Voices

What’s the best piece of car advice you’ve ever been given?

It was Oscar Wilde who wrote, “I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.”

MY MUM HAS never driven (barring a few exciting years riding a scooter in her youth) so growing up, my Dad was the go-to guy for advice about cars and driving.

And he is a very trustworthy source, having spent most of his life as a professional driver – ambulances, Commonwealth cars, hire cars, taxis, you name it.

Like any true enthusiast, he can chart the milestones of his life by the vehicles he’s owned (I came along during the Triumph years), and his – very crowded – driveway is currently home to no fewer than three of his beloved Holden Statesmans.

I’m sure he’s shared many, valuable pieces of knowledge with me over the years, but there are two that really stick out.

First, that fuel is the least of your worries when it comes to running costs. Now, I’m not sure I actually always agree with this. But it is worth considering.

This advice came at a time in my life when, as a young woman, I was consistently drawn to small hatchbacks. While my driving confidence was still increasing I found them easy to drive and easy to park.

Whenever I was in the market for a new car, Dad would point me toward safe and reliable Commodores, Falcons, Camrys and the like; but I would always resist, citing the increase cost of fuel for a larger engine as the key reason.

Patiently, my Dad would point out that many of those larger cars actually had better fuel economy.

Even moreso, he’d highlight the ready availability of affordable parts, and that these were likely to save me more money that the few cents in fuel I’d save in my short daily commute.

I didn’t really listen (my Toyota 86 and its 2L engine is the largest I’ve ever owned), but it was good advice nonetheless.

Interestingly, a straw poll among my friends reveals many of their parents and mentors offered this same advice.

Second, re-treads just aren’t worth it.

This advice also came at a time early in my driving career, and while I was putting in the hours at an entry level job while studying and working my way up in my career.

At my annual registration inspection, I learned I needed a couple of new tyres, pronto. Sadly, I wasn’t expecting this news, and neither was my budget.

Convinced by a (probably well-meaning) tyre salesperson, I opted to install a couple of re-treads at a much lower cost.

Conveniently, while they were being changed over, I had a chat on the phone to my Dad and casually mentioned my recent purchase.

Whoa. Dad is usually a pretty easy-going guy, who doesn’t generally force his opinions on anyone. On this occasion, however, he made it immediately clear that no child of his was going to be driving around on re-treads.

He wasn’t angry at all – he understood my position and didn’t expect me to know the difference that well. But he insisted on calling the shop and stumping up the extra cash to put all new tyres on, no ifs or buts about it.

He said – as I now know better – that those few centimetres of rubber are all that lies between you and the road, and they’re sometimes the only thing between you and disaster.

It’s not an area where you want to cut costs.

Reader participation for this one, so over to you – what’s the best piece of driving or car advice you’ve ever been given? Who’d it come from? Did you take it?

  • Andrew Riles

    When first learning to drive, mum told me that the cars headlights were dual purpose….they allowed you to see and be seen…something that has stuck with me since, meaning I use low beam and/or foglights (when I’ve had them) where appropriate to improve my chance of being seen

    • Jane Speechley

      Yep, I’m a regular daytime headlights user as well 🙂 The ‘dual purpose/see and be seen’ way of phrasing it is great, well done Mum.

  • Monty

    Tyres likewise. About 30 years ago it saved my life a couple of weeks after replacing the rubbish that came with the car. I have bought quite a few second hand cars from dealers and I after a while I budgeted for new tyres because the tyres fitted were usually just roadworthy. A bit of tyre black a good tyre does not make.

    • Jane Speechley

      Good approach: New car, check, New tyres, check. Ready to go.

      Love to hear more about the life-saving story??

      • Monty

        XW GS Falcon, modded slightly. XY 6 cly engine and 4 speed toploader. Best car ever. The tyres were so thin that they were dangerous in the wet. I had little money so I kept putting it off. This was back when we had rain in Melbourne. I was finally hounded into getting new tyres. Not long after, I was on a back road doing 90-100 when a truck pulled out from a farm. OK, I’ll go around him. Er no, it had a massive trailer also. I was headed for the trailer. The combo occupied the whole road. I had nowhere to go; I hit the brakes so hard that one locked and flat-spotted one of the new tyres. I came to a stop a metre or so away. On the old tyres? No airbags, no modern safety aids except seat belts, not even a pre-tensioner. It shook me up big time and I never skimped on tyres again.

    • Andrew Riles

      I don’t recall receiving any good advice on tyres, but now offer it after having a rather scary near miss about 5 yrs ago….

      Not knowing the dangers of doing so at the time, I was driving on a set of perished tyres in my old Pulsar. I clipped a lump on the edge of the road mid corner and it threw the car sideways on me. After overcorrecting a couple of times I ended up sliding down the road sideways at about 80km/hr…how I stayed on the road during that moment i have no idea, and thankfully there was no one coming the other way, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be here….

      I replaced the tyres ASAP after this, and have since learnt a lot about the dangers of driving on old tyres, and check for signs of perishing as well as wear when inspecting tyres now..

      I also discovered my HiLux had what appeared to be a brand new Dunlop Roadgripper as the spare when I bought it, and while i don’t recall finding out the age of the tyre via the code on the sidewall, i got rid of it in 2013 on the suspicion that it had been there since the car was built in 1996….

  • John johny

    Double clutching on a downshift

    • Jane Speechley

      Interesting! You’ll have to educate me, what’s the benefit? Or is this the same as heel-and-toeing?

      • John Johny

        This only applies if you’re driving a manual car.
        It’s difficult to explain. So I’ll give you a scenario.
        Imagine you’re driving a manual car along at a steady pace at 80km/h on a flat road.
        You encounter a fairly steep hill (or sharp turn) and are certain you’ll need to downshift to climb the hill (or slow down to take the turn).
        The engine and gearbox will be spinning in unison as long as the clutch is engaged.
        Now if you were to downshift from 5th to 4th or 3rd gear and release the clutch normally, all of a sudden the gearbox will be running at a much high rate than the engine. The whole car will shudder and vibrate momentarily, severely even as the engine catches up to the gearbox. It’s extremely unpleasant for passengers and may cause premature wear on your clutch.
        With double clutching; when you want to shift down a gear. You’ll
        – let off the accelerator
        – clutch in
        – change gear lever to neutral
        – clutch released
        – blip the throttle hard for a fraction of a sec second
        – clutch in
        – shift gear lever into lower gear
        – clutch release
        – ease on accelerator

        All of these steps must happen very quickly (<1sec) and some of them may overlap. The engine will momentarily be spinning at much higher RPM than normal and at the approximate speed for the gearbox; and this facilitates a smooth downshift.

        It's NOT really the same as heel and toe. That's only really used for spirited driving or the racetrack and It's difficult to do in some cars because of poor pedal placement. The purpose of heel and toe method is to ensure an uninterrupted flow of power to the wheels which would normally be lost due to the engagement of the clutch.

        • Kevin Moss

          I agree with you. It also helps by putting less strain on the syncro-mesh and is much smoother. The slight rev between clutching brings all the varying speeds more in unison thereby making the change smoother.

    • Not needed on modern cars…and is that a pity?

  • Alan

    My Dad kept trying to tell me not to buy anything out of the ordinary. And he meant “ordinary”. Which is what he expected out of a car – something which got from PointA to PointB. Holden of course.

    Why would you want a French car?

    A Japanese car – what’s wrong with Australian – but my Japanese prospect is made in Australia. Could I convince him of that? I don’t think he was convinced.

    After he retired, the boot was on the other foot, I offered suggestions. After he’d had a disastrous VL Commodore experience (head and auto), I suggested he test drive the “smaller” Holden – the Apollo, as the VN was really too big for Mum to handle. OK – off he went, loved the Apollo, so much nicer than the VN. Then he twigged that it was a CAMRY – so he double checked with TOYOTA – and bought a Camry!! Which he kept till he ceased driving, best car he ever owned.

  • dancar

    The best advice I have had as a Veteran is about temporary “useless” spare tyre in my Luxury 4WD was from Practical Motoring in their comprehensive article they wrote which explains how complex they can be and when and where to fit the Bloody things and how. My problem is trying to drive 100 plus K’s distance on a tyre that should only travel 80K’s at 80KPH in a 110K zone.

  • JaiNormosone

    1. “Drive like you own the car – not like you own the road.”
    This means *not* using brainless statements like: “It’s legal to drive in the right lane and I like it out there, so I’ll use it.” What this equates to is the person who does this will usually demand that others use manners and courtesy – but they don’t need to.

    2. “The cost of running a car is around $6,000 a year.” (this was in the 90’s). This includes every dollar you need to spend to keep it running – so if you spend $4,000 on a car and you get 18 months out of it without spending a dime, you are ahead.
    I have kept complete and accurate logs on every $ spent on all of my vehicles since car #2. As an example, my BA Falcon ute including all running costs (including rego & insurance but not purchase price) now sets me back up to 38 cents for each and every km for a given year. 20,000km equates to $7,600.

    3. Driving schools teach you how to pass the test – not how to ‘drive’.
    Sitting at lights with your foot on the clutch or other practices that promote wear in the drivetrain will only cost you in the long run – especially if you don’t do the work yourself. Everything you do behind the wheel comes under three categories: 1) Does it cost you, 2) Is it safe, 3) Is it showing respect and courtesy to other road users – and can be a combination of more than one element. I’ve just made this up but it makes sense and keeps things simple.

    If you disagree: I am happy to be proven wrong. I learn from my mistakes.

Jane Speechley

Jane Speechley

Jane Speechley is an experienced freelance writer whose natural curiosity means she knows enough about cars to hold a decent conversation. While happily admitting her Toyota 86 makes promises her street driving can’t quite keep, she’s relishing the opportunity to review some of Australia’s most interesting new vehicles from an ‘everyperson’ perspective. She’s on a mission to understand and explain how all those features and gadgets actually impact upon your driving experience. http://www.charismaticcommunications.com.au