Monday, May 22, 2017

"Magic vision" wipers?

Sometimes car companies come out with stuff which is so bizarre you wonder if any common sense was involved at all. Mercedes are advertising their "Magic Vision" wiper system at the moment, which seems to have been designed by a committee of pedestrians rather than anyone who actually drives a car:

There's a couple of problems here.
The first, obviously, is that they only spray on the down-stroke, meaning the up-stroke will be a skipping, scratching, scraping bounce across a dry windshield.
The second is that there's now 50 nozzles to clog up with calcium instead of just two. The chances of all those sprayers working like they do in the video, in the real world, after a month of use, is zero.
Third, you're being locked into the MB parts chain. You can't go and replace your wiper blades with a better product from your local parts store. And blade/arm mechanisms with built-in sprayers? Yeah those will cost a bomb to replace.
But perhaps the biggest issue I have with this gimmick is that they think that the washer spray interrupts your view of the road, and that it's distracting. The wipers themselves are far more distracting than the washer spray. I hate driving in the rain with wipers going. Instead, I apply RainX to my windshield every couple of months. At any speed much above 20mph, the airflow across the windscreen clears the water off it. At motorway speeds, you barely even see the rain because it's blown up and off the screen so quickly as soon as it hits. On occasion I've been able to do 500 mile trips in the rain without ever once using my wipers.
So Mercedes - if you want to solve the distraction problem - figure out how to permanently treat a windshield with a water repellant what won't wear off. A bonded hydrophobic coating. THEN you'll solve this problem.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Automatic brakes and car washes.

Here's an interesting side effect of all the meddlesome technology finding its way into modern cars: many of them won't go through automatic car washes now without some considerable knowledge and planning by the driver.
The biggest issue is auto-hold parking brakes. Because people are idiots (google for how many people get run over by their own car every day), more and more manufacturers are adding this 'feature' to their cars. Basically, if the engine is running (or off) and the car is in neutral, the parking brake is automatically applied. This means for the conveyor-belt type car washes, where (you guessed it) the car needs to be in neutral with your foot off the brake (or you need to be out of the car with the engine off), the car won't move because it's decided the parking brake needs to be on.
Many vehicles have defeats and overrides for this but none of them are simple, none have these instructions readily published and easy-to-find in the owner's manual, and all are multi-step processes. Some cars - for example the full-size Range Rover Sport - don't have any published method to do this, so if you own one of those, you're not going through an automated car wash whether you want to or not.
The other big problem is all the automation that is creeping in. Pedestrian collision avoidance and low-speed auto-braking might work well when you're crawling in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the city, but when you're crawling along in a car wash tunnel, the brushes, water jets and sponge fins all register as obstructions and the car will automatically apply the brakes even if you're in neutral.
The end result of all this is that more and more vehicles are being damaged in automatic car wash tunnels because they're stopping dead in their tracks (or flat refusing to enter). The ones that stop dead in the tunnels can end up causing pile-up accidents because the conveyor systems might want to just keep pushing the cars behind through the tunnel. Newer systems can detect stalled vehicles and shut the tunnel down, but older ones can't.
If you're expecting the employees at the car wash to know what to do, think again. You're on your own here and almost every automatic car wash will have an iron-clad policy that they're not liable for any damage, and you accept that condition by purchasing a wash.
So be warned. If you drive any of the 33 cars on the (growing) list in the following link, you're in for an adventure (or an accident) if you go to an automatic car wash:
33 vehicles that need special help to drive through a car wash.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Spring motorcycling

If you’ve read my site, you might have come across the page on motorbikes. I ride less now than I used to but I’ve ridden bikes in one form or another since the mid 1980’s. They’re a lot of fun, and a lot of car drivers cold learn a thing or two about driving if they were to spend any time on a motorbike.
Spring is here, which means I want to get out riding again. Around here, the valleys are flat and uninteresting so it’s the mountain roads that see the most motorbike traffic, and when Wolf Creek opens, that’s when the riding really becomes great because it opens up a lot of fantastic roads. Sadly it’s still 5m deep in snow right now.
Nevertheless, knowing that that time is coming, time to get the bike out of hibernation and make sure it’s good for the year. I used to ride year-round, but commuting 120 miles a day in all weathers in all seasons took its toll. I’m firmly a fair-weather rider now – I don’t have to do 100-plus miles in pouring rain. I’ve been there and done that. Yes, you’re on a bike, but it’s a shitty experience all-around.
Inevitably stuff needs attention. Already I’ve found a minor oil leak on the sump – probably the sump gasket. I could go down to my local Triumph dealership and be given the runaround from them, or I could pick up the parts online. I’ve relied pretty heavily on over the last few years for oddments like this. Odd screws and bolts, the occasional mechanical part, and two years ago a pair of sprockets and a new chain:
The tyres are good this year – they’re relatively new. I threw some Metzeler tires on last year and only put about 300 miles on them so they’re basically new. They’re one of my three go-to brands. I used to use Pirelli motorcycle tires a lot, but more recently I’ve tended to switch back and forth between Metzeler and Avon. I cleaned my bike too, which isn’t a vanity thing. When you spend time hand-cleaning a motorbike, you become re-acquainted with it if you’ve not ridden it for a while. It also helps you find leaks, broken fasteners, rust, sketchy brakes and any number of other things you might not normally be looking for. Yeah it looks nice once it’s cleaned, but the benefits of getting up close and personal with it are not to be scoffed at.
So now I just need the augers and plows to get rid of that last 5m of snow and I’m good to go.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Umm. Electric cars don't use petrol....

Ourisman Chevrolet of Rockville, Maryland claim that the Chevy Bolt's "precision tuned electric drive unit engine [...] will wring every last mile it can out of a drop of fuel":
I don't want to be Captain Obvious here, but an electric car doesn't use petrol.....

Monday, April 24, 2017

Justice is served - William Crum rots in jail

If you're a motorcyclist, you likely already know who William Crum is. If not, read on.
William Crum is a driver who decided that he'd had enough, and decided to try to kill two motorcyclists. I don't mean this in the sense of him getting angry, showing them the bird, or chasing them down. No - he swerved into a motorcycle and knocked the rider and passenger off deliberately as they were passing.
Fortunately, another rider in the group had a camera running and caught the whole thing, even when Crum told the other rider he didn't care that he'd basically attempted to murder two people.
The issue he had was that the bikes were passing on a double yellow line. Now I don't care how self-righteous you are, or how you feel about people passing on double yellows (even when it's perfectly safe to do so), it's not up to you to be the law. By all means take numberplates, take photos and call the police. But you don't try to murder two people because you think you're entitled to.
Crum was finally convicted of two counts of aggrevated assault with a deadly weapon and sent to jail for 15 years. That's not enough if you ask me, but maybe when he gets out (at 84, with no license) he'll think differently.
In case you should think that Crum is somehow deserving of sympathy given his age, or some other reason, bear in mind he's also previously threatened to murder two children by telling them he was going to run them down with his car. One of the kids in that case testified.
This guy is a career lunatic and having him behind bars is the best solution for everyone.
Drivers tend not to understand just how quick motorbikes are. We can pass cars in the blink of an eye. The rider in this case was doing nothing to harm Crum - he gave plenty of room, he didn't badger Crum before passing. He just pulled out and attempted to pass cleanly before Crum tried to kill the pair of them.
I'm convinced that if everyone was forced to ride a motorbike for 12 months before ever being allowed to drive a car, the number of motorbike accidents and incidents like this would be cut dramatically. People who've only ever driven around in a two ton cage, surrounded by music, insulation and airbags, have little to no idea what's going on outside, and to have Crum's attitude towards others where he clearly treats his vehicle as a weapon, is reason enough to throw this piece of garbage away.
This link has more details including the original video where you can see him at his asshole best from the attempted murder right up to the point where he tells the other rider that he simply doesn't care that he tried to kill two people.
William Crum gets 15 years in jail for attempted murder of two motorcyclists

Monday, April 17, 2017

Driver training and vehicle maintenance is the key to road fatalities

"Drone cars will cut accident rates" is what the headlines scream. Sure - they might but we have no proof of that yet.
What we do have proof of is that proper driving training cuts accident rates. I'll use America as my baseline because this is where I live at the moment, and in this country the driving test is laughably easy. In some states the theory test is open-book (meaning they give you the answers) yet people still fail it. And the practical test can be 5 minutes in deserted suburbia. There's no training or testing for motorway driving, driving at night, in snow, on ice, or in the rain. There's no training or testing for driving in congested city centers. Driving licenses are handed out like free candy.
This is reflected in the driver fatality numbers for America. You can't just look at the number of accidents - it's high because there's a large population. You need to look at the number of accidents per-capita. This helps give a meaningful number. Even more meaningful is the accident rate per-capita-per-mile-driven but that's a harder number to come by. So we'll use the number of deaths per 100,000 people. In America, this averages 10.6 deaths for every 100,000.
Looking at Germany, where speed is of the essence, vast stretches of the autobahn are still unrestricted, and driver training is considerably more involved (and expensive) than it is in America. Their rate is 4.3 deaths per 100,000 people - less than half that of America.
But we can do better - the Nordic countries, where getting a driving license can take up to a year and involves training and testing in all weather conditions and times of day. Norway - 3.8 per 100,000. Sweden - 2.8 per 100,000.
These numbers don't tell the whole story though. The condition of the vehicles also has a large part to play. In America, the average age of a car on the road is nearly 12 years. That's the AVERAGE, meaning there's a considerable number of old bangers still driving around with drum brakes and no airbags. In Europe the average car age is 9 years. In Sweden it's less than 5 years.
So the key to reducing road deaths is pretty obvious - better driver training and safer vehicles. I'm sure there's still a lot of people who look forward to the day they can get into their soulless automated minicab and be driven everywhere by an AI that is programmed to sacrifice their lives if the need arises, but this driver prefers to use traditional methods. I do occasional driver safety and top-up courses. Everyone should, but of course barely anyone does.
And that's the real reason drone cars are coming - because drivers have become too stupid to take responsibility for their own actions.