Category Archives: Cars

Stuff about the cars

For the Winter Tyre Naysayers

20120205-105813 AM.jpgFor the winter tyre naysayers that say they don’t make a difference, this is a shot of the car park just before church this morning. For those who don’t know St James’ it sits on top of a hill, at probably the highest point in the village. The line up of cars are all 44’s plus ours with winter tyres. Whereas in previous years our car wouldn’t be able to get the traction to get up to the top with the winter tyres it managed it with only a slight flicker from the traction control when it reached the top. Only one other two wheel drive made it, but that got stuck near the top and needed a push. The clearance teams had managed to clear the hill by the end of the service so I suspect the 11 o’clockers will have an easier run, especially as the snow is thawing a bit now.

In terms of how they drive on a clear road there is not much difference, however on snow and ice they feel a lot firmer, actually feeling a bit of resistance – I had to really push it to get the ABS to activate even on an uncleared road. You still need to take care, but the drive feels way more secure than the usual low profile summer tyres.

Driving Economically

Last week Beth’s car was in the garage having some work done on it for the day, so as a courtesy car we were given an 11 plate Ford Fiesta with the 1.25l Zetec engine. In some ways this was a bit of a flashback for both of us as ten years ago we had two of the earlier version of the car with the same engine. Needless to say it reminded me why I prefer having a diesel engine in a car as I really missed the low rev torque you get with a diesel compared to a petrol.

Having said that, there was one thing that was really annoying.

I spotted it as soon as I drove up to the end of our road. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a warning light come up on the dashboard, but when I stopped at the junction it was gone, it came up again a short time later and was again gone when I stopped. Eventually I spotted it was a green upward pointing arrow – the gear shift indicator that is now standard on all of Ford’s ECOnetic models. The official paperwork suggests that the gear shift indicator senses the way the vehicle is being driven, taking account of road gradient, vehicle load and individual driving style and identifies the most suitable gear change point. However in this case whatever the road was doing the most suitable gear change point consistently came up at 2000rpm.

Having established what the mystery light was it was then interesting to see when illuminated. Much like an automatic gearbox it has no idea of the road ahead so would come on with some crazy suggestions such as just before a hill, or coming up to a corner, but what was particularly interesting was that for a 40mph road if you follow the gear change indicator and stay within the speed limit the engine was noticeably labouring, but stay down a gear the light was almost permanently on. You could lower your speed a little to get rid of the light which would certainly reduce consumption, but given that everybody else is doing 40mph what will that do? Increasing revs to stop the engine labouring would work too, but then you’d be speeding.

Indicating when to change gear to highlight fuel consumption is laudable, but producing more efficient cars isn’t just about sticking a light on the dashboard. You also have to ensure that the cars encourage rather than discourage that behaviour. Improving fuel consumption is certainly about changing up earlier, but it is also about minimising gear changes, i.e. you want the car to be able to cruise without having to change up and down a lot. For UK roads this means that the car needs to be able to be at comfortable mid-range revs at 30mph especially, similarly at 40mph. With the Fiesta – and this was a problem with ours even ten years ago, thanks to the gearing, 40mph sits just at the point where you’re changing up.

Before everybody leaps in and points out the reason, I’m well aware that the Fiesta is developed for the European market, where everybody else has speed limits in kilometres not miles, which means that road speeds are all a bit different, so it’s quite likely this won’t be a problem across the channel, or even across the Irish Sea, but equally they have to especially make cars for the UK market with right-hand drive. Gearing a car differently for UK roads is probably too expensive, and since the UK won an exemption to the requirement to go metric for roads switching to kilometres here is unlikely to happen, but surely it’s not a problem to at the very least change the programming on the indicator so it doesn’t keep flashing up at 40mph?

How Many Volkswagen Mechanics does it take to Change a Golf Headlight?

This morning when I started the car, there was a warning light left illuminated on the dashboard. Needless to say the icon was a bit obtuse, at a guess I thought it might be something to do with the brake lights, as it looked a bit like a cross between a bulb and the hand brake light, but after a flick through the manual it turned out to be a general bulb problem warning. A quick bulb check and it looked to be one of the headlamp bulbs.

Now as any long term readers of this blog will know I had a generally poor opinion of our previous Ford Focus, especially when it came to changing headlamp bulbs, since the design of the engine bay in the revised mark one Focus we had was so bad that even the experts had to disassemble the front of the car to change one of the bulbs. I’m not alone in that either, the original posting is by far the most commented on the site. There are various suggestions on how to make it easier, but whichever way you look at it the bulb change is still a pain.

Compare this to the Volkswagen Golf we now have. I’ve just popped down to the car park and changed both headlamp bulbs in about ten minutes with no tools at all, the back of the headlight is a screw fit, and the bulb sits in a socket that again screws in and out. It’s not exactly as if there is loads of free space in the engine bay of the Golf – it’s still a bit fiddly, but it’s a job that either myself or Beth could easily completed on the roadside, rather than needing a toolbox or a visit to a garage to do the job properly.

The Fastest Milk Float in the West

You say ‘electric car’ to most people in the UK, and the majority will think of the frustration of following a slow milk float in traffic. Certainly the milk float has contributed to the opinion that electric vehicles are generally pretty slow – indeed the production options for electric cars in the UK such as the G-Wiz, are really only viable as city cars – with top speeds of 40-50mph – quite apart from concerns over their safety in a crash. As a result, the environmental options for a car in the UK usually focus on hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius or the competing Honda Civic Hybrid, both of which pair an electric motor with a regular petrol engine.

However, once you look in a bit more detail, you realise that in terms of performance, an electric motor has way more torque than a conventional engine – the problem with electric cars has always been the trade off between the weight of the batteries needed, against the range, against the performance, and in general range wins out resulting in slow moving electric vehicles. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Over in Silicon Valley, it’s not just computer companies getting the attention. Over there is a company called Tesla Motors that is trying to disprove the ‘slow electric car’ moniker, with a British built electric roadster. The look will be fairly familiar – especially when you bear in mind that Lotus were involved with the design, and assemble the car in their factory in Hethel.

If you want to see one in action, Robert Scoble got a ride in the first production model, driven by Tesla Motors chairman Elon Musk. Needless to say he got the whole thing on video, and covers a lot of technical details about the car – this is the one to watch to find out how fast it goes, how cheap it is to run, what the range is and of course how much the thing actually costs.

What you don’t get with that of course is much of a view of the car in action. To get that, you need to watch a video recorded at the same time by Jason Calacanis as he struggles to keep up in a Corvette. The camerawork on the Calacanis video is a lot more wobbly – but there are some moments when you can quite literally see the Tesla roadster disappearing into the distance despite Calacanis having his foot to the floor trying to keep pace!

VW Service – In Three Parts

So yesterday was another early start, as my Golf went in for part two of it’s service that was started last week. As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, I’m running the Golf on variable service intervals – so when it went in last week it hadn’t had a service since February 2006, over 14,000 miles ago.

There were things I knew would need doing. There had been a warning over the brake pads on a previous visit to the garage as a result of the visual inspection they do as a matter of course, so I was expecting that. What I wasn’t expecting was the news that the inside edges of three of the tyres on the car had worn significantly, so the tyres now needed replacing.

Last week they didn’t have anything other that some obscure brand of tyre I’d never heard of in stock, so they ordered in a set of Bridgestones of the same type that were on the car already, and booked the car in for this weeks visit. They had also managed to reproduce the internal lighting hiccup I’d found on the car last year, and needed to get parts in to fix that under warranty. So we found ourselves again up early to take the car in for part two.

It has to be said, that from the point of view of the garage, things did not go well. First off, since the switch was a warranty job they had had to wait for the all clear to go ahead from VW – and that hadn’t come through, so they couldn’t do the switch. The second problem became clear when they tried to do the tyres.

I’m not sure of the technicalities, suffice to say that at lunchtime I had a call from one of their technicians to say that there were problems with the set of Bridgestones they were trying to fit, and would I mind Continentals instead – I said no problem with that. However later on I got another call from the garage, apologising for the fact that during the course of fitting the new tyres they had damaged the alloy wheels on the front, and that they would of course arrange for that to be fixed at their expense. Although obviously it’s annoying when things like that happen, what was excellent is that the garage phoned up an held their hands up to something going wrong, and I didn’t have to either spot the problem and complain, or hassle them to get it to fix it.

I rolled up at the garage to pick up the car and took a look at the damage – it is worth mentioning that as most people do, I’d already managed to scrape the alloys thanks to a close encounter with a kerbstone, so I was going to ask them to fix that whilst they were at it – but I didn’t need to – although there was more obvious damage than my scrape, they’d managed to damage the same alloy I’d done already. Even better, for part three, no early morning – since it’s all a warranty job they’re going to come and pick the car up from work, and then whisk it away to do the switch and sort out the alloys, and then deliver it back when they’re done.

Anyway, what with the new tyres, and the full alignment and tracking checks they did – which found some of the settings significantly off – I took the car for a run around the block, just to see what had changed. Heading south out of Reading onto the A33, I switched onto the old A32 down to Hook when I got to Risely to see what it was like on twisty roads, and then from there onto the M3 from junction 5 up to 4a to see how it now handled on the motorway. From there back home via the A30 and A327. I have to say, that although as I’ve got older, and especially once I had a 44 mile commute I’ve stopped doing drives like this, and it was really quite fun to just drive without needing to get anywhere in particular. Whilst the combination of a TDI engine and the soft suspension is really intended for comfortable cruising – something reflected in the relatively low insurance grouping – with the right roads, the Golf is still a good deal of fun to drive.

A PARKING Violation!

There are times when a satnav that I could easily download the track logs from.

Having received a mysterious bill relating to our car rental in Switzerland in the summer I queried it with Hertz Customer Relations in the UK. Today I got a reply from them, going through the expected spiel about the renter being liable for all offences committed during the rental period, but then with a bit more detail about the offence. The e-mail said the following:

I can however, advise you that the fine issued was in relation to a parking violation which occured at 16:37 on the 4th of August.

What is worth bearing in mind is that we picked the car up from the rental company car park, and then went from there onto the motorway and over the border – we didn’t actually park the car anywhere at all in Switzerland – so something weird is certainly going on.

I don’t know whether somebody has cloned the car registration plate or some parking attendant has incorrectly written down a registration plate, or there has been some other error, but it wasn’t us. Now if only we had the GPS logs we could prove that we were moving all the time…