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Archive for March, 2012

Fab New Materials

Sit in a new car, and I wonder what materials you’ll find yourself seated on.  Cleverly designed materials can ward off smells, resist stains, and even repel hair and other loose bits so that the vacuum cleaner can suck them away easily when it comes time for giving the car a good clean out.  But take this a step further and imagine seats that have a high-tech fabric that can be part of a car’s communications system – think of this as being a bit like a voice control.  Perplexed?

Recently, researchers at a polytechnic in Montreal have been intrigued by how fabrics could be used as part of a control structure for onboard computers and other systems.  What some of the researchers have come up with is fascinating.  They have devised a touch-sensitive fabric that reacts to finger swipes or touches.  I guess some people could see this coming with touch screen computers, and such.  It’s amazing that the fabric has been implanted with electronics, hooked up to software and, hey presto, you’ve got a surface that receives and gives messages.

The touch sensitive fabric could be used in a car as a potential smartphone system or it could even be used to control other car functions like the audio system.  The audio system, for example, could have the volume adjusted by swiping or touching the side bolster of the seat.

Seat fabric materials would still need to have that classy feel about them to give the car luxury appeal; however a polymer-based fibre would be woven into the fabric so that an electrical charge is maintained.  I assume this would still work for premium leather, cloth materials and a mixture of the two.  When touched, the ability of the fabric to store the charge and feed the message into the software system for the desired outcome still has a little too much fluctuation happening in the laboratory.  However, this is sure to be ironed out as the testing and refining work occurs.

BMW is interested in this technology.  That’s not overly surprising, as BMW has always been a leader in using new technology inside their cars – particularly with their flagship Seven Series cars.  A BMW spokesperson has said that they are looking at this type of technology for future application in their vehicles, so this is a big hint at what we will be seeing in cars of the future.

I can definitely see this type of technology being useful for electronic seat adjustment before the car is moving.  Onboard systems that require a little more precise input might be somewhat of a nightmare to control from the seat fabric; however I’m all for trying out new things.  It may, eventually, be a safer alternative to tap or touch your seat fabric while driving then to take your eyes off the road ahead to adjust something on your dash.  Voice Control (VC) has definitely been a huge leap forward, maybe Seat Of Your Pants Touch Control (SOYPTC) will be another abbreviation to add to my list of new car features!

Here's to Opel!

How many of you know that it’s Opel’s 150th year of celebration?  There are many cars that have recently celebrated 50 and 100 years but these are spring chickens compared with other car makers like Opel.

Opel started off with sewing machines.  They mastered the sewing machine and then moved on to build bicycles.  Go to any Opel manufacturing plant, and you’ll still be able to buy conventional bicycles and electrically powered bicycles from the company’s outlets inside of Germany.

Opel got into building cars around 112 years ago.  In 1899, Adam Opel and his two sons entered into a partnership with Friedrich Lutsmann to produce cars.  In order to build cars, the partnership signed a licensing agreement with Darracq, a French company.  Opel built the body, while Darracq powered the car with their two-cylinder engine.  What did they call the car?  The Opel Darracq, of course!

In 1906, Opel started to build their own cars.  It was in 1909 that Opels 4/8 hp model became known as the “Doctor’s car”.  The small car’s reliability and durability gave it this name as it was a dependable way of getting about.  By the start of World War I, Opel had become Germany’s largest car maker.

Opel has some of the world’s earliest land and speed records for cars.  The 1924 record is, perhaps, the most memorable where Frits von Opel was at the wheel of the “Rakete” – a rocket car.  Opel’s prowess in building rocket engines saw them involved in designing the first manned rocket aircraft.

Between World War I and World War II, Opel became Europe’s largest car manufacturer, a testimony of how well designed and how popular the Opel cars were for their time.  By 1999, Opel had built its 50 millionth vehicle.

Today sees Opel, and its sister brand Vauxhall, actively producing many types of vehicles for over 40 countries around the globe.  In 2010 Opel and Vauxhall sold over 1.1 million passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, enough to gain a 6.2 percent market share in Europe for the year.

Australia has strong links to the Opel car manufacturer.  Over recent decades, Holden has used Opel stock for their range of cars in Australia.  Yes, Holden still relies on Opel/Vauxhall designs.  The Opel Ampera is a stylish medium-sized car with hybrid technology underneath its sleek lines.  The Ampera is derived from the Chevrolet Volt and will soon be sold in Australia as the Holden Volt.

Astra and Vectra models, even some of the Commodore models, have Opel designer’s handy work.  So, when you think about it, Australia’s car world has been strongly influenced by Germany’s successful Opel/Vauxhall brand.

So here’s to Opel.  Happy 150th !

Sat Nav mishap…

Let’s hope the 5 sat navs we are giving away in our Easter competition don’t land the winners in the same sort of trouble as these guys

Most direct route to Straddie

One Bucket Car Wash

A couple of months ago our newsletter looked at how best to clean your car

We completely overlooked another way, and you need only one bucket of water to do it. What’s more, you never need to clean your car again!

Intrigued? Click here to find out how…..

Car Maintenance Every Woman Can Do

You’ve probably seen that joke doing the rounds about the male way of changing the oil versus the female way of changing the oil, where the guy does it himself – with the “help” of a crate of beer or so – while the woman just heads down to the local service station and enjoys a paper and a coffee while someone else does it for her.  This wee script is a good laugh, but it is, of course an exaggeration.  Women can and do car maintenance for themselves, so don’t let any jerk of a mechanic tell you that you can’t.  What’s more, if you know your way around the inside of a car, you’re less likely to be ripped off by said jerky mechanic who thinks “Here’s a woman who knows nothing about cars, so we’ll see what we can get away with telling her needs doing and charge her the earth for it.”

Any woman can benefit from knowing how to do a bit of basic car maintenance, ranging from the penny-pinching mother who wants to save a buck or so by doing everything she can rather than paying for somebody else to do it, through to a professional single woman who wants to prove to her male colleagues that she’s no dumb bimbo, not to mention the country women who are located miles from the nearest service station and don’t have much choice.  You’ve got good authority for working on your car, too.  Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II once trained as a mechanic when she was Princess Elizabeth during World War II (to set a good example to all the other women of England at the time), and a rumour is circulating that once, when the royal Daimler broke down, she had a rummage under the hood for herself, presumably having removed her white kid gloves first.

So what are the basic car maintenance tasks that every woman can do?  In a nutshell, you can do everything the guys can do – except that the average woman probably will find it a little harder to get a big Land Rover or other 4×4 up on the jack to get the tyre off.

  • Change the oil.  If you can unscrew a cap and pour a liquid from a bottle, you can do this one for yourself.
  • Top up the fluids.  Again, this is a case of checking levels, unscrewing lids and pouring the right liquids into the right places.  Not hard and doesn’t require brute strength.  All you have to do is remember to do it.
  • Changing the air filter.  Again, this isn’t hard to do – remembering to do it is the hard part.
  • Changing (and rotating) the tyres.  While getting a flattie in the rain and not knowing what to do turns you into a damsel in distress that might bring along a knight in shining armour on a white horse (probably a Mitsubishi Colt these days or a car with a horse in the logo if you’re very, very lucky), it also makes you vulnerable to jerks who might try claiming a form of compensation for helping you that you really don’t want to give.  You might still get offers of help even if you know what you’re doing, but a cheery “Cheers, mate; I’m all right, thanks,” is a lot more satisfying, and a firm grip on a hefty adjustable spanner is a good deterrent to potential marauders.  Practice changing the tyres by rotating them when you should.  To be on the safe side, limp to a moderately busy road when you pull over to change a flat tyre rather than doing it down an obscure side alley.

The thing that most people find hard about car maintenance is remembering to do it.  But if you’re already managing to schedule kids’ school trips, work deadlines, hairdresser appointments, pet vaccinations and a social life, you already have the systems in place for remembering it – it’s a case of scribbling in “oil change for Suzuki Swift” alongside “Damien’s birthday” or “Worm cats” on your calendar.

What Does This Button Do?

Right.  You’ve read up all the reviews to find out which set of wheels suits you best.  And now you’re down at the car yards and you’re about to take the model you’re interested in for a test drive.  While the basics are the same in all cars – you have the steering wheel in front of you, the gear stick somewhere on your left (unless you’re in a left-hand drive car imported from the US or Europe), the accelerator pedal by your right foot and the foot brake down by your left – the layout of the dashboard and the various controls available to the driver vary from car to car.  One of the things that you’ll be doing while you’re doing that test drive – and in the first week or so of owning your new car – is finding out where all the controls are and what they do. And what do you do first?

Firstly, how do you get into the car and how do you get started?  A lot of new cars these days have Smartkey entry and/or a quick-start function.  Some don’t.  So this will be the first thing that you have to sort out.  However, before you start the car, take a quick look around to see where the handbrake is and where the gear stick is – if you’re test-driving an older car, especially one with a bench seat, you may find these in places you don’t expect.  Next, if you’re driving a manual car, take a moment or two to check how many gears the car has – four, five or six – and where reverse is, as some cars want you to push the gearstick to the far left to get into reverse, while others have it on the far right.  There has been a horror story about a car reviewer (not me!) test driving some very expensive Alfa Romeo sports car and putting the car into reverse rather than sixth gear while at high speed.  Ouch!

OK, so you’ve got started and you’ve backed out successfully – possibly with the help of some rear sensors.  Now to get onto the road.  To get out of the car yard, you’re going to have to use the indicators.  This is where the fun really starts, as some cars have the controls for the lights on the left, while others have them on the right.  Most of us put the windscreen wipers on by mistake at least once during that first test drive if our old car had the indicators on the other side.  Test drives don’t usually take place in the dark, but when you get your new car home and you want to take the family for a spin in the evening, you are you are going to have to find the lights, and you are going to have to work out where high beam is, and how to turn it on and off.

These are the most important things to become familiar with in a new car – the gears, the brake, the indicators and the lights.  But after that, you can start playing with the other odds and ends and finding out how they work.  The last time this writer bought a car (a second-hand Honda Accord), the stereo was high on the priority list for a “what does this button do?” session, closely followed by the climate control (I wanted the air con off to save petrol) , and figuring out how to adjust the seats and the steering wheel to suit, especially as I’ve got a completely different driving position from my other half (a situation where a memory function really helps!).

When you’re taking a car for a test drive, you will be able to ask the salesperson for a bit of help, but it’s once you own the car that you can really become familiar with all the bells and whistles and learn how to make them do what you want.  Have fun while you’re doing it – it’s all part of the thrill of discovering just how good your new car is.