Putting a Panda through its paces

January 27, 2012

In the first of his test drive reviews for Bankstone News, our new correspondent Marty Butch puts Dickon Tysoe’s Panda to the toughest of tests…

It’s bright and early when I pitch up in affluent Wharfe Valley fleshpot Addingham to try out Dickon Tyson’s automotive pride and joy, a Fiat Panda 1.2 “Dynamic.”

I’ve had my hopes built up a bit. Tysoe’s been regaling me with torrid tales of cutting a tarmac-thrashing dash round the Dales in a tiny tearaway box of tricks. I won’t say first impressions are disappointing. It’s way worse than that.

Where is the sleek white beast that Tysoe’s been banging on about? All I can see is a grubby little shoebox of a car, with all the sex appeal of a grizzled and ungainly middle-aged man in a casual navy jacket and faded jeans.

I slide in behind the wheel and take in a tidily functional array of controls. ‘Don’t be deceived,’ Tysoe chuckles, leaning in a lot too close up through the open driver-side window and patting the roof above my head.

‘Wait til you get her out on the Blubberhouses run. She’ll blow your socks off,’ he assures me with jovial implausibility. I’ll be the judge of that, I decide.

‘Key’s in the ignition, Mate. Just turn it, and off you go,’ Tysoe offers after I’ve sat there nonplussed for a minute or two. ‘Accelerator’s on the right, he puts in helpfully.’ Funny man.

Turns out the sticky thing for changing gear is located at elbow height over to my left. The seat feels benchy and distinctly non-exec. Like some undersized MPV.

I go back to scanning the instrumentation. What’s this do? I ask, prodding at a mysterious red button. Briefly Tysoe’s eyes flash with naked alarm. ‘You don’t need to know about that,’ is all he’ll say. I squint quizically back, but he declines to elaborate.

See ya, then, I tell him, bunnying out all nonchallant into the path of some foreign looking bloke tearing along in a battered Espace. Makes a big horn-blasting fuss of swerving to avoid me.

‘She’s got air conditioning,’ Tysoe shouts after me. I’ll be the judge of that, I decide.

Turning North, I start to open her up on the Bolton Road, moving the seat back a tad and taking advantage of the my accidental discovery of a steering-column-adjust function as I go.

With a 5-speed manual gearbox, a top speed final of 155, a power output of 44kw@5000, an autotraction control of n/a, and a sliding roof of option, Fiat are making some pretty impressive claims for the 500’s ugly sister.

The manufacturer’s blurb claims a no-slouch 0-60 in under ten minutes. I’ve only been going a couple of minutes and I’m already up to 40 or 50. So far so good. The handling’s willing and responsive as I fling her round the sweeping tree-lined curves of the B6160. Nice, I think, as Jason Derulo introduces himself on the radio and/or tape stereo soundsystem.

We’re nudging 55 now. It’s hard tryin’ to make it in the streets, I sing along with Jason.

It’s all going swimmingly, but somewhere in the background I sense the gears are trying to tell me something. I shift up to third. Then comes the fateful moment. I’ve just given up fumbling to get the lid off a tiny metal tin of breath mints, when my eyes come to rest on that mysterious button again. Let’s just see…

As soon as I’ve pressed it I can tell something’s not right. A bleepy honking sound fills the cabin like a security van in reverse and I’m pretty sure it’s not a Derulo remix. Then there’s this metallic-sounding robot bird telling me over and over: Warning – City Mode Engaged. City Mode? What the blinding eff is that?!

OK, I admit, I’m panicking a bit now. The Upper Wharfe Valley may be many things, but a city it is not! Instinct takes over and I wrestle the speeding Panda into roadside undergrowth, still doing 40-45 easy. There’s some scratching and bumping as we plunge down through brambles and bracken towards some kind of tranquil sylvan rivulet.

Abruptly the front end dips and the tail end flips up behind me. Next thing I know I’m lying on the ceiling looking up at the steering wheel, listening to a ticking sound as slowly descending parking tickets and toffee wrappers brush my face. A Copart biro slips from behind the sun visor and catches me in the eye.

Boll*cks, I think.

‘Where’s the car,’ a wibbly and agitated Tysoe wants to know as I limp back up his drive.

Not impressed with the handling, Mate, I tell him simply. Don’t know how you’ve kept it on the road as long as you have. Done you a favour really.

Tell you what, though: I can probably sort out the salvage for you.

In next week’s issue Marty tests out an Audi A5 Cabriolet 3.0 tdi Quattro SE S-Tronic belonging to Rachel Stow of Thorneycrofts Solicitors.

January 26, 2012

The Daily Mail is justly feted for its Squeezed-Middle-Englander type take on who should be banged up/banned/deported etc. Looks like insurance people could now be in the paper’s sights.

Quite literally sickened by the fact that the average TPFT motor insurance premium has supposedly risen from £333 (the number of the demi-beast) to £1,510 in the last 18 years, the Mail decided, in characteristic style, to get to the bottom of the matter.

Back in the day, the Mail laments, premiums were “spent on fixing cars after a crash.” Whereas today they mostly go on “feathering the nests of claims companies and their lawyers… and even the police are in on the game.”

Bankstone News could barely believe its eyes on reading these stomach-turning revelations. So, putting aside all thoughts of coffee mornings, antiques fairs and BNP rallies we decided to investigate the matter fully – by pouring another cheeky pre-lunch G&T, lighting up a B&H and reading the rest of the article. And this, Dear Reader, in a nutshell, is what we learned…

The case study/human interest bit

A slightly foreign sounding – but actually really nice – accountant called Marek Majewski inadvertently strayed within the dolorous orbit of “the unblinking Leviathan that is the modern motor-insurance industry” which near-enough accused him of being the sort of person who would show “reckless abandon” behind the wheel of his Renault Espace.

Here’s what happened: Marek and wife Wendy, 52, nipped down the local pub in Balham and “brushed the front bumper of a parked taxi’ as they pulled up. Its owner appeared sanguine about the rubber marks left by the Espace. Marek took a snapshot on his smartphone, which actually takes a surprisingly decent photo, and he and the taxi man exchanged details, agreeing not to get insurers involved.

That, you might think, would have been the end of the matter. But was it? It was not. Far from it. No, it was, in fact, the cue for “an entire industry of opportunistic businessmen and trade professionals to go to work and extract as much money from the incident as possible.”

A letter arrived from a firm of solicitors in far-off Lancashire claiming that Marek had driven “recklessly.” Already sputtering, no doubt, from the rank injustice of this initial slur, Wendy – for it was she who first perused this impertinent missive – skimmed down to the fifth paragraph where something caught her eye that quite literally “inflamed her.”

The Lancashire lawyers appeared to be claiming that the taxi owner had suffered whiplash. “He wasn’t in the car!” Wendy remembers. And even if he had been, “Marek was going so slowly the impact couldn’t possibly have caused any such injury. I was furious,” she told the paper.

When the Majewski’s insurers Admiral contacted Wendy – who was firmly at the helm of proceedings by now – she agreed to accept liability for the rubbery scuffs but not for the injury. The woman from Admiral said “there are obviously ‘more questions’ in relation to the medical claims.” “There certainly are!” Wendy recalls agreeing with emphasis.

And there, alas, we must leave this vivid drama of low-speed South London taxi brushing, for the Mail reveals no more, noting merely that “The Majewskis’ experience is becoming increasingly common.” The which contention, given the enduring popularity of nipping out to the pub in the car and the growing profusion of parked taxis on Britain’s streets, Bankstone News can easily believe to be true.

Some other stuff

“The Association of British Insurers estimates that 1,562 whiplash claims are made every day in the UK, costing insurers £2 billion,” the Mail notes, “and it’s motorists who are left picking up the bill thanks to huge increases in motor-insurance premiums.”

So “why are premiums shooting up; and who are the guilty parties?” the Mail asks, not a moment too soon.

“There are few innocents in this story,” warns Mail reporter Adam Luck. “Ambulance-chasing lawyers with their siren calls of no win, no fee,” (so that’s two sirens, assuming, as presumably one may, that the ambulance will have one going as well at the time of chasing) “claims-management companies who promise to help you in the wake of an accident but also help themselves; and then there are the insurers. Many of those in the car-insurance industry lead lives of luxury thanks to the premiums drivers are forced to pay…”

Fondly imagining that his demagogic oratorical prowess will by this point have set his readers’ pulses racing at potentially dangerous speeds, Luck cautions: “if your blood pressure is rising and you are tempted to call 999 then don’t. Hospitals and, extraordinarily, the police are implicated in this game as well.” So there you have it: next time you think you may be about to suffer a heart attack or stroke, don’t call an ambulance – because the hospital might sell your details to an insurance firm – or you might run into a policeman on the way there.

Read more of Bankstone News’ shocking investigation into something we read in the Daily Mail in next week’s Bankstone News…

January 26, 2012

Leading UK motorcycle accident provider BLD confused the hell out of Bankstone News this week by claiming to have brought two paint shops together under an umbrella.

Initially nonplussed by this seemingly outlandish announcement, Bankstone News has since ascertained that Ringworm-Hants-based BLD has in fact bought a firm called Altamura Concepts, which – rather than dealing in abstract mental constructs – actually does things with motorcycles, such as painting them, applying decals to them, and even repairing them.

In fact, the closer one looks into it, the more it appears that the word ‘Concepts’ seriously underplays the true breadth of Altamura’s capabilities.

“We can take your ideas” (it gets better) “and take them from concept to completion,” the Altamura website explains, seemlingly reluctant to relinquish the realm of ideas for that of practical execution, but getting there eventually, which is all that really matters at the end of the day, if you think about it.

“We are equally experienced in providing designs for everything from a fairing to a helmet,” the site continues – negligently omitting, you might think, to specify what the extent of this evenly-distributed experience might actually be.

But if you know BLD, you’ll know they know their onions, so Altamura’s experience is probably quite impressive in both the fairings and the helmet departments – and doubtless at all points in between.

Anyway, they’ve bought them now, thus bringing Altamura’s and their own not-to-be-sniffed-at motorcycle embellishing capabilities together under a single figurative umbrella spanning both the piney bungaloid hinterlands of the Dorsetshire Riviera and Camberley’s charming Yorktown Industrial Estate, whereat BLD will gain the added benefits of an additional location for some of its extensive fleet of hire bikes and a capital-proximate staging post in its irresistible onward march to total motorcycle domination.

“Altamura Concepts is widely recognised as the best motorcycle custom paint shop in the UK,” notes BLD managing director Jason Richards, who intends preserving the Altamura brand under the BLD umbrella. “The new location will also improve customer service for direct retail bike customers looking for servicing, MOT and custom paint services,” he adds, as well as delivering “immediate service improvements for our customers’ policyholders as well as operational efficiency for BLD.

So all pretty good, really.

January 26, 2012

Brits’ willful and misguided attempts to continue owning and driving cars have helped bring about an astonishing increase in personal indebtedness that will see the average UK family owing twice as much in unsecured borrowings by this time next year as it did this time last year.

Latest figures from Aviva Family Finances (available now from all good toy and games retailers, ages 7 to adult, batteries not included) show that the typical UK family now owes £7,944 (32% of the average national income) on credit cards and other unsecured borrowing, compared with £5,360 a year ago.

For those who persist in driving, fuel and insurance costs are clearly a significant part of the problem. Consumer advisory body, the Forum on Unsecured Credit is now advising those living in towns and cities or otherwise within easy reach of dependable public transport links to give up their cars if they wish to avoid severe financial hardship and/or imminent personal ruin.

Those having trouble kicking the habit are advised to stay home and invest in a good driving simulation rig for their PC, X-Box or Playstation or watch Top Gear repeats on Dave.

January 25, 2012

Bleeding heart lefty national broadcaster the BBC has this week accused insurers of ‘discriminating’ against unemployed people by charging them more for their car insurance.

BBC reporters asked fashion house BIBA to ask three insurance brokers to source motor insurance quotes for a fictional office worker and then go back and ask get quotes for the same individual – minus the job.

Surprise, surprise: Broker A’s best offer was Uvavu who wanted a 23% more for Johnny Jobless; the best Broker B could do was RSA, who wanted 31% more; while Broker C appeared to miss the point completely by reporting a 63% price differential between different insurers.

Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert.com said charging people more just because the circumstances of their life have changed was “scandalous” and plans to start a campaign.

But what is the world coming to if underwriters are not allowed to discriminate? Discriminating is what they do! First you can’t give women credit for driving more safely (allegedly); now it seems you can’t whack an increment on the feckless and workshy – who, let’s be honest, have no business driving around on the taxpayer’s tab in the first place.

“It’s a minefield,” ventures Graeme Trudgehill of fashion house BIBA, suggesting cautiously that perhaps those without jobs are viewed as less likely to maintain their vehicles and as potential credit risks. Might they drive around more once freed of the need to be somewhere 9 to 5? Might they venture on to unfamiliar roads?

Ian Chowder of Alcoholics Anonymous was blunter, blaming jobless insureds for being more likely to claim and suggesting they could be tempted by their reduced financial circumstances to make fraudulent claims.

On top of all their other problems – crash for cash, crazy teens, doddering oldsters, reduced income from ancillary sources – it seems motor insurers now face a fresh tidal wave of claims flowing from Britain’s rising unemployed population. Will they ever make a profit?

Not if do-gooding politicians prevent them from rating the workless appropriately.

January 20, 2012

Alongside such illustrious names as Bag it Up, Test Objects and Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, Bankstone is the latest firm enrolled in the Yorkshire Air Ambulance’s Business Supporters Network.

Membership of this elite group qualifies Bankstone to partake in a diverse range of things you really don’t need to know about and Bankstone News can’t be bothered to relate.

Bit of a session down the Badger last night, to be frank. Might have overdone it on the Black Sheep. Or possibly the pork scratchings. Either way, feeling a bit ropey now and probably need to get back down there for a top up.

Where were we? Ah yes, talk of Yorkshire Air Ambulance puts Bankstone News in mind of the energizing prospect of the return of our epic charity bonanza Medieval Monkeys in July. If you’re not already signed up for this year’s outing, you really owe it to yourself to become so forthwith.

There’s a video of last year’s event somewhere in the pipeline – soon as we get round to editing it. Could make a start now, possibly. Although, there was a lot of money going into that fruit machine this morning. Might be due a payout. Be a shame to miss out…

January 20, 2012

Cynical observers – and sadly, yes, they do exist – might have concluded that everyone bar the great man himself might by now have grown tired of listening to Jack Straw banging on about parasites and para-fraudulent practices within motor insurance. Strangely, no.

Indeed some people are so keen to hear more that they are (metaphorically) leaning avidly forward, adopting exaggeratedly enthralled expressions and nodding vigorously as he puts this shady industry to rights.

Concerned lest Straw should run short of ammunition, leading industry journal Insurance Times this week published a devastating statistical exposé of exactly how rubbish the British public really thinks motor insurance is.

Of particular interest to Straw – expect to hear this stat again – was the revelation that 91% of us think motor insurance premiums are too high. “The findings of the recent survey by the Insurance Times,” Straw opined in the style of Bill and Ted, “excellently highlight the public’s anger at the state of the car insurance market.”

With the air of someone congratulating themselves on neatly sidestepping a couple of outrageous fortune’s latest slings and arrows (should that be slingshots and arrows?), Allianz insurance bloke Jon Dye consoled himself with the news that “94% of people blamed fraudsters for the high cost of motor insurance,” neglecting to mention that 85% also blame insurance companies.

Then again, 63% seem to think insurance brokers deserve a share of the blame – ironic really when brokers have no other thought in their heads than to find their clients the best cover at the best price. Perhaps it’s still the case that Joe Public struggles to understand the difference between insurers and brokers.

On which note, it will surely come as welcome news to the broker community that the coalition government is reported to be listening sympathetically to representations from the Plain English Society who argue that terms like Broker and Intermediary are confusing to the public and that legislation should be introduced requiring that these be replaced with the less ambiguous Anglo-Saxon word Middleman.

Just kidding!

January 20, 2012

In Ian Fleming’s novel Goldfinger, the Aston Martin DB5 driven by its protagonist, one James Bond, a spy on the trail of a suspected international criminal mastermind somewhere in the Swiss Alps, pursues the open-topped Mustang driven by Tilly Masterston, a young woman who has recently appeared to fire at Bond with a sniper’s rifle, and forces her off the road with the aid of a tyre-shredding appendage emanating from one of its wheel hubs.

Drivers up and down the UK, it seems, are also being forced off the road, but in more prosaic fashion – by the rising cost of motoring, to be specific. According to depressing new research from cheese-eating insurance firm AXA, it’s, like, really expensive driving and that, and, like, not really as much fun as it used to be.

Forty four per cent of respondents in this year’s AXA Motoring Census (“almost half”) said the fun had started to go out of driving for them, with 68% (almost all) of them blaming flagrantly excessive fuel costs. One in eight said they would consider driving less or stopping altogether if petrol prices rise to £1.50 or £1.60 or something. While 16% said they might cut back or pack it in if insurance premiums continue rising.

Others, however – one in ten, to adopt a semblance of spurious specificity – have hit on a potential solution to the rising premiums problem… not bothering with insurance! Three per cent of respondents, meanwhile, had an even cunninger plan that involves not merely premium dodging but also driving away without paying for fuel. Bingo: carefree driving’s back in town!

AXA’s Edward Amandas commented: “It’s heartening to see that few will go without car insurance to save money.” That’s the spirit, Chaps! We’d love to “help motorists save on their insurance by keeping costs low,” Amandas added, “but sadly fraudulent claims mean our premiums are forced up.”

Clearly, Amandas wasn’t the mystery insurance person who told researchers working for The Telegraph recently that “We simply raised our prices in line with the market and made more profit. We didn’t need to do this.”

Hardly very helpful when motor insurers up and down the land are struggling just to get by.

January 20, 2012

A refreshing change of pace from the usual tired stories of multi-million pound cash-for-crash fraud gangs getting rounded up and taken down, Hastings Direct this week recounted the heart warming story of how one would-be fraudster with a rather different modus operandi was brought to justice.

We can all sleep a little easier in our beds tonight with the news that the sinister ‘Mr M’ is safely, where he belongs, behind bars.

M, a 41-year old teacher from Worcestershire crashed his aging Volvo on the way back from the pub and then tried to claim it had been nicked. Hastings’ crack ex-cop investigation team didn’t like the look of the damage and called in the local law to take a closer look.

Quick as you like, the boys in blue had swabbed M’s airbag and found his DNA all over it – proving beyond doubt that he was at the wheel when the incident occurred. Net result: a massive £1500 claim averted for Hastings and six months at Her Majesty’s for former teacher and convicted fraudster M, whose students will now be with Mr N for the remainder of the academic year pending recruitment of a full-time replacement.

No doubt we’ll be back to those ‘insurance fraud crime ring smashed’ stories next week.

January 20, 2012

Financial regulator the FSA more or less admitted this week to making a bit fat fuss over next to nothing when it slapped a fine* of £2.2m (or £2.17 if you choose to believe Insurance Times) on state-owned insurance entities Direct Line and Churchill for dubious polishing.

Doubts arose over the reliableness of customer complaint files when apparent irregularities in files submitted to the regulator led to a ‘snap’ visit in June 2010 which found that more than half of 50 files sent to the FSA had been tampered with, buffed up a bit, artificially enhanced, etc. to dilute evidence of customer dissatisfaction and create a (suspiciously) full record complaints being followed up – extending to the bit of judicious signature forgery here and there, allegedly.

FSA acting director of enforcement and financial crime Tracey McDermott said that “the alterations did not impact on the FSA’s ability to do our job,” so the search for other culprits must continue there. “The significant penalty is however.” she continued, “intended to underscore to firms that it is of critical importance that material provided to the FSA must reflect the picture as it is – not as they might like it to be.”

Penalties intended to send out a message are a favoured technique for the FSA, recalling, perhaps, the unfortunate fate of poor Admiral Byng whose court martial and execution following the Battle of Minorca (1756) inspired Voltaire’s famous “pour encourager les autres” line.

Someone else concerned to get people’s attention – see countless other previous and concurrent stories – was the ubiquitous Jack Straw, who has now threatened motor insurers with having the whole dysfunctional business nationalised out of their sullied hands (is he still in government?) “I’m just trying to concentrate the minds of insurers,” he told the APPGIFS (All Party Parliamentary Group on Insurance and Financial Services).

Might as well herd cats.

* N.B. Just as colliding objects must slam, so fines must always now be slapped.

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