Archive | September, 2012

Would You Go Car Free For A Day?

Facts and statistics that pour out of institutes and research facilities bombard us on an almost daily basis. The general theme seems to be that if you enjoy something then it must be bad for you. If you think about it, this is actually probably true.

For example, if you live in an area that is affected by a lot of traffic noise (and this applies to most people who prefer a busy, urban environment in which to live) then you are more likely to suffer a heart attack. Presumably, if you live in peaceful countryside surroundings you simply die of boredom.

Did you know that miniscule soot particles emitted from diesel engines can go into your brain via your nose? And were you aware that noise pollution from motor cars that exceeds 55 decibels is harmful to you? Thought so, but those canny Swedes have got it sorted because in Sweden it is actually illegal to put out more than that number outside a building. How do they know? Also, have you ever been to Sweden? We’ve all seen Wallander.

In short, cars are bad for you and should be given up immediately. This is the purpose of World Car Free Day on September 22nd. This is an annual environmental scheme to encourage the residents of one thousand towns across the globe to go without their beloved motors for a day and travel instead by bike, trains and buses. Mules are also permitted presumably or, in certain areas, yaks.

This is all very laudable and so on but, in the UK at least, for many people public transport is not all that the vested interests would have it seen to be. This, and the fact that local councils can’t afford to fund events coupled with the unsurprising news that the public at large is getting a bit fed up with being preached at about the environment means that this scheme’s ambitious plans have gone from bad to worse.

Over the last ten years, approximately 50 towns in Britain have put on some sort of show to highlight the issue. For 2012, this has dropped to a rather pointless ten. It appears that out of 400 councils approached, only two replied. The problem is that our economic woes have distracted us from green initiatives, at least according to the organisers. Perhaps they should understand that, although the public generally supports a cleaner environment, we are fed up with having the issue perpetually forced upon us.

As it turns out we are using our cars less anyway – a direct result of our economic problems and rip-off prices. Add to this the fact that cars have never been cleaner or greener and it’s hard to see anyone getting too worked up about being car free. Anyway, have you ever tried cleaning up after a yak?

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Big Torque

It’s a funny old world. Not so long ago, big 4×4’s were castigated for being ‘gas guzzlers’ and ‘Chelsea tractors’. They were also frowned upon by those of the green persuasion as being the work of the very devil himself. Because it was also very expensive, a bit ugly and laughed in the face of its detractors, a special sort of ire was reserved for the Porsche Cayenne.

Since then of course opinions have moved on and pretty much every manufacturer has a big 4×4 or soft-roader in its range and as all-purpose family vehicles they are hard to beat. Couple this with tremendous strides forward in the field of fuel economy and the modern all wheel drive has a lot to offer.

The Cayenne has always been good and now, in its current face-lifted form isn’t bad looking either. Obviously buyers can’t go wrong with Porsche technology and engineering – it is simply amongst the best in the world and the company’s cars are a byword for reliability.

The present Cayenne is physically lighter and considerably greener than its predecessor. MPG across the variants is around the mid 20’s – not terrifically frugal to be honest but then these are big vehicles. They certainly compete well with the competition in this regard. It also depends on how it is driven as well. The Cayenne is powerful and displays remarkably good handling for its size. In short – it is great to drive and the temptation to put the pedal to the metal is strong.

To enhance the range Porsche are introducing a new and more powerful oil-burner – the Cayenne S Diesel. This is powered by a 4.2L twin turbo motor that develops a relatively normal 381 brake horse power but offers a frankly astonishing 850 torques. That’s real pulling power.

Despite this, the carbon dioxide output is a modest 218g/km and the company’s mpg number is 34. Presumably they arrived at this figure by doing an economy drive second to none to achieve that many miles to the gallon. Expect the real world figure to be less, although, to be fair, the car does have stop/start.

This model has the Porsche Traction Management System as standard and all S cars are also fitted with Porsche vehicle tracking system which is approved to the highest Thatcham rating. As ever the car’s interior is of the highest quality and the Cayenne comes with all the modern technology you’d expect from this brand.

The inevitable downside is that it costs the thick end of 60 grand. Never mind – after all it is a Porsche.

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Does Viagra Makes You a Better Driver?

Here at Motor Blogger HQ the place is abuzz with activity. The car show season will soon be upon us and, with all the new models from supercars to electric vehicles soon to be formally announced, we don’t need anything else to get us excited.

We always welcome and respond to comments from our readers but why is it that so many contacts want to sell us Viagra? It’s a mystery to us. Honestly guys, we don’t need it – if you know what we mean – and certainly our red-blooded readership are unlikely to be found wanting in that, erm, department, that’s for sure.

Readers in the UK are also unlikely to need divorce services based in Dallas, Texas and probably won’t order their pizza from the Ukraine. This is the trouble with global communication. There’s too much of it .

There was a time, not so long ago, when, if you needed to buy a used car, you would search the local paper for car sales in your region. Now of course, you search the internet – which is fine – but don’t people understand that in their desire to move product or sell service they are getting a bit carried away with their use of trackbacks and other web devices to get their faces known.

For some things there will always be a global market place. The practice of buying from far-away places at money saving prices is well established and there are certainly bargains to be had. Nevertheless, unless you have specialist needs you are unlikely to buy a car from a dusty forecourt in No Hope Springs, Louisiana. So why bother promoting outside your region?

Sellers don’t seem to realise that it is possible to target online advertising locally. A car mechanic in Brighton is unlikely to be summoned to the Lake District to effect an urgent repair but if he sets his search engine parameters to within, say, a 100 mile radius of his base, then his ranking locally will shoot up to beneficial business effect.

It’s the same when selling a car. Unless what you have is collectible or rare, then buyers will not be coming from any real distance. This is why using websites that target buyers in your area are so handy. It cuts down the competition.

Anyway, thanks to all who take the trouble to get in touch with Motor Blogger. It’s nice to be popular. Yes, we carry advertising too, but it is for goods and services that car owners actually want and that’s the difference. What we and everybody else really need is to not be bombarded by hopeful self-promotion. There’s enough of that in Hello! Magazine.

So if in doubt, buy and sell locally. This way buyers actually get to see the goods and won’t be hassled by pleas from across the planet. Obviously none of this applies to Olga from Gdansk – we appreciate the offer, thanks.

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Wheely Important

One of the inevitable consequences of driving a car is that, at some point, you will clout a kerb or you will drop a wheel into a council sponsored pothole. Kerbing is somewhat on the increase because of the trend for fitting bigger alloys for the simple reason that they look good. Bigger wheels mean more rim damage and bigger tyres cost more. There is no real performance increase as Toyota have ably demonstrated with their back-to-basics GT86, that sits on standard wheels with narrow tyres.

The point is that such impacts knock out the alignment of the wheels. Wheels that are out-of-true will wear their tyres more quickly, so having your alloys re-aligned after any impact will save money in the long run.

With wheel alignment there are many technical terms and a need for specialist equipment so don’t even think about doing it yourself. On rear wheel drive cars it was common to check only the front steering wheels but today – especially with independent rear suspension systems – it may be prudent to arrange to have all four wheels aligned.

This will check the angles and camber of the front wheels to ensure they ‘track’ in line. As on all front-wheel-drive cars the front tyres take all of the drive and steering punishment, so this is crucial for long and even rubber wear.

At the back, it would appear that the wheels are just there to hold the back of the car up and are, as a consequence, not so important. Wrong. They are equally prone to damage – as anyone who has ever reversed into a kerb can tell you. Knocks like this can affect what is called the ‘thrust’ angle alignment.

This effectively ensure that the rear wheels are exactly in true with the centre line of the car. Any deviation from this results in ‘crabbing’ – moving sideways in relation to the forward movement. This check also ensure that the rear wheels are squared off with the ones at the front.

Thrust, camber, caster, tracking – after a while it all gets a bit confusing which is why it’s a professional job; but it doesn’t hurt to talk it over with your expert because not only do these defects cause uneven and hasty tyre wear they also affect the stability of the handling. Certainly a worry in wet weather.

The costs of motoring just seem to mount up year on year but neglecting the safety aspects of running a car means you risk not only yourself but other road users as well. If you bash your wheels, get ‘em checked. You know it makes sense.

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Power Has Its Drawbacks

At Motor Blogger we are actively at the forefront of automotive science and investigation. We have discovered for example, that the sort of road and traffic hazards and problems that every motorist faces is exactly and inversely proportional to the car he or she drives. It’s a proven scientific fact.

Your investigator has compared data across the various cars owned over the last five years. The facts show quite clearly that the more powerful and desirable the car the more obstacles are thrown in its way. Comparisons were made using precisely the same stretch of road between two towns. A road that is noted for its driving desirability, incidentally.

The statistics show that a sports car will encounter more tractors and caravans than a standard saloon or hatchback. A hot hatch enrages farm machinery – ensuring that they will never ever pull over into a handy lay-by to allow traffic through – as do cars purchased for their beauty and style like Alfa Romeo‘s for example. Meanwhile, a city car – perceived by many as A Good Thing – will happily hurtle along completely unimpeded. This must tell you something.

Call us paranoid but this smells like a plot. It can’t be the government because they want to squeeze as much money out of motorists as is humanly possible. It certainly isn’t the car manufacturers because they are on our side and want us to have nice cars. So what’s going on? Who is behind it all?

The answer is clear. Over the years the population of Britain has polarised its collective opinion either vehemently for or against cars. There is no longer any middle ground. Those who hate cars are in the ascendant and clearly in cahoots with caravan converts and the farming community. The fact that ’vans have to be towed is irrelevant to the owners and are just seen a necessary evil to promote their dastardly plan. It’s a conspiracy and – just like our seeming inability to rid ourselves of meddlesome transport and exchequer ministers – there is nothing to be done about it. Real motoring may be lost to us forever.

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Go Faster Stripes Really Work

Over the years the practice of car customisation has become a big business. Gizmo’s abound, and cars that were once thought of as transport for people whose idea of stirring performance was the ability to get out of bed in the morning are now bristling with bolt-on bonus goodies. In a way, this is understandable because motoring is so expensive these days that many drivers, especially the young, are making the best of that which they can afford.

Once upon a time all you really needed was some furry dice hanging from the rear-view mirror and maybe a cherry-bomb exhaust tail-pipe for those racetrack sound effects to effectively stylise your car. Since then motors have been adorned with flaming decals, had ‘spinners’ fitted to the wheels and been generally festooned with after-market parts to emulate more modern vehicles. Furry dice are even a little en vogue today, although if you mention it to the driver don’t be surprised if they get a little defensive and mumble something about an ‘ironic statement’.

All this has not escaped the car manufacturers. They are well aware of the level of taxation and rising household costs that the general public are subject to. For this reason buyers have seen a change in the nature of most of the cars offered to us.

It is a well known fact – even to those that own them – that the rules of our crowded roads pretty much preclude using a powerful vehicle to the max. This general slow-down has meant that high performance is ceasing to be an issue with all but the most hardcore sporting drivers. The car is becoming either a lifestyle attachment or a simple tool to do a job.

The result of these changing conditions is that most people are happy with a well priced car that looks the business without actually doing the business. Now it is about how a car looks. Some city cars for example are now decorated with go-faster stripes in an effort to look sporty. Not that long ago this would have been greeted with derision, but now it is not only accepted but appreciated as a styling choice.

So it is about how cars look. An attractively styled set of alloys really sets off a car. In design, virtually all modern cars have swooping lines, designer creases and headlights like eyes which actually do give an impression of speed and performance. Others look butch and macho for that rugged ‘Marlboro Man’ appeal, and so on. The interesting thing is that it works. We like it. Even if we aren’t allowed to put the pedal to the metal anymore in regulated Britain at least we can look as if we do. And that’s the important thing.

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Wheel Meet Again

As the cost of motoring rises inexorably so some drivers are beginning to cut corners when it comes to servicing their cars as they struggle to balance the household books. Understandable perhaps, but the snag is -this is one area where neglect can quickly turn into disaster.

There is one corner of motor maintenance that is, if you like, out of sight and out of mind. Well, four corners actually. Sure, we all periodically check our tyre pressures (or we should!) and as a consequence give a cursory glance at the rubber but otherwise who really thinks about the wheels on their car?

Everyone likes a nice set of alloys or, if you’re not fussed about these things, some tidy wheels trims over the standard steel hoops but how often do you examine them? Hmmm? Be honest. Be aware that the condition of your wheels is critical to the safe operation of your vehicle as much as the rubber on them.

Alloys are soft. They sustain damage easily if banged against kerbs or plunged into potholes. They also accumulate brake dust and other detritus caused by corrosion and oxidisation as the lacquer on the wheels erodes through damage or pitting. If you’re really unlucky this can work its way into your (tubeless) tyre and cause deflation issues. Nobody wants that.

It’s a good idea, if your alloys are a few years old, to get them refurbished. It seems like an expense you don’t need but it does pay dividends in the long run. Smart wheels look good and will definitely add to your car’s re-sale value. Definitely. It is also an opportunity to have them professionally examined because, even in this day and age, they may have some other faults.

The process of refurbishment requires that the wheel be shot blasted, powder coated in the original colour and re-lacquered. Voila! New wheels. Prices vary – a lot – so shop around. If the cost is too rich for you then at least get a mobile wheel repairer round to tickle them up and examine them. It’s not as if you have to do it often.

Steel wheels are tougher and cheaper but are also heavier and, let’s be honest here, don’t look as good, as wheel trims are rarely that attractive. But if you’re not bothered then remember that steel wheels are painted and this can wear over time. If not attended to long term, they can also rust. They need as much care as their fancy siblings.

We’ll be dealing with the need for correct wheel alignment in a forthcoming article. Watch this space!

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Top tips for finding a great used car deal

Buying a used car can be an exciting experience – when you finally drive it home – but the process can be time consuming and frustrating. I’ve been through it a number of times and ended up with some excellent buys and one very poor one, so now know a little about the pitfalls.

I’ve put together some top tips on how to identify the right car and secure a good deal. They can be summed up as using common sense and knowing the difference between price and value, but read on to find out more.

What do you need?

One of the big mistakes buyers make is to be unduly influenced by a tempting promotion and end up purchasing the wrong vehicle. A car that does not meet your needs can never be a bargain, however low the price.

Think about what you really need the motor for and draw up a list of essential qualities, such as boot space, room for children and their paraphernalia, good for dogs etc. That way you should avoid ending up with a car that looks great without being satisfying to own.

Take a look at used car values

When feminist activist Robin Morgan coined the phrase “knowledge is power”, she probably didn’t have buying a second hand car in mind – but the concept is certainly applicable. Having an idea of the market value of the car you wish to buy and the one you plan to trade in will mean you are in a position to negotiate a better deal.

I use a copy of Glass’s Guide or What Car? magazine as the starting point for research, but there are also a number of good online valuation tools available. Remember that condition and mileage will have a major influence on value, so the figures you find in advance of viewing vehicles should only be regarded as guidance.

Make sure you are realistic when trying to negotiate a price and part-ex value, as demands for thousands of pounds off are likely to be badly received. Dealers have less margin to cut prices on used cars than they do on new ones, so while you should always try to get a discount, do not budget for too much.

Car finance

Working out how to finance a used car purchase can be difficult, but it is worth going to the trouble of doing your research. I prefer to pay cash, but that is not always possible and is not necessarily the best way to do things.

A personal loan from a bank is worth considering, but it may pay to take a close look at the finance packages offered by the car supermarket or dealership you are buying from. Hire purchase (HP) deals and Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) packages can both have advantages.

It is often possible to tailor an HP agreement to suit your needs, so you have affordable monthly repayments over a period of your choice. A PCP can push your monthly outlay down even further, although you need to be aware of the final payment.

Some dealers are prepared to negotiate a lower price if you buy on finance, so even if you have sufficient savings, it is worth at least looking at what is on offer and sitting down with a calculator for a few minutes to work out which is the cheapest way to complete your purchase.

Car checks

My one bad used car purchase involved a vehicle that had endless mechanical problems. I bought it from a main dealer and was told it had undergone a thorough inspection and full service. This was not the case and, although I later managed to get some money back and a discount off repair bills, I wasted a lot of time and had long spells without a vehicle available.

The mistake I made was not organising an independent mechanical check, during which at least some of the issues would have been spotted. I would never buy a car without one now, although all they have done so far is confirm the vehicles I’d chosen at car supermarkets and local dealers were in good condition.

One other step you should take is to organise a car history check – also known as an HPI check – to ensure the vehicle you intend to buy has not been stolen or written off, and that there is no outstanding finance on it. Some used car retailers do this as standard, but make sure you ask to see a copy of the report.

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How to Safely Install a New Car Battery

With 30% of all breakdowns being as a result of battery failure, a dead battery means a dead car. Without a working battery, you can’t start the engine, can’t move the car, and definitely cannot pull in for a service. If your battery fails on the road, you will be effectively stranded. Due to this it is important to monitor the health of your battery and replace it as soon as it reaches or surpasses its life expectancy.

Removing and installing a new car battery safely might sound intimidating, but it is surprisingly easy with only a handful of steps involved to ensure that you continue to enjoy trouble free motoring.

Removing the battery:

Step 1: Turn off the car engine and open the bonnet.

Step 2: Remove the electric cables from the battery terminals. These will be two large metal clasps hooked onto each end of the battery. Please look into your owner’s manual to check whether the vehicle has a positive or negative ground. Positive (+) ground means you will have to remove the positive terminal cable clamp first, while negative (-)ground means you’ll have to start with the negative clamp.

Step 3: Remove any screws or bolts holding the battery in place. Make sure to not drop the screws/bolts anywhere in the car’s mechanical bowels.

Step 4: Lift the battery from the holding tray and set it aside.

Installing a new battery safely

Step 1: First, clean any debris or dirt build-up in the tray where the battery was placed using a mixture of baking soda and water.

Step 2: Place your new battery into this tray.

Step 3: Screw in the bolts/screws used to hold the battery in place.

Step 4: Re-clamp the electric cables to their respective terminals. The battery and the cables will have markers for positive and negative terminals. This time, however, clamp in the positive cable first if your car has a negative ground, negative cable first if your car has a positive ground. This is to prevent any sparks or shocks.

Step 5: Replace the bonnet and start your car.

That’s it! The entire process takes a little over 9 steps and barely 10 minutes of effort. Never hurry while replacing a battery since you are dealing with highly corrosive acids. The only other safety precaution you need to take is to ensure that the positive clamp is removed first in a positive ground vehicle, negative clamp otherwise.

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Why should motorists carry oxygen in a can?

Oxygen is something we all need and most of us have little trouble getting enough, as we inhale it in air. There are some circumstances when it helps to have an added supply and one of them is when you are undertaking a long road journey.

It may seem a little strange to suggest that you should put an oxygen can in the glove box of your car, van or truck before setting off on a trip, but it can help to keep you safe. Driver fatigue is one of the biggest causes of fatal crashes, but your chances of being affected by it can be reduced by taking a few breaths of pure oxygen.

The science behind this is quite straightforward. Even a very small oxygen deficit will leave you feeling tired, irritable and struggling to concentrate, but this can be alleviated quickly by increasing the amount of the gas taken into the lungs and absorbed into the bloodstream. The swiftest way to do this is to inhale four or five mouthfuls of medically-pure oxygen, which you can buy in cans small enough to fit into a handbag or glove box.

If you think purchasing a special product just to help you stay fresh and alert while behind the wheel sounds a little excessive, you may wish to consider how big the problem of fatigued motorists is. Leading safety charity the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents estimates that 20 per cent of all serious crashes on the UK’s roads are caused by a driver either falling asleep or being too tired to concentrate properly.

Road safety experts also calculate that a collision involving a driver who is asleep is 50 per cent more likely to result in a death or serious injury, as they are unable to try to swerve to avoid the impact or brake to lessen the force of the smash. It is thought 300 people a year die in sleep-related road accidents.

Should you be involved in such an incident and walk away without injury, you may think you have been lucky. However, the repercussions are likely to go way beyond having to get your car repaired, as you may also face charges. That could result in penalty points on your licence, a driving ban or, if someone else was seriously injured or killed in the smash, a prison sentence.

Very few drivers actually fall into a deep sleep while behind the wheel, but many people find they have difficulty concentrating as they become tired and some of them experience a ‘microsleep’ – a period of sleep lasting just a few seconds that can happen when you have to make a real effort to stay awake. It is a problem that you can deal with in two ways – planning and knowing how to cope with it.

When preparing for long journeys, make sure you schedule them for daylight hours if possible and certainly ensure you won’t be driving between midnight and 6am, as your alertness and energy levels will be low at that time. You should also make certain you are not tired when you get into the car, so do not arrange to take trips after a hard day at work.

Once on the road, you should plan to take breaks of at least 15 minutes every two hours, so you do not become tired or just lose concentration because you are bored of staring at the motorway. If you begin to feel fatigued while driving, pull over at the earliest possible opportunity, remembering that stopping on the hard shoulder for a rest is illegal. Knowing to do this can be the difference between a safe journey and being involved in an accident.

During the breaks, take a nap and have a cup of coffee, as both will help you to stay awake when you set off again. To get even more benefit from the rest stops, inhale a few breaths of pure oxygen, as this will almost immediately improve your alertness and energy levels.

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