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Archive for September, 2016

Q3 2016: Partnerships and Technology Signal the Beginning of a New Era

While some of the issues from earlier this year continue to hold the attention of the industry, partnerships and technology took on a large role this quarter following numerous developments.



The biggest talking point still concerns Volkswagen, which has plunged into legal disarray around the world. Numerous governments have now taken action against the auto-maker for its Dieselgate saga, while locally a class action was instigated and the ACCC took the company to court.

Volkswagen have argued the local government is delaying them from implementing fixes to Australian-delivered vehicles, while the Federal Court cited frustration with the way the manufacturer is cooperating with proceedings. In August, Volkswagen’s operations were further impacted after contractual disputes with its suppliers in Germany and Brazil.

Brexit has resulted in several manufacturers weighing their ongoing operations within the UK, illustrated most by the Japanese government issuing strong advice concerning its contribution to the UK economy.

July 29 marked the final local production run of Ford Falcons, which was recently followed by engine production ceasing on September 26. For now, Holden will shut its engine plant in December this year, a year ahead of the scheduled conclusion of the Commodore range.

Numerous partnerships were also forged during the quarter. Ford signed an agreement with ridesharing business Carhood, which offers motorists free airport parking in exchange for renting out their vehicle. Apple was rumoured to be in discussion with McLaren regarding an acquisition, however this was later denied. Autonomous vehicle partnerships included Volvo and Uber, as well as Hyundai and Google, while Volkswagen will partner with Chinese company Anhui Jianghuai Automobile to develop electric vehicles in China.


Safety and Environment

Driverless vehicles encountered their first major hurdle during June, with one of Tesla’s vehicles involved in a fatal accident after it was unable to distinguish between a white truck and brightly lit sky.

The AAA announced that it would begin to conduct real-world testing for vehicle tailpipe emissions, coinciding with research from Beyond Zero Emissions, which illustrated the potential for a 6% reduction in greenhouse emissions if all Australians converted to 100% renewable electric vehicles. Supporting the momentum were reports that state governments may soon offer motorists’ incentives to take up renewable electric vehicles, with the federal government also mulling whether to scrap the Luxury Car Tax for such cars.



Despite Tesla’s autonomous vehicle incident, manufacturers still continue to make preparations for self-driving vehicles. Just one example, BMW, in partnership with Intel and Mobileye, are aiming for a 2021 release. Framework preparations are also under way around the world – Australia’s current road network is being mapped for machine-reading; black boxes will be required for such vehicles in Germany; and the US released driverless vehicle safety guidelines.

Meanwhile, other technology developments during the quarter included:

  • Honda developing a car that can detect a driver’s emotions
  • Hyundai and Toyota pushing for hydrogen technology within Australia by 2018
  • Airbus assessing the viability a flying vehicle
  • Audi are currently looking into: in-car Wi-Fi; electric vehicle sales being 25% by 2025; vehicles that communicate with traffic lights; and energy recuperating shock absorbers
  • Infiniti unveiled the world’s first market-ready, variable compression ratio engine
  • The first driverless bus was unveiled in Perth in late August

Audi led the way with innovative technology this quarter

Regulatory Issues

Locally, the NSW government made the controversial decision to boost its support of E10 petrol, which has thus far failed to gain any material traction within the market.

At a broader level, the government’s plan to tackle emissions through stricter standards have led motoring groups to caution drivers about the prospect of cost increases associated with new cars.

Lastly, legal and motoring bodies made renewed calls for the introduction of “lemon laws” to protect new car buyers.


Private Fleet Car Review: 2017 MY Kia Optima Si

Kia’s big mid sized car, or mid sized big car, the Optima, has proved to be a stayer in recent years. For 2017 Kia has streamlined the range, with it now compromising the Si and GT, with the latter now packing a turbo engine and replacing the Platinum nameplate. A Wheel Thing takes time with the entry level Kia Optima Si.2017-my-kia-optima-si-profile-smpThere’s a good reason why the range is now just two: the Si gets crammed full of standard equipment found as options elsewhere. Apart from the standard, mandated, safety equipment such as ABS, airbags and the like, there’s Hill Start Assist, the flashing brake lights Emergency Stop Signal, parking sensors front & rear with dash display, rear view camera with guidelines, Lane Departure Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking, auto headlights and with auto levelling. Straight up, that’s an impressive features list from a $38500 driveaway (no options or metallic paint) priced car.2017-my-kia-optima-si-engineWhat you’ll get up front is Kia’s 2.4L, with 138 kilowatts and 241 torques at 4000 rpm put to the front wheels via a six speed auto. It’s an engine that needs a rev to get the 1540 kg car going and that’s reflected in the consumption. The combined figure is quoted as 8.3L/100 km on standard unleaded, with an urban figure of 12.0L. That’s simply too high in today’s eco aimed environment and has been the Optima’s weak spot since the current shape was released in 2013. Take it out on the freeway and expect just over 6.0L/100 km from the huge 70 litre tank.2017-my-kia-optima-si-profileIt weighs a bit because it IS a big car but not as much as similar sized competitors. It’s big car in length at 4855 mm, big car in width at 1860 mm but has a low 1465 mm to show why in profile it’s seen as slinky and sensuous. It’s a good sized wheelbase, too, at 2805 mm, which translates into plenty of internal space, including a huge 510 litre boot space that is more than adequate for a family shop or a holiday away.2017-my-kia-optima-si-wheelDesign wise there’s subtle but crucial changes, keeping the Si’s looks fresh. It’s a more defined tiger nose grille, the LED lights in the lower quadrants of the intake inside the reprofiled bumper, the slimmer tail lights, extended boot lid, and the Continental rubber on the 17 inch alloys. A good looker? Absolutely. The test car came in Clear White, one of five colours available for the Si, with Silky Silver, Platinum Graphite, Gravity Blue and Temptation Red also available as an optionable cost (check with your dealer for pricing).2017-my-kia-optima-si-front-seatsInside it’s black cloth for the Si, on well sculpted, supportive and well bolstered, manually operated seats. For the Si, that’s the sole trim choice available. The driver and front seat passenger see a fluid, flowing, dash, with an ergonomically smart layout. The upper section, nearest the window, has a curve not unlike that seen in a premium British brand and the dash plastic has an almost leather look to the texture.2017-my-kia-optima-si-dashTabs have a soft feel and are of Kia’s semi matte finish. The overall effect is of quality and presence and wouldn’t be out of place in some more expensive Euro spec cars. And although the window line is high in proportion to the sides, there’s still plenty of all around vision. If you have portable devices or smartphones, there’s four 12 Volt sockets; two front and two for the rear seats, mounted at the rear of the centre console.2017-my-kia-optima-si-centre-dashEntertainment is courtesy of a 7 inch touchscreen with navigation, complete with USB/Auxiliary/Bluetooth streaming and a Speed Dependent Volume Control. It’s AM/FM only with limited RDS (Radio Data Service) capability, leaving the Si Optima behind some competitors. Sound quality in FM is good enough, however, with tuner sensitivity only rarely showing a dropout.2017-my-kia-optima-si-bootWhere the Si further shines is on the road. Think of the suspension tune as “sporting luxury”. Punted over a broken up tarmac surface at Sydney Motorsport Park, there’s plenty of absorption, compliance, plushness before firming up rapidly but not uncomfortably. Kia Australia works very closely with Kia’s headquarters to work on suspension tune for Australia and again that effort shows and pays off. Even being front wheel drive there’s barely a hint of that, with no torque steer yet an appreciable weight and heft to the steering feel. Speedbumps? Not a problem? Dive under brakes? Not enough to worry about. Dealing with undulations? C’mon, why ask!2017-my-kia-optima-si-rear-seatsPushed hard into a certain roundabout which has a direction of travel change of over 180 degrees, there was no understeer and the rear followed the front around without question. Nope, no tyre squeal either, before you ask. The electrically assisted steering is not overdone in how it works with the three steering modes, and the Motor Driven Power Steering Module is steering column mounted, allowing Kia to tune towars the more luxury side as opposed to the GT’s rack mounted setup.

It’s quiet, too, on the road, with the 2.4 litre engine only intruding slightly and that only when pressed hard. Wind and tyre noice are negligible at best and only mildly noticed at worst. Combined with the seating, you will emerge from a long drive without the subconscious stress outside noise brings in.

At The End Of The Drive.
At the time of writing, the Optima Si was priced at $34490 plus ORCs. Along with the seven year warranty, Kia offer capped price servicing over those seven years, starting off with $331.00 for the first service at one year or 15000 kilometres, with a maximum of $769.00 at the 60000 kilometre service for the Optima Si.
What a new buyer gets for their hard earned is a thoroughly well sorted car, with plenty of Australian input, a huge boot, plenty of standard features and astoundingly good value for money.

For more information on the Australian spec2017 MY Kia Optima go here: 2017 model year Kia Optima

That New Car Smell

lotus_girl_aroma_eyes_closed_white_background_76447_1920x1200The poet and writer Rudyard Kipling once said that “Smells are surer than sounds or sights to make your heartstrings crack,” and “”The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” (the one who wrote the Jungle Books and tons of poetry that is rather neglected today, possibly because some of it’s too much fun for an English class).  He would probably have sympathised with those who find the smell of a brand new car intoxicating.

Just what is that new car smell?  Why does it press our buttons so much?  And is it possible to bottle it so we can spray it in our old faithful Toyota Corollas so they smell like new machines?  If we can, should we?

For a start, some of the pleasure that we get from smelling a new car is partly down to pure primitive psychology and associations.  The place in our brain where we process smells is right next-door to the memory department, so the two are pretty closely linked.  The first time most of us smelt a new car would either have been when we were buying something brand new or when we were drooling around the car yards, admiring the machines we love.  In the first case, the smell of a new car would probably thus be linked with the feelings of excitement, success and the joys of ownership.  In the second case, the smell of a new car would be linked with the machines we dreamed of but could never afford.  With such strong links between that smell and those strong feelings (aspiration and longing or else success), it’s no wonder that we love new car smell.

There’s a chance that we would love the new car smell even if it was awful, the same way that some people like the smell of tobacco because it reminds them of a beloved grandparent.  The relationship between smell and emotion is a very complicated one, like emotions themselves.  Scents that might put a smile on one person’s face might break the heart of another and vice versa. If you were abruptly and rudely dumped in the middle of a fragrant rose garden by the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with, the scent of roses would probably conjure up the feelings of bitterness for some time to come.  Similarly, if you met the love of your life out on a fishing boat that stank of diesel and fish guts, the smell of diesel and fish guts would make your heart sing with the memory.

So what’s the case with new car smell?  Is it something that we’d find delicious if we smelled it in isolation from the car itself, rather like roses or cinnamon, or is it a fish-guts-and-diesel thing that we find pleasant because of the associations?

Just what is new car smell made up from?  Skipping the complex chemical names, most of what you can smell inside a new car comes from off-gassing from the materials inside the vehicle – the leather, the plastics, the vinyl, the glues, the rubber, the seat material and the paint.  In a new car, all the volatile chemicals will still be off-gassing; in an older one, they’ve all been used up.  OK, to be fair, some of these notes are likely to be found in actual perfumes: Chanel No. 5 uses a lot of aldehyde notes and heaps of old-school aftershaves use leather notes.  So it could be that new car smell is indeed intrinsically nice and it’s not just the associations.

new car headacheHowever, there’s a sinister force at work.  Back in 2000, research published by Australia’s very own CSIRO (Brown and Cheng 2000 ) found that all those volatile organic compounds that make up new car smell are pretty bad for you.  All the gases and compounds ending in –ene, -yl and –ane with random Ns in the middle of things you can’t spell that get blamed for “sick building syndrome” are found in brand new cars… and there you are, sitting inside that new car, breathing in that famous smell with the windows closed.  If you feel a little light-headed and intoxicated, it’s not just because you’re excited.  You’re not just getting a high from the thrill of purchasing a brand new vehicle – you’re also getting a chemical high like a common or garden glue sniffer, possibly from the same sort of glue.  Those headaches you get after driving around for a week or so in the new set of wheels aren’t some sort of buyer’s remorse or a result of worrying about putting a dent in the shiny new paint – it’s the new car smell making you feel a bit woozy and out of sorts.This puts a rather sinister twist on the technique of salespeople that involves getting you to sit in the car and breathe in the new car smell as a way of convincing you to buy a particular vehicle.  If the smell is getting you a little bit high, your sales resistance and some of your common sense may dissolve…

So what is to be done?  You need to buy a brand new car, so what now?  Now, I’m no killjoy.  I like the scent of a new car myself, and I also like Chanel No. 5 and all those aldehyde-note perfumes that are probably also bad for you.  I’m also aware that some of that research is well over 10 years old and car manufacturers may very well have changed their ways in this department, same as they’ve done better in the fuel efficiency department.  Buy that new car if it’s what you’ve planned on doing.  Take a sniff of the new car smell and enjoy it. However, after that, open the windows as much as possible to let all those headache-causing glue gases out; in a new convertible, get that top open!  After six months, the nasties will have got down to safe levels and you’ll still have a great car!

As for those sprays you can buy to make your beloved old car smell like a new one, they (a) don’t work and (b) are probably best avoided.  Grab a bottle of essential oil and make your own customised spray that’s actually good for you.

Preparing Your Teenager For Their Learner Licence Test

driver ed 4A lot of parents look forward to the day when their teenager can finally drive him/herself.  However, before you can enjoy the relative freedom of the P-plate days, you have to do through the L-plate stage – and the stage before the L-plates.  You may already have a few ideas up your sleeve about whether you’re going to be the one to teach your teenager how do drive, whether you’re going to sign him/her up for professional driving lessons or whether you’re going to go for a combination of the two.

But what about the stage before that? How are you going to help your teenager prepare for that?  They certainly do need your help preparing for this, as you’re the expert driver that they see driving on a daily basis (and don’t you just know it!).  What’s more, this is usually a time of life for them when the homework from school increases like nothing else (Talk about stressful for them! I wouldn’t want to go back to my teen years).

Here’s a couple of things that will help your teen get ready for that first test.

  1. Help him/her become familiar with a car and its controls. Although your teenager can’t drive legally on the road, he or she can still crawl up and down the driveway. Getting your teenager to start the car, back it out of the garage, drive it up the driveway and the like is a good way to introduce them gradually to the basics of clutch, brake, gear stick, steering wheel and accelerator.  After all, once they’ve got that learner’s permit, you want to make the most of your time on the road.  Those of you who have access to farm paddocks and other places that are legally considered to be off the road can give your teens more opportunity to practice before they hit the road.  If you don’t have much of a driveway and don’t have access to a nice big field, then letting your teen sit in the driver’s seat and learn where all the controls are and what they are called is a good start.  If you want your teen to learn in a manual car – which is a very good idea – let him/her practice doing gear changes in a stationary car with the engine switched off.
  2. Buy him or her a copy of the road rules. Quiz him or her on it as well as encouraging your teen to do online tests or mobile phone testing apps.  If you are brave, get him or her to test your knowledge.  You may get caught out!
  3. Discuss car-related topics. Talk to him or her about what sort of car they would like to have, car shows and the like.  Talk about safety issues, driver aids and whether they’re a good idea or not. Read car reviews  and blogs (like this one!) and discuss them.
  4. Teach him or her basic maintenance skills. This is something that isn’t covered in the licencing programme but is still very important for your teens to know. After all, you don’t want your P-plater to get stranded with a flat tyre and no clue as to how to change the tyre.  Let them know the basics about what’s under the hood.  Get him or her helping you to change the oil, change the air filters, fill up with fuel, etc.
  5. Limit or ban those computer games that feature driving. I may be alone here, but I have a theory that these programmes, while fun, desensitise teens to the consequences of bad driving.  In one of these programmes, bushes, road signs and the like go down like they’re made of polystyrene if your computer car hits them. In reality, a road sign will put a serious dent in the front end and is likely to take out the front windscreen as well.  As for cars that crash at 200+ km/h and go end over end a couple of times through the air but still drive away at the end of it with the damage meter going up just a little bit… The reality is that you and the car would be totally unrecognisable and very, very dead. I’ve seen the other half’s driving quality drop and silly risks get taken after an evening of playing driving games (and the other half is a grownup).  If you can’t ban these games completely, then at least limit them or discuss what would really happen if you drove like that in the real world.
  6. Talk about road safety and driving safety when you’re on the road. This is important for building awareness. However, it’s important to balance this with discussions about the fun of driving. If you always talk about the potential hazards non-stop and stress the importance of anticipating danger to a teen who is already a bit on the nervous side, you could end up making him/her paranoid and almost too frightened to get behind the wheel.  Driving safely is important but you don’t want to give the impression that every other driver is a potential drunken idiot who is out to Get You.  Scared inexperienced drivers make just as many mistakes, if not more mistakes, than overconfident, cocky know-it-alls.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Audi A4 Avant Quattro S-Line

Long seen as a pioneer of all wheel drive vehicles, Audi’s Quattro system is possibly one of the best of its kind available. Couple it with a torquey turbocharged four, a mostly user friendly DSG transmission, and with Audi’s S-Line trim inside the wagon or Avant body, it’s an iron fist in a velvet glove. All up, it’s the Audi A4 Avant Quattro S-Line.2016-audi-a4-avant-quattro-s-line-profileUp front, behind the LED lit headlights, lies a 2.0L four cylinder turbocharged engine in an in-line configuration, fed on a diet of 95RON petrol. When prodded with the angry stick, the 1615 kilogram machine (thanks to a weight reducing aluminuiom chassis) will be hauled away to 100 kilometres per hour in just six seconds to a limited top speed of 250 kmh, seeing maximum torque of 370 nm (1600 to 4500 rpm) being applied via the seven speed dual clutch auto to all four wheels. Keep the foot buried and the tachometer on the full LCD dash screen will swing around to over 6000 rpm, delivering peak power of 185 kilowatts between 5000 to 6000 revs.2016-audi-a4-avant-quattro-s-line-engineBeing the beast it can be, it’ll drink and drink hard when continually pushed. Consumption of the good fluid can be over 12.0 litres for every one hundred kilometres covered. However, it can also be docile, averaging around 7.0L per 100 km for normal around town work. Audi’s figures are 6.6L/100 km on the combined cycle for the Avant from a 58 litre tank.

Drivewise, punch the accelerator whilst on the freeway and the torque spread shrugs aside any opposition, watching the numbers change with alacrity. It’s a situation that well trained drivers will appreciate and understand.2016-audi-a4-avant-quattro-s-line-dashShould one wish to drive with a touch more verve and a little more zing, Audi has a drive mode selector, offering four options including Dynamic. This holds the gear shift point for longer, changes the engine’s ignition mapping to suit and provides the driver a more assertive driving experience. This would be ideal for an owner to take to a track day and find out the true limits of what this very capable machine can see. The downside to this is a lack of anything welcome stroking the ears. Although you can hear the engine working, it’s muted, lacking a real sense of buzz and excitement, whilst at the rear there’s a faint “phut, phut” as the transmission changes up.2016-audi-a4-avant-quattro-s-line-front-quarterIt’s a little too easy to confuse it at times; it’s not a fan of very low throttle applications such as those coming out from your driveaway, or in city traffic. The engine takes a moment too long to telegraph what it’s doing and the transmission furthers that lag. It’ll all too easily change down to an unwanted ratio on some downhill runs, especially at lower speeds required due to the road itself or traffic ahead, necessitating a flick of the paddle shift to get it to a more appropriate ratio. There was the occasional indecision in traffic and a clunk as the gearbox and AWD system talked to each other momentarily before reaching a decision on what to do.2016-audi-a4-avant-quattro-s-line-lower-dashHowever, it’s as easy as breathing in regards to engaging the system. A rocker style gear selector is what Audi uses; foot on brake, press the Start/Stop button, pull lightly back for Drive or push forward for Reverse. Park is engaged by a push button at the top right and it couldn’t be more simple to use. Manual mode is simple tip to the right and rocking forward or back or using the paddle shifters.2016-audi-a4-avant-quattro-s-line-wheelBeing all wheel drive is one thing, but if the tyres aren’t up to the game, you’ll be hard pressed to fully appreciate what it does. Thankfully Audi has wrapped all four 19 inch wheels with rubber from Pirelli in a 245/35 profile. On the curvy, winding, roads A Wheel Thing uses every day, the Avant simply hunkers down, hands the driver a note saying “I’ve got this” and powers through as if Velcro, superglue and liquid nails have held the chassis to the rails it’s on. In one of the roundabouts near home, which to access the desired road requires a change of direction of over 180 degrees, there was no under or oversteer at all.2016-audi-a4-avant-quattro-s-line-front-seatsThe well weighted and pin sharp responsive steering had the Avant planted firmly, squarely, confidently, in this kind of situation and worked hand in glove with the sports suspension. Think of one of the hard erasers you had a school; squeeze it and there’s a touch of compression before it shops the squeeze. Close your eyes and imagine that’s the ride quality of the A4 Avant Quattro; firm but not hard, compliant enough to not dislodge the teeth but solid enough to let you know it’s just eaten a ripple in the road for breakfast. Helping with front end and overall chassis stability is the alloy strut tower brace.2016-audi-a4-avant-quattro-s-line-rear-seatsIf there was a design quibble, it was something constantly mentioned by the junior members of A Wheel Thing: Daddy, why do the door handles open upwards? I don’t like it.

The test vehicle came clad in a delicious metallic blue paint, wrapping the slinky Avant and showing off its subtle curvature, and was complemented by a power blue colour for the seats. Yes, they were electrically operated. Yes, they were comfortable. Yes, they were a sports bucket style. Yes, they came with two tablet devices attached for the rear seat passengers. No, this car did not come fitted with the data enabled SIM card allowing certain usage options such as in-car wifi hotspot. No, it did not come with switches in the cargo area to release the 40/20/40 split fold seats.2016-audi-a4-avant-quattro-s-line-dash-screenWhat the test car did come with was some of the vast array of options Audi has for the A4, both as options and fitted as standard for the Quattro. The folding and heated external mirrors for example, the sports suspension which drops ride height by 20 mm, Audi’s virtual cockpit including HUD, and parking assistance ($2735 and $1255), with the S-Line package covering the 19 inch wheels with V spokes/stainless steel pedals/matt brushed aluminuim inlays and more for $4160.

The Drive Select, Side Assist Blind Spot Warning, Cruise Control, Rear Cross Traffic Assist, and space saver spare are standard fitment, as are the LED headlights with self levelling and dynamic (inside to out in motion) indicators. Heating and venting, however, are optionable and are a questionable cost at $2600. And although Bluetooth streaming and digital radio are standard, the Bang and Olufson sound system is a $1950 option.2016-audi-a4-avant-quattro-s-line-rear-seat-tabletIn the upper centre of the dash is an 8.3 inch multimedia screen, operated via a control dial ahead of the gear selector. It’s not a retractable screen either, making it look oddly out of place. The system displays a hi-res map, the fact you’re listening to a radio station but won’t simultaneously show the RDS (Radio Data Service) information. The twin screens on th erear of the seats are a $4680 option in the Avant Quattro yet are a thousand dollars cheaper in the sedan version…2016-audi-a4-avant-quattro-s-line-space-saverAt the stern is a powered tail gate, with plenty of LED lighting (a nice touch to have one directly overhead when open), with a rear camera that’s part of the 360 degree system. It’s 1025 mm from the rear of the car to the rear axle line, with the lip of the gate just 630 mm above the ground in normal trim. Overall length is 4725 mm with a wheelbase of 2820 mm, track is 1575 mm/1550 mm front and rear.2016-audi-a4-avant-quattro-s-line-rear-quarterInterior room benefits from good packaging: 1476 and 1446 mm are the numbers for hip room front and rear yet there’s a massive 505L for the cargo section (once you remove the cargo blind) with the rear seats up. Fold them, they don’t go completely flat, but you’ll still get 1500 or so litres.2016-audi-a4-avant-quattro-s-line-cargoSafety wraps the A4 Avant Quattro in eight airbags, including full length curtain airbags, pre-tensioning seatbelts (which provide a somewhat eerie feeling as they slide up your shoulder by themselves), the excellent presense crash avoidance system and pedestrian friendly active bonnet. Peace of mind comes with a three year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

At The End Of The Drive.
It’s testament to Audi that, although they make a range of SUVs, they recognise that the station wagon still has a measure of appeal. With a starting driveaway price of just over $70K, it’s also priced reasonably fairly for the huge amount of standard kit, although Aussies used to the humble Kingswood or Falcom wagon might snort in their coffee.
It offers up a wonderful ride and handling package, a comfortable and well appointed interior, a plentiful tange of options however with some question marks over price and value for some.
Head over to Audi Australia and follow the links for information on the A4 range including the A4 Avant Quattro S-Line.

Making Sense of the Difference Between 4WD and AWD



With Australians purchasing new cars at a record pace, a surge in the growth of SUV sales saw the category land fractionally behind the number of passenger vehicles sold during August. Which leads to a common, yet often misunderstood, question – what exactly is the difference between 4WD and AWD? In many instances, consumers are led to believe these two systems are the same. However, there is a notable distinction between the two, which will shape your driving experience.


FWD (front-wheel drive) and RWD (rear-wheel drive) vehicles rely upon a single axle to distribute power to move the car. Conversely, 4WD (four-wheel drive) vehicles depend upon a distribution of torque from the transmission going to all wheels at the same time. This transfer is done via a component called a transfer case, ensuring an even distribution. As a result, 4WD vehicles have added versatility – they are equipped for off-road driving, typically across terrain such as mud and rocks.

However, in some instances, like turning, having power supplied to all wheels is undesirable or simply unnecessary. To account for this, some 4WD systems can be controlled (activated/deactivated) through a central mechanism – a dashboard switch, or via a handle. When the system is off, the car effectively operates like a two-wheel drive vehicle. In 4WD vehicles where such controls are not available, they will permanently act as a four-wheel drive, but a differential is used to adjust the individual axle and wheel speed where necessary.

There are also controls which allow differential regulation of the system (either high or low), so that one can distribute the power in a non-equal fashion. In turn, these options can be used to either mitigate the effects of locked wheels, or make them act in such a manner.



On the other hand, the AWD (all-wheel drive) system is used across a wider variety of vehicles, particularly passenger vehicles but also ‘mini’ SUV’s. The other notable feature is that they are effectively in use all the time, and cannot be ‘deactivated’. In a mechanical AWD system, three differential gearboxes help to distribute the torque to the front and rear axle, and then each of the wheels. Meanwhile, electronic AWD systems use an engine control unit, as well as a myriad of sensors, to distribute the torque where it’s required.

This type of system is most suited to wet or slippery driving conditions, or in sporting applications where each wheel has a different level of friction with the ground. While not quite possessing the off-roading capabilities, or low-range driving associated with 4WD vehicles, general handling and weight distribution is considered to be superior, and one doesn’t need to adjust the system to calibrate it.

With that said, both systems do share one commonality – that is, they generally increase the weight of your vehicle, which in turn decreases your fuel economy.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Best wishes,
The Private Fleet Team

Drag Racing Has Its Own Rewards

Sydney Dragway plays host to a variety of high speed events but September 10th and 11th were a little different. The Australian Nostalgia Fuel Association took to the quarter mile track to both showcase some truly classic drag racing cars and their drivers.

The event was backed by “Cruzin” Magazine, a publication dedicated to the hot rod and modified street car scene, and was also a celebration of the drivers and pioneers of the sport. The event itself is part of a series being co-hosted between Sydney and Queensland’s fabled Willowbank Raceway.

Based around ten different categories, including Vintage Gas and Nostalgia Superstock, the series is a first time set-up and was held as two one day events in Queensland. The Sydney Dragway event was a two day wrap-up and was held over a weekend where the weather wasn’t the best.

The event also saw, on the Saturday night, the hosting and presentation of awards to drivers as part of a get together for the Australian Nostalgia Fuel Association, (ANFA). Industry legends such as Bob Shepherd and Graham Withers were given Lifetime Achievement Awards to honour their decades of service to the sport. The presentation, known as Pioneers Night, was attended by close to eight hundred people and the camaraderie was on full display for all members that attended.224105-drag-racing

Drag racing seems to attract a distinct audience, one that is either fully attuned to the nuances of the sport or those that are there simply to enjoy the spectacle. There’s also a curious flow to a drag racing event, compared to how a circuit racing event would run. There’s distinct differences yet, as motorsport tends to do, there’s crossover as well.

A circuit event runs to a certain amount of time or laps, before a race result is declared. It’s generally a situation of who was fastest finishes first. There’s a saying in motorsport: to finish first, first you must finish. Drag racing is not unlike that but it’s in the racing results side that the disparity becomes clear.
Here’s how it works for the layman. In essence, it appears drag racing is about the fastest car to leave the start line (or staging area) and cross the finish line a quarter of a mile (400 metres) down. During the qualifying sessions, that’s effectively how it works. To make sure all races are equal, the staging area has to lights that become visible, one after the other, as an entrant moves their vehicle forward slightly. Ahead of them will be what’s been known for decades as the Christmas Tree, a set of lights mounted vertically that tell the driver when they can start the race. Reaction time, the time it takes the car to move from seeing the green light, can play a huge part as well.The_Edge_260013_Drag_Racing_Christmas_Tree.jpg_250x250

This is where terms such as dial in and elapsed time become important. Elapsed time is the gap between the car starting and then crossing the finish line, hopefully without the driver leaving before the green light. If they do it’s an instant red light and hands the win to the competitor.
Dial in is a time a driver nominates, as in how fast in seconds they believe they will go from A to B. This also becomes a form of handicap, in that a car can nominate a time of 12.3 seconds and a competitor 9.3. This gives the first car a head start of three seconds, however if the 9.3 second competitor goes quicker than the nominated time, he then loses.

Confused? That’s understandable, but that’s drag racing. Head to for details.


How To Stop Driving Becoming A Pain In The Neck, Butt and Back

Lower-Back-PainSpending too long in the driver’s seat (or, for that matter, the passenger seat) can be hard on your back.  One very good friend of mine suffered from mysterious back pain during a time that his job involved very long driving hours… and this “mystery” pain cleared up as quickly as leftovers discovered by seagulls when the driving hours reduced to just a few hours per day. Driving is fun, but do too much of it and it becomes a literal pain in the neck. Or backside. Or back. Or hips…

Yes, car seats are very comfortable, at least in more modern models (we’ll ignore the vinyl-covered horrors of the 1980s and 1970s, classics though they may be).  Many have lumbar support and nice, supportive headrests, and allow you to adjust them this way and that.  However, if you don’t have all the fancy features in your particular set of wheels or if you don’t take the time to adjust the seat to fit your body, apart from making sure that you can reach the pedals and steering wheel comfortably, you can be putting yourself at risk of back pain.

If you do just a wee bit of driving on a daily basis – a regular commute that adds up to maybe three hours a day maximum, you won’t put yourself at much risk of backache. Go for longer drives of four or five hours plus, especially if you do it regularly, and you can end up with aches and twinges that may get you worrying about early onset arthritis and lumbago.

So what do you do if you have to drive for longer periods but you don’t want it to be a literal pain? After all, if you’re uncomfortable and pain in your lower back is nagging away at you just about constantly, then this will take some of your attention from your driving… to say nothing of reducing  your pleasure.

OK, here’s some handy hints:

Sit properly.  This is an absolute basic and we ought to do it even on short journeys. The right way to sit is with your feet firmly planted on the floor (at least when they’re not working the pedals) with your knees slightly higher than your hips (now you know why some seats have tilt adjustment).  Your back should be pressed against the back of the seat – no slouching or hunching over.  If your car seats don’t have lumbar support or if they don’t have enough lumbar support, you can play around with cushions to make sure that your back is properly supported.  Pay particular attention to your “lumbar lordosis”, which is doctor-speak for that curve in your lower back just above your bottom.

Make sure that you can reach the steering wheel without much stretching – if it’s too much of a stretch, this will encourage you to hunch over to reach it properly. OK, you don’t want the steering wheel to be prodding you in the tummy or bumping you if you lean forward to adjust the mirror or adjust the air con.  But don’t have it so far away that you have to adopt the cartoon zombie position (arms stretched out straight at shoulder height).

Make sure that your shocks and suspension are in good order, and get the tyre pressure right.  Bouncing about puts a lot of pressure on your spine (and the spines of your passengers).  You can do what you can to avoid potholes and charging at speed bumps full bore, of course.

Keep your back muscles warm.  This is why heated seats were invented by Saab and why they’re so popular in most modern cars.  Warmth helps stop the muscles cramping and stiffening up, so your back won’t get as sore. Plus the comfort of heated seats also encourages you to sit with your back pressed against the seat where it should be.

Get out and move! Holding any position for a long time is going to put stress on your muscles. It won’t do your heart or your waistline any good, either. This means that you need to go for a little walk every so often when you’re driving.  This has the added bonus of freshening you up (and I don’t just mean because you need to head to the loo) and reducing driver fatigue.  If you are driving for a holiday, this means that you have an excuse to stop and take photos of the scenery or check out that park or whatever takes your fancy. You could do some of those exercises to prevent lower back pain but these aren’t particularly practical on the forecourt of the petrol station…

Clear out your pockets.  Having a big lumpy wallet (lucky you!) in your back pocket makes it hard to sit comfortably. The same goes for cellphones and your house keys.  Lumps and hard objects in your trousers (get your mind out of the gutter right now!) encourage you to sit at a less than ideal position.  There’s a reason why cars have a multitude of storage compartments around the cabin, so empty out your pockets. Right now, all the women with handbags are feeling a bit smug…

While researching this article, I came across one suggestion from a back specialist that you should only drive passenger cars rather than utes or SUVs.  This is somewhat extreme in our opinion but if you have bad back problems, it might be worth considering.  However, it’s not really practical if you need something big to tow the trailer or the caravan for miles on end!

The Rarest Cars In The World.

There’s been millions upon millions of motor vehicles built over the last century or so. There’s the bulk volume cargo vehicles, the popular and long lasting nameplates and then there’s the hand built rarities. One could toss in a name like Bugatti, or muse upon the Aston Martins built for the 2015/2016 Bond film, Spectre. However it’s arguable that the rarest cars in the world, of which there are three examples, and may never be touched by human hands in the first half of the 21st century, are the Lunar Roving Vehicle or LRV examples, left near the landing sites for Apollos 15, 16 and 17.lunar_rover_diagramThe design for the LRV or “moon buggy” as they became popularly known, was part of the overall design brief for the Apollo missions as far back as the early 1960s. However, the idea for a manned vehicle that would traverse the moon had been discussed in the early to mid 1950s by people such as Werner von Braun.

In 1964 von Braun raised the idea again in an edition of “Popular Mechanics” and revealed that discussions between NASA’s Marshal Space Flight Centre, Boeing, General Motors and others. Design studies were put conducted under the watchful eyes of MSFC. In early planning, it was mooted that there would be two Saturn V rockets for the moon missions, one for the astronauts and one for the equipment. The American Congress squeezed NASA and, as a result, the funds for including two boosters were reduced to one, making a redesign of the Lunar Module assembly a priority if a LRV was to be included.

In the mid 1960s two conferences, the Summer Conference on Lunar Exploration and Science in 1965 and 1967, assessed the plans that NASA had for journeying to the moon and exploration around the landing sites. Further design studies and development resulted in NASA selecting a design in 1969 that would become the LRV. In a small piece of history, a request for proposals for supplying and building the LRV were released by MSFC. Boeing, Grumman, and others were eventually selected as component builders; Boeing, for example, would manage the project, the Defense research Lab section of General Motors would look after the driveline componentry and Boeing’s Seattle plant would manage the electronics.apollo_16_lm_orionThe first budget cost for Boeing was nineteen million. NASA’s original estimate, however, was double that and called for a delivery date in 1971. As seemed normal for the time, cost overruns ended up being at the NASA end of the estimate and out of this came four rovers. Three would be used for Apollo 15, 16, and 17, with the fourth cannibalised for spare parts when the Apollo program was cancelled.

Static and development models were also created and built to assess the human interactive part, to test the propulsion and training models were built. None of these would make it to the moon. Barely two years after Armstrong and Aldrin first stepped on the moon, Apollo 15 used a LRV for the very first time.1280px-apollo15lunarrover2Bearing in mind the cost per kilo to lift an item from the surface of the earth, the LRV’s weight of 210 kilos must make one of the most expensive vehicles per kilo to have been shipped to its final destination. However, this equals just 35 kilos of weight on the moon. Part of this of course can be attributed to the four independent electric motors that moved the LRV around, with a designed top speed of just 13 kmh. Astronaut Eugene Cernan, on the Apollo 17 mission, recorded a top speed of 18 kmh. 1024px-lunar_roving_vehicle_wheel_close-upEach wheel had a motor powered by the on board battery system, with a total rated out put of just 190 watts, or a quarter of a horsepower. The tires themselves were the work of genius: a wire mesh design combined with a set of titanium chevrons for the “tread”, with a footprint per tyre of nine inches on a 32 inch wheel. Steering was electrically powered as well, with motors front and rear.

It was a unique design situation to get the LRV on board; with a total length of ten feet and wheelbase of 7.5 feet, a fold was engineered in, allowing lesser overall space to be taken up aboard the lunar module. A system of ropes, pulleys, and tapes was employed enabling the two astronauts to lower the LRV from its bay, with the design automatically folding the vehicle out and locking itself into place.1024px-nasa_apollo_17_lunar_roving_vehicleThe range of the vehicles was limited by an operational decision; should the LRV have broken down at any point, it would have to be in a distance where the astronauts could still have walked back to the lunar module with a margin of safety. Each LRV was built to seat two astronauts, plus carry equipment such as radio and radar, sampling equipment and tools, plus the all important tv cameras, which were later used to show the ascent of the final Apollo mission from the moon.

The second and third missions using the moon buggies saw range vary substantially from the first with Apollo 15. LRV 001 covered a total of 27.76 kilometres during a total on moon driven time of just over three hours and reached a maximum distance from the landing module of five kilometres. Apollo 16’s mission saw more time but less distance, with 3 hours 26 minutes for 26.55 kilometres. Apollo 17 upped the ante, with an extra hours worth of travel time and a whopping 35.9 kilometres driven and a maximum distance from the landing module of 7.6 kilometres.apollo-17-lunar-module-landing-siteAll up, in a space of seventeen months, these craft were designed and engineered and built with a 100 percent non failure rate. Even with a wheel guard coming loose after Cernan bumped it during Apollo 17’s mission failed to cause any real issue, apart from the two occupants being covered in more dust. And with four being built, the fourth being cannibalised once the Apollo program at Apollo 18 was scrapped, the three survivors, located at the landing sites for Apollo 15, 16, and 17, must be, indeed, the rarest cars in the world. Only when mankind eventually colonises the moon will they then be touched again by human hands.

Heated Seats – An Everyday Luxury

heated-seats-thumbWould you like to have a hot butt?  No, this is not an ad for some fancy-pants workout programme or weight loss gadget. Instead it’s all about one of my favourite driver conveniences, heated seats.

Electrically heated seats were the brainchild of the designers at Saab – those Swedes certainly come up with some great practical features.  This isn’t surprising, really.  We all know how cold it can get up there in a country that lies partly inside the Arctic Circle.  Saab, like the other Swedish giant, Volvo, know how to build cars that are toasty-warm and can cope with cold conditions (perhaps a little too much so – in a Saab I once had, the soft lining on the inside of the cabin roof came away because the adhesive melted in the warmth of a summer Down Under).

However, according to the Saab History site  (a fun place to poke around if you, like me, are a fan of Swedish vehicles), these heated seats were designed with another purpose in mind.  Instead, the aim of heated seats was to reduce backache and driver fatigue, rather than simply warming up after a brush with a Swedish winter.  This does make a certain sort of sense.  After all, there are other ways of ensuring that your lower half is warm enough, including a snuggly blanket tossed across your knees and wearing ski pants or long woollen underwear.  On the other hand, given that it’s the extremities that get coldest first and driving in mittens or ski gloves is pretty tricky, if dealing with chilly conditions was the aim of the game, you’d think that heated steering wheels would have made it onto the scene first (the patent for the motorbiking equivalent, heated grips, was acquired by BMW in the early 1980s). And it’s certainly true that having something nice and warm on your lower back and around your hips eases the ache of long periods spent behind the wheel… which could easily be a topic for another post.

How do heated seats work their magic to give you that nice warm feeling?  Basically, it uses the same principle as an electric blanket.  This means that the seat contains a heating coil that is supplied with electricity from the car’s battery, and also contains a thermostat to make sure that the heating coil doesn’t behave like the other heating coils we’re all familiar with (ovens and bar heaters) and fry you.  Switch the heated seats on and the electricity flows through the coil (which is a resistor, for all you more scientifically inclined folks), which heats up.  When the thermostat detects that you’ve reached the right temperature, the electricity is cut until the temperature falls below a threshold.

If, however, you have seats that have a heating and cooling function (which you do find on some of the latest models), the technology is a little different. Here, the seat has air vents in it (not so big that they become uncomfortable, of course) and either hot air or cold air is piped around your nether end, similar to what happens with other parts of the air con or ventilation system.

One of the things that was mentioned in that old Saab press release was that the heating system was safe and wouldn’t cause electric shocks in the presence of moisture.  This is a problem with electric blanket, after all, and is why I’m not alone in preferring a hot water bottle on chilly nights.  Some commentators have sniggered at the suggestion that drivers or front passengers might be wetting their pants and thus need the protection.  These commentators obviously have never spilt coffee in their laps or worn those raincoats that ride up and let your bum and thighs get wet.  Or slipped and fallen in a puddle.  Or, presumably, worn a wet swimming costume while driving… although if it’s warm enough to swim in a location that doesn’t allow you to get changed properly, you aren’t likely to be needing the services of a heated seat.  Unless, of course, your back aches.

Now if only they could make every single seat in the home as well as in the car heated…