Welcome to the September edition of Hotspots

In the final stretch of the school holidays, we bring you news about motorway driving, car park prangs, and the UK scrappage scheme.

With 1 September on the horizon, we've lots of invaluable advice and information for anyone thinking of buying a new car; plus our verdict on the Renault Megane Sport Tourer.

Find out what the AA President has been up to, check out our advice on European driving, and join our campaign against roadside litter.

And finally, make the most of your weekends with our top tips for the August bank holiday, an award-winning pub, and lots more travel inspiration.

I do hope you find 'Hotspots' interesting and informative. Please get in touch if you have any feedback or suggestions. Email me at [email protected]

Hotspots Editor
Traffic news

Which? Best Breakdown Provider 2009Best breakdown provider

The AA's unequalled commitment to service has seen it top Which? Magazine's annual survey of breakdown providers for the third year running.

The UK's biggest breakdown service was named best breakdown provider in the August issue of Which?, with a customer score of 86 per cent. The customer score combines likelihood of recommending to a friend and overall satisfaction.

Around 13,400 drivers who had broken down in the previous 12 months were surveyed with questions relating to key aspects of service. Which? also awarded the AA its 'Best Buy' recommendation.

This year's survey highlights include:

  • AA roadside patrols received a 5-star rating for both courtesy and knowledge
  • The AA fixed more cars at the roadside than any other provider – 10 per cent ahead of the second-place provider
  • Customers rated AA call centre staff as the politest in the industry

Which? says: "The AA is consistently one of the best for response and repairs – and its basic roadside rescue cover needn't be costly."

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New number platesNew car registrations

Motorists are counting down to 1 September when the new (59) registration starts – why not take advantage of the scrappage scheme and trade in your old banger for a shiny new set of wheels?

Things to consider when choosing a car:

Read our impartial advice before you buy:

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Hit the road running

How to 'run in' your new car

It used to be absolutely essential to follow rigorous running-in procedures to get maximum life and performance out of a new vehicle. Older drivers will perhaps remember the sight of a new car moving slowly in the nearside lane of a motorway with a 'running-in, please pass' sign on the rear window.

Improvements in engineering, manufacturing and oil quality mean that modern cars are much less dependent on this careful treatment for the first few thousand miles.

It's still a good idea to take a little extra care though, particularly if it's a car you plan to keep for a long time as reliability, oil consumption and fuel consumption can all benefit.

Ask the dealer for advice when you pick the car up, and be sure to check the handbook too – many still include some 'running-in' advice.

Find out more »

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Car review

Renault Megane Sport Tourer Dynamique 1.5 dCi 106

Renault Megane Sport Tourer Dynamique 1.5 dCi 106For all the glamour projected by the Megane hatch and coupe models, there is also a practical side to the car in the shape of the Sport Tourer. Maintaining much of the hatchback's bold looks, this Megane boasts a good-size load area.

At the front, this Megane offers plenty of space for a quartet of adults or a growing family, putting to rest the notion that a compact MPV is the only option if your cargo is mainly people. Oddment storage is also good, making it almost as family friendly as a Scenic. Performance from the petrol and diesel engines is strong and the car never feels out of its depth performance-wise.

Our verdict

With Renault's Megane Sport Tourer, rakish looks combine with no-nonsense levels of practicality. This added layer of design flair is most welcome in a sector of largely conservative tin boxes. Thankfully the focus on style doesn't come at the expense of versatility. Nor do you have to sacrifice performance – Renault's engine line-up boasts low CO2 units with more than enough power to make light work of most tasks.

Our ratings
Overall rating 7
Value for money 7
Costs 7
Space and practicality 7
Controls and display 7
Comfort 7
Car security 7
Car safety 8

Read the full review »

More recent car reviews »

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Eco Driving Tip of the Month

Cut down on the air-con – air conditioning increases fuel consumption at low speeds, but at higher speeds the effects are less noticeable. So if it's a hot day it's more economical to open the windows around town and save the air conditioning for high speed driving. Don't leave aircon on all the time – you should run it at least once a week throughout the year though to maintain the system in good condition.

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Bag it and bin it

Roadside litter

Put an end to roadside litter

The summer holiday season usually brings with it an increase in roadside litter – often thrown from cars – so the AA is backing the Highways Agency's 'Bag it! & Bin it!' campaign.

The Highways Agency is responsible for trunk roads and motorways, which see the equivalent of 700,000 bags of rubbish being dumped each year.

To coincide with the campaign, the AA/Populus panel was asked its views on litter.

Read the results in full »

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President's log

AA President Edmund King

I've always been fascinated by politics so it is great that in my job I get to see the political process close up. In the space of a few of weeks I've been in and out of the corridors of power.

I was almost knocked off my feet walking along the tunnel that links Portcullis House, where many MPs have offices, to the Commons when the division bell for voting went off and hundreds of MPs rushed by. I then had a meeting in Minister Rosie Winterton's Commons office with her and Home Office Minister Alan Campbell MP. This was on wheel clamping and they genuinely wanted to hear our proposals.

The next day it was a reception on the beautiful Commons terrace in the sun overlooking the Thames. Later, in 10 Downing Street, I held a webchat with the Road Safety Minister before enjoying a private tour of the Cabinet room.

A few days later, I was back in Downing Street to see a special adviser to the Prime Minister. Here I pitched our motoring manifesto to Government:

  • Fair fuel prices: Government to demand publication of wholesale fuel price so that public can see if pump price matches wholesale price.
  • Pot-holes: Government to commit to increased road maintenance funds to be ring-fenced to improve quality of local roads.
  • Congestion: Government to commit to target bottle-necks, unsafe junctions and bypasses as a priority.
  • Education: Government to commit to more education of drivers rather than prosecution i.e. more speed awareness courses, and courses offered for red light offences, seat belts, phones etc in lieu of fines/penalty points.
  • Parking: Outlaw wheel clamping on private land

The AA will be rolling out motoring manifesto ideas to all parties before the next election, to influence the political process. Watch this space.

Edmund King
AA President

Follow the AA President on Twitter »

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Scrap it!

There are around 10 million 10-year-old cars that may be eligible for the scrapping incentive and if they were all replaced with today's equivalent we would see a 30% increase in fuel efficiency and almost a 30% decrease in CO2 emissions.

This incentive from Government and manufacturers will help the economy, environment and employment. Cleaner, greener and safer cars will replace some of the older gross polluters.

Today's vehicles are almost twice as safe as 10-year-old vehicles as they are more likely to have:

The pot of £300 million could benefit 300,000 drivers. In our AA Populus Poll of 17,481 drivers, 28% said that they would consider taking advantage of a Government incentive scheme to scrap older cars if one was available.

Find out how the scrappage scheme works »

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  Motorway traffic

Motorway madness

5 million believe they lack skills needed for motorway driving

Fear of motorways and a lack of driving skills have created a 'lost generation' of drivers who avoid M-roads at all costs, according to new research by AA Driving School.

One in seven motorists – nearly 5 million in total – say they lack vital skills for motorway driving, rising to one in five among drivers who have passed their test within the past five years.

The study comes as instructors report that a phenomenon dubbed 'M-phobia' is driving thousands onto more dangerous A-roads, hurting small businesses, and in some cases producing whole families of motorway avoiders.

Read the full story »

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  Car park prangs

Research by the AA has found that 8 out of 10 people have had their cars damaged in a car park, yet 11 per cent would just drive away from damage that they caused.

More than 8,800 drivers were quizzed in the AA Populus poll, in which two-thirds (66%) said they would leave a note if they accidentally hit an unattended parked car.

Women (67%) were slightly more honest than men (65%).

Another 12% said they would take the car number and own up to the car park operator, the police or their insurer.

Read the full story »

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BananaramaHave a sizzling bank holiday

We've plenty of days out ideas – some of which are FREE

With the recession forcing many to opt for a staycation this year, a fun-filled bank holiday could prove a cheap way to spice up your summer.

From carnivals, concerts and parades to beach parties, fireworks, and festivals, there's plenty happening around the UK at the end of August. And some of these events won't cost you a penny.

Read the full feature »

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100 places to visit book coverPerfect Places to Visit

This extract from the AA's 'Best of Britain's 100 Places to Visit' – exclusively for Hotspots subscribers – explores the beauty of Dartmoor National Park, and provides an introduction to Britain's seaside resorts.

The 144-page hardback book covers a selection of some of the best places to visit in Britain, with key contact information to help you plan your visits. Divided into four regions, it's designed to be a practical guide to help you plan days out for all the family.

Easy and fun to use – perfect for planning those family days out – it also contains five special photographic features: Morris Dancing, Bridges, Surf Beaches (from Coastline), Steam Railways and Woodland – each feature details the best places to experience or see, special events and activities.

Click here to open the '100 Places to Visit' extract (Adobe Acrobat is required to open this 20MB PDF file)

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Car on European road near sunflowersVacances en France

Brits set to waste £55 million in car repairs on continent

In a bid to save money, many holiday makers are driving rather than flying to Europe this year. And the AA predicts that one in every 23 will suffer an accident or breakdown whilst on their trip abroad.

As around 2.5 million British motorists gear up to drive overseas, they look set to run up a combined bill of over £55 million in car repairs and recovery costs. AA data reveals that the average cost of breakdown repairs on the Continent is more than £550, whilst if your car needs to be recovered from Europe back to the UK the cost can rocket to around £2,000.

One way to prevent such prohibitive costs is to make sure you organise European breakdown cover before you travel.

The AA has put together some examples to give an idea of what an average breakdown in Europe can cost:

  • Vehicle repatriated from Italy = £1,935
  • Vehicle repatriated from Germany = £1,500
  • Replacement of a tyre in Italy = £137
  • Replacement of a tyre in France = £137 (In France you have to change the opposite tyre as well as the faulty tyre)
  • Motorway recovery to the nearest garage in Italy = over £95
  • Motorway recovery to the nearest garage in Germany = up to £190
  • Motorway recovery to the nearest garage in France = £125 Monday to Friday and £155 at the weekend
  • Replacing a radiator (for example a Fiat Punto) in Germany = £460

Useful advice on European driving »

NEWS: UK drivers face roadside drug tests in France »

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Bush InnAA Pub of the Year, Wales

Our award-winning pub in Wales is The Bush Inn at St Hilary, near Cowbridge.

This thatched village pub in the Vale of Glamorgan has overlooked the old church for more than 400 years. Bare stone walls, flagstones, oak beams, and a huge open wood burning fire with a stone spiral staircase leading to the first floor are features of the cosy interior. It's said to have a resident ghost – a highwayman who was cornered in a nearby cave and hanged on Stalling Down half a mile away.

The pretty restaurant has French windows leading out to the garden. Depending on which you choose, bar or restaurant menus offer choices of light bites, sandwiches and salads, chargrilled steaks, a fresh fish special of the day, and vegetarian options. Other likely options are main courses of pan-fried rib-eye of Welsh beef; trio of mutton and mint sausages; deep-fried plaice in beer batter; and wild mushroom risotto cake. A selection of desserts appears on the blackboard menu.

Tackle a coastal walk in the area »

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Mayor's festivalWhat's on this month

Fancy a day trip or a weekend away but stuck for ideas? Why not travel to one of the following events around the UK? Find and book a hotel online

Buckinghamshire County Show 27 August

Reading & Leeds Festivals 28-30 August

World Bog Snorkelling Championships 31 August

Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival 1-30 September

The Gardening Show 4-6 September

Kingston Carnival 6 September

Regent Street Festival 6 September

Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials 10-13 September

Annual Kendal Torchlight Carnival 11 September

Ludlow Marches Food & Drink Festival 11-13 September


Bestival 11-13 September

Bristol International Festival of Kites & Air Creations 12-13 September

The Mayor's Thames Festival 12-13 September

St Ives September Festival 12-26 September

The World Black Pudding Throwing Championship 13 September

Conwy Honey Fair 14 September

Jersey Film Festival 15-21 September

Bangla Town International Curry Festival 15-28 September

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