Archive for the 'Cars & Driving' Category

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.

Break the Cycle

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

I’ve noticed that subtly, people are starting to label me as a cyclist: family bought me cycling based gifts, for example. I’m not actually that much of a cyclist- I cycle short distances around 5 times a week, depending on weather- and that probably makes me “not a proper cyclist” amongst certain members of the community.

Of course, the whole labelling thing is dangerous, it makes me uncomfortable. I’m a driver, a cyclist, a pedestrian, and a public transport user, and all of these groups can be (and are) labelled:

1) All car drivers use their mobiles when driving
2) All cyclists jump red lights
3) All pedestrians walk out without looking
4) All Public transport users cannot afford a car, or they’d have one.

just for example, to pick four statements I know to be untrue.

I’ve seen something while in Cardiff that did, however, awaken the millitant cyclist in me, and also make me think about the ineptitude of road planners, indulging in a bit of box-ticking.

Cyclists will campaign for seperate infrastructure. A cycle path physically seperated from the road. This seems like a good idea. Let’s see that in action.

This is LLoyd George Avenue, linking the city to the bay. I walked down it several times, noting the totally unused cycle path to my left, and a few cyclists coming past on the main carriageway.

Bloody cyclists, eh? Provide that lane, and they don’t use it.

Let’s look at it from the ground.



In the pic, the road is to my right. I’m on the footpath, and the cycle path is to my left. In front of me is a side road, with a set of traffic lights to stop traffic on the main road, and a pelican crossing I can operate to cross (though in practice, the side road is so quiet, you don’t need to, and the delay on the lights changing is ridiculous, so you won’t bother).

You’ll notice that the cycle lane comes to an abrupt halt at a barrier.

So, yes, the designers thought that it was a good idea to make cyclists stop every few hundred yards, dismount, push a button, wait for a crossing to change, walk over, get back on the bike, and rinse and repeat.

What the very fuck?

That’s why all the cyclists are on the A470, and the cycle lane is unused.

Why on earth the cycle lane wasn’t built alongside the road, sharing priority over the side roads, is beyond me. It could still be seperate- in fact, just swapping position of the footpath & cycle way and reconfiguring the junctions a little would seem to have achieved that to me: The cyclists would get space, and have equal priority to cars, the pedestrians would be isolated from the cylists.

People are *paid* to do this.

Connection Reset by Pier

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

We decided to have a few days away, and to continue our pier-bothering, we went east again, to within easy distance of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, so it was a high six to Norfolk, via that old favourite, the A14.

The Cambridgeshire speed nazis have at least now replaced the Gatsos with average speed cameras, with the result that the speeds are now even, rather that 85-brake-to-60-back-to-85. I’ve often said that if you find dual carriageways or motorways boring, then either you’re going too slow, not paying enough attention, or both, but miles of straight, flat, surprisingly quiet DC at 70 mph on cruise control tests that maxim. Mind, if the truck at the end of the M6, just before the infamous Catthorpe Interchange, had been paying better attention, we’d have had an even quicker journey. Fortunately, no one seemed to be seriously injured, but it won’t buff out.

Speed Kills: Use your head

Monday, October 20th, 2014

West Midlands Police’s WMPTraffic cused a bit of a stir last week on twatter and in the blog world, with this piece on helmets, speeding, and cake. Quite a good piece , in many ways, and a bit lacking in others. First of all, I have no argument with the cake bit.

Moving on to the others:

The helmet discussion. Should cyclists wear helmets, and should they be required to wear helmets?

I’ll come right out and say it: If you want to wear one, do so. I don’t. I suppose, should it become law, that I will, because I follow the rules of the road when cycling.

The article predictably, comes from the viewpoint that you should, and it may save your life, but then relies on anecdote to back it up. I won’t go into detail on this, as others have done it better in the comments, but it has been shown driver behaviour near a helmeted cyclist can be worse, and helmet legislation discourages cycling- there’s real data to show this.

I’d suggest anyone who wants to wear a helmet should, having assessed the risks and benefits themselves.

When we got to the speed bit, I commented, and got a good answer. What does concern me is the simplistic approach; it’s almost as iif we’ve given up on hazard perception and avoidance, and just moved to reducing the impact. Speed kills. Take that to it’s logical conclusion we end up back in 1865.

At this point, I need to stop, as I’m repeating myself, but I’d just like to reinforce the idea that we should seek to avoid collisions, not merely reduce the speed they happen at. We should target people on the phone, messing with their satnav, or just plain not paying attention. Target the tailgaters, the lane-hoggers, and the 40mph everywhere brigade.

Take the High Road

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

You take the low road, and I’ll take the high road, and I’ll use more fuel..

We’ve been away to Scotland; more precisely Mallaig, the end of the Road to the Isles.

A common theme of our trips up north seems to be killer road allegations– though I suspect the 30mph advisories on some of the bends may be the attempted fix for this (for the record, with the exception of a couple of sharp bends under narrow bridges, there’s not a bend on the road that you couldn’t get round safely at well above that unless you have 4 bald crossplies and knackered dampers).

Anyway, our journey was uneventful.

Friday afternoon’s trip took us to Moffat and an overnight stop. Next morning, a fuel stop, and off up the A82 (another “killer road” that can provide some real entertainment if you like the twisties. It’s noticeable that a lot of improvement work is happening now: The section at Pulpit Rock that had traffic lights for years will soon be wider- a deck is being built out into the loch- and Crianlarich’s bypass looks imminent. A turn to the west just after Fort William, a trip past Glenfinnan and Our Lady of the Braes and Inverailort House (give me a pile of cash and that’ll be my highland home) and we’re soon in Mallaig: the A830 was quiet, and I didn’t have 4 bald crossplies ;-).

Twenty’s Plenty?

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Note: this is an old post- originally drafted nearly a year ago, but recently I’ve been reminded of it by the surprising results of a poll, showing that 80% of people want a default 20 mph limit, and the also interesting observation here.

On to my old post:

I was all ready to go into a full, frothing-at-the mouth rant about something that seems to be gaining ground: Twenty’s Plenty, a campaign for the default speed limit to be 20mph, not 30.

Instead, I’ll try to give a reasoned argument. I’ll set my stall out here: I’m a driver, I speed at times. I’m also a cyclist and pedestrian, like I’d imagine a lot of people are.

I think many speed limits are too low. Some are too high- tiny residential estate roads with a 30 limit, for example, but many main roads are crippled with a low limit: many urban roads around towns were built with a 40 limit, which has been lowered.

I also think that 20 limits have a lot of merit, but feel strongly that that is far too low for a default. 20 limits are fine in areas where no sane individual would be doing much more anyway: housing estates, shopping areas, near schools, for example, but the 30 mph limit is entirely appropriate for a great many roads. I’m sitting writing this looking out at a road that has a 30mph limit that is generally exceeded a little- a residential road that happens to be a B road, and carry a reasonable amount of traffic- and the only thing that seems dangerous is the occasional nutter at 60+.

My big concern is that if 20 is the new 30, we’ll see it on almost everything. I’m also concerned about some of the things presented on their website.

What’s wrong with 30 mph?
Well the 30 mph limit was actually brought in as the national speed limit for built-up areas in 1934. Prior to that the 1903 Motor Car Act designated a specific category for the Motor Car. It also raised the speed limit to 20 mph. The Road Traffic Act of 1930 abolished the 20 mph limit for cars of less than 7 people. This led to such an increase in road deaths that just 4 years later the 1934 Road Traffic Act introduced the 30 mph speed limit in built-up areas. Whilst in 1934 this may have been an acceptable limit, the huge increase in the number of motor vehicles on the roads has created a huge imbalance in vulnerability between pedestrians or cyclists and motor car users.

This is happily forgetting that while, yes we have much, much greater traffic density, at the time of the 30mph limit being increased, a typical car was the Austin 7, a car with cable brakes, initially only operating on the rear wheels. If you drive even a 1960s or 1970s car today, you’ll find the handling, grip levels, and stopping distances are vastly inferior to today, as is the pedestriam safety should you hit someone.

As to vulnerability of pedestrians and cyclists, they’re always much more vulnerable- and vehicle drivers will always need to remember this: the aim should be not to do that at all, I would suggest.

What are the benefits of 20 mph?

Whilst the safety benefits may justify 20’s Plenty on their own, there are additional real benefits for lower speeds. Traffic noise drops considerably, as does pollution. Your street becomes a far more pleasant place to be and this encourages people to walk or cycle instead of using the car.

Pedestrians, as a rule, will (or should) be on a footpath, except in a pedestrianised area, which should, of course, be devoid of vehicles, and personally, when I cycle, I find that cars at 20mph (in a traffic-calmed street, for example) are very awkward: their speed is far to close to mine, so far too much time is spent closer to a moving car than I’d like- in a 30 limit they’ll be past and gone. As to the noise and pollution, I’d like to see some hard facts there: 20mph may necessitate use of a lower gear, *increasing* noise and emissions- most medern cars will just pull 30 mph in 4th gear, but 20 will definitely need 3rd.

I’d also suggest that those people that are going to walk or cycle will already do so: people that want to drive will continue to do so.

It’s a complex, difficult situation.

I’d personally have more support for 20mph as a limit if it’s applied sensibly, and limits are reviewed wholesale, and meaningful data is recorded and acted upon, not just an unconsidered reaction.

I’m also of the opinion that many people would like a 20 limit in their own roads, but not anywhere else, and I think this observation is quite revealing:


This is anecdotal evidence that most drivers want to travel above the 30mph limit, and definitely above 20, which again, is somewhat at odds with the survey’s results.

I’m really thinking here that we’re seeing a “it’s OK for me to drive at above 20/30, but anyone else doing it is a dangerous lunatic” and “it’s Ok to drive above 20/30, except in my road, where it’s dangerous”. I’ve also noted that more than one prominent supporter of 20mph limits seem to be non-drivers (and indeed, non cyclists), which I’d say probably makes it hard to make an objective judgement about what constitutes the best balance of speed, emissions, and safety, though given the alarming lack of awareness of the laws of physics governing a ton and a half of car, it’s clear that there’s plenty of drivers that can’t, too.

People, huh?

Looking at figures, oddly, there’s a suggestion that there’s been an increase in casualties in 20mph limits, and slight reductions elswhere, but the problem here is that we don’t know if this is simply because there’s more 20 mph roads to get injured in. There’s a fairly clear indication that there’s less severity of injury, as you’d expect. It’s my opinion (but this is only opinion) that traffic-calmed areas or very low speeds cause pedestriams to take more risk, but that the lower traffic speeds mean that the chance of an collision resulting is much lower, and that if it does, then injuries will be less severe.

The second link above draws the distinction between 20mph limits and 20mph zones: Zones have traffic calming such as humps, chicanes, and road markings as both physical and psychological devices, limits alone don’t have these- it’s clear the zones are much more effective, and these are usually in narrow, dense streets where it’s quite clear that 30mph would be unacceptably risky.

The problem here is that the data isn’t clear and uniform, there’s conficting and incomplete data, which seems to be no way to make a decision. The debate rages on…

Sun (roof)

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Today was an unusually bright, clear, pleasant day for lately, so I thought I’d finish the sunroof fixing.

A bargain from ebay got me a complete sunroof assembly: glass, motor, rails and trim. While the manual suggests removing the glass to change the assembly, I elected not to, as the adjustment’s a bit tedious, with fiddly trim pieces and awkward screws. This means a bit more weight to lift in and out. First though, out with the aforementioned expensive grease, so expensive it can only be made from the semen of virgin unicorns. This goes on the plastic slides, and I suspect it’s nothing flasher than a non-sticky silicone grease, designed to avoid picking up muck.

Removal is shockingly easy: disconnect the motor cables, and undo the bolts, leaving one in at the front to take the weight. This stage nearly went wrong- someone had been here before, and one bolt had a half-stripped torx head. I put it back in a more accessible place, in case it ever needs grinding out, but also leaving it a little looser than the others. It would have been nice to get a new one:

Someone had butchered this bolt: I was lucky to get it out, but a good quality bit helped.

Someone had butchered this bolt: I was lucky to get it out, but a good quality bit helped.

but it would be a special order part.

Once the bolts were out, with an assistant helping, the whole assembly comes forward, down, and is free to come out through the tailgate. The new unit goes back in the same way.

With the drain tubes and electrical connections reconnected, 2 tests: first, does it leak, and second, does it work. A pass on both items means it’s time to refit the headlining.

First step is to clean your hands: it’s an irritatingly light grey colour. Rescue any of the clips that came adrift and replace them onto the (scrubbed clean) headlining:

Clips that retain the headlining to the sunroof frame.

Clips that retain the headlining to the sunroof frame.

Then revove the rear headrests, and pass the headlining back in via the tailgate. You have to bend it into place into the recess a little. make sure the interior lamp cable and sunroof switch cable drop through the hole, then Refit the grab handles- note they are handed, and the back ones are different- and the sun visors. If, like me, you broke or scratched the little sunvisor hooks getting the impossibly tight covers off, part numbers 380 857 563, and 380 857 561A are what you need :-/ .

Apply some contact adhesive to the headlining and the plastic supports where the original glue was (bonus point if you can name the CD in-shot on the parcel shelf):

Where to apply glue. There's a corresponding support fixed to the roof.

Where to apply glue. There’s a corresponding support fixed to the roof.

Let it dry for a few minutes, push the lining against the supports, and refit the C-pillar trims.

Finally, refit the sunroof switch and interior lamp, squeeze the clips shown in the second photo on to the sunroof frame, and bask in the joy of a clean refitted headlining and working, non-leaking sunroof, pausing only to order the damned hooks.

Result- a fixed sunroof for less than £100, even with the unicorn-bollocks-depleting grease.

Raindrops Keep Falling on Your Head

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

Well specifically, it wasn’t raindrops, but a good splash of water, and not my head, but my dear Stymistress’s. Warning: long post…

Her car is now approaching it’s 14th birthday. It’s still in fairly good nick (and very low mileage, given she doesn’t like driving unless absolutely necessary) but a recent cornering move resulted in an inpromtu dousing, and the amount of condensation inside didn’t look good either.

Being nearly 14 years old, it predates air-conditioning as standard, and has a sunroof. Not a cheap, nasty aftermarket one, but a factory-fitted electric one. You might at this point think the sunroof is leaking, but you’d be wrong: many people don’t appreciate that a lot of seals on a car are not designed to actually seal water, and this is the case here: water is meant to get past the glass panel, drop onto a channel below, and then drain out through a pipe. Many similar sunroofs are OEM’d for other marques, by Webasto.

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