Tag Archive | "motoring"

Fight Back Down Under

Down under, on the far side of the world, Australian motor enthusiasts have had enough of being the whipping boys for all the swivel-eyed, health and safety, car-hating monomaniacs who for too long have, just as it’s been for UK motorists, done their level best to brow-beat the drivers of Oz into meek submission.

Australians like their freedoms. They like to quaff a few cold beers, grill shrimps, watch a bizarre form of sleeveless rugby and drive proper V8-powered cars. They are done with being interfered with. In Britain it seems like we just roll over and accept our lot, but in Australia in 2013 they formed their own political party — the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party and they are determined to have their say.

aus2 Fight Back Down UnderSee if this sounds in any way familiar: According the Party’s website, “with the rights and civil liberties of everyday Australians being eroded at an alarming rate, the Party aims to bring focus back to the notion that the Government is there for the people; not, as it increasingly appears, the other way around.”

The Party launched in response to widespread anti-hooning (hooning is the Aussie term for anyone taking place in racing, burnouts, joyriding, etc.) legislation passed by the Australian government, as well as the closing of many areas that off-roaders used in the past. The regulations passed last year were especially concerning to Australian petrolheads because a first offence for “wilfully starting or driving a motor vehicle in a way that makes unnecessary noise or smoke” could lead to an immediate ninety day impound of the allegedly offending motor. The Party are not condoning reckless or illegal activities; they are concerned about the potential over-zealous interpretation of the law.

The AMEP was formed and instead of just making a lot of noise, ran a candidate for Senate, and to a whole lot of peoples’ surprise, won a seat in the Federal Senate. “The success of the AMEP at a Federal level will open doors to negotiation which have previously been unavailable to us as motoring enthusiasts,” reads the AMEP’s website. “The unity displayed by supporters of the AMEP at the election sends a clear message to those who would see our culture dismantled – we are not a minority, and we will not give up the fight for our rights and freedom.” Senator Elect Ricky Muir takes his seat on last Monday. We watch with interest. Not to say envy.

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Say Goodbye To Driving For Fun

Jeremy Clarkson – love him or loathe him – says what he thinks regardless of the opinion of others. This is one of the reasons why he has risen to the pinnacle of automotive journalism. He also seems to have his finger on the pulse of what many of us think. Referring to ‘safety’ in a recent car review – which I quote here verbatim – he says, “I hate safety. It makes me nervous because when I feel safe I have a nagging doubt in the back of my mind that I can’t really be having much fun. As a general rule, the two things are mutually exclusive”.

Before anyone reaches for a handy and fully loaded blunderbuss, he is – as has to be the case – generalising. He is not saying that safety in cars is bad, only that by saving us from ourselves the people who make the rules are spoiling the very thing we like doing most. OK, the second thing. Car manufacturers cannot be blamed. They are simply providing that which is being called for, but where does it end?

Older drivers who, in their earlier lives, experienced motoring without the benefits of ABS, ESP and a host of other things known only by their initials, will tell you that driving was, quite simply, more fun. Obviously, they were not constrained by anywhere near so many rules and regulations. These were the days when it was assumed that folk had a modicum of common sense and motorists were pretty much left to get on with it. Also, there were fewer cars on the road.

So, whether we like it or not, time, stupendously crass official decisions and crowded highways have eroded the spirit of motoring to a nubbin. Now we have cars that can look after themselves without any input from us. We are swaddled in safety blankets like newborns and not allowed to think for ourselves. Nanny State has long since passed away; your Big Brother is in charge now and he will tell you it is all for your own good.

Modern cars are gradually eroding our decision making. Even the driver is becoming a passenger. The pleasures of driving are consequently disappearing. Not everyone can afford the luxury of track days. A great many cars are becoming boring and as a result driving standards are dropping – as we have pointed out elsewhere on this website – because we come to rely on the auto-gadgets.

Now, if you’ll pardon the cliché, accidents are by their very nature just that. Nobody wants to accidentally hit a child that has run into the road which is why we welcome devices that help prevent such an horrendous occurrence but the fact remains they are acting for us and thus our in-built driving skills begin to atrophy. It’s the end of the road.

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The Fleeting Pleasure Of Driving

A third of drivers simply don’t enjoy driving anymore, according to the latest survey. It seems that the main reason given – according to fifty-one percent of those surveyed – for not enjoying driving on our roads was the cost of fuel.

This was closely followed by congestion which blighted the lives of forty-one percent. Others felt that they were no longer excited by driving (which could be as a result of all the technology added to cars making them safer but, for the most part, dull)or simply did not have enough leisure time, (25.9%).

Still, there is a brighter side. Overall thirty-nine percent of those who responded still consider driving and riding for fun as their hobby and one third of respondents still like to go out for a spin.

Fifty-three per cent of respondents think that, compared with other road users, they are good drivers, with just over forty-five per cent responding that they are very good. How very honest. We always though that everybody believed it was other people who always drove badly.

Yet more facts were revealed. Seventy-eight percent would usually drive when out with their partner yet half of respondents don’t always feel relaxed when their partner is in the passenger seat. There are several comments that could be made here but in the interests of fairness, Motor Blogger will keep quiet.

It seems that other road users are the problem with over sixty per cent of respondents stating that it’s the behaviour of other drivers on the road that makes them feel the most nervous. This was followed by bad weather conditions and driving near to heavy goods vehicles.

It’s all very gloomy but remember this. Sometimes, once in a while, we all find a piece of open road and can for a while at least recover some of the joys of motoring. The best of our countryside is still the best in the world so the next time someone says ‘let’s go for a drive’, just do it. You’ll feel better.

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Could Ultimate Car Control Be Taken From You?

A few days ago Motor Blogger queried the intentions behind technology whereby your car could be controlled by others. You can refresh your knowledge here. Now there’s a new, or additional, threat – depending on your point of view. It is called Intelligent Speed Adaptation.

It seems that seventy five percent of European drivers are concerned that the use of Intelligent Speed Adaptations (ISAs) will compromise safety, according to new research. Last month, the European Union announced that they were considering rules for new cars to be fitted with ISA technology. This would be capable of detecting speed limits through cameras or satellites and automatically applying the brakes of your car without so much as a by-your-leave. Even existing vehicles could be forced to have the technology fitted, no doubt at the owners expense.

Seventy-eight per cent of motorists don’t want to see the retro fitting of ISA technology onto older vehicles. The research also shows that fifty-seven per cent of drivers feel that ISAs would not have a positive impact on road safety – avoiding crashes, deaths and injuries and so on.

However, there is overwhelming support for the science when car control remains with the driver. Sixty-seven per cent of respondents would prefer ISAs to operate with warning messages with no control of the vehicle. That does make sense.

Respondents do feel that there are some benefits to ISAs. Fifty-two per cent see a reduced likelihood of speeding convictions and less money spent on traffic calming measures such as road humps. Thirty-one per cent of respondents – presumably older, more experienced ones – feel that, if enforced, ISAs should be restricted to younger drivers, newly qualified drivers and drivers with previous road-related convictions.

Certainly this high-tech stuff could help to save lives but it’s clear that drivers remain dubious about the benefits of the technology. More research into the benefits would help to reassure the public that this will improve road safety.

In short – we don’t trust it. We suspect – with good reason – it is yet another way to control drivers. The real answer is of course to ensure that drivers are trained properly in the first place.

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Highway To High-Tech

Unbeknownst to most of us, our poor benighted road system is soon to become home to Britain’s first high-tech highway. In just a few short weeks we will see our automotive future. What you may think about it is a different matter.

Essentially the deal is this: A fifty mile stretch of the A14 between Birmingham and Suffolk will be fitted with electronic gadgetry which will communicate with modern cars. The system has the potential to monitor traffic, warn of obstructions and perform many other tasks but, and this is more concerning, it could also have the ability to artificially limit a car’s speed. Clearly this won’t happen now as it would result in drivers believing there was something wrong with the motor – but it is possible.

The cars will communicate with the gizmos which will allow them to build up a picture, by way of a central computer, of congestion and the like. Much in the same way that satellite navigation works, the technology could establish the build-up of a traffic jam and calculate alternative routes.

There’s a theme building here. Manufacturers, as we all know very well, are building autonomous cars that can drive themselves. They will leave the driver free to do – what – whilst the car takes care of itself. The thinking is that accidents could become a thing of the past thanks to the science of automotive engineering. We are already seeing crash avoidance technology on cars today. Clearly the intention is for this auto technology to merge with roadside systems with the intention of controlling traffic entirely.

Rather disingenuously, the various bodies involved in this are talking up the benefits of, say, having the machine find a parking space for you whilst remaining rather more tight-lipped about control.

This is the usual route of persuasion. The carrot on the end of a stick. They will say – ‘Look how we can help you’. In fact, for anyone who likes cars and driving it is a clear and present signal that the days of carefree motoring will be over in a matter of decades. Nobody has any objection to making cars safer but it the loss of individuality and the freedom of the road that will suffer. Cars will just be transport; shuttles to get people from A to B. What a dull world that will be.

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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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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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