Archive | July, 2013

The Hidden Costs Of Car Ownership

As we’ve mentioned before on Motor Blogger, cars used to be simple and many owners would routinely service and fix them at home. Over the years the vehicles we drive have become increasingly complex and the dark arts of home mechanics, have, to a large extent, died out. We rely on manufacturers to make cars that don’t need fixing and, on those rare occasions when they fail, we rely on garages to sort it out. At a price, obviously.

That’s all fine and generally everyone accepts this as the way things are; but have we now reached a stage in the technological advances in auto manufacture where we don’t really know the long term effects and potential issues of those advances? What follows in just one example of what we mean.

Car engine flywheels function on one of the simplest principles in the world of physics: objects in motion tend to stay in motion. The flywheel helps an engine to run smoother and last longer. Without it the vibrations from the internal combustion would drive us all mad. That’s the short version. Historically, all being well, the flywheel would last the lifetime of the car.

Thanks to the modern rise of diesel and some petrol engines that are extremely frugal yet very powerful, the basic flywheel has had a bit of a make-over and become a dual mass flywheel. Car manufacturers are wringing the maximum amount of performance from the minimum amount of fuel. This in turn means that the force of the ‘explosions’ in the vehicles’ cylinders has increased necessitating more complex flywheels to cope.

Dual mass flywheels, as the name suggests, means a conjoined pair – one attached to the crank and the other to the clutch. They are joined by a series of springs to act as cushioning and it is these which weaken over time. The result of this is that many dual mass flywheels may need replacing – unlike their simpler predecessors – somewhere around the fifty to seventy thousand mile mark. This is an additional cost brought to you by modern technology. It could mean that the money you save on fuel will be needed to pay for flywheel replacement.

The only good thing about it is that dual mass flywheels tend to fail around the same time as the clutch. As they work in conjunction with one another then it is as well to have the flywheel changed when your clutch goes. On a big diesel Audi, as an example, the cost of replacement of the flywheel alone would be something of the order of £1000, give or take.

Clearly, most technology is tried and tested before it appears on our cars but as things get more and more complex – without wishing to sound like alarmist doom-mongers – we simply cannot know what the long-term outcomes will be. All we can do is wait and see.

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Motoring Issues That Affect Us All

With the excellent news that car insurance premiums are starting to come down, the time has come to keep up the pressure of complaint. Naturally, we peace-loving folk at Motor Blogger do not advocate revolution but surely motorists must keep speaking up against those things which blight their lives. This is why (astonishing as it may seem) we have Members of Parliament – to speak on our behalf so maybe it is time to contact yours.

Drivers remain beset by unfair practices, sky-high costs and potentially dangerous roads. For years the average motorist has held his tongue but, and this is now apparent, increasingly we are beginning to speak up aided by sensible voices from the motoring organisations.

We already contribute a very large amount of money to the government’s coffers through taxation and duty. We contribute even more through over-zealously applied fines for very minor infractions. We have to fund repairs to our cars, often through expensive insurance companies, thanks to dangerous potholes and road surfaces that are increasingly becoming the norm.

Because of ‘cuts’ we now have so few traffic policemen that those who truly transgress on our roads often go unpunished yet unwary drivers are still – despite all the talk – subjected to unfair penalties and actions by unscrupulous parking companies or greedy councils.

What’s worse is the fact that the goalposts keep moving as if they’ve been erected on quicksand. A driver might buy a new car based on a zero road tax decision only to find the following year that his car has slipped into a tax paying status. Penalties are rising across the board. A motorist who fractionally over-steps the speed limit and is caught by a speed camera which has no decision making capabilities will pay the same fine as the speed merchant who drives badly at an accident black spot. Cameras should be about road safety.

Fuel costs too much and that is down to allegedly fiddled pricing and to successive governments increasing duty as an easy way to bolster their previously profligate spending. We didn‘t make the mess we‘re in. Car insurance remains too expensive, still partly due to fraudulent activities. Thankfully, we are now seeing some movement on this front.

Drivers are penalised for being drivers, it’s as simple as that. We are treated as a cash cow by authorities who seem to be bereft of fresh economic ideas. The groundswell is growing. Motoring organisations and magazines are lobbying the government about all these issues. Time to speak your mind – repeatedly if necessary.

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Maserati Ghibli – Object Of Desire

Back in April, here on Motor Blogger we announced the impending arrival of the Maserati Ghibli. At the time there wasn’t much information; now the company have announced enough details to fill twenty blogs! We asked the question, ‘Can this car compete with the likes of the Jaguar XF or the BMW 5 Series?” Well, the answer is an emphatic yes. If you need some convincing then try to seek out the official promo video (complete with obligatory yet gratuitous brunette) and listen to the awesome soundtrack and we don’t mean the music! A picture paints a thousand words.

This is the Italian brand’s first foray into the premium E Segment market. There’s a choice of two twin-turbo engines and a new efficient diesel engine. In a luxury car of this type the diesel, frankly, seems a bit incongruous. Certainly, rival cars have them as well but this is a Maserati! Still, each to his own. Either way this is a luxurious vehicle.G2 Maserati Ghibli   Object Of Desire

Essentially, the Ghibli is a smaller, shorter version of its big brother, the Quattroporte, although of course it has its own rather more aggressive styling cues. Maserati believe that it is this car that will form the cornerstone of their production henceforth and they are planning to build some fifty thousand units annually by 2015.

The Ghibli, Ghibli S and Ghibli Diesel all utilise an eight-speed automatic transmission to deliver their performance, providing seamless comfort with fast gear shifting for hard acceleration. The more powerful S delivers an impressive 410hp (301kW) and manages to get to 62mph in just five seconds. Top speed for this model is 177mph. The diesel will, they say, travel 47 miles on a gallon and this is in part due to stop/start technology.

The new car has a different interior to the bigger model. The dashboard is unique and maybe a touch more sporty in appeal. The level of leather luxury remains the same. All the expected technology is available with an 8.4” touch control screen and WiFi capability. Practicality hasn’t been lost however and the rear seating is top class with plenty of headroom for full grown passengers. The rear seats split and fold and the boot offers a capacious 500L.

G3 Maserati Ghibli   Object Of DesireThe Ghibli sits on 18” wheels as standard, although larger sizes are available, all of which are crafted from ‘flow-forming technology’. What this apparently means is that the rims are lighter yet maintain strength. The largest size, 21”, is a forged alloy which only weighs the same as the 20”.

Maserati have released a huge amount of information on this car. They detail steering, brakes, suspension, body construction and on and on endlessly. A company will only do this if they have supreme confidence that they’ve got it right. They have. The Ghibli is beautiful. Is it better than the opposition? Can it match a BMW or a Jaguar for driving dynamics? Does it matter? It’s a Maserati.

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Summer Silly Season

We all like to assert our individuality. We like to have something about us that is unique, interesting or quirky. Some men will walk about nonchalantly sporting inadvisable summer shorts whilst wearing socks with their sandals. Other men would sooner bleed copiously from their sandal-chaffed feet than do such a thing.

This is why, when driving around, we see British cars festooned with wholly inappropriate trinkets and additions completely out of keeping with our traditional reserved values. This is the driver or owner asserting his or her right to be different or cutting edge.

It is said that you can tell a persons occupation by the colour of the car they drive. To a certain extent this could well be true as it is borne out by insurance company stats. Hairdressers favour purple cars – which seems obvious – whilst florists apparently select orange ones. This probably also applies to tanning salon owners. Accountants favour grey cars. Sadly there are no details on the preferences of politicians – as far as cars are concerned anyway.

So colour doesn’t make a motorist as individual as they may think but rather a member of the employment group they belong to. So they go further with the embellishments. Some manufacturers have even offered twinkly lights in the headlining of the car’s interior, presumably to emulate the night sky. It just looks over-the-top and distracting. The only really useful thing about it is that it could bring a whole new showbiz dimension to, erm, nocturnal activities.LIGHTS3 Summer Silly Season

Being a proud parent is one thing but publishing the fact all over your car is quite another. Americans are fond of this in the form of bumper stickers. “Proud Parents of a J. F. Long Honor Student” shrieks one. “Proud Parent of the Child Who Beat Up Your Honor Student,” announces another. Eventually, the poor mortified offspring become more notorious than Honey Boo Boo Child of trailer park and TV fame. Before you think otherwise – it is happening here. People, a ‘Baby On Board’ sticker is sufficient; she is not a little princess! There”s only one car that carry a “Little Prince On Board” and actually mean it.

Then of course there are the body parts. Eyelashes on headlights or Santa’s legs or a set of fingers poking out of the boot lid come to mind; but it’s not just car buyers – manufacturers are keen on pointless novelties too. On a couple of their convertible models one company offers a neck heater in the head restraint. It”s just a novelty and like all novelties interest palls after about five minutes. They might work but why would you pay for such a thing? Wear a scarf. These options don’t make the buyer individual they just make them slightly less wealthy than they were.

Why bother with it all? Punks wanted to be individuals but they became so numerous as to negate the very thing they were trying to achieve. The clothes became a uniform. That’s what happens. A hot hatch with a body kit is just a daft hot hatch. Don’t let any of it bother you. Just save your money. Don”t try and buy individuality - just be yourself. That’s all most of us can hope for.

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Aston And AMG – Quite A Team

Buyers know what to expect when they buy a Mercedes. When they specify an AMG Mercedes they also know what to expect only with a portion of additional adrenalin and a touch of madness. When buyers decide on an Aston Martin they are, it is fair to say, buying into a different dream. In the UK there is a certain amount of nostalgia attached to that venerable name which is quintessentially British in origin.

On the other hand, the cars we buy today are really a product of the world car industry rather than some niche brand built in a country corner. So it comes as no surprise to learn that Aston Martin are teaming up with Mercedes-AMG GmbH, the performance arm of the mighty German company.

Both parties have signed a ‘letter of intent’ to this effect whilst working towards a full blown agreement by the end of the year. It isn’t a takeover but rather a collaboration. Both sides are remaining tight-lipped about the deal so there’s a non-disclosure order hanging over the arrangement for the time being. AM cars will continue to be made at Gaydon in Oxfordshire and will remain independent.

The idea is that AM will have access to the development of bespoke V8 power-trains and certain components of electric/electronic architecture. This hints at a future hybrid development. In effect this seems to be an ‘economies of scale’ exercise on the part of AM and Mercedes will get a percentage of non-voting shares. It seems to make sense; although Aston make wonderful cars they are not at the cutting edge of profitability so it does seem like the right thing to do on the face of it. Imagine a world without Aston Martins. Unthinkable.

V Aston And AMG   Quite A Team

So, it looks like, at sometime in the future, our Aston Martins will be powered by Mercedes. Does it matter? If a car looks like an Aston and sounds like an Aston then it must be an Aston. Most buyers won’t care that the car is part Mercedes because that name brings with it a sense of reliability. We’ll draw the line at an AMG badge on the back though. That would be too much. Out of the question. Harrumph.

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Highway To Hell

Jam today; more jam tomorrow. Not a statement that says everything is going to be OK but rather one that foretells forebodingly of our future as motorists. Unlike the Jetsons our future driving lives will not be spent whizzing about in space-age airborne vehicles but sweltering in our cars as we wait to move forwards by ten metres.

Those of you who are French and have long memories might remember a traffic jam outside of Paris in 1980. A combination of bad weather and thousands of drivers returning from holidays in the South resulted in a snarl-up around one hundred miles long. In the wait that followed many roadside snails died and a pall of garlic hung in the air.

Elsewhere, a scant three years ago on China’s Highway 110, a massive set of road works reduced the road capacity which eventually became overwhelmed by assorted vehicles until the queue stretched for over sixty miles (pictured). Some unlucky souls where blocked in for twelve days. Seems incredible but it is true.

Both of these countries are big and have huge road networks yet still these things happened. The British Isles are not big but they are crowded. They have a road network which, thanks to poor management and massive underinvestment by successive governments, is now not fit for purpose.

Things, to paraphrase D:ream, can only get worse. The Department for Transport have produced a report called ‘Roads of the 21st Century’. This apparently is meant to see into the future and what it sees is not good. For the next couple of years they reckon that traffic levels will remain fairly constant. However, with the predicted economic recovery after that they calculate that the number of cars on the road will steadily rise by nineteen percent by year 2025.

In a further fifteen years they have estimated that figure will rise to forty three percent. That is, give or take, around fifteen million more cars. That, incidentally, is just their middling estimate. Their worse case scenario is, erm, much worse. This inevitably will lead to greater congestion and more misery for motorists.

The Report believes that fuel-efficient cars will bring down the price of motoring (pause while we all stop laughing because here in the real world they will counter this with higher taxation) and the population will rise by an additional 10 million by 2040 – hence more cars on the road.

Of course, this is based on economic recovery and there are no guarantees of that despite the recent hopeful noises, but at least it has spurred the government into the investment of £28billion’s worth of road projects. We’ve mentioned this before on Motor Blogger. It is very laudable but is only a drop in the ocean if the report’s figures are to be believed. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime keep emergency food, drink, blankets and a portaloo in the car just in case.

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Dacia Duster Black Edition

The budget Dacia range has certainly gained a foothold in the minds of British drivers. In these days of high motoring costs the budget ethos of the Dacia brand has stuck a chord with car buyers.

The Sandero is the cheapest car available today and whilst it won’t win any premium prizes it is certainly an attractive and functional car that pretty much gives drivers all they need even if it isn’t everything they want. A new car for shockingly affordable money is hard to resist.

Dacia, recently subsumed under the umbrella of the French manufacturer Renault, has made an enemy of the unnecessary and makes a simple range of cleverly designed, high quality vehicles which unashamedly favour function over frivolity.

Dacia have not forgotten that some drivers need something a little more rugged and the highly regarded Duster fits the bill. To date – since its introduction earlier this year – the company have taken some 4,000 orders already so now they’ve announced a new special version threateningly called The Black Edition.

The Black Edition was originally supposed to be a one-off made especially for the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Such was the interest shown that the decision was made to actually offer this model for sale. Orders are being taken now for October delivery.

black2 Dacia Duster Black Edition

The Black is a Duster Ambiance dCi 110 two-wheel drive and it is loaded with a host of extras including a brushed black vinyl wrap finish. The interior has ash leather and a Kenwood media system. The Kenwood set-up includes a high-res screen, Garmin navigation (with traffic info), Bluetooth, DAB, hands-free and the usual connectivity. Buyers of this rugged motor will not just be delighted with the car, they’ll also be delighted with the price which is hugely competitive at £17,575.

As can be seen from the images the cars certainly looks the part – the image shows the optional roof mounted spots which might prove to be useful for campers or late night pizza hunters.

There must be something in it. Already the Sandero and Duster have won a selection of awards. It’s a no nonsense brand that doesn’t waste money on the things that – for most motorists – are only marginally of value. Instead it concentrates on real value for money. No doubt the we’ll see a goodly number of Black Editions on the road come next winter.

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Americans Bow To The Eco-Pressure

The news that true petrolheads have been dreading has finally arrived. America, the final frontier of the legendary V8 engine, is finally turning its back on power derived through multi-pot normally aspirated engines and instead has begun to believe that small is good.

There was a time when red-blooded American males would sneer at what they described as ‘four bangers’ – cars with only half the cylinders required by petrolhead law, but the fact is the eco-sensibility being drummed into us all has finally had its effect.

Small fuel-efficient engines are now the motors of choice for 55.8% of new car buyers during the first half of this year. That’s a rise, albeit modest, on the figure for last year. It would appear that, although our cousins across the pond pay significantly less for fuel than we do, it is still beginning to hurt. Thanks to direct injection and turbo charging they have realised that they can still have performance but with better economy and smaller bills.

Cars with engines containing five, four and even three cylinder engines are increasingly in demand as people become more environmentally friendly. Small engines are starting to appear across the board – compacts, midsized vehicles and even small trucks. It isn’t entirely through choice though. The American Government – looking at the bigger picture presumably – are shortly to introduce the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations that will, by 2025, require a minimum consumption of 54.5mpg, thus sounding the death knell for big gas-guzzlers.

In 2008 there were just five brands consuming more than ninety percent of the small engine US market. Today, there are eleven. Also in 2008, ten badges did not even have any engines smaller than six cylinder in their model line-up. That number is now reduced to three.

Only one company, Smart, has a three cylinder engine on offer. This is about to change as more come on-stream including Ford’s terrific three cylinder, one litre EcoBoost motor. There’s a report that in the next few years mighty General Motors will follow suit as the technology develops.

They (the mysterious they) say that where America leads the rest will follow. The reverse is true here as US car buyers have resisted attempts to relinquish their V8’s in favour of the puny set-ups so readily accepted by Europeans and others. That’s all over now. The dice have rolled and the end of the true muscle car is nigh. Certainly it’s true that small engines can be equally as powerful but nothing else sounds like a V8 and now nothing will.

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It Really Is A Mini Adventure! (But You Can’t Have One!)

Here at Motor Blogger we have remarked before on the ever increasing list of Mini variants available to buyers. Barely a month goes by, or so it seems, when another niche version is announced and why not? Well, over at Mini they are clearly not satisfied by their efforts so far and like buses, three more have come along all at once. Sadly they are only concept vehicles and there are no plans to offer them for sale which seems to us to be a right royal crying shame.

Parent company BMW have clearly noticed the popularity of camping, be it for holidays or for festivals, but not for them the flapping canvas tent of old – they’ve gone for the upmarket weekender market with a Clubvan Camper for the lone surfer (or two very friendly surfers), a Cowley Caravan and a Countryman with a tent on top. Genius. Sometimes you just can’t find enough superlatives!

The cars have been developed with the eco-mantra, “maximum touring pleasure with minimal footprint” at the heart of the idea. Nothing Mini has been lost in the conversions so the vehicles still have that unmistakeably Mini character.

The Mini Clubvan is designed to sleep one and has an extendable kitchenette with a stove and ‘fridge. The roof has a glass panel that can be opened for ventilation or to just use to gaze at the night-time firmament. The car has a rack for surfboards, canoes and the like. Imagine being able to say ‘how about coming back to my place’ no matter where you are on the planet!

Mini2 It Really Is A Mini Adventure! (But You Can’t Have One!)The Cowley is a Mini caravan and it is a little piece of design magic. It sleeps two and the rear hatch opens to reveal an alfresco kitchen with twin-ring stove, ‘fridge and a sink. It supposed to be an overnighter but the more hardy individuals to whom personal hygiene is slightly less important than having fun could probably make a week of it. It comes with a solar module to charge the on-board battery and there’s a connection to power the ‘fridge.

The magnificent trio is completed by an ALL4 Countryman Camp upon which you carry your home from home. We are all familiar with collapsible tow tents that are half caravan, well this takes the idea to its Mini conclusion. Picture this scene. It is late and you’ve decided to stop for the night with nowhere to stay except a B&B above a local shop run by an odd couple called Edward and Tubbs. The solution – climb the ladder, raise the tent and settle in for the night. It goes without saying that all the cars come with the usual accessories you’d expect to find, either as standard or as options.

The fact that, as things stand, these concepts are not going to be built is an absolute tragedy. Motor Blogger believes that everyone who has a need for one or other of these (and we number millions) should march down to the local dealer and demand your right to be happy campers.

Mini3 It Really Is A Mini Adventure! (But You Can’t Have One!)

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Top American Muscle Cars

The two drivers eye each other mockingly, each revving his engine as hard as it will go. The cacophonous noise of high octane fuel surrendering to internal combustion fills the air. The atmosphere is charged, electric, tensions running high. The light turns green, the monstrous torque developed by their engines leaves strips of rubber on the road as they get off to a wheel screeching start. Winding their motors up to eight thousand RPM each one is focused on beating his opponent, tunnel vision, victory the only thing on their minds…….

This is the world of the muscle car, a world where straight line speed and off the mark grunt are gods to be worshipped at the altar of high performance motoring. But what exactly is a muscle car? The commonly accepted definition is a two door, American, high performance road legal car packing a big V8 engine at the front that channels its considerable power to the rear wheels.

This is not to say that other countries haven’t tried their hand at muscle cars; Australia did quite a fine job with the Vauxhall Monaro, even though later incarnations have four doors as opposed to two, even the Germans tried to enter the fray with the Mercedes C63 AMG. None of them however managed to quite capture the true spirit of the muscle car.

The muscle car was first introduced to the world in 1949 when Oldsmobile; a car manufacturer acquired by General Motors in 1908 developed a new overhead V8 aptly named Rocket, which was then bolted onto the lighter Oldsmobile body. This gave birth to the Oldsmobile Rocket 88; largely regarded as the world’s very first muscle car. There have since been some quite iconic muscle cars produced, some of them transcending the world of motoring to become cult icons, pillar stones of modern culture. Let’s have a look at some of these master pieces.

Dodge Charger: This particular car is probably the best sounding V8 there is, producing a throaty roar that seems to shake the very ground it runs on. You probably know it as “General Lee” as featured in the Dukes of Hazard, where it performed some serious gymnastics, drifting round corners and even catching some air in a few scenes. A later model of the car was featured in the movie “Fast Five” where two of the cars dragged a safe from its wall mountings and pulled it through the streets of Rio De Janeiro, a testament to the massive torque (637 Nm) put out by the 6.4 liter Hemi V8 in the top of the range SRT-8 model.

Pontiac GTO: Originally created in defiance of a 1963 General Motor’s directive banning its divisions (including Pontiac) from involvement in auto racing, the Pontiac GTO is a shrine to defiance, to the refusal to follow rules set up by narrow minded authority figures, a fundamental tenet of the muscle car. The controversial car came complete with a controversial name, the “GTO” inspired by the sublime “Ferrari 250 GTO” caused quite a stir in the motoring world with Ferrari diehards stating that placing the “GTO” name on a muscle car from America amounted to sacrilege. Despite the troubled birth, the GTO went on to enjoy massive success, with its 1966 sales hitting 96, 946. It also had its fair share of film success, with its “Judge” model enjoying a healthy amount of on screen presence in the seventies and eighties.

Chevrolet Corvette: Probably the most instantly recognizable American muscle car, the Corvette introduced in 1953 as a concept car, was named after a type of small, very maneuverable warship. The concept generated enough interest to cause General Motors to produce one for the mass market. Later incarnations were to introduce the sting ray styling to the Corvette giving it that signature Corvette look of a long hood and short trunk. The latest model, the ZR1 boasts a supercharged 6.2 Liter engine producing 638 BHP; it is the most powerful General Motors engine to be put in a production car. Read more about the Chevrolet legacy at Compare the Market, where you can also compare insurance policies on your own vehicle.

Pontiac Firebird: Nicknamed Bandit from the movie that catapulted it to fame “Smokey and the Bandit”, the Pontiac firebird with its signature black paint, orange decals and conspicuous hood scoops, is truly a pop culture icon. A fact further cemented by its appearance alongside David Hasslehoff in “Knight Rider”. In the early years, it drew in people from various niches largely due to its varied array of engines available from the same V8 used in the GTO to a smaller but still powerful inline six cylinder geared towards the fuel conscious demographic. Reduced sales however eventually saw Pontiac pull the plug on this icon in 2002, laying to rest a quite outstanding legacy.

Ford Mustang: This list would not be complete without mentioning the most successful muscle car of all time, originally based on the Ford Falcon; the mustang has grown into the most sought after muscle car ever. An instant classic, it surpassed its projected first year sales in only three months, this demand has continued since and even to this day there is typically a waiting list at most dealers. Ford’s involvement with Carroll Shelby, an American auto entrepreneur who gave the world the AC cobra, gave birth to the “Shelby Mustang”; a line of modified high performance mustangs. The 1966 Shelby GT Mustang 350 fastback is hands down the best looking muscle car ever produced.

The muscle car is, and will no doubt continue to be, a corner stone of American and indeed world pop culture for many years to come.

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