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Archive for December, 2010

New Year Motoring Resolutions

OK, it’s that time of year when we hang up our new calendars and decide to turn over a new leaf at the same time as we start a squeaky-clean new diary.  We make New Year resolutions.  But as well as the usual ones we generally vow to do (e.g. lose weight, give up smoking…), don’t forget that our motoring habits usually need improving as much as our habits in the rest of life.  Here’s some suggestions for New Year resolutions for drivers:

  1. I will rotate my tyres every 12,000 km, as recommended by most tyre manufacturers instead of just shoving the spare tyre on when I get a flattie – and then cursing my stupidity when I realise that the spare tyre is bald because I did a hasty switch so my car could pass its safety inspection/compliance tests.  A simple rule of thumb is to switch each tyre with its diagonal opposite (e.g. front left with back right), but you need to get more complicated when a proper spare tyre (rather than a space-saver tyre as found on some makes and models) is involved.  Here’s one possible method:
  • Old front left becomes the spare
  • Old spare becomes rear left
  • Old rear left becomes front right
  • Old front right becomes rear right
  • Old rear right becomes front left.

Your maintenance manual should have more details on how to do this. 

  1. I will drive more frugally.  Even if you have purchased one of the latest high-economy models, there’s still a few things that we can all do to save petrol when we drive.  Techniques that help with fuel economy include:
  • driving smoothly around corners and through stops and starts (rather than braking and cornering hard, or accelerating hard from a standstill),
  • using the terrain to help when driving downhill,
  • not over-using the air-con,
  • servicing your car regularly, and
  • keeping to the speed limit. 

 

  1. I will clean out the mess inside my car.  We all do it – we just leave a few odd papers or bits of clothing in the boot or the back seat.  Before you know it, you just about need a spade to clear space for an extra passenger, and you can just about make up a complete wardrobe from the clothes stuffed in the boot.  And what on earth is that stuffed into the storage compartment?  Don’t tell me that was once a banana… After hauling out the junk, returning the CDs to their proper cases and pocketing the spare change and pens that rolled under the seat, give the mats a good shake and vacuum the carpets.  Also install a plastic bag as a car tidy for those bits of rubbish that don’t fit into the usual tiny rubbish compartments.  If the car still smells peculiar, try sprinkling baking soda onto the carpets and leaving it for half a day before vacuuming – baking soda absorbs pongs.
  2. I will double-check that my routine maintenance is up-to-date.  Routine servicing is much, much cheaper than repairing the damage that can happen if you don’t do it.  Oil changing is something we all do, but don’t forget air filters, antifreeze, brake fluid, cam belts, wiper blades and other lubricants.  Mark them in your diary and do them.

Happy motoring for 2011!

Trimming petrol consumption

I shouldn’t have to list the reasons why you should drive more frugally and use less petrol.  You can probably think of the same ones as I can, and possibly more.  But this is where the rubber hits the road:  how do you drive more frugally?  How can you cut down on petrol consumption without selling your family-sized Ford Falcon or similar and squashing three teenagers, two adults, the dog and the luggage into a pint-sized hatchback?  (However, if you are a singleton or a couple, then considering a new fuel-efficient small vehicle might be a good option.  And even small, frugal hatches can be quite hot and sporty – believe me!)

Try these petrol-saving tips on for size (and give yourself a pat on the back if you already do any of them):

  1. Discover what your feet are for.  If you’re just popping down to the dairy or to post a letter, don’t use the car!  Obviously, this will save petrol because you’re not actually using the car, but you’re actually saving more than you think.  Stop-start driving and cold running is less efficient than long runs and hot running.  Distances of less than 2 km are easy enough for the average person to walk, and in rush hour traffic when the roads are congested, you can sometimes overtake the gridlocked cars, all chewing through the petrol at a standstill…  You might also be able to do without your gym membership, which makes for another saving. 
  2. Drive like a smooth dude.  Rough, jerky driving involving rapid takeoffs and sharp braking chomps the fuel more than taking things smoothly.  Not only will this demand less of your engine, but you’ll also make things more comfortable for your passengers.  Keep an eye on the road ahead so you can anticipate red lights, sharp corners and stop signs – gentle easing off and braking is more fuel efficient.  Keep your distance when following so you don’t have to bang on the brakes in a hurry if the driver in front stops for that daft stray dog that has wandered into the road.
  3. Remember your high school physics, especially the bits about momentum and gravity when doing hill driving.  If you build up speed before you approach a slope, your momentum will do a lot of the work for you, rather than leaving it all to the engine.  Same goes for at the top of the slope – gravity will provide a bit of acceleration, so ease off.  However, it’s probably not the best idea to do what a friend of mine in La Paz, Bolivia, used to do.  At the top of one of the big slopes that formed a main artery through the town, he would switch the ignition off at the top and let gravity take his beloved VW Beetle down, with the aim being to see how far we could get on momentum alone (usually the traffic lights).  This can be hazardous, as a lot of safety bits need the ignition going to be deployed, and the gearing can be used to slow you down if things get a bit hairy.
  4. Service with a smile.  A well-maintained car doesn’t have to work as hard, and is thus more fuel efficient.  You know how much harder it seems to do everything when you’re not feeling quite 100%?  Your car feels the same.
  5. Blow the whistle on the bells and whistles.  Yes, the convenience features are convenient.  But switch them off when you don’t need them, as they can slurp bits from your engine.  The biggest culprit here is air-con – having this on increases fuel consumption by about 8%.  While air-con is a sanity saver during the Australian summer, if you don’t really need it, switch it off.  Sometimes, you can get away with opening the windows and letting the breeze cool you.
  6. Take a load off.  Back to basic physics again, folks!  The heavier the load inside your car, the harder the engine will have to work to get it up to speed.  This is why car designers strive to reduce the weight of components: it makes the car more economical.  If you don’t actually need your cricket gear in the back this time, take it out.
  7. Take another load off.  Roof racks increase your drag, which increases your petrol consumption, as you’ve lost some of the aerodynamics of your vehicle.  By all means put the roof rack on when you’re off on holiday and need to carry the kayak and the tents, but once you’re back home, remove the roof rack (a bit harder to do if you have integral roof rails, but these tend to have been factored into the aerodynamics of the exterior design).
  8. Don’t sit idle.  Idling is a real gas-guzzler, so avoid it as much as possible.  Turn the engine on once all the passengers are inside, rather than sitting there with the motor running waiting for little Justin to finish tying his shoes and get in the ruddy car.  Take the scenic route rather than main drags if you know the traffic will be heavy and congested.  Avoid travelling during rush hour if you don’t have to. 
  9. Keep it legal.  The more you go over the speed limit, the more your fuel consumption goes up.  Just because your car can do 200 km/h in ease and comfort doesn’t mean that you should.  You also avoid speeding tickets.
  10. Teach an old dog new tricks.  Most modern cars don’t need to be warmed up before getting underway, so don’t bother doing this, unless it’s really cold or you haven’t driven the car for a long time.  Just starting off gently (see tip number 2) will do the job of warming up the engine. 

Christmas gift ideas for the driver in your life

I know.  You’d love to give that special someone who also happens to be keen on motoring a new car for Christmas.  Some of us are in a financial position to buy a Porsche Boxter, VW Beetle convertible or the new model Alfa Romeo Guilettta as a Christmas present, but the average Joe and Jill Australian can’t quite afford to do this – as much as we would like to.  So what do you buy that driver in your life for Christmas that won’t leave you wailing and lamenting when the credit card bills come in and/or New Year’s Day when you make your financial resolutions?  Here’s a dozen car-related suggestions…

  1. Any Top Gear related book, whether it’s The Stig’s new autobiography or one of their more amusing coffee-table varieties. (Note: that one I’ve seen in my local bookseller where you have to find The Stig in a busy picture rather than trying to see Where’s Wally this time is probably best for younger readers).  DVD versions of the TV shows also go down well.  So does a year’s subscription to any motoring magazine.
  2. Calendars.  You can get calendars featuring most of the hot makes of cars, as well as mixed-bag calendars of supercars, etc. 
  3. Computer, X-box, Playstation or Wii driving simulations.  This is one place where you won’t be left broke, catching a lift because you’ve lost your licence, behind bars or in a wheelchair (or coffin) if you scream around a city at 200 km/h smashing into other cars, walls, trees and signposts with a cop on your tail. 
  4. Car grooming gear.  Anyone who loves their car will make good use of consumable goodies for keeping their car bright and shiny.  Also consider accessories such as chamois leather and brushes.
  5. If you have a die-hard Ford or Holden lover, it’s easy to find everyday items branded with the logo they love, including (but definitely not limited to) T-shirts, coffee mugs and bed covers.  They seem to crop up in every gift shop I walk into, so they’re not hard to find.  Other logo-branded gear is out there, but the Big Aussie Two are the most common.
  6. Car accessories.  Check first before buying these, as your car lover may also have purchased them. Suggestions include leather or leather-look steering wheel covers, seat covers, spare wheel covers (for 4x4s – do a little sneaky work and find out how big the tyre cover ought to be).  Stereo equipment also goes down well.
  7. Driving gloves.  These are rather old-fashioned but they have a certain bit of class about them, especially if they’re in leather that matches the car’s upholstery.  Best suited for those driving classy European vehicles such as Jaguars, BMWs, Audis and Mercedes (but not Rolls-Royce or Daimler – the chauffeur probably already has driving gloves as part of the livery).  Scarves (not too long!) in silk or mohair are also appropriate for those who have the open-top versions.
  8. Jaguar aftershave/cologne/perfume.  If you have someone who yearns for a Jag or already owns a Jag, this could be a romantic, sexy option.  There are several options for men and women out there.  If your local chemist or department store doesn’t stock them, try the Jaguar fragrance website – and be quick so your order arrives before the 25th.
  9. If you’re broke and they know it, a model car of the sort they love.  This could be a Matchbox or Hot Wheels version, or one of those models that require a rainy day, tweezers and Superglue.  The toy version is best accompanied by a card that says you’d love to get them the real thing if you could, but this will do in the meantime.
  10. Customised pin-up picture for your Significant Other.  This requires access to photo-editing software and a cooperative friend.  Get the friend to photo you scantily clad in or on your Significant Other’s set of wheels in a sexy pose (wash and polish the car first and put the car against a nice backdrop.  If you plan to drop in a digital backdrop, hang up a sheet or three on the fence or the washing line to act as your backdrop – makes the digital bit easier).  Tinker around with the digital retouching and other tools to add the necessary glamour to car and person.  Print and/or frame.  Best not to open this one in front of prim and proper aunties.  The ambitious can create a home-made calendar of the tear-off type.
  11. A dozen “Free car wash by me” coupons, either handwritten or printed on the computer.  This is a good gift if you’re really hard up, as they cost nothing except a few hours in the weekend – just be prepared to follow through next year when they redeem the coupons.
  12. Quirky, clever or humorous signs or stickers.  These can range from retro-styled garage signs printed on metal to the classic bumper sticker or licence plate surround. 

If you are the car-lover and your nearest and dearest are scratching their heads as to what to get you for Christmas, print out this page and stick it on the fridge, leave the window open on your browser when they happen to walk in, or share it on Facebook as a not-so-subtle hint.

Bonus idea: Charity Gifts.

One recent trend is to buy something through a charitable organisation in someone else’s name as a gift, usually something that will help a third-world community pick itself up get out of the poverty trap.  You have to pick who you give this to, as some people like getting something from you, no matter how small.  But if you do this sort of thing, then there are transport-related gifts out there.  What could be more suited to the origins of Christmas than the gift of a donkey?

Get prepared for the hols.

We don’t like spending it, but if we don’t we could be in for bigger bills around the corner.  A little bit of money spent in maintaining your car is well worth the bother.  With the school holidays around the corner, many of us will want to head away for a break.  This usually means longer journeys in the car, and longer periods away from home and the normal routines we find ourselves performing on a weekly basis at work, varsity or school.

If your car is nearly due for a service, don’t hold off till after the holidays.  Get it done now.  If you regularly have your car checked over by the book, then you’re sure to be fine.  Still, it could be worth having your mechanic check over your vehicle in readiness for your trip away.  Getting the odd little thing fixed prior to the trip away is worth it in the end.  So here are a few of the basic things you’re going to need to get checked over on your car.

  • Have the fluid levels checked.  First check the engine oil on the dipstick, making sure that the level sits on or close to the full mark. 
  • With the engine cool, see if the engine coolant in the reservoir is between Full and Low.  Top up if necessary.  Now take the radiator cap off and check the coolant in the radiator itself.  You should see the coolant sitting near the top.  If not, top it up.  If you think you are going through excessive coolant, definitely have your mechanic check over the coolant system for leaks.   
  • The fluid level in the transmission needs to be checked, and it is often this one that is overlooked.  Both the manual and the automatic transmission need the right level of fluid (and fluid that is not too old) to ensure that the gearbox is kept cool and lubricated.  In most cases, the fluid level in the transmission should be checked after driving.
  • Most cars now days have power steering.  Ensure that the power steering fluid is at the right level.
  • Neglect of brake fluid changes is a real problem.  If you haven’t changed the brake fluid in the last two years, do have it checked out and replaced.  Brake fluid picks up moisture easily and can cause corrosion in the internal surfaces – this is particularly nasty in ABS systems.
  • Is your battery in good nick?  Stopping your holiday in the middle of nowhere because your battery has died is extremely annoying. 
  • Still on things electrical, your spark plugs are also important.  Though modern ones last for a long time, they do have a use-by date. And if they are getting knackered, you best get a new set.
  • Your cam belt needs to be changed religiously, so if this hasn’t been done by the book, watch out – you have been warned!
  • Auxiliary drive belts get worn and can break if they get too old and loose.  Your mechanic will know if they need replacing after checking them over.
  • Correct tyre tread and pressures are important.  Do ensure that your tyres are in top order before setting off on holiday.  It’s a safety issue, too.
  • Suspension and steering components need to be in good order.  Again, this is a safety issue, and should not be forgotten or ignored.

Having had your car inspected, serviced and repaired before the holiday now means that you can relax and prepare the fun stuff for the holiday ahead.  The odds of you breaking down have just been greatly reduced.

What Price Publicity?

We’ve told you about the World’s Fastest Lawnmower, and we’ve seen the film clips on  jet powered roller skates.

Well, move over PR powerhouses! Oz V8 Supercars have announced a V8 skateboard.

Don’t believe it exists?

Oh, yes it does…. and it’s going to be rolled(?) out this weekend at Homebush for the controversial street race.

The State government has come in for a lot of stick for the amount of money it has given for the street race, so I guess that any prank that can lift attendances is a good thing for them, so they won’t be skating on thin ice (groan).