Archive for the Cars Category

Auto Cruise

Posted in Cars, Transport with tags , on April 3, 2014 by pieman70

Sorry, drifting close to politics here.

There has been much said recently regarding self driving cars.  This seemingly Sci-fi idea is getting very close to becoming a reality as companies like Google are developing systems that can reliably navigate urban environments without mowing down pedestrians.  It really is exciting stuff.

Sadly this has given a mass of clueless pundits a stick to beat any public transport project with.  Mention purchasing new buses, or worse, building railways and out they come shouting “this is obsolete technology, driverless cars are the future”. Usually combined with a demand to build more roads instead, unsurprisingly something that will help them in the short term while doing very little for everyone else who relies on public transport.

The argument sounds tempting, why should a government invest in railways when we will soon be whizzing to our destination in our personal travel pod?

The argument has two problems.

First, the argument is a bit like saying we shouldn’t build coal/nuclear fission/wind/tidal/giant bicycle power stations because Nuclear fusion is the future.  Or indeed don’t buy an electric car because hydrogen fuel cells are the future.  In short they probably are the future but are no where near there yet.

To give an idea of how distant self drive tech is, lets look at how common self drive elements are in today’s cars.  First, automatic parallel parking.  First commercially released around 2002 this tech has now filtered into several models of car as a high end extra.  Considering how long extras like cruise control have taken to become commonplace and that self driving cars have yet to leave the prototype phase, this is at least 5-10 years away from being a plaything for the rich let alone a standard feature.

Second, while some US states have passed laws to allow self driving cars there is still a sticking point over having entirely autonomous vehicles and with good reason.  Those who deride older forms of public transport see a futuristic dream where your car drops you off before driving away to park itself, returning when summoned to take the driver home again.  Sadly I see this as a pipe dream.  For the immediate future I can’t see laws allowing cars to operate without a human being on hand to take over.  Why?  Responsibility.  We currently technically have self flying aircraft.  A commercial jet can land on auto pilot, so why have a fallible human at the controls.  Partly it is a final backup but mainly because someone has to be responsible for the aircraft.  This is the same with a car.  While an automated vehicle is significantly less likely to be involved in an accident, nothing is impossible and when you get hit by a car with no driver who is to blame?  And while reading or watching a film while the car does  the driving would be OK being in any way unfit to drive, i.e. Drunk would be out of the question.  The closest to this would probably be a robotic taxi, where a person would observe the vehicle remotely with an override available.

We will see auto driving cars within the next decade but they are no reason to neglect the current public transport infrastructure.

Top Gear vs The Electric Car

Posted in BBC, Cars, Driving, Environment, James May, Top Gear with tags , , , , , on October 9, 2011 by pieman70

As always my blog, due to the bone-idleness of its author, is somewhat late to the
party. But I was honestly going to do a piece on Top Gears attitude to Electric/Hybrid
vehicles. Honest guv.

Anyway, Recently Top gear ran a segment on two commercially available electric
cars, the Nissan Leaf and the Peugeot ion. It has come under some criticism,
particularly from George Monbiot and others. Top Gear have also responded but I’d
thought I should put in my 2.5p (Exchange rate variable) worth.

First, declaration of interests. I am a petrol head. Love cars, Love the internal
combustion engine. Not only that but I do like cars that are bad for the environment,
the growl of an American V8 or the great looks and handling but 1960s fuel efficiency
of a classic british sports car. However, I do despair at my fellow petrol heads from
time to time.

Sadly, it seems most seem to think our love of cars and environmentalism can’t meet.
Indeed it quite often leads to a rather childish inclination towards climate change
denialism (Mr Clarkson, I’m looking at you) This need not be the case. My original
blog post was based around comments by Jay Leno, himself an avid car collector and
driver. His point was alternative fuels would free up the petrol car for the petrol head,
in the same way the car freed up the Horse for the enthusiast. This rings true for me,
as 90% of the car driving population care nothing for A V8 rumble or a supercharger
whine. They would prefer a car that goes from A-B, carrying all they wish to carry
(Cargo, children, sports equipment, cows) and costing as little as possible to buy
and run. My point is always we should nurture this and demand better electric, or
hydrogen cars and better public transport. The former to hopefully reduce the demand
for petrol, lowering prices and the latter to ease up congestion, not to mention the
environmental benefits. However to the piece.

One of the main complaints from Nissan and various articles and blogs, is the comedy
scene where they run out of power and have to push the cars around looking for a
charging point. Many state that they deliberately rand down the batteries to around
40% and selected a town with no charging infrastructure in order to make electric cars
look bad. On this point I disagree.

While charging infrastructure has improved, a good percentage of us live in cities
with little or no charging facilities. Hell, Glasgow has something in the realm of
2 locations and its Scotland’s biggest city, imagine the difficulties of running an
electric car out in the highlands. While Top gear may have laboured this point a bit
the possibility of running out of power miles from a charging point is a fear most of
us have. The Leaf has various clever systems in place to advise you if you have run
the battery too far down to reach a charging location, but like it or not at the moment
running an electric car will require planning and forethought that a petrol version will

The second point which Top Gear made pretty well was the Electric Car’s biggest
fault, the time it takes to charge. Yes again they had some knock about fun waiting the
13 hrs for the leaf to charge, but still, for a complete charge from empty 13 hrs is a long

I am not completely defending Top gear however. They took some liberties. First
there was some dodgy figures surrounding the cost to charge up a car, with many
wondering where they found their particularly high tariff. Second was a discussion
about the lifespan of the batteries and potential damage and replacement costs. The
main fault here is tha they failed to explain that if your battery does go wrong Nissan
will replace it for free, and worth noting that 90% of the battery is re-cycled in the
UK. This fact would have taken the force out of their ranting about some of the
running costs.

I don’t want Top gear to do puff pieces on Electric cars, but while not the hatchet
job some of the critics are making it out to be the Top gear piece was aiming to be
negative, as the bookend studio segment with its tiresome “Batteries are rubbish” line
from May and Clarkson “Humerously” suggesting we could use something called
Petrol. This has never sat well with me, Clarkson has a definite objection to the
Prius, and if he could get past rant mode and provide figures to his argument that they
are more environmentally damaging to build and dispose of, he would actually have a
pretty good scoop, since Toyota make a big deal of the Prius’s green credentials, but
instead of that we get general bluster and various omissions.

I don’t expect purely factual slots on Top gear and realise it is as much entertainment
as informative, but I do expect a little honesty, particularly since, like it or not, within
the next 20 years its more than likely we’re all going to be running an electric or
alternative fuelled car.

Here is the BBC’s response, it covers some of the points above, but still fails to mention nissan will replace any battery not holding a charge for free.

Speed Cameras

Posted in Cars, Driving with tags , on March 8, 2010 by pieman70

I have, in the past on occasion drifted ever so slightly over the speed limit, never out of control or recklessly, but I have done it, so it may seem odd that I’m coming out in support of speed cameras, both normal and average.

There is always criticism of these things, “They’re a stealth tax” “they cause more accidents than they prevent” “speeding doesn’t cause as many accidents as bad driving” are just some of the arguments people use as to why an automatic system that fines lawbreakers is a bad idea.  Let’s take a look at these arguments.

Bad Driving

Its true, careless driving does cause more accidents than speeding.  However speed is a factor that can make the difference between a bump and a disaster, for every 10mph in speed there is an exponential rise in the severity of any accident.  This is why I am more careful in particular to stick to the limit at the lower speeds, the 30 and 40 limits, because if the speed has been reduced it has been done for a reason.  Yes, plodding through a 30 is dull, but as the ads say, its 30 for a reason, bad sighting, residential areas are just a  few of the reasons why the speed can be reduced.  When you look at survivability statistics and how they increase as speed reduces it is sobering reading.

Cause more accidents than they prevent.

This is a really tenuous one, for the fixed cameras, normally used outside schools, black spots etc the argument is that the sharp deceleration on approach causes accidents.  Really?  But there aren’t always at the start of a 30, usually a fair way in, if you’d been obeying the speed limit you’d have no need to sharply decelerate for a camera, and if you weren’t sitting so close to the car in front that you can see my speedometer you may have a chance of not rear ending it when it slows down.  For average this argument was pitched by the ever so reasonable Jeremy Clarkson, that he would be so focused on his speedometer that he’s more likely to hit something because he won’t be watching the road.  If that is your argument you are unsafe to drive.  Yes, you should check your speedo, but not at the expense of watching the road, you might as well argue that you hit something because you were really worried about your fuel and were watching the gauge like a hawk.

Stealth Tax

Many people better than me have taken this on, for starters, I’ve never seen anything stealthy painted yellow, or have warning signs alerting you to its presence.  And as a tax, how good is that, a tax which you can avoid by driving at the posted speed limit, in short a tax that only affects those breaking the law.  If only we could automatically penalise other minor offences.  Also that there were taxes to easy to avoid.  Hey, I can avoid this “Stealth Tax” by driving at the posted speed limit, how easy is that.

There is a strange correlation I’ve noticed in those who complain about speed cameras also often are the ones who complain that sentencing is too lenient and that only with the threat of harsh punishments will people obey the law.  This strangely doesn’t stretch to speeding however, where they seem to think that they should be able to choose the speed at which it is safe to drive, indeed you often see statements like “I know how fast I can safely drive, I’m not driving dangerously” which may be true (Although studies show people often overestimate their own abilities) but I’m sure that’s the same litany of many a person caught driving dangerously, and regardless of your own opinion of your driving, the law states that you obey the posted speed limit.  I may as well try and claim that I know my car is safe to drive and have no need of an MOT, (Obviously a stealth tax and secret conspiracy by an all powerful cartel of motor mechanics, or a way to make sure every road vehicle complies with a basic state or road worthiness) In short you may not like the law, and I fully support anyone who campaigns for change based on evidence, but you don’t get to ignore it in the meantime.

I enjoy driving fast (Although I find more pleasure skilfully taking corners on a windy road at 30-40 than I do going for straight line velocity) and I’d love a shot at the Autobahn, indeed I’d love the autobahn to be evidence that we should have unlimited speed some of our motorways.  However Germany is currently adding speed limits rather than removing them so the evidence doesn’t seem to support this as a safe course of action.

Price of a Dream – Classic British Sports Car

Posted in Cars, Driving with tags , on August 20, 2009 by pieman70

1967-Austin-Healey-3000-Mk-III-C-fullI thought I’d muse on how much it would cost me to realise one of my dreams, to own and run a classic British sports car.

I love old British sports cars, yes they’re unreliable, badly put together and slow, but they have so much charm and character.  For my 30th my wife hired me an Austin Healey 3000 for a day, it wasn’t quick, had no power steering or servo brakes and a stiff gear change, and it leaked in the rain, but the roar of that straight 6 and the heads that turned never failed to put a smile on my face.  I’m smiling now, just thinking about it.

So, I decided to find out how much it would cost, now compare the meercat was a little too searching when I just wanted a vague costing in insurance, so I’ll foolishly leave that out.  I have however factored in a basic mechanics course, which run for around £200 as any sports car like this needs regular maintenance.67_mgb_3

So, a quick search on the Austin Healey reveals that to buy one would cost £50,000, ouch.  I could get an MGB, but they seem to vary between £3000 and £30,000, I’m guessing on quality and how late a model (the 1980s models aren’t nearly as nice as the older ones)  Finally I looked at a Triumph TR6, surprisingly this came in with a more reasonable bracket of £12,000-20,000.  That’s damned reasonable, and gods if I had 20,000 burning a hole in my pocket, you may just see me barrelling about in my own TR6

TR6_1BWhile this was mostly an exercise in pipe dreams, I’m actually surprised how affordable this is on the basic outlay, obviously repair costs are higher and all these cars are thirsty beasts.  I would also need a secure place to keep them as a council estate near Johnston would see me loosing said car fairly quickly.  Still, I am surprised at how cheap it is.  What does surprise me is that people may have 50,000 or even 20,000 and will buy a BMW, or a big Chelsea tractor.  Why?  You want fun; you want what driving really is, ditch these big soft modern cars and drive a classic.


Posted in Cars, Driving, Transport with tags , , on April 16, 2009 by pieman70

What holds back the electric car, and who made Steve Gutenberg a Star? I will attempt to answer one of these questions in this post.

Steve Gutenberg had a cheeky smile that suited some roles during the 1980s furthermore…..

Just kidding. There are currently moves to encourage electric car ownership, with government attempting to get a network of plug in points assembled across the country. This has seen some success in London where the GeeWhiz electric car has been quite successful as a small commuting vehicle.

Electric cars have also evolved from their predecessors which often lacked speed and range. Indeed it is often said that an Electric Car’s bigges weakness is the weight of its batteries and the amount of energy it spends hauling those around. However I disagree. Range is now just about comparable to a tank of petrol and speed isn’t an issue with cars like the Tesla proving that it is possible to build an exciting electric car.

Nope, the electric car’s biggest hindrance is charging time. Take a petrol car, when you run low on petrol you stop at a petrol station and fill up the tank, this usually takes a few minutes. Batteries take hours to charge. This is irrelevant when you are driving your car to work, plugging it in for 7-8 hours, driving home and plugging in again, but what if you want to make a trip that is outside the range of your batteries, you may need 3.5 hour stopovers every time you run out of power, making long journeys longer.

So, what are the solutions. Well, most practical is the Hybrid, cars such as the Toyota Prius, which carry a petrol engine which can run the car and charge the batteries at the same time. Its not the ideal solution, the car is heavy with the weight of an engine and batteries, and this seriously affects the engine’s fuel efficiency when running on petrol. There is a plug-in version available, which allows you to charge the batteries by plugging in, but the hybrid really is a stopgap.

Far More promising is the Hydrogen fuel cell, which has been perfected, it uses a clever chemical reaction from hydrogen to generate electricity. The only by-products, water. of course, the down side is that at the moment it costs more energy to produce Hydrogen than you ever get out of it, but that’s merely the next hurdle.

Finally, there have been some encouraging experiments done in fast charging batteries. in short re-chargeable batteries that could run for 3 hours and charge in 30mins. Suddenly all an electric car does is make you take regular breaks.

Providing people are willing to invest and promote new technology I foresee a future where nearly all of us drives either a Hybrid or and Alternative fuel car

Pie Man’s Flaura and Fauna of the Roads #2

Posted in Cars, Driving, Transport with tags , , on October 27, 2008 by pieman70

Look, continuation, how amazing.

#2 The Middle Lain drivers.

Pootling is a made up word, by me. It describes the motorist you often see on an empty motorway, tootling along the middle lane at 50mph or less. A close relative of the outer lane moral guardian.

I often use the term pootler because its more generous, it suggest a gentle incompetence, perhaps a little of the grumpy old “this isn’t a race you know” mentality. However it only describes one of the two sub-species of the middle lane driver.

Pootlers are usually in the middle lane because they genuinely don’t really understand motorways, they may still be believing the myth that the lanes have different speeds assigned, and that the middle is 50-60, they may just be completely clueless and so stick to the middle as it seems like a compromise. Pootlers are pretty hard to identify, they drive a variety of cars and are a variety of ages.

Hogs are the other breed, they know fine well they shouldn’t be in the middle lane, but they somehow believe that the inside lane is for slow moving pensioners and girls, and not for them. Yes they can only cope doing 50, or sometimes they are doing 70, but there is still an vast stretch of unused tarmac to their left. Of course they won’t admit pride as to their poor lane management, no, they’ll make excuses, like they were preparing to overtake a slower car over the horizon, they know that in 30 miles the road becomes 2 lanes, and this is their correct one. Either way it isn’t, its just because they can’t quite stomach going to the inside unless its for slip road purposes. These hogs quite often become outside lane menaces on dual carriageways. usually identified as male, aged anywhere from 17-55 and will be driving a small hatchback with all the trimmings (Cooling tower exhaust, stereo, extra lights like a mobile disco, picnic table spoiler and mandatory fog lights regardless of visibility) older versions will be driving some sort of repmobiel, Vectra or Mondeo through to BMW and even some of the smaller Mercs.

So, why is this a problem, there’s an outside lane, you cans till overtake. This is true, however, say there is someone doing 50 in the middle lane, no traffic to their left. Someone approaches at 60 and needs to overtake on the outside, causing someone travelling at 70 to slow down. Ideally with three lanes, and everyone playing by the rules, the outside lane should only be 70+ (not counting heavy traffic) instead this starts to give us the odd situation where the outside lane is full and the inside almost empty, as everyone tries to overtake the one person sitting in the middle.

So, how do you deal. Well, first thing, Never Undertake. Its dangerous, and you remove an opportunity for them to realise the error of their ways and pull in. Don’t tailgate either, again dangerous and calling them a middle lane hog won’t help the insurance claim. No, what I do, where possible, is overtake on the outside, then pull right back into the inside, maintaining the higher speed. This often works on the confused pootler, who realises that it is Ok to do 50 in the inside lane if someone is doing 70 in it. The hog, well shouldn’t be on the road really, and no amount of instruction or guilt will move that bullish head.

4 Wheels Driving

Posted in Cars, Transport with tags , on June 1, 2007 by pieman70

Well thats us back from our long weekend away. both Muasdale (on the peninsula of which campbelltown is at the end) and Bowmore (On the fair island of Islay) were lovely and remote and just the thing to get away from it all. Thanks to our hosts who were so generous in hospitality. Wood fired Barbeques are the way forward, it used an iron plate over a wood fire, the plate (as opposed to a grill) gets hot and is more flexible in what you can cook. The approach of covering the plate in olive oil and seasoning it with Garlic was also a fine addition to teh piles of cooked meat brought before us.I don’t believe I’ve ranted about 4WD cars before on this Blog, but I’m sure I will in the future. However I have now driven one, and on Islay, where most roads are single track and many are broken dirt tracks (Although work seems to be going on to improve this). You can get around islay in a normal car but your suspension won’t like some of the surfaces you may have to travel over and while I never needed the 4WD it was sunny and dry weather and I did need the ground clearence. Notably on this island there are a lot of 4WD vehicles. However the majority are mainly heavy rugged beasts with few mod cons such as Land Rover Defenders, Mitsibushis and Isuzus. What you don’t see many of at all are the hulking BMW Z3 and 5 and its Ilk, you know, the ones which are so popularised by those with little taste and huge amounts of money. The ones that drink fuel like its tapwater, take up huge amounts of space, spew out tonnes of Co2 on the school run and, most notably, can’t actually cope with rough roads let alone dirt tracks.Banning all 4WDs is foolish as tehre are those that need them, and those that need them should have exemptions from the heavy taxes soon to be imposed. It was good to drive one where it belonged, in the countryside, not on a school run.