On the road: getting into scrapes
For those wont to visit the rolling hills and honeyhued architecture of Mudfordshire and then bang on at some length about how lucky I am to have such scenery on my doorstep, here are a few pitfalls…
For starters, there's the whole of the summer. Live in area of outstanding allure to those who favour the dubious machinations of the Thetford Cassette over properly plumbed-in variants of Thomas Crapper's throne and, no sooner have your favourite road test routes finally shrugged off the slush, than they're promptly clogged with legions of caravans, motorhomes and other monstrous specimens of badly-moulded polypropylene.
Then there's the impact this influx has on the towns.
The streets are lined with nought save twee tearooms and what my missus calls 'Stuff Shops': tourist emporia in which you may purchase only tat; bon mot embroidered cushions; stuffed Scottie dogs; chunks of inelegant jewellery. A new pair of shoes or other ephemera of everyday life? Forget it.
Recently, though, my attention has been forcibly drawn to another, somewhat more insidious downside to life amidst the rolling hills. There isn't a single parking space which doesn't slope like the South Col or offer all the width of a potholer’s final resting place.
So never far from my thoughts as I return to the car at the end of each day is that there's a better than even chance that the poor thing has once again been assaulted in my absence, and yet another door-sponsored divot added to the burgeoning collection.
Sorry, but I’ve despised such dent ‘n’ run behaviour ever since my pretty Mk.1 Scirocco GTi was vigorously assaulted in my absence some 30 years ago. The culprit left a nice note – ‘I’m sorry I hit yor car but it was parked in an awkward positon’ – but, naturally, no phone number.
And I well remember when, after three years of suburban London life, I sold said VW back to the garage whence it came. ‘There isn’t a clean panel on it…’ they frowned.
Funny how you simply fail to notice the gradual accumulation of dents and divots that, even if relatively minor, can suddenly reduce the value of a used car by up to 15%.
So, finding this irritating when running one car, I cannot comprehend the levels of ire this must cause when running a fleet, and having to endlessly deal with fraught calls and emails from drivers whose cars have been dinged. Or noticing said dings when the driver is blithely ignorant…
It must happen a lot to you, and I feel your pain: research released last year by Accident Exchange says that every year there are approximately 125,000 general car park incidents, costing £175m each year in vehicle damage. Indeed, it seems that more than half of all the drivers have suffered car park-sponsored damage to their cars in the last 12 months alone.
Now, the number of these incidents could be dramatically reduced by two courses of action. Firstly, manufacturers might take a long look at door hinge intermittent-stop mechanisms. Most appear to have mutated recently from the three or four position affairs of yore to a simple choice of either gaping maw or sliver of daylight sufficient only for those who refuse to eat anything that casts a shadow. Perhaps they should install a real-world gradient or two in their design studio floors to boot.
Secondly, parking spaces need to be far bigger. It’s hardly surprising that such an astonishing number suffer the indignity of relentless denting when, as cars grow ever fatter (today’s Mini Cooper is a whopping 24% wider than the 1959 original), parking bay size has remained effectively unchanged for the last 60 years.
Local authorities will whine that it’s too expensive to re-size all existing bays but, truth is, they’re still allowing brand new car parks to be built housing bays of the same pathetically minuscule proportions. Fact is, less spaces mean less income.
In the meantime, then, there appears to be only one immediate course of action open to us; we must all go out, as one, and buy the Citroën C4 Cactus, the only car out there with bubble-wrap door couture inspired by Parisian ramming-speed parking techniques.
My family is now running one for the next six months.
I’ll let you know how we get on…