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Pit Stop Workshop – third year running!

10 March, 2012

Paul Miller, manager at John Austin, has done it again!

On a blustery February morning, we abandoned our Saturday morning lie-ins to attend his Pit Stop Workshop.

The Pit Stop Workshop is designed to reduce the fear of basic  maintenance through familiarity.  It gives people the confidence to know that if they are stranded with a flat tyre and the phone’s dead or there’s no signal, they can handle the situation.  As this is not covered in driving lessons, it’s a good opportunity for those learning to drive to come along and give themselves a head start.  On this occasion most of us were seasoned drivers, but we all found we had something to learn!

With the complexity of cars these days, fiddling about under the hood, unless you really know what you’re doing, is to be discouraged.  This has, inevitably, led to many of us becoming complacent about dealing with the most simple of car care basics, relying instead on the annual service.   But often it’s those simple things that we can all do something about but don’t, that can help us avoid expensive repair bills later on.

Our reliance on breakdown services means we could sit on the side of the road for hours with a flat tyre too waiting for help which, if it was a lovely sunny day might not be so bad.  But if it was like a day like today, you’d want to be able to do something about it, and we all felt after two hours’ ‘training’ we could.

Not only did we all gain knowledge and insight, but we were able to relax and chat about our experiences afterwards over coffee and cake at The Food Company next door.

The team at John Austin have three more Pit Stop Workshops lined up this year:  Saturday 12thMay, Saturday 11th August and Saturday 17th November.  If you’d like to come along or have a question, call Paul on 01206 211483 or email .

Changes to MOT test criteria 2012

07 February, 2012

As of 1st January 2012, the MOT test has been changed to comply with the revised European testing directive.  The new test will reflect the growing electronical complexity of modern cars.

You can see all of the new test criteria below – it’s a pretty substantial list!

Instead of getting a ‘fail’ straight away with these new criteria, you will get an ‘advisory’ notice up until the end of March 2012, so you have a bit of time to get them fixed.  But if your MOT isn’t due until this April, then your car will immediately be classed as a ‘fail’ if any it doesn’t pass all of the criteria below:

List of New Testable Components

  • Headlamp levelling and cleaning devices when fitted for HID or LED headlamps
  • Main beam ‘tell-tale’
  • Battery (including batteries for electric or hybrid vehicles)
  • Electrical wiring and connectors
  • Trailer electrical socket security and damage
  • Operation of 13-pin trailer electrical sockets using an approved trailer socket tester
  • Operation of the steering lock (where fitted) including that malfunction warning is not displayed for an electronic steering lock
  • Electronic power steering malfunction warning indicating a fault
  • Electronic parking brake control and malfunction indicator lamp
  • Electronic Stability Control (ESC) components, including the switch (if fitted) and malfunction warning
  • Brake fluid warning lamp illuminated or inoperative
  • Tyre Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS)
  • Supplementary Restraint System (SRS) components including airbags, seat belt pre-tensioners, seat belt load limiters and SRS malfunction warning lamp
  • Engine mountings
  • Speedometer
  • Indirect vision devices (where they replace obligatory mirrors)

For Class 5 vehicles, there are also the following new components:

  • Electronic Braking System warning device
  • Entrance/exit steps and doors
  • Door remote and emergency controls
  • Door open warning devices
  • Stairs
  • Emergency exit signs, windows and ‘break glass’ hammers

For more detail on the new test criteria, visit the VOSA website at:


Pit stop workshop – take 2

24 March, 2011

We’ve just run our second Pit Stop Workshop so even more ladies in Essex are now self-sufficient in car maintenance.  We asked one of our enthusiastic Pit Stoppers, Aisha Allan from Kelvedon, if she’d like to write about her experience; she said ‘yes’ so here’s her blog:

A pit stop workshop sounded about the last place I would choose to be on a Saturday morning. When I got the invite I must confess I wasn’t at all keen on starting my weekend in a garage, covered in grease and dirt. But when Paul told me there would be free tea and cake afterwards, well, it became an offer I just couldn’t refuse.

Greeted on that blustery morning by a warming cup of latte and smiling faces, I was looking forward to learning about car maintenance, because frankly, I didn’t know a lot – surely that’s what AA membership is for? But realising that if I got stuck on the side of the road with a flat tyre and a dead phone I’d still be able to do something about it, was convincing enough for me to give up a few hours of my time to learn.

I use my car every day to get to and from work, yet I found out I didn’t know a lot about it. We started with the basics. First, how to check tyre pressure and oil levels. This was easy enough, and after a few practice attempts I got the hang of it. The difficult part was changing a tyre.

Paul gave us lots of useful hints and tips along the way – don’t try to jack your car up on gravel, make sure it’s parked on level ground.  And if you get a flat tyre when it’s raining, wait in the car for the AA to arrive (that’s one of my useful tips).

We got down and dirty changing the wheels, but a bit of audience participation was expected. Us girls had the opportunity to learn from the best, and have a laugh along the way.

I have to say I’m glad I spent my Saturday morning in a garage. The Pit Stop Workshop has given me piece of mind; now I know if I get stuck somewhere with a flat tyre I can deal with it myself.  And for a girl like me to handle something like that and not have to call the AA, I would call a pretty big achievement.

And of course, the tea and cake afterwards were winners!

Get a grip this winter

19 October, 2010

We may go on about our famous British weather but the one thing it doesn’t give us is treacherous driving conditions, just a lot of puddles.  That was until late last year when the snow fell and kept falling and the country quickly ground to a halt.

So, strictly speaking, as winter is well and truly here, all UK drivers  are probably more than prepared to handle whatever the weather throws at us over the next few months.

Just in case the disappointment at England’s performance in the World Cup, or the excitement of winning against Australia at Twickenham in November has affected your short term memory, here are some tips to help you prepare for unexpected and dangerous driving conditions:

Cover the bases

  • If the weather forecast is looking bad or just uncertain and you need to drive, then you must make sure you take some basic action before setting off.   First, fill up with petrol; if you get stuck you can keep the engine running and stay warm until help arrives or conditions become less severe.
  • Having the right tyre pressure is vital whatever the weather, but in wintry conditions check the tread: the legal minimum is 1.6mm, but it’s better to have a deeper tread of at least 3mm, as it will be more effective at clearing water.
  • If you haven’t put antifreeze in your car since the summer, now’s the time to start.

See and be seen

  • The combination of icy conditions and grit on the roads can mean you’ll use more screen wash than normal, so keep it topped up and put a spare bottle in the boot.
  • It would be sensible to have a can of de-icer and a plastic scraper in there too.  A second can of de-icer at home will help you deal with frozen locks quickly first thing in the morning.
  • Windscreen wipers should also be checked now because worn ones won’t be effective against sleet and snow and you can’t drive blind.
  • If it gets misty outside, keep dipped headlights on, if it gets foggy, then turn your fog lights on; you’ll be more visible and you’ll see more too.

Put the right equipment in the boot

  • Take an old sleeping bag (which makes a great duvet), a hoodie and a pair of gloves; shove them in a dustbin liner, put the lot in the boot and forget about it. You may never need to use them over the winter period, but you’ve got the kit just in case.
  • You probably already have a torch in the glove compartment, right?  If you haven’t, put one in now.
  • Should the weather forecast indicate that snow is a possibility, it makes sense to keep a shovel and a couple of pieces of cardboard or old carpet in the boot too; it could help you or another motorist out of a tricky situation.

If you do set off on a journey, run out of petrol, a snow storm starts and you’ve forgotten to put warm clothing in the boot, at least you’ll be able to call for help, because you’ve kept your mobile phone fully charged.  Yes?

Winter driving conditions are never pleasant, but we can make ourselves safer by getting a grip.  And there’s no time like the present.

Here are some useful links: