Archive | September, 2013

Winter Draws On. Again.

Yes folks, it’s that time of year again. As Autumn drags us kicking and screaming into the dark, dank days of Winter it is time for our annual reminder to look to your car. Breaking down is never nice but when it’s freezing cold or pouring with rain it is much, much worse.

Your trusty motor has given you good service over the Summer months. It has taken you for seaside daytrips and on away days to theme parks and to see dull relatives. It may have taken you on holiday at home or abroad and throughout this it has never complained.

Nevertheless, by now it will need some TLC. In the same way that a meat pie satisfies when we’re hungry and cold so a bit of lubrication and a coat of wax will rejuvenate your car and make it ready for the extremes of Winter.

Check that anti-freeze for a start. Is the coolant up to snuff? When we get a cold we take a paracetemol. For a car a freeze-up can cause a lot more damage. This is why the oil should be checked and even changed and the other vital fluids topped up as appropriate. Same goes for the battery – they can die on you suddenly; often at the worst time.

Your tyres should have 3mm of tread at a very bare minimum to gain any kind of traction, especially if you’re not going to buy an all-weather or winter set. Check the pressures to make sure they are adequate at least every two weeks. Maybe some temporary tyre snow socks in the boot wouldn’t hurt for emergencies along with a blanket and some other emergency aids?

Give the car a very good clean and apply a decent coat of wax or polish. There’s some good stuff on the market these days so a session now and another on a half-way decent day mid-Winter should do the trick.

There is not really any excuse. If in doubt many garages offer free Winter health checks for your car. Obviously they want to get some business out of it but if it really is not possible to get some good DIY action going then at least you can be sure the car is safe. That’s the important thing.

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So You Want To Be A Car Reviewer?

Well, we hope you know what you are letting yourself in for, that’s all. This is a tough job but somebody’s got to do it. If you think that it is just a matter of driving some cool cars then you have got another think coming. If you are still up for it then this is what to do:

First, rather obviously, a car needs to be selected. It has to be chosen, not because the reviewer really, really wants to drive it, but rather on its individual merits and relevance to the target market. The reader is the important person here.

Drive the vehicle in a variety of conditions such as on the main roads, back roads, and in stop and go conditions. Take note of the acceleration, braking, handling, road noise, and blind spots.

If the car has many features like an infotainment centre, air-con, electric windows and all the other stuff found on cars these days then try to test them all for ease of operation and effectiveness. Bear in mind that a cheap car won’t, obviously, be as good as an expensive car in this regard. It’s a question of balancing opinion with price.

Make a proper note of the things, as a driver, that are good about the car and the things that are not so good.

Research to see how well the vehicle stacks up against the competition in terms of price, performance, features and quality.

Don’t get too technical. There are people who like all the data but most want an overall opinion. If there is a good technical item then mention it and vice versa.

Check notes in an on-going manner, adding snippets about the experience of driving and operating the car. Say what is good, bad or indifferent. Impartiality is key.

It is easy to be boring. Try to introduce elements of wit and bring out a sense of humour.

Sit down and write, or type, it all out and ensure it makes coherent sense and, like any good piece of writing, has a beginning, a middle and an end.

Don’t forget to include comparisons with the competition and finally give the vehicle some form of overall accolade; a star rating or similar.

And finally. Writing for any purpose can be fun but it can also be a chore. Work written says much about the writer. Sloppy text will be noticed. Just because it is an article about a car doesn’t mean that it should be skimped. Good car reviewers know this.

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Express Delivery – The Jaguar XJL

Anyone wishing to cross a continent in time for that all important birthday celebration could do worse than splash out on the glorious Jaguar XJL Supersport. This is Jaguar’s biggest car – in long-wheelbase form – and is indeed a whopper. At its beating heart is the superb 5.0Litre V8 petrol supercharged engine. This is a slightly detuned version of the engine that drives the XKR and XFR sports cars and saloons. In this car it is linked to a smooth eight-speed ZF auto gearbox.

Just because this is a luxury car do not be deceived by it’s limousine-like appearance. Yes, it is supremely comfortable and yes there is legroom for your tallest relative but push the pedal to the metal and it takes off like a stabbed rat. Although big, it drives like a much smaller car. It is nimble and secure on the road and this is probably because it is constructed from aluminium and is thus lighter than you’d think. Although its playground is the great auto-routes of the world, it is surprisingly calm and settled on twisting country lanes.

Such is the pace of this car that it brings out the driver in everyone. Forsaking the extremely well calibrated automatic gearbox changes for the paddles makes for a very rewarding drive and all the while your passengers are unaware that they are on an express train heading for the horizon, because they are cosseted in comfort and quiet. Handling is amazing. The adaptive suspension ensures the chassis feels taut and controlled while remaining smooth and composed at speed. The Supersport XJL is the complete package. Everything a discerning driver would expect is there. The touchscreen navigation is particularly clear and informative.

jagweb81 300x201 Express Delivery   The Jaguar XJLThere are some niggles but for the most part it comes down to personal preference. There’s a tiny gleaming clock dial in the dashboard but the speedometer and rev counter are round digital readouts. Motor Blogger thought they looked a bit cheap if we’re honest. Proper dials that match the clock would be nice but, as we said, it is down to personal choice. There are plenty of would-be buyers who, like a dead owl, couldn’t give a hoot.

The other catch of course is the price. Depending upon how it is specced out the cost should be just under £100,000. That’s a lot of money but it is around the same as the big luxury beasts from the major German names. Fuel consumption is alleged to be 24mpg and the emissions less than 300g/km. About what you’d expect from a luxury car. Parking in tight spaces will always be a problem although all the expected aids are available but, frankly, this is not really an issue. The Jaguar XJL isn’t a city car; it is a car for the great open highways of the world.

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Buying Tyres Online

One thing, as a motorist, you will have noticed by now is the cost of those four circles of rubber on your car that will insist on wearing out from time to time. Here’s a couple of examples: Bridgestone Potenza 205/50R17 89W Run-flat tyre for a BMW – best price found in an admittedly quick search was £375! That’s for one tyre! Or, at the other end of the scale, for the tiny wheels of a Citroen C1 expect to pay around £50 for a brand you’ve actually heard of. That’s two hundred pounds to shoe a city car.

In olden times motorists would have gone to their local tyre fitter – either an independent or a chain – and get the job done. Now the prices are such that some significant searching is required because deals on any vehicle vary enormously, and when you combine that with the sheer number of options and brands available, its easy to see why so many people are choosing to at least start their tyre search on the Internet.

In an ideal world drivers would have an ample budget for this onerous but most essential expense and be able to afford the big name brands with a guarantee of service and quality, but in the real world it doesn’t work like that and many people have to choose at a price and the best thing about the online companies is that they often provide in-depth reports on the many products available.

Online tyre companies can deliver your black hoops to you or arrange to have them fitted at one of their concessions local to you. This means that with one online transaction and without getting of your chair you can check prices, order products and arrange fitting, valves and balancing at a stroke. Additionally, all properly-licensed tyre retailers will also participate in a scheme under which the waste tyres are promptly and safely disposed of.

But as with many other products which are critical to your safety, you should take extra care to ensure that the tyres you buy are genuine, fit for purpose and are as they are described in the sales information.

An honest vendor – and you will have checked out the history of the company – should be confident in his products and offer some form of warranty on the tyres to cover worst-case scenarios.

So shopping online for tyres is safe and can often save money. The only caveat, as with any online purchase, is to ensure that your internet connection is secure and that all the usual safeguards are in place.

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Driving The Range Rover Vogue SE

Once in a while the sun shines and something nice happens. Very recently Motor Blogger experienced such a day. A very nice person from the Jaguar Land Rover Group handed your editor the keys to a ‘Corris Grey’ Range Rover (the mad impetuous fools!) and told him to have fun. Well, MB doesn’t need telling twice and this is what happened.

Vogue trim features metallic paint, 20-inch wheels and Oxford leather trim as standard along with 12-way electrically adjustable seats, xenon headlamps and laminated front side windows. Plenty of power comes from a 255bhp twin-turbo V6 diesel, and it’s the first time this engine has been offered in a Range Rover. It is equipped with a standard ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox and stop/start.

Also incorporated is Land Rover’s excellent and new Terrain Response 2, which automatically selects programs; standard on this car, the cheaper Vogue trim has the early manually selected Terrain response. Also standard is a touch-screen sat-nav, DAB radio, digital TV and the more powerful 825W Meridian audio system.

RR1web Driving The Range Rover Vogue SE Motor Blogger at first found that he was sliding around on the otherwise supremely comfortable seat. Finally, a couple of buttons revealed themselves which bolstered the side bolsters – like blowing up a balloon. Problem solved. This car was smooth, refined, powerful and much more agile than the outgoing Range Rover. The new Range Rover has a double-skin bulkhead and the engineers have clearly done significant work to subdue the diesel noise. It works. Land Rover says the TDV6 offers the equivalent performance to the outgoing TDV8 thanks to the new alloy-shelled Range Rover’s lighter kerb weight, and that seems right as power was available in bucket loads.

Acceleration is strong, helped by the excellent ZF gearbox, which slips up and down the gears smoothly. There is some body roll, which is more pronounced in the TDV6 since it doesn’t have the active roll control of the SDV8 and V8 Supercharged models. This is a shame because, through twisting lanes, the roll was a bit irritating. The steering, now electric, has a light weighting and allows easy placement on the road, but for MB it was short on feel and feedback, even at higher speeds when you‘d think it would weight-up more. Still, it isn’t a sports car and for the most part the drive was super-relaxing with the sensation that driving all day wouldn’t be an issue.

The TDV6 is 200kg lighter than the SDV8. Most of the saving is over the front axle, which might go some way to explaining the entry-level TDV6’s agility. On our roads the air-suspended ride really breathes over bumps and dips. Our verdict: Superb. The best Range Rover yet. All that was missing was a bit of mud-plugging but you can’t have everything. The Range Rover Vogue SE TDV6 is an automotive tour-de-force.

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Is Car Ownership A Luxury?

What are you eating tonight? Italian, perhaps, or some tacos? Which cinema to choose or DVD to rent? These are the daily dilemmas we must face, except they’re not really problems at all are they? They are luxury choices. We know where our next meal is coming from. So do most of us really need that motor outside?

On behalf of Motor Blogger, I have completed an entirely unscientific vox pop down my street. I wanted to know if people felt their car was a luxury or an essential item in their lives. You know, sometimes people can be very rude but those that did respond stated that their car was a necessary and important part of their lives.

When offered the choice, the general consensus was this: going any distance by rail usually means changing trains at least once. Your journey is constrained by a timetable. The railway companies seem to be only interested in the commuters travelling into towns and cities, who are reasonably well served but who have to pay astronomic amounts for their season tickets. Otherwise service can be very patchy and often leave you some miles short of your destination. Try going from Norwich to Newquay, for example.

Bus services around towns are usually pretty good, but outlying areas suffer anything from an infrequent service to no service at all as the companies cut uneconomic routes. That’s their business decision of course but it flies in the face of both government and green lobby desire to get drivers off the roads. The old days of real public service transport are long gone.

Here’s just one (true) example from down my way. Take a pensioner couple who could never afford a new vehicle but can just about manage to run a used car – a Toyota Aygo to be precise. If they go from our suburban street into town it costs them jointly over six pounds return by bus, a journey of some three miles each way. For that money they can buy a gallon of petrol that will take them over 50 miles. Naturally, there are other costs to running a car but their insurance is cheap by today’s standards; they have a good deal on a service contract from a quality dealer and the road tax is twenty quid. The figures really don’t stack up favourably for public transport. Add to that the convenience of door to door transport and, crucially, the ability of going where they want when they want and there can simply be no debate. To live their modest lives to the max - and why shouldn’t they - they need a car.

If you’re well paid or wealthy, like a government minister, then rising car costs don’t really affect you as your pay generally rises commensurate with inflation; but if you’re a pensioner or someone on a low wage with a family to support a car is a lifeline that no amount of public transport can match.

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Autonomous Cars On The Road By 2020

There exists a document that most people have not heard of. It is called the Vienna Convention of Road Traffic. This is the Euro-bible that basically governs what goes into Highways Codes around the Community. You would have to be really desperate for literature to read it. Somewhere around the time that you read this, new legislation will be tabled to make amendments to this earnest document.

It will allow self-driving systems to take control of a vehicle. Obviously a human has to be present to take charge if necessary but the amendment will effectively give the green light to self-driving cars.

A future world of autonomous cars has been on the cards for some years now. Various companies have been working with vehicles laden with the latest technical wizardry to bring them to us – whether we want them or not. The same manufacturers who bring us high powered sports cars are also getting in on the act but it is hard to see that a mix of self-driving and human driven cars will be compatible.

To some extent this technology is with us now. Our cars have cruise control and lane management and the like, all designed to relieve the driver of at least some of the onerous tasks of driving. These advances have certainly made cars safer and that is the view behind driverless cars. If machines can keep vehicles apart then accidents should be a thing of the past. That would be great in an ideal world.

Sadly though, we don’t live in such a Utopia. In the same way that people make mistakes then so can technology. What happens when an electrical component fails in a driverless car? It is all very well to say that the human will instantly take over but can we rely on that when push comes to shove? Eventually, people will get used to not touching the controls with the inevitable lack of concentration.

This is what presents the problem. If self-driving cars do collide or knock someone down to whom is fault assigned? If one vehicle is deemed to be responsible how can the owner be found guilty if he, like everyone else, is reliant on the car’s technology? This should cause some insurance headaches.

Nevertheless the quest for the driverless car continues apace. A couple of car makers have said that they will be bringing autonomous cars to market by 2020. Google have said that they are developing their driverless cars to become robo-taxis. All very ’Blade Runner’. The pleasures of motoring are being eroded. Soon they will be no more.

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Pointless Car Gizmo Of The Week

In these days of sophisticated car design it is still possible to see cars with what looks like a drainpipe sticking out of the back. As the car goes past it will make a noise suggesting that the vehicle has under the bonnet an engine of extreme raw power. It hasn’t. It is just noise. There are a few performance cars that offer this huge exhaust feature but mostly we’re over it.

Or so it was thought. As cars become more refined and more regulated so performance noise whether real or imagined has become frowned upon but that hasn’t stopped the customising brigade from getting up to speed with the times. Car noise can now be created digitally. It is called ‘dynamic sound technology’. Eventually even the humble city car could awaken the neighbours with a magnificent V8 bellow.

This modification from a third party developer has to be fitted when the car is built, so no after-market toy this. A speaker in the muffler portion of the exhaust pipe is linked to the car’s engine and presumably, amplified. It appears that it is even possible to download new sounds as they become available.

Renault have something like it on their Renaultsport Clio which can ape various cars from the company’s sporting past but it is only for the occupants and is not broadcast outside. Quite why an owner of this car – which is actually very good – would want to do this and drown out the stereo is unknown; but what can you do?

Engine noise has always been emotive. Keen drivers love a car that ‘sounds right’. Meanwhile manufacturers have had to develop smaller and smaller engines to meet environmental legislation and improve fuel economy which has meant that these little motors have all the volume of a library assistant with laryngitis.

Auto purists don’t like this. In a sense, quiet cars are dangerous cars because pedestrians simply can’t hear them coming. This is why similar technology is being added to electric cars for example so that they at least make minor internal combustion noises as they approach. On the other hand it isn’t much help if the sound of an approaching car makes pedestrian’s ears bleed thus causing deafness because then we’re back to square one.

It’s pointless technology. If you want to make a proper serious car noise then buy a five litre V8 supercharged Jaguar and not one that plays the ‘Ride Of The Valkries’! Yes, cars should make some noise for safety’s sake but this is just daft. It won’t be long now before a version of this factory fitted option will be available at the local car depot and then every ten year old Vauxhall Astra in the world will make our roads sound like a Formula 1 grid.

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The Dangers Of Two Wheels

More Britons are turning to two motorised wheels as it becomes more and more expensive to drive a car. Motor cycles are exciting to ride – the open road and all that – economical and, unfortunately, vulnerable. This increase of bikers on the road also increases the number of motorcycle accidents that happen every year, and because of the inherent design of motorcycles, this can obviously be very dangerous for the riders.

One big issue that many people come across is assigning fault in a motorcycle crash. Due to sometimes varying factors, the opinion of the responding officer or a court’s preconceived notions coupled with the conflicting views of each involved party – especially when one of them is a car driver – it can be very difficult to figure out who is at fault after a motorcycle accident.

The simple fact is that motorcycle accidents have been consistently rising with the increase in motorcycle sales over the past few decades added to the increased volume of cars on the road. These accidents further increase during the warmest months of the year. Sadly, motorcycles intrinsically do not have as much protection as typical motor vehicles and although some of the latest helmets and protective clothing have improved immensely in recent years it is usually the biker who comes off worse.

Unfortunately, when it comes to motorcycle accidents, it can sometimes be difficult to assign blame. This is especially true when the accident involves a driver in a car or truck. A big issue arises when deciding whether or not a biker had anything to do with their own accident. Many motorists state that an injured motorcyclist came out of nowhere or was going to fast. While these sometimes are not good excuses, they can go towards assigning some form of negligence to the rider, thus casting doubt.

Due to the inherent nature of motorbikes often being less noticeable, there is a chance that a court might well believe a driver who says that they had no way to avoid crashing with the biker. This could well be and sometimes is true, especially if the bike was going above the speed limit or committing some other form of misdemeanour.

Another confusing issue, especially when it comes to bikes, is whether or not parties or circumstances besides those involved in an accident could be held liable for the crash. Mechanical issues, for example, could account for it. These mechanical concerns are often overlooked due to the usually minor injuries that those in cars sustain. When it comes to bikers, however, even a minor mechanical glitch can lead to tragedy.

In addition, poorly maintained roads – a real issue in the UK – a lack of warning signs and many other road hazards could be accountable. Anyone involved in an accident between car and bike must absolutely make sure that they cover all the bases and get their facts straight. Photographic evidence can help. Both sides need to know their rights and get it right.

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A Dearth Of Diesel

With the admittedly slow but inevitable rise of the electric car and the growing confidence in hydrogen technology it seems a bit strange that drivers would be worried about the supply of diesel in the long term. Bizarre though it may seem, there is some truth in the fact that the supply of diesel could possibly – if remotely – be put in jeopardy by events yet to come.

This is why. Ships. That’s right, just when you thought you were safe on dry land it appears the shipping industry is going to have to meet burgeoning new EU regulations concerning emissions; so it’s not just we motorists who suffer. Their vessels will have to be cleaner in future which means they will no longer be able to burn heavy fuel oil but instead use a form of diesel similar to that which is used in cars.

It gets worse. The economies of India and China are growing apace. The demand for new cars is massive and, as a result, there will increasingly be an upsurge in the use of diesel. The answer should be to make more of it but apparently it isn’t that easy. It seems that when a company builds a refinery they have to decide from the outset what it will produce. When most European refineries were built more than thirty years ago the demand was for good old petrol which easily outsold the murky diesel product of the time.

Then diesel engines became cleaner and more economic. Thus demand rose and in 2006 diesel outsold petrol for the first time and it was then that we all discovered we did not have the capacity to make enough of the stuff. The result is that Europe exports petrol but has to import forty percent of the diesel we need. Most of this comes from Russia, a nation with whom we have a sometimes shaky relationship. Is it any wonder that diesel users are worried.

An interesting side issue of this has come to light. Users of diesel cars castigate government for the additional tax that their chosen fuel carries and believe not unreasonably that there should be price parity. It seems that the government doesn’t want to lower the tax because they believe it would create extra demand and put even more pressure on our diesel stocks. We hate to admit it but they may have a point.

This may be why car makers are building these super-small, super-economical petrol engines and hybrids. This seems to be a trend. Although diesel remains popular with higher mileage drivers because of the economy factor it is likely that petrol engines will soon once again be in the ascendancy. In the meantime it is unlikely we will ever see diesel prices at the pumps come down.

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