Archive | May, 2013

Spoil Your Dad This Coming Father’s Day.

You know your Dad, right? He’s that suspicious looking old guy sitting at the computer reading Motor Blogger and paying scant attention to your long-suffering Mother. The one who leaves oily engine parts on the kitchen table and towels on the bathroom floor and who consistently refused to lend you his wheels when you first passed your driving test. Your Dad. The man who has driven you crazy but has also driven you all over the country; to friends and sporting venues and nightclubs and A&E. The man who, possibly through gritted teeth, bought you your first car. Well, once a year you are officially allowed to show your appreciation. June 16th is Father’s Day, so get planning.

Forget the male grooming products, he gave up on that caper as soon as he said his marriage vows; but there are many gifts available that are auto-orientated and will bring a smile to his face – but you have to get it right. For example, if he drives a Suzuki there is a whole range goodies available in the form of clothing or merchandise with a subtle Japanese motif; but not all Dads drive Suzuki’s. Most manufacturers have a selection of products.

It is not possible to separate a man and his motor so how about some driving music? There are many compilations out there but they have to have a driving beat so none of your soppy Coldplay or that incessant EDM racket. Dads are like Lemmy from Motorhead: old and warty but always ready to rock. Inside every middle-aged man there lurks a head-banger just under the surface. In true Jekyll and Hyde fashion this ‘dad-dancing’ alter-ego often appears at weddings and family celebrations.

If you’ve got some cash on the hip, why not treat him to a race or rally driving experience day at your local circuit or venue. Times are hard and there are some great deals on offer. Or you could rent him a classic car for the day or take him karting – there are a wealth of opportunities to spend some time together.

If however you are cash-poor or just irredeemably tight-fisted then how about doing something for him? Cleaning the car is always appreciated. A proper clean mind, no taking him to the supermarket to get one of those trolley blokes to do it. Give his pride and joy a good going over with some familial TLC.

There is nothing like some parent/child activity, no matter what your age and remember – Mum’s appreciate the children taking Dad out on Father’s Day too. They see it as a form of respite.

What do you mean you’re too busy? It’s one day of the year for pity’s sake. So give the old guy a break. Treat him. You never know – if you don’t have a car of your own he may lend you his before the tears of pleasure dry in his eyes. It’s called bonding. Get used to it.

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Buying Cars Safely Online

When the time comes to buy a used car the internet seems like the right place to start. A whole army of dealers and web sellers are out there ready to fulfil your brief. Would that it were that simple. In addition to all the many reliable traders there are a goodly number of crooks and rogues ready to scam the heck out of a careless wallet.

The news that Auto Trader will soon cease to sell a paper version of their venerable publication is very much a sign of the times. The printed small classified ad is a thing of the past. Online is where it’s at. Dealers and traders have their dedicated websites and even private sellers are exploring new ways of shifting their unwanted wheels.

The latest research indicates that 74% of used car buyers in the UK are now using the internet as their primary search tool. To make sure they get a good selection they will visit an average of eighteen sites. The trouble stems from the fact that scammers are very sophisticated. What appears to be a totally plausible website can easily turn out to be a front for felons.

Here are a few reminders to stay safe. First and foremost never, ever – and it seems so obvious to mention it yet it happens – buy a car sight unseen. If a car is ‘abroad’ and the seller is looking for a ‘quick sale’ make abundantly sure to verify the sellers’ credentials at the very least. Endeavour to check out the vendor’s history and don’t fall prey to the idea that an ‘advance’ payment will be held in escrow. When paying online it is essential to make sure that the payment page is totally secure and has all the necessary security symbols required.

Shop around. At any one time there are tens of thousands of cars for sale. By comparing prices on a variety of websites the canny customer can assess the best price by make and model. Armed with that knowledge it will be easy to spot a car that seems too cheap – quick sale or no. If it is especially cheap then forewarned is forearmed.

Once a short list of potential purchases has been drawn up then it should be time to do a check on the vehicles’ histories. It will be an extra cost but at least it can be established that there is no outstanding finance or other issues to worry about. Then it will be time for a really thorough test drive and a close scrutiny of all the paperwork, making sure that VIN and VRM details are all present and correct. It is always easy for scammers to rip off the unwary. Don’t let the crooks get away with it.

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Death Of A Falcon

Whilst the idea of ‘world’ cars makes a lot of economic sense it was only going to be a matter of time before it had an adverse effect somewhere. This time it is Australia and the end of Ford production on that continent.

The backbone of Australian motor sport has got to be the V8 Supercar Championship which is a sort of ultra-butch touring car circus. Originally only for Aussie built Ford Falcons and Holden (GM) Commodores, it has in recent years introduced other makes but it is the two indigenous brands that Australian race fans have taken to their hearts. Supporters are dyed-in-the-wool Falcon or Commodore devotees. There can be no middle ground. Blows are often exchanged.

Now all that is going to change. The Ford Motor Company has outlined its strategy for shutting down production completely. This means an end to the Falcon name as this will be retired along with the Melbourne factories. It brings to an end ninety years of production and signals the loss of some 1200 jobs by the time production stops in 2016. For Australians it is the end of an era.

It can’t be said that Ford haven’t tried, to be fair. They have reviewed and restructured their business and curtailed production but it hasn’t worked, despite huge subsidies from Government. Curiously, the locally built cars have consistently lost money whilst imported Fords make a profit. In April the company recorded their lowest sales of just 717 Falcon products. Holden sold twice that many. Very few cars get exported.FAL2 Death Of A Falcon

A strong Australian Dollar has meant that imports have become more attractive to buyers as home production costs have risen exponentially. At the end of the day it’s just business. Australia has annual sales of around a million vehicles but this is made up from sixty five brands and some 365 models. This has made the country one of the most crowded and competitive markets in the world. Something had to give. It’s just a shame it had to be this venerable local product.

It is not yet guaranteed but Aussie muscle car fans may have to settle for the new and ‘global’ Ford Mustang, expected in 2015 but, as many supporters are already saying, it won’t be the same. No doubt there will be a run on the final production cars as Falcon aficionados strive to keep the name going. One good thing is that second hand Falcon values are sure to rise as they become part of Australia’s automotive history.

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The Welsh Knight Rises

Night. Cats’ eyes flicker in the alleyways. The Bat-Tumbler rolls and growls through the mean and darkened streets. A menacing, matt-black, yet strangely familiar vehicle follows. Where are we? Is it Gotham City? Who is driving – could it be The Bat Man himself?!

No. Because this is downtown Carmarthen in West Wales and the driver is a local baker called Adam Williams. Trouble is, everyone in Wales is called Williams but you’ll know this one because he is driving a Batman inspired  Nissan Juke NISMO. Mr Williams won his one-off ‘Dark Knight Rises’ Juke in a Nissan competition and the car was delivered – accompanied by the Tumbler – beneath the historic walls of Carmarthen Castle much to the amazement of the locals who don’t get a lot of Super Hero action in their neck of the woods.

The special edition was created to celebrate Nissan’s partnership with Warner Brothers and the release of the most recent Batman movie. The Nismo can best be described as a ‘hot crossover’. It has a 1.6L turbo engine driving the front wheels with a unique body kit and tuned suspension. It’s quick and by all accounts engaging to drive, satisfying the needs of the family man who wants a decent driving experience.

Adam William’s new car is matt-black and – crucially – is loaded with groovy Dark Knight stuff. Aluminium Bat badges adorn the front grill and tailgate whilst the unique gloss black 18” alloys have bespoke red detailing. Open the door and you’re greeted by Bat logos on the kick plates and reflective Bat badges nestle on the headrests of the suede-trimmed NISMO sports seats.

Saving the best until last, the real kicker, which will make Adam the envy of the masculine world, is that there are down-lighters mounted under the door mirrors to project the Bat-signal on the ground around the doors. Wait! That isn’t the best bit! There’s an up-lighter inside that projects the Bat-signal onto the black headlining! Seriously, it just doesn’t get any better than that!NIS2 The Welsh Knight Rises

It is bound to have an effect on Baker Williams. Welsh miscreants will tremble at the sight of the Dark Avengers car, lightly covered by a dusting of flour, approaching at high speed through the gloom of criminality. It’s about time we had our own super hero. Fortunately, Adam is a good bloke and a genuine Bat-fan who is over the moon with his win. Let’s hope he enjoys his new car. The rest of us will have to make do with the regular model but it’s OK – the Juke Nismo is a good car and at around £20k, something of a bargain.

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Future Fuelled Aston Martin

Fancy an Aston Martin? To be more precise, fancy an Aston Martin Rapide S? Of course you do, but it’s the running costs that are putting you off, isn’t it? Well, Aston Martin have been thinking about that.

The company understands that constantly evolving vehicle emission regulations means that they have got to achieve ever lower CO² output without jeopardising their super car image. One way they have found to do this is by utilising hydrogen power. Imagine that, a sports car powered by a V12 engine that is exempt from car tax under the existing rules.

Motor Blogger first mentioned this back in April and things have now moved on. Aston Martin have successfully run a car powered by a 90% gas and 10% petrol mix in the recent Nürburgring 24 Hour race, managing to go the distance. One lap was completed on hydrogen power alone and was thus emission free. This is a considerable achievement.AMHH2 Future Fuelled Aston Martin

Most hydrogen cars use fuel cells to generate electricity. The Aston however actually burns the hydrogen in a conventional engine. Best of all, the technology – developed by a company called Alset, based in Austria – can be fitted to existing engines. Fuel injectors for the gas are added along with additional software and a couple of small turbochargers but that’s it, although it’s not as simple as that makes it sound. The Rapide was chosen because it has the space to accommodate the pressurised storage tanks. Amazingly though, all this only adds around eighty extra kilos of weight which is considerably less than a massive battery pack.

The real beauty of this system is that when the hydrogen store is depleted the car simply continues to run on petrol. Brilliant. Right now there are only eleven hydrogen fuel stations in the UK but, given the exciting possibilities of this technology, that number is likely to grow very quickly when and if the finished product is rolled out.

When it comes to emissions it is obvious that the authorities mean business. Whether motorists agree with the climate change argument or not ever lower targets will continue to be issued. Car manufacturers are doing a great job with compliance and it would come as no surprise to find that in another twenty or thirty years the world’s automobiles will be virtually emission free. Thanks to the work done by companies like Aston Martin and their partners it seems that we might well be able to have our cake and gorge on it too. An emission free V12 – now you’re talking!

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The Bath Pageant Of Motoring

As the Summer continues (pause for hollow, bitter laugh) the UK will be abuzz with the sound of exotic and classic machinery as the car show season gets under way. There’s something for everyone at a venue near you, such is the British love of cars and bikes of all descriptions. In some cases visitors can also do their bit for a worthwhile charity.

A case in point is the Bath Pageant Of Motoring. This takes place near the City of Bath on the 6th/7th July. It is being organised by Bath Rotary Club and its purpose is to raise money for the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering’s efforts in the production and distribution of “Wizzybugs”; electric wheelchairs for disabled children.

Following last year’s successful event the venue is being moved and will be held at the Walcot Rugby Ground, Lansdown, Bath, BA1 9BJ. There will of course be modern and classic cars and motorcycles galore as well as an extensive programme of parades, exhibitions, demonstrations and super car rides. If that isn’t enough to tempt you how about some competitions, live music and family activities. Fresh food, drinks and refreshments are available throughout the weekend from local suppliers and caterers.

For those of an oily fingered disposition there’ll be an Autojumble containing a wide array of vehicle accessories, parts, tools and clothing. The show includes a special display of unique and high-performance supercars, including Aston Martin, AC Cobra, Lotus, Ferrari, Porsche, Jaguar, and many others. You can even book a ride in a supercar with a donation to charity. If you have a suitable vehicle that you’d like to display, contact the organisers.

Visitors can camp on site if they fancy making a weekend of it and there’s free parking. Best of all it doesn’t cost very much. A lot of events and attractions these days charge a small fortune that can stretch slender budgets so you’ll be pleased to note that this is a very reasonably priced event serving a very worthwhile charitable cause.

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Ford’s Breakthrough Customer Programme

In the interests of gaining new customers and hanging on to the ones they have already got, motor companies have been upping their customer care packages of late. This is good news for hard-pressed car owners with family and household budgets to consider.

Of course, car manufacturers are not stupid and they understand that with modern technology and build techniques their cars are inherently much more reliable and long-lasting than they used to be. Thus the chances of being caned for expensive after-sales problems are greatly reduced.

Ford are the latest to come out with an extensive programme of customer care enhancements with their new range of services under the ‘Ford BlueService’ banner. The company already have the biggest dealer network – 650 to be precise nationwide – and this will be rolled out over the coming months across them all. The really good news is that it covers Ford’s of any age subject to certain conditions.FORD2 300x200 Ford’s Breakthrough Customer Programme

BlueService includes a free electronic vehicle health check (eCHECK). Benefits include fixed pricing for parts, servicing and other jobs. They will also offer security and operating system upgrades. Ford Assistance offers free roadside cover if clients have their car correctly serviced by the dealer.

That’s a good deal as it saves having to compare the various third-party companies. All aspects of accident management can be handled through a central point by calling just one phone number. A one stop shop as it were.

This sort of service is worth considering. Given the reliability of today’s cars it is doubtful that Ford will be overwhelmed with customer problems and complaints but it does seem like a good idea to have everything covered in one place.

It is yet to be seen how good the value for money will be against shopping around for all the various features on offer from this plan. On the other hand, on the basis that it is one less thing to worry about, cost may not be at the forefront of peoples’ considerations when the convenience is taken into account.

Many car makers now offer longer warranties and better after-sales service. Ford’s BlueService seems pretty comprehensive so it is probably a good idea to check with your local dealer for the full details. Ford’s make some extremely good cars so even if you don’t currently own one this sort of customer care may just influence the next purchase.

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Frugal Four By Fours

Four wheel drive vehicles have taken a bit of a pasting in the reputation department historically. They have been pilloried for being ‘gas guzzlers’ and ‘huge’ and generally a scourge to the greening of our planet. Yet they are also very handy when the going gets rough which is why there is still a healthy demand for them and manufacturers have made great inroads into answering the complaints. That’s right – buyers can now purchase small but perfectly formed 4×4’s that also offer great fuel economy coupled with low emissions.

For most users, four wheel drive and a raised ride height are all that is needed as most of these vehicles will never do any serious mud-plugging. Agricultural users need not apply. Thanks to the wonders of modern automotive technology you can have your green cake and eat it too.

A case in point is the FIAT Panda 4×4. We’re quite keen on this car here at Motor Blogger and reviewed it a while back. It’s small certainly but is a handy choice for the rural school run or for just pottering in the countryside. The small size belies its ability off road. Not a huge amount of ground clearance obviously but otherwise this is a very competent vehicle indeed. It only coughs out 114g/km of CO² and should achieve nearly 60mpg from its TwinAir petrol engine.

MINI1 Frugal Four By FoursMINI’s largest car to date, the Countryman D-ALL4 (shown), offers five seats, comfortable seating for four and room for a small one, although boot space is slightly compromised for space. Really it is a crossover rather than a proper four by four but it is stylish and does have that extra on-road safety feature. Figures are similar to the FIAT but with a little more in the way of emissions from the bigger diesel engine.

The Vauxhall Mokka (pictured) might not seem to be the first choice when it comes to 4×4 but it does make for an interesting alternative. It is a surprisingly good drive and has a spacious interior. Again the figures are similar to the previous cars. Then of course there’s the new kid on the block, the Dacia Duster, which is winning plaudits at the least expensive end of the all-wheel drive consumer market. It’s emissions are a little higher as you’d expect from a more basic engine but it is still low compared to the 4×4’s of old. Fuel consumption is about the same though.MOKKA1 Frugal Four By Fours

With alternatives from Nissan, Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Mazda the modern 4×4 market offers excellent choice of these versatile vehicles but they can’t be called ‘gas guzzlers’ any more. Maybe we should call them ‘fuel-sippers’.

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Too Many Cars 2

The other day Motor Blogger asked if manufacturers were going a bit over the top when it came to the amount of models and options on offer. Well, it seems we were right because this viewpoint is beginning to take hold in certain quarters and the current status is unlikely to favour car owners.

Yes, it is true that in terms of choice we have never had it so good; cars today have certainly benefited from major improvements in overall quality, but that’s not the end of the story. The more choice there is, the more it devalues individual products.

Consider the most popular cars available today. Many of them have been refreshed or replaced ever more quickly. A car purchased a mere two or three years ago may well look dated against the replacement model and this won’t go unnoticed come resale time.

Once, a car would have a shelf life of maybe six or seven years before it was replaced. These days the lifecycle of many big selling vehicles has been reduced to around three or four years. The issue is exacerbated by the rapid changes in the technology. That isn’t good for new car buyers. It’s a bit like smartphones and tablets – no sooner does the customer buy the latest thing then an advance is made and the recent purchase is suddenly obsolete. This is not accidental. Customers become addicted to having the very latest thing. Clearly, because of their cost, cars haven’t reached that stage yet but In the tradition of The Wharton of the University of Pennsylvania and its online business journal Knowledge@Wharton, Wharton Digital Press uses innovative and interactive digital technologies to help managers meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. the point is valid.

Part of the problem derives from what we have come to know as the global market. For example, car manufacturers in the Far East have, over the last few decades, made great inroads into the Western car market. Part of that success has come from the refreshing of product ranges on a much shorter cycle.

Things are made worse by the demand and legislations to lower exhaust emissions. To avoid the congestion charge in London, drivers are using cars emitting less than 100g/km. From July that figure will be 75g/km. At a stroke many thousands of cars will lose value in that metropolitan area.

With the above mentioned speed of change with technology and the need to keep ahead of the game, car makers are able to change the look and performance of cars much more simply, given that the front and rear of most cars are made from easily moulded plastics. As soon as this happens the older model devalues at resale as lifecycle depreciation sets in.

This has got to stop and it does appear that auto companies are beginning to understand this. In the same way that we suggested in ‘Too Many Cars’ that they should cut back on all the vast array of options and bling, there is a glimmer of hope that in future models will revert to a longer shelf life before the next big thing. That can only help the private used car sale or trade-in.

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Rally Aces To Contest Monaco Porsche Cup

As all F1 fans already know, the Monaco Grand Prix takes place on the weekend of 25/6th May. This legendary race is ably supported by supplementary events including the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup which is not the place you’d usually find WRC Rally drivers, yet it is so.

When at the Citroen Works Rally team, the now semi-retired Sébastien Loeb was often at odds with his younger team-mate and namesake, Sébastien Ogier, the current championship leader. Loeb still drives the occasional WRC event for Citroen but Ogier jumped ship and is now successfully campaigning the mighty VW Polo.

More often than not it was the younger Ogier who threw all his toys out of the pram whilst simultaneously taking the ball home because of the bias he felt was given to his legendary compatriot. Now the rivalry is being renewed but not on the WRC tour. Both drivers will be guest piloting Porsches in the support race at the Grand Prix. So instead of spikes there will be slicks; instead of the Col de Turini substitute Casino. This is the first time both drivers have gone head-to-head on a race circuit.

Loeb of course has previous form in race cars and has been expanding his driving career into endurance racing with a Le Mans win being his main objective after achieving a second place in 2006 in a Pescarolo-Judd. The legend has it that Loeb practices for the race on a Playstation 2. Ogier, on the other hand, is new to this and he has had only a couple of weeks to get used to the high-powered Porsche and its unpredictable handling.

No doubt more experienced hands are making sure he doesn’t attempt the Scandinavian Flick or handbrake turns at La Rascasse or Mirabeau and remembers that there will be a whole bunch of other cars at close quarters to contend with.

The Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup has been the only GT racing series to be held at Formula One weekends since 1993 during which time the cars have developed immensely. This years version is the new 911 GT3 Cup developing 460 bhp from the 3.8L Boxer engine. This car is something of a handful and it remains to be seen how Ogier will fare amongst the much more experienced field. So if you see a car overtaking on verges and pavements then you’ll know who it is.

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