Monday, December 30, 2013

Why the contempt for the police?

A couple of weeks ago I published a post on speeding and it garnered a few emails asking why I had such contempt for the police. I'll tell you why - and it's a three-pronged reason.
I've only had cause to deal with the police force directly on three occasions in my life.
The first time was when I was a kid - our house in the Netherlands was burgled when we were on holiday. When we came home and found a lot of stuff gone, and a busted back door, the police came out to have a look. We gave them serial numbers for big-ticket items like stereos, bicycles etc, and their parting comment was along the lines of "we'll file this but we have more important things to do than worry about burglary". Naturally none of our stuff was ever found.
The second time was when a woman knocked my off my motorbike on a roundabout getting off the M25 at Junction 9 in England. Never found the bitch - she was driving a red Peugeot, and sideswiped me from the left. She knew she'd done it - I was on the hood of her car before she dumped me on to the road and drove off. Of course nobody stopped, so I collected my still-rideable but very bent motorbike and drove to the nearest police station (before cellphones were common) and verbatim, this is what they told me : "Even if we did find her, it would be your word against hers as you have no witnesses." Never mind that even the most retarded forensic analyst would have been able to match the shape of my body to the dent on her hood, and the position of the crack in her windscreen to my helmet, and the paint from her car to the paint on my left leg, boot and motorbike frame. No - it would be her word against mine, and as such, they didn't want to even try to find her. I know the reason why, of course. I was a motorcyclist, and the UK police have a well-documented bias against motorcyclists.
The third incident was a few years ago when an American cop pulled me over because - and again this is verbatim what he said - "it sounded like you were speeding". I asked if he had radar or photographic evidence, and of course he didn't, but then he told me he didn't need it because he was a police officer, and that his word would trump mine when it went to court. He wanted me to sign and accept a ticket, so I refused on the grounds of zero evidence, told him to take it to court and left him with "good luck on that". I never heard anything back, obviously.
So yes I understand they do a hard job, and yes I know we should appreciate them, and yes I know it's trendy and hip to hate the police, and yes I know its 'a few bad apples'. But when your only three true experiences with them have been with arrogant pricks - all 'bad apples', you start to take a pretty dim view of the entire establishment.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Seriously? You're reading my blog this close to Christmas?

I'm an atheist but even I enjoy Christmas. Go and be with your family. Eat too much, give extravagant gifts and hope someone buys you a Porsche 911 for Christmas. I didn't even type this today - I typed it three weeks ago and scheduled it to publish today. Get off the damn computer and go and do something Christmas-y :)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Speeding myths again

Come the winter months, come the tired old mantra about speeding being the cause of so many accidents. Every time you see a police officer interviewed on TV, they always say the same thing: "slow down".
Ok folks - look - speeding is not the prime cause of accidents. Not in any weather, not by a considerable margin, not by any way of looking at the numbers that you choose. Generally speaking, in Europe, America and Australia, speeding is only the contributing factor in 7% of road accidents. Dangerous maneuvers, inattention, failure to maintain control, "pedestrian entered roadway without looking", "looked but didn't see", drunk driving, drug driving, distracted (cellphone) driving, and mechanical failure all cause more accidents than speeding. This is backed up by dozens of studies done across the globe, all of which get buried really quickly every time they're published. Why? Because it's easier to catch and prosecute someone for speeding than it is to prosecute for dangerous or distracted driving.
Automated speed cameras are designed to raise revenue with very little financial outlay. They are impartial, unbiased, have zero subjectivity, and if the local cops are a bit bent, are easy to hack to issue tickets to people driving at the speed limit (happens a lot - google it).
What do I mean by subjectivity? It's OK to cut in and out of lanes, dodging trucks and pissing off everybody else in pouring rain, with bald tyres and one headlight out, because the police generally can't catch you, and won't catch you when you're doing that. And no automated system can. But zip past a speed camera on a completely empty three-lane road at 90mph at 2:30am and cha-ching! Cash for the police, points on your licence. Which is the most dangerous? Obviously not the empty road at zero-dark-thirty.
Study upon study has found that speed cameras do not deter drivers, and in some cases actually make the roads more dangerous. Even at the most optimistic level, they don't make any road any safer, and nothing illustrates this more than getting a speeding fine in the mail. I got one last year from Switzerland. I was there in December on business in a rented car, and in February I received a fine here at home in the US, to be paid to the Swiss police. Issuing a fine through the mail does not make a road safer. All it does is raise money. The worst part in this particular case was that I wasn't even driving - I wasn't even in the country. It was a corporate rental with two names on the rental receipt - mine being at the top - but my colleague (the second-named driver) was driving it as he stayed on an extra week.
The take-away from all this is simple : better driver training, more attention behind the wheel, less distractions and steeper fines and prosecution for dangerous driving. That will cut accident rates. But those are all expensive and complicated to implement, and don't raise cold hard cash. So we have to deal with the idiotic mantra that "speed kills" (it doesn't), so for the time being, buy a radar detector and/or GPS speedtrap locator (or use Waze on your smartphone), drive as quickly and safely as the traffic allows, and be vigilant.
You can find my entire page on this topic here : Speeding facts vs fiction, including links to various reports on how dangerous speed cameras are.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Winter tyres and why you should use them

Up here in the northern hemisphere we're well into the cold season now, and I do get asked from time to time what my thoughts are on snow tyres. I've posted about this before but it's timely to mention it again.
Snow tyres are denoted by an M+S sign on the sidewall, or an embossed snowflake symbol. They differ from all-season or summer tyres in two main ways. First, the rubber compound is much softer, and second, the tread has a lot more siping in it (the thin cuts in the tread). The softer rubber compound means the tyre can maintain its flexibility at much lower temperatures, and the extra siping allows the tyre to have a lot more surface area for gripping loose surfaces. Packed snow is where you'll really notice a difference with winter tyres. Whilst they won't perform like summer tyres on a dry road, they'll outperform any summer or all-season setup with ease. 4-wheel drive or all-wheel-drive isn't enough in these sorts of conditions, and when it comes to braking, it doesn't matter if you have 4WD or AWD - what matters is whether or not the tyres can cope.
Where I live we regularly get snowy, icy winters, and even when the main roads have been plowed, the side streets are often a mess of rutted, packed down snow. For me, it makes complete sense to have snow tyres. But what about if you live somewhere like England where you only really get snow on the roads a couple of times a year? Snow tyres are actually still a worthwhile investment because they're also much better in lower temperature conditions. So even if the road isn't covered in snow, if it's cold and wet - in icy winter's morning in the UK for example - there's still a lot of benefit to be had.
The one thing to be careful of with snow tyres is the time of year. Generally speaking, unless you live somewhere with extremes of weather, you shouldn't run these tyres much after April, or before November. In warmer weather, the soft compound will wear extremely quickly. It's not unsafe, but it is burning money for no reason (the extra tread complexity and grip reduces your mpg). The ideal setup is a set of snow tyres for the winter months, and regular tyres for the rest of the year. It might seem expensive but think about this : the winter tyres will last 4 or 5 winters because they're not getting much use. So whilst paying for them this year will cost you some cash, for the next 4 years you've basically got 'free' winter tyres.
For most drivers, the idea of extra tyres for one season is a really hard sell. But just try it. I guarantee once you've done it once, you'll never go back to using all-season, or summer tyres in the winter months.

Monday, December 2, 2013

To those who think texting and driving is somehow OK....

Some claim this ad is sensationalist and violent, and shouldn't be shown to children. If anything I think it understates the accident itself because people who are cossetted in their 'safe' cars seem to have lost sight of the fact that accidents DO happen. They think that texting and general cellphone use whilst driving is OK because they think that they can multitask. They're wrong. Until this message gets across to people, and until the police and local authorities actually start penalising people for doing it, ads like this are the best shot of trying to get people to understand.
Yes, it's a re-post, but it's been 4 years since I posted it last, and given the sheer idiocy of drivers with their cellphones nowadays, I thought it was worth bringing up again.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The one-eyed monster

Come the darker commutes, come the people who are so lazy they can't even change a light bulb. You don't typically notice it until September time, but they're there. The one-eyed monsters - cars running on one sidelight and one full-beam. I've never really understood this. The drivers obviously know one light is out because they're trying to compensate by using the other light on high beam. Day after day, week after week I pass the same four or five cars like this. Why can't they stop at the car place (that they drive past every day, incidentally) and buy a bulb for less than the cost of a fast food lunch? It would take 5 minutes to fix the problem and they'd be able to see much better and wouldn't be pissing off all the other drivers on the road.
I think I know the answer to this. For a long time there was the myth of the unchangeable headlight bulb. "Oh you can't change the bulb - you need a whole new headlight" was the story. That might have been true for one model year of one Talbot made at some point in the 70's, but in all the cars I've worked on in the last 25 years, I've yet to see a single one with a 'sealed' headlight unit.
The modern equivalent, of course, is that "it's so difficult to change the bulb that you need the dealer to do it". When people say that, what they mean is "I'm too damn lazy to try to figure it out". Yes it might involve a scraped knuckle, or undoing a screw to move a piece of plastic out of the way. Yes you might get dirty hands, and yes, reaching around to get the bulb swapped over could be awkward but it's very do-able.
Let's put it like this: unless you've had to change the right side headlight bulb in a 1985 Audi ur-Quattro, you don't really have a leg to stand on in the "too difficult" debate. For the record, the air filter box had to come out to swap the bulb on that side. During manufacture, the box was put in before the engine so the lower bolt was only accessible from underneath the car with a very long ratchet wrench. In addition, the fuel injection system was bolted to the top of the filter cover, so that had to come off first. To get that off you had to loosen the injector rail and to loosen the injector rail you had to take off the cold-start injector and the rocker cover vapour scavenger hose. Once all that was done you still only had about a 30% change of being able to change the bulb. The only true solution was to take off the intake manifold too.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Diminished value

Regular readers might remember the unfortunate circumstances surrounding my new car back in the summer. Three weeks after taking delivery of it, a woman who was paying more attention to the kids in the back of her minivan than she was to - you know - driving, ran into me causing a wreck. It was a fixable wreck, fortunately, but about the biggest issue on my mind at the time was this : the CarFax report for my car was now going to reflect an accident, and thus when I eventually come to sell or trade it, it's going to be worth less.
So I did a little research and there's a term used by the insurance companies called 'diminished value' or 'diminishment of value'. It reflects what the insurance company deems to be the difference in value of the car before and after the accident. Ie. when you go to sell it - that loss you make should be covered by a diminished value claim.
I'm not sure what it's like in Europe - it's been a decade since I lived there - but in the US it's only law in certain states that the insurance companies pay out these sorts of claims. Where I live, it's not law, so I figured I'd ask, expecting to get nothing. I called the woman's insurance company right up front and asked about it and they said they'd investigate a diminished value claim once all the repairs had been made and I was back in my vehicle. True to their word, a week after my car was returned to me, I had a call and they said they were processing the claim, despite not being legally obliged to do so. I think in my case it was likely because the car was essentially brand new. Either way, they told me it would be a percentage of the cost of the repair.
The week after that, they called me again and gave me the valuation. I'm not going to tell you what it was, but I'm more than happy with it and it's four times what I was expecting once I discovered they were likely to fill the claim. I had to sign a release, meaning that I cannot pursue them for any more damages based on this particular accident and claim, but that's standard stuff.
So what did I learn? Well at one point in the process I did actually speak to a lawyer to ask if it was worth pursuing the diminished value claim, and he advised me not to bother because it would be an uphill battle in this state. That's why I was prepared to get nothing, so when I did get a payment, I was more than happy.
I feel at this point I really ought to mention the insurance company given that they get nothing but a bad reputation : State Farm. In my case they dealt with me fairly and politely and didn't quibble about anything. I didn't particularly want any of this to happen, but in the end, it all appears to have worked out nicely. In reality, that's all you want from an insurance claim.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Guest post : things you must know while selecting an engine oil for your car.

While choosing engine oil for your car, there are some things that you must know. These are detailed below.

What type of oil you have been using
• In case you have an old car that has been running on single-weight oil for a long time, it will have built up some sludge as single-weight oil does not have detergents in them.
• If you suddenly change to multi-viscosity oil, the detergent in it will clean and release all that sludge in your car engine and the gook will begin to slosh and really foul everything up.
• Therefore, it would be better to continue using the same single-weight oil unless you are ready to first have your engine cleaned before switching to multi-viscosity oil. When switching, it’s good to get a competent mechanic to do it. Otherwise, your car’s engine will be taken apart during cleaning and then reassembled poorly and problems will begin.
• Lastly, as long as your car engine is running well, it’s ideal to stick to the old oil you have been using.

How old is your car oil? How many kilometers have you driven it?
• If your engine has been running for many miles on 30-40 single-weight oil, multi-weight oil is not going to be adequately thick to lubricate the worn engine parts which will have become smaller due to the tear creating wide gaps between them.
• To keep these gaps well lubricated, switch to heavier single oil as you engine becomes older and begins to run burn up oil more quickly. For example, if you have been operating on a 30-weight oil, change to a 40 weight especially during the summer when oil seems to thin out first.

Check out your manufacturer engine manual
• While choosing engine oil for your car, make sure to select one of the brands that the user manual recommends. This is particular so if your car is relatively new and has not had a lot of repairs. The manufacturer knows what is best for the engine they manufacture.
• Also note that using anything else other than the recommended oil may invalidate your new car warranty.

The weather conditions
• In case you live in a place where there are sharp changes in temperature, you should consider using multi-weight engine oil since it covers a wide range of temperature. You should ensure that you consult the viscosity charge to ensure that the oil you choose will flow properly even under extreme conditions.

Choice between synthetic and mineral oil
• One of the decisions that a driver is faced with while choosing engine oil is whether to use mineral or synthetic oil.
• Just to explain, mineral oil is the one that comes from clude oil and is manufactured at oil refineries. This type of oil is the oldest and it’s less expensive as compared to mineral oil.
• On the other hand, synthetic oil is more expensive because the chemical process through which they are manufactured is costly but they are beneficial since they allow for more miles to be driven before oil can be changed. It also more stable under high and low temperature as compared to synthetic oil.

It’s important to note that your driver plays a significant role while it comes to choosing the right oil for your car. Make sure your driver is competent and licensed by calling the dvla phone number.

Monday, November 4, 2013

When public transport just works.

A couple of weeks ago I talked about how pedestrianising the center of the Hague has made a tremendous difference to the place. This week I want to talk about abandoning cars in favour of public transport. If we go to the UK, we always rent a car. For most other countries we visit, my wife and I tend to rely on public transport and Holland is no different. We made sure we had one of their OV Chipkaarts each (like the Oyster card in the UK) and kept them topped up, and just used them on all forms of public transport. Tap on, tap off. Buses, trams, trains. Simple. The Dutch public transport network is so vast that it's actually difficult to find anywhere in the country that you can't get to whilst using it. So much so that I just expect it to work now. When we pick a tourist attraction to visit, or some friends to see, I expect to be able to get there using public transport. In Holland, there's a couple of smartphone apps (9292 and NS) that help plan routes and they're always accurate. The NS (national railways) app is brilliant because it keeps you up-to-date on timetable changes and delays. The trains typically run every 12 minutes. Trams every 6 to 7 and buses every 10 to 15 minutes.
In the UK by comparison, the roads are choked with cars, so buses are a waste of time. The trains run so infrequently that they're crowded, miserable hell-holes to be in, and there are no trams. London of course has the tube, which is fantastic if not a little expensive. But in the long run, I'd still opt for a car in England.
Hong Kong has a vast subway system, as does Singapore, making both those regions eminently accessible to anyone without a car too. France has a great subway system around Paris and the nationwide TGV high speed trains. Japan has the admittedly overcrowded subways and bullet trains. Spain has TGVs.
Back home in America? Car crazy, baby. Our nearest bus stop is only 2 minutes away - which is great - but the buses run every 30 minutes. ie. they're pointless. Then nearest tram is only two miles away by bus, but then you've got the 30 minute bus schedule to contend with and the trams only run every 15 minutes. There is a train, somewhere. I think. I hear it every now and then.
Would I give up my car for public transport? Over here in the US, no way. In France, maybe. In Holland probably. In the UK, not ever. Ideally I suspect the middle ground is less consumption and materialism. A family could likely get along with a single car and reliance on public transport in most European countries. In the US an the UK, two cars or more per family are almost a requirement. In the far east, bicycles, mopeds, buses and trains would seem to be more prevalent.
So next time you travel, think twice before booking that rental car - there might be a better option.

Monday, October 28, 2013

UK Driving Test Tips

Taking your driving test can be an intimidating experience – there’s so much to think about, and you’ll naturally be keen to pass so you can buy a used car (or even a new one if you’re very lucky) and finally get on the road. Plus you might well be worried about the potential expense and embarrassment that will come if you fail and end up having to take your test again…
Don’t fret – here’s some tips on how to pass your test first time.
1. Be certain that you’re ready… When you’re learning to drive, you’ll finds there’s no shortage of people with an opinion on when exactly you should take your test, but, ultimately, that decision lies with you. Everyone learns at a different speed, so don’t measure yourself against others – book your test only when you feel totally ready to take the plunge.

2. …And don’t let worries or nerves get to you It’s natural to feel a little anxious about taking your test, but listening to horror stories about what can go wrong won’t help. Focus on channelling your energy into performing at your best instead.

3. Swot up Don’t just forget all that valuable stuff you learned for your theory test the moment you pass it; a good understanding of the Highway Code sets you in good stead, so keep reminding yourself of the rules of the road and why they’re in place as you continue to learn to drive.

4. Practise on all types of road and in all conditions We all know full well that the British weather can be unpredictable, so you need to be ready for anything! Driving on different types of road in varying conditions will mean you’ll be as prepared as possible.

5. Do your research Check out the area around the test centre on Google Maps Street View. There’s no way to tell exactly what direction and how far your examiner will actually take you on the test, but having an overview of what’s around the corner – whether that be a roundabout, concealed entrance or give way line – could give you an advantage.

6. Take a ‘mock test’ Book a driving lesson close to your test date (even on the same day if you’d like), and see if it’s possible for a different instructor to give you a ‘mock test’ in the area surrounding the test centre. Just like a mock exam, it’s a good way to prepare for what’s to come.

7. Remember that you don’t have to tell everyone that you’re taking your test The more people that know you’re taking your test, the more pressure you’ll feel to succeed. You’re under no obligation to tell any of your friends or family that you’re taking your driving test, so if you’d rather keep it to yourself, do!

8. Keep cool It’s inevitable that you’ll encounter something unexpected during your test, whether it’s a problem with your car or another motorist getting in your way. Is something goes wrong, think logically and don’t panic – if you’ve studied and practised enough, you’ll know how best to deal with any situation. And remember that something going wrong won’t necessarily mean that you’ll fail your test as long as you handle whatever it is in a responsible and sensible way.

This post was produced by Molly who works on behalf of Used Car Dealership The Car They are based in Manchester, Sheffield and Wakefield and love working in a way that is hassle free for every customer.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pedestrianising city centers.

A few weeks ago I was on vacation in the Netherlands - the place where I grew up as a kid. The nearest big city to where I grew up is the Hague and when I was a kid, the center of the Hague was a giant fiasco of cars, mopeds, motorbikes, pedestrians, trams and buses. One intersection in particular was notoriously hairy. The city council put a long-term plan in place to solve the problem for once and for all by pedestrianising the center. In most cities this simply involves banning cars from the city center but continuing to allow everything else - like Oxford in the UK. This doesn't really work because it doesn't really solve the problem. In the Hague they went for it big-time. They dug two huge tunnels - one for the trams, leading from the central station, under the main shopping street and out the other side. And one for the cars, that circumvented the center completely. Bear in mind that most of the city is already below sea level so digging transportation tunnels in these conditions is sketchy at the best of times because the water table is basically at ground level to start with. But they persevered and the results - as we found out during our trip - are very impressive. It's worth noting that in general, the pecking order for transportation in the Netherlands is public transport, then bikes, then mopeds, then pedestrians, and at the bottom of the list, cars. So the new city center has a vast expanse of pedestrian-only access above ground, with a pair of large, well-appointed tram stations below the ground. Only a single, crossing tram route, was retained above ground and it can only enter the central crossroads via a controlled gate system that keeps all other forms of transport out. From a pedestrian point of view, this central area is a wonderful place to be now. No cars, the odd tram, one or two buses, dozens of bikes and hundreds of pedestrians. People loiter around chatting, wandering aimlessly through the area without a care in the world. The nearest street with cars is so far away that you can't even hear them so the center is also void of that constant background hum of internal combustion engines. I love my car, but when pedestrianisation is done properly, like it has been done in the Hague, it's a wonderful place to be without your car.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Guest post : The top US car shows

The US is a country that likes its cars. It's perhaps not surprising that there are lots of events throughout the US showcasing some of the best cars around.
This article will look at some of the car shows that take place that really should be a must-see for all car enthusiasts.
Note that although many of these have already taken place for 2013, it's worth noting that they're all annual events.

Hot August Nights Auction
When: August 8-10
Where: Reno, Tahoe
The Barrett-Jackson Auction Company hosts some of the most comprehensive classic car auctions in the world. Some of the world’s most valuable cars are up for auction this summer in Reno. The car list this year features some real automotive gems, cars with a visible heritage and others brimming with attitude.
This year, alongside the auction, Reno will also host the Barrett-Jackson Cup. Cash prizes are awarded to the best cars presented during the downtown Show-n-Shine, adding an atmosphere of competition and bringing the show to life even more.

Concours d’Elegance of America at St. Johns
When: July 28
Where: Plymouth, Michigan
Previously held at Oakland University’s Meadow Brook Hall, this year, America’s Concour’s d’Elegance will be held at St. Johns.
Showcasing over 300 cars, the Concours d’Elegance of America is a car show seeking to emulate the sophistication and style of some of the efforts of early French car manufacturers. As such, it’s a very classy affair, combining automobiles and fashion. From real antiques heralding the pioneering age of automotive transportation, to pre-war and post-war treasures right through to modern classics, the American Concours is littered with the finest cars.
At its heart, Concours is an exhibition of prestigious collectors' cars and classy vehicles. Alongside the unique selection of featured cars, there is also an automotive art exhibition, a vintage car auction, Mode du Concours and other social events.

Pebbles Beach Concours d’Elegance
When: August 18
Where: Monterey County, California
A further step up from the Concours d’Elegance of America is the Pebble Beach Concours. It’s a similar affair in its refined presentation of cars and its continual efforts to strive for style, yet it is somewhat more prestigious. At Pebble Beach you are likely to find cars valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and even some in the millions. The Concours is incredibly competitive, and cars are judged for authenticity, function, history and style.
Founded in the 1950s, the Concours has been going for quite some time and is a thoroughly established event, from post-war Ferraris to historic Bentleys. If you’re a real avid classic car collector this event is definitely worth a visit.

State Fair of Texas Auto Show
When: September 27-October 20
Where: Dallas, Texas
Since 1904, Texas has hosted an auto show, unveiling new vehicles as they came out. However, these days although the show has developed and evolved, it is still a place for exclusive international launches of new models, as well as home to many classic cars. As it has developed over the years it has also grown. Since the late 80s, the show has grown from 84,000 sq. ft. to over 300,000 sq. ft. making it a massive event to be a part of.
Unlike some other car shows, the Texas Auto Show lasts for almost a month, allowing you to really make the most of it without worrying about fitting everything in within a couple of days.
So for countless classics alongside unveilings of some of the latest production models, head to the Texas State Auto Show.

Woodward Dream Cruise
When: August 18
Where: Detroit
What started as a small fundraiser for a soccer field in Michigan has now developed into a nationally recognised event. In 1995, a small group of volunteers were hoping to relive the 50s and 60s by driving a host of classic cars down Woodward Avenue; America’s first highway. Over 250,000 people participated and the event has been brilliantly attended ever since.
It is the largest single day classic car event in the world, annually attracting over 1.5 million people and over 400,000 classic cars. Up and down Woodward Avenue you will see thousands upon thousands of classic cars, and the event really is a nostalgic throwback to the days of the 50s.
Although it is technically a single day event, there is a visible lead-up to the occasion, and the celebrations start early in the summer as classic cars are brought out onto the streets.

Conclusion There are various car events up and down the US, but some of the ones listed here really are world-class shows and for car enthusiasts simply shouldn’t be missed.

Author bio: The top US shows as agreed by the team at Dusty Cars, classic car restorers who specialise in Porsche and Cadillac restoration.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Traffic flows like water

A couple of weeks ago we were in the Netherlands, staying in an apartment on the 39th floor of one of the tallest buildings in the country. It had windows on three sides of the buildings so we could see down to the everyday goings-on below, and it was fascinating to watch the traffic on the main artery in and out of The Hague, as well as the ebb and flow of the traffic on the city streets. Not only the traffic, but the people - it all looked like fluid mechanics. The flow of people off the trams and into the station, how the flow of traffic was blocked as a tram turned across the road, only to resume like an emptying test tube once the road was clear. Getting a real-time high-altitude view of a city "at work" really emphasises how every driver, cyclist and pedestrian is part of a much larger system that operates like blood flowing around your body. One slow driver and it causes a blockage and a buildup of traffic behind. A clumsy move at an intersection causes the same thing but the pedestrians flow around either side of the blockage like water passing a rock in a stream. The regular cycle of the traffic lights letting blocks of traffic through is like the plug being opened and closed in a sink that is constantly filling with water. If I'd been thinking about this site and blog, I'd have taken a time-lapse video to illustrate the effect, but I wasn't, so - sorry about that - you'll just have to imagine it ....

Monday, September 30, 2013

What two cars would you pick?

A colleague and I were having a theoretical discussion a couple of weeks ago about ideal cars. The first question was the more difficult of the two - if your current car crapped out, was stolen, caught fire or somehow otherwise was taken away from you, what would you replace it with given your financial situation? Would it be a newer version of the same thing or something different? My colleage chose the same 2006 model year Mustang that he has right now, and would opt to do all the same modifications to it again (brakes, suspension, blower etc). I would likely go with an Audi Q3 or another Range Rover Evoque.
The second question was considerably easier. If money and practicality were taken out of consideration, what car would you buy in addition to any that you own? For me the answer started out as a toss-up between an Aston Martin Vanquish, and a Lamborghini Aventador or Gallardo LP560. The Aston Martin has it on looks every time, but the Lambos are both basically Audi technology underneath which ought to be bombproof. In the end it would have to be the Vanquish though. It has that 'x' factor for me. My colleague, by comparison, was a little more grounded and figured next year's all-wheel-drive Tesla S would be more his pace.
So how about it - what would you replace your daily driver with, and what's your money-no-object car?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Finding the right part in a hurry

If you tinker with your own car, you'll know how difficult it can be sometimes to find the right parts quickly. Do you go to the local store? Do you look online? When you're online, how do you know that company A has a better price than company B? Who actually has it in stock?
If you go the internet route, it's easy to waste half an hour or more banging through search sites and dealers trying to get to the bottom of that particular can of worms. But I recently came across a site that's a bit more clever than most. It's like an aggregated list of many online vendors. You put in the part you want (from the list of available vehicles and parts) and the site then shows you a whole load of online vendors who have it in stock, with the price. So you can click through and buy the part pretty easily from there. There might be other sites out there that do the same thing but I've not see one before, so this is still a novelty for me. It's American-market only right now.
The site has an odd name but I think it's worth checking out -

Monday, September 16, 2013

Living with Ford Sync

Having had Ford Sync in my long-term rental (while my car gets repaired - and yes - it IS a long time because a chunk of the parts were on back-order), I've grown to hate it in the same way that it seems most Ford owners hate it. It seems to offer so much but it is very poorly implemented.
Let's start with something simple : bluetooth audio. In the car I'm in, a 2013 Focus, you cannot default the Sync system to bluetooth audio. It always reverts to Line-In each time you start the ignition. My two previous cars have been able to do this - why can't Sync? So to choose bluetooth, I have to either navigate through 8 key presses (Sync->menu->play options->media options->source select->line-in->Bluetooth audio->enter) or I have to speak to the car. Which leads me to item #2:
Sync can't understand a damn thing I say. And it's not just me - I have an English accent so I always have trouble with voice controls (my iPhone has to be on 'Australia' before Siri can understand even the most basic command). If I have a car full of American friends, it can't understand any of them either. Not even simple commands. "Radio" - "I don't understand. Please speak a command". "RADIO!" - "Bluetooth audio, please speak a command." Ok let's try something else. "FM Radio" - "Phone - do you want to dial?". Erm. "No" - "Which number?"
And so on and so on. My natural bias against all things Microsoft would normally lead me to conclude that it's simply because it's Microsoft's Auto OS underneath that it has so many problems. But I'm not really sure. The bluetooth audio is sketchy at the best of times, so instead I tried a hardwired line-in instead, via the USB connector. At this point, I thought I was a genius. Hey - if it always defaults to Sync Line In, why not just use that? Aha. The Microsoft and Ford engineers are one step ahead of me, it seems, because when I do that, the system then defaults to CD, and it's the same 8 button presses to try to get the line-in to work.
There are other problems too. Sync is the first in-car system I've used where it can't or won't use the phone unless you upload all your contacts (the address book) into Sync. I've no idea why this is necessary - no other car I've owned or driven needs this. VW, Chevy, Audi, Fiat, Renault, Mercedes - all these can simply access the phone book via the bluetooth connection. But Ford Sync insists that your address book must be in it's system before you can use it. So for the most part, phone-syncing appears to be a hobbled system.
Then there's the display. My rental didn't have the full up 'touch' version but instead the version with the little LCD screen in the dash and the second one at the top of the radio stack. What's weird is that the cutout at the top of the radio stack could easily fit a screen the size of a modern smartphone - a Galaxy S4 fits in that hole just nicely. But instead it's a monochrome blue-and white display that is about 3 inches diagonal. This makes it awkward to get info off at a glance, and I find myself looking at it far longer than I should when driving to try to figure out what Sync is doing. Unlike a lot of other cars, these two displays are independent of each other, so for example you can't see the current audio or phone settings on the screen in front of you in the dash - only on the center screen.
I get the impression that Sync is one of those rushed projects that was pushed out the door to meet a deadline, rather than when it was ready. Driven by SAP or process flow, or some other management buzzword, it appears that Ford sacrificed usability in favour of ticking a box that read "project completed".
All this is a very great shame because the Focus is a pretty damn good car, even in neutered rental car form.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Target rich environments and breaking the law.

For the last couple of weeks, I've talked about how observation and attentiveness are pretty much dead on the roads today. This week I'm going to talk specifically about pedestrians and cyclists. I don't know what it's like where you live, but where I live they both have very little sense of self-preservation.
In parking lots, for example, it's entirely normal here to see pedestrians just walk out in front of traffic assuming the traffic will stop. For some reason, they can't make the mental association that just because it's the parking lot of a supermarket or big box store, doesn't mean it's not a road. For motorists, these areas have become target-rich environments. I'd like to say it's the old "a few bad apples" analogy but around here it really isn't. It's the majority of pedestrians. It's extremely unusual to see someone stop at the side of the road now, the point where if I'm on foot and I stop at the side of the road, approaching motorists get extremely confused. They stop, causing a blockage in traffic, and then attempt to wave me across the road. I'm not that stupid - a stopped line of traffic around here means someone two cars back is about to decide they shouldn't be waiting for anything.
The other biggie with pedestrians is when they do use the traffic lights, but cross on red. I admit I've nearly hit three pedestrians in the last ten years because of this. I've been waiting at the light and my light goes green, so I set off, suddenly to be presented with a pedestrian who pops out from next to the truck/bus/tram next to me, running across the road on a red light. Sadly, I've also seen people do this and get hit by the car next to me. Darwinism at work.
Speaking of red lights, in Utah they recently passed a change of law that allows cyclists to go through red lights if they first stop and check the intersection is clear. Obviously this has been interpreted by the majority of cyclists as "don't need to stop". Several weeks ago, on my morning commute, a cyclist did this to me when I was on my motorbike. He cruised into the intersection from my right, not looking at me, but looking up the road the other way at the oncoming bus. Seeing this, he stopped right in front of me. I went as far left as possible without going into the lane with the oncoming bus and went around him, clipping his front wheel with my right footpeg and knee on the way past. The next morning, I saw the aftermath of the same thing. Apparently he'd tried to do it again but on that day, there was a silver Subaru Forester instead of me on my bike. The paramedics were scraping him off the road as I went by.
Frankly, allowing one set of road uses to have amnesty when it comes to red lights doesn't make any sense. If we're all using the road, shouldn't we all be using the same rules? Cyclists constantly complain about how they're treated by drivers in general, but then they abuse the law to the extent where people just don't care any more. Hopping on and off kerbs - playing car, then pedestrian, then car, then pedestrian. Not stopping at stop signs. Not stopping at red lights. And then when they do something stupid and get themselves injured, it's the motorist to blame. Because apparently, it's our responsibility to not hit wayward pedestrians and cyclists, but it's not their responsibility to employ common sense, obey the rules like the rest of us, and invoke some basic self preservation.
So do I break road rules? Of course. We all do. Show me someone who says they abide by every rule of the road and I'll show you an outright liar. Like most drivers, I've been known to cruise into an intersection after the light has turned orange. And once out of suburban areas, I regularly break speed limits that are set, in my opinion, unnecessarily slow. Seriously - a 45mph limit on a two lane mountain road with no traffic? Are you kidding? The difference is that I employ observation and self-preservation and I do my best not to get in anyone else's way. I try my best to ensure that when I break the law, I'm the only one affected. Does that make me a bad driver? Maybe, but at least I'm not a liar.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The results of lack of observation.

Last week I talked about the lack of observation that plagues drivers nowadays. This week, I'll tell you how my own painful experience relates to that. Remember back in February I ordered a new car, and took delivery of it four weeks ago? Well - a week ago, an inattentive driver caused an accident. So I've been waiting for my car since February, and three weeks after taking delivery, had my first traffic accident in 27 years of driving.
So what happened? Pretty simply really. I was driving along a road that exits a mall, with parking lots either side. A lady pulled out from the parking lot on my left without looking, hit the back-left wheel of my car, and that spun me enough to change my direction to cross oncoming traffic (fortunately there wasn't any), and by the time I'd come to a stop, I'd gone over a small flower bed and into a row of parked cars.
Exactly how this happened is a mystery to me, because she didn't start to pull out until I was actually in front of her. It's not like she pulled out early and cut me off - if that had been the case, I'd have been buried in the side of her minivan. No - she literally drove straight into the side of my car while I was in front of her. I know she kept telling me she didn't see me - which is an excuse I'm used to hearing when riding my motorbike - but a big red car? Didn't see me? How is that even possible?
You might ask 'but Chris - what about YOUR observation? Why didn't you avoid the accident?'. Good question. Easy to answer - she wasn't moving when I started past the intersection, so I didn't see anything to avoid. It came as a hell of a surprise when she ran into me - to start with I had no idea what the hell had happened. That took a moment to sink in, I got on the brakes, and by that time, I was already over the flower bed and that's all she wrote.
So far, the insurance companies aren't willing to write off my car, probably because of the cost of a new one. But the repair bill is now up over $10,000 just for my car alone. Being a brand new model, and being from Europe, I now have to wait at least a month for parts - likely more. I face the spectre of being without it largely until Christmas now. Her insurance company admitted liability for the whole thing, probably because she actually admitted liability on the police report.
So what's next? The airbags didn't go off, so as far as the current inspection and teardown goes, it looks like everything is repairable. The unibody seems untwisted and the crash frame at the front appears untouched. The most damage was to the wheel where she hit me - it destroyed the suspension naturally. But all the stuff up front needs replacing too from where I ended up buried in the parked cars. Bumper, radiator, lights, support structures, rebar etc. But what about diminished value? The car was 3 weeks and 1 day off the lot, with 700 miles on it. I didn't even have a registration plate for it - it was still on delivery tags. At the very least I'm going to pursue her insurance company for some financial compensation there, because I'll never get market value for this car if I have to sell it now it has a crash on it's history. Then there's the special circumstances. A custom-built car, to my specification, that I had to wait four months for? Potentially another three months without it now? I'd like to know what her insurance company has to say about that too.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A little observation goes a long way.

It never ceases to amaze me how many drivers can't see any further than the end of their own hood. Observation and adaptation, it seems, are dying art forms when it comes to the act of driving. It's become a regular occurrence now for me to see people pull up behind a car that is stopped with its hazard lights on, and then wait through two or three changes of traffic light before they realise that the stopped car isn't going anywhere. Honestly I'm not sure if it's a lack of observation or a lack of common sense. Either way, what normally happens is that they get tired of waiting and then reverse into the traffic behind them, or pull out to go around without looking in their mirrors first. Again - observation.
The same thing happens with target-fixated motorists too. I regularly see drivers follow buses to the side of the road and stop behind them (because the bus is stopping to pick someone up). I've even seen cars follow a bus into a proper bus stop before.
When I'm travelling along a largely empty road with no traffic behind me, it's now quite normal for people to pull out from the side roads in front of me, instead of waiting the extra two seconds to go behind me where there's no traffic. In Utah this is doubly bad because around here people are deathly afraid of acceleration. So when I say "pull out" what I mean is they take their foot off the brake and let the automatic gearbox and idling engine slowly amble them out into the main road, thus becoming an obstruction.
The natural progression of this inattentiveness normally leads to accidents. The most common one around here is people who can't see or hear (apparently) the large red, white and blue trams with bright headlights and loud horns that operate in our streets. The evening news is regularly filled with stories of people trying to turn left in front of moving trams, or trying to race them across intersections. OK in a car it's a little harder to see out and hear the tram maybe, but you'd think that most people would see them as they drive past, before turning in front of them. You'd be wrong. Similarly, pedestrians and cyclists also seem to have a great deal of trouble with trams too. One thing's for sure - the tram never loses.
Finally of course, observation when it comes to pedestrians using phones and iPods isn't a dying art. It's just dead. You just have to assume, as a driver, that these morons are going to step into traffic in front of you without looking. They don't need pedestrian crossings - anywhere will do. And coupled with the increasing inattentiveness of the drivers, you can see where that normally ends up.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Unintended acceleration = driver error?

I've said this before on my blog, and I'll say it again. I don't believe there's any such thing as "unintended acceleration" in any car made today. Or last year. Or any year for that matter. As far as I can tell, it's "driver had foot mashed on accelerator". The US DoT has a more delicate name for it - 'pedal misapplication'. In November last year, a video showed up that claimed to be hard evidence of unintended acceleration as the video shows a driver ramming a house twice. But careful inspection of the video reveals some very telling evidence - the driver never once tried to use the brake - the brake lights never come on. This particular Toyota has a hard link from the pedal to the brakes - not drive-by-wire - so there's no "electrical gremlins" that can be blamed. Worse still (for the driver at least), Toyota pulled the data from the car's event data recorder (the black box) and showed that, as the video also shows, the brake pedal was never touched. The EDR did however show what I think we all know - the driver mashed their foot on the accelerator for both "events" and that was the cause of the crash shown in the video.
Frankly I was ambivalent about EDRs in cars until I read about this case, but now I think they might be a good idea. People are too happy nowadays to blame their own stupidity on something else, and "unintended acceleration" is the latest symptom of this. The drivers simply won't accept that it was their fault, and so blame all sorts of mysterious things like stuck accelerators, cars driving off on their own, brakes not working etc. So far, in all the cases Toyota have investigate, and all those cases the IIHS and DOT have investigated, I don't recall reading about a single one was caused by problems with the vehicle accelerator or braking systems.
The Noriko Uno case - currently still in the courts - is tragic for sure. She died when her Camry hit a telephone pole at 100 miles an hour. What's curious is that all the press stories tell of how the shifted into neutral, pulled on the emergency brake and did all manner of other things to try to stop before dying. Question : if she died, how do we know what she did? For the car to not slow down at all means either she did none of those things, or that simultaneously, the following items failed on her car : accelerator stuck full open even the her foot off the pedal. Ignition stuck on when the key was pulled out. Emergency brakes failed. Main brakes failed (both circuits). Transmission failed (wouldn't go into neutral when commanded). The likelihood of this happening is, to be honest, absolute zero. The likelihood that Ms Uno panicked with her foot hard down on the accelerator? 100% in my opinion. Sorry to be harsh, but think about it - human error or 6 simultaneous mechanical and electronic failures? Still not sure? Would it help to know that none of those 6 "failures" have ever been reported as single items on any other Camry?
This goes back a long way too - in the 80's, Audi came under fire for similar claims against them with the Audi 5000. Not only did those all turn out to be false, but the '60 Minutes' TV program aired a feature called "Out Of Control" where they claimed to show the Audi 5000 demonstrating unintended acceleration. As it turns out, it did, but only because the show had rigged the car with a compressed air canister hooked into the transmission that could be operated independent of the accelerator so they could make the car accelerate whenever they wanted, even with the driver's foot on the brake. (How 60 minutes rigged an Audi to 'prove' unintended acceleration.
The real issue here is that companies like Toyota get forced into class-action lawsuits that are based on fear rather than grounded in reality, and no matter how much it turns out to be driver error, once a company is forced to pay up for a case they lose, we all pay the price because the cost is inevitably passed on to the consumers. Remember the Toyota lawsuit was only to do with slipping floormats - nothing to do with the mechanical or electrical design of the vehicle systems, and the floormats were only an issue because drivers were putting extra mats on top. So realistically, not even a Toyota problem. But lawyers are lawyers and the sheeple like to be scared, so Toyota lost the case and now we all have to pay more for their cars.
The graph below - reproduced from Car and Driver - shows the problem. That huge spike was everyone jumping on the bandwagon claiming they too had unintended acceleration, trying to get money out of Toyota.
That in itself irks me - that people are so self-centred nowadays that they'll happily participate in a class action suit like this, because they receive something in the mail and think "Hell yeah! Free money!" But they don't once consider anyone else, or the greater good, and then simultaneously wonder why their next vehicle costs so damn much.
You can see the latest video and Toyota EDR analysis over at Autoblog : Toyota ramming house.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Guest post : 4 Types of Classic Car Owners

People collect classic cars for all sorts of reasons, but there are 4 types of people who you will most likely find wandering around dealerships, pitching a tent at weekend conventions and scanning through the classifieds looking for great deals.

1. Reggie Restorer
Restorers are the ones like to boast about that “wreck” they picked up twenty years ago and converted to a first class machine that would make any classic car enthusiast drool. These individuals tend to pay next to nothing for the cars they purchase because they’re almost scrap metal when they find them. They usually get their enjoyment from spending hours tirelessly working away at the cars, gently coaxing them back to life with their dedication and knowledge of engineering. No project is too big for these guys, which is precisely why it isn’t a calling for the faint of heart.

2. Captain Collector
Collectors have a lot of money to spend on their vehicles, and they are usually in it for the prestige and the love of driving some of the most expensive classic cars in San Diego. It is quite usual to find at least five or more vehicles standing in the garages of collectors, and they’re always looking to acquire something else. A collector often has one or two cars that they are really proud of, which don’t get driven very often, while the others are taken out every other weekend to show them off.

3. Percy Perfectionist
These collectors tend to pride themselves on the condition of their vehicles, rather than the diversity or the cost of their purchases. You’ll most likely find perfectionists busy waxing their vehicles into the early hours of the evening, while in the morning it’s not uncommon to see them cycling to work for fear that they might damage their vehicle in some small way.

4. Tommy Race Track
While some people like to keep their collection locked up in a garage, others like to fix old cars up so that they can take them out on the racetrack and give others a run for their money. You will find just about every collectable on the market on one of these tracks, including amalgamations of various makes and models.

Collectors come in all shapes and sizes, but it is a love for vehicles that they all have in common, and this makes for some interesting characters. Click here for more information on Classic Cars San Diego.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Keyless entry / ignition systems suck

I really don't like keyless entry systems - you know - the key fob that isn't really a key, but is a wireless transmitter that talks to the car based on proximity. I'm talking about the passive ones that allow the doors to unlock when you touch the handle. Inside the car they typically replace the ignition key with a push button. They fundamentally break the centuries-old cause and effect cycle that humans have with keys, and that is this : key makes contact with lock, lock opens.
I'm not convinced that keyless entry systems are solving any particular problem. They do create trouble though. First, and most trivial, they're incredibly difficult to get accustomed to. Every time I rent a car with these things, I poke and scratch the dash trying to find somewhere to put the key. Then, realising it's a keyless system, I drive off and when I come to get out, spend a moment or two fumbling around the dash and steering column looking for the key again. Despite renting dozens of cars with this feature, I still cannot break that association.
I now own a car with one of these except mine isn't passive. I have to push a button on the fob to open the doors - OK I'm fine with that - but the ignition is wireless pushbutton. So - erm - what do I do with the key fob when I'm in the car? These things are not small - they don't fit easily in trouser pockets especially if you have a wallet in one and a cellphone in the other. You can't use the cellphone pocket - the phone gets scratched and messes with the key signal and the wallet pocket is full. Shirt pocket? Not really - they're too heavy. Leave them in the cup-holders perhaps? No because then you will forget them. If you're a woman (or an 80's guy with a man-bag) you can keep the key fob in your bag, which is certainly more convenient, but still not ideal. With the traditional ignition key, the key is inserted into the ignition barrel when you drive - you don't have to find somewhere to put it.
The next problem isn't so trivial - the proximity system is very insecure if your parking spot is close to your house (like in the garage attached to it). I've found most passive proximity keys have enough range that it's perfectly possible to open the door, get in and drive off leaving your keys behind. This happens once you've broken the cause and effect cycle, and become used to the idea that you no longer have to have the key in your hand to unlock the car. One day you will forget to put it in your pocket, and then you're screwed. Why? The keys are momentary, meaning that the car doesn't constantly query the key. It can't as that would kill the fob battery in a matter of days. So instead, when some critical even happens - starting the car, unlocking the door - that is when the car queries the key. After that, it's never queried again. So this is why you're screwed and how you end up on a tow truck: the place you keep your keys at home is close enough that the car can 'see' the key fob whenever it wants. One day you leave the key at home, go to get in the car and it lets you. Similarly you can start the engine because the key is still in range. So you drive off and the first time you stop the car and get out, you've cemented your fate. When you come to use the car again, you'll be on the phone to your other half, or the tow truck driver, because the key is well out of range - it's still at home. Worse - if it's a fully passive key, once the engine is off and the door has been opened and closed, it will likely lock you out too.
The extension of this issue has to do with crime. If you live in an area of high car crime, someone can steal your car without even needing the keys - then drive off and work on the system at their leisure somewhere else. That's not supposition - it's happened three times near where I live in the last year. The stories have been in the news sporadically.
Through empirical testing, I've found that Nissan's keyless entry system has a range of about 20m. Chevy's system works out to about 25m. Others I've tested sit in the mid-range, between 15m and 20m. That doesn't sound like a lot but for example if you're parked at your favourite fast food joint, chances of you actually being more than 20m away from your car are slim, so effectively, it's sitting outside ready for anyone to touch the door handle, hop in and drive off.
The only vehicles I've found that gets close to solving the problems of keyless systems are Citroën, Mini and some Audis. In their systems you have to place the fob in a slot in the dash for the car to start. That maintains the cause and effect cycle of keys in locks, which I don't think is a bad thing.
So far at least, I'm finding keyless ignition and entry systems to be creating new problems we don't need, and solving old problems we don't have.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Better to be in a religious group than to be a biker if you want petrol in England now.

England : the epitome of a broken country. The topic of this week's post is to do with the wildly varying standards of what is and is not acceptable for drivers when it comes to that most basic task - filling up your vehicle with petrol.
With the price of petrol being so high now, it's inevitable that there are a lot of drive-offs - where people fill-up but don't go inside to pay. To combat this, petrol stations in the UK all now have numberplate readers that read the numberplate of each car as it stops to fill up. The numberplates are displayed on a big screen on the forecourt, in some cases, so you can see your vehicle has been identified. If you drive off without paying, the numberplate is given to the police and the case goes from there.
What they don't tell you is that your face is also being photographed for use by facial recognition systems and the PNC (police national computer). It's why, in a lot of places, the petrol station attendants won't activate a pump for a motorcyclist until they've taken their helmet off. That on it's own is a pretty big problem but it gets bigger when you understand something else; it criminalises motorcyclists simply because of the mode of transportation they've chosen. Don't believe me? If you're in a religious organisation that requires you to wear a burka or yashmak, or any other form of facial covering, you won't be asked to remove your facewear. So it's OK to discriminate against motorcyclists, but it's not OK to discriminate against religious groups for the same reason?
All this discrimination and assuming drivers are naturally guilty (because every numberplate is recorded and sent to the nationwide ANPR database and tracking system, even if you don't drive off without paying), could so easily be averted with the simplest of changes - pay at the pump.
Since moving to the US, I've come to realise what a stroke of genius this is. You don't have to go inside to pay. You don't have to hang around inside a foul-smelling 'convenience' store, in a queue of equally irritated people waiting for an untrained minimum-wage attendant to figure out what the buttons on the till mean. You can be in and out quickly, with minimum fuss and there's never any drive-offs, because the pumps will not dispense anything until a valid credit or debit card has been swiped through them.
For those who don't have cards, or don't want to use them in this way, the system still works because you go inside and pre-pay before they activate the pump - again - no drive-offs - although now you're back inside that hellhole of a store. It's so simple I'm at a loss to understand why the UK went with the over-engineered technology approach. It costs more, it's discriminatory and it's unnecessary. I suspect it's more to do with the desire to have cameras everywhere than it is to do with the prevention of fuel theft. After all, there's so many CCTVs in the UK (1 CCTV camera for every 14 people at the last count in 2009) that they're the most surveilled nation in the world.
The only real downside of pay at the pump is that the pumps, like ATMs, are outside all the time, meaning they're ripe for criminals to rig with card skimmers. But even the most basic awareness of this possibility is enough to thwart that. Don't ever use the debit option - always use the credit option, then you're not typing your PIN into the keypad. If anything, you might be typing a zip code in. If you do accidentally do debit, cover the keypad with your other hand while you type in your PIN. Basic precautions like this - the same ones you should be using at every cash machine - are so easy to do that it really ought to be of no concern to you whether you run your card through a petrol pump to get product.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The drones are coming. Slowly.

Long-time readers of my blog will know the disdain I have for auto-driving cars, but this week I wanted to try to expand a bit further on the issues with them right now.
Look at the limitations of drone cars right now. We'll use Google as an example as they're one of the most advanced in this area. The cars cannot drive on a route that has not already been driven, catalogued and stored as GPS data by Google's engineers. (ie. it cannot navigate on its own). And when I say "catalogued" I do mean "catalogued" - the engineers have to enter every street sign, lamp post, intersection and road marking and 'teach' the computer what they all are. For every road. Ultimately that's why Google has Streetview - it's not so we have a fun way to look at the world, it's so they can collect this data for everywhere their car could ever drive.
It can't merge on or off freeways - that has to be done by hand. It has trouble in traffic that isn't single lane. It can't deal with unexpected events (unexpected debris in the road, for example) because it's not sentient - it's a programmed series of instructions that cannot adapt unless the code has been supplied for every eventuality. That in itself is an impossible task.
It can't drive if one or more of the cameras is covered (think wet leaves sticking to the windshield on an autumn day).
It can't drive in the snow because the world doesn't look like the pristeen clear, sunny day the car expects. It can't drive in heavy rain because the rain and road spray introduce enough data distortion into the cameras and radars that they don't work. More to the point, in heavy spray, adaptive cruise doesn't work for the same reason - radar doesn't work well in precipitation (think of the TV weather radar - it's reflecting off water, basically).
Can these problems be overcome? For the most part, probably. Adapting to changing and unexpected road conditions is the thing that engineers cannot code around. That's either going to require a very fast-learning AI, or it's going to become the achilles heel of drone cars. People do seem to have a hard time understanding why this type of project is so difficult. After all, we've had autopilot in aircraft for decades, right? Yes, but aircraft operate in a fundamentally different environment. TCAS systems talk aircraft-to-aircraft to avoid collisions. Aircraft don't find themselves nose-to-tail in the sky, they don't have to deal with pedestrians walking off the kerb, or cars, trucks, motorbikes, segways, street furniture, signals, illogical road layouts, faded paint or any of the millions of other variables that car and driver have to.
I'm not just picking on Google here. All the manufacturers who are trying this tech have the same problems to a greater or lesser degree. Volvo and Mercedes can't even get their auto-braking systems to work reliably, and unless it's bombproof, 100% reliable, nobody is going to want it in their cars. Hunt around YouTube for videos of the various public and very embarrassing tests where manufacturers have demonstrated their auto-braking systems mowing down cardboard pedestrians, driving through foam brick walls and in one very prominent case, burying the car under the back of a real truck with some considerable force.
If you still think I'm being pessimistic, think of this : drive-by-wire cars - in particular some Toyotas. That's a single system - a throttle. Not a complex series of computers, sensors, cameras and radars. It's a pair of potentiometers a length of wire and a servo motor. And yet this very system has been accused of causing 89 deaths in Toyota vehicles - a figure Toyota deny and have now been accused of covering up evidence about. If (and it's a big IF), it turns out that their unintended acceleration woes were caused by an electrical fault in something as simple as throttle-by-wire, and if they're spending millions covering it up, can you seriously imagine any manufacturer taking responsibility for deaths caused by fully autonomous drone cars?
I for one am not looking forward to a future where drone cars are the norm. In fact, as a daily driver and motorcyclist, I can't imagine a more bleak or dangerous place to live. However if you really are pining for the day when you'll be able to eliminate all personal responsibility and get in a vehicle that just drives you to where you want to be, I have good news. That day is already here. It's called a taxi. Or a bus. Or tram. Or train.
Footnote : Forbes did a short writeup on similar issues back in March - a one-page worthwhile read if you have another three minutes : Forbes and the Google car

Monday, July 15, 2013

Guest post : How the Queen's Face Keeps Me Safe

I was at work the other week when I 'overheard' a conversation. A colleague of mine was discussing whether or not he should invest in new tyres or a new surround sound system in his living room. Admittedly, being beaten on FIFA by a 14 year old somewhere in the world, shooting the enemies on Call of Duty or watching Die Hard or other explosive, action packed films with no plot are all undoubtedly experiences that would be enhanced by the addition of unnecessarily large speakers.
I assumed, possibly incorrectly, that my opinion would be highly valued on this matter. I mean, why wouldn't it be? Right? I asked my colleague if he was sure of his need for new tyres. If he hadn't had his tyres checked and was just working on the basis that it had been a certain length of time since he had bought new ones, he may no longer have a decision to make. I continued to impart my wisdom upon the fortunate individual, or unfortunate depending on your view.
We went out to the car park on our lunch break, armed with nothing more than a 20p coin. If you look at a 20p coin you will see the outer area, around the Queen's face, is a raised margin. I turned the steering wheel so that we could measure the tread of the entire wheel; a lot of people forget the inside of the wheel which is no less important just because you can't see it. You should always check several spots on the tyre, having one weak spot can lead to aquaplaning and other serious accidents.
  • Last year 1168 people were injured in accidents where faulty tyres were a contributory factor.
  • 36 deaths through accidents, where on evaluation, the tyres were considered to be unsafe and in need of replacement
  • The tyre is the only point of contact between you and the road

Many people don't know what tread achieves. Tread lifts the water off the road surface while you drive. Without tread none of your tyre would be in contact with the road, you would actually be in contact with a thin layer of moisture that sits between the road and your car. This is what is commonly known as aquaplaning.
Anyway, back to my story before I get an even higher sense of self importance and superior knowledge (If only I had knowledge on a subject that could earn me early retirement!)

I proceeded to place the 20p coin in the tread, showing my colleague that if you can't see any of the raised margin on the face of the 20p (pictured) then your tyre is still in good condition with regards to tread and wear. I would recommend separate testing for pressure and visual checks on damage that wouldn't be picked up by placing the Queen's face on your tyre!
Turns out he had no need for new tyres and subsequently I have formed a friendship with said colleague. The friendship has nothing to do with the fact he has new speakers and a gaming experience that is far superior to mine, I swear!
Jamie Doutt is a new blogger with a keen interest in anything to do with cars. He has a particular passion for road and tyre safety.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Unclean at any speed

A short post this week, with a link to an article I urge anyone interested in electric cars to read : Unclean at any speed. This article deals with the sobering truth that swapping from petrol powered cars to electric ones is like swapping one brand of cigarettes for another. In terms of the overall 'green' credentials that electric cars tout, they're really not that much better for the environment once you take into account the pollution caused by the manufacture and disposal of the car, it's electrical systems and batteries, and the pollution at the power generating facilities.
The last paragraph in the article sums it up nicely: "Should environmentally minded people really revere electric cars? Perhaps we should look beyond the shiny gadgets now being offered and revisit some less sexy but potent options—smog reduction, bike lanes, energy taxes, and land-use changes to start. Let’s not be seduced by high-tech illusions."
So by all means buy an electric car, but don't kid yourself that the primary reason for doing is to be 'green'.

Monday, July 1, 2013

I wonder what goes through the mind of an F1 driver?

I'm always amused and entertained by the pit radio transmissions when watching F1 races. Kimi Raikkonen's recent "Leave me alone, I know what I'm doing". Lewis Hamilton's "I can't drive any slower". Mark Webber (after losing the end plates on the front wings) "I guess we figured out how to make the car faster". More entertaining is when the race engineer calls the driver and says things like "push push push". Because the driver's didn't realise they were racing?
So I often wonder what goes through the driver's minds when they are racing. Alonso, for example, at the beginning of this season had a relatively minor first-corner scuffle that deranged his front wing. Yet instead of coming in at the end of the first lap - something I'm sure his pit crew told him to do - stayed out, and on the main straight the wing folder up under the car, lifting the front wheels off the ground resulting in him crashing in the first corner of the second lap.
A few years ago, Hamilton was in desperate need of a tyre change at the Chinese GP, and it was raining, but he stayed out one extra lap and then crashed trying to get into the pit lane when his tyres gave up.
I'm in the camp of F1 fans that believe it's always the team, the car and the driver that win races - I don't subscribe to the theory that you can put a shit driver in a great car and get wins (Scott Speed proved that when he joined Red Bull and failed to finish a single race). Conversely, you can't put the world's best driver in a sub-standard car and expect wins. Witness Schumacher in the Mercedes team for the previous few years. So yes - the drivers very much do know what they're doing. However, if your race engineer radios you to tell you you need new tyres, or you've blown a wing, or part of the bodywork is flapping about, despite the temptation to stay out, precedent would tend to suggest that coming in when the pit crew tells you to is a good idea.
In the grand scheme of things I actually wish they'd bring back in-race refueling and multiple tyre manufacturers. Having all the teams on the same tyres is beginning to make F1 more and more like American racing series where all the cars are identical (thus removing one of the team/driver/car variables). Having a single tyre manufacturer is just the FIA's latest attempt to slow F1 down by having the manufacturer deliberately make sub-standard tyres to force pit and conservative driving. Pirelli have said as much - they're perfectly capable of making a tyre last the entire race but they're not allowed to.
So maybe the thought on their minds is this - "Why the hell do we have such crappy tyres this year?".
Good news on that front though - Alonso proved in Spain this year that the philosophy of "screw the tyres - just drive it like you stole it and daddy's paying the bill" works wonders.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A tale of three rental cars.

As I'm still waiting for my new car to be delivered, I've been driving rental cars a lot over the last couple of months. Most recently I got to drive three different rentals within four days of each other and the differences were quite a surprise. Before I go any further, a quick diversion to talk about the first big difference: the rental companies. I don't know what the hell is going on over at Hertz but their customer service sucks now, and their cars are in terrible condition (the one we rented had over 75,000 miles on it) - I switched to Avis a couple of years ago but two weekends ago I had to deal with the big yellow H and it was a miserable experience. But anyway - the cars themselves.
The first one I had was a Nissan Maxima 3.5 V6. That was a strange beast. The driver's seat has a distinct bucket shape to it that you can't tune out through adjustment, meaning you sort of fall into the car, and then it always feels like the car is higher up than you are. Even with the seat on it's highest height adjustment I felt like I was having trouble seeing over the hood (and I'm over 6ft tall). The drivers view was sort of fun though - with the hump in the middle of the hood and the two flared quarter panels it was like looking out of the batmobile. Sadly that's largely where the fun stopped. For a Japanese car, it's clearly been built for the US market. The power steering was massively over-sensitive which made it exhausting to drive because it would follow every minor imperfection in the road on it's own so I spent the whole time trying to steer it in a straight line. The engine was super lazy, responding as if I'd sent the accelerator commands via the postal service, and the CVT - whilst a fantastic idea in principle - seems to have been implemented in the strangest way in this car, to the point where it was quite unpleasant to drive. It was like permanent turbo lag - only the engine never caught up with the throttle input. Driving at 30mph was OK but then if you put the boot in, there was no real 'downshift' or change of ratios in the CVT. It was like a 6th-gear low-speed roll-on - quite slow and lazy. The interior was a bit drab and I wasn't a fan of the keyless entry - more on that in a later blog post - but I suppose I'm going to have to get used to it - my new car will have it.
The second car was a total surprise - I had a Chevy Cruze. Long-time readers of this blog will know I pretty much despise most American cars. But the Cruze was oddly enjoyable. The version I had was an LTZ which I think is about as top of the line as they come - it seemed to have everything from nav to bluetooth audio, USB inputs, flappy-paddle gearbox, power everything - the works. The steering was firm and at speed it felt like I was actually steering the car instead of stirring milk (ahem - Nissan?). The interior had some properly decent fabrics and touch-friendly plastics (not like the scratchy, rattly old crap they used to use) and the transmission was very responsive. The car I drove had 36,000 miles on it but felt like it was a lot newer. There were a couple of things I didn't like though; as with most American cars, there was silver/chrome bling inside, which is utterly pointless on a sunny day because you just end up dazzled by it (not what you want when you're driving). And I didn't like the positioning of the heated seat/AC controls low down on the centre stack - the left one was exactly where my knee falls when I rest my leg against the console when driving. Oh - and the keyless entry system again.
The third car was a current-generation Subaru Impreza. My problems here started with the design. We owned two Subarus in the early 2000's when the design was still distinct and clearly a Subaru. The current Impreza looks like a Daewoo, or any other generic far east box. It's truly terrible and there's no longer anything unique or edgy about it. Things got worse inside - the interior was essentially exactly the same as the one I owned 10 years ago, and it was dated even back then. Hard squeaky plastics, smooth controls that are hard to grip, cheap-feeling steering wheel, cheep-feeling fabrics, and a central dot-matrix display straight from the early era of videogames, that made Space Invaders seem high-res. This one was similarly loaded - like the Cruze - but nothing seemed to work. The bluetooth wouldn't connect to my phone, the nav didn't work (could never find the satellites) and the power seat had about 2mm of adjustment in any direction. The CVT transmission was - not to put too fine a point on it - shit. Oddly, it had flappy paddle gearbox controls, which makes no sense given that CVT transmissions have no gears. That might explain why the paddles didn't do anything. The steering was connected to the front wheels via bush telegraph, the accelerator was like pushing on a poorly-baked sponge cake, the brakes had no feel and the whole package drove like it was always 3 seconds away from a crash. Now I don't know if this is the car itself or because of the mileage - this was the one with over 75,000 miles on it. But if you'd blindfolded me and taken me for a drive in the Subaru, I would have guessed it was a mid 70's American land yacht from the way it behaves.
So I guess I've found an American car that I like now - the Cruze - which is a total left-field thing for me because if you'd asked me to pick a US car that I'd want to drive, the Cruze would have been pretty much last on the list.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Guest post : Restoring a Mustang?

So you have a vintage Mustang that's been sitting in your garage for years? Well why not get that puppy up and running again with a quick little restoration! No, this isn't a how-to guide, more of a mini motivational blog post.
Now I'm not talking a paint job and a new license plate here. I'm talking the motor and other inner workings to get your Mustang back on the road and making you the talk of the town again.
You can either do the restoration by yourself, or work with a restoration shop. If you do it on your own, you're going to need to find a great place to get your Mustang parts. Even though you might want to do it by yourself, having a restoration shop do it can really help you out. Remember - they do this every day where you're doing it once. They're also better able to advise you based on the current state of the car is, as well as what parts it needs.
But if you do choose to do it by yourself, there are many guides online that will offer a how-to and tips on the parts you need and the things to do with them. The satisfaction of restoring a Mustang on your own is a great feat and who knows? Maybe you’ll pick up a new hobby!

Monday, June 10, 2013

An entertaining little look at tread depth.

A short post this week. I found this video on tread depth and thought it was informative and cute at the same time. Enjoy:
>Henry the hedgehog talks about tyre safety

Monday, June 3, 2013

Guest post : 6 Tips on What To Do When Buying A Second Hand Classic Car

By Samuel Jones
I recently came across this interesting website which is actually sort of like a network portal for buying and selling second hand items. It's loaded with all kinds of interesting things for second hand junkies like me who love idea of saving cash, restoring, and recycling. So my first deal breaker that I intend to do with this site is to acquire a second hand classic car. Here are 6 of the basic things to keep in mind if you want to buy one too.
1) When buying second hand classic cars online it's just better on your pocket if, for starters, you think it through beforehand. What exactly is the purpose of the purchase? Will I be using the car daily or only on weekends? Will it be an investment or an unnecessary expense? If I do decide to sell it later how much profit will it make? Based on your answers to cons and pros involved you'll get a pretty good idea of where to start as far as which car and which model you are aiming to buy.
2) After thinking it through, the next step would be to research it. Get advice from friends, relatives, or family who have experience with or own classic vintage cars. Folks who own vintage imported cars are usually more than happy to share the know with you. And rightly so! Learn from them which are the good and bad points of owning a classic car, which models are best, and the care and cost that is usually involved. Do an online research of the car that you are interested in as well and get a good knowledge of it. If you are buying the car as an investment, everything should be as close to original as possible, if not then at least try to find a model that can be restored to its perfect condition.
3) Take into consideration that the price of the car will most of the times reflects the quality, but not always the look. The quality of the car is not always equivalent to the body being in a perfect shiny new condition.
4) Do your homework on where the car is coming from. You don't want to purchase a car that later turns out to have been stolen and then sold. Run a used vehicle history report on the car that you want to buy and make sure that it has not been stolen. You could also do a check on how many people owned the car before you. Again, purchasing any vintage classic cars online or off is a huge investment so make sure that you are prepared. Having a vehicle appraiser appraise the car before the buy is also a good way to find out the working condition of the car, whether it has been in any accidents and the engine, transmission, and other components have been changed from their originals. If any pieces have been changed then the value of the vehicle will drop.
5) Take a spin around the block for 20 minutes or so. If there are any serious problems with it you will be able to tell by any noises that are abnormal. Decide if you like the way the car maneuvers around corners and how it rides over speed breakers and bumps. This will tell you if the suspension needs to be changed. If the car is old, chances are that it will need a lot of repair. Again, this will add to the cost of your investment, so be wise and calculate it first. Also, have the car examined by a specialized car mechanic. They can give you a better idea about the quality of the car.
6) Will the car suit your location? If it was previously registered in a location that was dry and cool and yours is humid, the body may start to corrode and show signs of rusting. Make sure that the climates of imported cars match as close as possible. Higher valued cars are usually those that have never been exposed to intense weather changes. So if you are going to purchase these, be sure to match the quality of care that was given by the car's previous owner.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The electric car divide

Some weeks ago, a colleague of mine spotted a Tesla Model S in the wild. It sparked a debate because he is already driving a Chevy Volt, and I'm in the camp of not being willing to make concessions in order to own an electric car.
The problems are multiple, as I see it. For less than $20,000 I can buy a turbodiesel VW that can easily do 700 or more miles on a tank, and at the end of that range, be refilled in 3 minutes and do another 700 miles. Or for $70,000 I can buy a Model S that - as much as Tesla don't want it to be, is a fashion-statement boutique car. Yes it's a good commuter car and yes it's good for use around town or other low-mileage jaunts, but would you really blow that much money on a commuter-scooter?
Tesla make interesting claims about their range but again you're making concessions to get to that range. IF you only have one person in the car, IF the weather is just right, IF there are no traffic jams, IF you don't use the radio, IF you're not driving at night with the lights on, IF you can find a charging station, IF it has a fast charger, IF you can make it there in the first place and IF you have an hour to waste recharging it. IF you don't want to travel further than 250 miles. IF you don't mind turning AC or heating off when you're running out of range. IF, IF, IF. Too many concessions.
The Tesla S controversy sparked by the NYT reporter in February this year is the tip of the iceberg. Tesla told the reporter to drive a very specific route under very specific conditions. He didn't - he deviated a little - as you might do when you're driving - and the weather didn't cooperate (it wasn't "optimal" for the car). The reporter ended up stranded. Motor Trend's long term Model S struggles to get 235 miles to a charge - considerably shorter than the 300 mile range it's quoted as having. These are known problems with batteries and have been for decades, nay centuries. Altering the load, duration of load, or environmental conditions all have big impacts on battery life. In a regular car I don't need to worry about running out of range because I'm running the heater or the A/C .....
For electric cars to be acceptable to the masses, they need to overcome the biggest single problem - recharging. Sure you can pay money and have a charging station put in at home and yes you need to remember to plug it in every night. But when you're out and about, you will need to charge it at some point and that's where the problems start. Nobody has an hour to spare nowadays - least of all hanging around some sketchy filling station. Those are the last places you want to spend any time (it's why pay-at-the-pump is such a blessing. You can fill up without ever having to go inside the filling station). But with an electric car, you're destined to be stranded at a filling station for at least 30 minutes - more if you need a full charge or if the few charging points that they have are already occupied. There have been proven technology demos of cars with swappable battery packs ( - that's an awesome solution because you drive up, the robot changes the spent battery pack for a charged one, and you drive off. The problem there is that none of the car manufacturers can agree on a standard battery pack so that doesn't look like it's going to go anywhere.
Some proponents of pure electric cars argue that companies like Tesla will put in free charging stations. They won't. Remember the old adage about something seeming to good to be true? Why would Tesla motors eat the (considerable) cost of charging all their customer's cars for free? They're a publicly traded company, meaning they're run for the benefit of the shareholders, meaning you're not ever going to get anything out of them for free. Don't kid yourself. Elon Musk's primary goal is not to make you feel good - Tesla are in the business of keeping their shareholders and hedge funds happy (which it seems they do partly by reporting VINs registered rather than numbers of vehicles sold - Tesla's claimed 4,750 sales figure for Q1 2013 actually turned out to be 3,125 in reality). Look to Europe if you want to see the electric car charging future. Charging posts in parking lots and roadside stalls, that you either pay a monthly subscription to use, or simply swipe your credit card through to use them. Trust me - it's not free now, and it'll never be free in the future.
Electric car manufacturers are very keen (and proud) to point out that their vehicles 'zero emissions'. That's PR doublespeak. No, your car itself doesn't emit any pollutants, but the car is absolutely not 'zero emissions'. It needs charging, right? So a power station, somewhere, is creating electricity to charge the car. In the US that means either coal or oil (because people here are frightened of nuclear, and we have no federal renewable energy policy to speak of). So whilst your car might not be emitting pollutants locally, you are still contributing to the plume of unpleasantness that comes out of the smokestacks of power stations. There is one caveat though - if you're smart enough to have solar panels or a wind farm on your property, and that power is used to charge your car, then and only then can you properly be in smug mode about zero emissions.
Speaking of the electricity generating and distribution infrastructure, think about this for a moment. Right now we suffer rolling blackouts and a crumbling system of decades-old power plants and HV lines. Imagine that now we add all the extra demand to that system to charge millions of electric vehicles. How's that going to work out? What happens when you have a days-long power cut - that's not uncommon even in America. Your car is dead, you have no electricity to charge it - you're screwed. Protagonists will point out that "millions of electric vehicles" aren't suddenly going to appear overnight, and that as they gradually do take to the roads, the power infrastructure will grow to meet demand. Reality check; in the last ten years, the US hasn't built many (if any) new power stations. We have, however shut a few down. We haven't had a new nuclear station here since 1979! Demand is up, supply is down. How's that going to change just because people are now driving electric vehicles? If you don't think this is an issue, again look to Europe. Barely anyone has electric cars in the UK yet now the government want to mandate "smart" home appliances that can be remotely turned off when peak demand is too high - Mandatory remote appliance control.
The only realistic short-term solution to electric cars is to have some other mechanism in the car of supporting the electric load. Hydrogen fuel cells or small petrol or diesel generators are the best bet. But they need to be uncoupled completely from the drivetrain so that the only function they perform is battery charging. Volvo's 2007 ReCharge technology demonstrator was the best option - four in-wheel motors and a diesel generator. It removed all the complexity of the gearbox and transmission (and for the most part, the brakes too) which in turn made the car considerably lighter.
My views on electric cars tar me with the brush of being a luddite to a lot of people. I prefer to think of myself as a realist. I'd buy a diesel-electric vehicle in a heartbeat as long as it was normally priced. But nobody makes one and nobody is planning one. Given that premise, I have actually investigated the all-electric Fiat 500 and all-electric Ford Focus as in-town commuters (because I have a real car for real-world stuff) but two things put me off - (1) you can't easily buy them in America (virtually zero dealer inventory) and (2) the price is an absolute joke - $43,000 for a Ford Focus with less an 80 mile range? Are you bloody kidding me?
Pure-electric vehicles, whilst they may be our future, are currently still an extremely niche market for (probably) rich owners who don't mind owning compromised vehicles. Until they're down to normal prices, with a full infrastructure of charging stations or battery-swap stations, with an upgraded national power supply grid, they'll continue to be the wet dream of hedge funds and investment bankers. Which is odd because electric cars have been available to the mass market for 7 years now and we're still waiting for the prices to come down.....

Monday, May 20, 2013

Guest post : Bilstein shock technology

Bilstein is a well know name when it comes to shocks and performance vehicles, but they don't stop there. They make many different series that benefit all different types of vehicles. They make a Heavy Duty shock for towing vehicles and trucks, a series of shocks specifically for motorhomes, and several performance shocks for off-road racing and lifted vehicles. Most significantly they have revolutionized what shocks and suspension components can offer for sports vehicles. Bilstein has something unique that sets their shocks apart from the rest of the manufacturers; they were the pioneers of the Monotube design. This design offers great qualities that offer a long lasting and high quality shock.
It is important to understand the difference between a standard twin tube shock and Bilstein's Monotube shock in order to really grasp all of the benefits. Twin tube shocks have the outer reservoir and then another tube inside that is the "working cylinder". The working cylinder contains the dividing piston and this is where the dampening and function happens. The dividing piston is small in a twin tube design and allows for air bubbles to enter the oil, causing foaming. Foaming in a shock leads to decreased dampening force and performance. This design also traps heat in the shock body leading to a shortened lifespan. In a Monotube design heat is able to transfer from the oil to outer surface of the shock making it function more efficiently. The nitrogen in the shock is separated from the oil by a dividing piston that is 228% larger than a twin tubes piston, and pressure from the gas keeps the oil from foaming. This process results in a longer life for the shock as well as a better ride and more control over the vehicle.
Bilstein makes several series designed just for performance vehicles. They have the B8 Series shock, B12 Series that has a Pro Kit and Sportline, B14 PSS and B16 PSS9/PSS10. The B8 Series is a lowering shock or strut that features the monotube gas design and a sport setting for added comfort. With the addition of the B8 shocks you will have improved vehicle handling and ride comfort. These are designed in the same fashion as their HD shocks, but have a shorter internal bumper to accommodate lower springs without sacrificing safety. This series is designed to perform well in all weather conditions, so you never have to worry about losing control of your vehicle.
The B12 Series consists of two different choices; you have the Pro-Kit and the Sportline. Both of these shocks bring you a Monotube design, and inverted tube technology. The inverted tube will abolish rod flex and improve stability. The inverted design will also keep the shock cooler, reducing wear and increasing durability. These are coil over shocks fitted with Eibach progressive rate springs. They have a professional cornering system built in and provide a fast response time. The difference between the two kits is that the Pro-Kit lowers your vehicle up to 40mm while the Sportline will lower it up to 50mm. The B14 PSS Suspension system is a ride height adjustable system. This shock comes with Bilstein's signature Monotube Gas Pressure technology and an adjustable range between of 20mm; this will allow you to lower your vehicle from 30-50mm. This systems round thread technology, aluminum spring seat and lock nut allows you to adjust the ride height easily to change the look of your vehicle without having to remove the suspension. The addition of B14's also brings improved ride handling and performance.
The B16 PSS9/PSS10 System is a "race inspired" suspension system with manually adjustable damping settings. You can choose from either 9 or 10 stage compression and rebound settings. This allows for an easy transition from comfortable ride to a racing situation without having to remove anything from the vehicle. The monotube shock absorbers can adjust your ride height from 30mm-50mm lower and also comes with a progressive rate spring to ensure ultimate ride handling.
Bilstein has a shock for every vehicle but when it comes to sport and performance cars they really hit the mark. They have gone above and beyond to create performance suspension systems that will give you the best handling characteristics and complete control over the look and feel of your car. Having a durable, high performing shock not only increases ride comfort and handling but also increases the vehicles safety level.