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                     Road testing - the first step in the purchase of a used car.

                     
A road test is the first step towards the purchase of a used car because if  the prospective purchase fails most of the test, then you must move
on to finding another vehicle: Going to phase 2 - the "up on the lift, under the microscope" examination at a garage would be a
waste of 100  dollars or more..

Phase 2, of course, will determine a number of objectives, including the possibility of major structural repairs
- items that cannot be detected so easily in a road test

Firstly - find yourself a nice rough road. A bumpy road will show up any looseness in the suspension and depending on the noise,
it is very often possible to gauge the
seriousness of the fault.
A loose sway bar link sounds terrible but is not really a danger and can be treated as a routine repair.
But a loose ball joint is now
or never and has to be repaired ASAP.

The same principle applies to brake noises. A loud scraping noise usually indicates metal on metal and severe vibration under
braking needs immediate attention also. On the other hand, a little intermittent noise when turning usually indicates a mild amount
of rust build up on the edges of the rotors or drums and a routine cleaning may be all that is required. If the car has alloy wheels, there
is even the possibility of assessing how much life is left in the brakes, because the pads and rotors are easily visible.

Engine noises can be analysed mostly by just blipping the throttle and listening carefully to differentiate between piston slap,
wrist pin looseness, noisy valves and a terminal rapping noise from the main bearings..

Automatic transmissions don't usually make any noise, they just begin to misbehave and a road test is the only way to
analyse this fault.

A second advantage of road testing is that in many cases, where someone wants an inspection on an almost new car,
say one that is two years old and has less than 40,000 Km on the clock, a full wheels up inspection is probably not necessary.

Particularly if the prospective owner cannot wait a week.


Then an empty parking lot, where noise is at a minimum, should be selected. The car is parked with the engine running and the front wheels
cranked over as far as they will go. An under the hood inspection of all fluids, except coolant, and a revving of the engine to detect
noises, is followed by engine shut down to inspect all the belts.

Going down on hands and knees then allows inspection of the CV boots, the exhaust system, the rust condition underneath
and a check for any fluid leaks.

A careful walk around will always show if the car has been repainted. Watch for the tell tale signs of masking tape.

Tire condition is easily noted. On the road, the clutch, air conditioning and electrical functions such as electric
windows can be checked. Wheel alignment can be judged with a smooth road and a "hands off the steering wheel to see what
happens next" approach. All this usually takes about twenty minutes and should be done on a dry day, preferably with plenty of
sunshine.

Then there is the "seat of the pants factor" which develops in ones mind over many years. In spite of finding nothing immediately
wrong, it's sometimes hard to ignore the warning bell ringing in ones head that says all is not correct.

In which case, even a very late model used car has to go onto the lift.

Of course there is also the "CR" factor. If a particular car has a bad reputation, it had better be in first class shape, because an
inherently unreliable vehicle that has been abused is just going to get worse and worse as time goes on.




           
           My personal keeper.
Thank you, car manufacturers, for making driving that bit easier and allowing me to have one less thing to think about - namely speed limits and roads signs.
By all accounts, this latest safety tech has been designed to improve safety, and I should be in favour of that.

   
But here’s the thing: what I’m not in favour of is too much automation. So, if the concept of a car recognising a speed limit sign and moderating your speed accordingly doesn’t fill you with joy, then you’re in good company with me.
Particularly when the speed limits in question are 80 years old and way out of whack with the capabilities of the modern automobile. Speed limits are for revenue collection, so you can expect your taxes to increase somewhere, somehow, to compensate for the loss of revenue when cars never exceed speed limits.

Speed limit sign recognition systems are no longer new, but this added ‘feature’ is sure to promote a new level of laziness among drivers who already view driving as an unappealing chore. Granted, that’s likely to be rather a lot of people. However, unless it’s 100% reliable, I’ll be sticking to my usual approach: using my eyes and moderating my speed the old fashioned way.

    Stay on target
   
Mind you, I do that already on autoroutes, as I’m something of a cruise control Luddite. Basic ‘dumb’ systems I can tolerate, yet the current crop of so-called intelligent systems - with the ability to detect cars and reign in your speed - are often overwhelmed by the random actions of others.

   
You can have the fanciest radar or camera-based system on hand, but if the Prius driver up ahead can’t stay in the in the "right" lane for long enough, you’re subjected to a less than smooth - and safe - experience. Plus, you always know the drivers who have switched on their cruise control and switched off their brains; they’re the ones tapping the brake pedal to regularly suspend this auto throttle nonsense, as they can’t be bothered to drive and pay attention at the same time. For what’s often pitched as a labour-saving feature, these guys are doing an awful lot of work.


    A wheely stupid idea

On a small but growing number of high-end cars there’s a new fancy-pants addition to the cruise control system. Lane departure warning will be familiar to some and, in truth, can be a force for good. If you drift out of your lane, you’re soon alerted to your transgression. However, add an automated steering correction - albeit a small one - and I foresee complacency quickly becoming standard equipment.

Have we really reached the point where even steering a car has become too much of a challenge for some? If that’s the case, then autonomous cars can’t come a moment too soon. There, I’ve said it. Bring on the robot cars.

    Better safe than sorry

Still, it’s not all bad. Most of the safety equipment on modern cars is a force for good. It would take a pretty miserable person to whinge about the benefits of anti-locking brakes and traction or stability control.

But for fans of fast cars, it’s a different story. Keen drivers are starting to grumble about the lack of ‘feel’ they’re getting from everything from hot hatches to supercars. Some of these otherwise useful safety systems cut in earlier than desired, while wooly steering - thanks to all that artificial assistance - robs you of confidence. These features are the new automotive party poopers.


 Fair enough if performance cars aren’t your thing, but for anyone seeking some semblance of fun in an otherwise restricted and overcrowded landscape, manufacturers are starting to take the ‘mother knows best’ approach a little too far. In a bid to provide numerous safeguards, turning everything off has also become a pain: press and hold, or just press, or press twice - the hoop-jumping to disable a safety system is starting to get silly.

    It pays to be pragmatic

The reality is that, for all our moaning, driver assistance is here to stay. In fact, it’s guaranteed to increase as car makers strive to make their products even safer. Governments will also be putting pressure on firms to provide more occupant protection, and with the nut behind the wheel (that’s you and me) often the weak link, the desire to minimise human error is only going to increase as technology becomes smarter and cheaper.

Although I understand the motives behind the use of most of the tech stuffed into modern cars, I’m not ready to embrace the ‘nanny’ mentality associated with it all. Which means I’ll be keeping my Porsche 944 forever: something old, somethjing tht's fun to drive and is and vaguely reliable.

   


                     
Chain stores do the simple parts of car maintenance.

They change oil and they sell and mount tires.

Over the years I've seen enough evidence to suggest that you might want to be careful how much of the responsibility for your cars'
welfare you really want to put into their hands.

I knew someone who went to buy four new tires at one of these super sized discount stores.
As she backed out, all four wheels fell off. Not one single wheel nut  was in place.
The ensuing damages for bodywork repair probably took all the profit out of that operation for a while.

Then there was the fellow who got a free tire rotation every 10,000 Km (6000 miles) and he'd taken advantage of the offer.
But in the process, the "technician" had broken one wheel stud and not being a fully qualified auto mechanic, he wasn't able to repair it.

The four remaining wheel nuts would be OK until he could get it repaired, if he stayed local and didn't do any highway driving, or fast cornering.

Anotherexample involves the Honda Accord that got towed in with the owner saying that the engine was running very badly.

A supermarket type place had done an oil change. Investigation showed that there was just over a litre of oil left in the engine and it was as
black and thick as Manitoba Spring Gumbo. But the oil filter was new - and of a brand I had ever heard of.

Obviously, somebody changed the filter, but simply forgot to change the oil and being a VTEC engine, which does not like being
short of oil, the engine computer cut power and would have eventually have shut the car down - fortunately long before any engine
damage could have occurred.

OK, so what's the bottom line of these morality tales?

It's simply this; If you go to one of these vast emporiums for ANY type of auto repair, stay with the vehicle and watch everything that
goes on. Don't be tempted to wander off into the main store.

Watch for the use and over use of impact wrenches.

Watch for rapid tire inflation which often means that the tire didn't have time to seat properly on the rim and consequently may be
oval or egg shaped.

Insist on having the wheel nuts tightened by hand with a torque wrench or a special torque limiting bar attachment which is colour
coded to various torque levels.

Over tightening wheel nuts can not only strip threads and break studs, but can also severely distort brake rotors.

In oil changes, watch out for the 3 foot tightening wrench or the slipping wring wrench that takes all the corners off the drain plug.
I don't know how many drain holes have had to be repaired - but it's a lot, due to over tightening.
In some cases, it involves replacement of the oil pan.

As you drive away, pause for a brief time on a patch of asphalt that is free of oil droppings and then check to see if you're leaving any
oil behind as you back away. Losing an engine due to gross oil leaks is subject to compensation, but is such a hassle that this little
precaution is well worth it. Open the hood as well and make sure you still have a dipstick!

I'm not telling you that you shouldn't use these types of repair operations, but remember that tire and oil changing do not require
the possession of any kind of technicians ticket - any teenager off the street can be hired to do the work.





Thin on the ground..............

Among politicians and some motor industry folk, the H (ydrogen) word is becoming an obsession. Yet for the vast majority of current motorists it’s irrelevant, and probably always will be.


At best, real-world low to mid-budget drivers must wait decades before they’re able to buy widely available, affordable H cars. At worst, such vehicles could follow in the embarrassing footsteps of 100 per cent electrics, which have been a huge flop.

Yet hydrogen-themed breakfasts, stage presentations, press conferences, lunches, workshops and late-night discussions were so prevalent at the LA Motor Show recently that new, accessible and comparatively inexpensive conventional cars were almost overshadowed by the H-related preoccupation.

The German prototypes of H powered Volkswagen Passat and then Audi A7 are more than able to satisfy the everyday demands of drivers, and easily capable of coping with 21st century streets. But – and buts don’t come bigger than this – hydrogen filling stations for cars are thin on the ground in the USA, rare in Europe and non-existent in Britain.

Or to put this another way, the likes of VW and Audi have the tech – but the energy industry and governments are not investing enough on the infrastructure required to refuel hydrogen cars. And who can blame them when the cost worldwide is countless trillions of dollars?

So why is the Volkswagen Group seemingly fixated with hydrogen? I reckon it’s partly because there could be plans afoot for Audi to develop its sports car programme as a hi-tech hydrogen-power test bed.

And in the face of gross lethargy from the energy giants and politicians who refuse to fund those expensive hydrogen filling stations, the VW family could establish a large refuelling network of its own. If it doesn’t, it might find itself in the hopeless position of trying to sell hydrogen cars to motorists who can’t buy hydrogen fuel.

And that’d be as daft as Apple trying to sell mobile phones without rechargeable batteries.




Unrealistic expectations.




From acid rain, to global warming and now the clueless, technically ingenuous media are onward and upward to a fascination with driverless cars.

So you’d be excused for thinking that mainstream autonomous cars are just around the corner. Unfortunately, it just isn’t so. It’s not that they’re not on their way — they are — but expectations about what we’ll actually get and when, seems to be out of whack with reality.


Part of the problem seems to be a definitional one. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as its European equivalent, lay out several different levels of autonomous cars.

Level Zero is no autonomous features.

Level One is for things like adaptive cruise control, which has been around for years.

Level Two is for multiple systems working together, such as adaptive cruise control with lane centering, automatic parking and other features we’re starting to see enter the market now.


Critically, in all of these cases, the driver is expected to stay in complete command of the car.

Level Three enables limited autonomous driving where, in certain situations, such as sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, the driver is given the ability to officially cede control of the car to the autonomous system. So, for example, you could legally read email and tweets on your smart phone while sitting in the drivers seat (instead of doing it illegally, as so many currently do).

Even here however,  “the driver is expected to be available for occasional control…” Giving complete control over to the car for the entire trip, what I believe many people think of when they hear about autonomous cars, doesn’t happen until we reach Level Four.


The announcement from Tesla last week about adding some autonomous driving capabilities to certain of its Model S sedans via a software update this summer does appear to be a Level Three-type announcement. But, as others have pointed out, whether it will actually be legal to use those features any time soon is far from clear. That’s at the heart of the problem.

The real challenges here has more to do with liability and legality than anything else. Who’s responsible, from an insurance perspective for example, if an autonomous car hits someone or something? What level of safety can governmental agencies (and car makers) guarantee? These are some of the hardest problems to solve and the ones likely to take the longest time to resolve. They are also the reason why no states have officially allowed the use of autonomous cars in anything but a testing mode (and typically only with a special license).

The technology of making cars function autonomously is obviously coming faster than the legislation.

The technology of making cars function autonomously is coming much faster on prototype cars and other test systems. Not surprisingly, it’s these efforts that have started to generate so much uninformed press attention.

In addition to Tesla’s announcements, there have been Google’s autonomous car experiments and Audi’s 900+ mile autonomous drive from Palo Alto, CA to Las Vegas just before this years CES show. Last week, Nvidia announced their Drive PX smart car platform tools, which provide the ability to connect up to 12 cameras to a development board with two Tegra X1 CPUs and let virtually anyone (with $10,000) start working on their own automated cars.

Throw in provocative comments like Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s at last week’s GPU Technology Conference where he predicted that, in the future, non-autonomous cars would be outlawed because of how unsafe they would be perceived to be, and you have the perfect stew of unrealistic expectations.


But you also have to consider more practical issues. As Musk pointed out at that same event, there are roughly 2 billion cars on roads around the world and the auto industry’s maximum output level is roughly 100 million per year. That means, even if the industry started producing nothing but autonomous cars tomorrow, it would take 20 years to completely replace the installed base.

The real problem is, because we’re seeing tech industry companies start to get involved with the auto industry, we're applying tech industry development speed expectations to autonomous cars. New iterations of smart phones take 6-12 months, so a few years should be plenty to tackle something like autonomous cars, right? Well, no.

The reality is we probably won’t be seeing usable Level Three-types of features in cars we can buy off the lot until the beginning or even middle of the next decade, and fully automated Level Four could take until 2050.

I'm certainly more concerned than excited about the possibilities of what autonomous car features might bring, but I think we need to keep our expectations, of the Brian Williams variety  in check.




 

Winter was a frozen hell for many snowbelt residents this season, but it's important to remember that it was just as trying for your car
—ice, slush, mud, and salt are no friend to a car's paint or interior.
As the weather finally begins to thaw, it is high time to brush up on the essentials of car care.


First and foremost: Read the F%$#!&$ Directions
!!!

Don't be a hero. When it comes to your car's paint and interior, put your pride aside and read the label.
No matter what product you plan on using to help shed your car's winter grime, it's absolutely crucial you follow the instructions
and use it the right way.
While this may sound like common sense, it bears mentioning because incorrect use of certain products can actually
do more harm than good.

Washing is obviously the first step.

For this,  you will need liquid soap especially designed for washing cars.

Dish washer detergents strip wax finishes and streak very badly.

A car wash soap will lubricate the surface and float the dirt away as it is washed off, instead of rubbing it into the surface.
Let no panel, nook, or cranny go unnoticed, as all of that salt and dirt has surely found its way into your wheel wells and undercarriage.
A high-pressure hose is another useful tool for this step.

You should be using two buckets—one for lathering up your sponge and another for wringing out all of the filth.
With just one bucket for both purposes, you'll only end up scouring the same dirt back into your paint.

Dry the car with a chamois by squeezing the chammy dry and laying it on the surface.
Gently drag the sheeted chamois over the surface and let it dry.

Run your hand over the surface. It should be very smooth. If it feels rough, then there are deposits still impacted into the surface
that can be removed with a mild compounding paste.  Rub the paste into the surface very gently and remove it with a soft material
such as a well washed cotton undershirt. 
The compound also removes wax, so new wax will be need to be applied.
The more severe the oxidization, the more aggressive
the abrasive wax required. Rub it in so that the surface is polished.
Do all this work by hand.
Motorised polishers are for professionals, (just like sanding you parquet floors) - don't even think about doing it yourself.

At last it is time to give the surface its final coat of protection. Carnauba based waxes are the best.
Stay away form cheap products that use chalk as the polishing media, which will have you going round for hours picking white
deposits out of every nook and cranny. Teflon based products are not much good either.


Waxing gives you the best quality of protection for your car over time, so a good wax will mean you don’t have to repeat the process
as often in the future. The best advice for applying wax is to use thin and even coats—more is not better, because only so much wax
can bond to the car's surface. In fact, it's just a waste of wax.

Never be tempted to use wax on your windshield, it will ruin the wiper blades and smear like mad.

On the side windows and rear windows, that do not have wiper blades, a touch of wax does no harm and is more effective
than Rain-X. (Which is not really saying very much).

Note that factory wheels are often powdercoat painted and should be treated like a painted surface. Pick up a bottle of wheel-and-tire
cleaner for the best results. Before you start, make sure you know what metal the wheels are made of.
There are dedicated products for aluminum, chrome, and steel, but using the wrong one could be abrasive to your wheels.
With the right cleaner, go to work on the wheels and tires while making sure to stay clear from the brake calipers and rotors,
which could react unfavorably to the solution.
When in doubt, always use the least aggressive product to avoid stains or damage. Dry with a cotton towel or anold udershirt..

Pull all of your mats out, and find a dry brush to use on the carpeting. Use the brush to fluff the carpet fibers and follow your work with a
vacuum, ideally with an attachment for hard-to-reach places. The same is true for your car's cloth seats. A casual once-over isn't going
to do the job here, so make sure you take the time to really cover the entire interior surface.
Smaller brushes and attachments will prove especially useful for cleaning air vents, which can collect large amounts of dust and dirt.


For leather seats, there are plenty of leather cleaner products out there, but see if you can find one that's made for leather
car interiors and seats.
Saddle soap is equally good and cheaper to buy.
Apply the leather cleaner according to the directions and wipe it down with a cotton towel.
When your friend's car is cracking and peeling inside, you'll be grateful you took the time to enrich your car's hide.


Finally, you may want to spray the tires with another conditioner that brings out that new black look.
This has about as much long term effect as sealing your driveway. But what the heck? It looks good for awhile.

Have fun!


While these steps do take time and care, it shouldn't be difficult or arduous. There's a certain satisfaction and enjoyment we
can all get from taking care of our cars, not to mention the money you'll save by doing it yourself.
With a little bit of elbow grease, you and your car can enjoy motoring season feeling like a million bucks.


And of-course, a shiny car will be more slippery through the air and give you much better gas mileage - LOL.

And a couple of hints:

Baby your car’s paint with a little Ivory soap.


Ivory bar soap is a great way to remove bug marks from a vehicle’s painted surface due to its slightly caustic chemical makeup. Simply make a paste by rubbing a clean wet facecloth on the soap and applying it to the bug marks on your vehicle. Do not do this in direct sunlight. Wipe and thoroughly rinse the paste after a minute or so. If you’re extra cautious, test the paste on a painted under-panel or less visible area first. Make sure to use the original or classic Ivory bar soap. 


Razor blades are dangerous on glass 


While safety type blades are great tools for removing stubborn substances from windshield glass and other body panels, they can also do a lot of damage. To avoid scratching glass or painted surfaces, always angle the blade so its entire width is in constant contact with the surface you’re working on. Any angles or uneven pressure will result in scratches or gouges. Almost any hardware or auto parts store will sell the holder for these blades. The holder will allow you to keep the right angle and pressure on your work.



 


I love driving. There are few things better than hitting an open twisting country road on a bright and sunny summer afternoon. Letting someone else do it for me will just never be as good, regardless of how safe it is.

For a long time I was convinced that the driverless car dream was nothing more than that. But between the accelerating development of Google's self-driving roadsters and the unveiling of Britain's autonomous side walk (!) vehicles, I realise my nightmare is unfurling in the hands of the do-gooders who gave you global warming.

You see, I've got a bad feeling about driverless cars.

As someone who's forever paranoid that my sat nav is going to send me the wrong way up a one-way street (it's happened before), the idea of bequeathing my safety to a robot seems ludicrous.

While it could be that yobo in his driverless cars reacts better than a human would, there's an assumption that our reflexes don't process complex information in a heartbeat and make the best decision. In fact, there's no reason to suppose that a sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence could do better. But, if you think about it, so many road traffic accidents occur when humans are tired, or distracted, or drunk, or high. An artificial intelligence, we would hope, would not be susceptible to those factors.

Sure, they might be safer for those reasons, but I'm scared car artificial intelligence is susceptible to more dangerous things - malfunctions, dodgy firmware updates, questionable moral choices, murderous dispositions - you know, the usual rational fears.

Robots and ethics are a tricky mix


Who gets to guide the car's moral compass? Does the car hit the child to ensure the safety of the middle-aged "driver", or does it swerve out of the way and kill the driver who was probably only going to live another 20 years anyway? Will our cars be utilitarian or libertarian? It might sound like a silly point right now, but these are important, inescapable questions that won't have straight forward answers.

All it will take is that first accident before the 'driverless car kills humans' headlines are splashed across the front pages and the brake lights come on. Just imagine the legal mess when your driverless car hits another, let alone a person. Which insurance company in its right mind is going to cover these things when they first hit the road, without demanding a fortune? And who's to blame when the inevitable does happen?

Plus, with different cars being built by different manufacturers, there's the risk of fragmentation. I'll assume that our driverless cars will eventually all work on some universal safety protocol if it helps me sleep better at night, but what if the law allows car makers to use their own software?

Not to mention that movie car chases are going to be pretty drab. "OK Google Car, evade approaching henchmen" "Warning: updating firmware to Cardroid 4.7"

And what if, you know, they start talking to one another? The moment our cars declare independence is the day I want you to come back to this article and apologise for not taking me seriously.

But suppose our cars don't rise up against their masters, and suppose they're 100% safe all the time, what about the pure enjoyment of driving? My self-driving Porsche will suck out all the fun as it opts for the road less sinuous. Which is why I plan to keep the one I have now forever - no matter what it costs for restoration.





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.

50) Rusty brake rotors (or discs)- no easy solution.

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.