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Another attempt to overcome disc brake rust. That is not working out too well.

People always find it incredible that discs that were new only eighteen months ago are now beyond repair.

The problem, as always, is rust build up in the centre of the disc that stops the cooling fins from pumping air, causing the
discs to overheat and therefore, to distort.

Machining such discs does very little good, since this does not remove the rust in the centre of the disc fins and now the steel
is thinner and without any cooling, even more susceptible to warpage, which causes severe brake pedal vibrations.

It's quite likely that in a dry, always warm, atmosphere as we find in Arizona, for example, discs will last longer, but from Fargo to Chicago
to Montreal, wherever ice melting rock salt is used, brake systems take a real beating from corrosion.

Fortunately, the cost of high quality discs has been substantially reduced and now the cost of a new disc, on the average
new car, is not much more than the cost of technician time on a lathe to machine the old ones.

I've always wondered if other, non rusting materials, could not be found, although I know that stainless steel is not an option, due to
its' galling tendency. It is a very difficult material to machine properly and it's obvious that its metallurgical characteristics disqualify
it for use as a friction surface.

Now, finally, the high tech ceramic discs have started to become noticed and although I may never see it happen, the non rusting,
"lifetime warranted" disc may be on the horizon.

Carbon-ceramic brakes have built a glamorous reputation in Formula One racing, creating vivid images of discs glowing red
during hard braking at the end of long straightaways.

Their high cost limited them to exotic performance cars. But carbon-ceramic brakes are now available on cars priced
as low as 60,000 euros (about US$80,000 at current exchange rates). And a new manufacturing process could make them
affordable for even budget-minded enthusiasts.

In the meantime, coated brake rotors are starting to show up on aftermarket shelves. Costing 10% more than regular high grade
bare metal rotors, they are coated with zinc to extend their life.

But this isn't working out as well as could be expected.

The experience at my erstwhile garage is that these coatings tend to flake off and embed themselves in the brake pads.

This produces the most incredible squealing noise that we first experienced years ago, when asbestos was banned as a brake material.
It turns out that this misguided bureaucratic maneuver was not necessary and has caused terrible problems in the automotive industry.

For the time being our advice is to save a few bucks  and opt for regular uncoated rotors when brake repairs are required.

The coated disc story is not yet over. Maybe some day..............

Dieselgate: What's behind the hysteria?

For as long as I've been writing this column, well over 15 years now, I've been telling you that the bureaucrats in Brussels and the Obamaniacs in Washington were targeting the private automobile, while giving planes, trains, ships and trucks a free ride.

They caused the weight of vehicles to rise by over 600 pounds in the name of safety and then demanded emission levels that could not be met. The 55 mpg  fleet average, for instance, may never be achievable unless we're all willing to drive Google pods.

They want you to abandon your car and take a bus, a train or ride a bike, even in January.

When these emission regulations were passed into law by a bureaucracy devoid of any vestige of technical ability, the engineering profession first laughed and then cried when they realized that these maniacs were serious.

Of course, the engineering profession already knew that the "science" behind global warming, which is now known as climate change, because no warming has occurred for the last 30 years, was a farce.

So an industry wide scheme was concocted to do what the environmental scientists had done, plot a scheme that gave the bureaucrats what they thought they wanted and at the same time ignore the reality.

So the testing procedure for cars is as bent out of shape as the "scientific" statistics being used to justify the whole mess.

VW and the whole industry, knew they were taking a gamble and it has failed, just as the cheating that is going on in the scientific field has also been exposed.

The UK, France and Germany which lobbied behind the scenes to keep outmoded car tests for carbon emissions, then publicly called for a European investigation into Volkswagen’s rigging of car air pollution tests. A case of sheer hypocrisy.

These  countries actually lobbied the European commission to keep loopholes in car tests that would increase real world carbon dioxide emissions by 14% above those claimed.

Just four months before the VW emissions scandal broke, the EU’s three biggest nations mounted a push to carry over loopholes from a test devised in 1970 – known as the NEDC – to the World Light Vehicles Test Procedure which is due to replace it in 2017.

It is unacceptable that governments which rightly demand an EU inquiry into the VW’s rigging of air pollution tests are simultaneously lobbying behind the scenes to continue the rigging of CO2 emissions tests.

What can the average diesel car owner do?
Owners may well choose to ignore any future recall the automaker may issue to make them, as was originally advertised, with regard to emissions.
Many VW diesel owners are indeed passionate about their rides, and could well go the civil disobedience route for the sake of preserving their vehicles’ current levels of performance.

Arguably the quickest and cheapest fix here would be for the automaker to simply re-flash the cars’ onboard computers to operate full-time in what is now their “test mode,” which allows them to pass emissions exams, but would probably degrade the four-cylinder turbodiesel engines’ quick V6-like acceleration and frugal fuel economy (as much as 46 mpg on the highway for the Passat TDI) in the process.

While the federal government can force automakers to recall cars for safety-related and other defects, owners are not required to actually have such problems corrected. Federal law prohibits auto dealers from selling new (but not used) cars that are subject to an unresolved recall, but that’s it.

That burden could fall into the hands of individual states or provinces. Who most likely, but not necessarily, would force owners to get their TDIs fixed as a prerequisite for registration.

NOx: Not really such a big deal.

The software that tricks the emission test is only related to one of the four pollutants that automobiles are tested for.

Vehicles emit hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and mono-nitrogen oxides (NOx). To put a few consumers at ease, NOx is the one pollutant affected by this Volkswagen issue.

But to further ease the concern for owners of VW diesels, NOx emissions only occur at high combustion temperatures and only while under heavy throttle conditions that include driving uphill and passing cars.

VW and whoever is involved will eventually fix this issue with a new processor for these cars, a relatively easy fix, but extremely expensive at 11 million units worldwide.

As to the value of Volkswagen cars affected by this, the cars may be actually be worth more before they are retrofitted with the new processor to cure the problem. These cars do give amazing power and fuel economy. 

It sounds counterproductive, but when they are modified to meet emission regulations they will produce less power and less fuel efficiency. 

So consumers, make no mistake: you pay for less emissions by burning more fuel. Which is really crazy - almost at Monty Python level.

In the end I believe the VW diesel is still a great car — burning less fuel than most other cars in the world and has extreme longevity.

From an environmental perspective, it should be remembered, Volkswagen Diesels produce the lowest carbon dioxide emissions of any comparable car in the world. I know it is hard to say anything positive about VW Diesels at this time but the truth is the truth.

Owners need not feel overly guilty about driving these cars or be too stressed about the value of them regardless of all the hype at this time.

If you expect an autonomous car to take the drudgery away from Monday morning’s commute, you’re going to be disappointed.

Autonomous might be the buzz word that’s beset the automotive world of late but for the foreseeable future, it’s fool’s gold.

Proponents will say (correctly) that much of the technical know-how is already in place. But the realists among the key researching brands including Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and the giant Volkswagen Group, admit privately the legislative and social frameworks that must coalesce before fully autonomous cars can be anything more than a PR plaything are far, far into the future.

And that’s even before we talk about the lag time that we face on any significant driverless functions thanks to poor infrastructure and the technophobic automotive rules in place Down Under.

Auto-parking is a function available even in low-priced, mass market new cars. Drive at slow speed and when requested the car will detect an appropriately sized parking space and then, via functions that differ brand by brand, steer the car into either a parallel of 90-degree space. The driver must operate the brake and accelerator, but the steering is automated.

Already today, however, carmakers have the ability to automate their cars to a level that the driver can alight from the vehicle and direct it to drive away (autonomously) to find a vacant car spot and park itself!

It’ll even return to pick you up at the push of a button.

Here Rover!

While this might sound like God’s gift to serious shoppers, the roadblocks in place between the theoretical and the actual are myriad.

Can you imagine how a mix of automated and human parkers might work at your local Costco during the Christmas countdown? It’d be entertaining to watch, at least…

But there are benefits from the driverless car research and development that’s taking place – real world features that have the potential to make driving as we know it safer and more efficient.

The result of driverless car research, Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) is arguably the next BIG THING in road safety. Again the technological solutions vary, but simply, the car uses sensors to scan the road ahead and can warn the driver of potential dangers and, if he or she does not react, apply the brakes to avoid or at least reduce the severity of a collision. Inevitably, the cost of implementaion will mean a substantial and forced, increase in the price of a car.

But combined with cruise control systems that can adapt to the speed of other traffic, AEB should bring to an end the classic nose-to-tail accidents that cause issues during almost ever commuters day. More importantly, it can also mitigate the potential for the horrific high-speed motorway multi-vehicle accidents that create headlines all too often.

And let’s not mention that these systems are already ‘saving’ plenty of drivers (and their potential ‘targets’) who can’t see the danger of texting and driving

Cars from brands like Mercedes-Benz already have automated steering systems that damp in-lane wandering and adjust for crosswinds, road camber and the like. They’ll also warn the driver and if necessary steer the car back into its lane unless a deliberate action is taken to change the car’s trajectory – for example operating a turn signal.

The system effectively takes over the job of steering the car in a highway situation – so much so it has a failsafe that senses for the driver’s hands on the wheel. No hands for more than a few seconds, elicits a warning message which says the system will disengage. After that? I’m not too sure, I’ve always been too scared to find out.

The key to all of these systems is they assist the driver, not replace them.

And that’s the way it should be. In reality, the driving environment each of us process even when just driving around the block is a magnitude more complex than that faced by an airline pilot and we are a very long way away from autonomous passenger aircraft.

Although the lure of a crash-free, driver-free automotive future is tempting, it requires such a step-change in vehicle fleet age, connected intel and roadway infrastructure, that is it not coming to Australia any time soon…

It is as pie in the sky as flying cars.

Last week we took a long run from Montreal to Midland Ontario, and onto the Township of Tiny (Yes, it really exists) on Georgian Bay.

A distance each way of more than 700 Kms.

On the way out, we were fortunate enough to find Highways 401 and 400 running well with very few hold ups.

However, we noted on-going repaving activity on the 401 and a 2-lane section of 400 that were both causing major traffic back ups .

So on the return journey, we took the slower route over the top of Lake Simcoe and highways 12 and 35 to join 401 at Port Hope.

All this to say that I had an opportunity to run some fuel economy tests on the car using the on board computer which updates every one minute.

Running down 35 we set the cruise at 80 km/h and the read out gave us 4.8 litres/100 km, or 56 mpg.

Once on the 401 we cruised for a while at 100 km/h and got a readout of 5.4 l/100km, or 48 mpg.

As traffic thinned out, we upped our cruising speed to 118 km/h and the readout increased to 6.1 l/100km. Or 44 mpg.

At the border with Quebec we filled up with "cheap" Ontario gas and the range readout said we could go for another 760 kilometers before needing another fill up.

Ironically, we passed a couple of Teslas on the way back on the 401 and they were both going at about 90 km/h in the right lane along with the old Tercels and Cavaliers.

Obviously someone was trying to squeeze a bit more range out of the battery, but what an anxiety inducing way to drive long distance.
In fact, a Tesla based in Toronto cannot get to Montreal without a long lay over in Kingston to recharge.
That over hyped initial sprint to 100 km/h. is long gone.

A Tesla costs four times more than a well equipped Mazda3 and is obviously a pathetic long distance car.

By comparison, the Mazda is quite capable of producing Prius style fuel economy and comfortable, quiet long distance running.

You'd have to be an econazi, or stupidly rich to want to buy a Tesla for cross country travel.

For the longest time, eons it seems, I've praised Consumer Reports as being the most accurate assessment of automobiles that money couldn't buy.

While the rest of the auto journalists were having their road tests bent out of shape by the manufacturers' spin doctors, CR could be relied upon to provide some really accurate and honest assessments of every car they bought and tested. Their "red dot/black dot" reliability guide was devastatingly accurate as I discovered in the process of repairing more than 10,000 cars at my garage.

But now, CR seems to have been taken over by the same malaise that affects Google. A "green can't be wrong, all must comply" philosophy  that is giving battery cars a reputation they don't deserve - not yet anyway.   

Add Consumer Reports to the list of those who have been blind sided by a superior force. In the road test of the Tesla Model S P85D, CR staffers ended up with a score of 103, leading the publication to say the electric vehicle “broke” its own scoring system.

The base Model S previously logged the best Consumer Reports road test score in history, 99, when it was tested in 2013. Improvements in the P85D include quicker acceleration, better brakes, smoother handling, more horsepower and torque, all-wheel drive, and greater economy. Without getting into the scoring minutiae, it’s easy to see how a 99 could be marked up to 103 with just one or two of the upgrades mentioned.

According to Consumer Reports, it was those upgrades plus the fact the car was more than the sum of its parts that brought the score to 103 and shattered the scoring system for future use. The reviewer mentions how the P85D “set new benchmarks” for performance and describes it as “an automotive milepost” that served as “a glimpse into the future of the industry.”

Among those benchmarks, the P85D set the record for the sprint to 60 miles per hour (3.5 seconds). They forgot to mention that that performance only happens once and after that the acceleration figures fall away FAST! Likewise, it set the record for most expensive car ever tested at $127,820. Perfect road test score aside, reviewers continued to have beefs with the range-topping Model S.

As the costliest car to ever get the Consumer Reports treatment, reviewers are not impressed by the non luxury appointments of the P85D’s interior. Meanwhile, the fact you cannot drive over 250 miles in a Model S continues to drop it down a lot when compared to the world’s best automobiles.

Consumer Reports readers may consider those updates a necessary part of of the equation, as the Model S has scored less than average in reliability when put to the tests of long-term ownership. Battery fires featured largely in the first two or three years of manufacturing.

CR is totally ignoring the 1500 drive trains that had to be shipped as replacements to Scandinavia.

Then there's unfulfilled promise of slide out/slide in battery changers - which has never happened.

Battery replacement is costed at $40,000 by the media, which makes a used Tesla a very iffy proposition.

Finally, while a rating system that favors fuel economy loved the lack of gasoline needed to operate this electric vehicle, the promise of zero emissions remains on hold until every Model S runs on batteries charged with solar power, instead of coal, oil or natural gas from the power stations.

The 'free' charging stations are not free at all. A premium is paid in the selling price for this privilege and now, Tesla is back tracking and telling owners that the charging stations are not for local running and are intended only for long distance travel.

Electric car makers had to start somewhere and, according to this once most respected consumer-oriented testing company, the Model S P85D has done what other vehicles couldn’t even approach and maybe they don't want to, as Tesla continues to burn through cash like a drunken sailor.

Next week: Some long distance running. Tesla vs Mazda3 - no contest.

Passenger cars are still the most popular transportation mode. In 2014 nearly 68 million were produced globally. They’re not only a vital part of our economy and our personal lives but also an important social and cultural tool, used to present a certain image and status – real or imagined.

Our entrenched reliance on – and attachment to – this method of travel means that, even if we shift away from such widespread car ownership, we need to change our perception of what cars are if we want to mitigate their high environmental costs.

This doesn’t just mean moving to electric vehicles. Just at the resource extraction level, roughly five tons of materials are needed to produce a 1.2 ton car, creating ten tons of effluents and 2.5 tons of emissions. Processing these materials into components, assembling and distributing the cars around the world – and then using, servicing and disposing of them generates even more emissions. In total, a typical mid-size car is responsible for around 17 tons of CO₂.

The total embodied emissions for alternatively fuelled vehicles such as hybrids, electric and fuel-cell vehicles may even be higher than normal internal combustion engines – even when they produce no tail-pipe emissions (based on the as-yet unpublished study). This is perhaps because such technologies are more energy intensive to produce due to the materials that compose them.

New ideas needed

So what is the alternative to the current system? If car travel is going to remain common, perhaps we need to be smarter about how we build and use them. Our cars currently spend 92% of their time parked – and, when driving, most of their weight is used only to carry one person most of the time.

Cars could be produced in fewer numbers, to be smaller, longer-lasting and shared by more people. And instead of focusing on turning out as many new cars with relatively short lifespans as possible, manufacturers could provide more services to keep vehicles on the road for longer and deal with their disposal.

The role of car designers could also change. First by designing simpler basic cars, without “gimmicks” such as mood lights or massaging seats. Timeless lines rather than subject to the fads of the day. Instead of working on one project after another, the designer could be involved in an upgrading process that would see each model evolve through re-manufacturing in a more direct interaction with consumers.

Other changes in the features of the cars themselves could also produce more sustainable models. For example, safety standards today are driven by electronic systems such as collision-avoidance and pedestrian-detection systems. These could be upgraded during service life more easily than physical features. Based on my own (as yet unpublished) research, I believe that if these systems prove to be highly reliable, there will be no need for low-speed impact structures, reducing the use of materials.

This model might be easier to move to than it first sounds. So-called millennials are less interested in cars than previous generations, applying for driver’s licences later in life and more likely to live in highly congested cities where access to public transport is easier. They are also used to sharing or renting services, for example with taxi-hailing or liftsharing apps such as Uber. Owning a car, on the other hand, is seen as an expensive liability.

Industry turning point

The car manufacturing industry is also at a cross-roads. Powertrain options are multiplying, driverless technology is poised to make big changes and non-automotive companies including Google want a share of the market. As materials become more expensive, relying on cars with relatively shorter lifespans to flood the market is not in anyone’s interest. Not even the car makers, who at best can only make 5% annual profit.

The current business model may not survive in the longer term. It may naturally make more sense for manufacturers to build and service cars as long-lasting rental products. Some electric vehicle manufacturers have already introduced rental schemes for their batteries, which are likely to need replacing far quicker than the rest of the car.

Extending the lifespan and the product life cycle will impact on production. Fewer cars means that the return on investment may take longer. But it could also mean less need to update costly manufacturing tools – and factories could be made more modular and flexible to produce different types of cars in one assembly line. Plants could be more localised to meet the different needs of the different megacities of the future. And redundant assembly workers could be retrained into servicing and maintenance or other car-related services.

This model would require us to think differently about cars, redefining terms such as “old” and “used” and educating consumers, especially those from older generations who are unfamiliar with sharing systems. Not all cars will survive into the future, but if we are better stewards of what we have now and learn to cherish products in a more subjective way than the market does, cars can definitely last for longer.


New tire brands you've never heard of.

Of course, unless you took delivery of a brand new car yesterday, we are all driving around on used tires.

If you haven't replaced your car tires recently, your wallet may be in for a surprise. Tires can be pricey, even if your car is an 'econobox.' You could be tempted to save money by buying used tires. Doing so can be a safe choice, if the tires are in good condition and have a side wall name that you recognise.

Garages, junkyards and sometimes tire shops and even internet tire shops will sell tires that are used but still have plenty of tread on them and are not showing signs of obvious wear, as an alternative to consumers who experience sticker shock over replacing their worn tires.

 It's not uncommon for these tires to be priced at half the cost of new ones, and sometimes less. Tire shops and mechanics may also sell tires that are brand new but manufactured more than a year ago at small discounts of 10 percent to 15 percent. Discounts will vary widely depending on the tire's age, condition and type, and the business selling the tire, among other factors. No matter how appealing a discounted tire may be, consumers should be cautious about buying either gently used or older unused tires.

Tires are made of rubber compounds, which age over time even if they are unused or barely used, but there is no agreement on exactly how long tires can provide safe transportation before the rubber deteriorates to the point where it fails. Automakers' and tire manufacturers' recommendations for tire replacement, regardless of wear, range from five to 10 years, depending on the conditions. Exposure to heat, sunlight, humidity and salt air are just a few of the factors that affect how quickly rubber compounds in a tire break down.

Due to these issues, it makes good sense for anyone buying tires, even consumers buying brand-new ones, to check when the tire was manufactured who it was manufactured by and consider refusing any tire that was not manufactured within the last year. Determining the age of a tire is quite easy. Tires manufactured after 1999 have a four-digit code on the side wall that represents the week and year the tire was made. For example, a tire with the code "DOT 4211" was made in the 42nd week of 2011.

The biggest problem when buying used tires, even those that appear to be brand new or in very good condition, is that you don't know their history. Their life span may have been diminished in numerous ways such as by hitting curbs or potholes, getting punctured, becoming exposed to high temperatures or enduring harsh weather. You have to rely on the judgment of your honest independent technician to make your choice.

There are several reputable manufacturers of high quality tires. Michelin springs to mind as the inventor of the radial tire and Bridgestone as the manufacturer that produced the Blizzak winter tire that made tire studs obsolete. On the other end of the scale, are the brand new tires bearing names that you have never heard of. Mostly Chinese tires, they are difficult to balance, are sometimes oval in shape and wear out pretty fast.

If you are in the process of changing your car for a newer, or even new one you may not want to shell out $1000 or more for new tires.

In which case, I would opt for a set of good quality used
tires from a well known brand, rather than a set of unknown, unrecognised, new tires.

Other blogs worth reading

40) Treat your car battery with respect, or it can kill you.

41) In praise of the good old station wagon.

44) Future shock, the unending complication of electronic devices in you car.

45) Overheating engines.

47)  The case for annual safety inspections.

51) The piston engine is going to be with us for a very, very long time.

52) Avoiding rip offs in the car repair business.

58) Electronic brake force distribution.

61) Hydrogen vs electricity - no contest.

63) Why flushing brake oil makes sense.

64) When should I change my oil?

66) W/W antifreeze and long term warranties.

67) Nitrogen

68) Recirc A/C

70) Electric car radiation danger

71) Fuel saving devices that don't

75) Scheduling appointments.

78 Modern design of alternators and batteries.

79) Autumn leaves.