Tag Archive | "fuel efficient cars"

The Petrol Pump Blues

In these days of economic gloom many drivers dread filling up at the pump. With petrol prices as high as they are right now, saving money whilst sustaining vehicle performance with the fuel we choose are about the only things that matter. We need to get the most out of our vehicles for the longest possible time, which essentially means maintaining properly rather than spending huge sums on costly repairs or a new vehicle.

In order to get the most out of their trusty wheels, some people tend to spend more by choosing a higher octane fuel rating because they assume that their car will perform better and they will as a consequence get better mileage. This is a falsehood. By understanding what fuel octane is and how it affects your engine, you can see that this is not necessarily the case and you can instantly save money at the pump by using cheaper petrol.

Octane ratings measure a fuel’s ability to resist engine knock. The numbers relate to the fuel’s octane rating. Most garages offer two octane grades: regular is usually 95RON in the UK and premium is usually 97, although some can be as high as 99RON. The higher the number, the slower the fuel burns. An internal combustion engine uses pistons to squeeze fuel until it explodes in the cylinder through spark ignition. With high octane fuel, the pistons need to put more pressure on the fuel to get it to ignite.

With the exception of a few high performance luxury vehicles and specially-designed engines, the majority of vehicles on the market are designed to use regular octane. High-compression engines in sports or luxury motors need premium grade to prevent knocking (also known as pre-ignition or ‘knock’). Your car’s manual will provide the answers.

So what exactly is engine knock? Well, it is defined as a rattling or pinging sound that results from premature ignition of the compressed fuel-air mixture in one or more cylinders. This means that the fuel is igniting too soon and may create too much pressure that the engine simply cannot sustain. When vehicles that are designed to use premium are filled with regular, problems like the latter can occur.

Some people believe that buying a higher-octane rated fuel will benefit their engine and that is simply not the case. Choosing a higher octane rating will not affect performance at all.

In most cases, using a higher-octane petrol than your vehicle manual recommends offers absolutely no benefit. It won’t make your car perform better, go faster, get better mileage or run cleaner. The answer to saving money on fuel is to drive smoothly and even more slowly and to ensure regular car maintenance.

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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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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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Power To The People

Once the potential of oil was fully exploited as a fuel source the world started drilling for the black stuff as if there was an endless supply. Now it looks like there isn’t and whilst we search for an alternative to petrol we are, metaphorically speaking, holding the world like a nearly empty ketchup bottle and shaking it over the plate to eke out the last few drops.

In the meantime, in sheds around the planet, very clever people are reviewing and testing all the other options open to us to keep cars on the road. Electric cars are our first option but range anxiety seems insoluble just now and batteries will eventually fail. Thus hybrids came into being where electricity is assisted by or generated by an regular engine. Better, but still no cigar.

So we look at hydrogen. Fill pressurised bottles with gaseous hydrogen, feed it into a fuel cell and by the miracle that is science it will be converted into electricity that powers the car. Provided the infrastructure can be set up to ensure the gas is available where and when we need it they could well be a viable alternative to the internal combustion engine. Already working examples are appearing on our roads but there is a long way to go.

And it doesn’t stop there. Aston Martin recently successfully raced a Rapide at the Nürburgring 24 Hour event, the engine of which was set up to run directly from hydrogen, augmented by petrol when the gas ran out. In normal use it would be possible to replenish the gas before petrol would be needed.

And, again, it doesn’t stop there. What about liquid nitrogen? Forgotten that hadn’t you? Nitrogen is cooled to minus 196C then heated in the cylinder and fed into a regular engine which forces the piston down and off you go. Or how about compressed air? Tata Motors has built a weird looking vehicle that stores air compressed to 300 bar. As the air is released it powers an hydraulic motor. Clever, but a dubious choice as lots of power is needed to compress the free stuff.

Taking this a step further, a hybrid/air car has been made that recovers energy as it slows down and that energy is used to compress air into a  cylinder. At low speeds the air is released to drive the vehicle. Peugeot/Citroen will sell a version of this from 2016.

So a huge amount of work and effort is being expended in alternative sources of power to replace the petrol/diesel option. Some ideas are feasible, some are doubtful. One thing’s for sure though – one of them has simply got to work and possibly within the next twenty years.

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When Petrol Is Best

Say what you like about Citroens – and people often do – but you can’t say that they don’t make an attractive car. Their whole current range are refreshingly good looking with just the right balance of family resemblance and uniqueness of design.

Take the new C4 Picasso THP155 MPV to give it the full title. It will be launched in September and, for the top of the range petrol version, will cost around the £24K mark. The equivalent diesel version will be about £300 more. One of the best features of this car is the sheer practicality. As the family motor it is going to be pretty hard to beat. The boot is the biggest in its class and is extendable by sliding the third row of seats forward or folding them flat. All the rear seats are the same size which means the more fecund family can get three baby seats in a row. That’s good design.SEATS When Petrol Is Best

In this class of car diesel usually rules and Citroen don’t expect things to be any different this time with buyers choosing the 113bhp e-HDI version in preference; but it doesn’t always have to be about economy and running costs. If annual mileage is relatively low or the folding content of the wallet is relatively high, the canny new car purchaser might instead opt for the petrol model for that desirable increase in performance and driving pleasure.

This 153bhp version should achieve around 47mpg – at least according to the official figure, as against the diesel’s more miserly 70mpg. Fair enough, it’s a big difference but on the plus side the THP155 is a sprightly three seconds faster than the diesel in the traffic light sprint, arriving at 60mph in about nine seconds thanks to its turbo-charged engine

With a new and lighter chassis underneath the C4 Picasso is nippy and the engine is quiet, smooth and flexible with plentiful torque which means it won‘t be necessary to keep shifting gears to maintain speedy progress. On the go there’s a lot less body roll and the steering is more responsive than on the previous model – important if you like driving. The overall design ensures almost no wind noise at regular speeds which means that progress should be nice and comfortable in the up-market interior. The luxury of massage seats is even available. Soothing.

Obviously, there’s another price to pay in that this sporty engine emits 139g/km which means road tax is £100 more than the diesel alternative but, just for once, can we not be constantly on this parsimonious route to total economy and instead simply enjoy the drive of a very good car, just like we used to?

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Euro Targets Will Cost You

Ever wondered how the cost of your new car is arrived at? Construction, parts, labour and a variety of taxes all help to raise the buying price. Add into that profit across the board and the extra money it takes to send all the manufacturer’s creative teams off on extended snowboarding holidays and we arrive at the staggering sum that you that have to fork out at the dealership.

Well, that’s the price you pay for a new car: and now it is going to get worse – at least in Europe. Over the next two years it is estimated that the cost of a new car will rise, potentially, by a figure somewhere between about £850 and £5000 (for prestige cars), with two thousand pounds as the possible average. This is because of new Euro-rules being initiated in Brussels.

These rules, roundly condemned by an industry that is already struggling, will include exhaust emissions and safety equipment, right down to the type of coolant in the air-conditioning system. One example is that a maximum NCAP will be virtually impossible to achieve unless the car is fitted with an autonomous emergency braking system.

Diesels, inevitably, will bear the biggest brunt – see below. Note that this is only Europe; there is no explanation why we, stuck in the middle between East and West, should be lumbered with regulations that are tougher than the rest of the world. Thus, cars built for export to other parts of the planet will not necessarily be so affected.

The regulation that has the biggest impact is called Euro 6. Look it up if you want the full details because they are far too tedious to list here. Basically though, this applies to exhaust gases that are not CO² but rather NOx – nitrogen oxide. The current standard is 180mg/km but this must be reduced to 80mg/km on all new motors from 2015.FORD Euro Targets Will Cost You

This is especially tough if you want a diesel because the figure can‘t be achieved from existing engine stock. Car makers will have to come up with new ones.

Now; everybody wants cleaner cars and cleaner air. We all see the sense in it, but would it not be right to say that the European car industry already knows this? They are in an extremely competitive business and they wouldn’t be much good at it if they didn’t continually push the envelope to satisfy customers who are the people who should really have their ear. They will have no option to comply if they are to maintain their position in the global car market.

BMW’s Chief Executive sums it up best so we’ll quote him, “This is all about political wish lists and nothing to do with technical analysis and feasibility.”

One more thing if that wasn’t enough. Fuel companies will have to include or increase the amount of bio-fuel in both diesel and petrol. This produces less energy so you will spend, it is guessed, somewhere between fifty and one hundred pounds per annum to compensate. Even the Friends of the Earth are against this. Who’d have thought it? Apparently they insist that such a move would increase deforestation to grow the raw materials and that’s probably true. Start saving now. The other picture is a rendering of the new 2015 Ford Mustang just to see how it could have been – once.

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Tesla Take A Trip

Although sales of electric cars continue to tick over, they are not exactly setting the world on fire. This is largely because of the well-known range issue. Clearly, the motor manufacturers don’t give up that easily and research and development presumably continues unabated as they seek solutions.

This hasn’t stopped Tesla from making sure its customer base in the USA is well catered for. As time has gone on the company has been quietly establishing a network of Supercharger points. Supercharging enables Tesla Model S drivers to travel long distances, for free and indefinitely. Right now the network covers California and Nevada in the West and the Washington DC to the Boston area in the East.

Since going live in October last year Tesla reckon that an estimated one million miles of happy eco-friendly travel have been driven by Tesla owners. The Superchargers effectively enable city to city travel. The driver can motor for about three hours then stop at the dedicated points, take a half hour break from driving and enjoy coffee and a snack whilst his car is rapid-charged. Then it’s back on the road and best of all – it’s completely free and will be for the life of his or her ownership of the car. That’s customer service.

Now there is to be an accelerated roll-out of stations and Tesla owners can expect there to be a tripling of halts by the end of June, including many more in California and at other destinations around the whole of the Northern Continent. The scale is ambitious. It is expected that within six months the Tesla Supercharger Network will connect most of the metro areas in the USA and Canada. They say that it will ultimately be possible to travel from LA to NYC stopping only at Tesla points without spending any money at all on fuel.

Improving the network is one thing but the Tesla Company are not stopping there. They are also working to improve the technology behind the charging system to dramatically reduce charging times for the Model-S. Early trials have achieved a fifty percent cut from the early original times. The new technology is testing right now and should be available to customers this Summer meaning a twenty minute charge equating to up to three hours of driving.

They say that what happens in America eventually makes its way over here in due course. Well, there isn’t much sign of a workable charging network appearing any time soon so just remember what they’ve achieved over there when you next fill up with liquid gold at an immense cost.

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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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Autonomy In Oxford

Over the last couple of years there has been much talk and some demonstration of the so-called autonomous car – cars that drive themselves. The thinking is that we don’t really like driving at all and is a function best left to the vehicle itself. Once considered a sort of Jetson’s science fiction, the reality is now coming closer.

Boffins at Oxford University, amongst others around the world, have been working on this for some time. Up to now they have only been able to test their experiment on private roads at the Begbroke Science Park but David Willetts MP, the minister for science, has been on at the Department for Transport to relax the rules and allow testing on public roads.

This all stems from the fact that in California the operation of autonomous cars on public highways was legalised last year. The demand for this was lead by mighty Google who have been working on a fleet of computer controlled vehicles for some time and are saying they could have a viable model on the roads in just five years. Mr Willetts, who has tested the Google motor, believes that this has allowed the American company to steal a march on British efforts to develop similar transport.

As a result he has persuaded the DfT to relax the rules – although they say no final decision has been reached – and allow the Oxford RobotCar team to do the same thing. The long term strategy seems to suggest that we could see driverless cars on our streets in twenty years time. Right now the experimentation is based on a Nissan Leaf which has been suitably modified with cameras and laser sensors. An on-board computer controls all the usual functions. As with America, for now, a real human being has to be in the car as well to take control if necessary.

Although the driverless car is sure to become a reality, there is still a long way to go. We already have camera and sensor technology in the cars we buy today. What needs to be achieved with absolute certainty is the ability of the car to understand and react to all the many and various different circumstances that drivers presently encounter on a daily basis.

Once that has been achieved the next stage has to be for an autonomous vehicle to navigate its way around a route that it has never travelled before. Pre-programming is all very well but it is the unknown which brings forth the challenges faced by the scientists. The feeling is that by taking away the human element, the use of cars on the road will reduce or even potentially eliminate death and injury on the road as well as aiding fuel economy.

This can only be a good thing but whether motorists will go for it is another matter. It is clearly of no interest to politicians but a great many people enjoy the experience of piloting a car and will no doubt take great exception to being told they can’t do it. It remains to be seen if our Dear Leaders will listen. Then of course there’s the insurance…

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New Cars, A Concept – And A Gearbox

Not so long ago Motor Blogger detailed the FIAT 500’s bigger brother, the 500L and assumed that was it, for now at least. Not so, apparently, because the larger car has clearly been at the steroids and morphed into the 500XL – a seven seat leviathan that is now production ready. There it is in the picture.

The car maintains the family resemblance from nose to C-pillar but the rear overhang is longer and rear quarter lights bigger. Like its siblings, it’s a good looking car. No details have been revealed yet although the 500XL will probably offer the same engine line-up as the 500L. We’ll see it officially at the Frankfurt Show in September with order books opening shortly thereafter. The name is possibly up for changing so as not to confuse buyers with 500X, a crossover version due next year.

Rolls Royce have confirmed that there will be a convertible Wraith within the next couple of years but they have, they insist, no plans for an SUV type vehicle. What is likely though is that the ageing Phantom may well be replaced by a new model although the time scale is vague. More than three years away allegedly. What is interesting though is that it is likely to be a plug-in hybrid. Who’d have thought it? RR can clearly see that hybrid is the way to go, particularly as restrictions in city centres may well require an electric only option at some future time.

Ford have revealed a new concept in the form of the Fiesta eWheelDrive utilising in-wheel hub electric motors. Right now it is just a test bed but is an intriguing prospect if it should come to fruition. The two motors are in the back wheels. Right now the batteries are under the bonnet but the plan is to house them under the floor in later versions.

By configuring the layout in this way the space under the bonnet becomes superfluous. The thinking is that the car can be the same size as a two-seater whilst continuing to seat four. The concept, it is hoped, will lead to improvements in urban mobility and parking through the production of smaller, more agile vehicles. If that wasn’t enough, the steering design could allow for moving sideways into parking spaces.

The only issue that we can see is that dreaded word ‘urban’. When are car companies going to realise that not everybody lives in the city. Before getting too clever with the technology how about developing an electric vehicle that will suit the needs of country folk too?

Finally, Volkswagen are in the process of developing a ten-speed gearbox and the question is often asked as to why. How many gears are enough? In fact there are very good reasons for eight, nine or even ten gears. More gears give engineers more spread to work with. First gear can be shorter for improved acceleration from rest while the higher gears can improve fuel economy. This greater spread means that smaller, more economical engines can be used in bigger vehicles. Clearly an auto ’box will be essential.

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