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The Right Car For Your Dog Part 2

OK, in my previous post on this topic, I covered the legal stuff to do with taking dogs in cars.  Now we get to the fun bit: what sort of vehicle suits your furry friend.  Or friends, as the case may be.

When I first started thinking about matching dogs to cars, I just about wrote sedans (saloons) off from the start.  After all, you don’t really want a dog on the back seat standing up where it can snuffle down the back of your neck while you’re driving.  Nor do you want to have scratchy doggy paws on lovely Nappa leather seats, because that would wreck them (the seat upholstery, I mean, not the paws!).  However, I remember taking the Staffordshire Bull Terrier we used to have (RIP, old fellow!) in a sedan without any trouble.  He was quite happy curling up in the footwell for most trips and didn’t try to sit on people’s laps (unlike the current bitzer).  During longer trips, we also put him in one of those doggy carrying crates that sat nicely between my two children in the back seat of the sedan we had back then (probably a Ford Fairmont), which had the added advantage of stopping them hitting each other during long trips.  What’s more, if you do have a sedan with leather seats in your possession already when you acquire a new puppy, there’s no need to sell the car – you can put down a nice blanket or doggy bed for Fido to occupy during the trip.

If you do decide that a sedan is the best for you, then I really do recommend one of those doggy carrying crates.  They do stop your dog deciding to stretch his or her legs by bouncing all around the place inside the cabin on a long journey, and you can fit a snack for your dog in there.  They’re also easier to clean in the case of little accidents – meaning accidents of the canine kind, not car accidents.

It’s obvious where the dog will ride if you have a hatchback, station wagon, 4×4 or ute. But it’s not quite as simple as that.  There is a certain style that one has to consider and it’s nice if you can find a harmonious match between the dog(s) and the vehicle.  You don’t see poodles or Chihuahuas standing on the deck of a ute (safely leashed, of course), bouncing up and down and yapping squeaky yaps at everybody going past.  Jack Russell terriers and fox terriers maybe.  But not poodles or Chihuahuas – or anything else small and fluffy (e.g. Bichons) or super-glamorous (Afghan hounds). The sort of dog that looks right on the back of a Toyota Hilux  or a Nissan Navara  is something rugged and tough and suggestive of the great outdoors – a farm dog (which aren’t an official Kennel Club breed but we all know what they look like) or a Dobermann or even a Labrador.  Conversely, although a Great Dane might fit in the back of a little hatchback – if the back seats are folded flat – this is going to be just too much dog in one car.  Besides, where are you going to put any passengers or your shopping where they won’t get slobbered on?

To give you an idea of how this works, here’s a list of the 10 most popular breeds in Australia (2017 statistics – the figures aren’t out for 2018 yet) matched the most appropriate general vehicle type:

Labrador Retriever:  Your Labs are medium-large dogs and although they can fit in the back of a hatchback or across the back seat, they look best in something larger.  It’s a cliché, but the suburban family SUV or MPV is a good match for the suburban family pooch.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier: A smaller dog that fits cosily into the back of even a 3-door hatch but doesn’t look weird tied on the deck of a ute, so a Staffie suits all vehicle types. However, as a short-coated dog that’s a big softy in spite of the tough looks, a Staffie would prefer to be inside the vehicle on a rainy day.  A hatchback suits a Staffie just fine.

French Bulldog:  Compact, French and a little bit quirky.  I have just described one of the smaller Peugeots but it applies to the dog as well.  A match made in… France.

German Shepherd: A big tough dog that is probably just about smart enough to drive the car.  Something with lots of space would do the job – maybe a nice long station wagon or a 4×4.  Put a German Shepherd in the back of a white Commodore or Falcon and you might get mistaken for a K-9 cop.

Border Collie:  Working collies go on the back of grubby farm utes.  Show-type border collies are better suited to something classy with a hint of the outdoors – say, a Range Rover.

Golden Retriever: See Labrador.  However, as this has longer hair, best to keep it out of the back seat of the MPV or any humans who later ride in these seats will be forever trying to get the dog hairs out of their clothes.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: Another breed that looks loopy on the back of a ute and is so small that it will get lost in the interior of a big 4×4.  They love to snuggle up, so if the little hatchback is too small for you, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (big name for little dog) will be happy in a basket in a sedan.

American Staffordshire Bull Terrier (Amstaff): Like the regular Staffie but bigger, like all things American.  A muscle dog like the Amstaff looks best in a muscle car like your HSV or FPV.

Miniature Schnauzer:  A toy dog with a bit more fizz to it than a Cavalier etc., so not the sedan this time.  Go for the hatchback of any type or the station wagon.

Rottweiler: Go big.  This breed can cause serious damage to a little hatchback if it decides to jump onto the bonnet.  A station wagon at the very least; a 4×4 is even better but your Rotty will settle for an SUV.  Rotties were originally bred for pulling carts as well as herding cattle, so make sure your SUV has enough towing power that it can pull more than the dog.

Porsche On A Mission E

Porsche Mission E

Porsche Mission E Interior

So what have Porsche been up to really recently – and I mean currently working on?  They are right into creating a new breed of E-Performance cars: exciting cars that have supercar performance, electric power and boundless attraction.  Who’s not going to like a car with the name Porsche Mission E.

The Mission E models are made up of one very quick 4-seater sedan with a height of only 1.3 m and a very special E Cross Turismo – which is basically a Mission E on steroids to tackle a range of terrain and road surfaces you’d come in contact with on any given adventure.

Porsche E Cross Tourismo

Porsche E Cross Turismo Interior

Porsche’s Mission E is a superbly light car with an architecture that’s very distinctive.  The all-electric drive gives the car absence of a transmission tunnel, and this feature opens up cabin space and imparts a lighter, more generously proportioned ambient feeling inside the car.  You get four individual seats that are inspired by bucket-type racing seats.  So strap yourself inside, and whether you’re driving or an occupant in the back you’ll enjoy all the appropriate lateral support you’ll need to match the driving dynamics of the car.

So they are both go fast cars.  Both Mission E vehicles offer a 0-100 km/h sprint time of around the 3.5 second mark.  With a range of over 500 km, you can then recharge to a range of 400 km in a mere 15 minutes – thanks to Porsche’s innovative 800-volt technology.

Take a look at the exterior and interior pics.  They really are an exciting new breed from Porsche!  Looking forward to when we can experience them over here in Australia.

Here are some other special Electric supercars that will be around shortly, all bidding for attention.

Do you know of any other supercar electric models?  Of course, there’s already the very cool BMW i8.

And, here are some of the others to be seen shortly.  Still a little hazy on the Nissan IDS but it looks cool!  Hopefully not too far away:

BMW i8

Jaguar XJ

Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3 Interior

Nissan IDS

Nissan IDS Interior

The Right Car For Your Dog Part One: The Legal Bits

Come on, fellow pet owners: admit it.  You’ve sometimes considered the needs of your furry friends (who you might refer to as your fur-kids) when purchasing a car.  I’ve done it myself.  I’ve said no to some lovely little numbers in the past simple because they weren’t compatible with our doggo.  I haven’t gone so far as to sell a vehicle I already owned because it wasn’t dog-friendly – although I did do this for my children.

OK, now we’ve got that out in the open, so let’s talk about it.  There you are: the time has come for a new set of wheels for whatever reason and you’re looking for a new car.  You want to make sure that all of the family is happy, and this includes the four-legged members of the family.  Meaning the dog, that is.  Cats don’t always take too well to riding in cars – some do and some don’t, but dogs usually enjoy riding in cars.  So what do you have to think of when choosing a car that’s compatible with your dog?

First of all, you have to keep the legal stuff in mind.  Fortunately, the laws for travelling with dogs are a lot less stringent than the laws about children in cars.  Here’s what you need to know:

  • It’s illegal to drive with a dog sitting on your lap. Obvious in the case of a St Bernard or a Newfoundland that might weigh more than you do but it also applies to Chihuahuas.
  • A dog (or any other animal!) has to be in an appropriate area of the car where your pet can’t interfere with the driver. This means that the driver’s footwell is out of the question Small dogs probably also shouldn’t sit on the bit behind the back seats in a sedan where they block the rear view mirror.  It’s best if your dog is restrained but this isn’t a legal requirement – yet!
  • Your dog probably shouldn’t be in the front passenger seat. The only possible exception would be a poodle or other teeny dog in a handbag.  Anything larger could easily become a nuisance to the driver, either by whacking you with a wagging tail or putting a nose (or paw) onto the controls.  A big dog will get in the way and a small dog would be badly hurt or even killed by an airbag going off in an emergency situation.  If you feel you absolutely have to have your dog in the front passenger seat (e.g. in a single-cab ute on a nasty cold rainy day) then use one of those doggy seatbelts or Doggo will try to get all over you.  Or at least my dog would.
  • If your dog is on the back of a ute deck without a canopy, it has to be restrained so it can’t jump or fall off (or lunge at passers-by when the ute’s parked).
  • Don’t leave your dog in the car – your dog can’t stay cool enough and can overheat very, very easily, which constitutes animal cruelty.

While we’re on the topic of dogs in cars, there are two things more that you need to know.  First, opening the window a weeny bit doesn’t do much to cool down the air temperature in the car, and it’s cool air that your dog needs to stay at the right temperature.  Leaving the A/C on or parking in the shade does something but not much.  And giving the dog water does nothing because the water heats up inside the car as well.  The only time that you’re probably OK to leave a dog in a car is if it’s a nasty cold rainy day, preferably during winter.  Second, breaking into a car to rescue a dog that you think is suffering inside a vehicle is considered vandalism, breaking and entering.  What’s more, if the dog in question isn’t suffering from heat exhaustion – for example, if it is a chilly day – the dog will see “strange person aggressively breaking into my property” and will react accordingly.  Dear well-meaning person who tried to break into my brother’s Subaru  (which was parked in the shade with the windows half open during winter) to “save” the pair of pitbulls sleeping on the back seat, you were flipping lucky that said pitbulls were a soppy pair of wimps and not at all like the stereotype pitbulls.

The answer to the question as to what to do with your dog when you’re out and about and need to nip into a shop where you can’t take the dog?  Step One is to leave the dog at home but this isn’t always feasible.  When I took my dog to the vet and I needed to pick up some bread from the supermarket practically next door, I did not drive home, drop off Doggo then go back to the supermarket!  Step Two (which is what I did) is to have the right sort of car: either a ute where you can open the back door of the canopy, which does allow enough air to circulate, or something with nice handy spokes on the alloy wheels or else a towbar so you can tie the dog up outside the car.  Step Three is to look for an alternative to tie your dog to.  If you’re lucky, your local shops have a spot where you can “park your dog” outside.  Failing that, a parking meter will do and it will keep your dog entertained with the doggy equivalent of social media at the same time.

OK, but what sort of car do you need for when you’re travelling from A to B with Doggo beside you for company?  The breed of car will depend on the breed of dog – and that deserves a post of its own, so I’ll cover it in Part 2.

BabyDrive: Everything You Wanted To Know About Kids In Cars In One Handy Place

If you’re about to become a parent for the first time – or if you’re revisiting parenthood after a long break (it happens) – then you might be wondering what sort of car is right for your new family.  It’s not a stupid question.  Once upon a time, it might have been all right to sling the carry cot across the back seat and make the older siblings share a seatbelt and/or ride in the boot, but you’d get in major trouble if you tried that today.  They’re serious about car seats for children these days and the law says that children under the age of seven can’t wear an adult seatbelt – and even then, this depends on their size and height and some children may need a booster seat until they’re 12 or so.  (As an aside, I’m kind of glad that they didn’t specify a particular height or weight for using a booster seat – some petite adult women, such as my 18-year-old daughter, may not meet these and who wants to sit their license while sitting in a booster seat?).

Anyway, if you’re a parent-to-be, you mind may be buzzing with questions about what sort of car you need to get.  And if it isn’t, it should be!  A lot of first-time parents fall into the trap of putting a lot of thought and care into the birth plan and how they want the birth of their new baby to go.  While this is all very well, what they don’t tell you (and what I wish I had known all those years ago) is that labour and birth only last (at most) one day.  All the other bits about parenthood and life with a small child go on for months – years!  So if you haven’t started thinking about what sort of car you need as a new parent, it’s time to give it some thought.

There are a lot of things to consider and it’s easy to make a mistake.  Let’s just say that there’s a possibility that you may have to put that little sporty roadster on hold for a bit and buy something more family-friendly.  Been there, done that.  We said goodbye to our old Morris (which would be an absolute classic and worth a mint today if we’d hung onto it) because the pushchair wouldn’t fit in the boot and got a Toyota sedan – which was then traded in when Child #2 came along because there was no way that anybody could sit in the front seat when there were two car seats in the back – and no room between said seats either!  I’ve been watching my brother and his wife start to go through the same series of problems.

Imagine that you could find someone who could give you all the advice you need – kind of like a motor-savvy big sister who can answer all those very practical questions even better than we can here at Private Fleet (although we try our best!).  For example, if you’re expecting Child #3 and the eldest is still of an age to need a booster seat, or if you’ve got twins or triplets on the way, are there any cars out there that can fit three car seats across the back?  Which cars provide enough leg room in the rear seats so that bored toddlers don’t try whiling away the time stuck in traffic kicking the driver in the kidneys?  How do you know if the stroller will fit in the boot?

Well, this sort of big sisterly advice is exactly what you’ll get from a great new site that’s linked with Private Fleet called BabyDrive (yes, this is a shameless plug for the site but no, I did not write it, although I wish I had, and I wish Tace the reviewer lived a bit closer than Queensland because she’d probably be my new BFF).  This is a great site that has all the answers you need to do with choosing a new vehicle that will suit your new family – yes, it even tells you which vehicles can fit five car seats comfortably and which MPVs have the easiest access to the third row of seats.  It’s the sort of thing I wish that I had on hand when I was a new parent – and I’d certainly recommend it to any parent-to-be looking for a new family vehicle.  Like we do, BabyDrive reviews vehicles, but unlike us, they do it all from a parenting perspective.  You won’t find the hot little roadsters reviewed here and the car reviews don’t cover torque or fuel economy stats much.  However, each car is rated for driver comfort (you’ve got to love a review that tells you whether the headrest position works well with the typical ponytail hairstyle adopted by mums on the go!), carseat capacity, storage, safety and noise.  The reviews include some descriptions of driving as a new mother that will give you a rueful chuckle or two – even if you, like me, have your baby days well behind you.  It’s the sort of review that we couldn’t do here on Private Fleet unless I kidnapped my baby nephew.  We’ll tell you the other bits and pieces – as well as helping you score a great deal on pricing (another thing that’s appreciated by not just new parents!).  The reviews feature a video segment as well as a written review – great for those who are more visually oriented.

The noise review is particularly useful, especially given the tendency these days for cars to produce all kinds of beeps as warnings.  If you don’t know about the old parenting trick of going for a wee drive to help soothe a fretful child off to sleep, you know it now!  However, all the good soothing work of a nicely purring motor and the gentle motion of a car on the go can be undone by some wretched lane departure warning shrieking or a parking sensor bleeping, waking your baby up just as you get home.

And yes, you will find some hatchbacks reviewed on BabyDrive!  Of course, the big SUVs, MPVs and 4x4s feature heavily (and, as an extra piece of advice from a more experienced parent, these will stand you in good stead once your kids hit the school and teen years, and you have to take your turn doing the carpool run, or if you are ferrying a posse of teens to the movies or a sports match).  However, if it’s not a “BabyDrive” (i.e. something suitable for small children), then it won’t feature!

Check it out yourself at BabyDrive.com.au.

Household Appliances And Cars From The Same Maker?

Don’t worry – Dyson’s proposed EV probably won’t look like this.

I heard the other day that a household appliance manufacturer is going to have a go at the electric car game.  Although my first reaction (and possibly yours) was to snigger, I then realised that it’s possibly not all that loopy after all.  For one thing, it’s not the first time that a company has had a go at making household gadgets and motor cars:  Toyota  makes sewing machines as well as their very popular cars and they’re not bad (the cars or the sewing machines – and I can vouch for the sewing machines, as I’ve got one).  Peugeot also started out making coffee grinders, umbrellas and crinolines.

For another thing, the makers of household appliances are already used to working with electric motors for – well, just about anything.  Household appliances just about all run on electricity and a lot of them use electrical motors – so why not scale up from teeny electric motors in electric shavers to motorcars? We’re used to other things that can run on either electricity or internal combustion engines, such as lawnmowers, so it might be just a matter of scale.

The household appliance manufacturer in question is Dyson, who also makes vacuum cleaners.  Cue jokes about “My car sucks.”  At the moment, they’ve managed to get a nice big factory space and the plan is to put a car out by 2020.  Or 2021, depending on which press release you get your hands on.  Details are still being kept secret but here’s what we know so far:

  • They’re going to convert a bunch of old World War 2 era aircraft hangars in the UK to use as factories.
  • They’re doing the research and development in Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia as well as the UK.
  • One of the former hangars has at least 15 km of vehicle testing tracks. Presumably they don’t test the vacuum cleaners on these.

OK, the idea of producing vacuum cleaners and EVs seems ludicrous.  However, I’ve often noticed that advertising for vacuum cleaners has a lot in common with quite a few car ads, ranting and raving about the power of the motor and how many kilowatts it can do.  In fact, I think that cars (OK, boats and motorbikes as well if you’re picky) and vacuum cleaners are the only things that use engine power as a selling point.  Dyson’s experience with filters and air flow will probably also come in handy for designing a car.  Maybe we’ll also see some interesting styling, given the way that Dyson produced a completely new style of vacuum cleaner when they put out their Dual Cyclone.

However, we need to hope that the Dyson EVs have better handling ability than the typical vacuum cleaner.  I don’t know about you, but I always have much more trouble getting a vacuum cleaner to go where I want it to, and they’re probably worse than supermarket shopping trolleys for bad handling.  Work to be done here, Dyson!

We also need to hope that Dyson learns a thing or three about pricing if they want to be really competitive.  Dyson may be the luxury marque for vacuums (and hair dryers, fans and hand dryers) but is there really room in the luxury EV market for somebody other than Tesla?  Especially now that more widely known makers, especially the European ones, are turning more and more to EVs and hybrids.  Your typical Dyson vacuum costs about 10 times as much as the bog-standard vacuum, after all.

My one humble suggestion to Dyson would also be to change the name for the vehicle line.  Toyota may be able to get away with producing sewing machines but they’re better known for their cars.  Not everybody does home sewing but most people except total slobs use vacuum cleaners.  Dyson, however, is a big name in the household appliance world, so that is going to be what people think of first when somebody announces that they’ve just bought a new Dyson with a powerful motor.  It doesn’t quite have the same kudos or cachet as, say, Lexus or Mercedes.  Perhaps Cyclone, in honour of the Dual Cyclone, or JD Motors for James Dyson would do the job.

It will be interesting to see if this venture comes off.  If it does, would you drive a Dyson car?  Would you prefer them to use a different brand name?  Does the idea suck or does it clean up?  Tell us what you think!

Oh yes – if Dyson could add in an in-car vacuum cleaner so we can clean up mess straight away, that would be grand!

Fossil Fuel, EVs or Bio Fuels?

Fossil Fuels

Is petroleum diesel still a fuel that is going to be around to power our cars in the future?  On the surface, it might look like the era of the diesel engine might be drawing to a close, especially when we hear that some manufacturers are pulling the pin on building new diesel engines.  The truth is that non-renewable resources, which include fossil fuels such as oil, coal, petroleum and natural gas, are all finite in their quantity available in nature for the future.  Diesel fuel is a petroleum product, and so is considered to be a finite non-renewable resource.  Certainly it would seem that petroleum-based diesel has a limited window of opportunity for powering motor vehicles around the globe.  But is this actually the case?

Added to the seemingly limited supply of our fossil fuels, we also hear that some car manufacturers are deciding to avoid building new diesel engines all together.  Volvo was one of the first to announce boldly that by 2019 there would be no more diesel powered Volvo cars and SUVs in their line-up.  Volkswagen Group’s diesel emissions cheating scandal has meant that they have decided to stop selling diesel models, as well.  Volkswagen Group is pretty big when you consider that VW, Audi and Porsche are all under the same banner.

Because our global economy relies on so many diesel engines for performing many mechanical tasks we can’t drive the world’s diesel fleet over the cliff and forget about them just yet.  The reality is that even America’s economy would grind to a halt immediately if they decided to go without diesel power overnight.  Diesel engines are used in so many commercial applications – trucking, construction, shipping, farming, buses and much, much more.  Diesel motors are still far more energy frugal (assuming proper and legal emissions treatment is followed) compared with gasoline equivalents.  For any sort of heavy-duty transportation work or for towing purposes, the low-end torque of a diesel engine simply cannot be matched by gasoline motors which have to be worked much harder for the same amount of work – and therefore pump out more emissions.

EVs

EVs are getting plenty of press at the moment, but in reality they have a very long way to go before they can truly be considered as a true logistical alternative to the diesel motor.  There just simply isn’t the network in place to produce so many EVs nor power so many EVs for our global economy to continue growing at the pace it is.

Biofuels

What I haven’t heard so much of lately is the advancements made in biofuels.  Biofuels seem to me to be the much more sensible replacement option for petroleum diesel, as biodiesel fuels are a renewable resource.  Biofuels are derived from biological materials such as food crops, crop residues, forest residues, animal wastes, and landfills.  Major biofuels are biodiesel, ethanol, and methane; and biofuels, by their very nature, are renewable over a period of less than one year for those based on crop rotation, crop residues, and animal wastes or about 35 years for those based on forest residues.

Emissions from burning biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine have significantly lower levels of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, sulphur oxides, odour, and noxious “smoke” compared to emissions from the conventional petroleum diesel motor that we are more familiar with.  Also, carbon dioxide emissions from combustion of biodiesel are reduced by about 10% when compared to petroleum diesel, but there is a more significant carbon dioxide benefit with biodiesel made from plant oils.  During the photosynthesis process, as the plants are growing and developing, carbon dioxide is drawn from the environment into the plant, while the plants release beneficial oxygen into the environment.

How are EV batteries made?  Are they as clean as renewable biofuels?  If EVs are running on electricity produced by burning dirty fossil fuels, the climate benefits are limited.  Because of the complex batteries that EVs use, it currently takes more energy to produce an electric car than a conventional one.  While fewer emissions are produced by the cars themselves while driving on the streets, CO2 is still being emitted by power plants needed to charge the EVs.  And, disposing of those complex EV batteries creates an environmental hazard in itself.  EV batteries also need to be made from non-renewable minerals such as copper and cobalt, and rare earths like neodymium.

Some other negatives for EVs are that the mining activities for the minerals in countries like China or the Democratic Republic of Congo often cause human rights violations and vast ecological devastation which include: deforestation, polluted rivers and contaminated soil.  Not so great!  And, in addition, many automakers use aluminium to build the bodies of EVs, and a tremendous amount of energy is required to process bauxite ore into the lightweight metal.

Trucks, ships and tractors still think diesel power rules!  Even though some car manufacturers have abandoned petroleum diesel fuelled cars, there are other automotive manufacturers that have actually ramped up their diesel vehicle production.  General Motors, Jaguar, Land Rover, BMW, Mazda, Kia, Jeep, Ford, Nissan and Chevrolet are all manufacturing plenty of new diesel motors.

Hmmm?!  Biofuels then?

Understanding Your Air Conditioning

The weather is starting to get at least a bit warmer, and it’s about time that we started thinking about summer and about summer motoring.  For most of us, especially if we’re in the hotter parts of Australia, having air conditioning that works well is an absolute must if you want to stay sane during the daily commute during the heat of summer – or while on your holiday road trip.

Making sure that your air conditioning is in good working order becomes a bit easier if you understand how it works.  It might seem that it works by magic – you switch it on and cool, refreshing air blows out of the vents – but of course, it doesn’t.  Unless you don’t ride to work on a car but on a flying carpet or on a broomstick Harry Potter style.

Like a lot of systems in your car, air conditioning works by pumping some kind of fluid around a system, transferring heat energy as it goes.  Your radiator does much the same thing, using fluid to take the heat energy away from the engine and put it somewhere else.  This process is simpler in the radiator, as the natural way things work is for heat energy to pass from the hot object to the cold object – that’s part of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  However, the trick with air conditioning is to cool something down, which is a bit harder.  However, it’s not rocket science and, in fact, the science of air conditioning pre-dates rocket science (almost) and cars have been sold with air-con since the 1940s at least.

Air conditioning systems have three main parts: a compressor (#4 in the image above), a condenser (#1) and an evaporator (#3 – and #2 is a one-way valve).  The compressor is the powerhouse of the system and it’s driven by your car engine.  This is why old-school penny pinchers wanting to get a few more kilometres per litre will advise you not to run the A/C unit unless you have to – the more you ask your engine to do, the more fuel it will consume.  However, on a hot day, the only other way to keep cool while driving is to open the windows, which increases drag, which also increases fuel consumption. Your choice was between saving fuel and keeping cool.  Anyway, I digress.  The compressor has the job of taking the refrigerant gas and putting it under loads of pressure.  This pressure heats the gas up (think of how hot a bicycle pump feels when you use it), which seems counterproductive although it’s necessary. It needs the pressure to get around the condenser.

From the condenser, the pressurised refrigerant gas moves into the condenser.  This is a sort of radiator that manages to steal the heat from the pressurised gas as the gas worms around the tubes in the system.  As the gas cools in the condenser, it turns to liquid.  It’s now ready for the evaporator.

Cooling by evaporation is the oldest known method of cooling down.  This is how your sweat works and why spritzing your face with water feels so refreshing.  The process of turning the liquid into vapour or gas, be it the refrigerant in your air-con system or the sweat on your forehead, uses heat energy, so the place where the liquid used to be feels cooler.  This, incidentally, is why alcohol swabs and perfume (and aftershave) feel cool on the skin: alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water so it evaporates quickly, using some of your skin’s heat to do so, and we perceive any rapid loss of heat as cold.  The evaporation (technically boiling) temperature of the refrigerant is even lower (and so is its freezing temperature).  In fact, when it hits the evaporator, the refrigerant should be at about 0°C.

When it gets to the evaporator, which is usually located away from the rest of the system and quite close to the car’s cabin, the refrigerant absorbs some of the heat of the cabin as it changes from liquid back to gas again.  Abracadabra – the heat energy goes from the air around you and into the refrigerant and you feel nice and cool, especially if the fans in the car take that cool air and make it move, which makes the most of the windchill factor. Ahhh – refreshing!

The gas then cycles into the compressor and the process begins again.  There are a few other bits and pieces in an A/C system, like the parts that remove actual water from the refrigerant liquid (this is why water drips out of the bottom when your A/C is running).  Removing water and other bits is vital, as water would actually freeze in the system and damage it badly.

On the whole, air conditioning systems take care of themselves unless they’ve been physically damaged.  This is why the hoses in an A/C system need to be checked, as they’re the most vulnerable parts (all that pressure!).  However, no system is absolutely perfect and bits of gas will escape so from time to time, you will need to re-gas or re-charge the refrigerant in the system.  Simply, this involves topping up the refrigerant levels.

And what about climate control?  How does this differ from ordinary air conditioning?  The big difference is that air conditioning just tries to cool things down no matter what.  Climate control, on the other hand, tries to keep things at a set temperature (which YOU select).  Climate control will turn the air conditioning system on or off, and will adjust air flow and add hot air from the radiator as needed, using input from the temperature sensors.  And that’s about it.  They say that climate control is more fuel-frugal than ordinary air conditioning because it doesn’t need to run the air conditioning system all the time nonstop – it only does it when it needs to.

Dual zone and multiple zone climate control works in the same way as ordinary climate control but it’s got a few more temperature gauges so the system can fine-tune what it’s doing in different parts of the vehicle, which avoids the “I’m too hot” – “I’m freezing” argument.

If it’s been a while since you had your air conditioning system checked out, then maybe it wouldn’t hurt to take it in for re-gassing before the summer starts.

 

How To Clean Car Seats

Hello, I’ve left tons of hair and drool over your upholstery. What you gonna do about it, boss?

In my post last week, I discussed the advantages and the disadvantages of the different seat upholstery materials.  In that post, I mentioned the ease of cleaning as a factor that might be the deciding one for you

Now, it’s super-easy to clean car seats if you have vinyl, which is about the only good thing about vinyl. Wipe it down with a damp cloth and there you go. If you have a classic that is cursed with vinyl seats and you’ve done the sensible thing and put aftermarket covers on them, it’s still simple. Take the covers off the seats, toss them into the washing machine on the gentle cycle, dry them on the old Hills Hoist and pop them back on. Simple.

It’s not so simple if you haven’t got car seat covers that come off for washing quite so easily.  You’re going to have to get in there and clean it yourself.  Tackling this job is going to be different depending on whether you chose the leather or the cloth.

OK, let’s start with the cloth seats.  If you decided against leather on the grounds that you have messy children or dogs that would wreck leather, you’re definitely going to have to get the grub out of the upholstery from time to time. Banning really messy food or sticky drinks in the back seat might help keep the muck to a minimum but accidents happen and everybody has the odd icecream in the car now and again. Plus there’s always that small child who needs the loo while you’re stuck in the middle of heavy traffic with no way to pull over… In short, mess will happen!

Here’s how to clean cloth car seats front and back.

  1. Get out the vacuum cleaner and go all over the seats, the back and the headrest, plus any armrests. You may as well give the footwell a good going-over and the cupholders too, while you’re at it. This gets off dog hair, human hair, dirt particles and other loose grit.
  2. Hire one of those carpet shampooing machines and make sure that you get the upholstery head. Follow the instructions and leave the seats to dry out before you sit on them again… which could be a problem if you need to drive back to where you hired the upholstery cleaning machine from before your time runs out.
  3. If you don’t hire one of those machines but want to give it a go yourself, you still have to allow for plenty of drying time, during which you can’t sit on the seats. It’s also a good idea to leave the windows open for better evaporation and air circulation.  Also avoid the temptation to use lots of water – use only just enough. What you’ll need plenty of is elbow grease.
  4. Sprinkle the seats all over with baking soda. Be generous. Use one of those kitchen shaker things or a reclaimed talcum powder container.  Baking soda absorbs smells, so if your car interior is particularly stinky, then leave the baking soda on overnight.  If you want to spot-treat just one stain or area, you can do this, but you might be left with a conspicuously clean patch.
  5. Get a spray bottle of the spritzer or plant mister type and spray the baking soda. Don’t overdo it – you should spray on just enough to make the baking soda pasty.
  6. Grab a toothbrush (if you’re feeling masochistic) or a larger scrubbing brush that isn’t too stiff or scratchy. Now get busy scrubbing the fabric.
  7. Once you’re done scrubbing, get an old towel and blot up as much moisture as possible.
  8. Get your spritzer bottle and fill with a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and warm water. You can add some essential oils if you feel like it or if you want a nice smell.  Detergent like you use for handwashing dishes can go in, but no more than a couple of drops.  Now spray this all over the baking soda – again, not excessively.  The vinegar will react with the baking soda and it will fizz up.
  9. Blot again with another old towel – or possibly several. This will absorb the moisture plus the grime loosened by the baking soda, the vinegar and the elbow grease. Once you think you’ve blotted it all, do it again just to make sure.
  10. Open the doors and windows and leave the car interior to dry out. If you can leave the car in the garage with the windows open overnight, all the better.

Admittedly, this process is going to be easier if you have a small city hatch rather than a van or MPV. With larger vehicles, just spot-treat any obvious bits of awfulness (e.g. the place where the dog threw up) and keep up the regular vacuuming.  If you really want a perfect interior, then use the hire machines.

Now for leather seats.  With leather, you have to be really careful with moisture (which will leave leather tough and hard after it dries) and with scratching.  You can start with vacuuming but be very careful to use a proper head with a nice soft brush.

The trick for cleaning leather is that you will wipe rather than scrub.  The good news is that this will work.  Baby wipes and damp cloths will work but be sure to have a towel handy to dry the leather off immediately.  There are truckloads of recipes for cleaning leather, most of which use some combination of soap and water, or detergent and water plus a nice soft cloth.  The alternative is vinegar, which has the added bonus of killing mould and bacteria.  Actually, a rag moistened in water or vinegar followed by drying could be all you need. Just be careful not to let the water/vinegar soak into the leather – you need only enough moisture to loosen the dirt.

However, you might want to add a bit of sheen to the leather and something to help it stay supple – kind of like a moisturiser for the cow skin (or goat skin) covering the seats.  If you’re a horsey type, you probably already have access to saddle soap – and what works for the leather of a saddle or bridle will work for leather seats.    However, the rest of us needn’t despair.  You can buy some overpriced fancy specialist product for cleaning leather seats. Or you can look for a cheaper option in your pantry: mix up some oil and vinegar, just like you would for a salad.  A lot of recipes out there call for olive oil but the secret is that any sort of oil will do the job.  Again, essential oils can be added if you fancy but these are optional.  If you want to add them, my advice is to use lavender (for calming) or eucalyptus (for mental alertness).

Shake the mixture up in a spritzer bottle (and you’ll need to shake before every spray) then spray sparingly on the seats, treating one part at a time.  Again, don’t use too much.  Buff the leather well with a nice old towel or a nasty old T-shirt that’s seen better days – the vinegar and the oil will loosen grime, and any leftover oil will soak into the leather and give it a nice natural shine that helps keep the leather supple. If you’ve got any of the mixture left over, then you can actually use it in a salad – unless you’ve added essential oils, in which case, use it in the bath or as a body oil.

But what about Alcantara, that synthetic suede from the motor racing world?  How do you clean that?  OK, it’s a beast to clean because the suede-like finish shows marks so easily.  However, it is stain-resistant, so the dirt will at least be surface dirt.

To clean Alcantara, you will probably need a proper cleaning product. Stay away from steam cleaning machines and from products designed for leather.   If you can’t get hold of the products made by Alcantara for their product, then you can make do with a lightly moistened sponge or a soft cloth – and make sure that the cloth in question is white just in case the colour bleeds from the rag to the upholstery.  Car detailers have been known to use old-school shaving brushes.  Run the cloth over the upholstery, taking great care not to (a) crush the soft little floofy finish down or (b) use too much moisture.  You’ll need to do it several times, and it’s best to work in a circular motion to avoid leaving streaks in the suede-like finish.  Leave to dry overnight, then get a very soft brush (that old-school shaving brush) or a dry sponge or a dry terrycloth face flannel and gently fluff up the finish again.  Imagine that you’re stroking a kitten and you’ll get the action about right.

 

Cloth Versus Leather

There are two main choices these days when it comes to what the interior designers of new cars put on the seats: cloth and leather. Leather is definitely the material of choice for luxury cars, but if you ever find yourself in a situation where one of the key differences between two variants is what’s on the seats, is it really worth it going for the leather just because it’s posher?  If you’re into keeping up with the Joneses, then this one’s a no-brainer – you go for the more expensive one with the leather – but what if you’re a bit cannier with your cash?

Thankfully, the days of vinyl have gone, so that’s not an option. Those of us who are old enough to remember vinyl seats or who have ridden in classics with this type of upholstery know perfectly well why vinyl seats aren’t found in modern vehicles.  About the only good thing you could say about vinyl was that it was easy to clean. It was slippery when cold or if you had long trousers on. In hot weather and for those wearing shorts, vinyl became sticky but not like spilt jam – more like clingfilm on steroids grabbing bare skin.  It also got really hot on a summer day – add in the hot seat belt buckle on old-style seatbelts and you got your very own personal torture chamber.  I’m shuddering with the memory.

However, back to today.  There you are evaluating two models that are more or less the same apart from the upholstery.  What do you need to say before you say “I’ll go for the one with the leather seats”?

Leather is, of course, a natural material.  It’s the skin of some animal, probably a cow, sheep or possibly a goat.  Given the popularity of beefsteaks around the world and the size of a cattlebeast, what you see on the seats of a luxury car probably came from a cow.  If you’re a vegan or a PETA supporter, then this fact might be the deciding factor for you and you’ll go for the cloth.  However, if you’re omnivorous, then you may see the use of leather as car upholstery as a wise way of using meat byproducts and a sustainable choice (yes, cloth seats are usually acrylic or nylon sourced from plastics).

Here, you might have questions about the difference between Nappa leather and ordinary leather.  Nappa leather is a natural animal skin leather that has been tanned and dyed in a particular way to make it smooth and even.  Nappa leather tends to have a more durable finish and is softer and more pliable.  It’s the softness that adds the extra level of luxury and why the really top-end models are trimmed in Nappa leather rather than common or garden leather.  It also tends to come from something more delicate than cowhide, such as goat or sheep.

Alcantara, however, is an artificial leather – OK, it’s cloth!  It’s stain-resistant and flame-retardant, and it has a scrummy finish that feels like suede.  The flame-retardant properties of Alcantara mean that it’s widely used in racing cars, and this is why it’s popular in sports and supercar models, similar to other racing-inspired accessories and styling.  Alcantara is a brand-name, unlike Nappa leather and all the other seat materials, and it’s produced by one single factory in Italy, which means that it’s a bit more exclusive and more expensive than other cloth.

There are other synthetic leathers around the place.  They’re called things like “PU leather”, “pleather”, “leatherette”, “vegan leather” and “faux leather”.  One company produces a leather substitute made from pineapple fibres but this isn’t used for car seat upholstery – or at least not yet.

The sort of cloth used for upholstering vehicle seats is usually some sort of synthetic material because this tends to be more durable than natural fibres such as wool, linen, tencel or cotton.  Car manufacturers haven’t tried upholstering seats with natural plant-sourced fibres in an attempt to be more sustainable… at least not yet.  Cloth is cheaper than leather because it doesn’t need quite as much cutting, stitching and shaping as leather.  Synthetic cloth comes out of the factory in nice regular shapes of an even and predictable width.  Cows and goats aren’t quite such a nice, regular shape, so leather seats require more work; hence the extra cost.

So what are the pros and cons of each upholstery material type?

Leather:

Pros: Natural material from a renewable source, soft (especially in the case of Nappa), durable, looks amazing, smells nice, doesn’t give off nasty chemical gases

Cons: Stains easily, gets scuffed and scratched by doggy paws and small children’s shoes, absorbs bad smells, comes from a dead animal that may have been killed for the skin, doesn’t like getting wet and especially hates salty seawater

Cloth:

Pros: Cheap, comes in a range of colours and patterns, more forgiving of children, dogs and seawater

Cons: Synthetic material from a non-renewable source, can give off weird gases when new, doesn’t look quite as upmarket as leather.

Alcantara:

Pros: Flame-resistant, stain-resistant, comes in a range of colours, racing heritage, nice suede-like feel, exclusive and upmarket

Cons: A beast to clean, synthetic material from non-renewable sources

To sum up the bottom line about what sort of fabric you want under your bottom, it really depends on your lifestyle and your values.  If you’ve got messy small children or dogs that jump on the seat, then leather isn’t for you.  If you love to spend heaps of time at the beach and you are likely to get salt water on your clothes and other bits that you are likely to chuck onto the back seat, leather probably isn’t for you either.  Cloth is also going to appeal to those who want to save a few bucks, as it’s cheaper.  Leather looks gorgeous and is a natural material from a renewable resource, but if you’re more of a vegan-and-PETA type, then you’ll steer clear of it.

And if you have a classic car with a vinyl seat, do yourself a favour and buy a set of seat covers if you haven’t already!

SUV, Hatch or Wagon?

SUVs like the Volvo XC40 look really cool!

 

The ever popular Toyota Corolla Hatchback

Station Wagons like the new Ford Focus are brilliant.

 

Why do most women like the SUV, wagon or hatchback shape?  These are the preferred vehicles that women are driving.  SUVs definitely offer that extra status not to mention size.  It seems too that Teal coloured cars are the ones that most excite the ladies.

SUVs are hitting our road on mass, thanks to the buyers, female and male, preferring their practicality, safety and room.  You can buy FWD only SUVs, which if you never go in search of the wide open spaces outside of Suburbia then these types of vehicle will do all your townie jobs nicely, and often with plenty of room to spare.  AWD equivalent SUVs are more expensive anyway!

SUVs are bigger than anything else on the road besides trucks and buses, so anyone will likely be attracted to the safety aspect of owning an SUV.  Many guys will like the fact that their special other half drives a big safe SUV, which often ends up carrying the kids too.  Having a higher ride height does give you a commanding view of the road ahead, and generally speaking, the extra ground clearance works wonders should you be into off-roading.

SUVs are easier to get in-and-out of, and for loading child seats, child accessories, and library book and shopping bags.  Generally speaking you step inside an SUV, rather than sink down into them- like in a hatchback.  When it comes loading cargo into the boot the space is usually large, higher and easier to access.  That said, there are some nicely designed station wagons and hatchbacks that are very practical.

Downsides to owning an SUV are that they cost more to feed; cost more to maintain, and they generally need more wizardry and expensive technology to defy the laws of physics should you want to drive them quickly around corners.  Still, manufacturers are beginning to build a wide variety of SUVs to suit your tastes.  You can even buy convertible SUVs or 2-door coupe SUVs – which pushes the contemporary envelope somewhat.

So if you are a lady on the lookout for a nice new SUV – perhaps Teal coloured or close to it, that is competitively priced then there are some models you may consider.  OK, you men could consider this as well – though you’ll probably prefer a silver, black or white colour (though flaming orange and buttercup yellow is said to get a guy’s heartrate up).  So, how about a Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, BMW X3, Ford Ecosport, Ford Escape, Ford Everest, Foton Sauvana, Haval H2, Hyundai Sant Fe or Kona, Jeep, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-3 or CX-5, MG GS, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross or Outlander, Nissan Qashqai, Peugeot 3008, Renault Koleos, Skoda Kodiaq, Subaru Forester or XV, Suzuki Vitara, VW Tiguan, or any of the Volvo XC models?  Modern, safe and great multipurpose vehicles, this list is a good mix to get you thinking.

But if you don’t go the SUV way, there’s plenty of savings to be had by sticking to a hatchback or station wagon instead.  If you spend most of your time travelling within the confines of Suburbia then the SUV size might not make so much sense if a Station wagon or Hatchback will do.  And even at their most practical, an SUV is a bit more difficult to park in the tiny city car parks – unless you have an SUV with all the self-parking aids.

If you think that a good small hatch or station wagon will suit your needs just as well, you will enjoy the benefits of this type of vehicle being cheaper to buy, cheaper to maintain, more fun to drive and, thanks to the swelling tide of SUVs on the road, you’ll be bucking the trend and looking pretty cool.

Here’s some wagons or hatchbacks you might like to consider: Volvo V60, VW Golf wagon or hatch, your good old Toyota Corolla wagon or hatch, Subaru Forester or Impreza or Liberty, Skoda Octavia Wagon, Renault Megane, Proton Preve, loads of Peugeots, Nissan LEAF (Electric Vehicle), Mitsubishi ASX, a Mini, MG3, Mercedes Benz B-Class or C-Class, a Mazda 3 or 6, Kia Cerato or Soul, Hyundai i40 or i30, Honda Civic, Holden Astra, Ford Focus or Mondeo, Citroen C4 or C5, BMW 3 or 5 Series wagon, Audi A3 or A4, and Alfa Romeo Giulietta.