whenever you become temporarily blinded from the sun. Approach junctions with particular care and ensure each direction is clear of vehicles before you set off. This might sound like common sense but with reduced visibility it’s so easy to miss an oncoming vehicle.

Remember that the speed limit is the maximum speed you can drive at in a particular area, it’s not always safe to drive at it and if you feel unsafe don’t hesitate to drive slower.

3.      Wear sunglasses and lower your visor at all times

Once autumn comes rolling around it might seem logical to put away your sunglasses until the following spring, but during the winter months it’s absolutely crucial you always have a pair in the car. Don’t just buy any old pair (a cheap one or one that you just like the look of) and polarised lenses can be particularly recommended for driving as they will be more efficient at reducing glare because most of the dazzling reflections will be horizontally polarised – while the sunglasses will be polarised vertically. Whilst you might have to pay a little bit extra, they might just save your life. Typically people don’t buy sunglasses in the winter and that means you’ll often be able to purchase them at a discounted price. Remember to remove your sunglasses before you drive into a tunnel. If you don’t, your vision will be restricted, even in tunnels that appear to be well-lit.

Visors are always a great way of reducing the amount of sunlight you get in your eyes. Make a habit of constantly having it down during the winter months. Remember that most cars allow you to swivel the sun visor to the right to counter glare coming in from the side window as well.

2.      Consider taking an alternative route to work

If there’s a different route you can take to work, one that is lined with tall trees or buildings, then use it. It might take you a little bit longer but it’ll be far safer and you won’t find yourself constantly lowering your speed whenever the sun dazzles you.

Ask around for people’s recommendations or even have a look on Google Street View to see which routes will be safer.

1.      Be aware of what’s around you

Keep in mind that other motorists on the road will be suffering from sun glare as well, and if they haven’t read this blog post, they might not be wearing sunglasses! Avoid braking heavily because the car behind you might not be able to react in time, and keep ample space between you and the car in front of you in case they brake heavily themselves. Pay even more attention to cyclists and pedestrians because they’ll be even harder to spot when the sun is low. Take note of where the sun is in the sky at all times; if it’s behind you then it’ll be in the eyes of the cars driving towards you, so be aware that they might not be able to see you. Dipping your headlights is a great way to ensure you’re clearly seen by the oncoming traffic.

A lot of these vehicle checks, such as checking washer fluid levels, you will be able to do yourself but it is important you also regularly service your vehicle at a trusted independent garage. This will ensure that your car remains roadworthy and safe, even in potentially dangerous weather conditions. To find a garage you can trust, enter your postcode in our online garage finder here.

5 ways to make your Christmas commute more enjoyable

It’s Christmas time, which means on top of spending a fortune on presents and food and tying yourself up in tinsel trying to make your home look festive, you are probably bracing yourself for that annual commute to see the relatives.

We all love our families but the thought of spending hours driving through Christmas traffic at an already stressful time can make the festive commute daunting. You’re often sat in your car in gridlocked traffic, crawling along at 5mph, worrying about arriving too late to join in with Christmas dinner.

We understand that commuting can be a completely miserable experience, especially during the winter months. With our handy advice you can make your Christmas commute that bit more bearable and arrive full of Christmas cheer.

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5.      Listen to a podcast or an audiobook

Gone are the days where the radio, with its depressing news and constant traffic updates, was your only distraction from the dread that lies in front of you on the road. There are thousands of interesting podcasts on pretty much any topic, from TED Talks to the latest football news. You can’t read a book when you are stuck in gridlock, it’s not legal – or sensible, so take advantage of audiobooks, which are exactly what they say on the tin – a book you can listen to. Find ones that genuinely interest you and you’ll arrive at your family’s home stimulated and raring to go.

4.      Listen to great music

Most drivers will have a collection of CDs in their car but more often than not they don’t ever get rotated, meaning they can easily get sick and tired of listening to the same music. Once you’ve listened to an album put it back in your CD rack at home and put a different one in your car – this will not only keep things fresh but you’ll soon rediscover your love for your music collection. There’ll be albums that you might not have listened to in over ten years and the waves of nostalgia will soon shake off those early morning winter cobwebs. If you’ve got a portable music player like an iPod then invest in a cable that connects it to your car’s stereo and use the shuffle mode to really mix things up. Unpredictable yes, but come on, it’s time to walk (or drive) on the wild side.

3.      Get up earlier

You are already cursing at this idea, aren’t you? Whilst the thought of getting up out of your warm, comfortable nest of a bed an hour earlier may send shivers down your spine, once you’re awake, showered and caffeinated you’ll feel right as rain. Only now your commute will be made much shorter because of the reduced traffic on the road. If you’re worried about a lack of shuteye then adjust your sleeping pattern and go to bed a bit earlier. Carpe diem, and all that.

2.      Brainstorm

You’ll probably find that many of your moments of profound wisdom occur when you’re driving. The likelihood is that when you’re commuting you’re going to be on your own, free to ramble on about pretty much anything. You can do your best brainstorming, analysing and scheduling just by thinking aloud. You can go over your presents list to ensure you haven’t missed anybody else, or think about how you are going to fill the silence when sitting in a room with a relative you don’t really get on with. Don’t get too distracted though, remember to keep your main focus on the road – even when in gridlock.

1.      Get your car regularly serviced at a Trust My Garage member

Your family lives on the other side of the country but you have said you will arrive in time for Christmas lunch. You wake up early, make yourself look prim and pristine and you head off, confident that you’re going to arrive on time. Suddenly a little red light starts flashing on your dashboard and makes you panic. You’re forced to pull over on the hard shoulder. Your car has broken down and needs to be towed to a garage. Sound like a nightmare? It absolutely is, but it’s one that can be avoided by getting your vehicle regularly serviced at a Trust My Garage member. Regular services will ensure your car will run smoothly and without catastrophic breakdowns, meaning you make it to see the family on Christmas day – not Boxing day. Remember; don’t just rely on your annual MOT check as  it’s a safety check, not a substitute for regular servicing. Find out more on that here.

To find your local independent garage for a service ahead of your Christmas commute, visit the Trust My Garage website and insert your postcode into our garage finder.

Five innovations in independent garages and how they benefit you

You might have noticed how independent garages have changed over the years. Gone are the days when your local garage was an oily institution with overalls strewn all over the place and trashy pictures on the walls. Independent garages of the 21st century are efficient businesses constantly striving to give their customers the very best experience and value.

Milton Keynes’ Quality Car Service  is a Trust My Garage member that has been operating as a family-run business for five years. The advances that Quality Car Service has made in that time are truly impressive, with a real strategic approach to the day-to-day running of the garage, ensuring they’re capable of dealing with any job, no matter how difficult it may be, and leaving their customers satisfied.

Owner Chris Gurney runs through the top five things that Quality Car Service, and many other independent garages, are doing and how they benefit you, the consumer.

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1.        Web design

This enables us to be very reactive with online web offers etc. We also run our own online advertising campaign via Google AdWords and we measure the results, meaning we can be instantly reactive to online pricing and offers as we can tweak them and see immediate results. We record how each customer found out about us, whether it’s from a recommendation, repeat business, Google or Facebook and we can also see the return on investment for each of these areas of marketing. Our web designer also keeps Facebook and Twitter up to date, and we send out emails requesting feedback on the service they have received. We really do listen and take on board the feedback we receive, using it to improve our own services and quality of work. We employed our own full time web designer 14 months ago, however this role has evolved into an Online Marketer, a must for every independent garage.

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2.        Staff harmony

We have a morning meeting with all our staff where we address issues, share information on technical jobs from the day before, keep everyone updated on industry news and measure each person’s performance. We talk to our staff on a daily basis and ensure they are happy at work and take interest in their lives away from work. Each year we set the technicians standards and they have to attend a minimum of three training courses a year and all free training seminars that are available. If our staff are happy then that is definitely passed onto the customers – if you come in for a servicing and everyone looks fed up and miserable then the likelihood is you’re not going to come back!

3.        Staff training and incentives

Industry qualifications take priority and every technician has a minimum of NVQ2. We also give them the option of achieving NVQ3 which is paid for by the company and we align the pay accordingly to help drive them to achieve the qualification. We also let our staff choose which training courses interest them, whether it be electrical, diesel or manufacturer training. If you bring your car in then of course you want our mechanics to be as knowledgeable and qualified as possible. We understand that these days people simply don’t have time to know their cars inside out, that’s our job.

4.        The focus on customer service

There’s a lot to be said for a family run business and we are very hands on. We treat our customers how we would want to be treated in a garage and this attitude is infectious. Our staff have a real desire to look after our customers and they take complete ownership of this from the moment a customer enters the garage, throughout the day with regular contact and at the end of the day when it’s time to run through the work carried out and hand the vehicle back to the customer. Our full-time valetor takes real pride in his job – he knows how many service washes he has in a day and when he can he will upgrade the service wash to include a body wax. It’s a nice touch to show customers we really care. We review the percentage of repeat customers we see on a monthly basis and we strive constantly to grow this. If the figure goes backwards then we find out exactly why and react.

5.        Constantly updating hardware and diagnostics

We’ve all heard the story of the garage owner that had to close down due to not investing in equipment and it’s very true that you must invest constantly into the latest tooling and diagnostic equipment. If you cannot diagnose a car because you do not have the correct on-board diagnostics reader then you lose the customer. If you’re not prepared to invest in a tyre pressure monitoring system then don’t bother selling and fitting tyres. Ultimately if you cannot diagnose a fault you will lose the customer. Our staff and customers recognise the investment we make and this keeps them loyal to us.

It’s not only the workshop that needs investment and we are currently looking at working with a company to develop a fully automated electronic point of sale system (EPOS) that is being developed for the garage industry. The EPOS is the digital system used in retail establishments.  This is cutting edge and it’s what we, and other garage owners, have been looking for for a number of years. Watch this space, it’s going to transform the front end service and customers’ perception of the industry.

Five reasons to support your local independent garage on Small Business Saturday

As Small Business Saturday arrives in the UK for the first time, the importance of consumers supporting independent businesses in the UK is rightly being stressed. Ask most shoppers what they consider a small independent business to be and they’ll likely say a retail outlet such as a local hairdresser or a convenience store. We’re urging you to consider the fact that independent garages are small businesses themselves, and should be supported on Small Business Saturday. Additionally, as small businesses help each other, we’re asking how many independent businesses have considered using independent garages for their vehicle servicing needs.

Small Business Saturday was originally set up in America three years ago in order to help small businesses fight off competition from bigger rivals. It was a huge success, boosting the turnover of small businesses in the US by £3.5 billion. Shadow Business Secretary, Labour MP Chuka Umunna, has brought the event to the UK calendar, and it has since gained widespread support. We’re highlighting the part that independent garage businesses play on Small Business Saturday and beyond.

QCSOur member Quality Car Service is a family-run business that’s been based in Milton Keynes for five years. They see themselves as an efficient small to medium enterprise, and run themselves accordingly. They work hard as a small business to retain their skilled staff and regularly review their business processes and HR policy, just like any other independent business. They also regularly review their business plan so that they stay competitive. This is a vital element of running an independent garage, especially in the current climate.

To celebrate the role of the small independent garage on Small Business Saturday, here are Quality Car Service’s top five reasons to choose a local independent garage.

5.      Investment in the local economy

Small businesses are so crucial to the UK economy – that simply cannot be overstated. Of the 4.9 million businesses in the UK, 99.2 percent of them were small businesses at the start of 2013. Additionally, research has shown that for every £10 spent in the local community, an extra £25 is reinvested. Perhaps the most telling fact though is that independent businesses are the biggest generators of jobs, which is poignant considering unemployment levels in the UK today. The message is clear – if small businesses fail then the unemployment levels would skyrocket. Help support your local community by spending in it – if you do then your money will likely be recycled back into the local economy.

4.      Reputable network

We’re a Trust My Garage member, and in order to be a member you’ve got to prove you work to a high standard. So when you see that we’re affiliated with Trust My Garage, you instantly know we have achieved certain quality goals. Always look out for the Trust My Garage shield logo- if you see it then you know that you’re really going to be able to trust that independent garage. There are many networks available that independent small businesses can join but its those that are based on quality of service that are the most reliable.

Chris Gurney_Quality Car Service_headshot3. Better value for money

Often independent small businesses are more cost effective than larger brands. The Independent Garage Association recently polled over 2,000 of its members on their labour rates and results concluded that independent garages ‘continue to offer motorists the very best value for money.’ Figures from the poll show that the average labour cost is slightly over £40 for independent garages, and the most recent Warranty Direct annual Labour Rates survey demonstrates that average labour rates for main dealer garages stands at a national average of £95.94. These averages mean that in some areas the difference between the cheapest independent garage and the most expensive main dealer is quite staggering.

2.      Access to technical information and quality parts

Many independent businesses offer just as high a quality service as businesses that are part of a wider chain, if not even higher. The same is true for independent garages. We have access to the same level of technical information and quality parts as main dealers. The training that we give to our staff is no different to the training mechanics at dealerships receive. We constantly keep all of our equipment and diagnostic software up-to-date to ensure that there’s no job we can’t do. If we have to outsource a job then we’ve failed and lost business, so we strive to be able to handle any request. For each job we undertake we ensure that each member of staff is fed the necessary information so that if it’s particularly taxing we’re then able to learn from it.

1.      Better customer service

Independent businesses, like ourselves, rely heavily on customer retention, and the only way we can ensure we keep getting customers back through our doors is by offering them great service – that means keeping them updated at all times, giving them information they know they can trust, and making them feel as comfortable as possible. We pride ourselves on our friendly approach and the rapport we create with our customers. Often businesses that are part of wider brands don’t have to put this emphasis on a personal service because they know they will receive business based on the reputation of the brand or chain they belong to. Because we are independent, we can provide customer service the way we want to – the way we would want to be treated as customers ourselves – and this ensures a personal and efficient service every time.

To find your local independent garage business on Small Business Saturday, visit the Trust My Garage website and insert your postcode into our garage finder.