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Archive for September, 2010

Are Electric Cars Good for the Environment?

As a reasonable human being I do believe in the need to conserve our natural resources – especially Australia, as we actually still have some. I am sure the movie, “The Day the War Started” has a lot to be said for the world’s need to change its ways. Who wouldn’t want to invade our great land for its resources (something to think about when the new Military budget is handed out!)?

But the electric car is not the way. The cost of the infrastructure alone in a country this small in population and massive in size is overwhelming. Even if it was cost effective, the current range of an electric car is about 200 klms, if driven carefully, so it really does not stack up.

What many people forget is the electricity used to move these ‘green’ vehicles burns more fossil fuels at the power plant than a vehicle moving on petrol and diesel. This seems to be a knee jerk reaction to address complaints from the masses. Unfortunately it has worked to some degree and we are seeing a push from Manufacturers towards electric cars, like the Mitsubishi iMiev, due here soon. Did anyone mention the environmental impact of the disposal of the battery, or the massive distances by fossil fuelled transport to actually put all the components of an electric car together? It really is folly if you think the current electric cars have a positive environmental effect. Maybe they are quiet and have zero emissions when being driven, but the total lifespan impact is enormous.

We need to find an energy source that is renewable or replaceable that does not kill the Ozone layer.  Some say, not an easy task. The best answer right now would appear to be to use H2O or at least the Hydrogen component of water, something the German manufacturers are spending billions on. Or Google the’ Honda FCX Clarity’…surely a better option!

As a conspiracy theory lover, I am sure there has been many great advances over the decades to have this right now, but the power and money behind the oil industry have been able to buy it up and ‘shelve’ it every time, until now.

So the reality is right now, buy what you want considering the engine size and its registered emission levels and drive moderately. If you want some speed try for a small 4-cylunder turbo-charged car with a great exhaust system. The key here is really to do the best with what you have and don’t be swayed by the so called ‘environment friendly’ electric car.

Sweet-sounding sub-30 contenders

What new car sounds the best for under 30k?  I know most people like the roominess of a car’s cabin, the funky stereo, the leather seats or maybe the way the car drives.  But which of the readers, like me, enjoy the sound of a rorty engine?  There are lots of neat things that make up a good drive, but one of the features that sits at the top of the list for some has to be the sound of a sweet engine responding to the right foot.  I can just imagine two boys in the playground at school arguing over whose car sounds the best!

Mulling this one over took a bit of time, but there were a few cars that came to mind. 

Mazda know how to make a drive fun, and with their latest Mazda 3 SP25 sedan, there are few cars that can match the car for pure driving pleasure – and still have price tag of under $30,000.  Effortless performance from the 122 kW, 2.5-litre engine makes this car move very quickly when required.  The rorty engine note is a pleasure.

Honda makes some of the finest and most reliable engines.  The Honda Civic VTi is very well priced, roomy and exceptionally reliable.  The other nice thing about the VTi engine is that it has a nice tone when pushed hard.

Make sure that you have a drive in the Fiat Ritmo 1.4T.  This is a fireball capable of 110 kW from a very sprightly 1.4-litre engine.  Great fun to drive, the little hatch looks hot, goes hard and has superb handling to match.  Not only is it well equipped, but also the car’s price is under the 30k mark – and when linked to a slick six-speed manual, the engine sounds like a baby Ferrari.

An in-line, four-cylinder, 2.0-litre engine sits under the hood of the Chunky Dodge Caliber SXT.  The engine note has a pleasant rasp, while the under 30k price tag buys you plenty of luxury features, space and some nice roadholding to match. 

This leaves me with two other contenders for the best sounding new car for under $30,000.  These two marques have been battling it out on the rally circuits for a long time now.  Perhaps it’s the racing prowess that has filtered down through these particular cars, but whatever it is, they both sound very good under a hard throttle.  The Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart has a super quick turbo-charged 1.5-litre engine under the hood.  What you have the power to do is embarrass bigger engines, on a regular basis, at the traffic lights.  Stylish and sporty, the Colt Ralliart also has a comfortable driving position.

You might have already guessed, but the other car that has an engine that sounds very good is the safe and practical Subaru Impreza.  Few cars can hold the key of Gee-wow like a flat-four engine, and what the Subaru Impreza R, RX and RV do have is a burbling flat-four at the right price. 

Have I missed any sweet sounding sub-30k contenders out?  Inform me if I have.

The Road to Nowhere, Somewhere or Anywhere.

A road trip in and around Australia is an excellent way to go about meeting new people, making new friends and tasting some of the best food (and beer) the country has to offer.  Australia has many wonderful sights to see and experience.  Wildlife is abundant in many places, and it is quite a rush to experience a croc, koala, wombat or wallaby – not to mention all the seabirds – first hand.  Did you know that Australia has its own camel?  Where do you reckon are some of the best places to take a road trip in Australia?  You may have lived in Australia for quite some time and know where the special drives are.  How about hearing about your favourite tour – and adding a few tips for those who might like to retrace your steps. Some of the best road trips need an overnight stay or a couple of nights away, so these are ideal for a short holiday.  Longer trips are the special ones that require you to fill up the car with all the luggage in preparation for taking a week or two off work.

I reckon Canberra is a nice area to take some time out.  From Sydney, you can travel southwest on the Hume Highway to Goulburn – the largest city on the Southern Tablelands.  Also known as the ‘City of Roses’, Goulburn has a number of interesting attractions, which include a number of special cafes.  From Goulburn, you can take the Federal Highway (Route 23), which passes Lake George before bringing you to the heart of Canberra, the national capital.  There’s heaps to do, with over thirty national institutions, parks, bushland, some great restaurants and a thriving arts scene.  Canberra offers fantastic activities and sights to see and experience for all the family.  This would make a nice run in a Peugeot 407 or maybe a Mercedes Benz CLS-Class, where you can sit back in some premium comfort and allow the engine to purr along while you take in the sights and experience the people. 

If you like to rough it a bit, then maybe a Northern Territory Outback adventure trip in a Mercedes GL-Class or Nissan Safari 3.0 TDi would tickle your fancy.  The 2700 km trip from Augusta to Darwin is a sensational journey through the heartbeat of Australia.  Be sure to go as part of a team, as it’s always wise to put safety first. 

And don’t forget what would have to be one of the classic Aussie road trips: the Nullabor.  This isn’t the prettiest drive or the most challenging from a motoring perspective, but it is still a classic, even though it’s a dead straight road with few features.  That’s the whole point – getting through the trip is an achievement in itself.  Some people give themselves an added challenge: trying to do the Nullabor on as few gallons of petrol as possible by using “hypermiling” techniques. Not a bad thing to try in a smaller economy vehicle.

So, handing over to you lot then.  Suggest a fair dinkum Aussie journey, tell us what the good bits are, propose what safety awareness might need to be taken note of and recommend the vehicle for the trip you have in mind.

Wordsmiths in the 'poo' again

In our ‘Motoring Myths’ quiz last month we alluded to funny translations for car names. The example we gave  ( ‘Holden’ means underpants in Swahili) was a myth. But truth is often stranger than fiction, witness Audi and their latest creation, an electric car that has been named the “e-tron”. Sounds harmless enough, unless you’re French, where it is similar in meaning to ‘merde’ – or ‘crap’. No doubt that will put the Audi wordsmiths in the vernacular!

Audi e-tron

But this is not the first time it’s happened. General Motors launched its ‘Nova” car in Latin American markets, but hastened to a name change when they found that a rough translation into Spanish means ‘Don’t Go”.

In Australia we are familiar with the Mitsubishi Pajero, and again that needed a hasty name change in Spanish markets as it’s a Spanish slang word for masturbation.

Perhaps the most embarrassing name failure was undertaken by Ford in the US when they marketed their very successful Ford ‘Pinto’  car. But it was a dismal failure in Brazil, because in Brazilian it means ‘small penis’. No wonder it flopped!

Today's Women and Shopping For Cars

To all women out there looking to buy a new car – don’t despair there is help available in many places and you have certainly landed on a site which can be one of your best allies.  Here are a few tips to survive without looking ridiculous or taking that token male with you for protection.

If you are purchasing a new car, firstly look around on the road for vehicles that grab your attention.  Spend a week or more doing this. It is very important. The best way to save time and money is to narrow your field of vision. Unlike our ‘male counterparts’ this also covers more than just’ brand’. Our female brain will automatically mutil-task and include your lifestyle, personal needs, family size and, within reason –your budget.

Next, research on-line the comparative vehicles and check that they include all the internal features you want. Yes, safety is really the most important thing, but comfort and ease of use are the best features for you to love your new car; particularly if you like to name your cars. Make sure the kids have the DVD; you have cruise control etc, etc, etc. For me it is the new proximity keys. If they are in my hand bag (anywhere) I can get in and start the car; YES!!! When it is raining and the kids are screaming, and the groceries have to still be thrown in, the one thing I can count on is my ‘Tardis’ handbag never has to open.

Don’t be too nerdy about it though. You don’t need a spread sheet, just a list.

The next thing is to call your local dealers (ask for the female sales person, if there is one) and set an appointment. They will be there JUST FOR YOU. Ask to drive the car for a while, and respectfully ask them to shut up and just answer your questions. Because the feel, vision and seat positions are what you need to work out for yourself. The best question for the sales person is to show them your list of cars and ask them, “What are the positive aspects of these other models and  in their opinion why is their car better for you ?” They will focus on that rather than you. Trying to find positive points of another brand will take some effort on their part. They may give you an insight you never thought of or, if they are clueless and self opinionated, they dont deserve your business anyway.

Next, be honest- to a point. If you do not like the car don’t dance through the pricing, Sales Managers etc. Just let them know your concerns which absolutely remove that vehicle from your list (e.g. the seat length is too short and you were uncomfortable) and thank them for their time.

But, if you do like the car give them your list of wants and needs and ask them, “to price it for you quickly, as you will shop another dealer to keep them honest”. If it is way over you budget – either remove something from the wish list, or walk away graciously to a cheaper car. There is NO shame in intelligent buying!

 Remember the cost of ownership does not always equal the cost of purchase!!! Ask for the service pricing schedule and the servicing intervals. You may be able to afford the car, but not its maintenance as well.

Lastly walk away – even for a coffee (preferably a day). Take your time. It is not a pair of jeans. If your ‘bum looks big in this car’ – you probably have to live with that for 3-10 years. And no-one wants that!!! And never ask your friends; they have opinions that are so random that it will confuse you even more (unless she works in the Motor trade).  Use a car buying service and Private Fleet, where you are right now, just happens to be Australia’s leading company to assist you with this process. They will help you with your choices and then do all of the price negotiation for you.

Buy the car YOU want, in the price range YOU can afford, that suits YOU and YOUR lifestyle. You will find the choice narrows down to only one or two vehicles; and that is a much easier choice!

Best Ever TV Commercials

We put up a blog on our website the other day commenting on a car ad that ‘grabbed’ us.

OK, let’s confess right now, not many car ads have that effect on us. But this ad got us thinking – what are the really memorable car ads?

So we thought we’d enlist your help, we’ll start off with our three all time favourites then you can tell us what tickled your fancy.

Ad No. 1

We’ll start off with the Kia ad on the blog with track by Grandmaster Flash – a really catchy tune that we think grabs the younger set- just what Kia want.  We wrote about the Kia Ad a week or so ago.

Close to the edge

 Ad No. 2

Talking about a catchy tune, very little can beat the Mitsubishi ad that made a chart topper!

This track “You get what you give” by the New Radicals  was used as the backing track for this Mitsu commercial in 2008, and we defy you to sit still whilst you listen to it!

mitsubishi ad new radicals

Ad No 3

We admit that this is our all-time favourite, reputed to have cost well over 1.6 million dollars to produce. The Honda ‘Cog’ commercial started life on the UK Cinema and TV screens in April 2003 to advertise the Honda Accord. It immediately received a rapturous reception and was adopted world-wide by Honda. In fact it received more industry awards that any other commercial in history.

honda cog ad


So here are our three favourites, let’s hear about your best car TV ads.

World Class Concours Comes To Australia

Australia is about to host two prestigious World-Class concours events, one in Sydney and one in Melbourne, and Private Fleet has ten family passes to give away to each event.

The first event will be held in Sydney on 10th October 2010.


Sydney is set to host one of the World’s great motoring events on 10/10/10 in the elegantly landscaped grounds of the St. Patrick’s Estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Manly.

Well over $75m worth of exotic cars and motorcycles will be on display for public viewing and nearly fifty cars are already entered in the Concours D’Elegance competition.

These are not ordinary cars, and this is not an ordinary motor display. Some of the rarest makes and most historically significant machinery will be on display, vying for the ‘Best Of Show’ award.

Such exotic makes as Bugatti, Hispano Suiza, Facel Vega and less well known (Mitchell, Henderson, Stutz,to name a few) will be displayed alongside a fabulous display of Ferraris, Maseratis, Jaguars, Rolls Royce, Mercedes, Alfa Romeos, Aston Martins and many more.

For the motor cycle enthusiast there will be over 50 very rare examples spanning nearly a hundred years, some of which have not been on display-ever!

This is not just a show for ‘petrol heads’. Anyone who can appreciate fine art, beauty and exotica will be enthralled. The ladies will be entertained with ‘Fashions in the Field’ and a ladies beauty tent, there will be a new car unveiling, a restorers feature and a food and beverage tent.

If you’d like to go, the tickets are $55 per head at the gate, or the first ten Private Fleet Newsletter readers to identify this car  :-

will be given family passes (2 adults and 2 children) free.

Simply click on ‘Comments’ at the end of this article, fill in the details as requested, type in “Sydney” then the make of the car above, and if you are one of the first ten we’ll be in contact and the tickets will be winging their way to you.

If you’d like to learn more about this show


Hot on the heels of the Sydney event Melbourne will be hosting its own exotic and classic car extravaganza at the fabled Royal Exhibition Building just two weeks later.It will be a multiple event, including a classic car tour through the Victorian countryside, a classic car show and a Concours D’Elegance, plus an exotica auction.

Private Fleet also has ten family passes to give away to this event with the compliments of the organizers, so if you would like to visit this innovative exhibition then read on.

Your tickets will enable you to visit the Car Show and Concours D’Elegance and you’ll also be entitled to attend the Shannons MotorClassica Auction at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton.

Here’s a foretaste of some of the remarkable and notable cars that will be displayed at MotorClassica:-

Steve McQueen was not only an iconic actor but he was also a very successful racing driver.

MotorClassica will be displaying his very own Ferrari 250 GTO NART Spyder.

Peter Sellers was well known as a car enthusiast, and one of his most exotic cars, a Maserati Mistral Spyder, which he acquired for his wife, Britt Eckland will be on display.

Also featured will be a 1912 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, a massive Daimler Double Six Limousine, Sir Stirling Moss’ own Porsche and much much more.  Sir Stirling  will be there in person and will be an honorary Concours judge at this fabulous show.

Entry to the Display and Concours costs $20 for Adults and $15 for children under 15. But we’ve got ten family passes (2 adults, 2 children) to give away to Private Fleet Newsletter readers.

All you have to do is to identify the make of car that will be on show below –

Once you’ve worked out what make of car this is click on the ‘comments’ button below fill in your contact details, type in ‘Melbourne” then the make of car. We’ll contact you if you are one of the first ten correct entries.

If you would like to make a comment on the motoring extravaganza the please let us know what you think in the comments section…

If you do go to either show, why not come back to this blog and tell us what you thought?

Keep Left…Unless Overtaking

On a recent trip to the UK, I couldn’t help but notice how major roads (including motorways) fared better with increased traffic volumes than here in Australia.  It wasn’t perfect by any means but it definitely seemed that in moderate to high traffic volumes, the traffic moved more smoothly and quicker than over here.

I’m pretty sure the reason is at least partly to do with the following:

In the UK, all drivers keep to the left lane where possible.

In Australia, this road rule is just ignored.

What this effectively does is turn a 3-lane freeway into a two-lane freeway.  It also encourages driver’s to undertake which is not ideal for a free-flowing traffic.  In an ideal world, the left hand lane should be the busiest with the middle lane less freqented and the outside lane rarely used (yes even in high traffic situations!).  However in Australia, the left hand lane seems to be reserved for trucks, caravans and old bangers.  The average driver seems to use the middle lane as the default, leaving the ‘slow lane’ for the speed-challenged drivers.

Keep Left Unless Overtaking

It’s not clear why this is done when there are signs on every freeway stating ‘Keep Left Unless Overtaking”. 

Perhaps it’s a perceived safety issue.  A clear lane on either side gives the driver a little more distance between the car and potential threats such as trees or the median strip.  I’d argue however that being aware of cars on both the left and right sides is much more dangerous than just worrying about the one side if you were indeed keeping left.

I think the most likely reason is because so many people do it, you might be disadvantaged if you do tow the line and do keep left unless overtaking.  For example, if you come up to a slow truck, the busy middle lane might trap you in the left hand lane behind the truck unable to overtake.  So best to keep in the middle, that way you keep options open on either side?  this means you’re forced to break a law which negatively affects traffic simply because so many other people do it.  It’s s problem that’s created by the problem itself.

The solution lies in education and regulation.  We need:

1) Fines for people who hog the middle lane (have you ever met anybody who’s copped one of these fines?  It’s a hard one to enforce admittedly but surely we can do better)

2) Education that the middle lane is not the default and the left hand lane is not the ‘slow lane’

Think about how much money we’d save if, rather than spending billions on new roads and widening of freeways, we just learnt to make the most of our existing network by encouraging more ‘efficient’ driving.  Not to mention the increased safety.

What do you think?  Is this a real issue?  Would it make a difference or am I just a typical driver getting my own personal ‘pet hate’ off my chest?

Oranges Not Lemons

A car that goes from A-B every day without breaking down has got to be considered as a usefully reliable vehicle.  Servicing has to be done on any vehicle to keep it safe and functioning at its best.  Regular servicing also ensures that the car will last a whole lot longer and be reliable for an extended period of time.  So, assuming that the manufacturers servicing has been carried out and the WOF checks done, when it comes to reliability, which makes and models of motorcar seem to be stand out performers?  Let’s take a look.

Now, how could I go about gathering a useful wodge of information on this topic?  On line… of course!  ‘Gizmag’ was a useful site to find information relating to the reliability of cars in the last decade.  The best place to find useful data was actually via a UK insurance company that took care of automotive warranty.  As a privately owned insurance intermediary, Warranty Direct, were able to collect lots of data about warranty issues.  These warranty issues are not so easy to prise out of the car manufacturers themselves, so with the help of Warranty Direct, a reliability index – an independent comparison of frequency of failure across the 55,000 vehicles the company insured proved very helpful.  Take a look at the reliability index here.  

You’ll muse over the interesting outcomes!

The Warranty Direct Top 100 Most Reliable Used Cars Of 1996-2006 (data from UK):

1 Honda Accord    2 Subaru Forester    3 Mazda MX-5    4 Mitsubishi Carisma    5 Toyota Yaris    6 Honda Civic    7 Nissan Almera    8 Honda CR-V    9 Toyota RAV4    10 Nissan Micra    11 Lexus IS 200    12 Mazda 626    13 Jaguar X-Type    14 Toyota Landcruiser    15 Volvo S/V40    16 MINI (BMW)    17 Suzuki Vitara    18 Mazda 323    19 Toyota Carina E    20 Saab 9-5    21 Lexus LS400    22 Ford Ka    23 Rover 45    24 Hyundai Lantra    25 Mercedes SLK    26 Citroen Xsara    27 Ford Cougar    28 Subaru Impreza    29 Skoda Octavia    30 Audi A4    31 Nissan Primera    32 Toyota Avensis    33 Volvo 850    34 Vauxhall Corsa    35 Seat Toledo    36 Volkswagen Golf    37 Daewoo Lanos    38 Fiat Brava    39 Hyundai Coupe    40 Mitsubishi Shogun    41 Rover 25    42 Mercedes CLK    43 Fiat Marea    44 Ford Focus    45 Peugeot 106    46 MG TF    47 BMW Z3    48 Hyundai Accent    49 Volkswagen Polo    50 Fiat Punto    51 Vauxhall Zafira    52 Mercedes C-class    53 Volvo S60    54 Toyota MR2    55 Mazda Xedos 6    56 Ford Puma    57 Vauxhall Astra    58 Vauxhall Omega    59 Chrysler Neon    60 Audi A2    61 Ford Fiesta    62 Ford Mondeo    63 Vauxhall Corsa    64 Citroen Saxo    65 BMW 3 Series    66 Vauxhall Vectra    67 Isuzu Trooper    68 Mercedes M-Class    69 Subaru Legacy    70 Rover 400    71 Fiat Ulysse    72 Mercedes E-Class    73 Renault Clio    74 Toyota Celica    75 Peugeot 306    76 Peugeot 406    77 Volvo S70    78 Rover 75    79 Daewoo Matiz    80 Peugeot 206    81 Mazda MX-3    82 Vauxhall Tigra    83 Seat Ibiza    84 Peugeot 106    85 Renault Megane    86 Peugeot 406    87 Saab 9-3    88 Audi A3    89 BMW X5    90 Mercedes S-class    91 Toyota Corolla   92 Seat Alhambra    93 BMW 5-series    94 Daewoo Nubira    95 Alfa Romeo 145    96 Saab 900    97 Mazda MX-6    98 Jaguar S-Type    99 Daewoo Leganza    100 Porsche Boxster

Knowing What You’re Torquing About

If you’ve ever taken even the slightest look at any car review, some of the key bits that tend to be described and compared are the engine stats and specs.  Some specs are easy enough to understand – the 0–100 km/h sprint is a measurement of how long it takes the car to go from not travelling at all to going at full open road speed.  It’s a measurement that is easy enough to picture, and it’s easy enough to convert to and from metric units, if you’re not too fussy. If you want to get absolutely precise, 100 km/h is equivalent to 62.14 mph, so if you are presented with an Imperial measurement looking at the 0–60 mph sprint, it’s roughly the same as the usual nought-to-the-ton metric figure.  Get out your calculator if you want to be absolutely precise. 

However, some specs are a bit harder to get a mental picture of.  The key figure is power. Power is defined as the rate at which work is done, or else the rate at which energy is converted into motion.  In cars and vehicles of all types, the formula for calculating power is a little more complicated and the power output (measured in kW (kilowatts) using metrics) is the force times the velocity (physics-speak for speed!).  If you want a formula, it’s Power = work/time = (force x distance)/time. Force, of course, is derived from the mass, so small cars (and motorbikes) tend to have engines with fewer kilowatts of power – you don’t need as many kW to get up to speed.  All sorts of things go into the power, such as the number of cams (pistons) in the engine, the number of combustion chambers in the engine and the size of the combustion chambers.  Power used to be measured in horsepower, which was originally used to compare how well a steam engine or traction engine could work in comparison to a big Clydesdale.  And here’s some handy little figures so you can compare that European car that measures the engine power in kW against an American car that’s measured in horses:

  • 1 kW equals 1.34 hp
  • 1 kW equals 737.56 foot pounds per second
  • 1 hp = 550 foot-pounds per second (ft lb/s)
  • 1 hp = 0.75 kW

Power is closely related to torque.  Torque takes into account the fact that although power is produced in a straight line inside the combustion chamber(s), it is applied around an axis – the whole set-up with transmissions and drivetrains involve rotational motion (and is then converted back to straight-line motion when the rubber applies a force to the road). It’s measured in Newton-metres (Nm or, if you want to be really picky, N.m). 

Now, we all know that engines run at different speeds, depending on how far you press down the accelerator.  No engine produces the same amount of power or torque at all speeds.  You often see a graph that shows the level of torque produced by the engine at various engine speeds (measured in rpm (revolutions per minute)). The place where the graph reaches its highest point is the peak torque – and this helps you know where the engine should be running to get the maximum oomph to the wheels when you need it to accelerate or pull things.  Power curves exist, but the engines torque is what really counts when the old girl is fully laden with the family and towing the caravan to your camp site.  The idea of gears is to make sure that the engine purrs over at the right speed – the right number of revs or rpm – so the engine gives the right amount of power and/or torque for what you need. 

Newton-metres are the SI (metric) units used for torque.  The non-metric unit used for American cars is in pound-force feet, also known as pound-feet. Just to be confusing, pound-feet are used for torque, while foot-pounds are used for power, something that’s likely to drive you half dotty. The formula for converting is 1 pound-foot = 1.356 Nm.