As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

blog

Shock Absorbers And the Boing-Oing-Oing-Oing Factor

We kind of take our suspension systems and our shock absorbers for granted.  We don’t tend to think about them too much until that time that the mechanic sucks in his cheeks, shakes his head and says “Your shocks are just about gone, mate and you’re going to replace them at a cost of $oodles a pop.” (Apologies for inadvertent sexism but where are all the female grease monkeys?)

However, if you remember back to the days of riding home-made go-karts, a basic skateboard or (I won’t tell on you) the trailer, you probably know why cars and vehicles in general are fitted with suspension systems. Without suspension, you feel all the bumps in the road. Every. Single. One. While this is great fun when you’re a kid riding in the trailer and getting bumped up and down, it’s not so much fun for longer trips and certainly doesn’t do your spine any good at all. It doesn’t do any good to anything delicate you’re transporting, such as eggs, or if you’re trying to take a blancmange or sloppy chili con carne to a potluck dinner.

The full suspension system involves the wheels (pneumatic tyres), the springs, the shock absorbers and the links. Describing all of this and all of its variations would take ages and could take up several posts, so we’re going to talk about the part that does a lot of work that you might not realise: the shock absorbers.

Contrary to what you might think from the name, a shock absorber doesn’t have the job of soaking up the jolting, bouncing and jouncing that comes from hitting a bump. That’s the job of the springs. What the shock absorbers do is control the harmonic oscillation. That’s a long and rather technical term for what we’re going to call the boing-oing-oing-oing factor.

Although some of the springs in your vehicle’s suspension don’t look like Slinky Springs, mattress springs or trampoline springs, they are still springs and behave like any other spring. (For those interested, the weird ones we see in vehicles are usually leaf springs.)  Now, when you stretch a spring then let it recoil, which is what happens when your car goes over a bump, what happens? If you can find a handy trampoline or Slinky, you can try this out for yourself. (Don’t try this on the hair of a curly-haired person unless you want to absorb the shock of a slap in the face. What’s more, hair tends to be self-damping unless its gelled like crazy.).  Subject the spring to a sudden extension then let it compress by tying something to the end of the Slinky then letting it bounce out, or by letting yourself bounce down onto your bottom on the trampoline. What happens?

What happens is that unless you act to stop it (technically known as damping), you get the boing-oing-oing-oing factor. After you’ve bounced down on that trampoline, you’ll get bounced back up again, or the weight on the end of the Slinky will bob up and down. The initial boing will result in lots of oing-oing-oings, with each oing getting smaller.

Now, in a car, you want the initial boing as you go over a bump. What you don’t want is the oing-oing-oing, as this is downright uncomfortable as well as terrible for the handling.  Vibrations aren’t good for the human body if they go on for some time (stop sniggering!). To stop the oing-oing-oing as the spring continues to vibrate after the initial shock, the vibration needs to be damped. This is the job of the shock absorbers. They’re actually dampers, which is nothing to do with that bush barbecue favourite consisting of flour and water wrapped around a stick and baked over hot coal.

Shock absorbers take the kinetic energy of the oing-oing-oing and turn it into some other form, usually heat energy, via friction. This is usually done by using the force of the oing-oing-oing to shove oil from one compartment to another through tiny holes either between an inner tube and an outer tube (the twin-tube system) or from one end of a tube to another (the monotube system).  This sounds weird but it works.  Think of a syringe or a cake icing gizmo.

Of course, there’s a price to be paid for anything and I don’t just mean what you fork over to the mechanic every once in a while. With any system of shock absorbers and suspension, you have to trade off comfort versus handling. On the one hand, a super soft and completely damped suspension irons out all the bumps beautifully but handling is compromised – too soft and the wheels start dancing all over the place and lose grip.  On the other hand, if you want the handling to be crisp and a bit of extra grip and road feel during cornering, you pay for this with extra bouncing. The stickier the liquid inside the shocks and the smaller the hole it has to go through, the stiffer it is. To use the cake icing analogy again, think of the effort it takes to push really sticky icing through a narrow nozzle for a very fine line.  This takes a lot of force on your part, and if this was your damper (shock absorber), you would have super stiff, sporty suspension.  Use a wider nozzle (for fancy star shapes) or make the icing runnier, and it splurts out really quickly.  That’s comfort suspension.

The designers of modern cars are smart enough to know that you can’t please all the people all the time, and that people are not likely to buy one car for when they want to have a smooth ride and another for when they want performance. This is why they’ve now come up with adjustable suspension systems that allow you, the driver, to pick what you want when you want it.

The older systems of adjustable suspension did this by allowing you to make the holes (which are called apertures or orifices to make them sound fancy) in the damper tube big or small.  Not a bad system as far as it went. These got fancier as time went by with sensors that adjusted the hole size depending on how bumpy the road was and how stiff you needed the handling.

The one drawback of the hole-size-based systems is that they were comparatively slow to react to the situation. After all, the signal had to get from the road to the sensor to the apertures, which then had to move from A to B. The designers decided it would be much quicker and better for handling and comfort combined if you could somehow make the liquid inside the shocks thinner or thicker depending on what you want.  Although heating would make the liquid thinner (it does this anyway), this would be even slower and cooling for a stiffer suspension would take longer still.

Enter magnetorheological fluid (called MRF by designers). This combines oil with easily magnetised particles. OK, it’s oil chock full of iron filings because iron, as we all know, is attracted by magnets.  This is fun stuff – even iron filings by themselves are a lot of fun to play with if you have a magnet, and the more powerful the magnet, the thicker and stickier the clump of iron filings gets.  This video explains how it works:

 

And that’s exactly what happens in a magnetic shock absorber. If you remember your high school physics, which is probably where you got to play with magnets and iron filings, you may recall that any suitable iron rod wrapped with enough twists of copper wire becomes a magnet when current goes through the wires. The more current, the stronger the magnetic field.

Now, how quickly does it take electrical impulses to go from A to B? Hardly any time at all. This means that an active magnetic suspension system will detect what’s going on with the road surface, the speed, how fast and hard you’re cornering and all those other factors that contribute to handling, and will increase or reduce the current going through the coils in a magnetic shock system almost instantaneously. This means that the fluid in the shocks becomes hard or soft as needed.

Designs for magnetic dampers are being worked on all over the globe and should be able to move from more luxury vehicles (such as the Cadillacs and Ferraris that had it early on in the picture) to common everyday vehicles.  The boffins will have to work out how the increased energy needs will work in electrical vehicles, but regenerative braking and harvesting the energy absorbed by the shocks themselves will go some way towards this.

The response speed isn’t the only advantage that the new magnetic systems have over the hole-based ones. Wires don’t wear out as quickly, whereas moving parts do, as we all know.

Speaking of moving parts wearing out, you can use the boing-oing-oing-oing factor as a test when you are checking out a second-hand car.  Shove down as hard as you can on the back end without denting the boot. If you get an oing-oing-oing after your initial boing, the shocks are shot. Walk away and look at another vehicle – or start having a chat to the team here at Private Fleet – if you want to avoid the mechanic with the sucked in cheeks and the shaking head.

 

Why Driverless Technology In Cars Isn’t The Same As Autopilot Systems In Planes

One of the more interesting and exciting developments in the world of automotive technology these days is all the research into autonomous cars (aka driverless cars or self-driving cars). They’re really trying hard to develop these and get them working. In fact, one recent news report claimed that Volvo is looking for 100 volunteers from the industry’s home town of Gothenburg to commute to work for a year in prototype driverless cars – along a selected route that don’t have bikes, pedestrians or snow. That last factor might be a bit of a challenge in Sweden: Gothenburg may have a warm climate compared to the rest of Sweden but still gets an average of 10 snowy days per month during December and January, snowfalls possible from November to April, and had a record number of snowy days in 2016.

The drive (ha ha) behind driverless cars is to eliminate one of the main causes of accidents: human error. Humans make dumb decisions, forget the road code, have attention that wanders or gets distracted, get tired and get frazzled. Humans also like drinking alcohol. Computers don’t get drunk, etc. so the thinking is that if you can get a computer to take over a lot of the decision-making with a system that can calculate distances and speeds precisely, never forgets the highway code, doesn’t get tired and doesn’t start planning dinner in the middle of the commute. Therefore, a car that uses automated systems will be safer, as the human error is eliminated.

The standard comparison is to autopilot systems in planes, which have been in use for quite some time.

The Road Isn’t The Sky

OK, let’s just stop and think about that.  Although autopilot systems have been standard in most passenger aircraft since at least the 1930s (using an analogue system rather than computerised), the main idea in autopilot systems is, according to the FAA, designed to “significantly reduce workload during critical phases of flight”, not eliminate the workload of the pilot altogether. It can be turned on and off as the pilot wishes, kind of like cruise control.  The big fat FAA manual for general aviation (that’s the basic flying licence level) contains guidelines on when NOT to use autopilot.  Planes with autopilot function are not “pilotless planes”. Yes, drones exist, but they’re usually kept for missions you don’t want to send people on. If a drone crashes, that’s annoying. If a plane crashes with people on board… you get the picture.

What’s more, the air isn’t as busy a place as the road. Go to even the world’s busiest airport (Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, USA) and you’ll see an average of about 2.4 thousand aircraft movements (takeoffs and landings) per day.  The world’s busiest road (Ontario Highway 41 in Ontario, Canada) sees 500,000 vehicles per day go through on average. Do a simple test if you’ve got a spare day (don’t we all wish!) and pick an intersection near an airport. Count the planes going in and out, and count the number of vehicles going through the intersection, and you’re guaranteed to count more cars than planes, unless you’ve selected a tiny little airstrip in the Outback.

The sky also doesn’t have the equivalent of intersections. The closest pilots get to an intersection would be an airport. During takeoffs and landings, the pilot (and probably the co-pilot) is on full alert. What’s more, the issues to do with who gives way to whom and when the pilot can enter the “intersection” is handled by the ATC (air traffic controller), who has probably been in radio contact with all pilots approaching the airport and has had received all the flight plans about what’s going to land and take off earlier in the day. This does not happen at your nearest roundabout or traffic lights.

Driving a car also requires negotiating more intersections. In a plane, the pilot sets the autopilot function to navigate and steer, and the plane can go in a straight line, more or less, to where the pilot wants to go.  This doesn’t involve turning left in 200 metres, then taking the second intersection to the right, then along the one-way system until the next set of lights and turning left, then carrying on to the roundabout and…  well, you get the picture. This means that there’s less for the autopilot to do: it will make sure the heading is right, use gyroscopes to correct for any imbalances and get the attitude and altitude right.

Admittedly, there are more things that a plane’s autopilot function has to take care of, thanks to things like stall speed (go too slow and the plane will fall out of the sky), yaw, pitch, roll and thrust. The autopilot also handles some navigation issues via GPS and checks the altitude. However, these are mostly issues that are internal to the plane. Taking care of external things, such as coping with changing winds and weather, is the job of the pilot.  In a vehicle, we’ve already got electronic stability control packages and nobody thinks of those in discussions of driverless cars. However, what a driverless car would need to handle is mostly external to the car: oncoming vehicles and the like.

Our roads contain pedestrians, bikes and animals. These are not governed by computer algorithms and will do things that autonomous technology can’t predict. Detect, yes. Slow down for, yes. Predict, no. This is also a problem for pilots and is one that autopilot can’t do much about. Not that there are bikes and people whizzing about up in the flight paths but there are birds. Bird strikes are some of the major hazards of flying – if you remember about 10 years ago with that incident of a big passenger plane having to do an emergency landing in New York’s Hudson River, it was a collision with a goose that made things go to custard.

Pilots have to stay alert when flying. No pilot relies entirely on the autopilot all the time – just some of the time.  The pilot is always responsible for what happens. In addition, on longer flights, there is a second person or even a third ready to take over responsibility if the pilot has been on alert for too long. Pilots are in radio contact with other pilots along the route, plus the control tower(s), so everybody knows where everybody else is.  It’s not the same on the road.

So what’s the moral of all this?  In my opinion, our image of sitting back playing Angry Birds and sipping a latte while the vehicle takes us from our homes to work has to go when we think of driverless cars.  Even if the car has good enough sensors and navigation to get you around that corner at the right speed, and can remember the give way rules for you and gun into a gap at the roundabout, the driver will still have to be on the alert to take over if things don’t quite go to plan or if the unexpected happens.  Autonomous systems should be there to help and back up the driver and reduce workload, not take over from the driver completely. If you want the Angry-Birds-and-latte experience, take the bus or carpool so you get your turn at being the passenger.

French Flavour

France is, perhaps, best known for the Tour de France, fine wines, cheeses, romance and nice comfortable, stylish cars.  Did you know that French cars are hugely popular in Europe and are a major player in France’s economy?  Producing around 1 million vehicles each year, France’s car manufacturing businesses employ over 75,000 people.  The French know how to make cars with a unique and distinctive style.  Many design awards have been given to both Peugeot and Citroen cars.

Citroen has a number of very classy vehicles.  Providing both passenger vehicles and vans, Citroen has a model for most market segments.  Kicking it all off is the Citroen DS3, a performance hatch with hot looks and a great engine.  Featuring direct petrol injection and a turbocharger, the e-THP 160 motor develops a maximum power of 121 kW at 6000 rpm and 240 Nm of torque between 1400-and-4000 rpm.  This is a similar size to a new Mini, providing loads of style inside and out, while being quite cheap to run and enjoyable to drive via a slick six-speed gearbox.

Citroen DS3

Citroen C4 models are elegant (although calling the C4 Cactus elegant would be doubtful) and cover the mid-size hatch, people mover and cross over vehicle segments.  These are roomy, comfortable vehicles that are extremely efficient and provide both diesel and petrol versions.  The Grand C4 Picasso is one of the best people movers in the medium people moving segment.  Very luxurious, stylish and safe, it’s a great way to travel in small groups.

Citroen C4 Picasso

Citroen C5 models are the large hatchback models that have standout exterior and interior design.  Always good to look at, comfortable to drive and very well equipped, the Citroen C5 and C5 Tourer (station wagon version) are a dream to drive – particularly over the long haul.

Citroen C5

Peugeot cars are probably the better known French car down under.  Like Citroen, Peugeot cars are highly successful with their entries in the WRC championship, and with repeated victories at Dakar, Pikes Peak and Le Mans, Peugeot cars are engineered for high performance.  Offered in the new line-up of Peugeot cars on sale in Australia are some very quick and agile cars that come in the form of the 208 GTi, and 308 GTi.   The 200 kW power output for the 308 GTi comes from a high-pressure 1.6-litre turbo engine that delivers 330 Nm of torque.  Limited slip-differential and adjustable suspension settings make for a very accurate and fast car over any road.

Peugeot 308 GTi

There are some other striking new Peugeot cars on sale in Australia and these include the: other versions of the smallest new Peugeot 208 and the slightly larger Peugeot 308.  SUV options are available in the form of the Peugeot 2008 and 4008.  Big touring prowess comes from the very nice looking, roomy Peugeot 508 and Peugeot 508 Touring models.  These cars are refined at high speed and very comfortable and modern inside the cabin.

Peugeot 4008

Peugeot 508 Touring

Very close to arriving in Australia is the big SUV known as the Peugeot 5008 with a panoramic sunroof, loads of luxury and technology, and good handling.  Private Fleet love selling cars and we’ve had a long affinity with selling Peugeot cars to new car buyers.

Peugeot 5008

New Renault cars are very safe and comfortable cars to drive.  You can buy a new Megane Hatch for a competitive price and enjoy the car’s responsive and efficient engines, comfortable seats and five-star safety.

Renault Megane Hatch

Check out the new Renault Koleos design and be impressed with the upmarket design, large interior (especially in the rear seats) and strong engine and dynamics.  Both 4×2 and 4×4 versions are available for the new SUV, and it will handle Australia roads very well.

Renault Koleos

On the lookout for a nice small car to run around in, then the Renault Clio is a zippy, comfortable drive.

Renault Clio

Master, Trafic and Kangoo are names given to a fine range of Renault vans built for work.  The Renault Master is one of the best drives on the market with a huge load carrying capacity and modern array of technological features.

Renault Master

Renault Megane R.S models are the best hot hatches around.  These are very quick cars in a straight line and around corners making them hugely entertaining cars to drive.  Engine output is around 200 kW and 360 Nm of torque.

Renault Megane R.S

Keep your eyes and hears on alert for the new range Renault Z.E electric vehicles.  The small Renault Zoe is the top selling electric model, and global sales of the electric city car achieved 50,000 units in June 2016.  The Renault Fluence Z.E is a nice, sporty looking electric vehicle that might prove appealing to the driving enthusiast.

Renault Zoe Z.E

Renault Fluence ZE

Renault’s involvement with Nissan is a good thing and the combined efforts has benefited both parties very well.  Most new Renaults come with a comprehensive 5 year/unlimited km warranty on new vehicles.

The French love the better things in life, and maybe a French drive might add something more to your daily drive…

 

Six Myths About Electric And Hybrid Cars

#1: Electric Vehicles Put A Huge Drain On The National Grid

OK, there’s no denying that if you’re plugging in an electric car to recharge its batteries, you’re going to use electricity, which means that someone has to generate it.  It’s also true that if there’s too much demand on the national grid all at once, then there’ll be problems with “brown-outs” (signalled by lights dipping and flickering when the new load comes on the scene – those who have lived in off-the-grid houses will know all about this).  Notice those key words “all at once”?  The amount of power demanded by electric vehicles – at least at this stage – is peanuts compared to the demand of air conditioning in summer in the middle of the day, especially during a super-hot summer like the one we’ve been having.  In the USA, electric vehicles only account for 10% of the electricity demand. If everybody tried to (a) turn on their air-conditioning in the home and (b) charge their vehicles all at the same time, then yes, this would put too much of a load on the national grid.  The answer?  Charge your vehicle during off-peak times in the evenings and overnight when industry isn’t calling for as much power and air-conditioning systems aren’t working so hard.

#2: Electric Vehicles Haven’t Got Much Range

Some people are reluctant to purchase an electric vehicle because they have mental images of being stranded in the middle of nowhere with a dead battery and no way to recharge it.  It’s true that if you regularly drove long expanses of open road in the middle of nowhere, you could get yourself in a mess.  However, most of us aren’t driving around the Outback or around the farm on a regular daily basis: most of us are driving around the city. Most electric cars have a decent range of at least 100 km and some have a lot more.  The typical city commute tends to be shorter than this – a lot shorter.  Even if you live in a dormitory suburb.  On top of this, the 100-km range is at the lower end of battery life and ranges for electric cars these days.  The technology is improving as well, and some of the big names in electric vehicles (Tesla, Chevrolet and Nissan) are scheduled to release EVs that can get well over 300 km per charge.

#3: Electric Vehicles Are Expensive Luxury Items

This one is not quite a myth and not quite the truth.  Yes, electric vehicles have a certain cachet and the early examples had quite a large price ticket.  Some still do, especially the fully electric vehicles (as opposed to hybrids, which are on a pricewise par with their petrol and diesel fuelled equivalents).  However, there’s a pattern that economists and sustainable energy boffins have noticed that happens with every new green technology – and even some that aren’t quite so green per se.  The pattern goes like this: (a) A new technology comes on the scene.  It’s hot, it’s new and it’s sexy, and everyone is drooling and excited about it.  (b) The well-heeled jump on board and the new technology becomes a status symbol. (c) The manufacturers start introducing cheaper versions for the mass market (which, incidentally, are improvements over the older versions).  (d) Everybody’s got one and the wealthy are looking for the next hot item.  You’ve possibly already seen this happen in your lifetime with other technologies: think of cell phones.  Some readers will remember back in the 1980s and 1990s with those brick mobile phones.  They were one heck of a status symbol.  Now it seems that the majority of teenagers have a phone that makes the old status-symbol bricks of the 1990s look pathetic.   The same has happened with heaps of automotive technology, too, where what was once a luxury item is now standard: this has happened to seat belts, automatic transmissions, car stereos, cruise control, ABS brakes and airbags.  Heck, even the car itself was once a luxury toy for the wealthy.  The same is starting to happen with EVs and hybrids.  They’re beginning to head mass-market.  Given the desire for cleaner, greener technologies by many governments giving things an extra push and we’ll soon see the price tag of new EVs come down, as has already happened with hybrids.

#4: EVs and Hybrid Vehicles Are Dinky Little Hatchbacks

I wouldn’t call the Nissan Pathfinder a dinky little hatchback.  Nor the Mitsubishi Outlander .  These both come in hybrid variants.  What about electric vehicles?  Well, Audi Australia has an all-electric SUV planned for release by 2020, and that’s just one company.  Yes, you can get small electric and hybrid hatchbacks.  You can also get hybrid sedans and stationwagons.  Land Rover has even put out some hybrid 4x4s (some of which did the rather rugged Silk Road in a publicity stunt a couple of years back).  Electric 4x4s won’t be too far behind, especially as battery range improves.

#5: Hybrid and EV batteries Have Short Lives

One of the big worries about hybrids and EVs is that they would cause environmental headaches thanks to the batteries running out and needing to be disposed of – and batteries can be a disposal nightmare.  However, if you keep the battery nicely topped up and don’t drain it completely out of charge all the time, it has a nice long lifespan and won’t need to be $$$replaced$$$$.

#6: There’s A Conspiracy To Get Rid Of Electric Vehicles

No.  In spite of the documentary that came out in 2006 entitled Who Killed The Electric Car?, there isn’t some petrodollar-backed conspiracy to shut down production of electric cars.  Yes, GM recalled its EV1 back in the 1990s and ceased production.  However, you just have to look around you and look at any good car review site (ours, for example!) to see that there are plenty of hybrids and EVs out there, with more set to enter the market.

Fact Or Fiction: Headrests Were Designed To Be Detachable

A number of you may have seen that meme buzzing around Facebook and other social media platforms letting you know that headrests were deliberately designed to be detachable so that if you are trapped inside the car and need to break a window to get out, you have a useful tool for smashing the glass.  As we’re interested in quirky facts, great designs and safety features here at Private Fleet, I thought we’d check this one out.  Is it, in fact, true that this is what the designers were thinking when they designed headrests?

OK, in a nutshell, here’s the results after a quick bit of research:

  • Yes, head rests tend to be detachable.
  • Yes, head rests are a safety feature.
  • Yes, you can use a detached head rest to break glass if you need to exit via a window.
  • No, this was not a deliberate part of the design.

(Thanks to Snopes.com  and Truth Or Fiction  for doing some of the hard yards of research here).

The primary purpose of a head rest is to protect the occupant of the seat in question from whiplash injuries, as they prevent the head from lashing back suddenly during a collision or if the car is rear-ended. Your head is quite heavy, after all, and the momentum and G-forces involved in a whiplash inducing collision puts one heck of a strain on your neck vertebrae and muscles.  It’s the weight of the head and the strain on neck muscles that has been the primary concern of designers right from the beginning.  The first US patent for head rests in vehicles was issued in 1921, although the designer’s main concern was driver fatigue.  It wasn’t until 1969 that they became mandatory in the US.

If we have a quick look at the original patent issued to Benjamin Katz of Oakland, California (another inventor a lot of people ought to be grateful to), there’s no mention anywhere of the importance of being detachable so that occupants are able to use the headrest supports as a tool for breaking glass.  The patent is more concerned with reducing driver fatigue and hopes to provide something that allows the driver to “rest his head, relax the tired neck muscles, and still maintain his alert vigil.” Of breaking glass and even of whiplash, there is no mention.

The new, improved patent from 1930, issued to Sverre Quisling of Wisconsin, mentions the ability to use a head rest as a hanger for jackets and the like.  The 1950 patent granted to Lawrence Schott of Detroit certainly mentions detachability but has no mention of using the headrest to break glass.  The designer had folding seats in mind, as removing the headrest made it easier to fold the seat.  Various other designs were developed and put forward over the years between 1950 and 1969, all aiming to either prevent whiplash or to reduce driver fatigue. The patent that I can find that resembles the modern head rest design most closely was issued to Rachel L Rising in 1958.  One could spend quite a while trawling through all the different designs and all the different patents (somebody’s written a whole book on the topic – fact!), but you’re not going to find a mention anywhere of using the supports of the headrest to smash glass for an emergency exit.

Fast forward to today and car designers are still working on head rest design. They’re height and tilt adjustable, they’re provided in rear seats as well as front seats and they come in special active whiplash-preventing designs.  Saab was the first to come out with an active whiplash protecting headrest, with marques from the upper and lower end of the prestige spectrum following suit, from Toyota and Subaru through to Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar.  It’s passive safety and protection of the occupants that are the key concerns of the designers.

So why are head rests removable?  In the case of rear seat headrests, they’re removable for better visibility – if the driver wants to and there’s nobody in the back, the head rests can come out to allow the driver a clearer view of what’s behind.  In the case of front seats, they’re detachable so you can fold the seats flat should you want to sleep in it, or so you can put a car seat cover on easily.  Removability also had the possibility of making sure that all seats were compatible with child safety seats. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards on the topic  make it clear that if head rests are removable, you can only remove them deliberately with two hands to prevent idiots monkeying about and whipping the head rest out if they don’t like them.  Not a word about using them as a tool for breaking glass.

So where did the idea of using a head rest to break the glass if you get your car into deep water come from?  According to Snopes.com, it goes back to a Japanese TV show that demonstrated this survival tip:

Using a head rest to break a window is a fine example of human ingenuity and quick thinking in an emergency.  Certainly the person who first thought of doing this is something of a genius. If you are unlucky enough to drive your car into deep water and the car is sinking, you are going to have to exit via the window, and modern fast-glass cars with electric windows make this a problem, as the water shorts out the system if the car goes underwater – but it won’t do so straight away, so this should always be your first move, along with taking off your seat belt.  Car glass is also very tough, especially on the windscreen (don’t; bother smashing this – go for the door windows).  Other tools can be used if you can’t get the window open in time: special tools bought for the purpose, stiletto heels, spark plugs, hammers, etc.  Certainly, the detachable headrests are handy but this is an added and unintended bonus rather than an integral part of the design.

If you can’t get the technique right for busting the window, the recommendation is to wait until there’s enough water in the car to equalise the pressure inside and out (try not to panic), take a deep breath and open the door as soon as you can.

Of course, if you have an older car with older windows that wind down manually, you are probably feeling smug at this point, as the issue of window mechanisms shorting out isn’t a problem.

How Not To Use A Phone While Driving

They say that driving distracted is as bad as driving drunk when it comes to reducing your reaction times and making smart driving decisions.  Some distractions are beyond our control, such as half a swarm of bees flying through the open window (not making that one up – this happened to someone I know), a screaming child or a busting bladder.  However, using the phone is something that you can control.

We all know the rules.  Handsfree is the only way that you can do this legally and safely.  Putting the phone on your lap and glancing down so nobody knows that you’re using the phone is not an option. In fact, this is probably worse than having the thing openly visible up by the steering wheel in your hand – at least that way, you have half an eye on the road even if you do risk being spotted by the cops.  When the phone is on your lap, you have to take your eyes right off the road to look at it. Bad idea.

You’ve got to think beyond the stereotype of teenagers compulsively stuck on smartphones madly using social media, too.  Often, it’s adults who are at fault and who cause the accidents: “I can do it because that text, tweet or email might be really, really important for my work/family, and I’m a good experienced driver and I know the road and it’s not really busy and I’m used to multitasking and…”

Why do people compulsively check their phones while driving?  A lot of it probably comes down to standard cellphone etiquette: it’s considered bad form to not respond to someone who’s texted you, preferably as promptly as possible.  There’s always the thought at the back of our minds that the text that’s just come through might be something urgent – your significant other saying that he/she has locked the keys in the car and needs your help urgently, the school saying your child is sick, or a client from work trying to rearrange a meeting.

On the one side, you’ve got the fear of missing something urgent plus the desire to be polite.  On the other side, you’ve got the law and the desire to drive safely.  How are you going to resolve this one?

Go cold turkey

Even if the call is an emergency, you can wait a few minutes until you find a suitable place to pull over.  It is possible to leave the phone alone and not respond instantly.  Nobody is going to die.  If the situation is that urgent, the person in question should have dialled 000 rather than you.  Anyway, emergencies are few and far between, and there’s a chance that the text in question is going to be something along the lines of “3oclock Monday fine for meeting”.  Put the phone on silent and put it in the glovebox or somewhere you can’t reach it or see it, then ignore it.  It won’t kill you. However, texting while driving can kill you or someone else.  This is also one of the only two options for L-plate and P-plate drivers.

Hand it to the passenger

If you’ve often got people in the car with you, the person in the front seat can be your hands while you get on with the driving.  Your passenger can read out texts, send texts for you, look things up and give you information such as “Shirley’s sent you a hilarious picture on Instagram that you’ll have to look at later.” A strong-minded front seat passenger can also growl at you if you make a grab for the phone, or even physically stop you grabbing the phone, as suggested by this road safety ad from New Zealand:

Driving apps

Some apps solve the etiquette problem, meaning that the person on the other end of the text doesn’t think you’re rudely ignoring them.  These apps are similar to the automatic reply emails that you can set up when you’re on holiday but are more short-term.  Just before you start the engine, you turn the app on.  If someone texts you while you’re driving, the app will auto-reply saying that you are driving and will reply as soon as possible.  You can get them for iPhone and Android and several are free. Even the ones that aren’t free are a hang of a lot cheaper than a fine.  This is the other solution for L-platers and P-platers.

Other apps go a bit further than merely auto-responding.  Some block cellphone use while driving, are linked in with another device belonging to someone else for accountability purposes (e.g. a parent, significant other or boss, who get a notification if you do text and drive) and dish out rewards for appropriate behaviour (i.e. not using the phone while driving).

Handsfree

Going handsfree isn’t as hard as you think, especially if you have one of the newer Apple devices (which I don’t – I’ve got an older Android machine, so this isn’t an endorsement; however, I’ve seen my 19-year-old son’s Siri in action, especially after I started growling at him for texting while driving, which prompted the demo).  Siri and the Android equivalent (e.g. Robin) can read out your texts and you can dictate texts to them, all while your hands stay on the wheel and your eyes on the road.  This can lead to some interesting typos, or whatever you call the equivalent of speech recognition glitches, especially if you use that very common shorthand for seconds, “secs”.  Pop your phone in a suitable cradle and turn on the loudspeaker, then you’re good to go.

Full integration

In a heap of recent vehicles, the makers have realised that people want to stay connected and get those important calls and the like while on the road, especially in the case of contractors and people who travel for business.  Most vehicles come with full Bluetooth preparation and/or smartphone integration, basically turning your car into an extension of your device, so you can make those handsfree calls, send private messages on Facebook and get your texts read out by Siri or Robin.  Some of them also work in tandem with the driver aids and will shut down (so you’re less distracted) if it senses from your driving and all the other sensors that the traffic is getting heavy and things are getting a bit hairy.  These fully integrated “smartcars”, to coin a term, are also smart enough to refuse to let you go online and watch YouTube videos while the car is moving.

Jamming devices

Mobile phone jamming devices are illegal in Australia, so don’t even think about them.  Yes, you can block your own phone use while driving but you can also block everybody else’s phone use, including all the people who are using handsfree and Bluetooth integrated calling, and all passengers in your vicinity. You could also block someone’s emergency call to 000.

 

The Guy We All Need To Thank: Nils Bohlin

What would you call a guy who has saved approximately 11,000 lives every year in the US alone and way more than that around the world?  You’d probably think that you were reading a cracker of a superhero comic but this guy is for real.  Was he a war hero?  An emergency response guy like a medic, firefighter or cop?

Nope – he was an inventor.  What he invented was the three-point seatbelt.  His name was Nils Bohlin. In later life, he looked a bit like Father Christmas. Which is kind of appropriate, considering the gift he’s given to the world.

Bohlin was born in 1920 in Sweden, the country where he worked after graduating with an engineering diploma.  His first significant employer was SAAB , but he wasn’t working on their cars; his area was on the planes.  Specifically, he got to work on ejector seats, which were in hot demand at the time, the time in question being World War 2 when pilots were getting shot down and needing to bail out ASAP.  At the time, there was a bit of competition going on, and the German aircraft manufacturer Heinkel got the idea at the same time as SAAB and managed to get an operational ejector seat first.  (Did they really independently get the same idea simultaneously?  Or was there some skulduggery going on?  Plot for a WWII spy thriller here.)

After the war was over (and SAAB had got a good working ejector seat), a new problem was cropping up.  The demand for masses of fighter and bomber planes had died down but in the post-war period of prosperity, the demand for and use of the car had soared.  It wasn’t just a toy for the rich any more.  With a lot more cars on the roads going faster thanks to all the technology developed during wartime, there were a lot more accidents.  A sort of seat belt had been invented: a two-point lap belt with a buckle that did up in the middle over your stomach.  If you’ve been in some classic cars, you may have seen them (I have some very dim memories of using one of these, possibly in the ancient Mini  owned by my grandparents when I was little… I think).  While these two-point jobs were a heck of a lot better than nothing, they were not ideal.  For a start off, they didn’t stop your head pitching forwards during a crash thanks to all that momentum with the end result that the driver whacked his/her head on the steering wheel.  You also had the problem of sliding up and out of the seat belt.  Then there was the belt itself.  At high speeds, that meant all the momentum and force was caught and stopped by a band across your tummy.  With a heavy metal buckle right in the middle where the force would be greatest. At best, this would make you puke.  At worst, it would cause nasty internal injuries.  Don’t even think about what would happen if the person wearing the lap belt was a pregnant woman.  Something had to be done.

The something was done by Volvo, who hired Nils Bohlin to try to improve the design.  This was 1958 and Volvo had decided that one of their key design principles was going to be safety, safety, safety, rather than merely concentrating on power and speed (one of the CEO’s relatives had been killed in a car crash).  Bohlin was the perfect choice.  After all, he’d had to think about stresses on the human body at speed, restraints and sort of thing when developing ejector seats.  Ejector seats had four-pointer restraints but Bohlin knew that this wasn’t going to work in a family car.  He wanted a design that could be put on with one hand.  As he had four stepchildren and one child, he probably knew all too well that getting multiple straps onto a wriggly child was pretty tricky!  On top of that, he had consumer attitudes to contend with.  As he said, “The pilots I worked with in the aerospace industry were willing to put on almost anything to keep them safe in case of a crash, but regular people in cars don’t want to be uncomfortable even for a minute.” The restraints had to be comfortable.

It took him a year of testing, going back to the drawing board, retesting, tinkering and general improving until he came up with the three-point system we are all familiar with today: a belt running from shoulder to hip that attaches to a fixed point at hip level on the opposite side from the shoulder-height anchor points.  It was simple.  It could be done up with one hand.  It was comfortable for men and women (this was the 1950s when the ideal female figure was very, very curvy…).  This spread the force of impact across the ribcage and abdomen, which reduced the risk of internal injury dramatically and made slipping out over the top less likely.

His new design was patented in the US in 1959 and you can see it here.  However, even though Bohlin and Volvo held the patent, Volvo was public-spirited enough to allow other manufacturers to use this life-saving design for free, putting people ahead of profits (and giving their company image and reputation one heck of a boost).

Nils Bohlin demonstrates his invention to the public.

It took a while for the new invention to catch on.  After all, people just weren’t used to wearing seat belts on buses or the like.  They weren’t planning on crashing (who does?) so why on earth did they need to wear a seat belt.  Seat belt use wasn’t mandatory (and belts were only installed in the driver and front passenger seats at first), so a fair bit of PR work was needed to educate the public.  At first, seat belts were just nice accessories in a car.  However, a demo using eggs in rolling cart, one with a seatbelt and one without, got the message across, along with a bunch of other stunts presented in a world tour.  In 1969 in the US, seatbelts (in the front seats at least) became compulsory.  Today, in all developed economies, seat belt use is mandatory front and back.  On top of that, even the centre rear seat lap belt that most of us grew up with is being phased out, with more and more cars offering three-point seat belts for all five (or seven) seats.

The design has been tweaked a fair bit over the years, with pretensioners being added by Mercedes Benz in the 1980s, Audi adding height adjustments and those bra-strap style length adjusters being replaced by retracting inertia reels.  However, the basic design is still the same as Nils Bohlin’s original design.  Since its invention, it has saved over a million lives, and the US safety stats figure that seat belt use saves over 11,000 million lives every year.

Bohlin also invented the buckle design that is used on his seat belt, and he also worked on the Side Impact Protection System that has been another Volvo special that has since spread to other marques.

Bohlin became head of Volvo’s safety design team, and received numerous awards throughout his lifetime, including being inducted into the Health and Safety Hall of Fame and the Automotive Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Inventors’ Hall of Fame in 2002 upon his death.

Despite his invention, seat belt laws and more, some people still don’t seem to get the point and insist on not wearing their seat belts.  Come on, folks!  To quote Winnie-the-Pooh’s Eeyore, “the funny thing about accidents is that you never have them until you’re having them.” Buckle up!

“My greatest pleasure comes when I meet people who tell me that a seat belt saved their life or the life of a loved one.  Many inventions make life better for people. I have been fortunate to work in the area of safety engineering, where innovation doesn’t just improve our lives; it actually can save lives.”—Nils Bohlin

Fuzzy Dice And Other Watchacallums

Mascots?  Decorations?  Danglers?  Actually, the English language doesn’t have an actual name for those ornaments that hang from the rear view mirror.  Fuzzy dice are the iconic examples but the furry cubes aren’t the only things we’ve seen.  As this post is going to discuss them and it’s going to be boring to type out (and read) “fuzzy dice or other items hanging from the rear view mirror” every time, I’m going to make up a word: danglers.  Danglers will do.

The most important issue relating to danglers is whether or not they are legal.  The powers that be – and rightly so – take exception to anything that obscures the driver’s vision.  According to the Queensland police, anything that gets between you and the arc of the windscreen wipers is considered to block your vision and create a blind spot, and this applies to GPS units and mobile phone mounts as well as danglers (presumably, the heads-up displays that come in some luxury vehicles these days don’t count).  Roads and Maritime Services of NSW suggests that anything swinging and dangling will be distracting but doesn’t actually have any specifications beyond “the driver must have the clearest possible view of the road particularly in poor lighting conditions at dusk, night or while driving in rain.” In Victoria, they get a bit more specific: “Any vehicle presented for a roadworthy inspection with any dangling objects hanging from the rear vision mirror should not be issued with a RWC until the objects are removed.” South Australia’s spec sheet has plenty to say about tinting and TV/DVD screens but nothing about danglers.  It’s definitely illegal in Western Australia to have anything hanging from a rear view mirror (nice to have it spelled out so clearly and plainly!).  Across the ditch in New Zealand, it seems to be OK.

In short, it’s probably best to leave the danglers off.

However, I’m not a total killjoy.  If you can position the danglers where they won’t obscure your vision or hit you in the head, then you can have them.  This means that the danglers are going to have to be small, so those iconic fluffy dice are out.  Nevertheless, there are still plenty of other options.

Where did the tradition of hanging things from the windscreen come from?  Historically and psychologically speaking, the origins of adding decorations to your form of transport are lost in the mists of time.  Ancient Greek triremes had eyes painted on the front, old-fashioned sailing boats had their figureheads, warhorses were decked out with plumes and plough horses had collars covered with brass charms.  Tricking out a car with something for luck or just for fun is just an extension of this.  However, regarding the actual fuzzy dice, folklore has it that this was started by US fighter pilots in World War 2, who hung up the dice for good luck.  Those who came back from the war carried the tradition over to their cars, which is why the fuzzy dice are such a 1950s thing.

Danglers aren’t limited to fuzzy dice.  Even in places where it’s legal, you don’t see too many fuzzy dice, except on cars belonging to retro enthusiasts and a certain type of bogan.  Air fresheners are a lot more popular and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, ranging from things shaped like pine trees and smelling of something described by advertising copywriters as pine trees (but doesn’t really smell like an actual pine tree) through to handmade ceramic or fabric potpourri bags redolent of essential oils.

After that, of course, you are limited only by your imagination, your sense of taste and what’s legal.   A quick glance through Pinterest and similar sites (from jurisdictions where they’re legal, of course) throws up a good range of ideas that fall into two main categories, those for supernatural protection or luck or blessing or something of that sort.  In other words, things that fall into the religious or spiritual category (and I’m including New Age spirituality in here).  Crosses, rosaries, crystals, angels, Native American spirit animals, Hamsa hands, Feng Shui mirrors, medallions of St Christopher (patron saint of travellers)… there are heaps of them to suit any set of beliefs.  Technically, dream catchers would fall into this category but I thought these were only supposed to work for letting good dreams through and keeping nightmares out when you’re asleep… If you’re asleep at the wheel, you’ve got more to worry about than a nightmare, mate.

The second category includes anything that’s hung up there just for fun because you like it and you think it looks nice.  Soft toys, bunches of dried flowers, skulls, you name it.  The powers that be get particularly snippy about these if they’re sparkly (disco balls, for example) because the twinkling and flashing in your eyes is distracting when you’re on the road.

A third category exists: safety signs and reminders.  These are especially understandable in the case of taxis. But make sure that they’re spelled correctly…

 

Focus on your driving… don’t look at this dangler!

 

 

 

My personal preference is not to have anything hanging on the rear view mirror because it can be annoying.  However, there are other places to hang things if you want to pretty up your car and make it yours.  The chicken handles in the rear, the back of the head rests (great if you want to hang up something for a baby to look at during a long car trip), attached to the rear passenger windows with suction pads, clipped onto the air vents… there are plenty of places if you look.  In this department, VW’s New Beetle has to be a winner with the flower vase, acknowledging that drivers might want to add something quirky and fun.

If you live in a place where you can get away with a dangler, do you have fluffy dice or other danglers hanging from your rear view mirror?  What do you have?  Or what have you seen?  If you live somewhere that doesn’t permit danglers, how do you customise your vehicle and where do you put things like air fresheners?

Coming Soon(ish) To Australia – The Cheaper Tesla Model 3

For quite a few years now, the really big name in electric cars has been Tesla.  Named after the scientist who did a lot of pioneering work in the field of electricity (and, according to popular legend, tried to invent a death ray just like a mad scientist from a cheesy thriller), Tesla vehicles have been considered the crème de la crème of sustainable motoring, the electrical equivalent of Koenigsegg or Lamborghini.  By and large, they’ve mostly been something for the very wealthy and mostly those overseas as well.

It could be that this is about to change.  Last year, Tesla decided to produce a cheaper variety – cheaper being a relative term, of course; it’s got a US$35,000 price tag at the very basic level.  This Model 3 will begin production this year and will probably be fully released in 2018, joining the Model S and the Model X that a select few are already driving.

As we don’t usually review Tesla models on our car review pages, as it’s still a very exclusive brand name (any more than you find us reviewing Aston Martins, Ferraris or Rolls-Royces), I thought it would be fun to do a wee review of the new Model 3. After all, you never know; it might take off and be readily available so you may as well read all about it here!

The first question that probably pops into anybody’s head when the topic of electric cars crops up is “How am I going to charge the thing?” After all, we all know how quickly our smartphones and tablets lose charge.  Tesla has already thought of this.  Yes, you can probably charge up a Tesla car or any other electric car at your typical charging station, but Telsa also has a chain of “Supercharger” stations that can charge a Tesla car battery to 80% in half an hour.  This translates to 270 km of driving; a typical bog-standard charging station would give you 17 km with half an hour’s charging.  These Supercharger stations are located up Australia’s eastern coast – sorry, Perth, Adelaide and Darwin – from about Ballarat, Victoria, through to the Gold Coast.  Charging to 100% takes 75 minutes, as the rate of charge is designed to slow down for that final 20% for scientific reasons I can’t quite wrap my head around and am not going to attempt to try explaining. Range-wise, the Tesla Model 3 can do 345 km on a fully charged battery.

So what does the “budget” Tesla, the Model 3, have in store for those who decide to put in their pre-orders?  It’s a rather sleek looking small luxury sedan that seats five.  Unlike the typical fossil-fuel powered vehicle, it doesn’t have a big grille at the front, which is a bit disconcerting at first glance for those of us who are used to the decorative grille styling of, say, BMW or Jeep.  It’s certainly picked up a few comments on various online motoring forums.  This lack of a grille, combined with the lack of an exhaust pipe at the back, the glass roof and the aerodynamic profile, makes for a very uncluttered look.  There appears to be two styles of alloy wheel available, at least according to the official photos, and they look very nice indeed.  The official pics also suggest three paint colours: red, black and silver.

One of the other features of the Tesla 3 that may be a little disconcerting on the one hand but sophisticated on the other is the autonomous feature or self-driving technology – the motoring equivalent of autopilot (which is what it’s called on the top-of-the-line Tesla models, which are also autonomous).  This shouldn’t be a surprise.  After all, the head of Tesla Motors is Mr Artificial Intelligence himself, Elon Musk.

In the specs department, details are still sketchy.  I get the feeling that the company is being deliberately enigmatic – as enigmatic as the eggshell-smooth grille.  Details are especially sparse regarding the interior.  However, we have been told that the rear seats fold flat so that, in combination with the extra space, you can sleep in the back if you want to – or pop in a surfboard.  On top of this, all the space up the front that would have been dedicated to an internal combustion engine in a conventional car has been given over to extra luggage space: a front trunk (which another reviewer has called a “frunk”), which is reminiscent of the old classic VW Beetles.  The other hot feature that they have let slip is the acceleration: 0–100 in six seconds, which is slower than the Model S’s 2.7 seconds but is still very, very respectable.  The Model 3 has also designed to have five-star rating as well.

For those who want a bit more, here’s the official release video and speech (with more details about the posher Model S and X).

Oh yes – there is a story going around that the Model 3 was going to be called the Model E but the stylized E with three lines inspired a name change.  Guess they realised what the three models were going to spell if they lined them up with the newcomer in the middle and decided it wasn’t family-friendly enough…

If you’re interested, you can pre-order yours through the official Tesla website .

Speed’s Not Always A Factor: Why Not All Crashes At The Nürburgring Are Serious

Well, happy New Year to all you readers out there!  I hope you’ve had a good break away from work and didn’t have any close encounters on the road.  It’s a shame that they always spoil holidays by announcing the road toll for the season in just about every news snippet.  Guess it’s horrible for the relatives of those involved in the crashes but the rest of us don’t really need to be reminded continually.

They’re fond of telling us that speed was a factor in those crashes.  However, thanks to something that I spent time watching with the family online during quiet bits of the holiday period, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not just speed per se that causes serious injuries and the like. OK, it is a factor and most of us who did high school physics remember that the forces involved in something travelling at 30 km/h are lower than the forces involved in something travelling at 100 km/h.  But there must be other things at play.

What we were watching that told this story was a collection of crash videos from the Nürburgring. This one, for example:

Watching these, you’d think that all the drivers in every single crash would be hurt badly. Knocked out at the very least in some cases (e.g. the little black hatchback in #6 – possibly he/she was). However, at least according to the blurb accompanying the video, nobody was seriously injured, with the worst one being a broken wrist.  OK, yes there are deaths and serious injuries at the Nürburgring (these aren’t shown – apparently, the ethics of Nürburgring filmers prohibit posting any crashes that result in death or serious injury). However, all these crashes (and near crashes) happened at reasonably high speeds and didn’t automatically result in horror.  Unless you consider the resulting financial and insurance issues to be horror (like the crash involving the Koenigsegg – a car that costs more than my house and the neighbours’ houses put together).

So why aren’t the crashes at the Nürburgring creating as much carnage as all the road safety ads would have us believe?  Discussion with my fellow-watchers and a few moments of reflection suggest the following reasons why:

  1. Cars are built better these days. They have crumple zones to cushion heavy blows, tough impact protection systems and lots of airbags and seatbelts to protect the driver (I doubt anybody goes around the Nürburgring with kiddies in the back seat, so back seat protection probably isn’t a factor).
  2. Crash barriers are built better these days. Given this sort of footage, the Nürburgring (and similar tracks) go through quite a bit of crash barrier. This means that they have the chance to update to the newest, safest designs, which also involve impact absorption.  Your local council doesn’t have the same turnover rate as the Ring and probably has the same barriers that they put up in the 1980s or even earlier thanks to budget reasons.  These barriers tend to be a bit less forgiving.
  3. There are no (or very few) head-on crashes at the Nürburgring. It’s head-ons that are the real nasties.  At the Ring, everyone’s going in the same direction (at least most of the time).  On the road, though, there is that other lane with people coming the other way.

  4. The Nürburgring has a singular lack of street furniture at tricky corners. Instead, they have nice wide grass berms, rather than lamp posts, parked trucks, planters made of brick or concrete walls. This means that if you do take that corner a little too fast for your car, the conditions and the camber, sending you spinning out beyond what your stability package can handle, there’s nothing for you to collect on the way.  What’s more, the camber of the track is at the perfect angle for a high speed around that particular corner.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of our local roads all of the time – there was one particular corner on a road near where I lived when I was a teenager learning to drive that had negative camber (i.e. it sloped the wrong way for the direction of the turn). Were there heaps of crashes at that corner?  You betcha.  Have they fixed the problem even after 20+ years?  Well, they hadn’t last time I went back there.
  5. The drivers aren’t distracted. This means that crashes involving more than one vehicle aren’t as frequent.  People at the Nürburgring are there to do one thing: drive.  They aren’t eating, trying to console a wailing kid in the back seat or texting.  At least I hope they’re not texting, though they may be trying to film their lap on their phone.

The video also awoke a sneaky little desire to actually drive the Nürburgring.  Not to set or equal any record lap times or anything like that but to say that I did it and survived.  I doubt that I ever will – economics and the worry that some idiot would take me out dictate that, so I’ll be sticking to the simulators (a.k.a. motor racing computer games).  However, if you’ve ever been lucky enough to have driven the Nürburgring, please share your story with us!