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Archive for October, 2012

Good Times Across the Tasman

What about a trip across the Tasman to see New Zealand in summer?  Kiwis can boast about temperatures being somewhere within the average Aussie’s comfort zone during the summer months.  If you can bear to wrap up warm during the winter months New Zealand is truly a winter wonderland, and is one of the most amazing places you’ll ever see – particularly in the South Island with the snow-capped Southern Alps.

There are always special places to go, and there are always plenty of activities – from white water rafting to multiple night treks that will have you tramping and camping through some of the most untouched, pristine mountainous areas in the world.  And the best thing about the wildlife over in New Zealand is that the sand-fly is about the only creepy-crawly that is likely to cause you any grief, but then there are plenty of tricks that the locals know which manage to keep these beasties at a distance.

Probably, the best and cheapest way to see New Zealand would be to hire a vehicle that suits your budget.  The great thing about car or van hire, is that you’ll pick and choose exactly where you’ll go and what you’ll do each day.  You’ll be seeing New Zealand at your own pace, which will also mean that you’ll meet the friendly locals who, at worst, will only ever give you a friendly ribbing over the last time the All Blacks beat the Wallabies…again.

Most of the great New Zealand sites can be travelled to by car.  Milford Sound is a must see, the glow worms at Te Anau, gorgeous scenery from Roxburgh to Alexandra, The Remarkables, Mt Cook, the Maze at Wanaka, Haast, Fox Glacier, Hanmer Hot Pools, New Zealand’s Hydro dams, the Catlins, Nelson Bay beaches, The West Coast, Punakaiki, The Wild Food Festival, Christchurch’s Botanical Gardens, Hooker Glacier walk… the list goes on, and these are just some of the easy-to-get-to places around the South Island.  Do take a look at Arrowtown in Autumn, and make sure that you ditch the car and travel on the TranzAlpine train for a long weekend away in Greymouth.

Gorgeous autumn colours in Arrowtown, Cebtral Otago.

Senior Citizens looking for cheaper options will find that there are some great savings to be had on travel and accommodation, both in Australia and throughout New Zealand.  If you qualify for a Seniors Card from your state government here in Australia, then most Seniors Cards can now also be used for concessions when visiting New Zealand.  Holders of Australian Seniors Cards are now able to access the same discounts as holders of New Zealand’s SuperGold cards, when travelling across the Tasman.

If you love driving, there are some of the great new cars available for hire at the bigger rental car businesses.  New Zealand is one of the easiest and friendliest getaways for an Australian to make.

Misogynists Among Motorists

Private Fleet are in the midst of undertaking a Consumer Attitudes Survey.
It is early days yet, but we’ve already uncovered some fascinating facts and opinions.

Misogynists Among Motorists

One question asked respondents a fairly open opinion on their likes and dislikes. Nearly 80 percent of our respondents so far are male (so ladies, we want your entries too), but of these, nearly twenty percent listed female motorists as their major dislike!

Of particular dislike is the young female P plater.
All comments are given anonymously yet there is a clear trend evident with comments such as
“ Young female drivers seem to drive too fast”
Or
“Young women speed to excess, with scant regard for others”
Or
“Young female drivers, often on P plates tend to be the worst (most aggressive, risk taking, impatient).”

But young females are not the only target of female criticism. Curiously more than one respondent had noted ‘Asian women driving Volvos” as their pet hate.

So does this mean that the Australian motorist is not just a women hater but racist, too? Well, we hope not as it’s early days, and we need a significant sample to confirm these early suspicions, but we’ll keep you posted.

So what other major concerns have been noted to date?

Keeping Left.

A regular criticism is of those drivers who habitually ignore the ‘Keep Left’ signs, hogging the right hand lanes or even the centre lanes of motorways when the inner lanes are vacant, particularly when driving at less than the legal limit.
A typical comment is:-
“Drivers in Australia are a disgrace, including the trucking industry. In Europe and UK the driving is orderly, trucks STAY in the inside lane except when overtaking, then return to the inside lane and you never see them on the outside lane. Cars only overtake on the outside (never on the inside) and do not hog the outside lane. In fact if they see a car approaching in the rear view mirror they move over straight away “

Tailgating

Another frequent comment and criticism is the way cars keep too close to the car in front of them, particularly when being driven by young people.

“ I hate tailgaters” is a common sentiment among respondents.

Other dishonourable mentions go to excess speed, too many speed restrictions/road signs, impatient drivers, elderly drivers and more.
As we said, it’s early days for the survey, which covers other factors, too. So if you haven’t yet completed the survey, why don’t you do so now?

It will only take a minute or two (average completion time is 1m 20 secs), and it will be a valuable contribution towards understanding driver sentiments and motivations.

What Drives Your Car?

Today’s motorist is spoilt for choice. Front or rear wheel drive, constant or on-demand four wheel drive, dual range etc.etc., are all available from many makers.
It all started with rear wheels being the ones that transmitted the power to the road. Then Citroen, always a lateral thinker, introduced a front wheel drive car in the 1930’s. Four wheel drive cars do, in fact, date back even further  – to 1899! But they weren’t really recognized until the Jeep of the Second World War, and from then on this multiple choice became commonplace.
So, if you buy a new car today we can be thoroughly confused by choice, and that means we need to be informed, so let’s look at what the differences are and what could be best for you.

Two Wheel Drive – Front or Rear.

The vast majority of cars are driven by two wheels only, and that should be more than adequate for the vast majority of uses.
But there is still a choice – the front two wheels driving the car, or the rear two wheels doing likewise.
Most cars now are front wheel drive- and for good reasons. They cost less to make, save space in the passenger cabin (there’s no need to provide room for a hefty drive shaft to go from the front engine to the rear wheels) and they offer weight savings, which give marginally more economical (but crucial to marketing) fuel consumption.
They also handle better – or, at least, more predictably, with less likelihood of wheel spin and loss of traction. This is less important today as most cars come equipped with some form of traction control.
There are some drawbacks, however. When you test drive a front wheel drive car you need to test it under hard acceleration to see if it suffers from ‘torque steer’, which is where the car is less likely to respond to your steering input under heavy acceleration. This was an early problem, but, again, traction control has had a curative effect.
You’ll also notice a difference under hard cornering, but you need to be driving pretty enthusiastically to notice this difference!
The more traditional rear wheel drive still rules the roost with the larger saloons, where the front end engine weight can reduce the driver control of front wheel drive cars. It’s also favoured by sports car driving types who like to control cornering with the steering wheel. If you are towing a lot then rear wheel is also preferable to front wheel (but both are eclipsed here by four wheel drive).

Four Wheel Drive and All Wheel Drive

So what’s the difference between four wheel and all wheel drive? Officially nothing. History tells us they mean the same thing, but some manufacturers have tried to create a difference for marketing reasons.
In their eyes four wheel drive vehicles are those that are driven by all four wheels, often with an ability to switch to two wheels or low range four wheel drive, whereas all wheel drive vehicles are seen as those that are constant four wheel drive. But just to complicate things, others say that all wheel drive is reserved for those vehicles- mainly military, that have more than four all driven wheels!
But then other countries will define four wheel and all wheel drive differences differently again!.
So we’ll ignore the different definitions and look at the different types.

Permanent Four Wheel Drive

Some passenger cars have permanent four wheel drive, such as Subaru and Audi Quattro. All four wheels are being powered all the time, irrespective of conditions.
They have a big advantage in difficult road conditions such as rain, snow and ice as they are less susceptible to wheel spin and loss of control. That’s because power, and therefore too much power (which causes wheelspin), is spread amongst four wheels, not just two. This provides quicker, smoother and safer acceleration and braking, though again, with modern traction control and anti slip sensors, the advantages over two wheel drive cars are reduced. On the other hand, they are more expensive to make, are more complicated, and suffer somewhat in the fuel consumption stakes.

On Demand Four Wheel Drive.

The old idea of ‘on demand” was when the driver wanted to switch from 2 wheel drive to 4 wheel drive he’d press a switch- and often that would mean getting out of the car and changing a couple of lock nuts on the front wheels. Things have progressed since then, to a point now, where, with some vehicles, the computer takes complete control. Sensors can detect the ‘slip potential’ and bring in extra drive to wheels not currently employed, so that slip or skidding is avoided. This means that the vehicle can automatically switch from 2 to 4 wheel drive as driving conditions change. Generally 4 wheel drive is less fuel efficient, so such a switching feature helps improve fuel consumption.

Four Wheel Drive and Low Range

Here we’re talking about the more specialist ‘off road’ vehicles that are specifically designed for challenging terrains. Most are also quite capable of normal tarmac travel, but, if you want to go off the highway, these are the vehicle most suited. Again they can be constant all wheel drive, and then be equipped with ‘low range’ which is an additional gearbox that allows the vehicle to tackle extreme conditions that you won’t be confronted with on main road travel.

 

Traction Advances

The benefits and drawbacks of all of these traction systems are now being muddied by the advances in traction control and corner sensors. Some more sophisticated systems are already moving power from corner to corner, side to side and front to back to ensure both maximum grip and maximum economy, and it will only be a matter of time before these systems, currently the domain of expensive all (or four) wheels drives filter down the line.

Big Bruisers

I wonder which of the big 4×4 bruisers you’d rather be seen in.  I mean we are spoilt for choice when it comes to competent off-roaders that are, more often than not, seen on the smooth streets of Australia’s main cities.  Unless you have a reason to bush-bash, I bet you rarely take the mud grips off-road; or am I being a little bit presumptuous?  Anyhow, of the go-bush 4x4s, which are the ones you would be rather be seen driving?

Are you going to want the showy-off Discos, Rangies and Lexus LXs for cruising the streets at night and taking the in-laws to the biggest shopping complex in the CBD?  I can see the value in these premium brands.  Who wouldn’t want to impress others and offer a great night on the town in one of the most luxurious 4x4s around?  Aside from the fact that they carry all the hardware for conquering Uluru, these are the vehicles that are sumptuous, proud and cocooned in leather.  They’ll sooth every occupant’s whims, soak up the bumps and drive over the top of the poor sod in front who may dare to be in your way.  Satellite navigation is available on these models to get you from the coffee shop to the rest room, while parking is care-free – with all the latest Park Assist technology.  Park Assist is a feature that tells everybody in the back seat that you have no idea where the corners of the big Rangie are – and even if you did, you wouldn’t be able to manoeuvre yourself out of a paper bag!

Cayennes, X5s and Q7 V12s are the 4×4 performance machines that, though they may look impressively large and muscle bound, are left dragging the chain in any serious off-road excursion.  Yes, they can hit 100 km/h from a standstill in under 6 seconds.  Yes, they look impressive, and often offer luxury features to mimic a Rangie.  And, yes, they are 4WD.  But take them to Uluru, and they are like a fish out of water.  I still want one, though!

Then there’s the Land Cruisers, and Patrols – and I’ll throw in the Pajeros and Hiluxs.  They’re never quite a luxo match to the snobby Rangies or LXs, but they do know what mud is.  Built with the Outback in mind, a trip to the top of Uluru and beyond is a walk in the park for these rugged beasties.  I won’t let the Land Rover marque down here, as I reckon the Defender is one of the most rugged 4×4 machines you’ll find anywhere.  This is the iconic off-road workhorse that can run with any of the Patrols and Land Cruisers to the other side of the globe, the long way!

I know I haven’t mentioned every 4×4 around.  And, if you’re offended, then you are probably as fond of 4x4s as I am.  There’s nothing quite like them.  Big 4x4s can do pretty much anything: from running the errands to heading off to the CBD, from bouncing over the curb to taking half the cricket team to the next State.  And, if you choose carefully, your 4×4 might just get you over the top of Ayers Rock.

It’s all about taste, anyhow.  Don’t you think?  4x4s – you either love them or hate them.

 

Top Ten Phone Apps

“Hey! Give me my phone- I want to park my car!”

Smart phone apps now number in the tens of thousands, some brilliant, some not so good and some awful! Several phone apps are now on the market for the motorist, and again, some good, some not. We’ve taken a long look at these and come up with some of the best, such as one app that parks your car for you! See if you agree.

PARKING APPS

 1. ‘Park4U’

The most stunning of the lot is the ‘Park4U’ app. It lets you use your iPhone to park your car whilst you’re not even in it! It’s not a dream, it works and it’s here now-but there’s a catch.
Here’s a video of it in operation, so you can see for yourself it’s not dreamworld.
Now isn’t that brilliant? Particularly appropriate for tight spaces, eh? But the catch is that it only works with cars that have assisted parking as an option, cars like certain Audi and VW models, most of which are not yet available in Australia.

 

 2. “When and Where’ and the BMW parking app.

‘Damn, overstayed and got a parking ticket!’. ‘Gee, can’t remember where I left the car!’
Has this happened to you? Well, it needn’t happen again if you download either of these apps. Both have a timer that you can set, and they shriek a reminder for you when time is almost up. They can also locate your car-even in a multi story car park, providing you have your GPS enabled on your phone. Check out these and others at your app store.

3. ‘Parkmate’

There are several apps on the market that locate local parking stations and even free spots roadside. One of the best is ‘Parkmate’. It’s free, does not seem to be aligned to any particular parking station owner, will browse for parking locations by operating hours, and gives details of local attractions or special rates. Its only obvious drawback is that it does not cover every town in Australia, but does cater for ‘major cities’.

4. ‘Park Patrol’

Park Patrol sends alerts to smart phone users when a parking officer is patrolling near their car-and local councils say there is nothing they can do about it!. It works by user support, but that can be a drawback. Each user sends in a report when they see a parking attendant. The server then cross checks and verifies the information and sends out the alert to all users who have registered as parking in that neighbourhood, and are located within 200m of the approaching parking officer. But that means it is totally dependent on user input, so, if there are few users on the system at any one time, alerts can be missed and you have suffered from a false sense of security.

MONEY SAVING APPS

5. ‘Gasbag’

There are numerous ‘fuel price apps’ available, but one of the best known is ‘Gasbag’ and that’s a double advantage, because they are all dependent on feedback from users, so the one that works best is the one with the biggest subscriber base that gives the most accurate feedback. Gasbag claims to identify the cheapest fuel in town at any one time. So you can decide whether you want to travel x kms to save y cents per litre.
Another popular fuel saver app is  ‘Fill My Tank’, and is also dependent on user input. Sadly we couldn’t locate one that is provided by the fuel retailers!

6. NRMA Car Inspector.

This great little app can help you save money when you are choosing a new car, as well as comparing respective safety features. It’s free (you can download it from www.nrma.com.au) . There is extensive information about each vehicle you nominate and it can compare two vehicles at the same time for aspects such as fuel consumption, estimated annual fuel usage, safety and anti theft ratings and more.

SAFETY APPS

7. ‘Vlingo’

Android users will love ‘Vlingo’- similar to iPhone’s Siri. It’s a virtual assistant voice recognition that could mean that you will never be caught illegally using your phone in your car for texting, talking or checking out info. It’s not perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over getting caught using your phone in your car.

8. Driving Test Apps

Most state governments offer iPhone apps to help learners mug up on theory. There are also some private sellers, but be careful to check the reviews first, as some are not good (with little ‘random variance’ in the questions asked), but others claim to be much better than the official apps. Make sure the app is relevant to the state you live in, as some road rules vary from state to state.

 

FUN AND ENTERTAINMENT


9. ‘Australian Road Trip’

This is a great app for the traveller, offering a range of travel trips, accommodation, eateries, scenic routes and much more, covering all states. It claims to feature more than 350 entries and nearly 3000 photos. Available from your app store and well worth the $4.99 purchase price.

10. iBoost

Be part of the dream of being a supercar owner with this fun app. IBoost is the no.1 entertainment app in Japan apparently, and it innocuously transforms your little shopping runabout into a V8 supercar- at least as far as engine noise is concerned. Don’t worry about the noise police as it only transmits the sound effect inside your car! Great fun, particularly when shuffling along at snails pace in traffic.

 

So, that’s our top ten. There are probably hundreds more that deserve a mention, covering anything from car tuning through speed and camera alerts to points of interest and so much more. What are your favourite motoring apps? Have you tried any of the above? If so let us know below.

Postscript:- we introduced this article with a stunning parking app- in contrast have a look at ‘The ” here.

 

Tyre-oglyphics

If you’re new to the world of motoring or if, up until now, you’ve been one of those people who has changed tyres the lazy way (going to the mechanic and saying “Put another set on, mate.”), you might never have looked at the tyres closely. If you do crouch down beside them to wash them or whatever, you might notice a string of letters and numbers that look as though the cat has been walking on the computer keyboard. Something along the lines of 251hggggggggggggggggggggggggl (that wasn’t on the side of a tyre – that actually was the cat). Now, these numbers aren’t just put on there for the fun of it, to decorate the tyres or to give the blokes and blokesses who make and change the tyres something to look at. They’re to let you know important facts about your tyre.

 

Confession time: until quite recently, this writer was one of those lazy people when it came to changing tyres, and it was something that the other half took care of. I was more like Mr Bean in “Mr Bean’s Holiday”, where the word “Dunlop” on the tyre of Sabine’s Mini was about all he could recognize in a welter of gobbledegook. I had a code to learn and to decipher. The code isn’t that hard, really, once you have a sort of Rosetta Stone to help you learn the ancient secrets of tyre-oglyphics.

 

This code is used to decipher ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) codes. As they’re international, you don’t have to get a new Rosetta Stone to decipher the tyreoglyphics for cars that have been imported. We’d all go mad if we had to do that and might even consider going back to bicycles, except they have codes on their tyres, too.

 

The first bit of the code is a letter. This indicates the sort of vehicle you should put the tyre on. The letter that most readers will have on their car tyres is P, which stands for passenger vehicle. However, if you have put on the space-saver tyre and haven’t bothered to change it to a real one after getting a flattie (bad idea but at least some manufacturers, such as Volvo, don’t compromise your safety for a bit of extra boot space and don’t give you these), you will see T for temporary, meaning that you’re only supposed to use it to limp to the mechanics. If you see ST, you’ve got a Special Trailer tyre and if you see LT, you’ve got a Light Truck tyre.

 

The second bit of the code is also fairly easy to understand. This consists of three letters in front of a slash (/). This gives you the tyre’s full width in millimetres, measured at the widest point. No worries there.

 

After the slash, it gets a wee bit harder and some bits are optional. First of all, you’ll get the tyre’s aspect ratio, which is a two-digit number, as it’s a percentage. The aspect ratio of a tyre is the sidewall height divided by the width. This number can be left out, in which case the aspect ratio is 82% (the % sign gets left off the tyreoglyphics).

 

Then you might get another letter that shows how the tyre has been made. This will give you an indication of how the tyre handles on the road. Here, B is for Bias Belt, D is for Diagonal and R is for Radial. If you don’t see a letter in this part of the tyreoglyphics, then the tyre is a good old cross-ply.

 

After this, you get the diameter of the tyre, which is very straightforward apart from one thing: it’s in inches. You’d think that in these days when nearly every country of the world except for the USA uses metrics for everything that we’d be using millimetres or centimetres to measure tyre diameters. However, like TV screens and certain parts of the male anatomy, tyre diameter sticks with inches, and in two cases out of three, the general rule is that the big ones are the luxurious versions. Take a look at any vehicle that has a luxury variant or a sporty upgrade on the bog-standard type: chances are that the posh version has bigger tyres. For example, the basic Opel Corsa has 15-inch tyres, the Opel Corsa Colour has 16-inch tyres and the sports upgrade has 17-inches.

 

Then you get into the really hard bits. After the diameter, you’ll find a two-digit code indicating the load index, which indicates the maximum load (weight) that the tyre can carry. However, the ISO haven’t done anything as sensible as making this number equal the weight in kilos or even pounds. A mathematician could probably find the formula that links a weight of 280 kg (or 620 pounds) to the figure of 64 and all the rest of it. But for the rest of us who aren’t maths professors, there’s nothing to do but to learn the codes or look them up. You can find load index tables online really easily: here’s one.

 

After the load index, you get the speed index, which is another code. The speed index tells you the maximum speed you can go when the tyre is carrying the maximum load. This is coded as a letter and is a bit easier to wrap your head around. At first glance, it looks easy, but there’s a few quirks. If you have a tyre with A on the side (unlikely these days), it’ll have a number after the letter: A1 means the maximum speed is 5 km/h, A2 means 10 km/h and so forth up to A8 meaning 40 km/h. So far, so good. B is 50 km/h and C is 60 km/h, but D isn’t what you would expect and is 65 km/h while E is 70 km/h. The rest of the alphabet progresses more or less normally, going up a letter for every 10 km/h, except that I has been left out because it looks like a one and the person who wrote this code decided that H, W and Y need to go where you don’t usually see them. H goes between U and V, and indicates a maximum speed of 210 km/h. W comes after Z and indicates 270 km/h and Y comes last of all and indicates 300 km/h. If you see a set of parentheses around the W or the Y, it means that you can go over these speeds, so (W) means you can go over 270 km/h and (Y) means you’re a race driver who can go over 300 km/h.

 

This just scratches the surface of tyreoglypics, and there are other odds and ends you can find on your tyre, including codes to say that this particular tyre is approved by, say, Mitsubishi and Toyota (MZ). But that thing with the letters and numbers with a slash in the middle is the really important one. Ask your mechanic about the rest.