Monday, December 26, 2016

Speaking of headlights

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

Monday, December 19, 2016

The problem with automatic headlights

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

Monday, December 12, 2016

Two comments on driving in England.

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

Monday, December 5, 2016

F1 - Hamilton and Rosberg

The F1 season has come to a close for 2016 and I have to say this has been a good season. I know F1's detractors say it's boring and processional but it really isn't. When you get into the strategy and tactics and don't just look at the on-track racing, it's quite involved.
Of course the two big talking points now are Hamilton's behaviour in Abu Dhabi, and Rosberg.
I think Hamilton did exactly what he needed to do. There was a chance - albeit a slim mathematical one - that he could clinch the title by backing Rosberg into traffic and hoping for something to happen. Despite repeated team orders, he kept to this strategy and in the end it was all for nothing, but you can't blame him for trying. He knew how long the race was, he knew Vettel and Verstappen were no real danger. He did the right thing.
To ask drivers not to drive, not to use tactics, not to do what their instinct says is right, is a bad idea for the sport. That's why I like Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez so much. They want to race, they want points and everyone and everything is fair game. So what if Verstappen changes lines to defend his position? It's nothing F1 drivers haven't done through history. Look at Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell; they were the masters of preventing people behind from being able to pass. That Max takes unconventional lines during his overtakes is one of the things that endears him to me. "You can't overtake on the outside of turn 1 in Brazil in the wet". Says who?
And Rosberg - I liked the frosty team combat situation he created with Hamilton. Intra-team rivalry is just as good as team-to-team rivalry. He's a great driver and he deserved his win this year, and I have a lot of respect for him now he's bowed out too. He set about F1 to do one thing: become world champion. He's done it, and that's all he wanted. Now he's out. This raises the specter of Hamilton maybe getting Verstappen as a team mate next year, depending on how Red Bull treat him. That could be entertaining.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Winter is coming

If the US president-elect is to be believed, climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I don't know about that but where I live it's been a hell of a lot warmer this year - we're all still driving around on summer tyres here, long past the date when we'd normally have snow on the ground.
But winter is coming - eventually - and if you live in the snowy areas, that means snow and ice on the roads, which means everyone will forget how to drive in those conditions.
Be careful on the first snow of the year. Go find an empty parking lot and use it to find out how your car behaves in these conditions. Teach yourself the limits of cornering and braking grip with your current tyres and current vehicle on packed and loose snow (or ice).
Better yet, put winter tyres on. I say this every year but I can't stress it enough. If the temperature where you live regularly drops below 45°F / 7°C in the winter months, winter tyres will benefit you even if it never snows. The rubber compound in these tyres is designed to stay more flexible at much lower temperatures. More aggressive tread helps in the snow and ice, and on wet and rainy roads, they help pump more water out from the contact patch. Because you only have them on for three months of the year - maybe four - they'll last four or five winters before you need to consider renewing them. It's money well-spent.
This video from 2011 is well worth watching - it shows the difference winter tyres make on snow, ice and just plain old wet roads in cold conditions.....

Monday, November 21, 2016

A parking revolution is coming to America

A few years ago I saw a parking system in Switzerland that made me wonder why the same system hadn't been implemented everywhere. It's so simple - in a multi-storey parking structure, each parking bay has a sensor mounted above it that can tell if a vehicle is parked there or not. If there is, the sensor shows a red LED. If not, it shows green. The result is that you can tell - just from looking at the ceiling, exactly where all the open spots are in a long row of parked cars. It prevents (or should) the long, slow crawl of procrastinating drivers trying to find a space. In theory, you just look for the green lights, and head for those parking bays.
I finally saw my first one of these systems installed here in the US this weekend. The parking garage at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas has this system installed and it works beautifully. The open spots are super easy to spot and the system there also has digital counters at all the intersections that tell you exactly how many open spots there are in any given direction.
Now - this does rely on drivers having some common sense, and I you could tell those who got the system straight away, and those who thought all the red and green lights were Christmas decorations. Several times, we were stuck behind people crawling along, doing the old hunt-and-peck routine instead of looking at the lights. But other times we found ourselves in a fast-moving stream of traffic that were just heading directly for all the open spots without any fuss.
Personally I think this system is genius and should be installed by default in any parking structure. Click the image below to see a larger version where you can see the three open spots.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Speed enforcement causes accidents.

It's not the first time a study like this has been published, but this latest one (Strict speed enforcement detrimental to road safety, study finds) from the University of Western Australia has shown an interesting correlation between strict speed enforcement and road safety. Similar studies have found the same thing both in England and America - when you threaten drivers with automated cameras and roadside speed traps, they'll spend a lot more time concentrating on their speedometer, and a lot less time being aware of other hazards and situations outside the car.
By eliminating speed enforcement, or by raising the speed limit or increasing the overage tolerance, accident rates go down.
The same has been found to be true on motorways but the reasons are slightly different. The fact of life is that when speed limits are set artificially low, more drivers break those speed limits. The problem comes with the law-abiding drivers. For example when a speed limit on a motorway is set at 65mph but 95% of the drivers are doing 75-80mph, when they come across the law-abiding driver, the speed differential can be as much as 15mph. This reduces thinking time, increases closing speed and has the effect of causing either erratic braking or erratic maneuvering to get around the slower car.
When the speed limits are raised - for example to 75mph - the people who were doing 75-80 don't suddenly increase their top speed - they tend to keep driving at 75-80. But the law-abiding drivers are now doing 75mph which reduces the speed differential from 15mph to 5mph. This increases thinking time, and increases the time for slowing down and maneuvering, leading to a more calm traffic flow with less erratic behavior. The law-abiding drivers are no longer the 'rock in the river' that everyone is having to go around.
There's empirical evidence, studies and statistics to back this up too. It dates back 20 years in some cases (The Effects of Raising and Lowering the Speed Limit (US, 1996)
There are plenty of states in the US where even the police support the idea of raising speed limits (End of the Road for Speed Traps?)
For example, everywhere in the US where speed limits have been raised on the freeways, the accident rate has either remained the same or dropped. In comparison, on 'managed' motorways in England where speed-averaging cameras force drivers to drive at or below the limit, accident rates have increased in every instance.
Of course the first response many people will have is "just drive at the speed limit - you're breaking the law if you speed". Whilst that's technically true, we're not driving around in 1950's jalopies any more. Cars are perfectly safe at much higher speeds and the laws simply haven't kept up with the technology and capabilities of the vehicles.
The truth of the matter is that when you let politicians set arbitrary speed limits, they're going to be artificially low, and they're going to be out-of-date with modern motoring. It's long been proven that automated 'safety' cameras have no effect on accident rates, so with that simple fact in place, there can be only one reason for speed traps - revenue. Cities and police forces make millions in revenue from speeding motorists. But there is simply no justifiable reason ANY motorway should have a speed limit below 75mph. States in the US that still have 65mph limits - and the UK with it's 70mph limit - are just living in the past.
Telling people to drive at artificially low speed limits is outdated thinking that doesn't respect the current facts and studies. So when 95% of the traffic is going above the speed limit, and you're the law-abiding driver doing the speed limit, it might not be everyone else that is the problem .....

Monday, November 7, 2016

Halloween wasn't too scary - fine print is scary.

There's an old adage that if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. And so it is with an offer that flopped through my letterbox this week from Enterprise used car sales. In big, bold print, the postcard announced that they would pay me Kelley Blue Book value + $500 for my used car 1.
There was a bunch of other stuff about how they would be pleased to have my business, and how they had literally thousands of people lined up to buy my exact vehicle. But that little '1' after the bold print is where you need to look on offers like this, so I flipped the postcard and took a look at the fine print dissertation on the other side.
What it essentially boiled down to was this : They would pay me the KBB 'trade value' on a car assessed to be in 'fair' condition. Rather than using the KBB mileage guide, Enterprise would determine for themselves if the mileage was 'inappropriate for a vehicle of this age' and would adjust their offer downwards accordingly (no mention of raising the value for a low mileage vehicle). They would also use the zip code of the Enterprise dealership to determine the overall starting value, rather than the zip code of my address (which will always depress the price because car dealerships aren't built in nice upscale neighbourhoods). Then they would, "at their discretion", adjust the price further for the colour of the car if it was deemed to be hard to sell (ie. if it wasn't black, white, silver or grey).
The tacked-on $500 came in the form of cashback on the loan of another used car bought from the same dealership. In other words $500 on a 48 month loan with a rate of 6%.
It's scary how companies are allowed to distribute this sort of utterly misleading promotional guff through the mail. In England we have the advertising standards authority that keeps a check on things like this but in America it's a total free-for-all. You can literally print "We will give you $100,000 in FREE CASH1" on one side of a promotional flyer and on the other side put "Payout will be paid at the rate of $1 a year for 100,000 years", without fear of reprisal from any regulatory body.
Car dealerships are the ultimate bait-and-switch. They ARE the trick or treat, except there's never a treat.

Monday, October 31, 2016

FIA inconsistency and waivering race stewards are what ruined the Mexico GP this weekend.

If you watched the Mexico F1 race this weekend, you'll have seen how the FIA and the race stewards totally destroyed the race. On the opening lap, Hamilton went off-track in the first corner and gained an advantage in doing so. Rosberg did the same on the second corner. The stewards investigated Hamilton, and decided no further action was needed, and didn't even look at Rosberg.
Skip to the closing laps of the race where Verstappen was defending against an attacking Vettel, and he went wide on the same corner, performing the exact same maneuver and even driving pretty much the same line as Hamilton, and as soon as the race was over, the stewards handed him a 5 second penalty.
This dropped Verstappen from third place to fifth.
Then we come to Vettel who was so infuriated by the fact that no action was taken during the race, that he got on the pit radio, cursed out his pit crew and Ferrari management and culminated in telling Charlie Whiting (the race director) to "F*ck Off". Once again, the stewards could have put a stop to that right then and there, but instead they waited until after the podium ceremony to hand down a 10 second penalty to Vettel (actually for changing line during braking). This pushed him down to fifth and pushed Verstappen back up to fourth in the final results.
This was a total farce. The whole point of race stewards and their guest drivers at the weekends, is to make a decision there and then. By dragging it out to the end of the race, and by being inconsistent with their penalties and choices, entire races are destroyed.
Think about it - if they let Rosberg and Hamilton go and let Verstappen go, the race would have ended exactly the way it did.
But if they handed down 5 second penalties to all three, and a ten second penalty to Vettel - doing it right there during the race whilst the teams could do something about it with strategy changes - the end result would have been very different.
The FIA need to exercise some consistency in their decisions. Verstappen was robbed of a third place yesterday because of corporate idiocy and procrastinating race stewards.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Elon musk lives in a fantasy world.

On Wednesday last week, Elon musk gave a presentation in which he said "Writing an article that’s negative, you’re effectively dissuading people from using autonomous vehicles, you’re killing people".

That's rich, coming from someone who's company is building cars that are killing people. And in my case, consider me firmly on that dissuasion bandwagon, and I'm very proud of it.

He went on to compare the accident stats of self-driving cars to those of human-driven cars. The problem is, that's irrelevant.
Spouting statistics without a frame of reference means nothing. If we were all driving in straight lines, on well-painted roads, in the middle of the day, in the dry, with no road construction or intersections, the accident rate for human-driven cars would be exactly the same as it is for Tesla's cars. But in the real world we don’t have that luxury, and Musk chooses to ignore that simple (but extremely important) fact.
The other fact he chooses to ignore is that the number of self-driving cars is miniscule so choosing an accident statistic that compares deaths to population is stupid. 10 deaths per 1,000,000 population is 0.01% - sure. And one crash in 25,000 autopilot-equipped cars is 0.0025%. But those are not the metrics to use. The metrics should be deaths per passenger mile driven vs deaths per passenger miles driven in self-driving mode, and because those stats simply are not available, you simply can't make a comparison.
Self-driving cars are not ready for prime-time yet. They can’t handle rain, autumn (leaves on the sensors), snow, ice, merging on and off freeways, road construction, pedestrians, misplaced street furniture, pot-holes, trees, large trucks (apparently) and a dozen other things.
There's a reason more attention is paid to deaths in self-driving cars - because they're new, they're very high profile, and they prove that Musk's claims about accident-free driving are bullshit. In the real world we all know this, but on planet Musk, he lives in a bubble of distorted reality. Musk continues to insist that his autopilot is in beta. A car capable of killing someone is not something that should be being beta tested on the open public. It's not an iPhone. Being flippant and glib about his customer's lives is even more reason to steer clear of Musk and his products.

I imagine once he's killed a bunch of astronauts with one of his spacecraft, he'll be critical of the media for dissuading people from space tourism too.
The more Musk speaks, the more I hate him and his company.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Eastern Airlines Flight 401 and it's relevant to Tesla Autopilot

Whenever I rag on Tesla for their so-called "autopilot", it gets pointed out to me time and time again that what Tesla put in their cars is "just like the autopilot in an aircraft". In other words it's designed to be an attended system that doesn't work without human input.
That's true. But Tesla should not have hyped their system and called it 'autopilot'. They should have called it 'assisted cruise control'. The naming difference is very important because a lot of people think 'autopilot' means the car will drive itself, which has been proven time and again to be a bad assumption.
Yes, Tesla put big warnings on the touchscreen about how you need to understand this and do that and watch this and that when the system is activated, but expecting drivers to read that before hitting 'accept' is like expecting someone to read all 69 pages of Apple's iTunes end user license agreement.
And this is where Eastern Airlines flight 401 becomes relevant. That flight crashed in 1972 killing 101 of the 163 people on board. The plane had been flying on autopilot at the time of the crash. The cause was inadequate pilot training and unfamiliarity with a new system. In 1972, autopilots were still relatively new on airliners and during an attempt to diagnose a gear down fault light, the pilots inadvertently switched the autopilot from 'altitude hold' to 'pitch hold'. The difference is crucial because in 'altitude hold' mode, the aircraft adjusts throttles and control surfaces to hold the current height. In 'pitch hold' all it does is maintain the current pitch. The aircraft crashed because the pilots didn't notice they'd done this and the autopilot did exactly what it was told to do - it held the aircraft pitched in a nose-up configuration while it lost speed and altitude and eventually crashed into the Florida Everglades.
EA401 changed pilot training and autopilot programming forever. It changed the in-cockpit indications and even today, pilot training programs include lessons learned from that crash.
Cut back to Tesla - who activated their 'autopilot' on all their cars overnight and sent out emails to the owners telling them this. There was no training, there was no tuition, there was no guidance. The only thing is a single box of text that appears on the touchscreen which is frequently ignored by people just hitting 'accept'.
So if your argument is that Tesla's autopilot is just like that of an aircraft, then my argument is that drivers should undergo rigorous training and testing on how to operate it before being allowed to use it in a real car on real roads. Just like airline pilots do. And when something goes wrong, the system is changed, and all drivers are re-trained on the new procedures.
Only then can you successfully argue that what Tesla have created is anything like an autopilot in an aircraft.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Even Google doesn't know how to make it's cars make life-or-death decisions.

In my long-running rant against the future of drone-cars, another snippit of anecdotal evidence that we're heading towards a bleak future. Google - in theory the current head of the pack when it comes to drone car technology- admitted this week that even they don't know how their cars will make life-or-death decisions.
Remember my posts where I talk about having to sign a contract when you purchase a car, that indicates that you're OK with the car killing you if need be? Yeah - THAT life-or-death decision.
Google also announced earlier in the year that yes, in fact their drone car WAS responsible for the bus crash it was involved in. So we have one company who's admitted their cars aren't the infallible nirvana everyone was promised, and that they don't know how to endow the car with the ability to make a life-changing decision.
And we have Tesla who have a couple of open lawsuits on their hands, one of which looks increasingly like it was indeed their car at fault for the death of it's driver.
Sure, Tesla also have stories about how their so-called "autopilot" helped get a guy to hospital, but one of those stories doesn't cancel out the fact that one of their cars killed it's driver.

In the meantime, you can join the debate because MIT have made a 'moral' game where you get to choose who gets killed in a self-driving car accident, including yourself. if you fancy seeing what the future looks like, when you hand over the responsibility of driving to a two-ton robot, head over to MIT's Moral Machine and start plowing down crowds of elderly women and male athletes....My results showed an extreme intolerance of rich people and people crossing on a red light :)

Me - I'm still not looking forward to this future. Too many companies are trying to ram something down our throats because they can, rather than sitting back to decide whether they should. These situations never end well.
Google admits it doesn't know how its cars will make life or death decisions.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Check your own tyre pressures - no garage will ever get it right.

In my 28 years (and counting) of driving, in six different countries, I've yet to come across anywhere that knows how to set car tyre pressures properly. I've not yet found a garage, dealership, oil-change shop or tyre store that understands what the sticker inside the driver's door means, nor how to use a pressure gauge.
At this point I'm convinced such a place doesn't exist. Generally, when someone else has worked on my car, I get it back with tyres that are anything from 5psi below the recommended pressure to 10psi above. My current Range Rover dealer is about the closest I've seen with all four tyres consistently 2psi above where they're supposed to be.
Underinflated tyres are bad, but on the occasion where I've had overinflated tyres, it's been dangerous. All tyres have a maximum inflation pressure and on one extreme occasion, a Subaru dealer gave me my car back with all four tyres inflated to 62psi. That was 7psi above the max pressure rating on the tyre and a full 34psi higher than the door sticker.
You can normally tell instantly. You'll get in your car and it will either feel like you're driving on grease, or on granite wheels. The greasy feeling means the tyres are underinflated. Rock-hard spinal re-adjustment feeling means the tyres are overinflated.
Spend a tenner and buy a decent dial pressure gauge (not one of those cheap pen type ones) and always check your own pressures when you get your car back from anywhere that's touched the wheels.
The same holds true for the lug nuts or bolts. If ANYONE touches them for ANY reason, check the torque yourself a day later, because as with tyre pressures, in 28 years I've yet to find a single place that knows what a torque wrench is.
I know you shouldn't need to do this but such is life.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Americans now own F1. And I think that's A Very Bad Thing.

Well it's happened. F1 has been sold to the Americans. Specifically Liberty Media for $4.4bn. With a "B". Bernie Ecclestone is supposedly going to stay on for another few years, but a full buyout is planned if the regulators approve it.
Red flags and alarm bells started going off when Greg Maffei, the CEO of Liberty Media, said this:
"We think our long-term perspective and expertise with media and sports assets will allow us to be good stewards of Formula One and benefit fans, teams and our shareholders."
So F1 is going to be run for the gain of the shareholders, and that's a problem. Shareholders generally don't know what they're talking about and have a propensity to ruin companies very quickly because all they care about is a quick buck and chasing dividends. Look at what happened to Lego - a company that could do no wrong, with the world's strongest brand in toys, who listened to their shareholders in the early 2000's and nearly bankrupted the company because of it.
My own direct experience of Liberty Media comes from SiriusXM satellite radio. I used to have XM Radio and it was pretty good. Cost me $7 a month. Then Liberty Media came along in 2008 with Sirius and bought out XM. Prices jumped to $19 a month for the same channel lineup and the service went to hell in a handbasket. In the end I ditched it because they couldn't keep the bill straight from one month to the next and the constant pressure to buy an even more expensive package was insane.
It's not just Liberty Media that's the problem though. I'm not a fan of this much American money being in F1. The sport is a uniquely European and international series. F1 fans don't need Indy car, or NASCAR, or any of the other won't-race-in-anything-other-than-perfect-weather events. We don't need commercial breaks and timeouts every 90 seconds. We don't need identical cars built to identical templates. We don't need oval circuits. In short - we really don't need American-style management and ownership of our sport. Liberty Media need to learn that throwing money at something won't make it better, or "fix" it, especially when it doesn't really need fixing.
But it's happened anyway, and I suspect the influence will start to become evident over the next 12 months. American interests have steadily been ramping up pressure to "own" F1 because it's a sport they're not very good at, and Americans don't like competing in things that they can't win. I suspect there will be pressure to have a second or even third US event added to the calendar. There will be pressure to use US-supplied tyres and engines, maybe even chassis'. Can you imagine Cooper being asked to supply F1 tyres? Or the teams headquartered in the UK, Germany and Italy being told to move to the US? Neither can I.
If they try to homologate the sport into a TV-commercial-break-ruled Indy-car type series in an effort to appease the beer-chugging, short attention span, redneck motorsport crowd, F1 will be forever ruined because that's not what it's about.
I hope beyond hope that Liberty Media do the right thing and listen to the fans and the teams. They have a Golden Goose here. But my suspicion is that they'll just do the usual "America Knows Best" routine and f*ck it up for everyone. They'll kill their goose and wonder what happened to all the eggs.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Another driver dies in another Tesla crash and MobilEye abandons Tesla.

Tesla is already under investigation for the death of Joshua Brown when his Model S slammed under the back of a truck and killed him whilst driving on autopilot. It turns out this isn't an isolated incident. In a remarkably similar crash in China in January, another driver was killed when his autopilot also didn't see a truck, and similar drove under the back of it at full speed. In the Chinese crash, a dashcam was recovered that shows the vehicle making no attempt to avoid the parked truck.
On top of these two autopilot deaths, a third driver has now died in his model S because of a severe electrical fire. In this latest case, the Dutch driver died when his Tesla crashed into a tree at 155kmh, in an accident so vicious that it split the battery in two and sparked the electrical fire. It seems autopilot wasn't responsible for this crash but it does call into question the integrity of the battery tub again (already investigated once due to a severe fire from road debris a couple of years ago).
Dutch first responders are extremely well-versed in dealing with electric cars - they're some of the best-trained first responders for these sorts of accidents. So when they tell you that the nature and severity of the wreckage was so bad that they could not be certain whether the car might be under high voltage, you ought to listen to them.
At the time, the driver was doing a reported 155kmh which would be a bad crash whichever way you look at it, in any car, but it ought to have been survivable.

With two confirmed deaths, it's not surprising then that the Israeli company that provides Tesla with part of the Autopilot system has broken ties with them. MobilEye don't want to be associated with a vehicle manufacturer that is killing it's driver with a flawed system. Ammon Shashua, chief technical officer for MobilEye said "No matter how you spin it, Autopilot is not designed for that. It is a driver assistance system and not a driverless system."
MobilEye abandons Tesla
Tesla autopilot caused second driver death?
Dashcam shows Chinese Tesla crash

Monday, September 12, 2016

Corporate ticket-buying at motorsports events.

With the Singapore GP just around the corner, I'm reminded of something my wife and I noticed at last year's race. Corporate ticket-buying is ruining F1 for genuine fans.
We had front-row seats - right on the start line. We got to see the drivers up close and personal during the national anthem. We got to watch Vettel and his crew fussing with the Ferrari, so close we could have thrown popcorn and had it land in the cockpit. We got to listen to all the sounds of the grid work and teams, and we got to enjoy the race from a fantastic position in the stands.
Three seats down from us, on the front row, there was a block of 12 seats that were empty for practice, and qualifying, and for the beginning of the race itself. About 10 minutes in, a group of people all turned up wearing identical IBM shirts, all carrying theme-cocktails, laughing and joking and generally being a nuisance to everyone else. They occupied those 12 seats for about 15 minutes, before all getting up and leaving, never to come back.
We saw the same thing up and down the pit-row grandstand - blocks of seats all being temporarily filled by corporate clones, only to be left empty for 90% of the time. I find this repulsive. Genuine F1 fans would love to have had any of those seats, but instead, some corporate raffle bought a block of seats and gave the tickets to people who had no idea why they were there, no idea what they were watching, and were genuinely disinterested in the whole race.
Perhaps the companies that do this should find out first if the people they're giving the tickets to actually want to go to the race, rather than to just turn up on the company's dime and get drunk. Or better yet - don't waste the company's money at all, don't buy the seats, keep the ungrateful corporate drones at home and let REAL fans have the opportunity to sit in these prime locations.
Like I said: close to the action....

Monday, September 5, 2016

I'm cured of my lust for a Dodge Charger.

Forever and a day, I've lusted after the Dodge Charger. The current version - not the old one. I love the looks, front and rear. With larger wheels and lower profile tyres it looks amazing. I love the wraparound red tail lights and the similar part-wraparound daytime running lights on the front. It just looks like it means business.
Then I rented one. An R/T version with a Hemi.
And now I don't want to own one any more.
Driving it was fun, for sure, but it was not a pleasant concert of well-balanced parts that were easily orchestrated. It was more like three drunks racing shopping carts down a back alley at night.
The engine was very urgent - too urgent. With an alleged 370 horsepower and 395 lb-ft of torque (although it really didn't feel like it), the lightest touch of the accelerator and it took off, meaning it was largely useless in stop-go traffic. Once in the open though, it felt a bit more natural, at least until it came time to overtake. If left to it's own devices, the command to kick-down for an overtake is faxed to the engine, to arrive with great delay, to the point where you end up pressing harder on the accelerator thinking maybe it didn't realize what was going on. Apparently this 8-speed box is a vast improvement over the older one but if that's the case I'm wondering just how bad the older one must have been. I mean this current generation one is so indecisive it spends a great deal of time hunting between gears. Far better is to use the paddle shifters on the steering wheel to force it down a gear - that's nearly instantaneous. And mercifully once in manual mode, after a short period of time the gearbox goes back to full auto (unless the shifter is in the "M" position).
The steering had three settings, which Dodge optimistically refer to as sport, normal and comfort. Those translated to vague, vaguer and vaguest. Compared to even the cheapest European runabout, the Charger's "sport" mode steering was sloppy and vague and to be honest there wasn't much difference between the three modes.
Oddly, there was a dedicated "sport" mode button in the center stack, which seemed to tighten up the gear ratios but didn't switch the steering to 'sport' mode - I had to do that three levels deep in the touch screen menu.
The brakes were pretty good - big-ass rotors with 4-pot calipers, and the feel through the pedal was not bad given the amount of power assistance in the way.
But again - driving it felt disjointed and awkward, not fluid and smooth like I'd hoped. I think some of this was down to the suspension. Calling it "choppy" is being kind. After five days of driving on regular roads with ruts and potholes, it was actually becoming painful and distracting to drive. Every small bump became a crashing, jarring punch in the spine.
I put a lot of these observations down to the car being a rental, but then I released it only had 900 miles on it, so it was basically brand new. It showed two previous Bluetooth phone connections and the registration document was dated 5 weeks ago so I was probably only the fourth or fifth renter.  
In the end I think they went 100% muscle, all-out for straight-line speed without a lot of consideration for turning, and I think THAT might be why it feels so bizarre to drive.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Things I learned while in Florida

Following on from the recent post on things I learned in California, here's some things I learned in Orlando last week.
1. They have the most incredibly out-of-balance red/green signal ratio. Around where I was - near UCF - the red signals were anything from 2 to 4 minutes, followed by about 15 to 20 seconds of green. That was for crossing streets. The main roads had the opposite. Meaning that the side streets had queues on them that lasted for 3 to 4 red cycles before you got to the front. Meaning to get ANYWHERE was at least 6 minutes sitting at every red light. If I timed it wrong, it was 16 minutes. To travel the 0.75 miles from my hotel to the nearest supermarket and back took a little over 35 minutes. Including the 3 minutes I was in the store.
2. The Florida stereotype is very true - little old ladies with purple hair in gigantic cars with the left turn signal forever stuck on.
3. People can actually turn right without coming to a dead stop. Are you listening, Utah?

Driving was OK overall - too many toll roads though. It must be cripplingly expensive to live down there if you own a car. Petrol is $1 more than in Utah and with toll roads everywhere, as soon as you get on the motorway or any large bypass road, you're in it for $1 there and $1 back. To get to UCF from the airport is $2 each way. To get to International Drive from the airport is $4 each way. I swear if I lived there I'd burn more in tolls than I did in petrol.
Between the cost of petrol, the toll roads and the bizarre light timing, if it wasn't for the awful weather (35°C and 90% humidity) it would be making a good argument to walk everywhere.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Things I learned while in California

On our road trip a couple of weeks ago, we passed through Nevada and Arizona but spent most of our time driving in California. I made some observations about California driving.
  • Shop around for petrol. This is true everywhere but doubly so in California. In Utah, from one end of the state to the other, it's not unusual to see prices differ by up to 40 cents per gallon. In California I saw big-branded petrol stations - Shell, Chevron etc - within a couple of miles of each other with huge price differences. The most extreme was in Huntington Beach where one was selling premium for $1.96/gallon and 1.3 miles away, the same brand was selling the same gas for $4.69/gallon - over double the price. I expect to see price differences like that on the motorways, but these were both on the side of Highway 101 and within sight of each other.
  • Californians don't seem to like breaking the speed limit. From crossing the state line coming in from Reno, driving 2000 or more miles inside California, to leaving via I-15 after Barstow, the average driver seemed to prefer to be at or under the speed limit rather than over. And the speed limits are appallingly low in CA with many freeways still stuck in the 1950's with 55-60mph limits. Compare to Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and other surrounding states where people generally drive 5-10mph over the limit. Of course once you talk about the 405, I-5 and I-10 anywhere near L.A, speed limits are a moot point because you're inevitably sitting in 5 or more lanes of 10mph crawl.
  • Californians have a dangerous inability to drive hilly or mountainous roads. Not only do they spend the entire time on the brakes when going downhill - to the point where you can't tell if they're slowing down or not because you've been following brake lights for 30 miles - but they brake at EVERY CORNER going downhill. On I-80 from Reno to Sacramento, it's two lanes and about a 35 mile descent. The limit is 55 to 60 depending on the section of road. We were stuck in 35mph traffic almost the whole way for no apparent reason other than every car in front of us - for as far as I could see - was on the brakes. All the time. It's as if they don't know that going down a gear will do a much better job than the brakes will on a long, shallow descent. The same was true when trying to get to and from Palomar observatory on S-6, and on the hilly sections of I-15 and SR76 near Pala Mesa. I'd say some of what they were doing on the mountain roads was downright dangerous. You don't ever, EVER come to a complete stop because of a corner on a freeway, no matter what. Doing it on blind downhill bends would be something I'd start ticketing drivers for if I was in the highway patrol. Yet we saw this time and time again - any slight deviation from a dead straight line and everyone dropped their speed to the point where we ended up in phantom traffic jams of stationary traffic at almost every bend.
  • Like Utah drivers, Californians don't like to overtake. On one of the more open sections of Highway 1, we came across an armored truck bumbling along at 30mph - slower uphill obviously. We joined the tail end of a line of probably 10 cars who seemed to be quite happy to sit behind this truck. As the opportunities presented themselves, nobody would overtake. So we did. Two or three cars at a time, until we got to the truck. We had to wait a little for another broken yellow line in the middle of the road, but when it came, off we went. After that we had no traffic behind us for nearly an hour. It was only when we got to some roadworks near Bixby Bridge that the armored truck caught us up with a massive line of traffic behind it. Overtake, people. It's easy and it makes your drive a lot more enjoyable.
  • Californians love the left lane. Doesn't matter how many lanes, they'll get into the left lane and sit there, normally 5mph below the limit. I lost count of the thousands of cars we passed simply by staying in the right lanes. The left lane was always full of nose-to-tail slower-moving traffic so we hardly ever used it. It was more efficient to use the right lanes to pass.
  • Lane splitting is now legal in CA. It used to be "not illegal" but now it's actually legal and the motorcyclists embrace this law with a vengeance. I'm a motorcyclist too and I used to lane-split all the time in England. In Utah it's illegal which just kills me when I'm riding, so I'm fully, 100% behind the law in CA and it made me smile every time a motorcycle passed us between lanes.
  • Californians seem bizarrely tolerant of people pushing into queues. When we came to the toll plaza at the San Mateo bridge, we joined the lines of traffic waiting to pay cash as we didn't have a SpeedPass. We then watched as 12 different cars drove all the way to the front of the line and just started nosing in to the line. Every time, someone let them in.
    So top tip - if you want to get through a toll plaza quickly in California, drive to the front and push in because there's a 100% chance someone will let you do it without so much as a honked horn or a shouted insult.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Road tripping

Last week we drove 2500 miles in six days. We went on a road trip from Utah over to California, down highway 1 and back up through Vegas to Utah again. It was a fun time - we got to see a lot of different things. What's interesting is how large distances and empty highways are something that lead to being able to do 500 miles in a day without any problem. When I used to live in England, I wouldn't voluntarily get in a car and drive 200 miles anywhere, let alone 500. I'd sooner have shot myself in the head. The congestion is terrible everywhere and the motorways are choked with centre-lane drivers and nanny cameras that issue fines without remorse.
In America, especially in the west, things are considerably different. The stretches of I-80 and I-15 that lead to and from our home city all neck down to two lanes once you're out of the main city area. The speed limit is either 75mph or 80mph depending on where you are, and the traffic is so relatively light that you can set the cruise control and literally not touch the brakes for 400 miles. It's still tiring to drive that sort of distance in a day but it's not difficult (unless you're in that f*cking Chevy). Rest stops are pretty well placed - normally 60 to 70 miles apart so there's plenty of opportunity to pull over and have something to eat, stretch your legs and such.
Then there's the "we've passed them before" game. There's always slower-moving traffic - larger trucks, motor homes etc. Very often we'll pass a bunch, then stop for something to eat, and when we get on the road again, we'll end up passing all the same vehicles again because they kept going when we stopped.
Road tripping isn't some romantic, idyllic thing though - that's not the point of this post. The point is that when I tell my friends back in Europe that we're driving 500 miles to get somewhere, their response is always the same - "what!?". Yes it would be different if we were on the East coast, but where we live, it's not a problem. And with the assholes at the TSA, the checkin and waiting times and all the other hassle at airports, it's pretty much a wash in terms of travel time now whether we drive 500 miles or fly.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Is your car really getting the service you're paying for?

It seems like car dealerships and car servicing are one of those last great bastions of criminality that everyone sort of knows exists but tends to turn a blind eye to. From the aggressive high-pressure sales tactics to the endless tens of thousands of anecdotal tales about how horrendous some places are. Top that off with repeated TV crews running investigations into service places that charge customers but don't do the service and you realize that barely half a year goes without some corporate chain being exposed.
Personally I'd never take my car to a quick-lube oil-change place again. I've had direct experience of the big US chain (I won't name them but it rhymes with Kwik-e-lube) and the big UK chain (rhymes with Brit-fit). In the US they forgot to tighten an oil filter and it came off on the drive home and crapped out an entire engine's worth of oil on to the road (fortunately, I managed to save the engine). In the UK I had an exhaust done which came off on the motorway driving home and went through the window of the car behind me. There are plenty of cases where similar events have happened, people's engines have been ruined and the brand or chain in question has not taken responsibility for what is clearly their problem.
So what can you do about it? Depends on whether you trust the places to do the work they say they'll do. It's sad that this question even has to be asked. But the quickest way to know for sure is to mark the item before you take your vehicle in. A little blob of silver paint, or scratch the item in a unique place with a screwdriver - something you can use to identify it if it's still on the car once they say the work is done.
Be careful of the up-sell. Most lube places don't make their money on the basic oil change. You'll go in asking for whatever they're advertising, and instantly they'll try to upsell you to the 'premium' oil. I guarantee it. Then they'll likely start with air filters, windshield wipers, brakes being too worn, brake fluid being old, power steering fluid being old (in both cases they'll tell you it either smells burned or is the wrong colour) and best of all - the engine flush.
Just don't do it - get the oil change and get out. Then get someone else to check whatever it was they told you needed doing, so you're not being pressured into a spur-of-the-moment decision.
And if they tell you 'legally we can't let you leave without doing your brakes', that's a classic red flag that they're trying to fleece you.
Buyer beware - as always.

Monday, August 1, 2016

What gives an F1 team its nationality?

A lot of the F1 world welcomed Haas racing to the track this year, and a lot of hoopla was made about it being an American team. But is it really?
The team is headquartered in Kannapolis but 95% of the engineering, assembly and maintenance work is done by Brits in Banbury in Oxfordshire at the old Marussia facility. As it turns out the only time their F1 cars are in Kannapolis is ahead of the US GP in Austin.
The chassis' comes from Dallara in Italy. The engines come from Ferrari - obviously also in Italy. The drivers are Grosjean (French) and Gutiéerrez (Mexican). The team principal is Guenther Steiner (Italian), the technical directors is Rob Taylor (English) and the chief aerodynamicist is Ben Agathangelou (Greek). Even the chief test driver - Charles Leclerc - is from Monaco.
In fact the only American connection in the team at all is Gene Haas - the owner - and Joe Custer, the COO. Once you get past them, there's nothing American about the team at all.
So is Haas an American F1 team simply because of the nationality of the owner?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Driving a crappy car is exhausting.

You might remember a post from a couple of weeks ago where I did 900-odd miles in a Chevy Equinox LT. You might also remember what an utter turd of a car that thing is.
Driving is exhausting, no matter how long or short the journey. In a great car, that works well, you never notice the exhaustion because it's normally not anything to be noticed. It's slight. However when you're driving a badly-engineered car, it can be unbelievably exhausting. That Equinox LT - the one that could barely hit 80mph - was a case in point. I've driven the 450 miles to Vegas a dozen times or more without ever having any issue. But trying to get that Equinox there - well - a different matter. I had to wrestle to keep it in a straight line. I had to be 100% aware of where the gearbox was about to kick down, where the engine wouldn't have enough power to pull off even a simple overtake. I had to plan way the hell ahead - I had to watch for faster-moving traffic behind that I knew I wouldn't be able to get out of the way of. I had to watch to make sure there wasn't an incline ahead that would catch me out mid-overtake. I had to take account of the damned wind direction because once it got into headwind, 70mph was hard enough and 80 was unattainable. I had to make sure there weren't any corners coming up that were more than slight, because the high sidewalls and sloppy handling meant it was a hell of an effort to keep it in-lane when cornering at speed. Well - "at speed" is hard to quantify when it complained like hell the closer I got to 80mph.
Anyway - the end result of all of this was that I faceplanted the bed in the hotel room after getting to Vegas and slept for two hours straight - something I've never previously had to do after that drive. I was mentally shot.
Get a car that has a decent amount of power, with good brakes, a comfy seat and tight steering, and you'll enjoy the drive and arrive alert and awake. Get an utter shitbox like the Chevy Equinox LT and you're risking your life because mentally you'll be at full capacity all the time just trying to drive it.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Utah Driver's latest trick - stopping at green lights.

There's a new disease afflicting drivers around where I live - they've started coming to a halt at green traffic lights. I don't know why - I mean apart from the driving population here generally being morons - but I mean there's no actual reason for it. The lights operate they way they always have. Red means stop. Orange means don't enter intersection. Green means go. Only now it seems that green means stop. So far this year I've witnessed no less than 5 rear-end accidents because of this. Accidents where someone just slams on the brakes when they get to a green light and the person behind them runs into the back of them. Because - you know - as any normal logical person would think, they probably also thought that a green light meant "go" not "park at the line".
I've given up hooting, honking and shouting at these idiots now. Now I have a much simpler strategy: I just go around them. So if you're reading this in Utah, and you're afflicting with this weird disease of stopping at green lights, be aware that people are likely to either run into you, or go around you. You're a danger to everyone else on the road and shouldn't have a license.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Chevy: Still building shit.

This weekend I had the misfortune to drive a Chevy Equinox LT AWD on a 900 mile round trip to Vegas and back and let me just say this: it's amazing to me that Chevy even still exist as a brand if this is what they're offering. Who, exactly, is buying this crap? I mean - who, apart from rental companies? I'm wondering if Chevy realize it's 2016 or if they think it's still the mid 1970's?
The model I was driving was a 2016 version with 20,000 miles on it - essentially a new car. According to the Chevy website, the slogan for this car is "love the journey" and with the trim level in the vehicle I was in, it starts just shy of $30,000. Let me tell you, that's $30,000 too much for this pile of shit.
Where to start? The engine maybe? Ok let's talk about the engine. It was a rental, so it had the 2.4L engine which Chevy claim has 182hp/172lbft of torque with a kerb weight of 3788lbs. My daily driver - a Range Rover Evoque - has 240hp and 250lbft of torque from an engine that is 400cc smaller and even though the Evoque weighs 200lbs more, it drives like an actual car. The Equinox drives like the Queen Mary. The engine is slow to respond and wooden, and it's connected to the accelerator pedal via twitter. Bolted to the back of the engine is a thoroughly 1970's 'Murican-built automatic slushbox. Honestly I thought the days of this sort of transmission were long gone. Over the last 16 years, the automatic boxes in my Subarus, Hondas, VWs and Range Rover have all been excellent. The Equinox appears to have a bowl of loose custard for a transmission. With the cruise control set at 80mph, even the slightest hill caused the box to change down. Get on to a steep hill and it kicked down to fourth. Get on to a canyon road and it kicked down to third. So I spent a good portion of the journey to Vegas and back with this fucking thing in third gear, screaming at over 7000rpm and still losing speed going uphill. It's the only car I've driven where a gearbox kickdown results in a lot of noise but no appreciable gain in torque or speed.
It's actually dangerous. When you pull out to overtake, the engine can't muster enough power to accelerate so you end up crawling past the vehicle in front. This isn't too bad on a freeway where everyone is going the same direction but if you were trying to do this on a two-lane road, overtaking a slower vehicle into oncoming traffic, it would be suicidal.
The end result of all this is that this vehicle managed an average of just 19mpg on the freeway. Chevy claim 31mpg on their website, and even accepting that that figure is unachievable, you'd think it might be in the high 20's - something like 25-26mpg. But no - 19mpg. 31mpg is an outright lie and is completely unachievable.
What about the rest of it? The brakes are wooden - and I think that's being kind. They're hard and have no feel to them. The brake assist system is vague meaning you need far more pedal pressure than you'd imagine to get the brakes to engage, and once they do, the brake response is woefully underpowerd for a car of this weight.
The suspension is boaty and vague, making the ride soft and wallowy, adding to the Queen-Mary-like driving experience. The horrible engine, the heavy car, heavy brakes and heavy steering ultimately mean you should stay away from corners at all costs.
The interior is bland and plastic, and not good plastic, but hard, brittle plastic that squeaks and rattles and is offensive to touch. The steering wheel is too big (and connected to a horrendously overpowered power steering system), the rest of the controls are too small and have the added bonus of all being in the wrong place (indicators are where wipers should be and vice versa). The driver's left-side elbow rest (on the door) is solid, unpadded plastic, making it uncomfortable to use on long journeys. The right side (center console) rest is too far back so you can't use it for support at all. The interior is covered in shiny silver plastic and chrome meaning that any amount of sunlight finds something to reflect off. The instrument binnacle is a genius piece of design that does nothing other than reflect the back of the steering wheel if there's any daylight at all. The picture below shows the best-case scenario of what I could see for 900 miles. When the sun came out strong, the reflections were worse than this and the instruments were completely unreadable.
The multimedia system is user-hostile with an interface designed by a blind person. The Bluetooth connectivity is sketchy and tends to forget what device it's connected to on a random basis, forcing you to re-pair devices mid-journey. The backup camera looks like a Super NES game.
I'd like to say the redeeming feature is the way it looks, but it looks like the Chevy designers (and I use the word 'designers' lightly) just threw a lump of clay on the floor and said "that's perfect - add some wheels and we're done".
Overall this car was obviously designed by people who hate cars, for people who hate driving. I can see how it would be an enticing vehicle for someone who works from home so their commute involves never getting into this spiteful piece of engineering. But for anyone else? There's no way any sentient human would willingly buy this.
This leaves me with a slight fear over the Chevy Bolt - their all-electric car that - until this point - I was quite looking forward to. I'm not so sure now. I mean it looks great from the outside but if the inside and the mechanicals are being put together by the same people that are making the Equinox, the Bolt could be terrible.
Which would be sad, because it has the potential to be great.
Chevy's slogan for the Equinox is "Love the journey". Counterpoint: I fucking hated the journey. The journey was the worst part of the weekend thanks to Chevy. This vehicle needs to die in a fire.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Yes, there is such a thing as a zero-star rated car.

In more well-off countries, we're used to seeing cars with 4- and 5-star crash ratings. We're used to airbags and seatbelts and (not including idiots and Trump voters) we accept and understand that these make cars safer. Manufacturers have made amazing advances in crash structures to the point where the most common car crashes are very survivable nowadays.
However the same cannot be said for emerging markets like India, where large, well-established global car manufacturers are selling vehicles that are - without being dramatic - death traps.
Global-NCAP and ADAC (European safety firms) recently performed a series of very normal crash tests on the Renault Kwid, Suzuki Celerio, Suzuki Eeco, Hyundai Eon and Mahindra Scorpio. These were normal tests - offset front crash test, head-on crash tests etc. The sorts of things we're all used to seeing. Every one of those five cars received zero star crash rating, essentially meaning that at 30mph, the car will kill all it's occupants.
When you watch the videos, it's horrifying to see global manufacturers producing cars that suffer such catastrophic failures. In one case (the Renault Kwid) the A-pillar fails so spectacularly that the force of the crash is transmitted all the way to the rear of the C-pillar behind the back seats. Out of a possible 17 points for adult survivability, this vehicle stars a flat 0.0.

These videos illustrate the failure of conscience of modern corporations. All these manufacturers are very capable of manufacturing cars with airbags, crash structures and safety cells. Yet because India is a largely unregulated market, they choose instead to use that market as the source of massive profit by manufacturing cheap-to-build cars, stripped of even the most basic safety features. Obviously it costs less to build such a car, so rather than do the right thing - which would be to value human life and strive to ensure their products meet even the most basic UN crash test requirements - these companies instead take advantage of markets like India, Mexico and Indonesia where drivers are ill-educated about crashes, and where there are no regulations covering even the most basic crashworthiness of vehicles.
Renault, Hyundai and the others should be ashamed of these vehicles. They could have used emerging markets as an opportunity to be global corporate pillars but instead, as always, they pander to the shareholders and the quarterly bottom line.
Things will change next year though - in India at least, front- and side-impact testing will be mandated for all new vehicles meaning Renault, Hyundai and Suzuki will have to find another emerging market with expendable drivers to fleece.
WSJ - Why Some Of India's Best Selling Cars Fail Basic Safety Tests

Monday, June 27, 2016

Changing lanes in an intersection

There's a saying that we all pick and choose which laws to abide and which laws to break. For example I rarely travel at the speed limit and if the other three roads are patently free of traffic, I'll coast through a 4-way stop. This means that (a)I'm honest and (b)I'm like 90% of other drivers even if they claim they never break any laws. When I choose not to abide by traffic laws, I try to ensure it only affects me. Speed isn't killing me or slaughtering the women, children and babies of every driver near me (like everyone nowadays seems to think it will). Rolling through 4-way stops that are completely empty isn't inconveniencing anyone and it helps with fuel economy.
Changing lanes in intersections, however is one thing I won't do because it's a huge inconvenience to everyone else and it's a fantastic conflict point that can cause all manner of problems.
For the most part, people seem to understand that you don't change lanes when going straight through (for the most part) but it seems barely anyone understands that the same is true for when turning corners. For example when you turn out of a side street on to a main road, you should turn into the inside lane. Not swing across into the outside lane, because that's where people will tend to be driving who will be assuming (mostly wrongly) that you're going to use the inside lane.
The same is true for turning across large intersections. This diagram shows where the cars should go (in green) and where they seem to go all the time (in red):
Please, people - don't change lanes in intersections. By all means find some other motoring law to break that doesn't affect anyone. Might I suggest crossing double yellow lines on long, straight mountain roads when the person in front is doing 30 below the speed limit? If there's nothing coming towards you, it's perfectly safe to do this. The bigger problem in this situation is who the hell decided double yellow lines were needed in the first place.

Monday, June 20, 2016

EV charging done wrong.

Last weekend I was thrilled to find that our local REI had installed EV charging stations. (You may remember last year we bought a second hand Nissan Leaf.) I pulled into one of the parking spaces (painted green, with "electric vehicle charging only" painted on the ground), popped the charging port and went to the charging station. They had the option of SAE Combo and CHAdeMO fast chargers, as well as a pair of 240V J1772 level 2 chargers. Our Leaf has a CHAdeMO port so we hooked it up and touched the screen on the charging station to continue. No lights came on. Checked the port - it was connected OK. Then the screen displayed "tap RFID card to start charging" and here's where it all went south.
The charging station we had found is operated by a company called EVGO, which means first of all it's not free. Ok I'm fine with that - it was a pipedream to think we'd be able to charge for free. But there was no mechanism to pay at the charging station. The REI employees didn't sell cards either. So I looked up EVGO to find out what the deal was. 10¢/minute or $1/hour for fast charging - great. Except they only offer that if you subscribe to their service for $15 a month plus taxes.
We spend exactly $8.65 in electricity each month charging our Leaf. Why would I pay nearly double that for a subscription that only then offers me access to charging stations where I then have to pay by the minute?
This is EV charging done completely bass-ackward. It should be a monthly subscription with no cost at the charger. Or better still, there should be no subscription fee, but with bank card readers or NFC payment receivers at the charging station (like we have at gas pumps) then we could pull up and pay-as-we-go for charging.
I have no problem paying to charge our Leaf but I'm not paying an extra $15 for the privilege. Imagine if you had to pay a monthly subscription before you could access the pumps on a petrol station forecourt.....

Monday, June 13, 2016

Viewers call again for Chris Evans to be removed from so-called "Top Gear"

Having made the long, slow, painful trek through last week's so-called "Top Gear" I can fully understand the story that ran in several papers where a great many people asked why Jenson Button couldn't replace Chris Evans (Top Gear fans call for Jenson Button to replace Chris Evans as host). Again, Evans was shouty, unfunny, rude and generally obnoxious, and again he proved that all he's capable of whilst driving a car is reading the press release. It also became extremely apparent that he doesn't drive the cars for the external shots. The internal camera views always show him driving in a straight line along the runway, and the external views show a driver who doesn't even have red hair.
The crowning moment of glory however, came when Jenson Button was allowed to drive the McLaren 675LT with Evans in the passenger seat. It was immediately more funny and more engaging, with Button drifing beautifully around the track, one hand on the wheel, the other stroking the alcantara fabric on the A-pillar and musing about the style of the radio. Funnier still was Evans reaction in the passenger seat - outright terror, proving he's not equipped to drive powerful cars, nor be a passenger in them when they're driven by race drivers.
The absolute truth comes from the viewing figures though. 4.4million in the first week, dropping to 2.8m last week. A new all-time low for the show, being beaten now by Country File, Antiques Road show and a charity event on ITV. Evans is in total denial at this point, now claiming "Overnight television viewing figures for Top Gear have never been less relevant."
I disagree. The main presenter for Top Gear has never been less relevant. Chris Evans needs to go before he sinks that ship completely. Leave it in the capable hands of Matt LeBlanc, Sabine Schmitz, Chris Harris - and just maybe - Jenson Button.

Monday, June 6, 2016

So - the new BBC Motoring Program...

The BBC have a new motoring show, in case you hadn't heard. They keep calling it "Top Gear" but it's absolutely not Top Gear. Not even remotely. Remember when Top Gear was crap - the first few episodes of the Clarkson years? Before they found their stride? The new motoring show makes those early Clarkson shows look like finely polished TV. In fact - and this was something I just didn't think was possible - the new so-called "Top Gear" makes the U.S Top Gear look like a decent show by comparison.
The best analogy I can come up with is that it's akin to watching the Hindenburg crash into the Titanic. In slow motion.
So what's wrong with it? The most obvious problem is Chris Evans. He's a very unlikeable man WHO SHOUTS ALL HIS LINES FOR NO REASON, can't read off the autocue, can't time a joke, can't review cars, can't drive, isn't funny and has no chemistry with anyone he works with. I thought the BBC had learned this decades ago but apparently not. Apart from being awful on camera, he's also a wizard at getting the audience to hate him: Chris Evans 'swore at Top Gear audience' who didn't laugh at his jokes. I think once you see the episode you'll know why they didn't laugh.
Speaking of the audience - it's now way too big and so obviously clapping and laughing on cue that they might as well have just put a sitcom-style canned laughter track over the top.
There was no news segment - well - there was but it was in Extra Gear which is an aftershow that specializes in even more wooden presenters, reading autocues to tell you how CHRIS EVANS SHOUTED EVERYTHING FROM HIS AUTOCUE. It's partly saved by Chris Harris, who is a decent motoring presenter in his own right (but you wouldn't know it from watching Extra Gear). I suspect he's been told not to compete with Evans because compared to his standalone shows, it was like he was a shadow of his usual self. Why he's hitched his trailer to this dying horse is a mystery - maybe he doesn't like his career?
Apart from Chris Harris, I'm not sure anyone knows who any of the people were in Extra Gear - just a bunch of talking heads reading badly scripting "banter" whilst trying to look like it wasn't scripted.
The star in a reasonably priced car is now the star in a half-a-million pound race-prepped rally car, and the circuit now includes an off-road section meaning that the times mean nothing any more (because the off-road section is a huge variable) and that they're seemingly quite happy to ruin the road circuit by dragging rocks and mud on to it.
There's clearly going to be a running gag about people throwing up when driven by Sabine Schmitz- but they blew that joke in episode 1 with some terrible scripting.
Oddly, Matt LeBlanc is the only redeeming feature of the show. When he's reading off autocue and playing stooge TO THE SHOUTING GINGER ONE, he's as awful as Evans. But when he's allowed to do his own segments, he's quite watchable.
Sabine Schmitz - it goes without saying - is the best of the lot because she can both drive, and present at the same time. Evans can't really drive, and his idea of presenting an opinion consists entirely of reading the press release whilst demonstrating how much he can't drive.
Will so-called "Top Gear" improve with time? Probably, but for that to happen they need to get rid of Chris Evans quickly and replace him with Chris Harris. They also need to abandon "Extra Gear" which is a sad, desperate "please like us" show.
To put it in perspective, so-called "Top Gear" now has a record low viewing figure for the last 10 years, and the bookies are betting 4:1 that Evans won't make it past the end of this series, and 2:1 that this is the last series altogether. Yeah. It sucks that badly.
Now the bar has been set this low, Clarkson, Hammond and May's new show on Amazon could literally be an hour of them drinking tea and it would be funnier than what the BBC have produced.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Yet another Takata airbag recall.

At this point it should come as no surprise to anyone that eight manufacturers recalled another 12 million Takata-airbag-equipped vehicles (those are just US numbers) on Friday. This is on top of the 5.5 million recalls announced on Monday last week. (And also on top of the 3.4 million recalled in 2013, the 4.8 million recalled in 2014 and the 3.3 million recalled in 2015).
Once again the culprit is airbag modules, occupancy sensors or inflators. Take your pick, because I think now it's fairly safe to say that ANY vehicle with a Takata airbag will eventually be recalled at this point.
In case you're keeping count, that's a total of 29 millions vehicles recalled so far, just in the US.
If you want to check for open recalls - in the US at least - the safercar website has a lookup that you can use either via model, make and year, or more easily via your VIN: Check for recalls.
At this point you have to wonder how Takata can survive this. There's class action suits against them and almost every car manufacturer who uses their products - VW, Audi, Honda, Toyota, Fiat, GM, Chrysler - you name it, they all have open suits against them. What's amusing is that in 2015 this was already the largest vehicle recall in history, and that was before the extra 15 million (so far) vehicles were added in the first 5 months of 2016.
I think you should just assume that at some point, the vehicle you're driving WILL be recalled because of this.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A thought experiment for you, on the subject of self-driving cars.

I've blogged about this before, but here's a thought experiment for you (Given that Tesla are now involved in two high profile cases where their autopilot crashed the car and they're saying they're not to blame):
It's the future, you're in your self-driving car, minding your own business. You're on the motorway, commuting to work. A minivan full of kids on the school run is to your right, a motorcyclist is to the left. Traffic is moving at a steady pace. The truck in front of you has a badly-secured load, and as it hits a pot-hole, a large sheet of steel is dislodged and slides off the back, catching the wind and flipping up. At this point a crash is inevitable. At the very least, someone is going to be seriously injured, and at the worst they could potentially be killed. Your self-driving car has logic built into it for a situation like this, so who's it going to choose to kill?
Does your car kill the motorcyclist to avoid the steel sheet and save your life? Does it defend the motorcyclist (because they are the most vulnerable road user in direct proximity), leaving the option of killing you or the van full of kids? If that's the case, who's life is more valuable? You on your own, or the children next to you? Can your car make that life-changing decision in a split second, taking into account all the variables and inputs from all its sensors? What if the self-driving minivan is also trying to make the same decisions at the same time?

Think about it. When you buy a self-driving car, there will be a clause in a contract you will have to sign, that indicates that you're OK with the idea that the car you've just bought might one day choose to sacrifice you for the common good.

Now how do you feel about self-driving cars?

Monday, May 16, 2016

It's a sad day when car performance and handling is lowest on buyer's list of influences.

A recent study reports that in the grand scheme of things, car buyers are ranking the performance and handling of cars as very low on their list of things that influence their buying decisions. The highest ranking item is, according to this study at least, the entertainment system.
As a gear head I find this yet more evidence of a troubling trend; people just don't like driving any more. They're not trained properly and have no real interest. Driving standards have been plummeting for the last decade and as manufacturers add more and more distractions in the cab, with more and more isolation from the road. Honestly if the performance and handling of a car are that low on people's lists, I wonder why they buy a car at all and don't just use cabs, public transport and Uber. I wonder if I'll see the end of drivers who enjoy driving, who are allowed to drive in a spirited manner in my lifetime? I wonder if legislation and insurance will just make it too expensive to actually drive? I wonder if we're all going to be forced into joyless self-driving mobile entertainment centers? If that's the case then just shoot me now. I still rate performance and handling as number 1. If my phone can connect via Bluetooth so I can stream Spotify then that's really all I need. I don't need to text from the steering wheel, or get Twitter updates from celebs with inflated egos on my dash display. But it seems I'm in the growing minority. It's a sad day for driving for sure. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Regular oil changes DO make a difference.

I think a lot of people believe that modern oils mean they can neglect their oil change interval on their cars. Too many products advertise "lifetime" guarantees, and 20,000 mile oil changes. I've seen plenty of engines that have been ruined by poor oil change discipline. The photos below were sent to me by a reader who was doing a cam swap. They show a pair of Hyundai Coupe engines. The older engine is in much better condition internally because the owner changed the oil regularly. The newer engine was owned by someone who either didn't care, or just couldn't be bothered.
Oil changes: cheap insurance for your engine. Just do it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

ALL diesels fail the emissions test - not just VW.

In a test that should surprise nobody, the UK DfT concluded recently that all diesel cars fail the emissions standards. They tested 37 cars on the road, and despite all of then passing the NoX emissions test in lab conditions, once on the road, every one of them failed. The degree of failure varied but a 100% failure rate is enough to tell us what we already knew - the emissions tests are flawed in the same way that the gas-mileage tests are flawed.
What would be entertaining at this point would be if it turned out that of all the failing vehicles, VW were actually the smallest offenders....
The question is how to solve this? Obviously the manufacturers can't recall all their diesel vehicles - mostly because there isn't a "fix" for this issue. The only realistic solution is to raise the emissions limit and test all cars under real-world conditions, not in a lab.
Ultimately I suspect this is another nail in the coffin for diesel cars. At this point manufacturers will be pondering whether it's worth the hassle and expense of trying to pass even a new emissions standard. Honestly if I was making policy decisions for any of the large car companies, I'd abandon diesel and put the money into electric R&D instead...
DfT emissions testing program results.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Do bicycle helmets make any difference?

In 2014 a neurosurgeon went on record stating that bicycle helmets make no difference to the safety of the cyclist. I've long held this view. Being a motorcyclist, I wear a full-face helmet. Those are solid shells, with shatter-resistant face shields, filled with high density polystyrene, surrounded by a strong loop in the chin bar to help with structural integrity. From direct personal experience I can tell you motorcycle helmets absolutely do save lives. I wouldn't be writing this entry if I'd not been wearing my helmet in the two crashes I've had. But I've long questioned the flimsy little foam things that cyclists wear. The don't cover the sides of the head, they offer no protection to the face and they have no structural integrity (you can snap most of them in two just with your hands - even the expensive ones).
In January this year, another study was completed that largely came to the same conclusion, but discovered in addition that cyclists take more risks when wearing a helmet because they think they're safer (the same is true of car drivers who drive in airbag-laden cars that are soundproofed - they take more risks because they think they're safer).
A study published in The British Medical Journal last year looked at hospitalisations in 11 countries with varying helmet laws, and found that wearing helmets did not lower injury rates.
Considering the various studies on this issue and the real-world data, you have to ask whether it's worth wearing a bicycle helmet at all.
I'll support motorcycle helmet laws to the end of time because data proves time and time again that they are worth it. But when all the science shows that bicycle helmets almost do more harm than good (because of their placebo effect) I'd be quite happy to support a call to make them optional rather than mandatory.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Your responsibility as second-in-line

A quick post this week. If you read this blog regularly you'll know that I regularly talk about the importance of traffic flow. So this post is about your responsibility as the second car in line when stopped at a red light. It's simple; if the person at the front hasn't noticed the green light within 2 seconds, use your horn with a single 'toot' to attract their attention. This way you don't all sit at a green light while the driver in front finishes their text, and end up missing the entire green cycle.
Although if you're the driver at the front, it's your responsibility to be paying attention ....

Monday, April 11, 2016

Time exposed to danger.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a colleague about the merits of better driver training and the subject of 'time exposed to danger' came up (referred to from hereon as TETD). In some countries, this is part of driver training. In the U.S it isn't. The principle is simple - when you're going to make a maneuver whilst driving, you should minimise your TETD. What does this mean?
Take a simple example: you're on a motorway, coming up to a semi / articulated truck, and you want to pass. To minimise your TETD, the best option is to hold back until the entire lane next to the truck is clear, then pull out, pass quickly, and pull back in far enough in front so as not to cause the truck to need to slow down. The worst option is to set your cruise control / right foot to 2km/h faster than the truck, pull out and spend 30 seconds slowly overtaking. Trucks are big, the maneuver slow, they are riddled with blind spots and they do a lot of damage. The last thing you should be doing is dawdling next to one. Doubly so if you're on a motorbike. Your safest bet is to pass quickly, in one go.
The same is true in urban areas. If you're sitting in a side street waiting to join a main road, to minimise your TETD you should pull out and quickly accelerate up to the speed of the rest of the traffic, thus creating the minimum impediment for other road users. The worst option is to pull out slowly, then gently idle up to the speed limit. By doing this, you're taking longer to reach the average speed of the rest of the traffic, and the speed differential in this case is your exposure to danger. By accelerating smartly, you quickly reach the same speed as everyone else and your time spent as a 'rock in the stream' is vastly reduced.
Similarly if you're on a narrow road wanting to pass a cyclist, don't dawdle past him, nervously crossing the center painted line. Wait for the oncoming traffic to clear, and pass quickly. Instead of spending 20 seconds 'sort of' in oncoming traffic, straddling the line, you spend 2 seconds in the other lane then pull back in.
Finally - and this might seem like it's a bit out of the left field - consider your options if you live in an earthquake zone. Let's say you're in a line of traffic queued up under a motorway, waiting for the lights to change so you can turn and head up the on-ramp. To minimise your TETD, you would ideally wait with clear sky above you, even if this means leaving a gap to the traffic in front. When the lights change, accelerate under the overpass and around to the on-ramp. In an earthquake zone, the worst option is to wait underneath the overpass because should the worst happen, you're stuck in a line of parked traffic with a couple of hundred tons of concrete, rebar, trucks, trains and cars over your head, and the 3mm of pressed steel in your roof won't stop you from becoming a smear of jam when the overpass collapses.
So consider your time exposed to danger next time you're passing a three-trailer delivery truck with your cruise control set to 1km/h faster than him.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Can Uber regulate the condition of their cars?

A Couple of weeks ago I was on a business trip to San Francisco and rather than rent a car, the group I was with decided to use Uber to get around. The service itself was pretty slick, but the condition of the cars was something that definitely needs some sort of regulation. Don't get me wrong - I love the idea of Uber, but the implementation of it from a safety point of view leaves a lot to be desired.
Over the 5 days we were there, we Uber'd 6 times. The initial ride picked us up from the airport in the middle of a reasonably strong California downpour. Low visibility, roads covered in standing water, lots of spray. The tyres on the car that picked us up were not so much bald as they were non-existent. The driver had gone through the tread and was driving on the canvas cords and steel bands. That car wouldn't have been safe in the dry. In the wet it was like driving on teflon. We aquaplaned on the slightest puddle but the driver didn't seem phased.
The second ride was fine in terms of the car (a Prius) but the driver was the scary part that time around. His driving style was either 100% accelerator or 100% brake and red lights meant nothing to him.
The third ride was about the best of the bunch - a reasonably new Chevy Tahoe in good condition with a careful driver.
The remaining rides were a combination of poorly maintained cars (massive oil leaks, no brakes, no tread on the tyres, broken headlights and such) and drivers who were more willing to get into a knock-down-drag-out fight than they were to drive us to our destination (because we refused to get into a car that had the exhaust dragging on the road).
I know there are horror stories on both sides of the divide for Uber - both from drivers who had terrible passengers, and from passengers like us who had a wildly variable set of rides and drivers. One of those is easier to fix than the other - the actual vehicles. Regulations exist in the taxi industry for a reason - generally to try to ensure some level of safety. (Although that being said, I've also travelled in regular taxis in America where even regulated businesses seem able to put total deathtraps on the road).
Uber is a great idea, but until they come up with some way of guaranteeing the basic condition of the driver's vehicles, I think I'm going to pass on it for the time being.

Monday, March 28, 2016

What does winter 'cost' you?

If you're one of those people who religiously tallies your own fuel costs (using an app or a spreadsheet) you might notice that things take dip during the winter. With spring around the corner (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere), warmer weather is on the way and at this point you might notice things improving in terms of the cost of running your car. With modern cars, loaded with electronics, comfort and convenience features, winter can 'cost' you up to 1mpg or about 0.75l/100km.
The reason for this is a combination of things.
If your car has heated seats, heated steering wheel, heated mirrors, heated washer jets or any combination of the above, and it's sufficiently cold, you'll be likely using one or more of those heaters each time you drive in the winter. The added electrical load means the alternator has to work more which puts a little extra load on the engine.
Then there's the fuel. During the winter months, many refineries distribute a 'winter' fuel mixture in an attempt to help with emissions during cold weather. This is actually a throwback to the 60's where emission technologies in cars were almost none-existent. Nowadays it makes almost no difference at all to the emissions, but the 'winter' blend typically has more ethanol in it and less actual petrol. Ethanol has less specific energy capacity so the more that it's blended with petrol, the less energy you get per volume in your car. In short, the higher the ethanol blend, the worse your gas-mileage becomes.
Finally there's the commuter stress. If you live close to where you work, during the winter months your engine likely never gets properly hot during the morning commute. Engine management systems tend to run a slightly richer fuel mixture in cold engines as well as altering the timing.
The combination of more electrical load, poorer fuel quality and colder engines are what add up to that 1mpg drop in economy during the winter.
On the plus side, the ice-cold air means the air charge going into your engine makes the engine a little more powerful (denser air means more fuel and air in the cylinder before detonation). You might feel this in the response and performance of the engine and that might encourage you to drive faster, which can also lead to lower economy :)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Alonso's F1 crash in Melbourne highlights how safe F1 cars are.

Call it a racing incident, call it distracted driving (Gutierrez was preoccupied trying to reprogram something on his steering wheel), call it bad braking - Alonso's crash in Melbourne this sunday was horrific whichever way you look at it.

What the video above doesn't show is that Alonso managed to get himself out of the wreckage unassisted and walked away. He was later checked out by the medical crew and found to have no serious injuries (although he is now limping).
F1 is a great sports and it's inherently dangerous. But the safety innovations in the design of the cars have come on in leaps and bounds as the years go by and only 10 years ago, this would likely have been a fatal crash. For Alonso to be able to have such tremendous forces applied to the car during this crash and be able to get out and walk away is a testament to the skill and engineering involved in creating modern F1 cars. If you watch the footage after the crash, where the crane is lifting the wreckage over the catch barrier, you'll see the cockpit of the car was completely intact - the safety cell was undamaged by the impact.
It does call into question the use of gravel traps again though. Most F1 circuits have asphalt run-off areas now and it could be argued that had that corner not been gravel, Alonso's car would not have flipped over. I'm surprised to still see grass and gravel run-off areas in modern F1 circuits.
In other news, hopefully the FIA can do something about the abominable new qualifying rules before the next race.

Monday, March 14, 2016

When a dealer says they have "new" tyres on a vehicle but they're nowhere near new...

There is such a thing as a re-tread. If a tyre has enough rubber left on the original carcass, the existing tread is shaved off and a new strip of rubber is vulcanised over the top and the tread is cut into the new rubber. Re-treads are relatively safe, although not as good as a new tyre, but they're infinitely safer than carving chunks out of a worn tyre by hand and passing that off as a new tyre. The tread wear bars are there for a reason. Cutting them off and digging the rubber out even closer to the carcass is NOT how you make a re-tread. If you see something that looks even half as sketchy as the "tread" in this finished product, just walk away: