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Archive for November, 2010

Sydney's Cycle Lanes

Clover Moore’s attempt at alleviating congestion in the City of Sydney is fraught with obstacles such as…the city itself! Tall buildings, constant works and thin streets all contribute to the disaster that is the bike lanes of Sydney’s CBD.

For $70,000,000 you would think there would be a maze of paths raised slightly over the heads of the pedestrians branching off in four or five directions to get our city clean and fit. But alas no, the network that is under construction has dangerous obstacles, odd diversions, sharp turns, large blind corners, huge gaps in sections that even the most dare devilish cyclist avoid. The bike lanes in some places are combined with the bus lanes. That is an accident waiting to happen.

Don’t forget to add to this the expense of the engineering to make it ‘look serious’ like traffic lights with pictures of cycles, granite flooring and sandstone gutters.

If you are a motorist watch out, the streets are even more unsafe particularly if you have a large 4×4. You may have to jump the curb to turn some corners that should have cyclists on them. The lanes have removes some traffic lanes and parking places all together. Not to mention that choking traffic with confused drivers leads to another mess altogether – road rage!

For business people in these new areas, we have been told of the loss of business they are facing due to the fact that their regular customers can no longer park close enough to visit their stores any longer. Many of these business people ‘set-up-shop’ in these areas because of the passing trade and now there is no parking nearby so that people can drop in. You have to feel for all of them trying to continue their business with this massive impost. Also try standing around for an hour and see how many bikes actually go by…you will have enough fingers, certainly outside peak hour!

The bike paths are lovely to look at though. It seems no expense was spared, and the builders took great advantage of that. They have lavished some of the new paths with granite; you know the stuff that most of us can’t afford on our kitchen benches. But the removal of trees in the path of oncoming cyclists (at speed) has not happened, obviously green is better than safe. This is most noticeable on the exit off the Harbour Bridge down to King Street.

We mustn’t complain, the Lord Mayor had a lovely function to open this 200mtr stretch of path!

If this need to cycle up our city (which I am in great favour of) the city needs to employ someone who straps on the lycra each day and rides to work to get a better insight to the problem. At the moment it looks like my 9 year old took crayon to city map and handed it to ‘Aunty Clover’ and she thought – ‘what a great idea for a bike path.’

Just remember not to blame the 9 year old!!

In just about every other City where cycle ways have been tried, they have failed. In my opinion it is a total waste of taxpayers money and time will tell whether the next Lord Mayor rips them up and starts again.

Easing traffic congestion? What were they thinking?!?

Servicing through a Dealer or local garage

In the past we have seen much argument for and against servicing with other than the Dealer who sold you the car..

You local Dealer will have you believe that their serving is better, that they use only original parts and that if you don’t use them you will void your warranty. They have been known to go as far as discrediting you local garage as mechanics that couldn’t cut it in their work shops.

Today it is a little different. Thank heavens for the Internet and the power of information.

The local garage is used for many reasons such as price, location, loyalty, local knowledge and reputation but some of us still can’t resist using the local Dealer on our precious new vehicles. That is fine, a Dealer is excellent but you should keep you options open.

The trick to a local garage is knowing them personally or knowing someone who does. Referrals are the best source of cost saving and information (outside the Internet) we have.

You can/must specify to your local guy that you want original parts, best oils, the same tyres, and the log book service requirements covered and stamped. The other thing to remember is that you have the right to check. Ask them to keep the oil container and the receipts of purchase from the original equipment needed to show you. This will allow a two way respect and a great result.

I also recommend if you do use your local ‘guy’ copy the invoice of work done and parts used and staple it into your log books. When you go to sell the vehicle this is very handy to show good workmanship.

If the garage does not want to do this for you – go elsewhere.

You have the right to return if work is unsatisfactory to both a Dealer and a local mechanic. I personally have returned my vehicle to Dealer’s workshops more than I have my local mechanic. So now I take my new car (which is in excess of $60,000) to my local garage and have done from day 1 and have never been happier.  The other upside to this is that I am approx $800 or more in front this year.

The Glovebox Top Ten

Any decent modern car will have oodles of storage compartments all over the inside of the cabin for drivers and passengers to put things in.  These compartments come in large and small, and designers tend to get quite inventive.  A frequently found option for many models includes a chilled console compartment, and some cars – one of the new Skodas, I think – has a special draining compartment for damp umbrellas.  But what do you put in the compartments now that you’ve got them?  Here’s a top ten list of what every car should have in the glovebox:

  1. The car manual.  If you keep it in the bookshelf in your house or in the garage, you’re likely to forget it when you drop the car off for a routine service, which will make things a little trickier for the mechanic.  Besides, if you’re not completely sure where the fuses are or how much you should inflate the tyres when towing, then it pays to have the info on hand when you need it.  You probably found the manual in the glovebox; leave it there.
  2. A map.  In fact, several maps.  One for your local roads and one on the state or even the country scale.  If you’re travelling out of town, it pays to get a street-level map for the place you’re visiting rather than following your nose, the sun and the vague directions of the person you finally stopped and asked.  A GPS makes a decent substitute.
  3. Medications.  If you have a long-term condition, you need to keep spares with you in the car (inhaler for asthmatics, insulin for diabetics, etc.).  Even if you don’t have a long-term condition, it always pays to have an aspirin in the car – the sort you don’t need water for, as nobody drives well with a splitting headache.
  4. Tissues.  Somewhere, some day, you will sneeze, get a nosebleed, burst into tears (or tend to a passenger who does so), need to wipe the windscreen…  Tissues work. 
  5. First Aid kit.  Some models have these as options.  Sticking plaster, antiseptic cream, bandages of all sizes, a sling, safety pins and some tweezers are the bare minimum. 
  6. Sunglasses.  And sunscreen.  We’ve got a sunny climate, so prepare for it.
  7. Water.  We all need to keep our fluids up, especially during long drives.  Replace the water regularly, as it can grow nasties in it if left sitting around too long.  Buy bottled water if you have to, but the stuff from the tap (in many places) is good enough, especially if you boil it or filter it yourself.
  8. Nibbles and chewing gum.  Low blood sugar causes fatigue, which can lead to bad driving.  Probably best to avoid too many sugary sweets (a few are OK).  Try dried fruit, nuts, crackers and biscuits.
  9. Pen and paper.  You are going to see an ad, have a bright idea or want to take down someone’s phone number at some stage.  Have the pen and paper handy for making notes.
  10. Small change.  It’s a good place to store it and comes in handy when you’ve only got plastic in the wallet and you need to feed the parking meter, pick up a loaf of bread or hand it over when the child you’ve dropped off at the school gate announces the need for a gold coin donation.

New models discovered in Paris

Not so long ago, the Paris Motor Show was in full swing.  Motor Shows are when the motoring world gets to see the weird, the wild, the wonderful and the new.  While we all know that some of the oddities unveiled at these shows never quite make it into production and some of the new models don’t get Down Under for yonks, these shows are always entertaining if you’re only slightly interested in cars and motoring – and even if you’re not.

New models are being unveiled by the following auto manufacturers: Audi (world premiere for the latest A7 Sportback, the R8 GT and R8 V8 Spyder models), Chevrolet (world premiere for latest Aveo, Orlando, Cruze and Captiva), Citröen (latest C4 and DS4), Ford (Focus ST Concept, Fiesta RS WRC and the unveiling of a demo model plug-in hybrid), Honda (Jazz Hybrid), Hyundai (JC), Kia (the concept car Pop), Land Rover (Range Rover Evoque), Mazda (new look 3 and 5), Mercedes Benz (A-Class E-Cell, three CLS variants and the S class), Opel (GTC Paris and Astra Sport Tourer), Peugeot (508 and 3008 hybrid), Renault (De Zir, Fluence ZE, Twizy, Twingo Miss Sixty and Laguna Phase 2), Smart (a fortwo facelift, car2go and two motorbikes/scooters), Toyota (Verso S), Volkswagen (latest Passat) and Volvo (latest V60).  It still remains to be seen which ones of these will get down to this part of the world, but I’m hoping that we’ll see the Honda Jazz Hybrid, at the very least, and we certainly want to see new models of old favourites.  But something tells me that the Renault Twingo Miss Sixty is going to need a bit of re-badging or re-naming before it comes down here – can you really imagine asking to see a “Twingo Miss Sixty” at the local car dealers?

However, none of the other new cars seem to have really peculiar names.  The following have all been real names for real cars, and you have to wonder what on earth the manufacturers were thinking:

  • Subaru Brat (apparently, BRAT stood for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter). Seen in 1980s
  • AMC Gremlin.  Gremlin, of course, is slang for a mysterious problem in the mechanics. Seen in 1970s
  • Daihatsu Naked. Seen 2000–2004.
  • Honda Life Dunk. A reasonable-looking car but can anyone take a name like that seriously? Early 2000s.
  • Honda That’s.  Never very popular outside Japan. Another early 2000s oddity.
  • Toyota Estima Lucida G Luxury Joyful Canopy.  Also known as the Toyota Previa.
  • Tang Hua Detroit Fish.  Fortunately unknown outside China because it’s hideous and tiny as well as having a bizarre name.
  • Chevrolet Luv.
  • Geely Beauty Leopard.  Chinese again.  Either “beauty” or “leopard” alone works OK, but together?
  • Geely (again) PU Rural Nanny

Any other horror names that people have come across?

Now Zoe Is In Trouble.

Just a few weeks ago we wrote about the trouble that manufacturers can get into when naming their new cars. We related the problems that Audi had in France when launching their new electric car the ‘e-tron’. Well, purely coincidentally, a French court has had to rule on another manufacturer’s name for their new electric car. This time it’s Renault, who have called their electric prototype the ‘Zoe”, a sort of play on words for Zero Emissions ( or, for classical scholars, a Greek word meaning ‘life’).

Sounds innocuous doesn’t it? Well, not to a Parisian family who have the surname Renault and who have two children within the family named ‘Zoe’.

They took the car company to court in an attempt to prevent them naming their car ‘Zoe’.

They lost the case, but not without their defense council making an impassioned plea on their behalf in court that must have had all court officials rocking with laughter. He pleaded that his clients, and all other Zoe’s around the world, would be subjected to ridicule as they grew older by being the target of such quips as    ‘ Can I see your airbags?’ or  ‘Can I shine your bumper?’ etc.etc.

The judge disagreed, so Renault can name their car  ‘Zoe’ and all the Zoe’s of this world can brace themselves for a future onslaught.

Cash For Clunkers Destined For Scrapheap?

The Government has announced it will delay the introduction of the ‘Cash for Clunkers’ scheme (officially called The Cleaner Car Rebate) by six months, to June 2011.

We’re not surprised and indicated our doubts when the Gillard Government was narrowly re-elected and we dealt with this issue in some detail.

In fact the scheme has come in for substantial criticism since Prime Minister Gillard announced it as a vote winning carrot last July. She promised a $2000 rebate for people who update their pre 1995 car by purchasing a new, lower emission, fuel efficient vehicle. $400m was to be set aside, and this was expected to get 200,000 old cars off the road.

However it has been heavily criticised because: only three local cars would qualify (the rest would be imports): it is very expensive for the benefits it delivers:it simply brings forward intended purchases, and it could be subjected to huge rorts ( as demonstrated in the Obama Cash For Clunkers effort in the USA).

After the aptly named Federal Industry Minister Kim Carr announced the delay Opposition Leader Tony Abbott entered the debate labelling the scheme ” a thought bubble” and said that if the Government is looking to save money ‘cash for clunkers’ should be the first to go.

So the message is clear:- if you own a clunker and are looking to update don’t hold your breath waiting for the ‘cash for clunkers’ scheme to help you, it may never happen.

Mrs Benz

October the 25th is Pink Ribbon Day and the street appeal is being launched at the time of writing.  While pink cars are never going to be popular (see some of my previous posts), this breast cancer awareness campaign seems like a good excuse to celebrate one of the great women of motoring history.

The woman is, of course, Bertha Benz, and without her, the car might never have existed.  Bertha was born in 1849. In 1886, she was a typical Victorian housewife in Mannheim, Germany, busy supporting her husband, Dr Carl Benz, and raising her four children.  Dr Carl was facing a few problems with his newly patented invention. Nobody wanted it, preferring steam trains and horses.  Some people even thought that this noisy contraption that moved by some mysterious means was powered by black magic.  They say that behind every great man is a great woman, and it was time for the great woman to step in.

In 1888, Bertha Benz stepped in and decided to load the family into the car and visit her mother.  This sounds like such an ordinary activity but in Bertha’s day, it was revolutionary.  This was the Victorian era, before women got the vote – when women were considered “the weaker sex” and were encumbered by a multitude of corsets and petticoats.  Bertha’s mother lived 106 km away in Pforzheim, and the motor-car had never been tested over these distances.  Bertha didn’t tell her plans to Carl, but planned the journey in secret with her older two sons, leaving early in the morning before Carl woke up.  Presumably the other children were left with the nanny (she had four children at this stage; the fifth came along a few years later. 

The journey was a success and proved to the world that the motor car was useful and could be driven by anybody – even a woman.  Bertha had obviously picked up a thing or three from her husband’s workshop, as she was able to use items of her clothing to make a few repairs.  A long, thin hatpin was used to unclog a blocked fuel line and the broken ignition was fixed with a garter.  However, a blacksmith had to be called on for a chain for the gearbox, and a shoemaker provided some leather bits for the brake blocks.  And Bertha had to stop for petrol.  While bowsers hadn’t been invented, petrol was used medicinally – it was used as a treatment for headlice, which is not recommended today! – so she was able to pick up what she needed at a couple of chemist’s shop.

Bertha’s trip garnered a lot of press publicity and the popularity of the car was secured.  Carl Benz was also able to draw on Bertha’s extensive test drive to make some improvements, especially to the gearing system for hill driving. 

Today, the Bertha Benz Memorial Route is one of the more pleasant, if obscure, motoring pilgrimages to make in Germany, although most petrol-head tourists prefer the Autobahns and the Nürburgring, rather than this more leisurely route in the Black Forest region.  And in the pioneering spirit of Carl and Bertha Benz, the Bertha Benz Challenge has been established as a rally, following Bertha’s original route, open for alternative drive systems only (hybrid, electric, hydrogen, fuel cell) to demonstrate, as Bertha did, that good new ideas shouldn’t stay on the demo floor but should be used on the road.  This is planned for 2011, in conjunction with the Frankfurt Motor Show and is part of the celebrations for the 125th anniversary of Carl Benz’s patent.

Benzene, which is added to petrol to raise the octane level and prevent knocking, is not named after Carl and Bertha Benz, in spite of the similar name. It’s derived from gum benzoin, which it was first derived from.