Viva the automotive revolution

James Ruppert looks at a growing trend by motorists to cut costs and make driving a pleasure again
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The British motorist is being bullied and bled dry. If it isn't the 80 per cent fuel duty, then it's the cameras, the punitive parking fines and rogue clampers that make owning a car so miserable. Running a car is ruinously expensive and unpleasant, but it is possible to fight back and subvert the system.

As the anti-car lobby seems to be gathering momentum and media attention, there are those who believe that personal automotive freedoms are under attack. You can visit websites such as www.freedom-move.org and the excellent Association of British Drivers' www.abd.org.uk. But few are spelling out exactly how the proactive motorist can cut costs and fight back, so why not let the automotive anacarist set the agenda.

Firstly, get yourself a car for virtually nothing - don't worry though, you don't have to nick it. Get off the new-car bandwagon and stop being at the mercy of depreciation and comfy car-dealer profit margins. It costs money to get rid of old cars; indeed, scrap yards charge for the privilege. Approach your local new-car showroom, especially at this time of year when business is brisk and ask if they have any part-exchanges they don't want. They may not want to go to the bother and expense of scrapping, or putting the vehicles through auction. Often, the cars have histories, MOTs and even new-fangled features like air conditioning and airbags. Bangers have never been cheaper. You will have to pay at least a token amount and there is no comeback to the dealer, but buying any used car is a risk. You could follow the trail to the "no reserve" section of a car auction, where vehicles can go for £50 or less. At least you will be able to see and touch the wrecks, which is more than you can do on eBay.

Avoid car tax. It's up to £170 a year and for what? Well, it subsidises Mr Prescott's Jag, but there may be a way around it. If the car you covet was made before 1973, it's a classic and free of duty. Not everyone want a Morris Minor, of course. But it is possible to drive a slightly more contemporary-looking car with an older identity. Restorers often rebuild an old car with new parts and even a later bodyshell, but register it on the original documentation.

Other vehicles that are exempt from road tax include agricultural vehicles, although you can only drive your tractor 1.5 kilometres between fields. You could also get an ambulance, fire engine or steam-powered vehicles. On the subject of alternative power, drivers of electric cars, provided there isn't a conventional engine hiding somewhere, do not pay tax. You can buy a converted Metro or Reliant Robin from an enthusiast from £500, or maybe less. I have a pamphlet bought from the Battery Vehicle Society explaining how to do it. Fine, it will only do local journeys before the battery runs out, but one of the best reasons for going electric is that topping up the batteries costs pennies.

One of the biggest outlays for a driver is fuel. On the face of it, there isn't much that you could do about it - everyone has to visit the pumps and pay the fuel duty - except that a few years back, some freedom drivers in Wales decided to visit their local Asda. There, they bought cooking oil and fed it to their diesel engines. The police ultimately took an interest, because fuel duty was being avoided and they were threatened with prison. Their mistake was using fresh, bottled vegetable oil, when they should have gone for the pre-fried, chip-fat version. It is a well-established principle that you can run a diesel car on used cooking oil. But you need a secondary fuel system, so that the car starts on normal diesel and then switches to the oil when it has been pre-heated to the correct temperature.

The wonderful web resource www.journeytoforever.org gives details of how to make alternative fuel and I've had a book called Solar Fuel, How to make Automotive Fuel Using Your Own Alcohol Solar Still by Dennis E Smith for the past 20 years. Basically, it explains how to distil alcohol that older carburettor engines can run on with minor modifications. I have never got around to cooking up this brew and putting it in my car, because, once again, it is something that Customs and Excise would be very interested in. They may allow you or me to make the alcohol under controlled, approved conditions, but we would be required to impose duty on what was produced. The savings would then be minimal.

However, if we kept chickens and pigs... chicken farmer and inventor Harold Bate ran his Hillman Minx and a five-ton truck on methane gas. Methane means processed chicken and pig droppings. He managed to get the combination right, and found that he could run his vehicles for pennies a mile and that they ran better than ever.

The fossil stuff is running out and by avoiding some duty now, we might be able to save enough to pay up when Darling starts taxing us by the mile. Viva the automotive revolution. Viva the automotive anacarist.

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