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Panic, my washing machines has packed in, I’ve got a house full of dirty washing and water everywhere! This isn’t the best time to start researching the web for best models and deals, is it?
Should I get my washing machine repaired or replace it? And how do I find a local, trustworthy engineer when my local appliance store closed down years ago?
If you can’t find the manual, first thing to do is search the make and model number of your current machine (usually found in tiny print on the inside of the washing machine door!) for known faults. There’s loads of information on the web, and you may, ‘fingers crossed’ find that’s its a simple fix, such as blocked outlet pipe or filters. If you can’t check in the manual look online. Most modern machines have a filter that you can check for loose coins, bra wires, old tissues, fluff and stuff that finds its way through the machine. Please, please remember to unplug it before you do anything, water and electricity don’t mix!
Once you’ve eliminated the simple fixes, have a think about the age of your current washing machine and whether it’s a well- known premium brand, or more of a budget machine. If yours is a cheap and cheerful model and its over 4 to 5 years old it may well be reaching the end of its life – not good news – but, as they say – “you do get what you pay for”. The more premium-badged models should have a longer life and therefore be worth getting fixed. Most of the well-known brands have a customer helpline; this would be my first point of contact to try and get an engineer out to see if it’s worth fixing. They should be able to advise you on their local retailer and repair network too, if they don’t have their own guys. They usually have a minimum call-out charge but it might be worth it.
Another thing to bare-in-mind is the age of your machine. Energy efficiency has improved dramatically in recent years, so could be a false economy to repair an energy guzzling old machine. To help with this we’ve developed an online tool to see what savings can be made.
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Washing machines are easily recyclable and many online retailers will take your old machine away for a small fee. Well worth checking out – before you buy. Some local councils will pickup old appliances for recycling too. If not, taking them to your local recycling centre is the only option, which okay if you’ve muscle power and access to a van!
It’s not cheap! I recently went through this process after our machine gave-up. The callout fee was not far shy of £100 and we had to wait 5 days for him to turn up. Then it took about 10 minutes for him to say it was worn-out and had a damaged drum. This was a ten-year-old premium German model. They did offer a reasonable discount if we bought a replacement machine from them if presented the callout bill at their shop. Previously we’ve used an independent engineer who charges £60 callout to fix our dishwasher; unfortunately I’d lost his number!
A key decision is what size of drum to go for, having a large drum machine can have a real impact on your energy usage. If you’re a family household using the washing machine regularly, we’d advise going for a larger drummed machine 7kg to 12kg. You will need to make sure you fill the machine up each time; otherwise the benefits will diminish if you just wash a t-shirt. They are also very useful for larger loads such as washing duvets. I think we damaged our previous machine by washing too many heavy loads.
Higher spin speed is handy too, as this will reduce the drying time and save energy if your have to use a tumble dryer. Best to check the recommendation of clothing manufacturer when washing, as high spin speeds can damage more delicate fabrics.
Energy efficiency – using our database of products will show you the most energy efficient models available. If budgets are tight you can list by purchase price rather than ultimate efficiency. Our running cost calculations also include the water cost, which can add up if you’re on a water meter.
Warranties and guarantees – these are a great indication of the manufactures life expectancy. Most machines will a have a one-year warranty, with many offering 3, 5, 8 and even 10 year warranties as the top of the market.
Smart appliances are starting to appear with ever increasing features. Okay it maybe handy to be able to control your machine from you mobile, however if you’ve forgotten to fill it up that’s not much good. Doing your washing when tariffs are cheaper, say at night, maybe beneficial if you’re on Economy 7. However, all these features will add to the purchase price and you may never use them. One area that smart appliances will be developing is the ability to remotely self diagnose faults. This could be a great feature that would prevent any downtime of your appliances in the future.
Getting a good deal can be as time consuming as researching what machine to get. Do I support my local shops, or go straight online?
There’s no getting away from the fact that buying appliances online has become far easier in recent years. With many retailers offering timed slots, text messages updating you where your delivery driver is. And the delivery times have reduced dramatically too. Saying that, there’s no reason that your local appliance shop may well be able to match some deals, and give you peace on mind should there be any issues.
It’s well worth keeping an eye on online retailers discounts code offers – we keep an update list of these. Combining these with manufacturer’s promotions, extended warranties and cash-back deals, could dramatically bring down the cost of your new machine It does require more effort but is well worth it.
Owners and user reviews can be very persuasive reading, and confusing at times. The real issues with these reviews are that the purchaser is only comparing his/her purchase with their previous machine. They haven’t gone out and bought ten washing machines and then chosen the one that performs best. ‘Yes’ their new washing machine maybe miles better than there old one, purely due to the ever-increasing improvement in technology and manufacturing. Expert reviews are probably a better indication of what’s a best to buy, even though they can only test a very small amount of the products that are in the shops.
Independent customer reviews of retailer’s delivery and after sales service seem to be a good way of judging retailers general customer service – as your getting a broad cross section of views on the same thing.
I hope this information has been useful – good luck with your search!
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Earn £300 for a few minutes work. It sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? But that’s the average amount you could save by switching your gas and electricity supplier. And yet two thirds of people are on standard expensive tariffs!*
Let’s face it energy is boring! Does a British Gas kilowatt look any different to OVO’s or Ecotricity? No; they all come down the same wire or pipe. Okay, one maybe greener, other suppliers may have great smart meters, or have friendly customer service that answer their phones quickly, or even be better if you’re an electric car driver.
A lot of new players have moved into the energy market in recent years. Many of these are offering super cheap tariffs to gain customers, which maybe good for providing competition to market. However, do these organisations have the resources and technology to manage all their potential new customers? Unfortunately many don’t – our advice is to have good look at their website, does it look professional?; Do they publish a phone number? And are their contact details and company information clearly displayed? If not it could be worth going with brand you trust most and pay a little more. Even the big players are offering cheap tariffs to attract new customers.
Yes we do, you can compare the whole market whether we get a commission or not!
I got a great deal a year or two ago… energy companies are experts at sucking you in with a great deal. But prices change all the time. That deal, that seemed good value at the time, may no longer be particularly competitive. Or it could have ended, in which case you’ve probably been quietly moved on to a much more expensive standard rate. If you haven’t changed your supplier in the last few months, you’re most likely losing money every day you don’t switch.
Now, it does depend on the rate you’re currently on, but switching can save you hundreds of pounds a year. According to Ofgem the average standard variable tariff is around £300 more expensive than the cheapest available deal, typically a fixed-term tariff. Some can save a lot more. We shop around for car insurance – we need to do the same with energy.
Some fixed rate deals come with an exit fee if you switch within a set period. However, people don’t always realise when that period comes to an end, so you may well find you can now switch without a penalty. Even if you do have to pay an exit fee, it may well be a lot less than you could save by switching. An exit fee tends to be around £30, a tenth of what you could save over a year if you switch.
It’s good to help reduce our dependency on fossils fuels but going green shouldn’t mean you can’t save money too. There are several 100% green energy suppliers now, including Bulb, Ecotricity, Good Energy and Green Star Energy, not to mention lots of green tariffs. Which one is best for you depends on where you live and how much energy you use, whether your drive an electric car maybe a factor. We like to promote green energy suppliers, and our price comparison tool can help you to find the best one for you.
That’s great, and so they should. We’d love to see more forward thinking suppliers actively helping their customers to save money. However, it’s not exactly in their best interest for you to use less energy. All gas and electricity suppliers will have to at least provide customers with a smart meter by 2020 at the latest. If you want to check whether the supplier you’re thinking of moving to is likely to give you a new smart meter, just check the Smart Energy GB website.
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Definitely! We all need to do our bit to cut our energy use and our carbon footprints. It needn’t be an either/or situation though. Why not switch your supplier and use the money you’re saving each month to make energy efficient changes to your home, such as replacing your old halogen light bulbs for more efficient bulbs?
The ‘big six’, namley British Gas, EDF Energy, Eon, Npower, SSE and Scottish Power, do still dominate the market. However, they’re often not the cheapest, and they’re not always the best for customer service either. Last year Which? conducted a large survey of energy customers, asking them to rate their supplier on customer service, complaints handling, value for money and so on. The big six all ranked near the bottom. Scottish Power, for example, achieved a customer score of just 44%. Renewable energy supplier Good Energy, on the other hand, ranked close to the top, with 81%. People are fed up of the big six, and are moving away in their droves. British Gas lost 220,000 customers in just the first three months of this year.
It has got easier, and is no more difficult than shopping around for car/home insurance. You don’t need to be a maths genius, and create your own spreadsheets either. My 80 year old mother is an expert at finding the best deal! And I’ve seen students using their phones to switch. Really you don’t need to do much at all; type in a few details to check the best offer for you, and provide your old and new supplier with a meter reading. It shouldn’t take you more than 10 mins, tops. Our switching service does everything for you. You don’t even need to tell your old supplier you’re switching.
*66% of UK consumers are on standard variable tariffs, Ofgem Retail Energy Market Report 2016
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Do you own a Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan or Proline tumble dryer? Be warned they could catch fire! Government data reveals that between 2012 and 2014 there were 2,190 tumble dryer fires. Recent cases include block of flats in Shepherd’s Bush, where it’s thought a faulty Indesit tumble dryer – a brand name of Whirlpool – caused this fire. Luckily none of residents were injured as the fire was spotted quickly allowing the residents to escape. Had the tumble dryer been on at night this could have been a major disaster.
Other tragic cases have included brands such as Beko; in February 2016 a faulty Beko tumble caused a house fire killing a mother of two, Mishell Moloney (49) from Rubery, near Birmingham. The coroner ruled that a defective model of tumble dryer caused a house fire, which led to her death. This type of Beko tumble dryer has also been blamed for twenty other fires, the Birmingham Coroner’s Court heard. This tragic case highlights that there are real dangers from faulty, or even poorly designed dryers.
I’ve experience firsthand what’s wrong with these machines, thankfully not through it catching fire! As we used to own one of these faulty Hotpoint dryers, long since replaced with a more efficient condensing tumble dryer. The main drive belt on the model we owned had an annoying habit of breaking. Fixing this involved taking the back off the machine (always unplug the machine first) and replacing the belt. I must admit I was somewhat surprised at how basic and flimsy the whole design of the dryers was – you get what you pay for I guess. What was more worrying was the build-up of dust and fabric fibres within the machine, right next to the unprotected heating elements. At the time I thought this was a real fire hazard and always vacuumed out the fibres, just in case. These had built up even though we’d regularly cleaned out the lint filter, which is recommended by manufacturers. At times there was a burning or singed smell from the dryer. These fibres are cited as causing the fire issues with these tumble dryers.
My view would be that these machines were poorly designed in the first place, or manufactured to unrealistic unit costs parameters, which has ultimately backfired for the brands reputation. No pun intended as this is a serious issue, with three fires a day caused by faulty tumble dryers according to the Local Government Association (LGA) the body which represents 48 fire and rescue services in England and Wales. The LGA also recommend that owners don’t use their machines whilst they are out or leave them on over night. The regular removal of fluff and fibres is a must, and owners should take care not to cover any vents.
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There are thought to be over 4.3m potentially faulty Whirlpool tumble dryers in the UK. Whirlpool are asking everyone who owns a Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan or Proline dryers manufactured between 2004 and 2015 to check if their dryer is affected. If your machine is affected you can register for a free modification. Please follow this link for Safety Notice recall notice checking: Hotpoint, Indesit or Creda brands and for Swan click here. Or call their free-phone helpline on 0800 151 0905 for the UK or 1800 804320 for Ireland.
If you are worried about your Beko tumble dryer follow this link.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has certainly hit the headlines with its batteries catching fire. Unfortunately not all safety issues gather the same media interest as this, which makes finding out what products are potentially dangerous somewhat difficult, especially if you haven’t registered your product warranty.
We’d strongly recommend that you register your product purchases with the manufacturers, mainly for safety repairs and recalls. AMDEA (The Association of manufacturers of Domestic Appliances) run the website ‘Register My Appliance’ This is a great place to register, you can add details of older appliances too.
There is a very useful database of recalled products maintained by Electrical Safety First, simply enter your product information in their website.
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Not only is it better looking, delivers more performance and has tauter handling, it consumes less energy than its predecessor! Here’s our take on MK4 Toyota Prius…
Do you remember watching The Jetsons (Or am I showing my age now?) In The Jetsons’ a futuristic world of robotic maids and flying cars, smart technology is taken for granted.
Perhaps we’re now just a step away from that world. We might not have flying cars yet, but driverless cars are on the horizon and we already have robotic vacuum cleaners and are starting to be able to control our home appliances with just a swipe or tap on our smart phones. The ‘internet of things’ is evolving rapidly, allowing us to control and synchronise our tech and use it much more efficiently.
Smart appliances bring lots of advantages when it comes to making our lives easier. We can now control our heating and many of our appliances remotely. Whether it’s turning the heating while we’re getting dressed – that’s if you can find your phone – or switching the washing machine on when we’re out so the noise doesn’t interrupt our evening TV viewing. We can wirelessly stream music around our homes, dim the lights without getting up and even check up on our pets while we’re at work. Smart kits can also help with safety, from turning a plug switch off remotely when we’ve left the iron on, to controlling the lights when we’re away to deter burglars.
In some cases, yes. We can set appliances to run when electricity is cheaper, or when the sun is shining if we have solar panels. Smart Home thermostats and heating controls, such as Nest and Hive, can make sure our homes are kept at the perfect temperature. They also enable us to switch the heating on or off remotely, so that it’s warm when we get home, but rooms aren’t being heated when we’re not using them.
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Smart technology can tell you if your boiler isn’t working efficiently and self-diagnose faults. It probably won’t be long before your boiler is booking itself a service and adding a note to your calendar for you!
Electric car owners can now download apps to their phone to monitor their car’s performance and battery power, and let them know where there nearest charge point is. Pre-heat your car on frosty morning and make sure it only charges-up on cheap off-peak electricity.
And it’s not just good for consumers. Smart grids and data collection are helping energy companies and appliance manufacturers to diagnose faults and develop more efficient products and solutions.
Not necessarily! If you’re a technophobe or have simply better things to do, why bother! Okay, turning your washing machine on when you’re out might be convenient occasionally, but it won’t save you energy. Upgrading old appliances to more energy efficient ones certainly will! See our ‘When should you replace old appliances?’ page. It’s certainly easier to save energy heating your home using a smart thermostat, but just turning the maximum temperature down on your current one, and being a bit more organised, can save you electricity and energy.
Switching to an Electric Car will defiantly reduce your vehicle day-to-day running costs. And if you’re charging it with a renewable green tariff, will reduce your emissions and make city air more breathable too.
Whether you go for a ‘smart’ appliance or a regular one, the key is to buy the most energy efficient one you can afford, and use it smartly.
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So Green Deal, the Government’s big attempt to get households to cut their emissions, has ended up costing us £17,000 for each home that signed up. And worse still the reduction in CO2 is negligible. No surprise there. Well-intentioned maybe, but misguided and to me the maths just didn’t add up.
Green Deal ran from 2013 to mid-2015, at a cost of £240 million. The idea was that people could get a loan to pay for energy efficiency improvements to their home, such as ground source heat pumps, double glazing, photovoltaics or improved insulation. These loans would then be paid back through their electricity bill, with the promise that they would never pay back more than they were saving. So, for example, if cavity wall insulation was set to save a householder £200 in a year, that would be the most they’d pay towards the loan that year.
As regular readers will know, I’ve had issues with the Green Deal since the start. It always seemed like an initiative that was doomed to fail. Don’t get me wrong, some of the thinking behind it made sense. Enabling people to spread the cost of energy efficient and renewable solutions over time is a great idea. Early birds were even offered a cashback ‘sweetener’ of up to £1000.
However, Green Deal didn’t cover lighting or appliances. The running costs of electricals, such as fridges, freezers, washing machines etc, accounts for around 20% of a home’s energy bill. There are big CO2 savings to be made by switching to more energy efficient models. When money is tight, however, it can be difficult to justify replacing an old washing machine or fridge freezer with a more efficient one, even if it could save money in the long run. Offering people the chance of a Green Deal loan spread over a few years could really have helped people to upgrade.
Lightbulbs could also have been included. Replacing all the old halogen bulbs in someone’s home with LED ones wouldn’t cost that much, and a scheme whereby you could be sent the bulbs and pay for them over a few years out of your electricity bills, could have proved very popular.
And that cashback offer would have made more sense if the government had used the £1000 to offer homeowners additional ways to make their homes more energy efficient. They could have been offered a choice of free loft insulation, double glazing for two windows, or scrappage scheme for old white goods with vouchers to spend on super energy efficient appliances and lightbulbs, for example.
There was also no real encouragement for people to make any changes to the way they run their homes. There’s little point in installing loft insulation if you then leave the heating on when you go out for the day, or constantly have the thermostat set higher than it needs to be.
One of my main gripes is that Green Deal didn’t do enough to help those in fuel poverty. Instead it focused on people who could afford to borrow the money needed to improve their home.
It just wasn’t sexy enough, I mean, who wants to take out a 25 year loan for something as dull as loft insulation? And the loans were attached to homes, rather than the owners. While that sounds good in principle, imagine telling a potential seller, “Yep the double-glazing is four years old, but you’ll need to pay for it through your electricity bills for the next 21 years.
In all, the scheme wasn’t fully thought out and there was little real incentive for people to bother taking it up. (In the end, only 14,000 homes benefited.) The National Audit Office (NAO) report criticised the Government for failing to test the Green Deal sufficiently with householders, before it launched. Yet they knew that even when loft insulation was installed free uptake was low. Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: ‘The Department [of Energy and Climate Change] now needs to be more realistic about consumers’ and suppliers’ motivations when designing schemes in future to ensure it achieves it aims.’
Perhaps that is why they are taking so long to come up with a replacement scheme. Meanwhile – we all Twitter whilst the planet burns! Do you agree, or are you one of the 14,000 homeowners who benefited? Leave a comment below, or Tweet me @Sust-it.
Replacing your halogen GU10 bulbs for LED equivalents is a great place to start saving on your energy bills. Halogen spotlights became a real trend in the noughties, and they still are judging by kitchen design magazines. The big problem with halogen spotlights is that, whilst being marginally more energy efficient than filament bulbs, they still consume a lot of energy! Especially as they tend to be grouped in larger numbers in kitchens and bathrooms. Having just ten feature lights could cost you £100 per year. Replacing them with modern compact LED bulbs can cut your bills down by 80/90%, plus, because they last so much longer, the lifetime savings should well payoff the upfront cost of the bulbs in the long-term. See our ‘How long do bulbs last?’ calculator.
LED lighting technology has moved on rapidly in recent years; Whilst early bulbs did lack brightness and tended to be on the cool side of the colour spectrum, modern-day bulbs certainly are as bright as Halogens and come in a wide range of colours for every situation within your home or office. Studies carried out in Denmark and Sweden in 2014 confirmed that consumers are happy with the light quality when compared with the tungsten filament lamps they have been replacing.
Choosing the correct brightness of bulbs is now more confusing with the switch for interpreting light output from ‘watts’ to the term ‘lumens’ – which is a more accurate way of measuring light. To help with this we’ve created an interactive tool to demonstrate how much brighter LED lighting is when compared to halogens and old filament bulbs. Roughly speaking a 50w Halogen bulb should be replaced with a 5w to 8w equivalent GU10 LED. Saying that there are differences in performance between brands; and, unlike the US, in Europe there is no regime for checking the measurement of lumens claimed made by manufacturers.
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Now this is where the real value judgement has to be made, yes we know LEDs use far less energy (which is better for the environment) but cost miles more than cheap Halogens. So LEDs only makes sense – from a financial standpoint – if they last as long as suggested. Now this is trickier; from our experience – we installed LEDs within our office and they have either lasted nowhere near their claimed life expectancy, or have started to flicker, (this can happen as a result of poor design or manufacture). However, these were first generation LEDs and have been replaced with modern equivalents that have proved to be far more reliable.
A report commissioned by the EU into the LED lighting market, highlighted that brands such as Philips claim to hold 70% of all patents on LED applications. It almost seems impossible for rival brands to manufacture bulbs without paying a licence fee, or infringing on Philips patents.
The influx of cheaper, imported LED bulbs could be an indication of the quality of the designs and how long they may last. Our advice would be to look for long warranties from the retailers or manufacturers. Guarantees of 5 years are not uncommon – bulb being left on for 25,000 hours (5 years 8 months). One thing to consider is that housing the LED bulbs in an enclosed space with less 10 mm gap around the product will affect its longevity and could make your guarantee void. Above all keep your receipts!
The pictures below illustrate the difference in brightness between three different LED GU10 bulbs compared to an Eco Halogen. Each bulb was photographed at the same exposure and colour balance settings. Surprisingly all the LEDs appear brighter than Eco Halogen, even though the Halogen had a higher quoted lumens level of 380.
Both the PHILIPS and DIALL (B&Q) have a narrower beam angle (36°) compared to LUMiLIFE which has 60° beam. The beam angle is important to bear in mind when replacing bulbs, a wider beam spreads the light more evenly, especially useful if your light fittings are widely spaced. In terms of brightness all the bulbs produce a clean bright light to the naked eye and seemed very similar in brightness. However, what was really noticeable was the difference between warm coloured bulbs (2770K) when compared to cool white LED’s (5000) The cooler temperature bulbs (bluer) appears much brighter, so would be much more suited to areas such as lighting kitchen worktops. The warmer coloured bulb would be more suited to rooms that need a more relaxed atmosphere.
The build quality of all the bulbs seems very good, the only difference being that the PHILIPS bulb appear to have small cooling vents. This should help dissipate any excess heat that can affect the longevity of bulbs.
Overall the quality of light from each bulb was very impressive, certainly better than the halogen tested.
LUMiLIFE (LEDHut) LED GU10 5W = 45w (320 lumens) Colour temperature 2700K
Expected life 25000 hrs Beam Angle 60° Retailing at £3.49*
PHILIPS LED GU10 5W = 50w (350 lumens) Colour temperature 2700K
Expected life 15000 hrs Beam Angle 36° Retailing at £6.00*
DIALL (B&Q) LED GU10 4.8w = 50w (345 lumens) Colour temperature 3000K
Expected life 15000 hrs Beam Angle 36° Retailing at £4.00* each (twin pack)
DIALL (B&Q) Eco Halogen GU10 40w = 50w (380 lumens) Colour temperature 2700K Expected life 2000 hrs Beam Angle 36°Retailing at £1.00*
•Prices March 2016
LUMiLIFE LED GU10 5W = 45w 320 lumens Colour temperature 2700K
LUMiLIFE LED GU10 5W = 45w 330 lumens Colour temperature 4000K
LUMiLIFE LED GU10 5W = 45w 330 lumens Colour temperature 5000K
Camera: Nikon D750 Exposure 1/50 F8 ISO 2500 Colour balance 5000K. No image manipulation or exposure/colour corrections.
The easiest way to reduce your energy bills is to minimize usage in the first place! Next is to switch supplier, which is as easy as entering your postcode. So why aren’t consumers doing this? Is it complacency? A lack of time? No access to the Internet? The hassle of changing banking details? Or not knowing how big the savings can be? We expect all the above are contributing to us not switching enough.
So should you switch? Yes. Your current supplier is not going to tell you if their tariffs are uncompetitive – why should they? You can’t complain about high energy bills if you don’t take action today both by saving energy and by switching. This is how we can encourage a more competitive energy market. The chances are if you’ve never switched or haven’t switched in past 12 months, you’re paying a hefty price! Here’s Sust-it’s guide to switching…
How to switch energy supplier?
Before you start to make a comparison having a previous utility bill to hand will help you provide the following information:
(you can switch without this, however having the above information will ensure you get the best possible deal)
Enter this information into Sust-it’s switching service and will show you the cheapest deals based on energy usage. Pick the tariff/supplier you want and enter your bank details to set up a direct debit (this gives you the cheapest deals). The chosen supplier will arrange the changeover process; you’ll be asked submit meter readings, then your exiting supplier will send a final bill. The whole process takes around two and six weeks – hopefully Government pressure will speed this process up soon!
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A like-for-like comparison between cars with very different purchase prices is never going to be fare – unless you ignore brand image and the level of trim. For this review I’m going to disregard the showroom price tag and look at the driving experience, practicality and frugalness of the petrol Toyota Prius, and Volvo’s diesel V60 plug-in hybrids.
Let’s start with practicality; – something normally synonymous with Volvo and you’d expect the V60 to win hands down. However, lift-up the rear hatch and the reality kicks in of converting an existing model to electric propulsion. The boot floor level has been raised to accommodate the batteries and electric motor that cleverly drive the rear wheels, the front wheels are driven by the diesel engine. This has completely compromised the load lugging potential of the V60. Thankfully, cabin space isn’t compromised at all by the batteries or the additional electric motor and there’s plenty of room for four large adults and a smaller person in the middle.
From the outside you’d expect the Prius not to have much room in the back with its aerodynamically raked rear hatch, yet, surprisingly, there’s a reasonable amount of space to be had. Front passenger room in Prius are on a par with the Volvo, both being equally spacious with plenty of legroom. The seats on the Volvo offer better support than the Prius. Driver’s visibility isn’t as compromised in the Volvo by oversized window pillars which feature in the Prius. They are both pretty good on the ergonomics of the controls, storage cup holders and driving position. The Volvo had the edge in terms of ease of use of information systems, dials and switchgear. A more uniformed design, perhaps a more European influenced approach appealed to me.
Driving experience – are you a keen driver? Or is driving a means of getting from A to B? If you’re the later the Prius could be for you. The Prius is a very easy car to drive, that’s if you ignore all the buttons and dashboard information overload! It seems to encourage a frugal, relaxed driving style, which is what this car is about. Either pounding up and down the motorway, or running in stealth electric mode around town, whichever, you’ll arrive with minimal fuss and expense. My only dislike on the Pruis is the eCVT (electronic continuously variable transmission), which sometimes – on steep inclines – makes the engine race like your cars clutch is slipping. The transition from pure electric to petrol is very good, almost seamless. You can certainly see where many years of Toyotas R&D has paid dividends. Again, the handling is good, although not as sharp as the Volvo.
Now lets take a look at the Volvo, this is a very different beast to drive! It’s more of a ‘ON or OFF’ car. In pure electric mode it’s as relaxed as you like, quiet limousine qualities spring to mind, akin to its excessive price tag. Put your foot down, or press the sports button and it’s off like a shot! The rather gruff torque of the diesel motor rattles into action combined with the even torque electric motor, to catapult you up the road – Jekyll and Hyde… here we go! The performance is exciting and great fun, it’s just a little crude when compared to petrol hybrids. The transition from diesel to electric isn’t as smooth as the Prius and the noise is more noticeable compared to it’s quiet electric mode. Motorway journeys are more relaxed and comfortable as the diesel engine noise is much less noticeable. The handing and braking are first-rate, it clings on round corners with no body roll. PoleStars racing influence on the suspension set up certainly makes for an entertaining drive! Yet in normal driving it’s very smooth, not harsh at all. The car is packed with the latest safety features; this is, afterall, a Volvo. These include lane deviation, collision, blind spot detection, self-dipping and steering headlights. One potential safety issue I spotted on the V60, which had a sunroof fitted, was that the when the sun shone through the roof it hit the chrome logo badge on the steering wheel, reflecting sunlight directly into my eyes! It happened on enough occasions to be annoying as well as dangerous! Suggest smaller less reflective logos please Volvo, miles cheaper than all the techy safety gizmos.
So, what about saving money and the planet? Well, frugalness or fuel efficiency of cars with any plug-in hybrid is down to your driving patterns and lifestyle. If you do lots of short runs that can be done in pure electric mode they are incredibly cheap to run – just a few pence per mile! On longer trips we found both cars to be pretty economic, with the Prius, surprisingly, having a slight edge over the Volvo. However, the problem with the Prius is that it only has around a 10 miles range in pure electric mode, compared to the 20 miles in the Volvo. This made the Volvo a much better option for our general running around. My advice, if your considering a plug-in hybrid, would be to monitor your journey patterns overtime to see if a plug-in is practical for your lifestyle. You may find that a pure electric car may even suit your driving habits, especially if you’ve a second car for longer journeys. The main advantage with the plug-in hybrids, apart from the generous tax breaks and subsidies – which may end soon – is the flexibility to do longer journeys without the associated anxiety of taking an electric car beyond its battery range.
Diesel or Petrol Hybrid? My preference would be for petrol hybrids as they’re quieter, lighter and have less NOx tailpipe emissions than diesels. Plus I can’t stand the smell of diesel on my hands after filling-up!