Monday, December 31, 2012

Is there a Santa Claus?

Ok so this post isn't especially relevant to cars and motoring but Santa does use a vehicle, so that counts, right? So I ask - is there really a Santa Claus?
1) No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.
2) There are 2.5 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. But, since Santa doesn't appear to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total - 378 million according to the Population Reference Bureau. At an average census rate of 3.5 children per household the world over, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes there's at least one good child in each.
3) Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different timezones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course we know to be false, but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding etc etc.
This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at around 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For the purpose of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second - a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.
4) The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying a minimum of 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that "flying reindeer" (see point #1) could pull ten times that amount, we cannot do the job with eight or even nine. We need 214,000 reindeer. This increases the payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh - to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison, this is four times the weight of the QE2.
5) 353,400 tons travelling at 650 miles per second causes enormous air resistance - this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the earths' atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously and vaporise, exposing the reindeer behind them, and creating deafening sonic booms. This would wake people up, and the reindeer team would be reduced to ashes in a mere 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to combined forces some 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250 pound Santa (which, lets be honest, seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds-per-square-foot of force.
In conclusion - if Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's long dead.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Did you buy a car for Christmas?

It's been a decade since I lived in England, so I don't know if they have the same sort of TV ads over there when approaching Christmas as we do here in the US. Specifically, the "buy your loved one a car for Christmas" ads. Most of the luxury brands do it. Mercedes, Jaguar, Lexus, Porsche - all seem to think that a car would be an ideal last-minute gift. Jaguar have their "Unwrap A Jaguar" event. Come in now and from only $70,495 you can make your partner faint with happiness come Christmas morning.
Mercedes, meanwhile, suggest in their annual "Winter Event" that perhaps $105,000 is a more reasonable sum to spend on a car. Unless you're interested in their AMG machines, in which case you won't have any problem spending a little extra. And it all comes with the low low financing rate of 1.9% too. What a bargain.
If Lexus is a little more your speed, you're in luck. Over there you can splurge on cars for the entire family with everything from the super cheap IS at $35,000 (for the kids) all the way up to $375,000 LFA (for Dad, apparently).
Is it just me, or does this seem ludicrously out-of-place for Christmas. Ok I know it's been overtaken by commercialism, but do people really buy cars for presents?
Anyway - Merry Christmas everyone. Now stop reading this silly internet blog and go and drink some mulled wine and eat some mince pies.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Continuous flow intersections : Mental.

Let me introduce you to Continuous Flow Intersections. Watch this, then read on: Does that seem in any way simple or clean to you? The fact that UDOT needed to make a video to try to teach drivers what the this abomination is should tell you that this is not a simple intersection. They started putting them in around here about 2 years ago and since then, the number of people driving on the wrong side of the road because of these things has skyrocketed. Accident rates have soared, congestion has reached record levels at these intersections and confusion reigns supreme. They spent millions introducing them, and shut down the roads for close to a year to get them built. And why? There's a much simpler intersection that solves their "conflict points" problem. Ladies and gentlemen: the roundabout. I guess the problem is that roundabouts are simply too logical, too simple, too efficient. Better to waste millions and create an accident nightmare eh? Plus, watching Americans trying to negotiate a roundabout is an entertaining and embarrassing representation of the human ignorance about an intersection that does not require you to stop but does require you to yield. It seems to cause some sort of severe psychological disorder since it is neither green nor red, but requires them to steer and calculate approaching distances of their own vehicles and the others on the road at the same time.
Anyway, I won't go near these continuous flow things any more - they're too dangerous. I've seen trucks end up on the wrong side of the road, I've seen people shooting red lights and causing huge accidents (because the location of the lights means the relative speeds involved in head-on collisions is much greater than it is at a normal intersection). There have been numerous reports of pedestrians struck by cars because they forget they have to look the wrong way to cross the first lane of the intersection.
Continuous flow intersections are a nightmare clearly designed by a committee of non-road-users.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Guest post : Winter Driving Advice

Even the best drivers in the best conditions are at risk when on the road, simply because you cannot control the other motorists around you. The risks of driving increase tenfold in the wintertime, with slick roads, worse visibility through snow and fog, and reduced sunlight in the morning and evening hours complicating your travel. Properly preparing your vehicle for cold weather driving and educating yourself on safe winter driving techniques can do more than save you money on repairs and insurance: it can save your life.
Check your Vehicle
Routine vehicle checklists are important in warmer months, but a failure in winter can compound the already dangerous conditions. Clean and polish your headlights to ensure proper night vision, and keep your battery fully charged so you don’t find yourself stranded and freezing. Clean your windshield and wiper blades, check your tire pressure, and refresh your fluids, including windshield wiper fluid, oil, and antifreeze. Consider filling out an emergency bag to keep in your trunk stocked with supplies such as non-perishable food, a flashlight, a shovel, and a first aid kid.
Check the Weather
The single best thing you can do to keep yourself safe when driving in the winter is check the weather early and often. Be especially cautious if there are winter storm watches or warnings in your area, but be mindful of anything worse than clear skies. Many local weather services will have a notice of ice conditions on the road, especially in the morning, when roads may have iced over overnight. If conditions are expected to worsen significantly while you are out, consider rescheduling the trip.
Be sure you are aware of alternate paths in case one road becomes blocked due to an accident or other impediment, and let someone know when you are leaving and the path you intend to take in case of an emergency where you are unable to contact anyone by phone.
Check your Speed
Posted speed limits are set under the assumption of ideal conditions, and are too fast for safe driving in difficult conditions. In the winter, ideal conditions will be rare. Slick roads will cause your stopping distance and your chance of skidding to increase, and slowing down is the best way to combat this. Be especially gradual in your braking, acceleration, and steering for the same reason.
Be sure your stopping distance never exceeds the visible distance ahead of you, and begin slowing down for traffic and intersections earlier than you normally would, as an invisible patch of ice ahead can easily send you far past your intended stopping point. Brakes are less reliable overall in slippery conditions, so rely on a slow deceleration without hard braking. For the same reason, try and avoid braking on curves: your wheels will not grip as well when locked, and if the road is slick, the car may slide outward off the road or into oncoming traffic.
Even if the road looks clear, be very mindful of bridges, overpasses, or even especially forested areas. The decreased sunlight these locations are exposed to could mean that large patches of ice remain on the road after it has melted everywhere else.
If worst comes to worst and you find yourself stuck in snow, avoid gunning the engine: your tires will simply dig the rut in further and make it harder to get out. Instead, alternate moving forward and in reverse to try and widen the area you have to move and eventually build the momentum to escape. If unsuccessful, try and use a shovel to dig yourself out – or hope for friendly passerby! If you drive conservatively and defensively and take proper precautions, you should be able to avoid this unfortunate situation all winter long.

AUTHOR: David Young works for Car Accessories Plus, enjoying a quieter life after spending most of his years on a hard floor underneath vehicles the world over.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Guest post : Breakdown myths and mysteries.

We've all experienced that moment of dread when we're driving along the highway at 60mph and we lose power. When a pop and a sizzle turns in to a smoking hood, or a bump leaves us hearing the flap-flap-flap of a shredded tyre. Breakdowns can ruin vacations and road trips in an instant and can cause even more serious problems if you need to commute to work every day. Luckily we're now able to buy breakdown cover and have some roadside assistance when we need it most, but even if we're able to get a tow to the garage; that's only half the battle.
Car Insurance
A lot of people believe that their car insurance covers them for any parts failure caused by wear and tear. Even the most comprehensive of schemes will rarely protect you against this kind of damage, much to the public surprise. Most car insurance brokers will outline, albeit in small print, a lot of additions that you might not necessarily be aware of. If your breakdown is a result of general wear and tear or what can be naturally expected of a car of that age, your broker will wave you away like an irritating housefly.
Breakdown Cover
Most breakdown schemes have a variety of inclusions, all aimed to cater for different individuals and their needs. A lot of people don't know that some of the factors contained within their policy that come as standard are available at no extra cost. Some companies will hide the fact that they offer a replacement rental car or will pay for your accommodation or further travel. They include these as standard so that they can operate under a 'Premium' name and will use them as a last ditch selling point to a customer that isn't convinced. For the average Joe, they'll keep hiding this point until the very last second.
Using Your Cell Phone Whilst Stationary
Many people don't know the complex and intricate laws that are involved in driving on the road, most of us just listen to popular wisdom and much repeated facts. One of the most common offences committed by drivers, and this often happens in the event of a breakdown, is calling whilst stationary. The true legal recourse is that if your engine is on whilst you dial, you're breaking the law. It doesn't matter if you've been in a traffic jam for an hour or you've pulled over with a flat tyre; if your engine is on and you use your phone, you're breaking the law. Make sure that when you call your breakdown assistance, your engine is firmly switched off.
A Strange One
Whilst we would never recommend this, there is a strange myth about reversing that actually happens to be true. A driver does not have to wear a seat belt whilst reversing. If you've pulled over after a breakdown and you want to reverse into a safer location, technically you're at the liberty of this loophole;"…a person driving a vehicle while performing a manoeuvre which includes reversing…". But as soon as you put your car back into a driving gear and you move even half an inch forward, you must re-buckle. For safety's sake, just keep it on.
Flat Battery Re-Charge
Dead batteries are one of the leading causes of breakdown internationally. In years gone by, a jumpstart would be enough to get us home and away with no problem. In the days before iPods, heated seat and GPS systems, car batteries could be fully recharged in an hour or less. The higher strain on the alternator with modern devices means that it has little energy left to charge the battery, so don't assume that everything is going to be fine next time you go out to start your car.
Author Byline: Matt Bonner has been a car enthusiast for years. In his youth he worked as both a mechanic and an engineer, but now works as a consultant for EasyWheels.

Monday, November 26, 2012

People who park in handicap spaces but aren't disabled.

The Detroit Free Press finally did an expose on one of my big pet peeves - people who aren't handicapped but use the disabled parking spaces. These are the worst of the worst in my opinion. People with such a morally corrupt core that they have no problem doing stuff like this. I don't care if it's people with no permit, or people "using a friend's permit", or even people using a permit from someone in their own family. They're all as bad as each other. I've challenged people about this on occasion and without exception, they always go on the defensive and always spin some bullshit excuse about how they're entitled to park there. Last time this happened I went to butt-in to an argument a guy in a wheelchair was having with a lady who'd parked in the disabled space. In the end she had no remorse or conscience - typical of so many self-centred people today. As long as they serve themselves, nobody else matters.
Anyway - the Detroit Free Press video is quite informative. See for yourself.
The woman at 3 minutes is amazing: "Well where's the handicap sign then?".
"Erm - right there, right in front of you!"
"Oh."

Monday, November 19, 2012

F1 race tracks, past present and future.

F1 racing provides excitement for spectators around the globe and every race track used provides a unique test of skill and courage that makes this motor sport one of the most passionately followed spectator sports. In this article we take a look at a brief history of where the drama unfolds, on the track and look at circuits used in the past, present and also plans for the future.
Constantly evolving
Since the first World Championship Grand Prix in 1950 at Silverstone a total of 68 different circuits have hosted an official F1 race. The racing circuit at Nürburgring is a good example of the constantly evolving nature of the circuits and how they adapt to the changing demands posed by improvements and developments to the cars that are competing and related safety issues. The Nürburgring used to race over a longer configuration but following safety concerns they now use a shorter safer circuit. As a result of the expansion of the sport into Asia and America nearly half of the 20 circuits currently on the Grand Prix circuit were not on the calendar just over 10 years ago.
Consigned to history
Racing at Aintree is associated with the horse racing spectacle that is the Grand National but Aintree hosted the British Grand Prix at various times between 1955 and the last time in 1962. Some circuits were not so fortunate to get more than one shot at hosting the Grand Prix and the Ain Diab in Casablanca Morocco, whilst being in a location entirely suited to the glamour of F1, only got to be a one hit wonder in 1958. Monaco is famous for many reasons and particularly the F1 race that winds its way through the streets that are normally frequented by the rich and famous, but some other street circuits were not so fortunate to stand the test of time and the Circuito da Boavista in Portugal only got to host the Portuguese Grand Prix in 1958 and 1960. The streets of Porto and many others have not heard the competitive roar of racing engines for some time unlike the residents of Monaco.
The Future
There are plans in place to introduce a Grand Prix of America and a Russian Grand Prix in 2014. The American race will be held on the Port Imperial Street Circuit in New Jersey which will see cars racing over a circuit of 5.1km around the streets of Hudson County while Russia eagerly awaits their Grand Prix which will be held in Sochi. The Sochi Olympic Park Circuit will hopefully see racing take place around a circuit of 5.8km in 2014 but there is talk of a potential delay for another year as preparations are also in place for the 2014 Winter Olympics so F1 fans in Russia might have to wait a little longer for their motoring entertainment to come to town.
As with the cars that compete, the nature and layout of the circuits used is always being evaluated and changes made where required not only to provide high class entertainment but also to ensure that the highest level of safety is always achieved. Any course that does not evolve along with the sport will always be wary that the last race they host will be their last, as history has shown that many venues are never guaranteed a future if they do not meet exacting standards.
Author Bio.
Jamie McMackin is a racing enthusiast and researcher. He enjoys getting out on the tracks and sharing his experiences on various racing blogs. Visit Wish.co.uk to find out more about driving experience days.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Luxury car manufacturers losing the plot.

I think there's some sort of collective neuroses going on in the luxury car segment at the moment. I was hoping the Porsche Cayenne would be a one-off; a flight of fancy from a designer soon to be sacked for perpetrating such a crime on the world of motoring. But sadly no. More luxury car makers are getting their feet wet in markets they have no business being in. First the Cayenne, now the Panamera - can there be a more pointless car for Porsche to make? A front-engined, 4-door saloon? Buy a Camry or a Fusion if you want one of those. They're a fraction of the price, much less likely to be stolen, have better warranties and are far more practical. It doesn't stop with Porsche though. Now we face the prospect of Lamborghini losing their marbles. For whatever reason, the Audi-owned purveyor of all things hypercar, makers of the Reventón, Murciélago, and pant-wettingly gorgeous Aventador, have decided they need to build a bloated, badly-handling, poorly-designed, ugly-looking SUV. The Urus (I'll spare you the picture, you can google it) is a really odd way to go for Lambo. I know most SUVs never go off-road but for $200,000 I'm pretty sure the most dirt a Urus will see will be the dust settling gently on it whilst parked on Rodeo Drive. Not wanting to be left out, Bugatti are getting in on the game with their 16C Galibier - essentially a four-door version of the Veyron. $1.4M for a four-door "family" car? Seriously?
But all of this pales in comparison to what's happening at my favourite maker of exotica - Aston Martin. DB9? DBS? Vanquish? V8 or V12 Vantage? Yes please - any and all of the above. But the Rapide? Why in the name of all that is handbuilt and peculiarly British would Aston want a 4-door sedan? Is it because they're copying Porsche? Are they jealous of the Panamera?
The answer to all the above stupidity of course lies in the vast inequality of wealth in certain countries. In the US, where 9% of the population have 90% of the wealth, it's hardly surprising people want to squander their money on expensive toys to be used as status symbols. "Oh honey - the Ford Escape is just too common. We simply must do better than that - I wouldn't be seen dead in anything less than a Cayenne." Where rich suckers and their money are easily separated, car makers know they can make serious bank. Porsche, Aston and Lamborghini know these vehicles are pointless but then they know the people they're selling them to are equally stupid. And if you can make a fast buck off someone, that's what capitalism is all about right?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Guest post : 2013 Audi Q5 - Subtle Success

Audi has a reputation for manufacturing luxurious, understated vehicles, and their 2013 Q5 SUV is just that. With its sleek, simple body style and superior driving capabilities, it’s both a classic and a head turner. Originally launched three years ago and not scheduled for an overhaul until 2016, the Q5 saw some minor upgrades in 2013. And while it may be predictably Audi and significantly short of revolutionary, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Overview
When the first Q5 hit the streets in 2008, it was nothing special by any means. Not only was it late to the compact SUV game, it didn’t offer anything that made it stand out from its competition. Nevertheless, it quickly became one of Audi’s best-selling models. Four years later, the Q5 is facing stiffer competition, which includes the Range Rover Evoque, Cadillac SRX, the BMW X3 and Infiniti’s EX35. Therefore, a few changes were necessary to give it an edge. Because Audi rarely whips out completely redesigned vehicles, it’s no surprise that the changes to the Q5 amount to little more than minor improvements. New for 2013 is a grille with slightly harsher corners, chrome lined fog lights on the front, revised LED lights on the rear, and adorning the back of the vehicle, a pair of chrome tipped exhausts. The interior upgrades include a revised steering wheel and new ignition switch design, additional interior color options, and cleaner lines throughout.
Engines
Previously, those interested in purchasing a Q5 only had the choice of two engines, either the premium 2.0L I-4 with 211-hp or the premium plus 3.2 L V-6 with 270-hp. In 2013, Audi expanded its engine options to include a hybrid and a TDI diesel, which probably won’t make it into the U.S. lineup. Additionally, they replaced the 3.2-liter V6 with a newer direct-injection, supercharged 3.0L engine. This V6 offers 268-hp and 296 lb-ft torque. Audi claims the Q5 is capable of 62 mph in 5.9 seconds and has a top speed of 146, which is pretty impressive for an SUV.
Pricing
Though pricing details have yet to be released, MSRP for the Q5 is expected to begin around $36,000 and reach $45,000 fully loaded. The Q5 will arrive in American dealerships in fall of 2012, but the hybrid model won’t make it across the pond until later in 2013. Only 500 total hybrids will be sold by Audi for the 2013 model year.

This guest post was contributed by Brittany Larson on behalf of Audi Warwick.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Guest post : The DMV

The DMV can be a hassle. Long lines, paperwork, fees, and bureaucracy, aren't things many look forward to. There are ways to cut down on lost time though. From ordering products online to doing some preparatory research, sometimes the DMV can be outright avoided.
Often, a quick search online can save you a lot of time. Three things I usually look for, if I have to go in person, are the following:
1) Proper Identification
Waiting in line only to realize you don't have the correct ID with you is not a good use of time. It can vary from task to task but usually its a pretty easy search on the DMV state website. Know what you need beforehand.
2) Printable Forms
Most states will have a list of different forms and usually put up PDFs available for download. Having the form already filled out saves time at the counter. Also, there may be some information you didn't know you needed to have on there.
3) Correct Office
In smaller counties and towns there's usually only one DMV that handles everything, but for bigger cities there are sometimes smaller offices that don't manage some tasks. Contacting your DMV can save you the hassle.

Online Products
Sometimes products are available online. Some of them are from private companies or can be found on DMV's website. For example:
Driving Records
Sometimes called a Motor Vehicle Report (MVR), Driving History Report, Drivers License Check, or Driving Abstract. These are detailed records of traffic violations, license suspensions, and so on, usually used for employment purposes.
Study Material
All state DMVs have a drivers handbook that they offer with safety guidelines and traffic rules. They have all the information that are on various licensing tests. Private companies also offer study guides and practice tests. There are boating and motorcycle tests out there as well.
Traffic School
Traffic Schools can help decrease demerit points or sharpen skills before a driving test. There are online traffic school options as well services that help you find physical driving courses.

If you can't get the correct information or product online unfortunately you're going to have to go to the DMV and figure it out in person. Hopefully this guide helps, and good luck!

Monday, October 22, 2012

So NBC has acquired F1 coverage rights. Wonderful.

It's hard to denote sarcasm on the internet, but trust me, the 'wonderful' in the title of this week's post is very definitely sarcastic.
Right now, to watch F1 in America, we have either Speed Channel, Fox (who own Speed) or internet piracy. Speed do a pretty good job. They have a pre-race show, the entire race, the podium ceremony and the post-race interviews. The commentators are a good blend of people. Bob Varsha is sometimes outwitted by Hobbs and Matchett but that's mostly because he doesn't get the English humour and sarcasm.
Fox on the other hand are awful. The race coverage starts normally as the cars are forming up after the formation lap, and runs to about a minute after the first car crosses the finish line. No pre-race, no podium, no post-race interviews. The race itself is diced up into hundreds of pieces by the commercials - about 30% more than we get on Speed.
Now I refer you back to what NBC did to the Olympics this year. Their coverage was so awful that it was just an embarrassment. Their streaming service choked regularly, they couldn't show stuff in the right order at the right time and their commentary team was wooden and so idiotically banal that my wife and I just sat staring at the TV shouting "shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!". They kept talking in the wrong places (over other announcements) and they knew nothing about any of the sports or athletes. Their coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies was an editing nightmare (a good hour missing from each), and this is the team who are going to take on F1. I think we know where this is going to end up.
In defence of NBC acquiring F1, most people point out that the Formula 1 association control the TV feed so we ought to be fine. This is true, but then the Olympics was a controlled feed and that didn't stop NBC from turning it into an unwatchable train wreck.
With F1 going to NBC we face the prospect of a major network screwing it up worse than Fox did to the point where, like the Olympics, the only way to see the actual events will be to pirate them online. I'd rather not have to do that, but if it comes to it, I have no problem with it. As a matter of fact, Speed's coverage of F1 is one of the last remaining reasons we have a satellite box and haven't cut the cord to go to something like Amazon or Hulu. If NBC do their usual quality job next year, I see a future full of downloaded content for my household.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Remember that time you had trouble getting petrol? Sorry about that.

If you're a reader in the UK, you'll likely have no problem remembering the fuel protests back in 2000. Did you know I was the instigator of what ballooned into a national crisis? A crisis that had fuel drivers blockading their own refineries? That had airports shut down because they had no fuel for the aircraft? That caused Blair to finally admit he was propping up the National Health Service with money fleeced from motorists? The crisis that, for the first and only time in the recent memory of UK fuel pricing, caused the government to drop the tax rate? Yeah you can blame me for that.
Late spring 2000, a colleague of mine and I were moaning one morning about the price of petrol at the time and we decided that apathy had ruled long enough and that it was time to do something about it. We set up a website called Boycott The Pumps and filled it with interesting facts and figures. At the time I was running the Speedtrap Bible - a site I later sold - so I had rather a large following of readers. One simple email to all those readers was all it took. We decided to organise a pump boycott - a mechanism that has notoriously failed to go anywhere every time it was tried before, because of apathy. "But if I don't buy petrol today, I'll just buy it tomorrow, so what's the point?". The point isn't that you're buying petrol on another day, it's that you're sending your elected officials a very clear message. And holy crap this time it actually worked. It went nationwide when the Daily Mail picked up the original email from me, and publicised it on the AP Wire and the front page of their paper on the same day. The Sun, Mirror, Star and Telegraph all then picked it up and it just ballooned from there. I must have given 100 radio and newspaper interviews and I was on TV for what seemed like 3 weeks straight from local news stories to the BBC nationally. What really caught the attention of the public though was when the farmers and truckers started to get vocal - rolling roadblocks on the motorways, blockaded refineries and such. At that point it had a much snappier name - wish we'd thought of this originally, but we didn't - it became Dump The Pumps. I had to distance myself from it at that point because the press were invading every aspect of my life, and my family's life, and the life of a lot of my friends. But by that point it didn't matter - the damage had been done. By September 2000 there were queues at petrol stations all across the country. WW2 jerry cans were the hot item to buy and military surplus stores ran out of them. Shortages were everywhere, the refineries were blockaded, trucks were being turned away in France, aircraft weren't landing. Blair even went on TV and told everyone not to panic, and that was brilliant because then people really started to panic. That was when the army reserve were called out to try to maintain some order and use their fuel trucks to supply forecourts across the country.
So what was the point of it all? On the day of the original protest, it worked - petrol retailers all across the country reported much, much less take than normal. I proved that one person can make a difference. Yes the price of petrol has continued to go up ever since, and the drop in fuel duty at the time was only 1p. But put that into perspective : no government before or since has ever lowered fuel duty. It's not the amount that counts. It's that I forced them to do it using a grass-roots campaign. Even today's UK government is extremely wary of what happened in 2000, to the point where I've seen it referred to several times since in a "we don't want that to happen again" sort of way.

An album of the various newspaper headlines is here if you're curious. Dump the pumps. The local paper - the Bracknell news - has the story of me giving up the initial protest.

Monday, October 8, 2012

If you can't drive on mountain roads, then don't.

Last weekend we went up into the mountains, "leaf peeping" to see the fall colours on all the trees up there. It was a popular weekend to do it so the roads were choked but none more so than the road we were on trying to get down from a popular destination. In front of me was a Porsche, and in front of him was a minivan with the most terrified, inexperienced driver I've come across in years. This wasn't just your typically bad Utah driver - this was a level of bad that was so dangerous this person should have had his license and vehicle taken away. For the 99.99% of the population that don't live where I do, open up Google earth an search for the Alpine Scenic Highway in Utah. It's a fairly narrow mountain road but it's easily wide enough to get two good-sized US vehicles past each other - pickups, minivans etc. From Sundance Resort down to Provo is about 18 miles and typically takes 30 to 40 minutes or so to complete in a car. Last weekend, it took us 90 minutes. The minivan driver would stop as soon as he came to a corner (there's hundreds of them) or whenever he saw a vehicle coming the other way. He properly had no idea how wide (or narrow) his vehicle was and seemed to be in permanent fear of "falling off" the road. When he was moving, we were crawling along at a good 8 to 9 miles per hour. When we got to the downhill stretch, he had his foot on the brake constantly for 40 minutes. The smell of his cooked brake linings penetrated the air in our car even with the a/c set to recycle. Not only did he have zero idea how to drive on a mountain road, but he also had no idea what he'd done to his brakes. Add to that he had no idea about local laws regarding how many vehicles you can tailback before you have to pull over, or even basic common decency to look in the mirror once in a while and realise what he'd done.
This highlighted an interesting point - people who are properly poor drivers are so bad they don't realise it. This guy had no business being on a mountain road - he was a danger to himself, the people in his van with him and everyone else on the road around him. But entitlement, ignorance, stupidity or selfishness put him there and he had no idea he was doing anything wrong. As someone once said - "you can't compensate for stupid".

Monday, October 1, 2012

Google's harbinger of driving doom

Google recently announced with some fanfare that their self-driving cars have covered more than 300,000 accident-free miles, and that "With each breakthrough we feel more optimistic about delivering this technology to people and dramatically improving their driving experience."
Counter argument: I don't want my driving experience to be "improved" by not having to drive my own car. Also, for the record, since I first drove a car in 1991, I've covered probably the same number of miles (if not more) also without a single accident or insurance claim.
It would seem to me that companies like Google are pouring billions of dollars into research simply to alleviate drivers from the responsibility of their actions. I know I've blogged about this before but I really, truly, honestly cannot imagine a worse future for car owners than cars that drive themselves. I don't know why we need them and I don't know why anyone would want them. However I'm equally sure they'll be forced upon us by misguided insurance companies who will start to penalise drivers for NOT having auto-drive cars. This is the ultimate example of attempting to cure the symptoms of a problem rather than the problem itself. Better driving education, more stringent driving tests and annual re-tests are all it would take to get a reduction in accidents. On top of that, fines for using cellphones in cars would have to be proper punishment. Not $50 here or there, but something more permanent like having your car impounded and crushed.
Here's a thought for you: auto-drive cars will have to have manual overrides. Computer technology is not infallible so the human will always have to be in the loop, same as with aircraft. So what happens when the next generation of drivers, equipped with less training, who are wholly reliant on their cars driving themselves, suddenly have to take control? Would you want to be on the road when that happens? I wouldn't.
One thing's for sure though - self-driving motorbikes won't ever happen so if self-driving cars become the norm, I'll just abandon them in favour of motorcycling. It's more fun anyway and the bike never meddles with what I'm doing. Actually, that does bring about an interesting point: will self-driving cars be able to see motorcyclists better than humans? They certainly couldn't be any worse, given that car drivers cause over 90% of motorcycle accidents. Maybe I do want self-driving cars after all.....
Google's press release: Self-driving cars log 300,000 miles

Monday, September 24, 2012

Win the AXA competition

AXA Insurance’s new prize giveaway will see one lucky person driving away in a brand new 2012 Ford Focus while three runner ups will receive £200 worth of fuel vouchers to be used at petrol stations throughout the country.
The new Ford Focus has proven to be a popular addition to Ford’s range of cars. Beautiful to look at, fun to drive and fuel efficient, the new Ford Focus has walked away with a plethora of awards from multiple car reviewers and car enthusiasts.
AXA Insurance will be giving away a Ford Focus Studio 85 PS S5 in the colour ‘Colorado Red’ with a 113 BHP 1.6L engine under the bonnet. This 5 door hatchback edition is capable of reaching MPGs in excess of 60 during both motorway driving and city driving while delivering a quick sub-10 second 0-60 time that ensures for smooth overtaking and quick getaways at junctions and traffic lights. The Focus will also come with 12 months worth of road tax fully paid and free insurance on the car up to the value of £500; if the insurance premium exceeds £500, the difference will need to be paid by the prize winner.
Winners will be able to arrange for pick up of the Focus from their local Ford dealership. A small prize ceremony will take place when the Ford Focus is picked up with pictures being taken and interviews with the press.
There are three ways to enter the AXA competition; either apply for an insurance quote through AXA’s website, buy a new policy with AXA or renew an existing policy to be entered into the prize draw. It’s important to note, however, that each prize entrant will only have one chance to win. So, an entrant who gets a quote for insurance from AXA and then buys the policy will only get one entry into the prize draw rather than two. It’s important to note that all entrants must be over 18 years old – entries from entrants younger than 18 will be instantly discarded.
The competition starts on the 25th July 2012 and finishes on the 30th October 2012 at 23:59. The prize draw will be held shortly after the finish of the ‘prize draw period’ and the Ford Focus winner and the fuel voucher runner ups will be notified soon after by telephone and email. If AXA is unable to reach the winner within 4 weeks of the draw taking place, the winner will forfeit their prize and a new draw will take place. A list of the winners and the runners up will also be posted on AXA’s website as well as on their Facebook and Twitter pages.
Don’t delay – enter the prize draw today. You might just be the lucky one who gets to drive away with a brand new Ford Focus.
Visit http://www.axainsurance.com/competitions/ for more details.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Stuck accelerator? Really?

This video surfaced a few weeks ago showing a "terrifying" ordeal for a woman in a car with a "stuck accelerator". You know from my blog that I'm not one for being politically correct, so let me just come out and say it: I think the chances of this being the car and not the driver are pretty much zero. My guess is that she had her foot hard on the accelerator all the time - for whatever reason - maybe thinking it was the brake. She only comes to a stop when the 911 operator tells her to step on the brake and the accelerator at the same time. My guess is that this was the first time she moved her feet in the footwell and discovered she actually wasn't using the brake at all, and when she did, the car (and this is a spoiler alert) stopped. When she gets out of the car, it doesn't zoom off either. If the accelerator was stuck open, as soon as she took her foot off the brake to get out, the car would have taken off again. It's also curious how, when asked if she could shift the transmission into neutral, she said it was "stuck". There's no physical gate or interlock in an automatic transmission that prevents a shifter from being pushed from "D" into "N". That's actually a safety feature - to be able to get into neutral without having to push any buttons or go around a gate. If it was a manual gearbox (unlikely), simply pushing the clutch would disengage the engine.
So why do I have this opinion? Because I've seen the state of driving nowadays and have no faith that claims of unexpected acceleration have anything to do with the car, but everything to do with the driver. This is borne out by countless studies that show that in most cases it is the driver at fault - they had their foot hard on the accelerator, not the brake. (ECU and black boxes don't tend to lie.) In over two-thirds of the cases, it was middle-aged women - exactly what we have in this case. That's not me being sexist, that's a simple fact. The politically-correct term for it is "pedal misapplication". The non politically-correct term for it is drivers who haven't got a clue what they're doing. So I'm sorry to seem heartless, callous and acusatory, but I don't think there's any chance - not a single shred - that this case is any different. I think this woman had her foot hard on the accelerator and only when someone told her to brake, did she brake. I could of course be proven to be wrong (I frequently am), in which case I'll apologise. But numerous studies and statistics are on my side here so I'm not holding my breath.
"Safety regulators, human-error experts and auto makers say driver error is the primary cause of sudden accelerations."
Driver error to blame for most incidents
Video of woman with "stuck accelerator":

Monday, September 10, 2012

Return to the car wash.

How technology has moved on. Last time I visited a car wash was probably 15 years ago - maybe even longer. Back then, you drove in to the wash bay and a gantry moved back and forth over the car doing the cleaning and drying. The main cleaning rotors had those awful plastic bristles on them that look soft but do a great job of scratching the clearcoat on the car, and in the drying cycle, the water dripping off the gantry meant the car was never properly dried and you ended up water spots. I did try one of the "touch-free" washes (brought on by litigious Americans who had mirrors torn off by the brush-style washers) and they were completely useless. Ever since then, I've been either hand washing my car or using a jetwash. The jetwash is pretty useless for actually cleaning - it moves the dirt around but you always end up with a thin layer of scum, so I mostly used it for getting under the car to clear all the crud off underneath (especially in the winter).
Skip forwards to 2012 and a friend of mine had been getting peculiarly enthusiastic about a local car wash place. When he mentioned that the main cleaning mechanism wasn't plastic bristles but a sort of chamois leather type brush, I was intrigued. So I went along to see what all the fuss was about. It's a conveyor washer where you drive a front wheel on to a conveyor system that then drags the car through a tunnel filled with all sorts of washing goodies. I've never used one of these before, let alone seen one - but then like I said, it's been over 15 years since I've been near a car wash. So I was dragged through all sorts of colourful washes, spinning brushes, sprays, rinses, wax waterfalls, underbody sprays and a bloody clever device that applied tyre shine only to the tyres (ie. not the wheels so it wasn't just a circular brush). The very last thing before being spat out into the sunlight was a collection of four jet engine style dryers that were so effective I imagine anything even slightly loose on the outside of the car would just get torn off. The best part of all this was the towel-monkeys though. Local college students earning a bit of extra cash who used super soft towels to give the car a final rub-down to get rid of any final water spots. A combination of buff blokes and hot girls tending to my car was well worth the extra cash tip and the end result was a car that was easily as clean as it is when I've done it by hand but for considerably less effort. I've since checked the clearcoat and there's no signs of the old tell-tale scratches and swirls that you'd get with the old style automatic washers. Colour me impressed.
Cost to me : $14 plus a tip to the towel-monkeys. The place I went to do everything up to a full-service $50 valet which is all the above plus a full inside clean and valet while you sit in an air-conditioned waiting area filled with decent vending machines, comfy sofas and chairs and modern furniture. Think I might be going back there.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Guest post: 5 must-have car accessories

The best car accessories combine efficiency with style, and can make the daily commute and longer drives much more enjoyable. Options range from integrating a number of different accessories through a dock, to more elaborate remote start technology, and including pressure washers, security and air conditioning accessories. When choosing these kinds of accessories, it is important to focus on ones that actually make a car more practical, and that have long lasting uses beyond novelty value. Car dice, and any purely stylistic alterations have consequently been excluded, albeit with the admission that they can be a great way to add personality to a vehicle. In terms of essential value though, these accessories should be considered:
1 - All in One Docks
It is much easier to combine a range of different entertainment and communication features into a single dock, rather than trying to integrate different ports and sensors. An entertainment dock that is either directly attached to a car stereo, or connected to wheel controls, can be used to coordinate Bluetooth devices like GPS, and enhance satellite radio. An all in one dock can similarly be used to act as a mount for a smart phone, which can run many of these features through its own operating system. More advanced docks can also be used to wirelessly connect to satellite television and rear seat DVD players, while also helping with general driving performance.
2 - Remote Start
Buttons that allow you to start up a car while still at a distance can be valuable if you need to heat up the engine before approaching the car. A remote start button can also activate a dock system, and can ensure that the car is ready to go when you get into it. While the device ultimately means that you only save a few minutes of time, this can be a luxury that means you spend less time fiddling around with controls before each journey. A remote start function can also be installed through an iPhone.
3 - Improved Security
Adding more advanced security features through accessories is always going to add value to your car, while providing you with peace of mind. Again, Bluetooth enabled technology can allow you to run a number of different security features through a single dock. Key security options to consider include mobile identification, as well as tracking sensors and deadlocks. Other security systems can monitor for changes in tyre pressure and car weight.
4 - Pressure Washer
A hand held pressure washer represents an excellent accessory if you want to skip a visit to the car wash for a full clean, and want a quicker wash than a bucket and pad. A high quality pressure washer can be used to quickly scrub down and spray your car, and uses a range of detergents and buffers to make sure that you get a high quality wash.
5 - Air Conditioner Features
Air conditioning is regularly ranked as the most important accessory that every car should have. Versatile and able to adjust to changes in temperature and pressure, a good air conditioning system can either be included as standard with a car, or can be added. Cutting edge air conditioners can deal with changes in heat and pressure in more precise ways than older models, and can also help to evaporate moisture and control humidity.

Rob James is a mechanic and kit car enthusiast. His first car project was a used BMW e46 m3 he bought at an auction and renovated back in 2003. Rob likes to blog about kit cars, general maintenance, and enthusiast rallies.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The curse of the quick-change oil place strikes again.

I've moaned about quick-change oil places on this blog before. One piece of advice - just don't take your vehicles there. They may seem cheaper up front but they're really not. Our local dealerships do oil changes for the same price but employ people who at least have some talent.
A friend of mine had a problem with a quick-change oil place about a year ago. I won't name it but it rhymes with 'Whiffy Tube'. She took her car in for an oil change and they forgot to put the filler cap back on. So that got lost as soon as she drove off, and the oil started to spray out of the filler at the top of the engine coating everything inside the engine bay. The fumes inside the car were terrible and it took weeks to clear out the last remains of the smell. Fast forward to a month ago, she took her car in again, but to a different branch because she was planning a long road trip and wanted to make sure everything was OK. This time, they broke off the mounting points for her airbox. So the weight of the airbox was hanging off the air hose going to the throttle body. Naturally, that eventually came off as the hose clips couldn't hold the extra weight. New airbox, air hoses and throttle body required. Fast forward to this week, a work colleague took his car to a branch in a different city and they nicked one of his brake hoses with something sharp. He found this out on the way into work when he went to brake and couldn't. When he took his car into his dealership, they found the cut in the brake hose, right next to where the sump drain is on his car (thank you Honda, for that wonderful design). And it was a cut, not a break, snap, perished hose or anything like that.
Of all my friends and colleagues, I only have one who has never had a problem with a quick-change oil place. I'm sure there ARE places that employee mechanics with some talent but honestly I've never found one. In fact I'm not even sure the use of the word "mechanic" applies.
What happened to customer satisfaction, pride in the job and all the other decent ethics we used to have?
Reminder - competition to win some Quixx products is still open : Win Quixx products

Monday, August 20, 2012

Guest post : Star's Cars

Famous stars and their cars have long been inextricably linked. Clark Gable’s love of cars and involvement in a minor traffic incident gave rise to the urban legend that he had killed a pedestrian whilst drunk driving, Jayne Mansfield famously lost her head over a 1966 Buick Electra and Steve McQueen had a legendary obsession with speed.
Star car envy is as rife as celebrity obsession itself so to fuel the fires a bit more or dampen them completely here is a list of some famous celebrities and their cars. Go on, ask yourself if you really want to drive what they are driving.
Car collections
Some stars make no bones about their car obsessions. Here are some who go public with their collections.
Rapmobiles
Rappers’ love of bling is matched by a love of chrome. Akon showed just how ‘paid’ he was with an exhibition of his car collection at a recent Atlanta V103 Car and Bike Show. It included a Ferrari 458 Italia, Audi R8, Lamborghini, Mercedes SLR and a Porsche Panamera. 50 Cent has spent a little more than his name may suggest on his ‘blue car collection’ which includes a blue Lamborghini Murcielago Roadster, a blue Rolls Royce Ghost and an imaginatively coloured blue Ferrari F430.

To read this whole guest article, head on over to Star's Cars at carbibles.com.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Guest post : hiring auto transport companies

If you're moving somewhere or taking a long trip, you may wonder whether it would be cheaper and easier to tow your extra car or to have it moved by a professional automobile transport company. You may also be faced with the choice of driving your car or taking a plane and hiring someone else to move your car. Here are some of the pros and cons that may surface as you weigh your options for getting your car from one place to another.
Automobile transport companies move private vehicles from one place to another. At first glance, this seems like an easy way to get the job done. Just drive your car to the drop-off point, sign the papers, and hand over the keys. Needless to say, this is a big benefit of hiring a professional car moving company.
Unfortunately, this method comes with drawbacks as well. Most of them stem from the commercial transportation process. Clever Gems says that at terminal-to-terminal auto transport companies, your car will be loaded onto a semi along with several others and driven to a hub. There, your car will be unloaded from the first truck and put onto one that's going in the direction of the next terminal. At the last terminal, it will be unloaded one last time and then left to sit in a parking lot. The parking lot is out in the open and may or may not have any security.
To read this whole guest article, head on over to hiring auto transport companies

Monday, August 6, 2012

Phantom traffic jams - why you shouldn't use your brakes

Both in my blog and on my site I've long complained about the inappropriate use of car controls - people driving with a foot on the brake, unnecessary braking, lack of use of indicators etc. And for the longest time I've known about phantom traffic jams - where traffic comes to a stop for (seemingly) no reason. I've written about this elsewhere on my site but it's never for no reason - it's because of someone being inattentive, or not understanding that taking your foot off the accelerator causes your car to slow down without using the brakes. The explanation is simple, but I recently came across the youtube video below that demonstrates it perfectly. One person - just one - uses their brakes, and that's all it takes to turn a smooth-flowing road into a jammed-up nightmare. The person behind the initiator has to brake, and they do so just a little harder than the person in front. That effect ripples backwards through the traffic until finally, someone ends up coming to a complete stop, and from there, the phantom traffic jam appears. The M25 around London is a classic example of this, and the idiotic variable speed limits they put don't help traffic flow, they hinder it because now people have a proper reason to brake - speed cameras - and the rest is self-explanatory. Enjoy the video and think about it next time you're on the motorway. Can you moderate your distance simply by paying more attention and taking your foot off the accelerator instead of knee-jerk reacting and hitting the brake? (I know they can't do this here in Utah :-) )

Also : the competition is still running to win a BlueDriver wireless OBD2 scanner.Win a BlueDriver

Monday, July 30, 2012

Guest post : Get the 'drift' ?

Anyone who has seen the stunts and set pieces that pepper Tokyo Drift, the third instalment of the Fast and Furious film franchise, will understand the excitement of drifting. Drifting has a much longer history than its cinematic debut in 2006 and fans of drifting competitions can attest that the thrills and spills of drifting are even larger than life when seen from the side of the track than on the big screen.
Professional drift cars have been tweaked and modified to fine tune their performance and safety: the choice of specialist tyres, modifications to suspension and brakes and the use of a limited slip differential are the main areas of focus. However anyone can get the drift. With a private road, an understanding of drift technique and an unmodified car fresh off even a Hyundai car dealerships forecourt anyone can drift. This masterclass should give you the basics of drifting that you need: once you’ve got the drift you can go on to master the art.

To read this whole guest article, head on over to How To Drift at carbibles.com.
Also : the competition is still running to win a BlueDriver wireless OBD2 scanner.Win a BlueDriver

Monday, July 23, 2012

Cars with safety aids are involved in more accidents.

Regular readers of my site and/or blog will know I have particular place in Hell reserved for pointless in-car gadgets like auto-lights, auto-wipers, auto-park, lane-departure warnings, blind-spot warnings etc. The list of these things goes on and on and I've long argued that when you fill cars with this stuff, it lulls the drivers into a false sense of security. The end result shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone then : cars fitted with lane-departure warning systems are involved in more accidents than those without. Cold. Hard. Facts.
The Highway Loss Data Institute (a division of the Institute for Highway Safety) discovered that lane departure indicators are doing more harm than good. They don't go into a lot of detail about why lane departure warning signals correlate with more wrecks, but the numbers speak for themselves.
Lane departure indicator-equipped Buick cars recorded a four percent increase in collision claims and a slightly higher rate of increase for property damage claims. Mercedes brought up the rear with a five percent increase in collision claims and a more than ten percent increase in property damage claims. Other manufacturers were scattered between the two with only one manufacturer - Volvo - bucking the trend.
The study results stand in stark contrast to researchers' initial predictions about how well these new safety gadgets would work. In 2008 the IIHS admitted that most of these things only partially work but at the same time boldly claimed that lane departure systems would prevent 10,345 fatal accidents per year (article). 4 years on, not so much.
Consider for a moment the arguments being floated in Europe right now for AEB - automated emergency braking. The exact same claims are being made right now for making AEB mandatory on all cars from 2014.
The HLDI won't speculate as to why the facts are the way they are, but it would seem pretty obvious. When you put crap like this in cars, it leads drivers to start to rely on it, so instead of actually paying attention when driving, they rely on the car to tell them when they're leaving the travel lane. In the same way that cars with blindspot warning devices are involved in more rear-end collisions (2008 report mentioned above) because people now believe they don't have to use their mirrors or look over their shoulders any more.
If governments want safer roads, they need to mandate getting rid of all this crap in cars and concentrate on driver training, testing and re-testing. If we continue the march towards more and more driver "aids", and ultimately auto-drive cars, the accident rates will only continue to march upwards as we dumb down the responsibility for driving.
(pic from Jalopnik)

Also : the competition is still running to win a BlueDriver wireless OBD2 scanner.Win a BlueDriver

Monday, July 16, 2012

Chrysler's growing PR problems with Jeep

Hands up if you remember what happened to the Mercedes A-Class when it failed the elk test a few years ago? That's the rapid lane-change test that Scandinavian countries regularly do in their road tests of cars. The A-Class rolled when fully laden and it was very nearly the end of that vehicle and Mercedes. They had to redesign the rear suspension and ultimately the whole car. Skip forwards to 2012:

That's a Jeep Grand Cherokee about to go all the way over doing the elk test. This vehicle comes with traction control, ABS and rollover protection, all supposedly designed to make this impossible. (The NHTSA already knew this was an issue, giving the Grand Cherokee only 3 stars for their rollover rating). The test was performed by Swedish car magazine Teknikens Värld, and Chrysler immediately cried foul, stating that the test was rigged because the vehicle had 5 people in it and luggage. Teknikens Värld have responded that they did the test exactly as they have done on every vehicle since 1970; they loaded it up to the manufacturer-specified cargo and passenger values and performed the test. In the same group test, a similarly-laden Volvo XC90, VW Touareg and BMW X-5 had no rollover problems.
When Teknikens Värld rolled the A-Class, Mercedes listened. Same with the Toyota Hilux in 2007 and most recently, the Skoda Superb in 2012. In all cases, the manufacturers took notice and made appropriate design changes. Chrysler, so far, have taken the blame game approach. Are they waiting for someone to die before they do anything about it?
The story is everywhere right now but here's a link to the Autoblog article: Jeep Grand Cherokee fails elk test and rolls.

The second problem with Jeep's PR right now is what has become known as the Death Wobble on the Jeep Wrangler. This is a design problem with the suspension that can result in it going into undamped oscillation when going over a pot hole at anything over 40mph. Since 2005, the NHTSA has had over 600 complaints about this on various models of Wrangler. The internet is littered with videos showing the problem both from in the cabin (where the steering wheel can vibrate so badly it becomes impossible to hold) to videos shot underneath showing the problem. It's easy to reproduce but as with the rollover problem, Chrysler's immediate response is to blame someone else. This time they say it's the owner's fault for putting different suspension or wheels on the cars. That might hold water if you couldn't do this to a completely stock Wrangler, but as that's what is being most complained about, Chrysler's arguments once again hold no water. They then go on to claim that because nobody has been killed, it's not a safety issue. I'm not sure about you, but if my steering wheel is shaking so badly that I have to let go at motorway speeds, that seems like a pretty damn serious safety issue to me although once again, no deaths yet so no real interest from Chrysler.
They've now caught the attention of the house of representatives though, so maybe some government intervention might change their mind.
Chrysler's lacklustre attitude towards their products and customers on these issues are reason enough to steer well clear of them and their crappy cars.
Jeep Wrangler Death Wobble to be investigated.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Driving the Volt

I had a chance to drive a Chevy Volt recently. Its an interesting car. Not pure electric, and not a 'range extender' but because of that tiny modification to the transmission, it is technically a hybrid. The petrol engine can, and does drive the wheels. Not often, but it does. For the most part though, it is electric, and because of that, it makes barely any noise from the outside. There's road noise on the inside of course but that's about it. It drives pretty much like any other car but being electric drive, you get full torque from standstill. With the transmission in 'sport' you get a good punch of acceleration but a commensurate (and very noticable) drop in remaining battery life. In 'mountain' mode you get more regenerative braking for coming down passes and hills, and in 'normal' mode its a blend of the other two.
Ride quality is good, but then the weight of the battery pack helps that out. Conversely, cornering suffers for the exact same reason - it steers like the Queen Mary on anything but the slightest change of direction.
Visibility is so-so, as is the driving position. The seats are neither luxurious nor cheap and are average for comfort. There's dozens of gadgets and distractions available through the touchscreen to encourage you not to concentrate on driving, and just about every function is user-customisable (although the manual strongly encourages you to just leave everything on 'default').
Charging takes about 16amps from a standard US 110v supply, about 8amps from a European 220/240v supply (if you're driving the Opel Ampera) and GM strongly recommend you plug it in any time you're not using it. A problem then if you place of work doesn't have charging posts. Those are the low-speed charging times. GM will sell you a high-speed charging station and install it at your house if wiring permits.
I think GM have tried too hard with the whole 'future' theme though. The inside is a gaudy mix of cheap plastic Buck Rogers TV set and poorly placed, badly functioning touch controls. The start and stop functions have some super cheesy sound effects associated with them and the central display is a mess of information that is hard to decipher when on the move. If the interior looked more like a normal car, the Volt would be so much more appealing. Plus, there's the American fetish with chrome - it's everywhere on this car, between the overly-shiny wheels and the chrome accents inside and out. The Ampera isn't quite so gaudy - they de-chromed it for the Euro market and it looks much better for it.
Would I buy one? No. Would I lease one? I don't think so. You still have to make too many concessions to own one. Can't tow with it. Marginal room in the trunk (and no divider between the trunk and the rear seats). It corners very badly. Isn't great in very hot or very cold climates (the electric heater and a/c are both pretty poor). There's a litany of problems like you'd expect with any v1.0 product and until electric cars are as flexible and no-fuss as current petrol-engined ones, I don't see a huge uptick in the number of buyers. GM have a lot of work to do for the v2.0 version to be more usable as an actual car rather than a novelty conversation piece.

Monday, July 2, 2012

F1's hopes destroyed in the US again

[Hello to those from the FB link - just learned this entry was linked there.] Americans don't get Formula 1 racing. It's been said time and time again but it's true. The latest evidence of this is the seating fiasco at the new Austin circuit - "Circuit Of The Americas". The best seats for F1 are the main grandstands opposite the pits, or on turn 1. These seats are generally expensive, but open to all at every other F1 race. In America though, they seem to think that this track is a baseball stadium, because the premium seats are only available as a season ticket (as oppose to per-event) and then only if you first pre-purchase the right to purchase a season ticket.
From their website:
"PREMIUM SEATING IS ONLY AVAILABLE THROUGH THE PURCHASE OF THE PSL. THE PSL (PERSONAL SEAT LICENSE) IS A ONE TIME PAYMENT PER SEAT THAT WILL GIVE YOU OWNERSHIP RIGHTS TO PURCHASE SEASON TICKETS AT COTA FOR UP TO 15 YEARS. OWNING A PSL WILL GET YOU ACCESS TO THE MOST DESIRABLE VIEWING AREAS, EXCLUSIVE ACCESS TO PURCHASE TICKETS TO OTHER RACE SERIES, PRE-SALE OPPORTUNITY FOR MAJOR CONCERTS AND THE RIGHT TO PURCHASE ON-SITE PARKING."
In other words, you can't get grandstand seats for just the F1 race - you have to commit to a whole season of events. For 15 years. Nobody's going to do that. My guess is that the FIA will pull the race from the circuit after 2013 once this becomes widely known.The worst part of this is that you have to fill in a 'pre-authorisation' request and then their PSL reps will contact you with a price - ie. they won't even publish the prices online, like it's some sort of exclusive club or something.
Doing this is basically reserving the best seats at the track for the ultra-rich - the Donald Trumps and Mitt Romneys of the world - who are so stratospherically high into the 1% that they don't even know what money is any more.
Look - F1 is an expensive spectator sport - as F1 fans, we know this - but to expect us to pre-pay for 15 years of tickets just demonstrates a comprehensive lack of understanding of F1 and the sort of people who watch it.
Way to go Circuit Of The Americas - I guess you really didn't want to give F1 a chance after all.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Driving one-armed.

A few weeks back I broke my left shoulder and humerus in an off-road accident. Since then I've been living life one-armed, with left arm in a sling. Of course this means getting to grips with driving with only one arm. Fortunately my car has an auto box so that's really what makes it possible. Putting the seatbelt on is easy. Closing the door not so much as I have to lean out of the car and reach over to grab the handle with my right hand. Basic driving is pretty easy but I find myself driving about 5mph slower than normal because I can only have one hand on the wheel. Using the indicators is the most awkward thing though because the control stalk is on the left side. This means I have to pick my moment to indicate because I have to wedge the wheel with my knees and quickly reach through the top of it with my right hand. This isn't particularly safe but I still find it better to indicate my intentions rather than just maneuvering without warning.
For sure it's given me an enlightened view of driving when disabled. I'm going to get better and I'm sure once I am this will fade into memory, but it occurs to me that having able-bodied people designing cars (or anything for that matter) for disabled people is a bit hypocritical. There's a dozen things I'd change right away in my car if this was a permanent condition.
But none of them would be nanny items - I'm still quite capable of determining when to turn on the headlights and wipers thanks very much.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Supercar sunday

About a month ago we were in the UK on holiday and on the sunday we were driving to Portsmouth for a day out. It's not unusual to see supercars every now and then - I've spotted the odd Ferrari and Lambo here and there. But we had a hell of a shock on that day. First, we passed a Pagani Zonda. Then we spotted a Lamborghini Reventon. Now there's only 25 of these in existence (I think). Then we were passed by a second Pagani Zonda. 10 minutes later, we were buzzed by a Porsche GT3RS and a Lamborghini Aventador. We figured something was up at that point and had our suspicions confirmed by a Ferrari Enzo and a Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera orbiting a roundabout in front of us. It was only later in the day that we discovered it had been Supercar Sunday at Goodwood. That would explain it. Although think of this : you'd expect supercars to be shown at that sort of event if they were trucked in by the manufacturers, but in this case these were 'everyday' owners. I can only conclude one thing from this experience - there isn't a recession in the southeast of England. I've only ever seen one of those cars before outside the pages of a magazine or TV show. To see so many that close together, out in the wild, was amazing.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ferrari 599 vs taxi = bad for everyone

I enjoy spirited driving. I admit I speed - show me someone who tells you they don't speed and I'll show you a liar. But even I draw the line at speeding in built-up areas. Sadly, this isn't the case for some of the bottom-feeders of this world. On May 12th, there was a horrendous accident in Singapore when a guy driving a Ferrari 599 GTO at 180km/h blew through a red light with the inevitable result. It was caught on a dashcam by another driver. Sadly, the passenger and driver in the taxi that the Ferrari hit were killed. The Ferrari driver was also killed, but that's no biggie - he got everything he deserved. Bizarrely, his passenger and the motorcyclist he also hit both survived. When you see the video and photos, you'll understand why I use the word 'bizarrely'.
Look - I can understand buying a supercar. I would if I had the money. I can understand wanting to show off to the women - I'm a bloke - we're hard-wired to do stupid things like that. And I can understand wanting to drive fast. What I can't grasp is the logic that this guy applied where he thought all three of the above would be just fine and dandy in a busy city street. I've driven at 180km/h (faster, actually). It's quick. Bloody quick, even on a dead straight, wide open county road with no intersections and miles of visibility. I can't imagine how mental that must be in a city environment. Well - I can now thanks to the video.
It's not particularly graphic but it is shocking if you've never seen a traffic accident (for real or on video) before. You've been warned.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The right gear will save your life

When I see the helmet and seatbelt campaigns I always wonder how there are still people who don't see the benefits of safety gear. There's plenty of them though. I'm a career motorcyclist - I've been riding since I was 16 so I've always worn helmets for motorsports, and if the vehicle in question has a racing harness or seatbelt, so much the better. Case in point, last week I flipped a Razr 800 off-road buggy. Not sure how - we think the left front tyre came off the rim in a corner, but it went end-over-end and barrel rolled. I came out of it with an arm fractured in two places. I was harnessed in and wearing a helmet. After some on-site triage by some friends, we drove back to civilisation and I checked in to the ER. The doc said he knew I'd been wearing a helmet because the people he sees who've done the same sort of thing without a helmet typically arrive by air ambulance. There's nothing particularly gruesome here but if you want to see the outcome, here's some pics. Razr crash. Wear the appropriate gear. It will massively reduce the seriousness when something stupid happens.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Auto stop start

I recently rented a car that had one of those auto stop-start systems on it for fuel efficiency. The idea is that when you're stopped, the engine turns off and then as you get ready to move off, the engine starts again. The car I was driving was a manual so the system keyed off the clutch pedal. When I was stopped, if the car was in neutral and I took my foot off the clutch, the engine stopped. The first time this happened I panicked and put my foot on the clutch and turned the key to re-start the engine as I assumed it had stalled. Of course as soon as I pushed the clutch down, the engine started itself so by the time I turned the key, I got that awful "you're killing your engine" noise you get when the starter tries to engage with a running engine. That noise made me take my foot off the clutch again so then the engine stopped again. It took me one complete green cycle of the traffic lights, parked with the hazard lights on, trying to figure out just what the hell was going on. In the end I found the "off" button to turn the stupid function off completely but in this particular car it reset to "on" every time the car was parked. If you're a regular reader you'll know I despise in-car gadgets like this and auto stop-start has shot right into the top three of my most hated functions now, right next to auto lights and auto wipers. It's a pointless system that wastes more petrol than it saves (according to Auto Express and Motor Trend at least), and certainly induces far more stress on the engine's starter than it needs to. The additional complexity in wiring, sensors and ECU coding seems illogical and unnecessary too and it strikes me that on cars fitted with this system, we can probably guess with 100% accuracy what the first thing will be to fail. Either the stop start function, or the starter motor itself. Fortunately this particular car was a VW Golf and because of the ready availability of products like the VAGCOM (which I already own for my Tiguan) it would be child's play to turn this function off for good.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Going way back

Ever heard of the internet time machine? It's a project that archives websites pretty much forever. Long before I had the carbibles domain name, the earliest versions of this site were hosted at Geocities. I've used the internet time machine on a couple of occasions to defend my copyright - people who claim they wrote articles that were mine - and I can always pre-date them using this service. For example one of the earliest versions of the engine oil bible is here : internet time machine
Before the site was on geocities, I had it piggybacked off the server of a company I used to work for and those pages go back to 1994. I'm still trying to dig out a copy of those. I always find it interesting to go back that far in time and see how the site has evolved, how opinions have changed and how the various articles have matured and been refined by more up to date information and input from people with more knowledge than me. But one thing is clear - there will always be motorheads and car nuts, bikers of all sorts, greasemonkeys and people for whom their vehicle is simply a way of getting from A to B. I try to make my site enjoyable for everyone - hope you still like it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Do your 12v electrical work properly.

If you've ever dabbled in 12v electrics in your car, you've probably come across one of the enemies of electrical systems - the spiteful little piece of metal and plastic known as the scotchlock connector.
These things are marketed as the saviour of wiring for people who like to do their own modifications. The idea is simple. If you want to splice two wires together, and one of them is an existing wire (like a +12v line, you can use one of these connectors. One side snaps over the existing wire, and the new wire goes into the other side. When you crimp the metal piece it pierces the insulation on both wires and makes an electrical connection. Clip the plastic snap closed and you're done, right? Well - for now. But later on, that connection will fail in all manner of creative ways and you'll be left with nothing but trouble which, for the most part, will be very hard to track down. Scotchlock connectors need to burn in hell.
If you're going to do your own electrical work in your car, do it properly. Use bullet connectors or crimp connectors if you're cutting and splicing wiring. They're just as easy to use as scotchlocks but they're a thousand times more reliable. You need to invest in a crimp tool - looks like a pair of pliers with notches in the jaws - because pliers won't crimp the electrical connection properly. But the end result is secure wiring that won't vibrate or pull apart and won't create electrical problems further down the line. Everything from engines that won't start, to flickering lights, to fried engine management computers to non-working instruments. I've seen all these things caused by sketchy wiring from people trying to scotchlock a new radio into their car.
The attraction of Scotchlock connectors is that you don't need to cut the vehicle's original wiring to splice lines together to make a Y-connection. In reality you are cutting the wiring though, because of the metal blade inside the connector. So given that, just cut the wiring and do it properly. Take one end of the cut wiring and the new wire, and crimp them together into one end of the bullet connector, and take the other end of the cut wiring and crimp it into the other connector. Simple - that's a Y-connection. Clip the two connectors together and you're done. For connections that don't need to be taken apart again, you can use an even simpler crimp connector and just stuff two wires in one end and one in the other.
It goes without saying that any work you do on the electrical system is best done with the battery disconnected. Although if you're the type that uses scotchlock connectors, chances are you never figured out to disconnect the battery in the first place.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Anti motorcycle bias runs deep

A reader sent me a link to the video below last week and it just made my blood boil. The essence of this ad is that the reason the rider died is because he was going 8kmh above the speed limit. Watch the video and tell me how, in any way shape or form, the blame for this "reconstruction" cannot be placed squarely on the car driver? This accident wasn't caused by speed - speed wasn't even a factor.
In the distance they mention (30m), doing the physics of time and distance shows that even an 8kmh drop in the speed (down to the posted limit) wouldn't have prevented this accident. The motorcyclist would have arrived at the car 0.2 seconds later if he'd been doing 60kmh and at the speed the car was moving, it would have been the difference between hitting the centre of the door and the side of the door. Not hitting the centre of the door and missing the car entirely.
(For the curious, 68kmh is 18.8m/s and 60kmh is 16.6m/s. Over 30m, the time difference is 0.2 seconds)
This was caused by an idiot car driver who pulled out without looking yet no mention is made of that in the ad. Instead they choose to peddle the same tired old scratched record about "speed kills". That message is so passe and has been disproved so many times I'm surprised anyone can still say it with a straight face. When this sort of rampant bias is displayed by the police towards motorcyclists, it's not hard to understand why motorcyclists hate the police in return. I think it's shameful that the Victoria police force should put this ad out, and judging by the comments on the youtube video, I'm not the only one.
Here's what the ad should have said : "let's change one thing - let's make the driver of the car look before pulling out." Or alternatively "let's change one thing - let's send the driver to jail for manslaughter". This sort of crap makes my blood boil.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Jeep Compass Euro NCAP ratings - 2 stars

Euro NCAP recently published their crash test results for the 2012 Jeep Compass - scoring a lowly 23% overall and an overall crash safety score of just 2 stars. This raises and interesting point: in this day and age when vehicles regularly get 4 and 5 star ratings (it's almost routine), it would seem a manufacturer would have to go out of their way to build a vehicle this poor. Chrysler must have known it would perform badly from early on in the design process. The design software used to do stress analysis on CAD designs would have shown up the failure before a single robot had touched a piece of sheet metal. Yet it would seem they carried on and manufactured the Compass anyway, which speaks volumes about how much contempt Chrysler has for its customers. Bear in mind they're one of the manufacturers who went cap-in-hand to the Bush regime looking for a bailout. In Chrysler's case it was $12.5bn (yes, with a "B") - a deal that ultimately cost the taxpayers $1.3bn in lost costs. You'd think given their patchy history, Chrysler would be a little more careful with their products but it seems they have learned nothing. Not only is the Compass just plain ugly (and trust me, having owned two Honda Elements, I'm well qualified to talk about ugly vehicles), but now it turns out it's less than stellar in a crash. The real question now is how much will it sell? Jeep die-hards will likely overlook the Euro NCAP ratings and buy one anyway, but people who do their research and put stock and trust in the ratings of agencies like Euro NCAP, the IIHS or the NHTSA will steer well clear of it.
Another interesting point to note : the IIHS haven't rated the 2012 Compass and the NHTSA have only rated it for rollover, not crash safety. The last time either organisation tested it for crash performance was 2007 where it scored 4 and 5 stars. How is it possible that the scores in the US are so high and those in Europe are so low? Is it because of design changes between 2007 and 2012 (it's been made worse) or is it because of differences in the testing processes? Jeep Compass Euro NCAP 2 star crash rating

Monday, April 23, 2012

EPA Approves E15 petrol for the USA

Back in February 2011, the US House overwhelmingly voted to block the sale of E15 fuel in America. For the uninitiated, E15 is a version of petrol that is blended with ethanol - in this case 15% ethanol. The argument for E15 fuel is that it will help reduce the US's dependence on foreign oil. However it comes with a downside - it's corrosive and will only work in some vehicles sold after 2007 - earlier models will have problems with the seals and fuel lines. (The EPA claim the restriction is for vehicles sold after 2001). In addition, it reduces the overall efficiency of internal combustion engines. Because E15 has less energy per volume than E10 (what we're forced to use right now) and just plain old petrol, that translates to lower gas mileage. Lower gas mileage results in more fill-ups which means more money for the big oil companies. Many car manufacturers have gone so far as to say that if you do use E15, you'll void your factory warranty on fuel-line components and the engine itself.
If you prefer not to use the current E10 blend (and who would blame you), you can find a list of gas stations near you (if you live in the US) that still sell unpolluted petrol. I know in my current VW, when I run it on unblended premium, I get an average 2.5mpg more than with E10 and the engine runs a lot smoother. Find the list here, but be warned it gets smaller by the day: Pure gas. You can read the EPA press release on E15 here: EPA approves E15 gasoline.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Daytime running lights - yet another problem.

If you've read my blog for any length of time you'll know one of my biggest pet hates on modern cars is daytime running lights - DRLs. They're mandated in Canada and parts of the US, and now Europe is getting in on the action. The argument used is that they make cars more visible in the daytime and thus reduce accident rates, but this has proven to be untrue both through statistical analysis and actual accident reporting. In the case of motorbikes it actually is true but that's because bikes are smaller and easily overlooked by car drivers, and having a headlight on helps draw attention to them. For cars, it makes no difference. In fact, for road users in general, DRLs make driving more dangerous. For motorbikes, it has made them invisible again because now motorbike headlights are lost in a sea of car headlights. For other road users, we now all have to put up with badly aligned headlights shining into our eyes at all times of day and night, and whilst it's not as intrusive in the daytime, it certainly is unnecessary. But the real gotcha here is, once again, what it does to the drivers themselves. Once people get used to DRLs being on all the time, they naturally assume that when the lights are on, the lights are on. But they're not - not all of them. Proper DRLs are what we used to call parking lights, or sidelights - low wattage bulbs designed to help be seen, rather than to see by. Fake DRLs (like what you'll find on so many cars now) are simply the low-beam main headlights being forced on. In all cases though, DRLs do NOT turn on any other lights. Now picture the scenario when you hit bad weather, especially on a motorway. All the drones see the poor visibility but think "I'm fine - my daytime running lights are on". Great - but those are low-wattage lights at the front, and importantly - nothing at the rear, meaning essentially that their cars are now completely invisible in the sort of heavy spray you get in rain on a motorway. And because everyone's been fooled into thinking that their lights are on, the very last thing on their mind is to actually turn their lights on using the controls provided for them in their cars. The same is true for foggy conditions, and dusk and dawn conditions. Millions of cars, driving around basically completely unlit because their drivers have been lulled into a false sense of security by the lunacy of daytime running lights.
Ban them. Ban them now. Or if they can't be banned, do what I did and hack your car to turn them off. In my car, when my light switch is in the 'off' position, it now actually means my lights are off. Instead of partly on.
"But Chris", I can hear you typing, "that's why we have auto lights!"
Don't get me going on auto lights again. I've already blogged about that particular issue before. If you're truly incapable of doing something as simple as turning the lights on when the conditions demand it, you really have no place driving a car.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Used cars

Following on from last week's post about the pitfalls of buying a new car, this week I'm talking about used cars. So you don't have cash running out of your pockets, you don't want the depreciation hit and you simply can't afford a new car. Big deal - millions of other people are in the same boat as you. My first 5 or 6 cars were all used cars and in reality more people buy used than new so how do you steer around the minefield that is the used car market? There's a few options nowadays - used car lots, manufacturer used car programs, auctions, ex-rental cars and ex-fleet cars. Manufacturer programs are pretty good - you'll pay a premium for them but they normally come with some form of guarantee. Used car lots are THE place to get a good price but you'll almost always be buying without any warranty so the onus is on you to make sure you know as much about the car as you can before you drive off with it. If it breaks once you've driven off, you're pretty much on your own. Auctions are interesting but you'll be competing with car dealers looking to buy stuff to re-sell and if you're not careful you'll end up paying over the odds because you'll get carried away with the whole atmosphere. My tip for this would be to go and look at ex-fleet and ex-rental cars, and I'll tell you why. Fleet cars (corporate or company cars) are maintained to within an inch of their life. Anying - anything that needs attention gets sorted out quickly so whilst the mileage will be high, the car ought to be in bloody good condition. And high mileage isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'd sooner buy a used car with 60,000 motorway miles on it than 10,000 city miles because the engine will have been humming along mostly in a low-stress state and will be nicely bedded in (most engines don't properly loosen up until about 30,000 miles anyway). Ex-fleet cars typically also come with a 3 month warranty on most things - not as comprehensive as a new manufacturer one but better than nothing. Ex-rental cars are something you might have never considered. Surely rental cars are beaten half to death, right? Again, generally speaking if anything goes wrong, the rental company gets it fixed pretty quickly. The mileage will be low - most rental cars are sold off after 20,000 miles or less. The car will have been driven by many drivers, not just one so there won't be any unusual wear and tear that can result from a single person with peculiar habits driving around for a couple of years. Best of all, ex-rental cars normally come with a 12 month warranty, and will normally come with fresh oil, fresh coolant, new tyres and if it has an automatic gearbox, fresh transmission fluid. If the brakes are more than 50% worn, they'll typically come with new brakes too. Those are all the bits that count and getting new stuff there is worth it. The downside is that the car will be a little beaten up. The interior won't be in the best condition and the bodywork will have scratches, dings and dents on it from parking-lot door dents to scratches on the roof where people have put bags and stuff up there then dragged them off.
When it comes to the price for a used car, the same holds true as does for new cars. You MUST do your research first. There are dozens of used car price evaluators around on the interwebs that will guide you as to what the car is worth. You'll be able to figure out roughly how much the dealer paid when they bought it either from auction or in a trade, and from that you'll be able to decide for yourself how much to pay. Again - as with new cars, if you come across a dealer that won't play ball, walk away. There are dozens of other dealers and thousands of other used cars.

Monday, April 2, 2012

New or used?

If you've ever bought a car (and hopefully if you're reading my site, you have) you'll have always come that point in your decision as to whether to buy new or used. New is nice - you get a shiny new toy, unsullied by any other driver. You take it in the pants on depreciation though - the second the ink dries on the contract of sale, you lose 30% of the value. Used means you don't have the depreciation problem but you have the uncertainty of the car's history. So what are the pitfalls and benefits of both? This week I'll deal with new cars. Next week we'll look at used.
The biggest pitfall of a new car is that the dealer will see money signs floating all around you and will attempt to get you to buy an extended warranty and pay top dollar for the car. The extended warranty is a complete no-no unless it's a manufacturer extension AND you're planning to keep the car for 5 years or more. But what about the price? A new car is expensive, right? Yes, but don't ever pay what the dealer is asking or you're a fool, and you know the saying about a fool and their money. So how do you get a good deal on the price? Research is the answer. Here in the US, there are companies like Consumer Reports and FightingChance that offer new car pricing reports. It's been a while since I lived in the UK so I don't know if there are places there that do the same thing, but these are well worth the money you'll spend on them - typically less than $20. But you need to buy them very close to when you're ready to commit to the sale because they contain information that is normally only relevant for a couple of weeks. They'll contain info on what the various deals are in place for dealers around the country (special financing rates, cashback deals etc), as well as the holdback amount. Holdback is what the dealer is paid by the manufacturer for every sale, and it's why when you buy "below invoice" the dealer still makes money. Most importantly, these reports will tell you what the true invoice price is - how much the dealer paid for the car you're about to buy from them. Knowing this, and knowing the holdback amount, you can normally beat a dealer down in price. For example when I bought a Honda Element in 2009, the sticker price was $24,070. The pricing report I bought showed that the Honda invoice to my dealer was $22,398, that the dealer would get a $1,200 holdback and that for another 13 days, there was a dealer incentive to sell Elements that resulted in Honda corporate giving them an additional $900 per vehicle sold. Finally it also showed that the dealers could go as low as 1.1% on finance rates (whereas they would only advertise 2.9%). What does all that mean? If I'd walked on to the dealer lot and paid $24,070 and taken out a 2.9% loan, they'd have known I was a total idiot. (Only idiots go and buy a new car "on impulse"). Between the documentation fees, the markup, the holdback and the manufacturer incentive, the dealer would have made $4,022 profit which is insane in this day and age. Over the life of the loan I would have paid $1200 in interest. Because I knew how much they were getting back from Honda, and because I knew the loan rates they could do, I actually walked out the door having paid $20,500 with a loan that only cost me $357 in interest. Honda corporate made $200 off me, and the dealer made zero off me but ultimately received $2,100 in profit from Honda.
See how it works? Research is absolutely the key, and if you get a stubborn dealer who thinks it's still the nineties and tries to bully you into paying stupid money with high pressure sales tactics, just walk out. There are plenty of other dealers who will work with you on a decent price and very often you'll find a dealer who appreciates that you've done your homework because it means a quick sale to you with very little messing about and they can then get on an roll another punter once you've left.
Of course the downside of that story is that the instant I turned the key in the ignition, the car depreciated to $14,350 but that's why next week's post is about used cars.