Archive for the 'Cars & Driving' Category

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.

Watching

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.

Errrm?

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.

Three Wheels On My Wagen

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

Almost.

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 🙁