When the wheels are not turning

“If the wheels are not turning, you're not earning,” so said a London taxi driver friend in 2015, one of many sayings which encapsulated the work ethos. In a busy metropolitan environment that is even more the case than it is here in the provinces, where more than half the time spent on shift is spent waiting around for work.

But with a vehicle off the road, it is almost impossible to earn any money as a taxi driver. And on two separate occasions in the last ten days for me, a relatively minor technical issue caused a chain of investigations and work over several months.

Back in February, a slow puncture resulted in a call to the breakdown service and the spare wheel being exchanged for the defective one, in order to complete the journey. Modern vehicles have transmitters fitted behind the air valves in the tyres, the sole purpose of which is to communicate with the dashboard, to illuminate two lights when the air pressure is low and to inform you which tyre is affected. It is supposed to enhance safety, though in reality, for someone who checks tyre pressure daily and visually inspects them, it should be unnecessary.

Since the 2018 MoT rule changes, a vehicle is no longer compliant if a warning light is illuminated on the dashboard and so it was for me, when three months after my spare wheel was exchanged, five new tyres fitted and the spare returned to the boot, the light appeared again.

Subsequent checks showed there to be nothing wrong with the tyres themselves, but that one of the transmitters had been damaged, probably in the earlier transition between puncture and new tyre being fitted.

Trying to find a local mechanic with the necessary equipment and cheerful willingness to change the transmitter and reset the codes, took three days. There were journeys to Abingdon, to Wheatley and to Cowley, to obtain four second opinions, before finally ending up in Oxford, where a diagnostic test alone cost £47, but “it’ll be another five days before we can fix it, mate, while we wait for the part to be delivered.”

Anybody in the taxi business will tell you that going to a manufacturer’s dealership is the most expensive way of getting work done on your vehicle. On this occasion there was no choice and the chain of diagnostic investigations, parts and labour ended up costing £737, inclusive of lost income.

WEstgate shopping centre, oxford

WEstgate shopping centre, oxford

However, the benefits of leaving my taxi at the dealership for two mornings were quite something, as I walked into Oxford city centre and took a stroll around the Westgate, which replaces many of the streets and buildings I knew in my childhood and where one of the rooftop garden restaurants has some interesting black and white photographs of the brave new world of the 1972 Westgate on its walls.

And a slogan on its menu which reads “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 15 May 2019

  1. Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, MOT rule changes: 20 May 2018, last updated 20 May 2018, retrieved 14 May 2019