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More Motoring Matchmaking

We know that the number of cars on offer these days, both new and second hand, is pretty overwhelming. This is why we do our best to match up the right car with the right person. This is one of the reasons behind our car reviews, so you can get an idea of what each new vehicle coming onto the Aussie market is like (and quite a few second-hand ones as well, as our archive of car reviews goes back to 2008). Nevertheless, even this can be a bit daunting if you don’t know where to start.

Mercedes Benz Logo

It’s all very well for motoring enthusiasts who know their Mazdas from their Mercedes (what is the plural of Mercedes? Mercedi? Mercedeses? Mercedoi?). But what about those looking for a new car who don’t know quite so much?

Mazda Logo

To help out this category of people, we’ve put together a collection of stereotyped people along with their motoring needs and a suggestion as to what car would suit them best.  As before, if you can relate to one of these stereotypes but you already have a particular car in mind that you want, then you can go ahead and ignore the suggestion – or if you can’t stand the type of car we suggest for some reason (e.g. you object to the imagery of a particular logo, such as the serpent swallowing a humanoid figure of Alfa Romeo), then feel free to reject our suggestions!

This time, it’s the gents’ turn…

The Professor: David is known at his university for his brilliant research and for his lecturing style, which is full of digressions and tangents but still manages to be interesting… if you’re into applied mathematics.  In terms of motoring, David doesn’t need to carry much, except the laptop, a briefcase of students’ papers to be marked (yes, even in these online days, there are some of these) and maybe a suitcase to be carried to the airport before a conference.  With nearby conferences, he may take another passenger with him.  Whether he’s driving alone or whether he has a passenger, David’s brilliant mind often finds driving tedious and if he’s not careful, he will be a bit slow off the mark at red lights because he’s been finding the square root of the registration plate number on the car ahead of him.  There also have been a few close calls at intersections and lane changes.  As numbers do it for him and he has been known to use his own motoring habits as raw data, he’ll collect all sorts of statistics from the car’s trip computer and use them to make up real-life examples for his undergraduate lectures.

Suggested vehicle for David: Lexus ES, Audi A6, Volvo S90, Mercedes Benz E-Class, Skoda Fabia, Skoda Octavia, Mazda6

Volvo S90

The Sportsman: You usually find Bryan out on the rugby field or a field for any code of football, as long as it involves getting muddy and sweaty, and possibly bloody as well. Either that or you’ll find him in the showers afterwards. Bryan is generous minded and is the first to volunteer to drive everybody he can fit into a vehicle to an away game… and he gets a few laughs out of being the designated sober driver after the match who videos everybody’s drunken antics and posting them on social media (hopefully in a private message or on something less permanent like Snapchat). As ferrying a vehicle full of muddy, sweaty and possibly intoxicated adults can get a bit… fragrant… the vehicle should be easy to clean. A good sound system is a must for everybody to sing along to (or at least make a noise that can loosely be described as “singing” but sounds more like a donkey in pain).

Suggested vehicle for Bryan: Honda Odyssey, BMW 2-Series Gran Tourer, VW Touran, Toyota Tarago, Kia Carnival, LDV G10, Hyundai iMax, Peugeot 5008, Skoda Kodiaq

Kia Carnival

Cop Wannabe: Stephen loves cop shows and movies, and he nurtures a few dreams of entering the force. If Stephen wasn’t stuck behind the desk in his job as an accountant at the moment and loaded with mortgages and responsibilities, he’d sign up to train as a rookie. In the meantime, he tries to live his fantasy out when he’s behind the wheel, filling in time stuck in traffic daydreaming about being hot on the trail of a desperate criminal. This fantasy is particularly vivid when he’s got the family dog (an Alsatian, of course) in the back as his “K9 partner”.  If it’s his turn to carpool the kids, he has been known to tell some of these vivid stories, suitably edited for tender ears, to the kids to entertain them on the way.  During the ride, he is quick to pounce on infringements by other drivers and any misdemeanours by the kids, such as opening doors. He adores gadgets and telecommunications that play into his dreams of being contacted by a dispatcher, even if the dispatcher is the wife asking him to stop in for bread, milk and cat food on the way back from work.

Suggested vehicle for Stephen: Audi RS4, Audi A6 Avant, Volvo V60, Volvo V90, Subaru Levorg, Subaru Outback, BMW 5-Series Touring, BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Suzuki SX4, Land Rover Discovery, Mazda CX-9, Skoda Kodiaq

Audi A6 Avant

 

How To Recycle A Car

One of several elephants in the room during the debate on whether or not electric cars should be subsidized or pushed more is the issue of what happens to the old ones that used internal combustion engines (the other elephants include the ones relating to how the electricity will be generated, where the materials for the batteries are going to come from and whether the national grid can handle the extra load). After all, we’ve all seen the junk yards where sad piles of rustbuckets from the early 1980s and written cars sit around going nowhere and doing nothing.  What happens to a car once it’s got to the end of its life and can’t be restored or repaired?

Mind you, it’s amazing what can be restored if people are keen enough. At her wedding, my cousin arrived in an antique car from the 1910s that had spent a decade or so as a chicken coop before being found by an enthusiast and lovingly restored to its full beauty – and it really was lovely!

Anyway, not all dead cars will be used for spare parts, which is the first thing that springs to mind when any car enthusiast thinks about what happens to old cars. Most of us amateur mechanics have headed down to the wrecker’s yard for a spare part or five. However, there are some bits that are no good for spare parts – quite a lot of bits in the case of something that’s been in a smash. The idea of all these car bodies sitting around and taking up space horrifies the environmentalist in me – and I’m the sort who thinks that the waste issue is a lot more serious than carbon emissions.

The good news is that despite those dreary car graveyards, there’s quite a lot on a car that can be recycled. In fact, 85% of the typical car body can be recycled.

The first thing that happens when a car is to be recycled is that the fluids will be drained, and they really do mean all fluids, not just any gas left in the tank and the oil in the engine and transmission. The coolant and what’s in the air conditioning will all be whipped out – and a lot of it can be purified and used in another vehicle. Used car engine oil can be used as fuel for shipping. The gas that activates the airbags will be carefully released – if the airbag hasn’t already gone off in the case of a crash.

Next, the vehicle is stripped of anything that’s still useful. This often includes the battery, the sound system and other electronic bits and bobs, the tyres (if they’re in good condition) and items that wreckers know to be popular and in demand. In fact, the car wreckers do a very good job of salvaging anything that can be salvaged. Even the floor mats are usually good enough to find a new home, as these hardly ever wear out.

Of course, not everything on a dead car can be salvaged and reused as is. But the job of recycling an old car doesn’t stop there. There are more materials that can be harvested from a dead car as part of the recycling process.  Most parts of a car can be recycled in some way.

The most obvious component of a dead car body is made of top quality steel. This is very straightforward to melt down and purify so it’s as good as new. Some stats claim that 30% of the steel produced around the world actually comes from recycled metal.

The real goldmine is the catalytic converter, which is almost literally a goldmine as it contains precious metals that can be salvaged from a non-working catalytic converter, and reused in other catalytic converters (obviously) and in jewellery.

What happens next to the car bodies?

The battery contains quite a lot of lead, which is why they weigh so much and why it’s no fun dropping one on your foot.  Getting the lead out is a fiddly process that should only be attempted by an expert, but it can be removed as the battery is stripped down, and the metal can then be reused, mostly in other batteries. The plastic casing, once the acid has been neutralised, is also recyclable.

Interior trim can also be salvaged. In the case of leather upholstery, this leather can be turned into fashion accessories, with handbags and belts being a common fate. In the case of fabric trim, this can be shredded and recycled into new furnishing fabrics.

Wiring is another source of metals, as wiring usually is made of copper. Wires in good condition can be used as is, or else the plastic coating is stripped off and the copper inside can be melted down and reused.

Dashboard plastics can be polymerised and turned into a new type of plastic that’s got all sorts of uses, including making outdoor furniture, like plastic picnic chairs.

Tyres used to be the big nasty when it came to recycling old car bodies because they’re so tough, but that’s no longer the case. There are all sorts of things that can be done with them. More or less intact tyres can be used by clever people to make garden furniture. Shredded tyres are used as safety cushions in children’s playgrounds for when someone falls off the swings.  In some parts of the world, the flatter bits are used as soles for footwear – they’ve got a really cool tread pattern! Grind the tyres up smaller and they can be used for the surfaces of running tracks or as roading material.

Glass is also very versatile, and can either be ground down to cullet (which is what you call ground up glass). The cullet can then be used for sandblasting ships to clean them or it can be used as road surfacing. Cullet can, of course, be melted down to produce fresh glass, including the safety glass used in vehicles. Windscreens also contain layers of plastic, and this can also be salvaged and recycled.

The big thing to remember is that one should never try to strip down a dead car for recycling unless you really know what you’re doing, as there are a lot of hazardous materials involved. Leave it to the professional wreckers for the most part. Things you can remove yourself safely enough unless you’re a complete idiot are the speaker system and any other electronic gadgets (especially if you put them in as an after-market upgrade), the fuel in the tank (siphon it out) and any of your personal belongings you left in the glovebox.

Turbochargers For Beginners

It might look like a snail but with a turbo, your car certainly won’t be.

I could have called this post “Turbochargers for Dummies” but (a) anybody who is curious about how something works and wants to know more is not a dummy and (b) I don’t want to imply that those who want to have a vehicle with a turbocharger are dummies.

In any description or review of a new vehicle that’s got an internal combustion engine (petrol or diesel) or even a hybrid engine, you’ll probably come across the mention of a turbocharger somewhere in there.  However, what is the point of a turbocharger and how do they work?  Are they just a fancy luxury or do they actually do something useful and valuable?  If you’re new to the world of motoring or if turbos have just been something you’ve heard about over the years and never really thought about before, you could well be asking these questions.  After all, nobody is born known about how a car works and it’s not something they teach you at school.  (Maybe it should be something they teach at school – physics would certainly be a lot more interesting if you could see the practical applications.)

Back To Basics

Let’s start by going back to the basics of how an internal combustion engine (ICE) works.   An ICE can be thought of as the offspring of a cannon and a spinning wheel.  The cannon (the father of the engine) works by using a spark and a controlled explosion within a small space, which produces a massive amount of force that moves a load (in this case, the cannon ball) in a straight line.  Mama Spinning Wheel uses a crankshaft (piston), a drive wheel and a gearing system to turn that linear motion into useful rotational motion.

In your typical four-stroke engine, which was invented in 1867 by Nikolaus Otto, the explosion part of the process involves four main motions, referred to as intake, compression, combustion and exhaust or, more simply, suck, squeeze, bang and blow.  Get your mind out of the gutter.

Let’s look more closely at the intake stage of the cycle.  During the intake phase, the piston and valves allow a combination of fuel (petrol or diesel) into the chamber.  In a naturally aspirated engine, ordinary common or garden atmospheric pressure and suction push the air into the cylinder.  However, to make the process go more quickly and use fuel more efficiently, one needs some way of compressing and forcing the air into where you want it rather than relying on, essentially, gravity and air pressure.  This was a bit of a burning need when they started flying planes a bit higher than they did in, say, World War 1, and the atmospheric pressure was a lot less at altitude.  Compressing the air and forcing it into the business bits of the ICE is what a turbocharger does.

How Turbos Work

The next question is how the turbocharger does the job of compressing air and forcing air into the cylinders?  It uses a system originally developed in aeroplanes with turboprop engines.  This uses a fan system to slurp and pump air into the cylinder – the shape of the fan does this by altering the air pressure around the blades.  Seems ridiculously simple, right?

Bright sparks among you will have wondered what gets the fan moving to do this job of pumping the air in.  After all, you don’t get anything for free.  However, the original designers came up with a clever solution.  After all, during the final phase of the Otto cycle – the exhaust or blow phase – the waste air and other exhaust products (hopefully, there won’t be too many of these) is shoved out of the engine.  A basic turbocharger uses this exhaust air to drive the turbine part of the system.  This means that a turbocharger has two main parts: the turbine that harnesses the exhaust stream, which is hitched up to the second part: the compressor that takes in clean air.

There is a third part to a basic turbocharger that does more than just hold the two spinning bits together. This is the intercooler.  As anybody who’s used a bike pump has noticed, when you compress air, it gets hotter.  The problem with this is that as things get hotter, the molecules inside it move more and it expands – meaning it’s less compressed.  Cold air is denser than warm air, which means that it’s not just in your head if you find it harder going on the bike or jogging on a cold morning.  The intercooler is a kind of miniature radiator system that dissipates the heat energy created by compressing the air to keep it nice and dense.

Why Use Turbochargers?

So why do you need to have a turbocharger and get that extra air into your car engine, given that you don’t have the problems of a fighter jet operating at altitude? Is there any advantage to it for the everyday motorist?

The answer is, of course, a great big yes.  By shoving more air into the cylinders, the power delivered by the combustion (bang) part of the cycle is increased.  Power is the amount of force delivered every second, so the faster the engine burns, the more powerful it is.  This means that an otherwise small engine can get the oomph of something much bigger.  Because adding a turbocharger involves less weight than adding another cylinder or increasing the size of the cylinders (the other ways to make an engine more powerful), this improves the power to weight ratio.  It’s all about the POWER (I’m hearing Jeremy Clarkson inside my head at this point).

You may hear some people claim that turbochargers are more environmentally friendly than naturally aspirated engines.  This is a bit controversial and it’s not as simple as Turbo Good, Natural Aspiration Bad.  Quite simply, a 1.2 litre engine that is naturally aspirated will use less fuel than a turbocharged 1.2.  However, the turbocharged 1.2 litre will deliver a lot more power than the naturally aspirated 1.2 and will produce the power of a naturally aspirated engine that’s a lot bigger. Because it has delivered the oomph of a bigger engine without the demands of the extra weight that would be involved, the small turbo engine will consume less fuel than the naturally aspirated big one.  The turbocharger is a racing greyhound that needs to eat as many doggy bikkies as a big sooky mastiff but will win the race.

Of course, this is only a very basic introduction – for beginners – and turbocharger designs get a lot more complicated that that. You’ve got all kinds of fun variations like twin turbos, which can be in sequence or in parallel, as well as the issue of turbo lag and how to overcome it.

Best And Worst Exterior Paint Colours For Resale

We’ve all heard those jokes about people who seem to be more concerned about what colour a car is rather than its practical performance (fuel economy, towing ability, safety specs, luggage space, etc.).  We’ve also probably tossed out a flip comment about go-faster red and go-faster stripes over the years.  Paint colour seems like just a matter of personal choice and preference.  However, if you’re buying a brand new car and you know that you are going to sell it off some years down the track, then you may need to bear colour in mind, as some car paint colours are better for resale than others.

Good paint colours are popular ones that don’t go out of style quickly. This means that it’s going to be quicker and easier to sell them in five or ten years’ time because they’ll still be in style. With a bad colour – which might be a fashionable colour – it could be a bit harder to sell the car later on because potential buyers may look at it and go “eww – that’s so 2020”, which may mean that you will have to let the car go for a lower price than you may have got otherwise.

The leading authority on car paint colour is the paint manufacturer Axalta. This company has complied stats on car colours for over 60 years and has tons of resources available (the most recent free annual car stats are from 2016) and there is plenty to keep any motoring trivia enthusiast happy for hours at their website.

By a quick look at some of the material available from Axalta without wasting time down too many rabbit trails, it seems as if good car colours, in terms of resale, are like good suit colours for guys or the little black cocktail dress for gals: simple, basic classics that don’t shock or startle. Honestly, when it comes to car paint colour that hold its value, conservative is the key.

The most recent (freely available!) stats from Axalta show that the most popular car exterior paint colours worldwide (and therefore the ones that are likely to have the best resale value) are as follows:

  1. White: 37% of new cars sold in 2016 were some shade of white; white has been #1 for quite some time now
  2. Black: 18%
  3. Grey: 11%
  4. Silver: 11%
  5. Red: 6%
  6. Navy blue: 6%
  7. Beige and brown: 6% (apparently, Russian sales made up most of these)
  8. Yellow and gold: 3%
  9. Green: 1% (again, mostly Russian sales)

The most popular colour for vehicles in the Asia-Pacific region (which includes us here in Australia) has been either white, silver or grey since 1973 – and it looks like this trend isn’t going to change soon!

(If you want the latest stats, broken down by region and by body style – yes, it makes a difference –then you have to pay to get the download. I’m tempted…)

To find the least popular colours, all that some bloggers and researchers do is to flip this popularity list upside down. However, you, like me, have probably noticed that some colours don’t even feature on this list.  Because cars with unpopular colours don’t sell as well, it’s hard to compile meaningful stats on them, as it’s hard to track what isn’t selling because there’s nothing to see or record.  Nevertheless, the following have been proposed as the worst car exterior paint colours for resale.  They’re not in any particular order, but you may notice that all of them are very distinctive and associated with particular decades!

  • orange: any shade of orange; this colour is only popular with die-hard Dukes of Hazzard fans
  • turquoise: metallic turquoise in particular is soooo 1990s
  • maroon: very 1990s and dated, which is weird for a shade of red
  • green (unless you’re Russian): olive or pea green from the 1970s is especially bad, followed by the vivid treefrog greens of the early 2000s
  • brown (again, unless you’re Russian): British Leyland. Enough said
  • pink: in fact, Ferrari has banned pink from its list of possible car colours coming out of the factory door, even for superstars paying megadollars for a custom paint job (if P!nk wants a pink supercar, she has to get a Lambo, which doesn’t mind what colour you pick if you’re willing to pay).
  • purple: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a purple vehicle that wasn’t a commercial tradie vehicle in company colours that had been custom-painted

The only exception I’d make to this list is the case of British Racing Green for Jaguar.  This is a tradition and it’s such an iconic colour for Jaguar that it holds its value better than other off-the-wall unique colours.  Can you imagine a Burberry in any colour other than beige?

However, if you are in the market for a second-hand car, you can make the car colour thing work in your favour. If you believe that a good horse is never a bad colour and that the same applies to cars, then you may be able to pick up a good reliable set of wheels that’s in an unfashionable colour so is going for a fraction cheaper than something mechanically identical in a “good” colour. I’ll never forget my tradie friend who picked up a metallic rose-pink trade van at a bargain price because of its colour – he downright owned that pink van and it certainly made him stand out from his competitors with ordinary white vans. OK, you need some serious cojones to pull off a pink tradie van, but it certainly worked for my friend!

Designers, Please Explain This Feature

Over the Christmas and New Year holiday season, we went on a good old-fashioned road trip – well away from where all those horrible fires have been happening.  In keeping with old-fashioned road trips, we decided that this was a good time to give our 2000 Ford Falcon  AU a chance to show its paces. It’s been my husband’s doer-upper and mancave tinkering project for a while now, so why not? It certainly behaved itself nicely on the road and was comfy for long journeys.  However, it had one little design feature that puzzled me and certainly gave us something to talk about during the more tedious stretches of the road once we’d exhausted the topic of how appalling the fires are, what caused them, the smoke haze, etc. etc.

The feature in question in the boot.  The boot doesn’t have one of those old-school buttons that unlatches the boot on the boot door itself. Instead, you have to unlock the body of the car and put the key in the ignition and turn it on one click then press a button on the dashboard – which is rather faded on this 20-year-old vehicle.  Slightly fiddly, yes, but no worse than what you have to do with my mother-in-law’s Suzuki Kizashi  that uses an auto-unlock key fob.  The automatic key fob might seem like a brilliant idea when you’re approaching the back of the Kizashi with your hands full – and my mother-in-law loves this feature – but it’s a bit of a nuisance when you want to send one of the kids to go and get Gran her cardy out of the boot please, dear.  This means that the keys have to come out of wherever Gran’s put them and it takes a less experienced person to hold the fob in exactly the right way before the boot’s opened and Gran has to go and show the kiddies how to do it properly.

Anyway, back to the boot of the Falcon.  Despite the need to have the keys in the ignition to open the boot from the outside, the boot itself has a mechanical boot hatch release lever.  On the inside of the boot.  In a sedan.  A sedan where you can’t open the boot mechanically from the outside and where the body of the car has to be unlocked before you can open the boot. When on earth will you use this lever?

The lever is no good in the all too common scenario of accidentally shutting your keys in the boot. In fact, if you unlocked the Falcon’s boot, took the keys out of the ignition, locked the doors and then accidentally dropped the keys in the boot before slamming it shut, you would be in the poop, as you would have access to neither boot nor cabin.  So the mechanical lever was no good for that situation.

If you couldn’t get out of the car doors for some reason but you were inside the cabin of the sedan, you could possibly exit via the boot.  In the unlikely scenario that you opened the boot, took the keys out of the ignition again, then shut them in the boot, you could do the same. This would require you do fold the rear seats of the sedan flat and move the luggage out of the way first. Fortunately, the seats do fold flat, allowing access into the boot, although I haven’t tried this myself. The load-through slot that appears when you fold down the arm rest and the cupholders is far too small for anybody over the age of three to squeeze through. You could, in theory, reach the mechanical lever by reaching through the load-through slot but only if (a) you had arms like an orangutan and (b) the suitcases and the picnic basket aren’t in the way, as the boot release lever is nearer the front of the boot.

The only time that you would be able to use that release lever is if you were riding inside the boot of this sedan and the hatch door was closed.  Again, when would this happen?  In the rather dangerous and illegal case where you’ve got a sixth person needing to ride in the car and you’re out of seatbelts, you could smuggle that person in the boot.  This is NOT RECOMMENDED (although I’ll admit to having taken a passenger this way once over 20 years ago – and it wasn’t in Australia, either).  However, even then, the passenger riding in the boot wouldn’t want to open the hatch and get out while the car is moving.  He or she would have to push open the load-through slot and ask the driver to stop. Then the driver could also push the button to open the boot as well, so the lever wouldn’t be used anyway.  However, if everybody else had left the car and someone was still inside the boot, they could let themselves out – and the only times we could see this happening was if someone was trying to stow away on a ferry or sneak into, say, a music festival or military base without the gatekeepers noticing.

After much discussion, we figured that the only time you’d really want to use the inside boot release lever is if you had been kidnapped and shoved in the boot, and you wanted to alert other road users to the fact so that you can be rescued – or so you can jump out of the boot.

I am somewhat aghast that the designers built in a feature that is only useful in the case of being abducted or when doing something illegal.  Did they really think that cases of kidnapping are that common? Did they design a car that’s useful for sneaking in unofficially or for people smuggling? WHAT WERE THEY THINKING????

If anyone can throw any light on this feature, I would love to know. Please give us your best speculations in the comments!

 

Peace On Earth – And The Roads, Specifically

Temperatures are soaring as we prepare for the Christmas and New Year holiday season. A lot of us are looking at the cliched images of snow and holly berries, and listening to so-called Christmas music that should really be called “winter music” with a certain level of cynicism and irony. Driving home for Christmas – whether it’s interstate or across town – can be a bit stressful as we get all hot and bothered. There’s a lot to do and a heap of places to go, and we’ve got to haul the kids around with us now that the schools are out for summer.

Before we blow a gasket (metaphorically and emotionally – not inside your car engine), maybe it’s time to take a deep breath and remember the reason for the season. Time for a bit of peace on the roads and goodwill towards our fellow motorists (and our passengers and ourselves). One way that you can do this is being a little bit kinder to everybody – and your car as well.

Be kind to your car, yourself and your passengers by making sure that you’ve topped up all the fluids that you’re supposed to (water, oil, etc.). If you can, book your car in for a service if it’s time or if you’ve noticed things getting a bit wonky. There are few things worse than having the car die on you during the holiday season when you’re miles from your planned destination and the mechanic’s garage is closed (been there, done that – at least it happened in a sizeable town and we found a nice place to stay the night and discovered a neat little café). However, bear in mind that your mechanic is probably worked off his or her feet at the moment because everybody’s trying to get their vehicle ready and the mechanic wants to go on holiday too. Book early and don’t leave it until the last minute!

Be kind to your passengers, especially if they’re children. It’s not realistic to expect kids to sit for hours on end doing nothing, especially when it’s hot. Make sure that your air con is working properly so people don’t get too hot during the journey. Staying well hydrated also helps prevent headaches, and cold water goes down a treat. Freeze a drink bottle overnight before your trip and it will slowly melt as the day goes by, staying deliciously cold. Keeping hydrated has the inevitable results, so make sure that you make frequent stops for the loo.  Stick to water – it’s healthier, doesn’t make the seats sticky if they’re spilt and doesn’t leave you with sugar-amped kids getting fractious in the car seats.

If you’re going on a longer trip with children, then it can be a good idea to have a few special treats and toys that can be produced for the first time at the start of the trip. Make sure that you have a playlist (or CD or…) for everybody so the adults don’t go mad listening to twitty children’s tunes and the children don’t get bored with your Bruce Springsteen. As long periods in the car make for great bonding time, I don’t recommend kitting kids up with headphones and electronic devices; take the time to interact while you’ve got it. Don’t forget a few old-fashioned car games!

No matter what age of passenger you’ve got with you or even if you’re travelling alone, make sure you stop frequently to stretch your legs and get a bit of fresh air. This helps you stay alert, which is kinder to everybody else on the road, as you’ll be a better driver for it. It’s also kinder to your back and your overall health – go for a little walk as well as using the loo and/or filling up with fuel.  Allow time for this and take your time. Enjoy the trip rather than merely focussing on getting to your destination.

While on the topic of health, it’ a good idea to pre-plan travel snacks and food. The sort of thing you pick up in most places tends to be stuffed with all the things you’re not supposed to eat (trans fat, sugar, additives). You can generate a lot of plastic waste as well, and spend a truckload while you’re at it. The good news is that fruit is in season, so it’s healthy and cheap. Maybe make a few sandwiches or take the doings for them in the esky.

Remember to be kind to your fellow motorists. Everybody is in a hurry, everybody is hot and everybody is a bit stressed with all the things they need to do. This means that you don’t need to always rush and cut in. Let people into the stream of traffic at intersections and on the way out of the car park. If we all did this, the roads would really be a more peaceful place. I’ve written on being a polite driver elsewhere – bear these tips in mind and don’t be that rude driver everybody hates.

Last but definitely not least, although it’s the season when we all indulge a little bit more, the rules about not drinking and driving still apply. Don’t ruin someone’s holiday by causing accidents, injuries or deaths. It’s just not worth the risk and if you’ve already spent a bit on pressies and food, then you don’t want to add a fine from the cops into it as well. There are loads of nice non-alcoholic cocktails and drinks out there, and it’s a lot more socially acceptable not to drink alcohol at parties.  Given the season, a Virgin Mary (like a Bloody Mary but minus the hard stuff) is rather appropriate… Appoint a sober driver or plan to stay overnight if you want a tipple.

Whatever you’re doing over this Christmas, wherever and however you’re celebrating, we hope that you have a great one and that you stay safe on the roads. See you in 2020!

How To Be A Polite Driver

You’ll hear a lot of people complaining about the rudeness of other drivers – the hoon who cut you off, the moron who nearly opened the car door right into you as you drove past, etc. etc. I could rant for ages about examples of plain old rudeness on the roads. So could you, I dare say. However, instead of simply having a grizzle about the level of rudeness on the roads, let’s flip the script. If more and more of us concentrated on being polite drivers with good on-road manners, then the happier we’ll all be.

Yes, I’m going to sound like your mother in this post and I’m going to remind you about good manners. However, I’m allowed to, as I might be old enough to be your mother (if you’re under 25). As for the rest of us, we could all do with a reminder, couldn’t we?

Courtesy To Other Drivers

  • Don’t be in such a rush to be first or ahead of everybody else. It’s barely going to save you a second on your commute, so why bother taking a risk as well as being annoying to others? This means that you don’t push in and cut people off.
  • Stay alert at the lights. Nobody likes being behind that person who checks their phone at a red light (which is, incidentally, illegal) who fails to see the light change to green for a couple of seconds. Stay alert, leave that phone alone and be ready to move.
  • Let people in. If the traffic’s busy and you’ve come to a standstill, and you see someone waiting at the exit from the supermarket, let them in before you take off. This is done by a simple wave of the hand and a smile. It’s also a very human thing to do, as this sort of courtesy is something that an autonomous car can’t do.
  • Wave and smile if someone does something nice like letting you in. This is how you say thank you in an urban driving setting.
  • On the open road, if you can’t go at the full road speed for some reason, pull over onto the shoulder of the road to let people go past.
  • Thank slower drivers who pull over to let you past by tooting the horn cheerfully and waving.
  • Dip your lights in plenty of time rather than playing Headlight Chicken at night. This is good for safety as well as courtesy, as having two dazzled drivers for the sake of pride is stupid and dangerous.
  • If you have been going at just below the speed limit most of the time, don’t suddenly speed up to full speed or more when you get to the parts of the road that have passing lanes provided, forcing those who want to go faster to really put their foot down to possibly a dangerous degree.
  • Stay in your lane, even when the traffic is slow, rather than hopping from one to another. If you wouldn’t do it in the supermarket or in the queue for the loo during half-time at the rugby, don’t do it on the road.
  • Even if you have a fantastic sound system, you don’t need to let the world know about it by turning it up to full blast and winding the windows down. Not everybody shares your taste in music. The only exception is if you’re a contractor and you have your vehicle parked off the road where you’re working, and you want to listen while you work.
  • On rural roads where the traffic is sparse, wave, nod or raise a finger (no, not THAT finger) to salute oncoming drivers.
  • Use your indicators. Enough said.

Courtesy To Other Road Users

  • Check for cyclists before opening your car doors.
  • Wait until pedestrians are completely off the crossing before you move off (this is the law as well as good manners).
  • Give cyclists plenty of room, especially if they’re coping with a hill or a stiff headwind or even a blisteringly hot day. Refrain from honking your horn at them if the road is narrow and they’re doing all they can – just wait until you have enough space to pass.
  • Stop for animals on the roads, from ducklings to kangaroos.
  • Be sensitive around horses, as they are wired instinctively to run away from things that make loud roaring noises at them. This means that you don’t rev your engine, honk your horn or shout at them.
  • Stay out of the bike lane. It is there to keep cyclists from holding motorized traffic up, not as an extra turning lane or passing lane.

Courtesy To Passengers

  • Open the door for whoever’s in the front passenger seat. Traditionally, the guy is the driver and the lady is the passenger, but these days, the rule should be that whoever has the keys should unlock and open for the person without, regardless of how many X chromosomes each one has.
  • Wait until everybody has made their seatbelt click before moving off.
  • Your car might be able to corner hard, but your passengers do not have the steering wheel to hold onto. Don’t throw your passengers around; save the rally driver behaviour for when you are alone or actually in a rally.
  • Ensure that the music volume and temperature are comfortable for everybody (dual zone climate control is a wonderful invention).
  • Refrain from making snarky or belittling comments about other road users. Double that if your passengers are children. This rule also applies to those other road users known as cops.

Other Situations Where Courtesy Is Important

  • If you are ticketed, accept it as a fair cop, no matter what the reason is. Don’t rage at the cop or the parking warden, who is simply doing his/her job and might hate being assigned to this duty as much as you hate being ticketed. Take it on the chin and take that ticket. Refrain from throwing an adult tantrum about it at your passengers once the uniformed figure has gone – it’s not their fault. It’s your fault, so suck it up, buttercup.
  • Revving your engine loudly so that all the world can hear it is bad manners. Small exceptions can be made if you have a beautifully tuned V8 or V12 (or any other exhaust system that’s been tweaked to produce that deep, throaty growl). This motoring music often draws a smile from fellow motoring enthusiasts. Even so, don’t overdo it, especially late at night.
  • Avoid back seat driving. You may give directions if requested to or call the driver to attention if he/she hasn’t noticed that the truck ahead has slammed on the brakes or if the light has changed. However, nobody needs a full-time driving instructor once they’re off their learner’s licence and even P-platers don’t need nonstop instructions.
  • If you’ve got a very nice sports car (or a well-kept old classic) that attracts attention, don’t get disgruntled about people taking selfies with it, snapping pictures of it or asking questions about it. Bask in the adulation – this is part of the pleasure of owning something rare and beautiful.

 

What Makes A Road Not Just Good But Great?

During a relaxed evening, I like to dig out DVDs of the old classic Top Gear show and watch an episode (bonus points if they decide to feature something I’ve written up for Private Fleet’s reviews). Now and then, the Terrible Trinity of May, Clarkson and Hammond take whatever gorgeous piece of metal and/or carbon fibre they’re talking about onto some road somewhere in the world and they start talking not just about the car but about the road and what a great road it is.

This got me thinking: what is it that makes a road not just good but great? Obviously, to be a good road, it has to be in good condition. Anything with potholes just doesn’t cut the mustard, no matter what other features it has. It has to be safe as well, which rules out the notorious Camino del Muerte in Bolivia from Yungas to La Paz (this has now ruled itself out – the government has now shut it to motor traffic and it’s a very, very popular mountain bike trail).

A bit of poking and prodding around online produced quite a few top ten and top twenty lists of what are considered by various bloggers and authorities to be the best roads in the world to drive. Rather than simply re-hashing what these others have said, I got all analytical on them to work out which characteristics made a good road into a great road. After all, few of us are able to travel the entire world to find the great roads, but maybe there’s some little hidden treasure not too far away from you that could have qualified for these lists, if only the writers (or the tourism promoters paying the writers) knew about them. Having said that, the Great Ocean Road in Victoria makes it onto a lot of these lists, so if you’re in Melbourne, you’re not that far away from an officially great road anyway.

Hallmarks Of A Great Road

  1. Amazing Scenery. Just about all of the famous roads on the various lists seem to feature spectacular scenery of some kind, preferably the sort that can be described as “dramatic”. Mountains and cliffs seem to feature heavily in most, but not all, cases.  However, the scenery would still be just as dramatic if it was viewed from the window of a tour bus, so there must be more to what makes a great road great than just the views.  What’s more, if you are driving on a road that qualifies as having great scenery, make sure that you pull over in a sensible place for your photo opportunities rather than trying to take something while standing in the middle of the road.
  2. Non-Metropolitan. I don’t know if “non-metropolitan” is officially a dictionary word but how else do you describe routes that include small to medium towns and villages as well as plenty of rural scenery? However, this seems to be another feature of the great roads. Probably, the ability to travel at full open road speed is something to do with it, punctuated by the chance to fill up with fuel, recharge, have a coffee and go to the loo somewhere civilized.
  3. Bends. Roads that are dead straight the whole way do not qualify as great roads, although long and epic roads that have significant straight sections do make it onto these lists (Ruta 40 in Argentina and the Ocean Highway in Florida being the main examples here). However, to be a great road for a driver, a road has to have a few bends in it, preferably large, looping ones. Where else would you get to see what the handling of your vehicle can really do?  One thing to bear in mind, though, is that spectacular scenery often means big drop-offs and/or idiots taking selfies in dumb places, and being non-metropolitan means that it can take some time for the emergency services to arrive and cellphone coverage may be dodgy.  Getting the exact quality and quantity of bends in the road to make it great is a fine balancing act.  Too many and the road becomes risky and you miss out on the scenery.  Too few and it’s not enough of a challenge for a driver.  If you’re interested in taking a mathematical approach to this sort of thing, rental car company Avis has got a formula it uses for creating its list of best roads that looks at the ratio of time spent going around bends to time spent on a straight.  Exactly how many bends there are and how sharp they need to be to make a road great or perfect will vary from driver to driver. Some people like to have more hairpins than a busy hairdresser (Stelvio Pass, I’m looking at you); others prefer wide sweeps and gentle undulations.  But bends are a must.

If you are lucky enough to get the chance to travel the world and try out some of the great roads beyond what we’ve got here, then one thing to remember is that although the piccies posted by travel websites and the footage on motor shows make it look as though you will have the road to yourself, you probably won’t.  So enjoy the drive, by all means, but share the love and share the road.

If you have been lucky enough to drive a road you consider to be great, then let us know all about in the comments… unless you want to keep a delightful secret all to yourself.

Things You Need To Know About Hydrogen As A Fuel

In the quest to achieve more sustainable motoring, there are three main players: biofuels (i.e. producing petrol and diesel that will run in conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels), electric vehicles (we’ve heard heaps about these) and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV).  Electrical vehicles seem to be the hottest of the hot at the moment and they grab quite a lot of the attention from the media and from the government.  To take one hot off the press example, they’ve just given the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this year to the guys who invented the rechargeable lithium-ion battery, even though this tech has been around for a fair few years now and first got onto the market in 1991.

However, let’s not completely overlook the other two members of the sustainability team. If you asked me to take my pick of the three, I’d go for HFCVs. This is because it gives the best of both worlds: the zero-exhaust factor of EVs and the ease of refuelling of ICE vehicles.

Hydrogen is the lightest element on the periodic table and it’s one of the most common elements on earth – actually, make that THE most abundant element in the universe.   As we all learned in school, good old water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. In fact, you could say that all energy is, technically speaking, hydrogen powered.  Our sun is one great big ball of hydrogen undergoing a massive nuclear reaction (fusion rather than fission), and it’s the energy given off by this that is ultimately the source of all energy on Earth – even the fossil fuels, which are ancient forests that once trapped sunlight through photosynthesis.

If we could somehow replicate this process on Earth at a smaller scale, most of the world’s energy problems would be solved and it would generate all the electricity to meet our needs and more. However, the problem would be to stop it getting out of hand or an H-bomb would be the result. Cold fusion is the dream of many a scientist…

The first thing you need to understand about HFCVs is that when you put hydrogen fuel into the vehicle, the fuel isn’t burned the way that the fuel in an ICE burns. NASA uses this tech in rockets but it’s far, far too explosive for more down to earth uses. Instead, the hydrogen is used to generate electricity, which is released when hydrogen combines with oxygen to produce (you guessed it) water. This takes place in fuel cells, which do the job of converting good old oxygen and hydrogen to water.

Quite a lot of vehicles around the world use hydrogen fuel cell tech already. These are mostly forklifts and buses; however, cars are coming onto the scene and they’re beginning to get a fair bit of interest.

The big question about any sustainable energy source is to ask where it comes from and how one gets it – a question that people aren’t quite asking enough in the case of EVs, if you ask me.  In the case of hydrogen, there are two main sources. One is from electrolysis of water and the other is from steam reformation of methane. Of the two methods, electrolysis of water (where the water molecule is split into H2 and O by a current of electricity) is the cleaner of the two – as long as the electricity used comes from a sustainable source, such as wind, solar or hydro (using hydro to produce hydrogen seems appropriate). The other method uses methane – thus busting up and reducing something that is both a waste product and a greenhouse gas – but it also produces a bit of carbon monoxide during the production stage.  There are quite a few other methods out there but these are the most common.

Hydrogen is produced for commercial use already on quite a large scale. It’s used quite extensively in, of all things, the petrochemical industry during the process of refining petrol. You could therefore think of a switch to hydrogen fuel cell tech as cutting out the middleman.  The other major commercial use of hydrogen gas is in electrical power stations, where it acts as a coolant.

The biggest issue with hydrogen fuel is storage and transport, as hydrogen is a slippery customer that can explode and burn with the ferocity of rocket fuel simply because it is rocket fuel. On the other hand, liquid hydrogen is super-cold (even colder than the liquid nitrogen the doctor uses to remove warts and low-grade skin cancers) and needs to be kept that way. It’s the storage and transport issue that our very own CSIRO is working on.  Nevertheless, the potential is out there and is being used in many parts of the world. In the US, for example, there are already 40 retail outlets for refuelling hydrogen cars just in a single state (California), with more in other states and more to come.

Over here, we’ve already got one public hydrogen fuel station in Canberra, with more being planned. As renewable hydrogen is a hot topic (or maybe a cool topic, given that liquid hydrogen has a temperature of about –250°C), there are a ton of hydrogen projects going on at the moment, and there are hopes that renewable hydrogen fuel will become one of Australia’s biggest exports.  Just a couple of days ago, there was news out that Siemens was launching a big plant in Western Australia to produce hydrogen fuel, and that’s just the latest one. We’re going to be producing it ourselves, so it makes sense that we should put it on our cars as well.

Will Driving Faster Really Get You There Quicker?

(Warning – contains maths!)

It seems ingrained in our human mentality.  If you go faster, you get there more quickly, right? After all, we’ve all seen this in childhood.  When you walked to school, let’s say it usually took you 15 minutes. I am possibly showing my age here with the assumption that you walked 15 minutes to school – although a 15-minute walk is pretty reasonable and there’s no reason why kids these days (that’s really showing my age) can’t do it as well.  Anyway, back to the topic.  When you were a kid walking to school, if you realized that you’d forgotten your homework and had to double back for it, you pretty soon found out that if you jogged or ran, you’d still make it to the school gate before the bell rang.

When we grew up and got cars, we applied the same logic. If we overslept the alarm or had some sort of household emergency before setting off to work, we believe that if we step on the accelerator a little bit harder, we’ll make up for lost time.  Or will we?

We’ll leave aside the issue that speeding is illegal and that you will get pinged for it if you get caught.  Yes, that means you, even if you’re going only a teeny weeny 10 km/h over the legal limit.  Let’s do the maths instead.

Let’s say your commute takes about 30 minutes and you usually drive at 50 km/h, which is the signed speed limit on the road you take.  This means that, at least on paper, you’re covering about 25 km.  The equation is Distance (in km) ÷ Your Speed (in km/h) = Travel Time (in hours).  What happens if we plug your sneaky wee attempt at speeding into this equation, with the assumption that you’re going to try driving to work at 60 km/h to make up the time spent cleaning up after the cat had vomited in the middle of the living room?  We’ve got 25 ÷ 60 = 0.416667.  To turn 0.416667 hours into the equivalent in minutes, multiply it by 60 and you get (drum roll; the smart cookies reading this will have already clicked) 25 minutes.  So what you’ve saved – in theory – by speeding 10 km/h faster is 5 minutes.  Which isn’t much.

Of course, your average travel speed probably never was your target speed, whether that was 50 km/h or 60 km/h.  We all know that in peak travel hours, you have to slow down at intersections, wait at Give Way signs, wait at pedestrian crossings for the kids who are walking to school and wait at traffic lights. This means that the amount of your journey spent actually going faster will only be a few minutes out of your commute, so you won’t actually be saving 5 minutes at all. You’ll be saving more like 1 or 2 minutes and you will end up being late for work – and you’ll probably try blaming it on the traffic rather than that cat.

However, while you’ve been pressing down the accelerator in that attempt to get to work on time, you’ve been revving your engine that little bit harder, and you’ve probably had to brake harder.  That extra bit of accelerator means more fuel consumption – or more drain on the battery, so those of you with EVs can wipe that smug smile off your faces because this applies across the board.  That extra stress on the brake also means more wear and tear, so in the long run, although you may have saved a couple of minutes on your commute, you’ll have put a bit more on your fuel bill and/or your maintenance bill.  You have to ask yourself if it’s really worth it.

So why did travelling faster work so well when you were a kid running to school instead of walking after forgetting your homework?  And is there ever a time when going faster will actually get you there quicker.

Let’s start with that first question.  When you were a kid walking to school, you probably went there more or less non-stop, with maybe the odd pause if you had to cross the road.  Walking speed varies by age and sex, but let’s say that you could walk at about 3 km/h.  A child’s maximum running speed at the age of 2 is about 9 km/h but you were older than that if you were walking to school and you probably weren’t running at your maximum, so we’ll say that your running to school speed was about 6 km/h.  This is double your walking speed (a 100% increase), whereas increasing your driving speed from 50 km/h to 60 km/h is a 20% increase.

Lastly, is there ever a time when going faster helps you make up lost time? The answer is probably yes, but only if (a) you’re covering a long distance so small changes add up and (b) your route is free-flowing without need to stop or slow down for significant portions of the time.  Think rural roads and well-designed motorways.  Even then, your gain in time won’t be all that much.  Perhaps, on a rural road, you might be able to shave 5 minutes off what would have been a 20-min trip by travelling at an average speed of 100 km/h rather than the average of 80 km/h.  Longer trips will get more savings in time but this may be off-set by increased fuel consumption – and it’s up to you if you think this is worth it!