Archive | September, 2013

A Motoring App Too Far?

Fancy being a traffic warden, only without the abuse and the ill-fitting uniform? Well, if a company across the pond has its way you too can dish out parking tickets anonymously and get paid for it. This is a rather nasty form of what the originators are calling ‘crowd sourced parking control’.

It apparently stems from their own bitter experiences whereby the parking spots adjacent to their business were being ‘abused’ and their customers couldn’t park. As a consequence they have decided they will turn driver against driver based pretty much on that aggrieved person’s opinion.

Anyone can use this app. Rather disingenuously they say that their product is designed for use on private land and car parks and that they are not intended for, say, council run parking; but here in the real world this is not going to happen is it?

Once downloaded to the device the app allows anyone to take an image, along with the location and number plate of a vehicle whose time has expired or is badly parked and send it to the car park’s operator. If a ticket is successfully issued and a fine paid then the app user is supposed to get a cut of the dosh. Lovely.

This unpleasant advance follows on from the increasing use of dashboard cams to film the exploits of allegedly bad drivers and forward it to the authorities or upload it to websites. Dozens of penalties have been issued to people caught in this way. It is a sign of the times that over eighty thousand ‘likes’ have been given on a social network that encourages people to ‘shame’ badly parked car owners with a public image. Is this an adjunct of the troll society that has blighted so many lives?

The manufacturer of this app say they want to give power to the people and harness the ‘power of the crowd’, for which presumably read ‘mob’. Right now they are talking to parking companies around the world to whom this is likely to appeal as, at a stroke, they essentially recruit freelance staff. If anyone is naive enough to think that this won’t be abused is living in a different world to most of us.

Nobody likes bad or thoughtless parking any more than they do bad or thoughtless driving, but surely we already have a body of people dedicated to the law. They are called the police. Private companies have their wardens as do councils. Why should something like this even be considered necessary? It is a step too far and turns motorist against motorist, Sadly, it is very likely to be successful.

Posted in Auto BlogComments (1)

Low Sun, Low Visibility

One of the great truths is that we cannot turn back time. If we could it would always be summer and the sun would be high in the sky to cheer our spirits. Unfortunately, such metaphysical things are beyond us and we will inevitably sink slowly into the forthcoming winter as sure as the sun will sink low in the sky. Indeed if you live near the top of the world, the sun will disappear altogether. In which case you will be the lucky ones because, in Britain at least, the low sun of winter brings new hazards to motorists.

We are always grateful to see the sun at all as autumn morphs into the gloomiest months. The trouble is, when it does make an appearance it doesn’t rise very high into the sky and can easily dazzle drivers. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon; at junctions and on winding roads when the sun comes and goes into our vision and it is easy to miss possible hazards and dangers.

It is also possible to miss other road users and cyclists are especially vulnerable to this. If a driver passes a cyclist but then gets the full force of the low sun in the wing mirror he could lose sight of the pedaller as he pulls back in front. The danger here is that the biker will be cut across. The consequences of this could be disastrous.

It pays to take steps to mitigate the effects of this and other sighting difficulties when the sun is low. Obviously, it makes sense to have a good quality pair of sunglasses to hand – polarised ones if possible – as they will help to give a clearer view. It also makes absolute sense to slow down. It seems like stating the obvious but the number of people who carry on regardless is higher than you might think.

If the sun is behind you then it is approaching drivers who are affected. Can they see the road markings in front of them and can they indeed see you? It’s a thought. As mentioned above, a low sun can dazzle in the car’s mirrors. Be ready to dip the central mirror and check manually in the blind spot for cyclists and the like as mentioned above.

A dirty windscreen – inside and out – can easily cause glare or make it worse as the light refracts on the grime and smears. A good product in the windscreen washer bottle and a glass cleaning wipe for the inside should always be used.

Finally, as dawn comes up or as the sun sets, always put the headlights on. See and be seen. That’s the motto. As winter accidents statistics demonstrate – we forget this at our peril.

Posted in Auto BlogComments (1)

The Joy Of Special Edition Cars

We all know and love the brilliantly flawed FIAT Cinquecento, badged in the UK as the 500. It’s as Italian as Silvio Berlusconi and probably more reliable. The hot versions are emblazoned with the legend that is Abarth. Well, a while back you could have treated yourself to the Abarth 695 Maserati Edition. If you fancy standing out from the crowd it will cost you a measly £32,000. Apparently the price includes a set of ‘stunning’ Tramontano leather luggage. Have you ever tried to get luggage into a 500?

This follows on from the madness of four years ago when the company announced an equally barking Ferrari Edition and FIAT are not the only company beset with occasional bouts of insanity. You must be aware of the Aston Martin Cygnet, which is simply a tarted up and re-badged Toyota IQ that becomes, in the words of the company, a ‘bespoke luxury commuter car’. Per-lease. It’s actually a cynical ploy to get around EU emission regulations for bringing down manufacturer ‘fleet average’ mpg. Someone’s been buying it. Two years ago MINI got in on the act by announcing the ‘Inspired by Goodwood’ edition for a breathtaking £41,000! Read that number again. Apparently this model was to be made of ‘specially selected materials and precise craftsmanship to guarantee the highest degree of comfort’. At that price I should jolly well think so.

The history of the motor industry is littered with cars such as these; pointless promotions for people with more money than sense. For the price of some of these cars the canny buyer could afford a good new or used car from a prestige maker. For £41k you’re almost into a nearly new Porsche Boxster or M Series BMW. Top of the range models across the board are available at these prices. Surely the idea of small ‘city’ cars is to provide a reasonable urban drive at low cost?

But I’m being unkind. If someone is so mentally unhinged as to think these cars are a good idea, who am I to argue, because there have been some truly terrible examples of special editions down the years. To demonstrate this I give you the ultimate pimp-mobile – the 1979 Cadillac Seville by Gucci! As you can see from the image this fine car also comes with a set of matching luggage and sports the famous ‘Double G’ logo. Groovy.

Yet the Caddy must pale into insignificance compared to the magnificent – and I’m not making it up – 1982 Frank Sinatra Edition Chrysler Imperial. In the hope that some of Frankie’s fame would rub off on the company, they issued this vehicle with a special silver-blue paint job and a leather briefcase full of tapes of recordings by Old Blue Eyes himself.

It didn’t work.

Posted in Auto BlogComments (0)

Concept Cars – Has The World Gone Mad?

Soon, very soon now, the motor show season will kick start the Autumn and Winter months, bringing some light into our damp darkness. One feature that is sure to be of interest this year is just how mad some of the concept cars will be.

Concepts – often the result of years of research – are a way of introducing styling changes and possible future developments to the waiting world. In reality, the final production models will not look much like them at all.

Car designers are allowed free rein to come up with new ideas and the copywriters will have sharpened their quills to ensure that the greatest amount of florid hyperbole can be written into the smallest spaces on the page. Vehicles that are futuristic, wacky and just plain bananas are usually the result. The Citroen Cactus (pictured) is a case in point. This concept has ‘air bumps’ on the side to help minimise damage in the event of a minor shunt.

CAC21 Concept Cars   Has The World Gone Mad?It is crucial that all concept cars are given daft names. Presumably there is a point to it but who knows what it is? When Citroen were questioned about calling a car Cactus they got a bit prickly about it. (Only kidding! Citroen people are very nice!). Also, in today’s environmentally friendly world, the cars have to be clean and efficient. The aforementioned Cactus has an Hybrid-Air system. This is an innovative combination of tried and tested technologies: a petrol engine, a unit to store energy in the form of compressed air, a hydraulic motor-pump assembly and an automatic transmission working with an epicyclic gear train. Well done if you understand that but this technology could well be featuring in the brand’s vehicles from 2016.

If manufacturers are prepared to spend a pretty penny developing these cars then they make sure they make as much of them as possible. This usually results in the motor being loaded to the roofline with the very latest techno-gadgets and safety features. They will be bursting with touch screen technology and the appalling named ‘infotainment centres’. Whatever happened to radios? Now it seems it is possible to connect with the entire world and probably NASA as well. Houston, we have a puncture.

No news yet on what advances the car makers are planning to stop children destroying the back seats of cars or of special cloaking devices which makes the cars invisible to traffic wardens. These are the answers that motorists want yet they remain a distant dream. And they call it progress.

Posted in Auto News, Auto ShowsComments (0)

Age Shall Not Wither Our Older Cars.

Older cars are enjoying the strongest demand in the second-hand market as used car dealers hunt for vehicles that will compete best against cheap new car deals. Research has revealed that the impact on the used car demand pattern from low finance rates and discounts to encourage new car registrations has had a marked effect on the used car trade.

Overall trade values across the market are notably stable and – in some cases – rose during the second half of August thanks to restricted volume coupled with on-going solid retail demand. Surprisingly, the thirteen registration plate has had no effect on new car registrations and demand has remained strong in the used car market, although there are now signs emerging of some downward pressure on late plate values.
OLD21 Age Shall Not Wither Our Older Cars.
It seems that, for dealers, the most highly prized cars for retail are older cars in tip-top condition, Particularly in the 3 – 4 years old bracket, which look best value in comparison with newer cars. Here, some trade prices actually increased in the latter part of August as used car specialists worked ever harder to meet demand. The result of this is that one year old car values have depreciated slightly more than their older counterparts. This trend was anticipated by the industry and it is only really now that real evidence of values for late plate cars being more heavily affected than the rest of the age ranges has been seen.

September, coming as it does with the new 63 registration and the boost in sales of new cars, is seen as a pivotal month but it seems that trade values will change little in the short term. Factors that come into play are the likely influx of dealer part exchanges, the attractiveness of new car offers from manufacturers, and the determination of franchised dealers to hit their new targets.

The impact of more stock in the market from trade-ins is unlikely to have any major impact until towards the end of September. New car offers will be strong but may improve throughout the month as some manufacturers chase market share. Overall it looks like the both the new and used car market will remain fairly buoyant in the face of our economic gloom. Maybe things are looking up after all.

Posted in Auto NewsComments (0)

Goodbye Sealant Hello Spare Wheel

In an enterprising development a well known organisation has come up with a novel idea for dealing with punctured or damaged wheels and tyres caused by potholes and other road menaces. They are calling it a spare wheel.

Yet it is not a humorous matter. For quite a while now manufacturers have taken to leaving the spare out and replacing it with a can of sealant. This is to enable them to either (or a combination of) save on manufacturing costs, make more room in the car and sell it as a space improvement or reduce the overall size of the vehicle; for example, city cars.

A tin of sealant is fine as a ‘get-you-home’ for, say a slow puncture but – as is more likely – it cannot fix a blow-out or sidewall damage. If this happens the driver is stuck and so, inevitably, is his family of young children. Not good. Certainly, cars are much more reliable these days and wheels and tyres are stronger and better made but it still happens and usually at the worst time.

The organisation – and they will no doubt soon be promoting the service – plan to offer an almost universal spare wheel (similar to the one pictured) when their service is called out. This takes the form of a seventeen inch wheel with adjustable mountings which should allow it to be fitted to any car that uses five studs on the hub. Effectively it is like the more standard space-saver wheel fitted to some cars already and will work with all but the largest and smallest cars.

The wheel is strictly a temporary measure and a speed limit applies but for the stranded motorist it will be heaven-sent as it avoids the need for a tow and additional time lost on a long wait. Sufferers will need to cough up a two hundred pound deposit on their plastic but this will be refunded once the stricken driver goes to a tyre depot to effective the repair on the original wheel. That’s a fair deal for the organisations’ members.

This is an issue that has been angering motorists for some time. Amazingly, up until recently, it was not incumbent on dealers to even tell customers there was no spare wheel. They got to find out the hard way. Clearly it behoves the new car buyer to establish this small but important fact before signing on the line that a vehicle is so equipped or at least is fitted with a space-saver, which are fine. Buying a car is supposed to be a pleasure and it is little things like this that spoil the party.

Posted in Auto NewsComments (0)

The Advantages Of Potholes

That’s got you thinking, hasn’t it? What, you might well be asking, is there anything good in any way about potholes? Well, some very clever people have realised that, in a similar way that energy can be reclaimed from vehicle braking, it is possible to recover energy generated when a car goes over any sort of bump.

In a purely non-scientific assumption, it seems reasonable to assume that any action generates energy. In this case apparently, it is possible to convert the energy developed in the suspension dampers into electricity as we know it, which is then fed to the car’s system to help the power drain caused by headlight use and air conditioning systems. We know this sort of thing works.

As you can imagine, should any vehicle manufacturer decide to bring something of this ilk to their future vehicle production then UK drivers would benefit more than most as British roads are increasingly not unlike abandoned goats tracks in Nepal.

It has been estimated that last year the nation’s highways had no fewer than 2.2 million potholes. That’s quite a lot. In fact it is alleged that we have managed to achieve the disgraceful number of six per mile of road on average. Did you know that Honda built an especially rutted test track in Japan to better enable them to test the cars heading for our shores?

Not only would this new regeneration system work with potholes, it would be equally successful with speed humps. This idea is being seriously engineered by an American/German partnership and in testing it does actually work. This is the only single occasion when it is possible to say that bad roads are good. Even on those smooth freshly surfaced EU funded heavenly highways of the Continental mainland even very small ripples would have a regenerative effect. So it’s all good news then.

Or is it? Apparently, UK motorists stump up around a million quid a day to repair wheels, axles and suspension damaged by potholes. Everybody knows how notoriously hard it is to get money out of those responsible for our roads so it’s the good old insurers who are often having to foot the bill with the inevitable subsequent rise in premiums. This is without even thinking about the risk to health caused by accident potential. A car would have to do some really serious energy regeneration to recover those costs for the blighted drivers of Britain.

Posted in Auto NewsComments (0)

A Layman’s Guide To Handling

Whenever there is talk about cars the conversation will eventually come around to handling. Television pundits talk about this as if of the holy grail but if the average owner tried what he saw on the box then pretty soon he would be disappearing backwards into the local undergrowth. Because of this passion for driving and the need for safety, manufacturers tend to invest quite a lot of time and money into the science of how a car handles.

Handling refers to how a car responds to driver input in corners. In other words, the better the handling the faster a corner can be dealt with although, of course, you don’t always have to exploit this to the max! How well a car handles is largely a function of the car’s suspension – comfort issues aside — which comprise the parts that attach the wheels to the car and allow them to move up and down. The steering and tyres as well as the vehicle’s weight also play major roles.

It is easy to assume that handling is only really relevant to high performance cars but that isn’t so. Handling comes into play in emergencies and we all experience those from time to time. If you have to swerve to avoid an accident, your car’s handling is very relevant. A car that handles well will respond more crisply and predictably to your  steering and braking inputs, for example. Understanding how this works makes for a better driver.

A poorly handling car will lose grip more quickly and loss of control is swiftly followed by a spin or slide as the inevitable outcome. Better handling requires stiffer suspension, which makes for a harder and often less comfortable ride so the car makers have to come up with a decent compromise. Some manufacturers do a better job than others in this regard but by and large this compromise is, ahem, handled well. Obviously the cheaper the car the less likely it is that it will handle well but then that is to be expected.

It is of course perfectly possible to change how a car behaves. Changing tyres, for example, will have an effect. A car fitted with tyres built to improve economy and wear will not be as effective at the limit than tyres built for performance. That’s the trade-off. It is also possible to change suspension components to give a better handling ride but this will always be at the expense of comfort.

This sort of do-it-yourself approach is all very well but the car has to be up to the job. A vehicle that is meant as a family run-around will not really be up to sports car handling whatever you do. Best to buy the right vehicle from the outset. If you want handling to be a priority then buy a car that’s built for performance straight off the shelf.

Posted in Auto BlogComments (0)