Archive for Driving

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.

Rolling Home

Posted in Driving, Transport with tags , on October 19, 2008 by pieman70

The pie man has, temporarily, become a road commuter.

Due to my impending child situation I am shunning my usual 1hr 30 mins each way train journey in favour of a 1hr (Give or take) car drive. This is largely to allow me a quick return home should my young be in danger of spawning.

So, here are my first impressions of car vs train on a regular commute.

I actually prefer the train. In sheer practicality, the car is the winner, it gets me home around 3o mins faster and allows me about 15 mins more sleep in the mornings. I am also technically travelling for the full hour not waiting at platforms. Overall I should really be bigging up the car. After all, its my own box, I don’t need to cope with someone trying to take up more than their share of the seat next to me, I can listen to whatever i want on the stereo without headphones and control the temperature as much as an elderly Renault Clio will allow. Some may ask, why would I give this up to sit on crowded trains with all the irritating fellow members of the human race?

There are several reasons why I prefer the train. While the trip is longer the amount of effort I actually have to make is minimal, I can read the Metro, or a book while doing my hour and a half commute. In the car, I’m driving. In fact I’m driving even when I’m stuck in the inevitable queues that form when driving on the M8 through Glasgow to motherwell, surely one of the most poorly designed stretches of motorway in Britain. And this is the crux of the matter. On a train all the idiot fellow commuters are soft human lumps like me. We are all in the same can, and occasionally you see great acts of kindness and decency that almost give you hope as a species. On the road the same idiots (obviously not the exact same idiots) have been given a death box to practice their idiocy in, so instead of their selfishness and stupidity merely being an annoyance, it is now endangering my life. Ok I exaggerate a little but really, even with the bottlenecks speed changes and the like a Motorway should only grind to a halt if it is actually closed. The reason it stops is because of poor driving, such as the following examples.

1. Phantom Jam. This is a recorded phenomenon. It is caused by breaking, not any breaking, but tailgaters breaking. See if someone is not leaving a decent space, they ted to be a bit punchy on their breaks when the car in front starts to slow down (Sometimes wheather it breaks or not) This usually means they loose more speed than they should have trying to match the car in front, this causes a domino effect that can bring traffic behind to a standstill.

2. Lane Skipping. Often caused by phantom jams, but happens anywhere where all lanes are slow moving traffic queues. You always have captain impatient who is sure the other stream of traffic is moving faster, so he’ll switch lanes. In slow traffic this means stopping his lane and the one he’s trying to get into in order to change. With one car its an embuggerance, but there is never just one. This is why lanes seem to take turns in changing speed. If everyone stuck to their lane in a traffic queue it would flow, slowly but flow, but because we have idiots jumping for the greener grass on the other side of the fence that lane has more cars, and slows down, while the lane beside has fewer, and so appears to be going faster, so what do they do, change again. Next time you’re stuck on the M8 look for a distinctive vehicle, a van or something. You’ll pass it, it will pass you, you’ll pass it again. Basically you both get to the end of the jam at roughly the same time.

3. Queue jumpers. The M8 is really bad for this, due to its poor design around charing Cross, incidentally its main black spot, it has ample opportunity form people to try and skip the queue as the motorway temporarily expands to three lanes. Now, for the first stretch it is technically a 3 lane motorway, however in reality it is just a slip road, Eastbound leading to cathedral, and westbound to charing cross, if you needed to overtake in normal traffic, fair enough, but when the traffic is one big queue all you’re doing is jumping, and causing more holdups as you try and squeeze back in to the traffic further up. Westbound I’ve actually seen the cars in the slip road held up by some selfish moron who has waited until just before where the road splits to attempt to merge back in. He’s stationary beeping at the understandably irritated drivers who don’t want him to profit form queue jumping, and the drivers behind him wish he’d take it like a man and go through charing cross, admitting that he couldn’t beat the traffic this time.

See, morons but with way more power.

Cost wise, at base its a tough calculation. My work pays for half my train fares, but assuming they didn’t.

Travel from Home to Motherwell costs (Using Monthly passes) around £150 per month, calling a month 4 weeks that’s £38 per week approx.

The tank on the smaller car costs around £40 to fill up and gives me around 350 miles. Round trip for work is 66 miles a day meaning I should technically have to fill up once a week. So this actually looks like it’s only £2 more expensive per week to knock over an hour from my total round trip commute. Ok it adds up to £104 per year, but then that’s over 52hrs of my time, or over 2 days not spent travelling. Only problem with this sort of calculation is that it doesn’t take into account the true cost of the car.

If we go with one car, the Big one, costs more to fill but gets more from it, it also needs road tax, which with a 2 litre Diesel engine is only going to increase. It also need insured, and I cannot guarantee exclusive use because there will come a point where my wife gets sick of taking our soon to be born baby on the bus. Still disregarding those factors, adding in Road tax, Insurance and servicing, we’re talking adding around £500 per year, now including that in my travel costs is arguable, as we’d be keeping the car anyway. But keeping the small car it is at least £300 per year assuming the elderly car doesn’t break.

I’ll stay on the train.

A mini rant on Fog Lights

Posted in Driving with tags on October 10, 2008 by pieman70

It was a wet morning today on my drive in, and I have one message for motorists, and no it isn’t slow down you maniacs, you’ll kill us all.

It is Turn off your God Damn fog lights, note the name, they are not Rain Lights, not Night lights, they are there for fog and like your car insurance, you are not being conned if you don’t even use it.

And for those who say the front fogs make the car look cool,

1. Get the hell off my road, a red scanner on the front makes any car look cool but its not allowed, if you want to look cool buy something better than a bloody Rover.

2. It doesn’t make you look cool, it makes you look like an idiot who doesn’t know what his foglights are for.

In fact, I propose front foglights only be given to people who can prove they can use them responsibly. Or the police pull over anyone driving with foglights on in an inappropriate situation, sure sign they’ll be a dangerous driver.