Ode to Skoda

Just had my car MOT'd at ALS Lock Skoda, and as usual Skoda asked me for feedback. When they asked why I rated the service the way I did (excellent by the way), my initial response was rejected as too short! pfft!  So, I decided on a bit of poetic license to expand it out.

My Octy is aging; now needs MOT
I called ALS (she was bought there, you see)
Their garage is handy, just a few miles away
So, taking it there doesn't ruin my day.

I dropped her off early, they then ran me home
saying "when she is ready, we'll give you a phone;
If there's anything wrong, we can do the repair"
Said with a smile, so you feel that they care.

The job was done quickly, with minimum fuss.
She passed all her tests - well done me ol' bus!
The car had been washed, the test had been done,
all safely approved for another year's fun.

Sometimes you're worried, prepared for a fright,
but I'm happy to say, the price was just right.
So, they came to collect me, no quibbles, no moan;
I like ALS, cos it just feels like home.

Please forgive me - it's fossil fuel...

This household is about to buy a new car, a supermini, and it won't be electric and it won't be a hybrid.

Before you yell, no-one is sadder about this than me.

As an early adopter and general planet-hugger, I already switched to a diesel car with double the MPG (and diesel particulate filter) a few years ago. So, the prospect of a car that is cleaner still and costs about 90% less per mile is a very tantalising idea. [By the way, I won't even enter a debate on the stats and benefits of electric - if you want a decent argument on the topic, follow Bobby Llewelyn on twitter or read his blog - he knows his stuff.] 

So, firstly, the car is not for me, but my better half; so ultimately it's her decision and has to fit her needs. I will only drive it occasionally. (Unless, perhaps, she was getting a car that was faster than mine, in which case I might hanker after it all the time :-) But she's not.)

Secondly, electric cars currently just don't suit our needs. A lot of criticism comes the way of the current breed of electric cars, most centred around range, which is typically 100 - 140 miles on a charge. For many, many people who are based in towns and doing lots of short trips and school runs, this type of vehicle would surely meet their needs. However, it just so happens that our life doesn't follow that pattern - in fact we both have long distance journeys to do as our main journeys (so not only can we not share one car, but we need two). Turns out those journeys are beyond the distance of the average electric range and we also don't have the necessary charging means at the other end. I think an electric car would be brilliant to have - but we need a simpler life. (I reckon that's true regardless.)

So, much as I believe that electric cars represent a realistic future and can deliver some cracking performance, the current range limitation rules them out of our driving pattern for the time-being. Next time round might be a possibility though.

Now, what would be a good alternative for our lifestyle is a hybrid car, which combines fossil fuel and electric power to deliver more MPG and extended range when there is no battery power. Volvo, for example, have just announced an S60 saloon than can deliver about 125mpg and drive 1000 miles on a tank. Awesome. Truly Awesome.

The issue with this breed of cars basically comes down to cost and choice. There are not that many models available at the moment and they are also beyond our current target budget (and form factor) of a super-mini. I can pretty much guarantee that if Skoda produced a hybrid Fabia at Skoda prices, it would be a no-brainer purchase.

But they don't. No-one does. 

So, that leaves us going for a conventional fossil burner. Another requirement is to have an automatic, which also limits the choice and price - and in the end the best all-round value vehicle we have found is the Skoda Fabia with 7 Speed DSG auto box (a beautiful piece of equipment in its own right, complete with "flappy paddles" as the girls on Top Gear would say). Better still, the auto is actually more economical than the equivalent manual! I am confident it will be a smooth and economical drive, as I have the 6 speed DSG on my Octavia and it's nothing short of fantastic. These cars must be popular as the waiting list is currently 4 - 5 months.

Once again, it will be a step change in economy and lower emissions compared to the car it is replacing - so it's all in the right direction. I hope you feel forgiving. 


Installing an iPhone TomTom power cable behind the dashboard

Here's some pictures of how I wired a TomTom iPhone mount behind the dash of a VW Passat.

Note, this didn't involve finding a new power source or wiring to the fuse box. Instead power was taken from the 12v lighter/accessory socket in the ashtray. The actual ashtray was removed (it is designed to be removable) so it can be put back at a later date.

The jack end of the tomtom power cable can be stowed in the ashtray cavity when not in use, with the lid closed - hiding it from view. 

To perform this job requires a couple of tools designed for the job. Ideally you need "dash tools" - these are strong plastic wedge shaped tools that allow you to pop the fascia off the front of the dash. The fascia in all modern cars is just clip on plastic. You also need a suitable star-shaped spanner set - as most car fittings use this form factor. This is used for removing bolted in items such as the ashtray container and air conditioning controls. A set for about £20 is a good investment if you intend working on your car a few times or on several cars. Finally, i also used a "magnamole" - a new invention (as shown on Dragon's Den") of bendy flexible sticks with a magnetic end - very handy for routing and picking up wires in small spaces you can't get your hand.

The tomtom itself is mounted on the dash using the standard suction mount onto a tomtom-supplied sticky disc, designed for the purpose. They cost about £5 for two. (I've also used one to mount a video camera in the rear of my car)

Pictures of the installation follow:


starting the job: dash fascia removed (tools shown on seat)


upper cable routed behind air vents

 This was a bit tricky getting the USB end through the small hole. Ideally I'd have gone through the gap at the side, but it was just too small.

cable routed behind A/C controls to drop down behind lighter socket

This was the bit that needed the Mangamole to pick up the USB cable from behind the lighter power socket. I removed the A/C controls and dropped the rod down behind to grab the metal end of the cable from inside the lower part of the dash.

 Hole drilled in ashtray cavity to route power cable

     Drilling the hole was unavoidable - the ashtray cavity is totally sealed and any attempts to come round/over the side/top prevent the flap from working. However, the actual ashtray has been removed (it's designed to for cleaning/emptying) so the hole is easily covered if the cable is removed and the ashtray replaced.  


finshed job - mounted on a tomtom dash suction plate

The final job is pretty neat and discreet. It avoids those tell-tale suction marks on the windscreen that thieves love and with or without the mount in place is easily covered with a small hat :-)  It is also much safer for driving as there is no risk of the trailing cable getting caught up in anything (gear lever, hand) and the iPhone is in much closer reach of the driver.

The power cable stows neatly in the ashtray when not in use and is plugged into the lighter socket when required.

The positioning of the iPhone tomtom also improves handsfree performance as both speaker and mic are closer to the driver.


Finally tempted my brother to the dark side...

After what must be the best part of 20 years driving exclusively volvo, I never thought my brother would defect. But he has! He's bought a Skoda!

I think the pressure has been gnawing away from within the family network - not only did I defect from Volvo/Saab (I like my fast, swedish, quirky cars) to Skoda a few years ago, but so did my sister (at the same time and completely independently) and finally my mother recently, prompted by the UK scrappage scheme. 

The leap on paper was big for me - not only from a 300bhp SAAB to a "lesser" badge, but a diesel car at that. But, I was too tempted by the alarming regularity of rave reviews, much lower all round purchase & running costs, capacious load carrying, and a fun pokey engine in the vRS - which is essentially a Golf GTI by another name and body shell. 

I've never looked back. Thrilled by fun, low cost, high economy motoring, not a day goes past without the car putting a smile on my face. A spirited drive does not cost the earth, unlike that of my brother's volvo T5 - for which you have to take steps to arrange a bank loan before you give it a long blast through the mountains. And, should you care to chip your diesel vRS you can have 430Nm of torque propelling you past pretty much any line of traffic. Even my 300bhp saab only managed 400Nm. 

So, spurred by Skoda's current "tax free" deal (i.e you pay list price before VAT is added, saving about £3500 on a top spec car) my brother has jumped ship - also to a diesel Octy vRS estate. He won't regret it. Not to be outdone, I'm changing mine too - for the same thing. This is the first time I've replaced a car with one the same - that's how much I love my Skoda

It'll be interesting to compare cars - his is the manual, mine will be the DSG auto (with flappy paddles). Both will benefit from the new common rail diesel engine which allows a higher rev limit, and if my test drive is anything to go by, a smoother power delivery across the range. I was mightily impressed by the DSG - responsiveness, comfort and ease of use. I doubt I will go back especially once it's come into its own in all those M25 queues. 

Roll on March - we've ordered them only 2 days apart and from the same dealer - so they may arrive together. That'll make a nice photo :)