Archive for the 'Cars & Driving' Category

No More Baby Wolf

Monday, August 12th, 2019

About 14 years ago, we bought a rather nice VW Lupo 16v Sport- almost at the top of the range, exceeded by only the GTI, and we’d had it ever since. It featured here a fair bit, initially some proper spannering, but later just fixing the odd things that pack in on a car approaching its 20th birthday.

As can be seen from the photos in the linked posts, it’s bright fucking yellow, which made it hard to believe that someone didn’t see it, resulting in minor body damage but more significant suspension damage. Repair was uneconomic, and a bit too much of a chance to take, so another one bites the dust, and we’ve dipped into savings, so a more modern Seat Ibiza with a DSG box (as I struggle with a manual ‘box) and a turbo’d 1.2 is on the drive, just about fitting.

Joined-up thinking?

Monday, July 15th, 2019

I’ve seen a press release from Transport for West Midlands detailing progress on the “Sprint” buses that I first mentioned back in 2010. Back then they were going to be ready in 5 years; nearly 9 later, they’re still vapourware, and the plans are reduced: the Walsall-Birmingham route has changed to

the A34 Sprint route from Birmingham City Centre to a proposed Park & Ride site at Junction 7 of the M6 by the end of 2021

and that, according to our old friend Adrian Andrew:

“It is important we get the detail and design right and that is why we are taking more time over this section of the route in Walsall.

“This means that when we come to deliver Sprint here we can build the route fully confident it will work for the people and businesses of Walsall.”

Which seems odd. In one way, it’s pragmatic that the bit of the route I wondered about all those years ago is the bit they’re not going to bother with; the rest of the route is well served by bus lanes, and I’d argue that the existing buses, using the bus lanes, have little problem with that section, so arguably the cost and hassle factor for the new ones will be reduced.

On the other hand, of course, not dealing with the biggest problem (M6 J7/Scott Arms-Walsall) is a cop out, and the wisdom of a park and ride anywhere near the already critically congested and insane M6 J7 seems like madness on two counts, one being “where”, and the other being “why”.

Where because of the density in that area, and why, because, quite frankly, if you’ve bothered to get in your car to drive to Great Barr, you’ll probably just stay in it all the way. We’ve seen that before, where a certain Dr Beeching predicted people would drive to the station and get on a train.

The route linking BHX to the city probably has more merit, especially as the bit they’re not doing is BHX to Solihull, keeping the most significant bit.

I don’t want to pour cold water on any scheme that tries to reduce congestion and give us better public transport, but it feels to me that this scheme is taking a very long time (but, of course, things like this do), and isn’t going to deliver a big improvement over existing services. Like I mentioned in 2010, we already have a rail connection to the city centre, and to their credit, National Express provide a decent bus service covering that route too.

The fact remains that for those that can afford to do so, many people will drive, despite the awful traffic and parking: the fact is that going door to door in your own car is more attractive for many, despite disadvantages. Personally, I only drive into the city if I have heavy equipment to take to an office there, but I use buses a lot an would rather give up a bit of time to avoid driving. I think it’s almost certain that providing a slightly quicker and more comfortable bus that you have to get to Great Barr to use isn’t going to change many people’s minds.

Lock In

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

So, back in July/August, while I was recovering from surgery again, I was a passenger in the Lupo more than usual, and noted the central locking unlocking and relocking the door every time we slowed and sped up.

“It’s been doing that. seems to be getting worse”

Given my less mobile state, I just broke out VCDS and disabled the automatic door locking function in the CL module.

Investigation when I was a bit recovered found that the microswitch that tells the module that the door is locked wasn’t working, so it kept trying to relock the door. This is all built into the door latch module, so it was off with the door trim again (and the car retained the stripped out rallycar look for 3 months or more- time pressures, and the non-availability of the membrane behind the trim (which is impossible to remove in one piece).

Stripped out look.

So, in theory, it’s easy. Remove a cap in the back edge of the door. Insert a T20 torx driver, and carefully unscrew just enough to pull out the lock cylinder (don’t unscrew too far, or the pingfuckits drop inside):

Door handle with lock cylinder removed.

Make sure the other door is open (!), and there, in the back edge of the handle, is a cable that connects the handle to the latch. It just flips out with a small scredriver. The internal release, and the button that pops up when unlocked are attached to the latch, which just unbolts with a 8mm spline bit in the back edge of the door. Undo the electrical connector, and lift it out:

The latch mechanism.

So then. Simple, huh? Get new mechanism, a few bolts, job done?


Genuine ones are £160. Aftermarket ones under £20, so off the the tat bazaar for an aftermarket one, fit it.

The door won’t stay shut.

Piss about for ages, mess with the striker plate- still won’t shut. Give up, refit old one. Door shuts.

Lock door, unlock door. Door won’t open from either inside or outside. The fixing bolts, remember, are only reachable with the door open. Contemplate attacking door and/or latch with dremel, decide against that, sleep on it.

Realise, eventually, what is so well described in this video:

(this guy knows his VWs, by the way, and his videos are much better than many- less waffling)

So, after several hours, back where I started. I return the ebay mechanism, and buy a used one from Stevens VW (for about the price of the cheap aftermarket one), and fit that, only to have the same locked-out issue.

Here’s a lesson for you; that cable that attaches to the handle? Adjustment is *critical* – there’s about 4-5mm adjustment where it fits the handle- and they are not all the same. The one I got with the used latch was shorter :-/. If the cable is too tight, the door won’t open *at all*. It’s also hard to get right unless the handle is bolted back into place…

So, with the used latch, the correct cable, and some trial and error, all is well, and the central locking works correctly. Just repair the membrane with some plastic sheet, repair the broken trim clips (the trim is getting delicate, at 18 years old), and refit the trim. I’ll probably strip and repair the original latch at some point.


Monday, August 6th, 2018

It’s been a pricey month. First of all the Lupo, is a disgusting example of how VW quality just isn’t what it was, had a failed alternator at a mere 18 years old. The it needed a service and MOT, all of which passed without difficulty.

The Scirocco, meanwhile, adds to the cost. A major service, a minor suspension link, and a radiator leak, a tweak of wheel alignment. The new tyres will have to wait a short while.

To be fair, both cars haven’t cost very much in repairs as of yet, and bearing in mind we’ve had the Lupo for some 13 years now, it still looks presentable, and drives well, there’s little to complain about. The Scirocco costs more, but racks up the miles (and again to be fair, there’s been very little outside serviceing and consumables in the 30,000 miles since I’ve had it). I also wonder if the radiator may have been weakened by me being a clumsy twat, though it showed no signs of a leak until very recently, and given the recent hot spell, it needed fixing.


The expense continues into August. Our boiler, installed in 2006, has failed. Repair is possible, but not insignificant, so a new one it is, and surviving like it’s 1930 with no hot water. Still, as someone pointed out to me, fascism and the right is on the rise, so it’s all just nostalgia, huh?

No More Beyond the Northern Wastes

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

With the reduction of subsidies from Staffordshire Council, our relatively recent discovery of Chasetown and Burntwood as places to drink and eat looks like it will end in April, when the NXWM 10 bus route stops going further than Brownhills at off-peak times.

This is a bit tedious; that’s exactly the sort of times I’d be wanting to use it, but it’s just an inconvenience: I don’t rely on that route for work. There’s changes to Arriva services too, which means a Saturday evening trip to The Crystal Fountain is out, too- and even a daytime visit would mean some clock-watching in early evening.

As I said, this is just inconvenience for me, limiting my drinking choices. I’ll live. It could be more serious for working people (let’s not forget that not everyone works 9-5, and not everyone has access to a car).

It is, of course, a direct result of council cuts, caused by government austerity measures, once again most seriously affecting the poorer people the most: those that can’t afford taxis or a car.

The other factor here, of course, is our old friend bus deregulation. The bus companies are private enterprises, with obligations to shareholders. They want t make money, so if a route isn’t profitable, and they’re not being subsidised by a council, they’ll stop running it- and who can blame them?

Why is it a surprise our roads are choked by private cars?

Good old free enterprise, working for the good of all, again. Thank $deity we’re free of the inefficient shackles of public transport run by non-profit organisations.

The Automatic Choice

Monday, January 29th, 2018

I had a mishap in a car park with my car; so a bodyshop visit was required. This meant a courtesy car. This is rarely a good experience, courtesy cars usually fall into 2 camps: old and knackered or new and bargain-basement, with one exception when a loss-recovery company hired me something flasher.

So, then, this was the bargain-basement end. A nearly new Toyota Aygo, and as I need an autobox these days, one with the MMT transmission. A car so thoroughly vile, I chose to leave it at work when I could, and get a lift from a colleague.

I need, at this point, to be fair. The Aygo is a 1-litre city car, and it’s actually not built badly; it feels light and flimsy because it is light: the engine develops a fair amount of power (about 67BHP) for a non-blown 1 litre, but you need light weight. You also need minimal transmission losses, which is where MMT comes in.

MMT isn’t a traditional autobox, and, by that, I mean a torque converter-and-epicyclic auto, which was the way to do an auto in bygone times. It’s essentially the normal, manual box with a few actuators bolted on and some electronic control. This is done for efficiency and cost- both in terms of production and fuel economy/emissions: the conventional auto is expensive, heavy, and inefficient. MMT, and it’s work-a-likes from other manufacturers is cheaper, lighter, and has low parasitic losses. That’s where the good news ends: even VWs offering, ASG, seems to suffer from inherent “features”.

I can’t vouch for ASG, but forums are full of opinions that mirror my experiences with MMT and the technology is pretty much identical. MMT vibrates at standstill as the ECU slips the clutch at low revs to provide “creep”. The creep itself is lumpy as the 3 cylinder engine struggles, and the change from 1st to second could be timed on a calendar as the car loses momentum and then bogs down when the lack of torque fails to make up for the delay. In traffic, surely the ideal place for an automatic city car, the smooth, easy progress of a decent auto becomes lumpy, jerky and learnerish. In an odd thing for a city car, there’s paddle shifters, for when you inevitably need to override the ECU’s choice. As if that weren’t enough, rumours of poor reliability are common.

Higher speeds are obviously noisy, and kickdown is merely a volume control.

I’ve driven automatics on and off for 30 years: conventional ones (including this rather revolutionary British interpretation, German and Japanese implmentations), CVTs with a torque converter, dual-clutch things like DSG or Powershift, and I can say that if automated, single-clutch manual gearboxes are the future for small cars, then either take us back to the past, or pray for the death of internal combustion engine (or buy a manual, if you can). If you can’t, then for $deity’s sake, get a DCT or conventional auto, you’ll not regret the expense or the economy trade-off.

In the Hall of the Greene King

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

So, there was a bit of work needed at an office in Bury St Edmunds- a bit of network diagnosis and install a ID card printer. I’m chief network monkey, so it’s my sort of job. Time was flexible. I’d always fancied seeing the town, so last Friday my other half and I left out at early-O-clock, and hit the M6T, M6, and A14 again.

Pleasingly, Cathorpe has been finished, and the difference is amazing, such that even with a breakfast stop near Cambridge, we arrived at the office well before 9am, untroubled by the speed cameras, which have mostly evolved into average-speed ones, thereby avoiding the horrors I discussed here.

So then, a fight with the printer and it’s terrible drivers, a quick tweak of a Cisco config, fix a few other minor issues, and finished by 13:40. Off to the lovely hotel, and hit the pubs. Bury is a lovely town; historic, beautiful, but not up-itself- a very rare mix. People were friendly, drinks and food reasonably priced. Even my better half’s bus fare into town from the office was a mere 75p.

The next day, we took a trip to Ickworth, a stunning property, and such a short drive not going would have been madness, and then had a look around the town, visited Green King’s cafe, wandered around Abbey Gardens.

I’m not usually a massive fan of GK’s beers, which maybe made a trip to Bury rather an odd one, as it’s Greene King Central, but the good thing was that some of GK’s less usual beers were about- and the double bonus of getting some work that needed doing done and another part of the UK visited was worthwhile.

Diesel Do

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

So having had the emmissions-test cheat mode removed from my car, I was interested to see on BBC Watchdog (everyone’s favourite combination of fuckwits and whingers) that there seems to be a growing number of complaints following the “service action”.

It seems the complaints centre around limp-home mode getting triggered, and it seems that the EGR valve has been a common failure. It does seem that logically, the EGR may be more active post-fix in order to reduce NOx at the expense of more particulates and reduced power/economy.

The Watchdog article fairly obviously prompted this letter from VW:

Page one of the VW “all is well” letter. Click to embiggen.

Page two of the VW “all is well” letter. Click to embiggen. Note in section 3, bullet point 5.

And there’s something interesting in section 3, bullet point 5 that gives VW a potential get-out. On page 1, they’re saying that they’ll be favourable to clains for 2 years/up to 160K miles, but then say that they won’t cover a DFP full of ash. There’s scant infornmation about what the VW fix does apart from removing the rolling road detection, but consensus seems to be that is alters injection quantity, pattern, and timing, and tweaks EGR. All of these could have an effect on the particulates produced.

Now, since Euro V, we’re not allowed to pump those particulates out to atmosphere (boo hiss!):

So the particulates have to go somewhere, and that somewhere is the DPF. DPFs obviously can get full of soot, and they then need to be regenerated. This can happen passively (if it gets hot enough), or can be triggered by the engine ECU injecting fuel on an exhaust stroke, so that it burns in the DPF. This turns the soot to ash- the ash that VW won’t replace your DPF for if it’s full of it. Which is interesting: you can’t get something for nothing, and the reduced NOx emissions comes (apparently) at a cost of more particulates, which means more DPF regens, and therefore more ash, so a shorter DPF life.

I don’t know what to make of this, to be honest. My own VW seems have economy and performance unchanged, and doesn’t seem to be doing active regenerations often, but you don’t miraculously lose the NOx without paying for it somewhere. I suppose EGR and DPF life remains to be seen. I’d really like to see a full analysis/reverse engineering of the remapped ECU (because, on the 2L engine, that’s all that happens).

This is interesting in the light of news recently that the sale of conventional diesel & petrol cars is to be outlawed by 2040. I think that’s a bit of a non-story: we’re already in the twilight of internal combustion cars: both petrol and diesel cars are now loaded with lots of controls and mechanisms not to increase efficiency or power, but to limit harmful emissions, and even with those they pollute our environment in a way that is impossible to contain. Electric cars will still pollute, of course, (and will still congest the roads), but the internal combustion engine is on it’s way out, inevitably. We’ll still have IC cars on the road by 2040 (and assuming I make it, I’ll be a pensioner), but they’ll be diminishing in quantity.


Monday, May 29th, 2017

I happened across a tweet from CPMG last week,and retweeted it (amd, indeed, responded to it with both a reply and by completing the survey (which I’d encourage you to do). The conversation that resulted can be viewed on twitter by clicking the first link, but is also screenshotted below:

Screenshot 1 of 2- click to embiggen.

screenshot 2 of 2, click to embiggen.

An interesting conversation, rapidly joined by Livestream Data Systems, who, in their own words, provide backend systems for ANPR. Almost as if they were ready, watching for replies, huh?

They made the very valid point that a number plate (VRM) is public data, publicly visible all the time. This is true, of course, but it’s trivial for people to associate my number plate with me- especially should the “they” be law enforcement, who can look it up in seconds.

Continuing that, it’s pretty trivial to track me by combining ANPR with a few other things. A thought occurred to me as an example: I completed the survey from the holiday flat we rented. I checked the public-side IP of the broadband connection, and it geolocated to within a few miles of my location (I was in Torquay, it said Dawlish). So, taking only public or non-personal data along with potential ANPR data (the camera locations are not public) I follow CPMG on twitter. I completed the survey from a location near Torquay having clicked through from Twitter (this data could be obtained from server logs).

CPMG probably don’t have many followers on the English Riviera, as they’re a Midlands unit.

Now search the ANPR data for cars travelling between the Midlands and the South West. Add in from the server logs that I used Linux, google a bit, and you have me, most likely. You know where I am, what car I drive, and you have my opinions on ANPR, without having to apply for a court order or similar. Analyse ny tweets, dig over this blog and there’s plenty to learn (of course, what I tweet or post here I’m voluntarily supplying, thank fuck I don’t use Facebook).

That might sound a little paranoid, but it’s an example, and it’s why we should all remain vigilant and wary. I don’t have anything to hide, and you could therefore take the view of “who cares”, but are you comfortable with being tracked?

There’s going to be a lot of pressure in coming times for greater surveillance, especially given recent terror events: but one thing to consider here is that if a terrorist is willing to kill or injure many people with explosives, I don’t think using false plates and/or changing vehicles is going to bother them, whereas the majority of us use one or two vehicles regularly, so it’s far easier to track ordinary citizens than the criminals. Most of us voluntarily carry a tracking device (smartphone), use bank cards: do the bad guys do that?

I’d like to make it clear I fully support CPMGs work, keeping the road safe for us all, but I’m a bit concerned about data use (and misuse) here, and this isn’t the first time. It’s the work of seconds to reveal misuse of anti-terror legislation for things as trivial as school catchment areas, and there’s prior cases of ANPR misuse. That’s even before we consider that companies like Livestream- a private company- may be providing the back end and processing for the national network (I don’t know exactly who does), and therefore we could be trusting their systems and employees with this data.

A quick Google search revealed a supplier of services to councils who apparently encrypt ANPR data with SQL.


Oooh- what’s that black helicopter overhead?

Disable Cheat Mode

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

My newish-to-me car was one of the many vehicles with the EA189 CR engine affected by the VW NOx scandal, AKA Dieselgate, and I got my recall letter. After questioning my favourite local independent VW specialist, and learning that the claims in the recall letter of no adverse affects on economy, power, torque, or noise seem to be true, I booked it in and went to Johnsons VW in the people’s republic of Wilenhall: what used to be Willenhall Coachcraft.

A surprisingly pleasant experience: the staff were nice, the work was carried out, and they didn’t find anything else to try to talk me in to (good, given that there’s a few things due now), and to be honest, all seems the same. Presumably, there’s been a flash of the engine ECU (which I’ll confirm with VCDS soon), but it does make me wonder what has been tweaked? Presumably the rolling road test detection has gone, but has anything affected the actual, real-world emissions? The car has never visibly smoked (it has a DPF, which hasn’t needed forced regen in the time I’ve had the car), but of course, the one everyone is upset about, NOx, is invisible.

Information on that on the web is hard to find, between all the scandal stories and lawyers looking to get a compensation case :-/. What I can say is that the advice I was given seems correct: economy seems around the same, still no smoke, and it seems to perform as before.