Archive for the 'Cars & Driving' Category

Disable Cheat Mode

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

My newish-to-me car was one of the many vehicles with the EA827 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, 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 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.

Three Wheels On My Wagen

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016


Since we’re talking wheels…

The wandering bolt

The wandering bolt

The picture above is of a VW locking wheel bolt, on my desk at work. You’ll notice it has a decorative black plastic cap, and that my desk is not its natural habitat- that being assisting in retaining a wheel on to a car.

A short while ago, on my first journey to work in the new car, I’d though I’d noticed a slight vibration, but dismissed it as the normal paranoia I go through with a new car- finding things I imagine will go wrong. Upon leaving that afternoon, I noticed one of those caps looked a bit loose, and went to push it on, at which point the bolt came out in my hands. This wasn’t the bolt pictured above- that was already missing, presumed to be at the side of the M5- and investigation found the centre cap to be missing, and the three remaining bolts a turn of so loose. A call to voice my displeasure to the franchised dealer (who I won’t name, but are in a potteries city) elicited differing responses from differnt people, ranging from an apology and a promise to order the missing centre cap and a new set of lock bolts, to “that’s impossible- someone must have tampered with it, trying to steal wheels, everything is checked twice in the workshop”.

I’d like to explore that claim.

First of all, the wheels were swapped on the car. The originals had been refurbed, but apparently weren’t up to scratch, so got swapped while I completed the paperwork.

Secondly, all the bolts- the three loose ones, the one that fell out, and the lock bolt pictured (which was handed to me by a colleague a week later, having been found on the car park) still had their caps.

So, presumably what happened was that someone, without my knowledge, opened my locked car, took the wheel key from inside, took off all five caps, loosened five bolts, put the caps back on, and returned the key.

Or, could it just have been they were in a rush as I was waiting for the car, and just fucking forgot to torque up the bolts?

A Personal Win

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

I’m writing this on the eve of the EU referendum. I’m steering well, well away from the politics here, because, frankly, politics, with its byzantine obfuscation leaves me cold. My own views on the topic, and my political leanings, are no secret, but that’s not why I’m here, and I’d like to point out now that any comments attempting to argue the politics or economics, or indeed gloat on the outcome of tomorrow’s vote will be deleted.

Even if I agree with them.

I’d just like to share one small personal bit of gain; a small detail that made life easier for me. The new car means new winter tyres (and yes, I’m aware it is summer- prices will seriously climb from September), and indeed, new wheels, to avoid the problems of using non-approved wheels.

Germany, as I’ve remarked, has strict winter tyre laws, so in Germany it is commonplace to have a winter set of wheels. I’ve ended up with a used, but practically immaculate set of the official VW winter wheels, with a set of quality, little used (Pirelli SottoZero) winter tyres at well below half the price of new ones. From Germany. Direct, with no import duty, no mucking about at customs, and besides having to use Google translate, no more hassle than buying in the UK- the wheels arrived today, just in time :-), by courier, well packed, and exactly as described, within a few days. The alternatives were steel wheels, or secondhand wheels in the UK with tyres I didn’t want, and in need of a refurb.

I feel duty-bound to mention at this point the warnings from the AA and tyre sellers about part-worn tyres, and then point out that I’ve just bought one set- attached to the car, as does anyone buying a secondhand car- and that these are both little-used (with 6mm of tread), and free from any of the scars you get from a careless driver- no scuffs, cuts or other damage, and on wheels that are similarly undamaged. I’d also comment that for those of you on a very tight budget, the cheapest new tyres can be ditchfinders.

Leon Gone

Friday, June 17th, 2016

After almost 8 years and around 104,000 miles, the Leon is gone, replaced by a “Golf in a pretty dress“. In that time, beside the consumables like tyres, brake friction bits, it’s had a few parts: the heater fan being surprisingly pricey, as was the DSG selector lever (a gear lever with a software version, FFS), and the ABS module something that shouldn’t have failed. Any other bits and pieces seem fair enough for the mileage- the odd bush or suspension link (thanks, Walsall’s roads), and the ABS sensor that posed a conundrum. Overall I can’t complain- the car literally never let me down, and took us from the south coast to the Scottish highlands and both the east and west coasts in comfort. One sobering statistic is 104,000 miles at around 44 mpg means around 10,370 litres of fuel- around £11,600 at todays prices- though only around 11p per mile in fuel costs.

The new car is rather nice, and it’s interesting that the underlying PQ35 platform is identical, but there’s been much tweaking, and even more electronics added (something I’m not fazed by, particularly) ,and upgrades of the stuff that was there: the engine is no longer a rattly PD, but common rail unit, smoother, quieter, and revvier. The DSG gearbox is smoother too, and the suspension is electronically controlled. Overall, it’s lower, flasher, smoother, slightly more economical, and a little faster. A little less practical, but I don’t have the need for five doors any more, and provided you can get in to it, the back seat is comfortable for two people, unlike the last Scirocco I had, or the two I had in an abortive attempt at a project car.

Police State?

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

I was both intrigued, pleased, and disturbed in equal measure by this post from the blog of West Midlands Police Traffic. I have to say, there’s a lot to agree with: the car “cruising” culture has been a local problem, and there’s a lot of illegal activity going on related to it: illegal, unroadworthy mods, poor driving, racing, insurance offences. Rich pickings for traffic police, and rightly so.

The bit that disturbs me is this:

Not all attend to race, some attend just to watch, but both are just as guilty, after all those who do race just crave attention, no audience would mean no racing and no anti-social behaviour, you get the idea. If you turn up to watch you are part of the problem, expect to be treated as such.

Which, while I take the point about antisocial behaviour, seems a tiny bit thin end of the wedge to me. as

Although the tag “boy racer” is a favoured term of the majority for the offenders who attend, many are older, many are female, some with families, good jobs, responsibilities and normal lifestyles away from this offending, that they portray as a hobby or interest. The trouble is when they attend they quickly forget their responsibility to the wider community, a selfish desire to get cheap adrenaline fuelled kicks takes priority over everyone else’s safety and wellbeing, and as such the response to a problem we have to put an end to is harsh, as you will see.

suggests one could be targeted simply for having a modified (or maybe even just slightly flash) car in the wrong place at the wrong time, which feels a bit wrong to me. If you’re not breaking the law, obviously, you should be safe:

And for those who have declared everything and are fully legal insurance wise, and are not racing trialling or being anti-social but have just turned up to “make up the numbers” we will always fall back to our “bread and butter” traffic skills, an altered exhaust or silencer will cost you £100 fine, number plate offences the same, lighting faults £50 an offence, the list is endless, be part of the problem and expect to be treated in a zero tolerance fashion. And if you read the details of the injunctions being granted to prevent cruising, your behaviour can cause a breach of the injunction far more easily than the manner of your driving.

Though I’d suggest an altered exhaust won’t attract a fine if it meets all relevant regulations (for noise, and no cat removal if the cat is a legal requirement) and is declared to your insurers.

On the other hand, I agree completely that if people want to gather in large numbers and race, and show off modified cars, then there’s places to do that where you’ll be with other enthusiasts, and not annoy or endanger the general public, I’m just a little uncomfortable with someone being placed on:

Operation Hercules ANPR hotlist

potentially without breaking the law. What if you happen to be driving past in (say) a modified Golf R32, following the rules of the road, and get ANPRd onto that list by someone who thinks you’re part of the crowd? Will you ever get off it, or will you be pulled over every 10 miles for the rest of your life?

Diesel & Whine

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

I was feeling like I’d missed out on the requisite quantity of dieselboners this year, so I was pleased to note that Aston Manor Road Transport Museum had their final running day of the year today, even if I did have to befoul my computer with their Facebook page to confirm it.

Sssh. Don’t tell anyone, but I originally learned of it from here. Obviously, I have this sent in a plain wrapper, rather than purchase in a shop and have to wrap a copy of Razzle (link is work-safe!) around it.

Anyway, off I went. My usual bike-parking place was a bit trickier than normal, as the easy spots to lock a bike were occupied (it’s a old-style bike shed, as the museum is in an old industrial unit, but only the extreme ends have anywhere to lock on to), but I overcame that with a bit of juggling about, and soon enough was on a Daimler CLG5, with the oddly off-beat sound of a 5LW powering it. Back at the museum, I grabbed a botulism burger, had a quick wander around, and a look at this Volvo Ailsa (odd in being front-engined), of which there were a couple running in the West Midlands in the 80s, though I don’t recall them.

Volvo Ailsa V1, ex London Transport, at AMRTM October 2015

Volvo Ailsa V1, ex London Transport, at AMRTM October 2015

Much more familiar, and a step back to the 70s, is the Bristol VR. Common enough, even if the Fleetline was the usual choice for WMPTE. Another Gardner, but an extra cylinder this time and a semi-auto box whining away, being driven with more care than I remember back in the day, when the in-service drivers seemed to take pleasure in a huge lurch at every gearchange. The semi-auto box doesn’t have a clutch, but also has no logic or interlocks to control changes, so a fair bit of skill is still needed to drive one well: matching of revs to road speed and a blip of the throttle on a downchange, but it’s notable that this 1976 bus keeps up with modern traffic well, where the old Daimler notably can become a rather nice rolling roadblock.

So then, another sad note of the time of year: no more old buses, along with the dark nights and cold 🙁

School of Hard NOx

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Oh dear, VAG seem to have cocked up, huh?

The fact that the EPA in the US caught them gaming the system with emission testing is interesting, and given that they face a huge fine, and the CEO Martin Winterkorn, having recently ousted Ferdinand Piech from his role, has now resigned.

I’m more interested in the tech. Simplified, it all hinges on EGR. It’s a common trick to disable EGR in a tuned diesel- in many ways it’s a huge pain in the arse, reducing efficiency, and therefore power and economy, and being prone to clogging up intakes, so with an EGR delete, your diesel will do better MPG, perform better, and not get so claggy. Also, as a diesel runs with excess air, if you don’t run EGR, you produce less particulates (soot), which is good.

The disadvantage comes with NOx production. No EGR means more NOx, which is one form of pollution generated by internal combustion engines, with health and environmental impact. This, and other pollutants, are regulated by EU Directives in Europe, and the EPA in the states, and cars that do not meet the standards cannot be sold new.

So, there’s a balancing act: try to keep particulates down, power and MPG up, but don’t create too much NOx.

Some diesels do this with AdBlue, but VAG have claimed to be able to meet the latest standards without the extra complication, cost, and space of the kit needed to inject it, managing with just a DPF. Nice trick.

Trick would seem to be the operative word, and you have to admire it. We’ve seen how networked cars are now, and that meant a clever algorithm was able to detect when the car was on a rolling-road being emmission-tested, and crank up the EGR, lovering the NOx output. On the road, EGR is reduced, so up goes the power and MPG. WIN!

How the conversation at Wolfsburg may have gone. From CommitStrip, click for original.

How the conversation at Wolfsburg may have gone. From CommitStrip, click for original.

Trouble is, that’s specifically not allowed by the EPA (PDF, 2.35MB), leaving VAG with a big headache stateside.

This does set me thinking if the diesel car boom could be ending: in particular, the UK’s CO-based taxation favours diesels, but as the amount of emissions gear required to meet the regulatory standards increases, the performance of the engines comes down and the complexity increases, and so therefore does cost. In one way, VAG’s (rather elegant) trick was actually good for the consumer, reducing costs and increasing performance, while seeming to meet all required standards. In another, it’s a cynical attempt to evade emissions law, risk public health, and increase profit. For sure, the fix is going to be painful for both VAG and its customers in the US: it remains to be seen if they have a problem in Europe too.

Horny Cock

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Now I’ve got your attention, you’ll be disappointed.

The current roadworks on the A4124 have pushed a good bit more traffic over the amusingly-named Black Cock Bridge. Anyone that knows the bridge knows that it’s fearsomely steep- slightly less so than the pre-1994 Clayhanger Bridge, but still steep and narrow, and blind at the summit (this side is slightly less steep than the other):

This means that, except at night, it’s an appropriate place to use a car horn.

My recovery from surgery dictates that I should try to walk a reasonable distance each day, and a walk to the bridge and down the towpath is both not too inconvenient and fairly pleasant, but with the extra traffic it has revealed to me just how many people are both incapable of using the horn correctly, and indeed of realising why others might do so, and it is, as one might say, boiling my piss too a disproportionate degree.

For the record, as there’s not room for two cars to pass, the idea is to approach at a speed you could stop in, sound your own horn once, maybe twice, and listen for the same from the other side, so that only one of you passes the narrow bit, and causes the minimum of noise nuisance. This might mean, for example, muting the stereo.

The idea isn’t to approach fast, sounding the horn repeatedly, with a mobile phone held to your ear, just for one (twattish) example.

A few years ago, residents near the bridge wanted the bridge closed when a long-lost consultation took place, citing danger and noise. I had little sympathy, given that the bridge has been there longer than them, but really, with the number of idiots I’ve heard of late, I can hardly blame them.

CAN do?

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

I’ve written before about CANbus, and electronics in cars. My own car, despite being only a mid-size, mid-range hatch a few years old, has a good few electronic modules, and CANbus to connect them. Cars have 3 flavours of CAN- one for the drivetrain and chassis- so this episode would use that, as would this one, and one for the interior stuff (for both instrumentation, and stuff like the radio shifting it’s volume up and down with speed, or automatic closing of windows when locking), and then one more for connecting diagnostic gear like VCDS or Torque.

These individual networks are gatewayed together as they run at different speeds, and there’s no real control over what can talk over these networks, which isn’t really a problem, you’d think: the car is a closed system, so unless you connect diagnostic equipment or get very interested and attach a Raspberry Pi to the CANbus (great article there), it hardly matters. There have been scare stories in the press of clever people hacking cars before, but these have involved a direct, cable connection to the diagnostic port, so no big deal, and the networks *have* to be gatewayed for the instruments to display your speed, and for the diagnostic kit to work.


It is now becoming commonplace to include connected entertainment systems into cars. These will have an internet connection, either via a tethered mobile phone, or with a SIM card fitted. There’s various names for this, according to manufacturer.

There’s Audi Connect, GM OnStar, Ford Sync, for example, and then there is Fiat Chrysler UConnect.

The scary bit here is that potentially, you’re now exposing the CAN to the Internet. Depending on how well secured things are (or aren’t), you might possibly allow anyone on the Internet to, say, disable the brakes or transmission, as detailed here by The Register. As we get more and more fancy devices (like, say, auto-parking) then the exposure of safety-critical things like steering and braking, which used to be simple, mechanical, systems to attack becomes greater.

It’s certainly the case that some cars (VAG ones, for sure, in my experience) only allow full access to some critical modules with a login- but these logins are quite well publicised, which means you’d better be pretty sure about your car’s fancy entertainment system being secure, and staying secure when it is 15 years old and the manufacturer no longer supports it. Maybe the further research of these guys, with intrusion detection for CAN has merit?

Turning the wheels

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

As I’ve been recovering from surgery, I’ve not been using my car, so to preserve the battery (now around 9 years old), I connected (well actually, my other half connected) my excellent CTEK battery charger, at first using the croc clips, then, when I was able to, using the comfort connector- a socket that is connected to the car permanently.

Doing this upset things: when I went to try and start the car, I got a load of warning lights, and plugging in the diagnostics revealed a fault code for the steering angle sensor:

00778 - Steering Angle Sensor (G85)

Clearly dicking about with the battery terminals had lost the basic setting.

The sensor simply tells the ECU how far the steering wheel has been turned, and is needed, and calibrated, so that the Stability Control knows which way the wheels are pointing, and also so the Steering Assist ECU can adjust the steering weighting according to speed and how much steering lock is applied. As such, you have to tell the Stability Control (part of the ABS controller) where straight ahead is, with this procedure, and then allow the car to calibrate where the two ends of travel of the steering rack are by following this procedure, which is why it’s remained undone until now, now I’m able to drive short distances and manage the steering with little power assistance.

In the event, it took several attempts at the second procedure, which is why today found me sitting in an quiet industrial estate, with the car running and a laptop on the passenger seat, and even then, it took a short drive and several lock-to-lock moves to clear. The steering was both very heavy and devoid of feel until all of a sudden, the fault lamp cleared, the steering got lighter, all started working correctly, and a scan produced this:

A happy steering assistance ECU

A happy steering assistance ECU

All a bit complicated, really, but that’s the price we pay for all the fancy active safety gear, and another sign of how car systems interact: the steering angle sensor will report an error in the steering assist ECU, but the basic settings are set in the ABS/Stability controller, and both controllers get upset if this setting is lost.

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