IAIN ROBERTSON 

FCD-winter-boots

FCD-winter-boots

Having learnt another disquieting message related to the pandemic, Iain Robertson is aware that government spending in ‘other’ areas (furloughing etc.) is restricting the funds available to enable local services to carry out their tasks with any efficacy.

It is consummately easy to complain about the shocking upkeep of the UK roads network. Over the years, various governments have reacted to voter demands, by increasing the funds available to local authorities, often insufficiently. As a result, while there exist some truly splendid driving routes all across the UK, sadly they are not as well maintained as they ought to be.

As local ratepayers, we all have a right to expect good quality roads, not the potholed and pockmarked boneshakers with which we are forced to contend. A chunk of our Community Charge payments is provided to the local Highways Departments for their upkeep. If you can recall from the David Cameron prime ministerial period, his Chancellor of The Exchequer, George Osborne, even reverted the annual vehicle excise duty (tax disc) to road tax, while removing the paper disc from our vehicles’ windscreens.

What may have appeared to be a generous gesture by

Foggy-motoring

Foggy-motoring

a ‘giving’ political party was actually a licence to not pay road tax at all and it has been exceptionally costly for the DVLA that has to deal with around 20% less income than it had before, mostly through road-users ‘forgetting’ to re-tax their vehicles! As reminder notices are no longer despatched, it falls into the remit of a thinner police service to make more frequent vehicle registration checks, or operate appropriately equipped PNC equipment. None of this helps with the overall demands on the Highways Departments.

Naturally, new roads are being constructed to provide visible clues of government investment but the sometime bandied about cost of £2m/mile for motorway construction has been chucked out with baby’s bathwater. A recently opened four miles, largely single-carriageway section of the A46 City of Lincoln bypass has cost in excess of £120m, making it a laughable 15-times the cost of a similar motorway of a few years ago. With cronyism reportedly rife in central government, it does make you wonder about which of them is pocketing a healthy (untaxed) percentage.

In the meantime, most of the nation’s fast-fit vehicle maintenance outlets report that the sales of tyres are on the increase, while suspension damage is overtaking them in unit cost terms. Although they do not like to make it easy for the local ratepayer, most local authorities are not just self-insuring but also have indemnifications against vehicle damage caused by the roadways under their control.

Gritting-lorry

Gritting-lorry

It is worth explaining that not only tyres can be damaged to replacement level by striking a pothole inadvertently. What may appear to be little more than a visible ‘scratch’ on the rubber’s outside sidewalls can reveal irreparable damage to its inner construction, turning wheel rebalancing into an impossibility. However, expensive light alloy road wheels can also be buckled dangerously and that is before looking at suspension struts, damper housings, suspension locating bars and even engine mountings. The damage may not be restricted to cars, vans and even heavier forms of transport, as trailer wheels and tyres (caravans etc.) can also be destroyed.

There is an answer: make a claim at your local Highways Department, at County, or Town Hall level. However, ensure that you have taken photographs not just of the offensively broken road surface but also each element of the vehicle that is damaged, as part of your evidence, to ensure that you increase the odds of recompense. Let it be stated that I am neither a fan, nor member, of the ‘claims society’ but, when it is clearly NOT your fault that serious damage is incurred on your personal transport, let the insurer pay up.

Another much-valued service provided by the Emergency Services of your local authority is that of road salting, triggered when the temperature sinks below freezing. You may have noticed during the recent cold snap that a lot of the country’s local roads remain unsalted, as a result of ‘cutbacks’. There is a solution: firstly, drive with due care and attention; secondly, drop a line to your local council asking it why your local roads remain in a poor state. We pay for a ‘de-icing’ service. It is in our rates. Just because the budget has been slashed does not obviate the council from its responsibilities to road-users’ safety.

Citroen-potholes-1

Citroen-potholes

Finally, you need to be aware of how damaging salt can be to your vehicle. The gritting lorries do not carry grit; it is pure rock salt, which is often brown-ish in colour and gritty in texture. Grit blocks drains, salt washes away. Yet, both grit and rock salt can damage your car’s paintwork (especially if you follow a gritting lorry too closely; keep your distance).

Salt works by reducing the temperature at which water freezes, which inhibits the formation of ice on the roads. The greater the amount of salt spread across an icy surface, the lower will be the freezing point. Yet, salt is less effective below -5 degrees Celsius and melts ice and snow less quickly. The de-icing effect relies on the salt being crushed and spread by passing vehicles’ tyres. If the traffic is light, salted ice takes longer to melt.

Spreading salt on snow is only effective if the depth of fall is less than 4cm and traffic flow is needed to help distribution. Interestingly, it is never ‘too cold for snow’, especially in the UK, although there is a link between air temperature and how much water it can hold. We seldom get the -40 degreesC cold experienced in parts of North America, or Northern Europe, as a result of our maritime climate.

Dacia-Duster-5

Dacia-Duster

If you want to provide some protection against future bodywork rust, or alloy wheel corrosion, clean your vehicle regularly on top and underneath, ensuring that any build-up of salt and road detritus at this time of the year is removed as comprehensively as possible.

Conclusion:         While salting the roads is seasonally practical, a deeper issue revolves around consumer rights in respect of roadway quality overall. Do not be led up a garden path, where big repair bills are concerned.