Monday, January 16, 2017

Dieselgate continues with Jeep

I'm not sure why this took so long to come out - I wrote about Jeep's diesel cheating problem on October 19th 2015 - 15 months ago. But sure enough, it's finally come to light this week that yes - Jeep have the problem too.
So now we're just waiting for the other ten to be named : Mazda, Honda, Mitsubishi, Mercedes Benz, Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat and Volvo.
I'm honestly not sure why it's taking so long. Emission Analytics proved the diesel vehicles from all those manufacturers emitted way higher NOx levels than stated, which means in order to pass any sort of smog or emissions test, they must have some sort of defeat code or device in them.
I suppose that now Trump is in charge, and now the EPA is going to be run by climate-denier Scott Pruitt, those other ten manufacturers will probably be let off the hook.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Dakar 2017 minus Robby Gordon is a win for everyone.

The Dakar Rally is well underway this year, and as usual, the trucks are amazing, the motorcyclists are daredevils and the quad riders are just plain mental. The competition between the Peugeot, Toyota and Mini teams has been interesting to watch as it unfolds with some early failures and some unexpected successes. There have been the usual retirements - broken legs, wrists, arms and in some cases spectacular crashes where veteran drivers were lucky to walk away (I'm looking at you Carlos Sainz)
There is of course one welcome absence : Robby Gordon. After 12 years of utter failure, he's thrown in the towel. Some (like me) would say it's 11 years too late, but like 2016, we can bid him good riddance. Between punching his co-driver, melting down at his team, cheating (and being caught) multiple times, berating every team driver he's had, and a hundred other despicable acts, Gordon did not belong in the Dakar. A reminder of what a child he is (this was never aired on US TV):

It's cute that he thought he could place - he certainly seemed to think a win was somehow his right, but the Dakar is not the Baja 1000. The Baja is a drive in the park by comparison - something Gordon never accepted. Now he's gone, the real drivers are able to get on with the race without having to worry about a boorish American trying to ram them off the track.
The news reports from the bivouac have also suggested that things are a lot more 'back to usual' this year too. The officials and marshals are not having to put up with Gordon's incessant abuse, and the drivers and riders don't have to worry about shattering his fragile ego with the truth. There's no idiotic showboating, no crashing into spectators, no crashing into support vehicles - it's amazing how much more convivial the Dakar is now Gordon is gone. Competitor camaraderie is alive and well with drivers and riders alike stopping to help those in trouble. The Dakar is a dangerous race and it's a given that if you see someone badly in need of help, you stop and offer assistance (like the riders did with Toby Price this year). Gordon never understood that. He drove past injured drivers. He drove past (and in three cases, nearly over) stranded motorcyclists. When Nasser Al Attiyah made the mistake of being a team driver, Gordon abandoned him by the roadside. He doesn't understand team spirit. He doesn't understand camaraderie. He doesn't understand the spirit of cooperation. In Robby Gordon's book there's only one person that matters - himself - and that attitude is neither safe nor welcome in the Dakar Rally.
So long Gordon, and don't ever come back.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Brits want driverless cars when they're drunk, but don't trust them with their kids

A new survey has revealed how much Brits actually trust driverless cars.
Following a BBC report on the government's plans to have driverless cars in operation in the UK by 2020, car dealership Citygate wanted to find out how Brits really feel about autonomous cars.
10,000 UK drivers were asked in which circumstances they would use a driverless car - and the results have revealed that pioneers of this new automotive tech may still have some convincing to do.
Long-distance travel took the top spot, with 34% of Brits saying they’d welcome a break from driving during lengthy journeys - suggesting there’s some support for welcoming self-driving cars onto the UK’s roads.
Designated driver
29% of survey participants admitted they’d be most interested in using a driverless car while under the influence - compared to just 17% of people living in the North East.
38% of men between the ages of 35 and 44 also said they’d like to use a driverless car for trips to the pub.
Almost a third of respondents said they’d happily hand over the morning commute - a feeling that was shared by almost half of female respondents in Scotland.
Driving in the dark
A quarter of all respondents, and 40% of people living in the South West of England, said they’d be most likely to rely on a driverless car after dark.
With 22% of the vote, driving during social outings may be another chore Brits are happy to hand over to the machines.
Over 65s were keen to hand over their keys - as 35% said they’d use self-driving cars for social calls and 30% revealed they’d rather not do the driving at night.
Backseat drivers
Just 15% of Brits said they’d be happy to delegate the school run to a driverless car - suggesting that our trust in these autonomous vehicles may expire when it comes to our children’s safety.
Scottish respondents were even less willing to relinquish control - with just 7% of parents entertaining the idea of using driverless cars for school drop-offs.
6% of all participants revealed they wouldn’t use a driverless car under any circumstances - indicating that further technological developments and research will be needed before Brits agree to let go of the wheel.
Steven Crouch, Marketing Manager at Citygate said: "With the rapid growth in technology supporting us in our day to day lives, making us safer on the roads seems to be a big priority for UK drivers. Whether it’s after a night out or a long journey, drivers want to look after themselves and others around them - but it appears that, when it comes to their kids, Brits would rather stay in the driver’s seat."
Which of the following would you use driverless cars for?
Topline results:
  • Long-distance travel: 34.3%
  • When you’re under the influence: 28.8%
  • Commuting to work: 26.5%
  • Night driving: 24.3%
  • Social driving: 21.8%
  • The school run: 14.8%
  • I wouldn’t use one: 6.0%

Monday, December 26, 2016

Speaking of headlights

Last week I wrote about automatic headlights. This week a short post on fog lights and when to use them.
It's pretty simple really - in fog.
When it's foggy, heavy spray or haze, foglights work better than main headlights because they're lower down on the car so you don't get as much glare back from the fog. The absolute last thing you should do is go to high beams because you'll reduce your ability to see with all the extra glare. That pretty much deals with front fog lights but what about rear ones?
In Europe we're all fairly used to rear foglights but here in the US they're still not super common. I didn't have them on any vehicle here until I bought my current Range Rover. None of the Japanese-manufactured American-market vehicles I owned had any.
Rear foglights, for the uninitiated, are either a single or a pair of rear lights that are considerably brighter than the tail lights, and in many cases, brighter than the brake lights. The idea is that it makes your car more visible from behind in poor weather conditions. They're manually controlled by a separate switch on the dash or one of the steering column stalks.
They are very useful in fog and heavy spray conditions where you'll notice the vehicles in front all but disappear because the tail lights simply aren't bright enough to penetrate the haze. If you see this happening, put your rear foglight on. When conditions begin to clear up, turn it off. Yes, I understand this requires an element of concentration, common sense and personal responsibility, but it's not that difficult.
What's a really interesting issue though is that American drivers are so unaccustomed to rear foglights that they tend to think they're brake lights instead. Last winter I was driving in some appalling conditions and there was a ton of spray. The guy behind me was way the hell too close - probably because he was target-fixating on my tail lights simply to be able to see. Once I lost sight of the car in front, I turned on my rear fog light and I think the guy behind thought I was brake-checking him because he slammed on his brakes and vanished into the spray behind me. The lack of any cars following up in my lane led me to believe he probably caused an accident.
It presented an interesting conundrum. Was I to blame? I did nothing wrong - I was maintaining my distance to the vehicle in front, and using my foglights in my own vehicle correctly. I can't be held accountable if the person behind me wasn't concentrating or didn't understand the meaning of fog lights. I certainly can't be accountable for him suddenly jamming on his brakes and causing the person behind him to rear-end him.
A little driver education goes a long way but in the increasing dumbing-down of the world, it seems even the most basic things are hard to teach now.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The problem with automatic headlights

Modern car design has an interesting issue when it comes to automatic headlights. Dashboards are increasingly electronic affairs. The days of laser-cut or die-cut plastic instruments with physical bulbs behind them are coming to an end and more and more cars are getting small LCD displays instead. In some cases, the entire instrument panel is replaced with a single giant LCD.
In the "good old days", an aide-memoir to know whether your headlights were on or not was to see if the instruments were lit up in front of you. If you couldn't see the instruments, chances were that your headlights were off. That doesn't hold true any more - the instrument panel is normally always illuminated now - and obviously if it's an LCD display, it's always on. Somewhere on the display there will be an indication that the headlights are on, but now you need to know what the icon is, where it is and what colour it is. Manufacturers haven't been able to come up with a universal icon for this. For example on my Range Rover, the symbol is a green headlight with three slanted lines - that means dipped beam, all lights on. But in my wife's Nissan Leaf, that same symbol means daytime running lights.
This problem is confounded by people's lack of understanding of how automatic headlights work.
With most new vehicles, in an increasing number of countries, even with the headlights turned to the "off" position, the vehicle shows daytime running lights. These are either LED lights or small bulbs in the headlights that are always on. Importantly, in this state, the rear lights are always OFF. This is bad because people become used to thinking their headlights are on all the time, (they're not - DRL's are not headlights), which means when you get into heavy rain, spray, bad visibility and poor weather, the drivers think they're lit up but from the rear, they're completely invisible.
The image below shows the problem. The top one is headlights off, but DRLs on. The bottom one is headlights on. At a quick glance, the dash looks no different. Look more closely and there's a little icon almost hidden by one of the needles that shows the headlight status:
With headlights in the ON position, it's what you'd expect - headlights and tail lights - but now you're relying on people manually turning their headlights on and off in varying weather conditions and at different times of day. This is something we all used to do without any problem but it seems nowadays people simply aren't capable of this simple function, and with the less-than-obvious dash readout for headlight status, it results in people driving around in the dark with a fully illuminated instrument cluster but no headlights turned on.
So automatic headlights seem like the obvious choice, right? I mean a light sensor turns the headlights and tail lights on when it's dark, and off when it's light. No fuss, no muss. Except that due to the design of these systems, they can ONLY see light and dark. This is fine for clear, dry weather, but again, once you get into fog, haze, heavy rain, spray and other bad weather conditions, the automatic function typically doesn't turn the lights on because the ambient brightness of light hitting the sensor is still high, so the system assumes that it's daytime. Which it might be, but you might be driving in near zero visibility spray on a wet motorway. These are conditions where you absolutely DO need all your lights on and now people seem to get into an utter state of confusion because they now have to contend with "OFF" which means "sort of on but not really", "AUTO" which means on when it's dark, but currently off because it's daylight even though it's pissing down with rain, and "ON" which means truly "ON".
And again, because there's no single, standard, agreed-upon icon on the dash that every manufacturer uses to denote that all the lights are actually on, drivers have no reliable, consistent indication of their headlight status.
You'd think this would be easy enough to fix but we're all still waiting .....

Monday, December 12, 2016

Two comments on driving in England.

I was over in England a couple of weeks ago, and I know I've commented on this before, but two things:
First - Parking spaces. Why the hell are they still so small? It is 2016. Cars are not the same size they were in the 1950s. Every parking lot I parked in was the same: spaces barely wide enough for the cars and nowhere near wide enough to park and easily get doors open. I saw so many cars getting door dings from people struggling to get out. All they need to do is ditch a couple of spaces from each row and make the spaces diagonal and people could park AND get out of their cars.
And second: PAY AT THE PUMP!!!!!! Why the hell can I not pay for petrol at the pump? Petrol stations have spent tens of thousands installing cameras and number plate recognition systems to try to prevent people from driving away without paying. Just put payment devices on the pumps and be done with it. It's easier for drivers, it's easier for the petrol station, it solves the drive away problem and it means we don't have to stand in line inside waiting for indecisive people shopping for newspapers and sweets. The technology to do this has been around for 20 years. Come on!