Author Archives: Louise French

Mechanics replaces bulb in car

Tricks of the Light

First published in BMW Car Magazine March 2018

Chris Graham explains how car headlamps have developed, why they’re so good now and what’s in store for the future.

Back in the 1970s, most car headlights were standard, round five- or seven-inch diameter units; all very straightforward and utilitarian. But the progress that’s been made during the intervening 40 or so years has seen nothing short of a revolution, in both the appearance and functionality of these often overlooked essentials of the modern car.

While we all rely entirely on the performance of our car’s headlights for nighttime driving, the technology that goes into them, and the effort that’s put into their design, are factors that most motorists take completely for granted. And yet, in many cases, the modern headlamp unit is a work of visual art; an array of wonderfully-shaped, attractively-finished almost jewel-like treasures, protected behind a crystal-clear cover.

Fantastic advances

Today’s vehicle lights are a far cry from the simplistic and often woefully inadequate headlamps of yesteryear. For decades, car headlights were rudimentary, metal and glass affairs, with traditional filament bulbs that bounced yellowish light off a shiny, convex reflector and out through a glass lens that directed the beam down on to the road.

It wasn’t really until the late 1970s and early 1980s that car designers started to realise that there was real scope to enhance the look of the headlight units, while improving their performance at the same time. These changes went hand-in-hand with improvements in technology which allowed the format to be changed. At long last, it became possible to break away from the standard approach, and the limitations of weight, fragility and expense that the old-style units carried with them.

The first big breakthrough came thanks to the development of the faceted reflector. Typically made from plastic, these multi-surfaced, mirror-like reflectors were designed to replace the outdated and inefficient glass lens. All the beam-direction work was accomplished by the reflector from behind the bulb, which meant that all that was required in front was a weight-saving covering of clear plastic to keep the light weather-sealed.

This gave designers much greater scope to make a visual feature of the headlights, but it also put greater pressure on the functionality of the lights as many were made smaller. Consequently, light output had to be increased and controlled more effectively to deliver the necessary illumination.

The early 1990s saw the introduction of the projector-type unit, which relied on a much smaller, internal glass lens positioned close to the bulb, to focus the light output on the road ahead. This represented another progressive step forward, although the approach wasn’t universally adopted by all vehicle manufacturers.

BMW Drives at Dusk

 

Boosted output

Of course, bulb enhancements were key to these performance improvements. The original tungsten filament bulbs, that had been around since the 1940s, were finally replaced by halogen bulbs in the 1970s, when it became necessary to boost light output and reduce the size of the source. However, the halogen bulb was effectively just a harder-working version of the tungsten unit (refer to the ‘Light source development’ panel).

But one of the most fundamental drawbacks with all bulbs that rely on a thin wire filament is that, sooner or later, that wire is going to burn through and fail. What’s more, the harder they’re worked (and the brighter they burn) the quicker that failure will occur. So the industry began searching for an alternative, and the first solution involved harnessing the intense light that’s produced when an electric spark jumps between two electrodes

The result was the high intensity gas discharge (HID) unit, commonly referred to as the xenon bulb. An inert gas – in this case xenon – is contained within a small glass envelope. Metal electrodes extend in from each side of this envelope, and the gap between their tips is what causes the electricity to arc, and the bulb to light. This technology offered a much longer service life (no delicate filament to break), lower power consumption, two or three times the light output of a halogen bulb and a colour temperature that was much closer to that of daylight.

On the downside, HID bulbs are very expensive, require complex electronics to control them, an integral lens washing capability and  an automatic, self-leveling system to prevent on-coming drivers from being dazzled by wayward beams. All of these factors added enormously to the cost of installation, and meant that for a good many years, the use of HID lights was restricted to high-end marques such as BMW.

LED rules, OK?

Now there’s a move afoot to replace the expensive but very effective, HID headlights with LED-based alternatives which, although still very expensive when compared to traditional halogen lighting, are a good deal more cost-effective than HID. Consequently, their use is currently restricted to the more prestigious marques, and often only to the high-end vehicles within various model ranges. BMW, however, is adopting LED lighting technology extensively across its model ranges.

The real beauty of LED as an automotive light source is that it’s incredibly controllable. So, rather than having a single light source in each headlamp unit, individual LEDs can be grouped together to produce the same sort of output, but also offer a tailoring of that output for other functions.

The computer-controlled switching of the various LED elements in a cluster can be used to vary the beam pattern that’s illuminating the road ahead, offering a degree of adaptability that’s never been possible before. These systems can be programmed to vary the output depending on the presence of other vehicles, whether they’re being followed, or are approaching from the opposite direction. So ‘high beam assist’ functionality now allows the headlights to be run permanently on their high-beam setting, with the beam pattern being adjusted automatically to suit the road conditions.

The most recent development involves a technology known as ‘LED laser’; a very futuristic-sounding but, as yet, not fully-functioning system. Somewhat disappointingly, it appears that the term ‘laser’ is a touch misleading, as there aren’t actual lasers – as you and I might imagine them – involved. Effectively, we’re still talking about LED technology, just in a higher-performance version and with a greater output.

But the high outputs are still proving difficult to control so, at the moment, this technology is restricted to the high beam units on a few, top-end vehicle applications. Inevitable, though, manufacturers will crack the problem in due course, enabling the power of LED laser lights to be harnessed effectively to use on dipped beam applications too, at which point it’ll become the most desirable lighting option.

BMW with white lights

 

Tasty source!

The Holy Grail for a lighting engineer is to create a unit that’s inexpensive to manufacture, low-cost to run, easy to direct and that produces light at a colour temperature that’s as close as possible to natural daylight. The human eye works best in daylight, so vehicle lighting that gets close to mimicking this is going to offer the safest and most effective option. This is why xenon lighting represented such a remarkable improvement over the halogen-powered systems that went before it.

Traditional, incandescent bulbs produce light with a colour temperature of about 2,700 degrees Kelvin (K), which is actually towards the yellow/orange end of the visible spectrum. A typical HID unit operates at 3,500K, which is a lot less yellow and much more neutral, while a modern LED can output light at 6,000K. This is a lot ‘cooler’ and more towards the blue portion of the spectrum.

I remember reading once that, as we age, the human eye becomes less and less sensitive to light at the yellow end of the spectrum which, of course, is exactly where most of the halogen-powered headlights sit. So, those of us of a certain age, who drive cars with traditional headlights, are actually bathing the nighttime road in a light that we find it increasingly difficult to see with!

Another interesting aspect which helped trigger the industry’s move away from HID lighting technology, is that the colour output from these lights varies during their service life. This will increase (becoming more blue), then peak and start to decrease again as the years pass. This typically occurs over a 3,000-hour period, but there are a lot of service-related variables involved, too.

Durability issues

When HID lights were first introduced, vehicle manufacturers proudly announced that these units would last the lifetime of the vehicle but, sadly, that hasn’t been the case. The life expectancy of xenon lights was relatively quickly modified to a more realistic five years and, most recently, research has revealed that it’s actually nearer three. The situation will be better with LED headlights as there’s no electrode consumption involved, so nothing to burn out.

Of course, there remain a great many cars around that still use conventional, filament-type headlight bulbs and, while most nowadays produce a reasonable output, bulb upgrades can represent an affordable and very worthwhile option. ‘High-power’ replacement bulbs from a quality producer will significantly boost light output to enhance nighttime driving and safety.

The genuine gains to be had nowadays from well-engineered, upgraded bulbs are very impressive. These used to be pegged to an improvement of about 30%, but the painstaking development work undertaken by specialist bulb producers like Ring means that it’s now possible to buy bulbs offering a genuine 150% more light output than the standard unit. What’s more, this has been achieved without affecting power consumption, so there are no potentially damaging, knock-on effects for the vehicle’s wiring, switches or sensitive engine management systems, as sometimes used to be the case. The only downside is a shorter service life but, the sort of performance gains now available easily outweigh this disadvantage.

As far as the automotive future is concerned, it would appear that the days of the filament bulb are numbered. The ‘solid state’ solution offered by LED technology will be progressively enhanced and, with unit costs being driven ever lower, the use of this lighting source is surely set to become increasingly widespread on vehicles of all types.

Ring QA lab testing bulbs

 

Light source development

Traditional bulbs operate by passing an electrical current through a thin wire, causing it to heat up and glow. The more current that’s passed, the hotter the wire gets and the brighter it glows. But there’s a balance to be struck. Overdo it and the filament will be consumed, the electrical circuit will be broken and the bulb will stop working.

The switch from conventional, filament-type light bulbs to halogen versions made a significant difference to light output. Greater brightness was achieved by ‘burning’ the filament hotter while controlling the greater evaporation rate of the filament by surrounding it with halogen gas.

When you see an old, filament-type bulb that’s failed, and you notice dark-coloured deposits on the inside of the bulb’s glass, that’s the residue from the burnt (evaporated) filament. Operating the filament in a halogen gas-rich environment triggers a reaction between the gas and the filament, causing the vapourised metallic particles to be re-deposited on the filament, thus extending service life.

High-performance halogen bulbs, which burn even hotter to achieve their greater light output, are able to do so because, as well as a halogen gas, the bulb also contains xenon. These gases are contained within the bulb’s glass envelope at a very high pressure, which acts to preserve the filament to an even greater degree.

Nevertheless, wire filaments remained an inherently weak link, with their gradual evaporation and vulnerability to vibration meaning that service life is always going to be limited. Removing the filament from the equation took vehicle lighting technology to the next level, with high intensity gas discharge (HID) and LED bulb types significantly boosting both light output and quality, as well as overall durability.

Light brightness is measured in units called lumens, and a conventional halogen bulb typically produces about 1,500 lumens. This compares to an HID bulb which outputs about 3,000 lumens while, somewhat surprisingly, the latest LED units are producing about 1,500 lumens. Arguably, they represent something of a backward step in output terms but, in every other respect – cost, efficiency, weight, electrical complexity, service life etc – they are superior.

Anecdotally, drivers are noticing the difference between HID and LED headlight systems, and not in a good way. However, it has to be said that the reduction in brightness is somewhat offset by the fact that LED light has a significantly higher colour temperature than HID light, so the illumination can appear more natural.

Unfortunately, thanks to the vagaries of the European type-approval system, LED lights have to be homologated as a single unit, in contrast to HID and halogen units, the components of which are homologated separately. Consequently, HID and halogen failures can be rectified with a replacement bulb (or other component) but, when an LED headlamp fails, the light unit has to be replaced in its entirety, which is massively more expensive.

Pass first time: How to avoid the most common MOT fails

Nearly 50% of all cars that fail an MOT do so because of small faults that could be avoided by simple, at-home car maintenance. These problems are easy to correct, and fixing them before taking the car in for its MOT could help you pass first time and avoid garage costs.

To help, Ring, the automotive specialist in bulbs, wipers, battery care and tyre care, has some advice on the simple things that can be done to avoid an MOT fail.

 

  1. Lights and signalling – 17.8% failure rate

4.5m cars fail because of lamps, reflectors and electrics every year. Doing a quick bulb check before you take the vehicle to the garage could avoid an MOT fail. Make sure you check all the exterior bulbs – this includes the side light, indicator, tail light and number plate lights. The registration plate lamp being out accounts for 4.5% of MOT fails.

When it comes to headlamps, there are plenty of options out there, including upgrades to help bulbs last longer or put more light on road for safer driving. We recommend you always replace bulbs in pairs, to ensure the light output is equal from both headlights. Ring stocks a range of bulbs, including long life versions, and for headlamps, try the new Xenon150 bulbs (nationwide – SSP £39.99), which put up to 150% more light on road without compromising on life.

 

  1. Tyre condition – 7.5% failure rate

Well maintained tyres are essential to ensure safe driving – and neglecting them could mean a failed MOT. The legal requirement for tyre tread on passenger vehicles up to eight seats is 1.6mm, but studies show that when the tread drops below 3mm, stopping distance begins to be significantly affected.

Checking tyre tread is easy and requires a simple depth gauge. However, to ensure your tyres are both safe and helping cut down fuel consumption, drivers need to check the pressure as well. For adigital gauge that gives accurate readings on a large backlit screen, records the correct pressure and has an integrated LED light, Ring suggests the RTG7 Programmable Digital Tyre Pressure & Tread Depth Gauge. This is easy to store in the car and easy to use, wherever you are. Available nationwide, SSP £24.99.

While there is no legal requirement for tyre pressure, under- or over-inflated tyres will reduce the traction between the tyre and the road, making driving less safe and less fuel efficient. For easy pressure top ups, try the Ring RAC635 Digital Tyre Inflator, with preset for accurate inflation. This industry-recognised inflator can inflate a 13” tyre from flat to 35PSI in under 3 minutes – making tops up quick and simple.

 

  1. Driver’s view of the road – 6.8% failure rate

Cracks in the windscreen and worn wipers are a big reason for vehicles to fail. As wiper deteriorate gradually, drivers often don’t realise they are no longer clearing the windscreen effectively. Choosing and fitting the right blade can seem tricky, but Ring’s new range of Ultravision Wiper Blades (SSP £9.99 to £13.99) make blade selection easy. The unique, patent-
pending clip fits 95% of the car parc, meaning that drivers just need to know the blade length for their vehicle to select the correct blade. The clip adapts to fit the seven most common wiper arms.

Henry Bisson, Marketing Manager at Ring, says, “Motorists could be making savings by carrying out basic checks and maintenance at home, but often they don’t realise that these minor faults could cause an MOT fail. What’s more, having well-maintained tyre, blade and lighting are driving safety essentials, so making sure they are regularly checked and replaced when necessary is critical.”

Ring makes tyre care easy

Recent research into the maintenance of car tyres by British drivers suggests that 40% of cars have dangerously uninflated tyres. The research, from Kwik Fit, showed that British drivers are risking their safety by driving on poorly maintained tyres. Underinflated tyres also make driving less efficient, meaning that it is costing drivers at the fuel pump as well.

To help, Ring, the vehicle lighting and car accessory specialist, has a complete range of tyre care devices that can help drivers to stay safe and save money.

Tyre Pressure Gauges

RTG4 Tyre Gauge

RTG4 Tyre Gauge

For an instant, accurate tyre pressure reading, Ring’s range of gauges are the ideal choice. The range includes the award-winning RTG4 Digital Tyre Keyring Gauge, which is a compact device with large a backlit digital screen. It has been praised for it’s easy to use design, LED light and easy to store size. Available nationwide, it is a good choice to keep in the car, just in case. SSP £8.99

To ensure safe tyres, drivers need to measure both the pressure and the tread depth. On passenger vehicles seating up to eight people, tyre tread must be at least 1.6mm: any less risks a fine. However, studies show that once tread depth goes under 3mm, stopping distance is affected, so it might be time to start considering new tyres. The RTG7 Programmable Digital Tyre Pressure & Tread Depth Gauge features a large backlit digital screen that shows accurate pressure readings, and also stores the recommended pressure levels for your tyres. It also has a tread depth gauge, which simply inserts into the tread to show how deep it is. Another award-winner, it is available nationwide,

SSP £24.99.

Tyre Inflators

RAC660 with backlit display

RAC660 with backlit display

Using a portable tyre inflator that runs from the in-car 12V socket ensures the tyre pressure can be checked before journeys – taking readings and inflation needs to be done when the tyres are cold to get accurate readings. They also save the hassle of queuing in the petrol station and can inflate a 13” tyre from flat to 35PSI in under three minutes. Plus, they are small enough to keep in the boot to use whenever needed.

Ring’s industry-leading RAC635 Preset Digital Tyre Inflator is a multi-award winning inflator that is easy to use, fast and accurate. The preset feature allows drivers to set the desired pressure, press go, and it will automatically stop at the set pressure. The inflator displays readings in PSI, kPa, bar or kg/cm2 and has a large backlit digital screen, so pressure can be easily read in any light conditions. The unit also has an integrated LED torch to help if inflating at night.

For a versatile inflator that can top up large tyres, car tyres, air beds and leisure items, the newly-released RAC660 is an ideal option. Powered from either a 12V socket or a mains socket, it can inflate a 13” tyre in under 2 minutes and has settings for airbeds, along with an eight-piece adaptor set.

Tyre maintenance is a safety essential – but it doesn’t have to be time consuming. Ring’s range of tyre care essential will help drivers keep tyres topped up, with optimum performance.

Cars are being left out in the cold this winter

In the UK, 69% of homeowners that have a garage do not use it for their car, instead using them for storage or converting them into extra living space. So cars are increasingly being left out in the cold. While modern motors are more weather resistant than ever, for drivers opting to leave them kerbside, there are maintenance measures for winter that will help keep their car in good condition. It might even avoid a frozen morning trying to solve car woes.

Garages being taken over

According to research by RAC Home Insurance, 69% of home owners don’t use their garage to store their vehicle. Instead, the majority are being used as extra storage, mainly for DIY tools, gardening equipment, sports gear and decorating kit. 9% of respondents to the survey said they had converted their garage into extra living space, with others using it as a gym or workshop for a hobby.

What’s more, many reported that their garage isn’t actually big enough for a modern car: many were designed for a 1950s-sized vehicle, and are no longer fit for purpose. Meanwhile, for many of us without a garage, the kerbside or drive is the only option.

The impact on your car

For motorists, it’s essential to take steps to help your car stay in good condition. Below are some things to be aware of if your motor isn’t kept under cover:

  1. Check your insurance. If you’ve stated that your car is kept mainly in the garage, but now it isn’t, it’s worth updating your insurer so that you are definitely fully covered if your car is stolen or damaged whilst parked up.
  2. Battery charging. Car batteries are far more likely to fail in winter, as the lower temperatures affect the battery chemicals. If your car is being kept outside, then the cold will have a greater impact. Regularly recharging your battery can keep it in good condition, and using a smart charger will help do just that, as well as repairing them. Ring’s smart chargers even have a winter charge mode, designed specifically for charging in cold weather.
  3. Tyre pressure. Cold weather can make tyre pressure drop, and for every decrease of 1°C in ambient temperature the tyre pressure drops by around 0.19 PSI. So when the frost sets it, it’s worth checking your tyre pressure, and topping up if necessary. A Digital Preset Tyre Inflator is the fastest and easiest way of doing this. As it is powered from your in-car 12V socket, it doesn’t need an extension cord from the house.
  4. Check your fluids. As you might expect, fluids thicken in the cold, including oil, antifreeze, power steering, brake and transmission fluids. Be especially sure to check your coolant/antifreeze, as this prevents the fluid in your engine from freezing.
  5. Risky deicing. It can be tempting to pour hot water on a windscreen for speedy defrosting, but if the hot water gets into any chips it can cause them to grow into cracks. Using an ice scraper or deicer is a better option.

Whether it’s a study, a workshop or a storage solution, if your garage is not being used for the car, make sure you don’t get left stranded this winter.

Ring’s Christmas Gift Guide 2017

Don’t know what to get your loved ones for Christmas? Not looking forward to the panic of last minute shopping? Take a breath – Ring has collected a few ideas so that you can give them what they want this Christmas, and they can use them well into 2018.

RIL80 – Extendable LED Lamp

Everybody has a DIY enthusiast in their life. Whether they enjoy fixing up cars or want to take their plumbing problems into their own hands, a trusty portable light is the ideal tool. The RIL80 Extendable LED Lamp also has a torch that can be angled up to 90° and placed onto any magnetic base for hands-free use.

RMS20 – 3 Way Smart USB

If you know someone who loves to go on road trips with friends, or would like to keep the kids occupied in the back of the car, Ring’s 3 Way Smart USB is an ideal gift. With three sockets, no one needs to be fighting over a charger, and the Smart Universal Fast Charging Technology charges any mobile devices at an optimal rate.

RAC630 – 12V Digital Tyre Inflator with LED Light

Whether a cycling enthusiast, a parent whose kids love to play sports outside, or someone that drives around frequently with soon-to-be flat tyres, a digital air compressor could be the perfect gift. Inflating a tyre to 35psi in under three minutes, this 12V Automatic Digital Tyre Inflator with LED Light can save anyone a tonne of time if they want to get back on the road quickly, or get their kids back out and playing.

RSC612 – Smart Charger

All vehicles have batteries that need some care. Whether it’s a motorhome, a 4×4, or a classic car, you can’t go wrong with a Smart Changer. For comprehensive battery care, whatever the vehicle, the RSC612 Smart Charger is a motoring essential. This one device will diagnose, recondition, service and charge vehicle batteries to makes them last longer, work better and be more reliable. It can be used on lead acid, gel, EFB, AGM and calcium batteries on vehicles up to 5.0L in size, including those with STOP/START technology.

 

RBGDC200 – Full HD 2.0” Dash Camera

If you have a loved one who has just passed their test, a dash camera could capture all of their first driving moments, as well as help keep them safe. The RBGDC200 Full HD 2.0” Dash Camera automatically switches on when you start the engine – so you never miss a thing – and turns off once you park up – meaning no risk of it draining your battery.

Winter Car Essentials

Winter Car Essentials

The unstable weather conditions around this time of year consistently cause problems for drivers. Whether your car is prone to be breakdowns or the roads where you live are hazardous in the snow, be prepared for anything this winter with Ring’s Winter Car Essentials.

Starting your car

A surprise snow storm and drop in temperatures is not an unlikely occurrence, especially with the variable weather here in the UK. Keep de-icer and ice scraper in your car and at home so you’re always prepared if the moment arises. Avoid using hot water to defrost your car as this could cause any chips or scratches on your windscreen to turn into cracks.

Make sure your wiper blades are up to scratch – it’s recommended that you change them every twelve months so that they keep your windscreen clear and your view unobstructed.

Keeping in contact

A completely charged phone is always a good idea when travelling – whether you’ve broken down or are lost, a phone may end up being your saviour. Don’t be one of those people that forgets to charge their phone before a long snowy journey, and get yourself a multi-socket and phone charger that will always be in your car.

Dealing with road hazards

When ice and snow can cover up much of the road small, sharp items, such as glass, can be hidden and cause punctures to tyres. With an Emergency Tyre Kit already in the car, you will be able to get yourself home without any need for tools or wheel changes, keeping you on the roadand moving until you can get your tyre changed.

Accidents are more likely in winter, and a dash camera may help to reduce the time taken to settle an insurance claim after an incident on the roads this winter. One with a GPS tracker will help to pin point where an accident takes place and give further information to insurance providers.

Restarting your car

It’s always a good idea to carry Jump Leads in your car in case of an emergency. In the summer months, waiting for a breakdown service may be fine, but in the cold, blustery weather, jump starting your car and setting off quickly is definitely more ideal.

If you do a lot of travelling by yourself, investing in a Lithium Jumpstarter is a great move. Small enough to fit in your glove box, and with enough power to jumpstart a 2.0L engine, you’ll be back on the road in no time.

 

 

Driving at this time of year can feel a bit nerve-wracking, but having these winter driving essentials at hand will give you peace of mind. Keep safe this winter, and happy driving!

Road accidents rise as clocks go back, insurance claim analysis reveals

Darker nights have always been seen to be more dangerous than travelling in daylight, but recent evidence suggests that the clocks changing causes accidents to rise. Insure the Box published a study this week showing the sudden change in daylight hours is making the roads more hazardous for drivers.

The study shows that after the clocks go back, the overall chance of having a car accident in November increases by 12%, especially between the hours of 5pm and 8pm where collisions have risen by 29%. These figures were produced after analysing 18,000 accident claims in October and November over a five-year period.

There are several factors that could be affecting the number of collisions that occur during this time period. As the nights start earlier, people coming home from work will feel the need to get home quicker, resulting in larger rush hour traffic, the Christmas shopping period adding to this. Another factor is recently passed young drivers experiencing night time driving at busy times for the first time. Night time driving requires getting used to and reaction times may be slower and movements jerkier.

What you can do

The first step to improve night time driving safety is to check that your bulbs are working as they should be. This includes making sure your beams are aligned so that they don’t dazzle oncoming drivers. Make sure none of your external bulbs are faulty as this could put you at risk of receiving a fine.

Performance halogens, such as the Xenon150, may also be a good investment. As well as putting more light on the road, their beam is up to 80m longer than a standard bulb, 3700K colour, making it easier on the eye as it closely resembles daylight. Road markings and signs can be seen more clearly and therefore making driving safer.

To see Xenon150 in action click here.

In-car essentials for driving in Europe

The sun’s finally out and, for many, it’s the ideal time to get in the car and take a road trip across Europe to make the most of sunny spots, local culture, food and stunning scenery.

But have you got everything you need to make sure you’re abiding by the law? Different countries across Europe require motorists to have certain safety and emergency supplies in the vehicle at all times – and you can be hit with an on the spot fine if you don’t have the correct items.

But don’t be put off; it’s easy to get prepared. Below is a table showing what you need in popular destinations across Europe. And if you want a one-stop solution? Take a look at the RCT1 European Driving Kit – it has everything you need to be safe and meet legal requirements. Plus it comes with a tidy case that velcros to the inside of the boot. So even if you forget your toothbrush, get lost or a fight breaks out in the back seat, at least one thing is definitely sorted.

If you are driving in France, it is now required to display a Crit’Air sticker on your car when travelling into Low Emission Zones (Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Strasbourg, Lille and Toulouse, with Bordeaux and Rouen looking to join the initiative in late 2018. To apply for one, you need to visit the official Crit’air website and enter your car details.

Note: R = Recommended but not mandatory

 

Frequently asked questions for European driving essentials

What are beam converters?

These handy stick-on patches are essential for driving a right-hand drive vehicle in Europe. They change the beam of the headlamps so that they are pointing at the road ahead – illuminating it for the driver and not dazzling on-coming drivers. They are easy to apply and remove.

What are NF-approved breathalysers?

In France, you must have two breathalysers in the vehicle at all times. And they must be NF-approved: this is a quality standard, similar to the British Standard. This means that the breathalysers will definitely give accurate results. Ring’s breathalysers are all NF-approved.

High vis vests

You need to have enough high vis vests for everyone in the vehicle, so that if you need to leave the car you can all be seen on the road.

DIN Standard first aid kit

The RCT1 European Driving Kit includes a first aid kit. However, where it is recommended (Belgium, Germany and Austria), this first aid kit must be of DIN standard. This is an internationally recognised standard that indicates the first aid kit is of certain level quality and has a defined contents. See Ring’s RCT9 First Aid Kit meets these standards.

Fire extinguishers

When driving in Belgium, it is recommended you have a fire extinguisher in the car. This is not included in the RCT1 European Driving Kit, but we do have a range of fire extinguishers that the ideal size to keep in the car.

Top tips for maintaining sales and incomes for technicians

Although Brexit continues to hit the headlines, it is just one of many changes that are likely to have a significant impact on the automotive sector. Henry Bisson, Marketing Manager for Ring, explains some challenges to be tackled head-on if the future is to be bright for the automotive aftermarket.

Vehicle ownership has changed. There are more three-year contracts, meaning fewer people own the vehicles they drive, and the servicing is often within a package. This means less business for independent technicians and garages. In addition, with rolling contracts, motorists don’t even need to worry about MOTs, which has a further impact on the aftermarket. Dealerships have their own dedicated teams of technicians that they can rely on to make any repairs, and whilst it may make owning a car simpler for the driver, it causes no end of headaches for local garages that have spent years building up a loyal client base.

Then there is the possible legislation that will extend the MOTs on new vehicles from three to four years, again causing a knock-on effect for independents that rely on consistent trade from testing and repairs. With times changing and fewer people owning the vehicles that they drive, these are our tips for technicians that want to maintain sales and where possible increase their bottom line.

 

    1. The first thing that technicians need to do is consider how they are packaging their products. Many garages rely on a standard range of lighting as an example, but the opportunity to upsell comes from having performance bulbs that can add value to the driving experience for the customer, giving them brighter and whiter light on the roads.This isn’t just about sales, it is about safety, thinking about things differently and offering better performing products that last longer will improve sales.
    2. Providing people with some advice on what to look for before their MOT is a further opportunity to reinforce customer loyalty. Focusing on prevention rather than the cure, technicians can spend five minutes showing a customer a check list of what to look out for. Although the return won’t be immediate, giving people advice in relation to tyre care, LED lighting for licence plates and battery maintenance checks will give the customer an experience that they are more likely to remember. Better still, should the customer require any of these accessories they will know where to go to get them.
    3. Although vehicle ownership is an immediate concern to the aftermarket, connected cars are certainly an ongoing consideration for the future. Not only will connected cars have an impact on technicians but also on the talent and skills of the next generation of garage mechanics. Self-drive cars will mean less maintenance and fewer repairs and the internet of everything will result in connected cars. Whilst this is certainly an exciting evolution for the automotive industry, we also need to consider the real impact it will have. Garages will no longer will be able to rely on basic diagnostic tools to identify a fault in a vehicle. Connected cars will use the latest digital technologies to create the functionality that a driver will come to expect from the most innovative vehicles on the road. Technicians will still need to know how to change engines, batteries and tyres but fundamentally it is not outside of the realms of possibility that they will also require a digital degree to be competent when it comes to connectivity.

 

The aftermarket has long been considered a sector that sits within professional manual labour, however as times change we are going to need to rely on some of the most advanced engineers in the market to upskill and most importantly prepare the talent of tomorrow for a very different approach to the aftermarket. This also raises further questions in relation to the accessories that will be required. Although it is too soon to make any assumptions, there is likely to be a shift to technology and digital based items that will be required alongside bulbs, tyre and battery maintenance and this is something we all need to be prepared for.

Take control of your own destiny

As the headlines continue to be dominated with speculation about what plan will be put in place as a result of Brexit, the automotive industry is already feeling the impact of uncertainty. Ring explains how it is taking control of its own destiny.

Marketing Manager for Ring, Henry Bisson comments: “As an exporter of thousands of products every year, there was never any doubt that Brexit would have an impact on the business, we just didn’t know exactly what that would look like.

“The effect on currency exchange has already been felt by many with the dollar strengthening against the pound, meaning that the cost of goods has increased with no material price increase. Then there is the euro also gaining strength against the pound. This results in a double impact as we pay more but ultimately sell for less when euros are converted back to pounds.

“The obvious concern is that goods from the UK become consistently higher cost, encouraging customers to go elsewhere. Prices are already rising at the pump as people try to recover the gap caused by buying in dollars. This means logistics and distribution costs are rising, so eventually prices for aftermarket products will too.

“Conversely, in Europe, volume sales are rising as they benefit from the increase in the value of the euro against the pound. It can be argued that this does bridge the gap short-term but we have to consider the longer-term impact of Brexit.”

Working with distributors and retailers across Europe, Ring has remained close to contacts since the European referendum to monitor the changing reaction as Brexit talks begin.

Bisson continues: “Following the initial announcement, and the headlines that ‘vote out’ created, contacts have become cautious. They, like us, are waiting to find out exactly what happens now. In the short-term it’s business as usual but how long this continues is unpredictable.

Having such a strong network across Europe has given Ring a greater insight into the reaction of those it works with and has therefore also given the business a chance to step back and consider what its own response will be.

Bisson continues: “Predictions and speculation are exactly that. Until we get a roadmap that has the facts the industry will find it difficult to plan and that is why we have chosen to take control. We need to be ahead of the game and we intend to secure our business across Europe.

“We’ve worked hard to establish the Ring brand across Europe over the last 10-years and have a strategy in place to ensure that this will continue. Business across Europe has reported growth year-on-year as we offer an alternative to the traditional markets. In order for us to build on this success, and to reinforce our intentions and commitment to Europe, we will be investing in these markets.

“Far from waiting to see what happens, we are budgeting to invest in Europe and very much see the markets as an opportunity for further and future growth.”

In the wider automotive market, with more than 30 million cars on the roads in the UK, the industry is not going to disappear overnight. However, as an industry that relies heavily on export, predictions may signal the end for some foreign businesses that could simply feel it is too expensive to produce in the UK.

Bisson concludes: “We can only predict what foreign owners will do and use past experience to influence this. We are hopeful that production will not be moved from the UK, which would result in the loss of skills and jobs.

“That is why we are choosing to take a more pragmatic approach to Brexit. We can’t change it but we can plan for change and use this as an opportunity to strengthen the business in what will inevitably become an increasingly competitive and turbulent marketplace.”