Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What happened to Quinn Direct?

Insurance companies are the sworn enemies of young drivers. The truth is no-one trusts us youthful, inexperienced motorists on the road, so when it comes to insurance the only cover available is in the thousands for even the smallest vehicles. The slim chances of finding a quote from the price comparison websites with their catchy irritating jingles and Eastern European accented rodents narrow down the millions of well known insurance companies to a handful of insurance nobodies since the majority of companies wouldn't touch a 17 year old driver with a barge pole. When it came to insuring my 0.9 Cinquecento, Quinn Direct provided the cheapest quote on the market or should I say meerkat? Quinn Direct are an Irish based insurance company who were known for taking the risk of insuring young drivers, after all money is money, and if they didn't insure young drivers who would?

With the recent news that Quinn Direct have gone into joint provisional administration it has left me wondering was it their accident causing claim making younger customers which brought them down or were there other reasons? After reading many mixed reviews from current and former customers it seems Quinn Direct have had problems with customer service in the past, by making wrong changes to customers' policies and putting off customers by charging excessive amounts after obtaining a full driving licence. I have personally experienced this by being charged an extra 50% of my original policy when passing, however I'm not complaining because it was the cheapest I could find. Many customers who didn't wish to continue their policies seem to have problems with receiving their refunds and have left angry reviews about their communication systems. The news this afternoon of workers in Ireland protesting against potential job losses is sort of ironic because unlike most other insurance companies who outsource their call centres to big cities in the far east like Delhi, Sean Quinn kept his company local thus providing his Irish workers a job. On the other hand, the way the company has been run has been criticised by customers for its poor organisation in some cases, which may lead you to think had the company been set up elsewhere it would still be afloat rolling in the cash from those young desperate drivers.

The current status of administration means Quinn won't be renewing any insurance policies any time soon but a letter from the administrators assures current policies will be unaffected by the administration status. With Quinn Direct finished who is going to insure all the young drivers? Companies like i-Kube use Big Brother style GPS surveillance boxes which track your every movement imposing a driving curfew on young drivers between 11pm and 5am which sounds good in practise but taking away the freedom of driving seems a bit much. These systems might be adopted by major insurers in the future with the potential to also log and report breaking of the speed limits. It'll certainly stop the boy racers from driving around the block at night and help reduce speeding but if young people have to watched every second of the day in order to be trusted on the road why issue driving licences? In an ideal world people should learn to drive in all situations on various types of roads, but the lessons would be very expensive and we don't like spending any money whatsoever. So until then, we'll have to stick to the current format of paying through the nose for insurance instead of driving safe in the knowledge that the car in front or behind you is not some dangerous accident causing Chav.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chinese plans to build new Morris Marina with ultra-strong roof

A leaked sketch from a business plan by a Chinese product design entrepreneur who aims to build reinforced vehicle roofs from carbon composite materials uses Top Gear as inspiration and hints at a new Morris Marina. The entrepreneur who's name translates as "Glorious Mountain Blossom" in English has taken a rethink to car design by "creating a futuristic approach to the structural components of the roof layout in order to prevent serious injuries in the event of the most major accidents". In an interview with Chinese press yesterday he talked of his inspiration from the piano dropping antics of BBC's Top Gear program"Seeing the act of dropping a Piano on that classic car inspired me to approach car manufacturers to use my carbon composite roof designs on future vehicles of a similar size and style. The family car market is very important to modern Chinese people, and a family car which is strong and reliable will be essential to the drivers of the future." We think he's lost the plot, as from our recollection, (well the internet's in fact) the Morris Marina was neither strong, reliable or popular.

From what we have understood, it looks like Glorious Mountain Blossom plans to start production with a partnership with a major Chinese car manufacturer to fit his ultra-strong roof on his Morris Marina styled "vehicle of tomorrow" in the next few year. He said "I hope China to be a world leader in vehicle roof safety by 2015". The major Chinese car manufacturer has yet to come forward with detailed designs of the new Marina but the vague sketch shows some similarities to the British Leyland classic.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Croma: The unwanted Fiat

Many of you will be unfamiliar with Fiat Cromas since they are scarce on British soil. The Croma is quintessentially a Vauxhall Vectra/Saab 93 underneath which is why many smart British people decided to forget about the Fiat badge and buy themselves Vauxhall Vectras. Obviously that isn't the main reason why the Croma didn't sell very well when it was launched way back in 2005, someone at Fiat came up with the bright and pointless idea of making a car that's as spacious as an MPV with the boot space of an estate and a sort of family hatchback looks. This was all very well and good in theory but the finished product obviously didn't appeal to any of the target markets, which ended up with a sort of mongrel car. So why have I made my dad spend money on one?

The Croma has a very specific niche: it only truly appeals to the needs of families consisting of leg room needy teenagers. Obviously there were other reasons why I persuaded my dad to choose this specific model mainly because of the panoramic sunroof which makes playing I-spy on a journey a lot more interesting. Other added benefits include; a dual zone climate control which in theory, could make a mini tornado when the front air vents are on cold and the back ones on hot, parking sensors which provide a more scientific alternative to the traditional 'Back.....back.....back........back...BANG..oops!' reversing technique, but more importantly its 1.9 JTD Multijet diesel engine matches, if not beats our petrol Alfa Romeo 156 due to 150 break horse power, six gears and being pretty efficient at the same time: up to 57.6 mpg in fact - perfect for driving to Italy in the summer.

Obviously there were alternative family cars out there, but there wasn't much sub £6k with less than 30,000 miles on the clock which really suited our needs . There were times when my dad wanted a proper 7 seater MPV but the prospects being driven about in a van filled with seats didn't appeal to me. Since my dad is Italian, it is only natural for him to stick to all Italian car brands, which is the reason why we currently have a half fixed (or half broken it depends whether you are a pessimist) Fiat 500L, a Cinquecento, an Alfa Romeo 156 and a Fiat Tempra. Unfortunately, the Alfa may have to go when petrol prices hit £30000000 per litre after the budget and the Tempra is on is on its last legs after doing more than 200,000-ish miles (I'm not sure after the digital speedo reset back to zero after 200,000km) and serving us for more than twelve years. This begs the question will our new practical family car last more than 12 years and beat it's predecessor, the trusty Fiat Tempra? Only time will tell.

The few bad points: It's not the most visually pleasing of cars, despite being designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro; designer of many a fine Alfa Romeo, the rear bumper and wheel arches seemed to have been designed on one of his off days, it's all a bit bulgy. Some might say that this is all for the excellent five star EuroNCAP rating for adult occupants, although it isn't so good for pedestrians - a meagre one star. The paintwork is a peculiar colour, technically it is called metallic ivory which translates as a blend of silver, gold and cream or commonly known as beige. Obviously in an ideal world, most cars would be Ferrari Rosso Red or Giallo Fly but unfortunately second hand cars don't come with custom paint jobs.

Things to watch out for: many a Croma were used as rep mobiles driven to their limits, things like suspension and brakes seem to wear quite easily. Thankfully ours came from a Fiat dealer so they replaced everything before handing over the keys plus threw in one year's free warranty and one weeks free insurance. According to my parents, the service in the dealership was excellent, the salesmen was very helpful and they knocked off quite a bit from the asking price, this came as a great surprise to me as we are normally used to our local dealership asking for extortionate amounts for used cars with the added bonus of mind-numbingly boring salespeople who know more about financial packages and profit margins than the cars they sell.

As a family car I'd rate it 8/10 it's great, but not ideal for everyone, it doesn't have the looks of an Alfa Romeo 159 Stationwagon, nor does it have the practicality of the - Ford Mondeo. So until they make an Alfa Romeo which is a spacious as the Ford Mondeo and cheap enough for us to afford, we'll keep the Croma.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An outing with the Cinq

Well, I have finally managed to experience Franco's driving, first hand. Which means that I can not only review his car (the Fiat Cinquecento), but also his *ahem* skill as a driver. I'll warm up by starting with the car...

Walking along the school road, I had trouble spotting the vehicle, due to its miniscule stature. Having found it, the first thing that hit me was the question: How am I going to get in it?

Quite easily actually, with the interior being spacious with generous views out of the windows. This is due to a certain emptiness in the cabin; hell, there isn't even a proper dashboard! This is good though, as in a case of an accident, you travel through more air before hitting the windscreen. This safety feature should be standard in all cars.

Not that this car will be having any accidents, for its pilot, Franco, takes driving very seriously. Having put on his driving glasses (which, by the way Franco, exude Italian Flair), we pull out onto the road. The feeling is odd to say the least. Panoramic vision means that it feels more like a convertible than a tiny hatchback. Furthermore, the ride is actually quite good.

When Franco finally decides to slow down for the speed bump, the little Cinq copes admirably, not bottoming out or complaining at all (unlike some of our peers' cars). Out onto more open road, Franco lets rip on the accelerator, because, well, he has to. With a 0.9 litre engine doing the legwork, thrashing the life out of the thing is a prerequisite. Saying that, it picked up quickly, and never seemed lethargic around town.

A couple of minutes into the ride, I spot something not quite right about the Cinq. Now, we all know that speedometers are not very accurate, but this car is something else. The needle never really makes its mind up about what speed we are travelling at, so it jitters up and down within a range of about 5mph compared to our actual speed. Naturally, this caused me to have many a Lulz.

Anyway, by now, we're on the dual carriage way, and well, it's fine. I don't feel any sluggish performance at all, but I did have a sneaking suspicion that Franco had his right foot firmly plastered to those new car mats of his. This doesn't mean we broke the speed limit, far from it in fact.

What was bothering the car a little bit was the wind. The car having the "aerodynamics of a brick" (your words, not mine Franco), means that on open parts of road, a strong gust requires paying careful attention to the steering. Thankfully, we survive the dual carriage way and it's back to school. Doing this involves going over a particularly tight roundabout that feeds traffic back into the town. The tightness of the exit path highlighted one of the Cinq's weaknesses: cornering, or, more specifically, how its suspension copes with lateral g-forces. Which is to say, not very well. I honestly thought the car was going to tip, and I said certain things that alluded to my fear during this situation. Franco wasn't at all alarmed by this, having grown used to this leaning tendency, but hey! At least it soaks up those speedbumps and potholes nicely.

Now, this is a small car. Very small in fact, but even small cars now have power steering, except, well, this car. Parallel parking it seemed to demand a huge effort from Franco to quickly turn the steering wheel (just try to see it this way Franco, at least you'll have the arms of a body builder after a couple of years). I recall struggling to snap the wheel from one full lock to another on a power steering vehicle, so my hat goes off to Franco for managing to park the Cinq in the short time he did.

A few more things I should mention about Franco's ride: I'm pretty sure it used to be red, which, after many, many, many, many years of weather-related abuse, has made it slightly faded. I view this as a unique differentiator from other cars; it even has an interesting pattern on the bonnet. No doubt one day, Franco will allow me to paint a Fresco on the outside of it.

Franco has also told me that he has to accelerate when he starts the car up, to allow for the valves to adjust. This is very much a car that has to be driven by someone who knows what they're doing, and doesn't mind the odd little quirk, like a petrol cap that doesn't really do its job. In all fairness though, all my comments have to be put into perspective by looking at how much Franco paid for the Cinq: £220.

Ok, you can pick your jaw up from the floor now. Yep, he has a fully functioning car for the price of an iPod (or, oh I don't know... a Puss3?). Granted, it originally had a handbrake that was operating at 7% of its capacity, which had to be fixed, but still, what a bargain! Plus, he's managed to get insurance for about £1000, which for a bloke is a miracle.

Fiat Cinquecento - 9/10 A cheap runabout that just gets on with the job.

Franco - 10/10 For putting up with the Cinq's quirks, and that awful non-power steering.

Monday, March 15, 2010

How clean is your car?

Cleaning is the last thing that comes to mind when driving, car washing is a ritual most sensible drivers partake in when the weather is good or when visibility becomes severely hindered by muck. Governmental scientific environmentalist findings prove that washing your car makes it more aerodynamic which therefore gives you better fuel economy. Our findings also prove that washing off the remnants from your last drive through a peat bog prevents your car from looking like a giant turd on wheels. Of course many people do not have the time nor the effort to clean their cars and therefore pay others usually Bulgarian people or a giant robotic brush to do the duty for them. Interiors are the often the forgotten factor after the car wash, the yearly build up of surplus parking tickets, tissues covered in oil and other unknown fluids, chewing gum wrappers enclosing old bits of gum, uneaten extra extra extra extra strong mints that were too strong for your liking, the surplus cans of de-icer and the remnants from your last drive-thru gourmet meal at McDonald's eventually makes a wheelie bin seem a nice place to sit in than a Dagenham dustbin (in the literal sense).

I decided/was forced to hoover and clean my interior for the first time since last June, the 15 year old car mats were terribly worn and on removal I'd found giant muddy stains and rips in the carpet. The practical solution would be to wash such stains away but that would involve the use of carpet cleaner or paying someone £16 to valet the interior, so with a bit of effortless thought I disposed of the worn mats and bought some cheap replacement mats from my local pound shop for £6 saving me a lot of money. Some of you may point out that having non original car mats means they won't fit perfectly - which is true, on the other hand them being slightly bigger means more stains and ripped carpet can be hidden. Also on the plus side the new mats also sort of match the Cinquecento's red-ish paintwork. It's amazing what a difference a few quid makes. In true Cilit Bang advert style, feel free to admire some before and after photos:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Can't afford an SLS.....there's an app for that

Mercedes have launched a free app which lets you do a "loop the loop" (which is the correct technical term) just like in the advert which used to star an old German test driver and now stars an old German F1 driver. So if you have an iPhone get the app at
itunes.com/app/slsamg and if you don't we've kindly provided you with the video of the real thing:

image source: http://blog.mercedes-benz-passion.com/

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Can't afford an SLR Stirling Moss?

Well this is the car for you. Its called the Heynsdyk 2500 SF (pronounce it however you like). Its essentially a re-bodied Porsche 944, yes I did say 944 not 911, not boxster or cayman 944 - the twenty five year old sports car. The back slightly resembles the Merc and the front is a sort of melted Spyker. Its is one of the most inappropriate cars ever made, that aside for only €14,750 you could buy your clapped out Porsche 944 a new skin or if you're the sort of person that is reading this blog from one of Holland's special caf├ęs you could spend €36,995 on a complete car.

images: http://www.heynsdyk.com/