An Epiphany (sort of)

I have chuntered elsewhere on this platform about the escalating use of keyless ignition and the ubiquitous START button which I really don’t like. Mainly the issue is that when I clamber aboard and I have the keys in my hand I struggle to find where to put them, as I have already sat down it is then difficult to get them in my pockets. In the centre console they have a tendency to rattle so I often ended up with the keys on the seat between my legs. This often meant that I would exit the car and leave the keys behind, sometimes in full view whereas stopping, turning and removing the key ensures that it is in my hand upon leaving. Simples!

Start Button

This is the Mercedes version, but most manufacturers are using something similar. Push once to start, once to stop. As simple as a key really.

The other evening Number 2 son dutifully came to pick up his aged parents from a pub. He arrived in my car and whilst he waited patiently for me to finish my beer I mentioned, not for the first time, my dislike of stop/start buttons and why could we not use a simple key.

The Button

As we got in the car he reached down and removed the offending button with a simple click and inserted the Mercedes key in time-honoured fashion!

To misquote PG Wodehouse: Never has my flabber been so gasted! It was an epiphany.

A key in a lock

This is how it should be! Good old Mercedes.

White Goods, the Future of Motoring

Someone observed to me the other day that he considered cars are now just white goods and because we are both hardened Petrol Heads we mourned the passing of motoring as a pleasure, a pastime, a way of life, a source of endless conversation, an interesting method of travel, a trove of stories but above all an endless stream of expense, frustration and joy. I now consider the golden age of motoring to be over and it has gone beyond the usual arguments of traffic, cost and the uniformity of current vehicles.

M25 traffic jam.

Ask any motorist, commuter or someone who drives for a living, what their main issue is and the answer is usually traffic. Hold-ups on the M25, accidents on the M62, road works on the ring road (of any city) and they all contribute to delay, frustration and cost. There are also the stringent rules and regulations that have one overriding objective, financially milk the motorist.

The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of a vehicle is an exercise best avoided if one wishes to retain one’s sanity, especially depreciation, but even the everyday running costs can make one squirm. Public transport is touted as a panacea to our travel problems, especially by left-leaning liberal Londoners, but I do not enjoy sharing my personal space with a stranger whose hygiene may be questionable and their taste in music or politics or religion at odds with ones own.

15 Years! Is that all?

And now the Government, in its misguided omniscient way has concluded that battery power is the way to go, having learnt nothing from its disastrous diesel decision. 15 years! That’s all we have apparently to massively upgrade the electric infrastructure and build immense new power stations. We are so poor at building huge civil engineering projects on time and on budget, look at how HS2 has increased in cost!

There is a wealth of information on electric cars on the internet but a very interesting take on the current viability of a Jaguar i-Pace is given by Harry Metcalf (YouTube Video). Harry is a keen Petrol Head and in this video he makes some astute observations about motoring in battery-powered cars, not least that the charging system is very poor (unless you have a Tesla).  Electric vehicles are least economical on motorways at a constant speed, they seem to work best in stop start situations.  The speed of recharging is currently woeful and I understand that these vehicles cannot be towed so running out of volts on a busy road is to be avoided.  In conclusion Harry will use the Jaguar for short town journeys but if he needs to go some distance then it’s the Range Rover!

More power!

Now I am not sure what the answer is, but I do believe that we are headed in the wrong direction. The infrastructure is not there and not just the lack of power generation although several Hinkley Points are not the solution. In the village where I live the grid will need to be upgraded if just 10% of the residents decide to install a 7KW charger, the power lines will not cope. We are also told that gas and solid fuel will soon be verboten and so everyone will have to use electric heating. Madness!

The most likely answer is Hydrogen. These people seem to be leading the way, but there will be others. Quite a good Autocar article here. The future is bright if market forces, driven by demand is allowed to be given its head, just keep the politicians out of it.

Climate Control – It’s not Rocket Science

Simple Mini heater controls

There are many things in life that wind me up, amongst them are drivers that don’t understand the Climate Control function in their car.
Early heating systems in cars were fairly rudimentary, water from the cooling system flowed through a matrix located near the front bulkhead controlled by a valve.  As this matrix got warm a fan would blow air through it, gathering heat, and then distribute it through the cabin utilising various outlets up to the screen and down to the footwell.  Variations in the valve and the fan speed would alter the temperature; after a fashion.  Journeys usually involved lots of fiddling and trial and error to get and maintain a satisfactory temperature.
Of course in the summer cars became unbearably hot and windows needed to be open to cool the vehicle down whilst moving.
Air conditioning was the answer and this was developed first in the USA in 1933, and then in 1939 Packard introduced the “Bishop and Babcock Weather Conditioner” which also incorporated a heater. Cars ordered with the new “Weather Conditioner” were shipped from Packard’s factory to the B&B factory where the conversion was performed. Once complete, the car was shipped to a local dealer where the customer would take delivery, with quite a large bill.  Air conditioning is now standard on almost all cars however lowly.

Climate Control is a smart form of air conditioning in that a desired temperature is set and then the system will work to maintain that temperature regardless of external weather conditions.

Merc Air Con
Typical modern Climate Control

This may be by increasing the fan speed, or the heat from the engine, or the amount of cooling from the compressor or a combination of all of them. Essentially, set the temperature (say 22° C) and LEAVE IT ALONE! A possible and rare exception may be to direct a little more air to the screen in the event of frost or condensation but otherwise LEAVE IT ALONE!

Being a passenger in a car driven by a Climate Control Denier is the most frustrating experience.
One driver of my acquaintance would start the journey with the whole system off, after a couple of miles the screen and side windows would steam up due to our breath. He would then turn on the fan at full blast, wind up the temperature knob and switch on the aircon, of course the screens would clear fairly quickly and then he would turn it all off again only to repeat the procedure several miles further on.
Many drivers seem to think that when the car is cold turning up the temperature knob to full will heat the car quicker, after a while it is now too warm so they reduce the setting to cool. Repeat.
Some get into a cold car, set the system to manual so that cold air is blowing across a cold heater matrix into an already cold footwell whereas an intelligent Climate Control would wait until there was some heat in the system.
Countless drivers seem to think that opening a window of a carefully streamlined and aerodynamic car will be more efficient than using ‘expensive’ air conditioning. It has been proved that you can use 30% more fuel simply by opening a window.

It’s really quite easy, set the desired temperature when you first purchase the vehicle then LEAVE IT ALONE!

Fighting Talk – The MGB is Rubbish!

Contentious argument here: The MGB GT is rubbish, and always has been almost from its inception. I just cannot understand why they have become so revered. I recall a friend buying one in the seventies less than a year old and I thought then that the crinkly metal dash was a tad out of date. At the time he could have had a Datsun 240Z for around the same money – crazy.

The MGB was a car introduced in 1962 and to be fair it was a good car at the time. Still in production in 1980 and way past its best, it should have been shot in 1968. A limited production “revival” model with only 2,000 units made, called RV8 was produced by Rover in the 1990s, the ultimate example of trying to polish a turd.

Examples abound of cars that were rapidly outdated after their initial production outliving their ‘raison d’etre’ and becoming sentimental memories. Morris Minor, Jaguar XJS, Austin Cambridge (and similar derivatives) and the Mini to name but a few. Have you noticed that all the examples I have mentioned are British? It may be that I am looking at this from an English perspective, but I am not sure that Europeans or the Americans have the same fascination with their own poor quality cars.

Feel free to disagree….

Flappy Paddles?

manualboxBeing rather idle by nature I have generally preferred automatic cars to the manual variety.  In years gone by the usual automatic gearbox was a three speed ‘slushmatic’ in which gear changes were slurred and sometimes quite slow.  In general an auto was only any good with a big and powerful engine, smaller cars were usually manual.  Kick-down, for overtaking manoeuvres, was done by pushing the throttle to the floor, this pulled a Bowden cable connected to the gearbox that then dropped a gear.

As technology and cars improved manual gearboxes moved from 4 speed to 5, although an early Ford Prefect I used had only 3 speeds.  Automatics stayed the same generally until the advent of electronic control systems and it was possible to use more gears.  Autos moved to 4 speed, then 6, 7 and some now have 8 or 9 speeds.  The manual, by contrast, has 5 or 6.  I am sure they could have more, but it would involve much unnecessary gear changing.

autoboxThe next development was to allow ‘manual’ changes with the auto control, generally holding the ‘box in a lower gear for better response in traffic, and this progressed to using the lever to change up and down and similar to a manual but without a clutch.  Then in a nod to F1 the controls were put on the steering wheel and the ‘flappy paddle’ was born.

What a waste of time!  In my case when I get a new automatic car I try the flappy paddles once and then never again, what is the point?  Either you want to drive a manual car or an automatic.

My last auto, the Mercedes C350, had seven speeds and being a 3.5 litre petrol had plenty of go.  I loved that car and we did over 50,000 miles together in around 18 months.  It did let me down in the gearbox though.  It developed a niggling fault in that it would not change gear and the only way to ‘cure’ it was to stop and restart the engine, this reset the electronic control box and all was well for a while.  However it became more frequent and a call to the garage informed me that the fix was a new control unit.  As this unit was inside the ‘box it was a £750 fix!  I thought that was a little excessive and assumed that I could go on just restarting the car at intervals…..

I was slower than this!
I was slower than this!

One day, returning from Doncaster, it failed altogether and was stuck in 1st gear, no amount of cajoling would make it change, and so I started the long journey home.  I avoided the A1 route and used fairly minor side roads but still I was slower than a fully laden tractor; there was a huge queue of traffic behind me, and those cars that overtook would stare at me as though I was some geriatric buffoon who shouldn’t be on the road.  I had fair share of rude gestures and open hostility particularly as I just ambled along with a stupid grin on my face.  Three hours, 40 miles and a tankful of petrol later I got home and booked the car in for repair.