Archive | February, 2012

BMW: Are their new UK cars sold without Manufacturer’s Warranty…?

28 Feb

Last week, I popped in to a BMW Mini Dealer Franchise to do some research on the Manufacturer’s warranty for the Mini.

I explained exactly why I was there and the nice lady gave me a shiny brochure and told me that all the information I needed was inside.

Out in the car park, I double checked before driving off. It wasn’t. There was not a single mention within  the fifty scrumptious pages of any Manufacturer’s warranty.

I popped back inside the dealership.

The nice lady shared my surprise and concern. She told me to hang on while she went and checked in the store room. As I waited, I checked the other brochures. Prominently on display was one for ‘Mini Tyre Insurance’ so I took one of those. Then, I grabbed ‘Mini Shortfall’ which tells you how you can buy insurance against paying out finance if your Mini is damaged and off the road.

The nice lady came back and handed me a brochure called ‘Mini Dealer Warranty’ with a proud flourish.

“There you go!” she smiled. I thanked her but…

“This is not the manufacturer’s Warranty” I said. “This is a Dealer Warranty”.

“I’m sure it is all in there!” She smiled. I decided not to debate that point and I thanked her kindly for her help.

“No problem!” she beamed.

There was no information in the brochure on the Manufacturer’s warranty for the Mini.

Back home, I searched BMW UK’s website and found the same thing. Although their website provides huge detail on all the extra things that you can buy to protect yourself, there was no mention of any Manufacturer’s warranty, just a “BMW Dealer Warranty”. A “Dealer Warranty” is different. Legally different and fundamentally altogether different. Reading through the details, it soon became apparent that the BMW Dealer Warranty presents the new owner with the need to do some serious thinking very quickly. And, once again, there was no specific mention of what was or was not covered by any warranty. There were, however, enough special clauses, exceptions and special requirements within the terms to make for very a very complex and confusing ride for the customer.

I contacted the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) in the UK and queried whether the manufacturer BMW is allowed to wash its hands of any responsibility for handling warranty complaints for its new products.

Today, I got a reply from them to tell me that their Preliminary Investigation Team are considering my complaint.

In all fairness to BMW, I am going to hang back before launching in to any further comment on this matter right now. I shall update you as soon as I hear back from them.


***UPDATE*** For those of you wanting to find out what the OFT decided, please refer to my May 4th 2012 article:

BMW(UK) Car Warranties latest explanation. Doesn’t.

I hope you find it interesting…!

© 2012 Loop Withers

The Airbus A330. Make friends with someone who owns one.

25 Feb

When our children were young, their mother and I never allowed them to sit on the knee of  Santa Claus. It seemed contradictory to warn them to beware of over-familiar strangers and then to suggest that they jump on the lap of some old man who has doubtful dress sense, a false beard and offers them presents in return for personal information.

So it was that we encouraged our kids to cling together in unity against the clearly unhinged logic of their parents. Between us both, their mother and I ran a dictatorial regime that, like President Assad’s, was so obviously designed to one day bring about rebellion.

In our case, we wanted them to rebel. We hated the thought of us clinging to power in old age and we also loathed the possibility that our children would grow up to be like ourselves. We couldn’t imagine a greater sadness than to one day discover that we had trained our children to conform, trust figures in authority and respect their wealthy rulers.

And so it happens that, as adults, we realise we must confront life’s contradictions instead of ignoring them. We have to doubt our own wisdom as often as that of others. For example, we have to listen closely to racists instead of ignoring them so that we can learn to question our own assumptions as well as neutralize their arguments. We have to think a lot more than we would wish to because very little of our lives makes perfect sense.

Let me now explain why jet travel is good for the planet.

Most of us are educated and aware that Planet Earth is a huge and fragile ecosystem. As we humans walk its surface and breathe it’s air, we change the way that ecosystem works. By the conduct of our daily lives, we strip it of renewable resources like plants and animals. We take its raw materials and convert them into chemical-based products which allow us to develop and grow our societies.  We use our world’s resources more preciously now than ever before.

There is now hardly a person on this planet who cannot be given a health-enhancing or life-saving drug from a plastic syringe. That syringe can then be recycled and that chemical manufacturer pays for carbon-converting trees to be planted to counter the pollution it creates in making the drug and it’s delivery system. We have moved so far towards protecting the ecological integrity of our planet by simply cleaning up our act. We have started to regain control of the deadly tail-spin of pollution and destruction brought about by our reckless ‘slash-and-burn’ development.

The extremes of Capitalism and Communism have been destructive of this planet. Both systems have turned fertile land into waste ground and contaminated once pure water. Both routinely blight and destroy the lives of some for the benefit of others. Both systems use the words ‘Freedom and Democracy’ as their flag, hanging it from Government buildings as proudly as they drape it over coffins.

But along the way, the social control brought by political stability has allowed innovation and mass production to flourish. One side-effect of an engaged and enthusiastic workforce is that great development projects may be conceived and delivered.

One of these projects has now finally come of age: low-cost transcontinental travel by jet aeroplane.

The 2nd may 2012 will mark the 60th anniversary of the birth of scheduled jet passenger travel. It has taken all those decades for the aerospace culture to truly spread across the world and to create  reliable, cost-effective  and fuel-efficient aircraft designs and a matching infrastructure.

Even ten years ago, most jets in operation were far thirstier and dirtier than today. One ought to bear in mind that although food retailers like M&S talk loudly of their green credentials and initiatives, the delicate and exotic fruit that lines their shelves would tell us a different story if it were able to speak. It has often been flown half way around the world to us by one of those hungry and polluting ‘old-school’ freight planes, long obsolete but too expensive to replace. Just because you grow passion-fruit or pomegranates doesn’t mean you lie awake at night worrying about fuel efficiency comparison data between aircraft operators.

And this is where it starts to get interesting.

Airbus announced a deal with business links to Singapore on 18th February 2012.  Airbus have worked out that 2,700 freighters are going to be needed by the World over the next twenty years. That is approximately one rolling out of the hangar every three days. Airbus has built its latest A3xx range so that it can be converted from passenger airliner to freighter – P2F – when those planes get towards the end of their useful passenger-carrying life. Out of those 2,700 freighters needed, Airbus plans to ‘create’ at least 900 of them from these P2F conversions in Malaysia.

Airbus already has 850 A3xx planes  in service around the world. You can see how they are thinking. The idea is really smart and definitely ‘green’. These birds are gonna be haulin’ more load over more miles than any White Freightliner or Mack truck ever did in the whole history of the American consumer boom.

Carrying between 20 and 40 tonnes each ride, for up to 10,000 kilometers, at 800 kilometers per hour, the figures start to look fascinating. As a simple example for comparison, we might consider that the Berlin Airlift of 1948 was successfully achieved mostly using planes that could only carry 4 tons at 300 kph.

Check out this link here and drag the little airplane around the screen. Go mad. It is great fun. A picture tells a thousand words.

This class of plane coupled with such sophisticated strategic planning has never before existed. But it is not just a revolution in freight – it affects us humans in so many other ways.

Last week, I flew on a standard pre-booked Easyjet flight from London to Cannes for £25. That is $39 for a 1,000 km journey. Two and a half pennies or 4 cents per kilometer. Compare that price to your local bus. Try cycling for less.

All through the history of our planet, our ability to travel has been strictly limited by time, technology and cost. Now, Free Market economic forces are creating the perfect conditions to move humanitarian aid and humans wherever it is necessary or wherever those humans need to be taken.

As the data from aeroplane manufacturers and the pricing of budget operators make clear, there now exists no logistical or fiscal excuse why either airborne aid or airborne evacuation cannot be made to happen when and where it is needed. When it comes to saving the earth, saving people from genocide also has its place. People are, after all, a most precious resource. Airlifts are being used right now to bring pomegranates to our supermarket shelves.

When it comes to saving humans,  should we demand that civil aviation operators utilize their resources for humanitarian ends or should we put our trust and belief in our politicians…and Santa?


© 2012 Loop Withers

When your Maybach gets old and can’t remember where it put it’s keys

19 Feb

I have a good friend called Alan who is a highly respected local gardener.  Most of his regular clients assumed that he came with the house when they originally bought it. Alan began bothering their worms from the moment that they first moved in and they would not dream of ever losing his services.

They always make sure that their cars are positioned such that Alan has room to park his ageing Peugeot exactly where he usually parks it and they always leave the keys to the garage where he expects them to be left. All bulbs and new plants are respectfully left on the coal bunker for Alan to judge if and where they are worthy of planting.

Decisions regarding the well-being of the wisteria over the south wall or the casting vote on how to encourage all the bees back from wherever it is they’ve buzzed off to are earnestly sought from Alan. His solemn opinion is then passed on to visiting close friends but never to the neighbours or the daughter-in-law.

Last Friday evening, Alan and I were at the bar in the local pub. We were debating whether sun-bed tanning causes people to show up more easily on CCTV cameras at night or whether instead the artificially-tanned were simply losing their ability to have street fights during daylight. Our failure to establish the exact truth moved us onward instead to a discussion on logic and reasoning.

I suggested to Alan that the reason he is so highly respected by his clients is actually only because he always turns up on time every week and he never ever buys any new tools. He agreed, pointing out that I likewise gain most of my customers by coming across as too stupid to be dishonest and too gullible to be a threat to them.

Which reminded Alan of a dilemma he is now facing with an elderly and valued customer. This reclusive and wealthy gentleman has turned his back on the outside world and now only engages in conversation with Alan and the housekeeper. Alan has been watching the situation develop and things recently came to a head in the walled garden.

The great old house is kept company on one side by a magnificent Victorian kitchen garden with high red brick walls that make a square around a quarter acre of vegetables, protecting them from a world that might have stolen them fifty years ago before the first supermarkets. There is an ornate wrought iron gate with fluted bars set in to a small arch leading out of  the wall to the lawns at the front. The wall that is next to the house mostly collapsed years ago and lies in the brambles where it fell, having taken the chicken coop with it when it went.

On Alan’s last visit, he arrived to find a small, neat pile of bricks had been stacked on the lawn beside the wrought iron gate. Entering in to the kitchen garden, Alan saw the old gentleman stepping softly in his ox-blood brogues between the Swiss Chard, stooped like a hunter, following an invisible prey. As Alan watched, a plump wood pigeon launched up from the ground ahead of its attacker, flapping  away to the trees. The old gentleman swore at it and, seeing Alan, hailed him and strode over with a reddened and animated face.

“Good! Now you’re here, we can make a start! Excellent!”

Alan asked what the old gentleman had in mind. He was rewarded with a look of bemused impatience.

“Didn’t you see the bricks I left you?” the old man pointed. “I want this old iron gate taken out and the arch in the wall bricked up. Plenty of bricks left over to do the job!”

Alan thought it wise to double check the instructions. he pointed out that it was a beautiful gateway and it was in itself a special feature of the garden. The old gentleman was ahead of Alan, waiting for him to finish before enthusiastically explaining what Alan had so clearly failed to see for himself.

“I’ve watched that bloody wood pigeon for months! He’s got fat on my seeds all year and I won’t have any more of it!”

Alan frowned and remained puzzled. This exasperated the old gentleman.

“For heaven’s sake, Alan! The gate! I’ve watched him! He gets inside here between the bars of that damned  gate…!”

Even Joan the landlady thought that was a brilliant story and asked us if we wanted some doubles with a pound off. It seemed like the right decision at the time and it reminded me of an equally knotty problem that my second cousin is trying to solve at the moment.

He designs car door locks mechanisms for some high-end car manufacturers. The brief is quite exciting, especially given the implications for their owners when these future cars will have been owned by them for a few years.

The idea is that the faster the car is driven, the tighter the locks will pull all the doors to the body frame. This will allow much greater rigidity and far advanced body-shell safety dynamics when the vehicle is at speed or else cornering hard.

The development team have had to add about forty extra wires to the car’s main loom. The locking circuits need to communicate with the car’s ECU and so extra chips and programming modules need to be deep-wired into many other programmed circuits to allow over-ride, emergency and unlocking and dead-locking systems to function as well.

I asked him how it was going. He said they’ve got it all to work perfectly, but to steer clear of buying a five year old one that’s done a few miles. Naturally, I asked him why. He replied that the only way they can get the system to work is by programming it so that if one of the fifty-odd extra locking system components fails, the car either automatically unlocks itself for safety, or, if it is switched off, it deadlocks itself down for security. The key will be programmed to prohibit the driver from starting  the vehicle.

Smart thinking.

© 2012 Loop Withers

A good car to have a crash in…? Part 3 – READER DISCRETION ADVISED

17 Feb

While researching this article, I have had to make some difficult editorial decisions. I refer you, dear reader, back to that very first Roadwax post which sets out my broad views about censorship.

Regrettably, I cannot tell you what I believe you should know without including some facts that may distress some readers. I do not wish to make this article appear as a ‘wise owl’ plod through statistics, farmed from reports and topped with a few vague suggestions. This is not a cut-and-paste job for a Sunday magazine. It is a genuine attempt by me to help keep my readers alive by having them empowered through their understanding of a serious issue.

Although I believe that children who are old enough to read should be old enough to also learn how to keep themselves safe, this post is not suitable for kids.

I am also stating here and now that you can skip this article and read the forthcoming “Part 4” and still benefit from a greater  understanding of how to choose a safe car. If you continue beyond this paragraph, please understand that some factual data below is distressing to read. I do not wish to sensationalize, I wish to put clarity in your mind.

On average five people get killed on British roads each day and almost sixty get “KSI” – killed or seriously injured. Deaths and injuries are declining but only by fractions of a percent and there are many complicating factors involved in dissecting even the simplest statistics on the Department for Transport website.

Other countries across the world have their own figure but one point is common to all countries: the KSI figure is unacceptably high and needs to be seen as a tragic and traumatic reminder of the human cost of mechanizing one’s population.

At this point, let us put aside how and why we crash. Being drunk, on drugs, distracted or losing control of your car or your judgement are examples that explain ‘how’ and ‘why’. Being caught in the path of somebody else who ticks any of those boxes may also make you an innocent victim.

Let us instead look at what happens in a crash.

We are all familiar with the Crash Test Dummy. These are replicas of humans, adjustable and modifiable to imitate how a human’s  body will most likely behave in a collision. Early ‘dummies’ were recently deceased corpses and even living volunteers but now these sophisticated replicas do the work.

We can watch hundreds of hours of YouTube film that shows us cars colliding with scientifically measured objects and we see what happens to the dummies. Other uploaded films show real-life collisions captured on camera and the effects on real humans. We must now make sense of what we see because there is almost no explanation attached to the footage we watch and this is itself unhelpful.

Each “crash” involves three “collisions”. The first is the car hitting an object and slowing sharply. The second collision is the passenger being hit by the g-force of slowing down, hitting the restraint systems or interior of the car. The third collision is the internal organs of the human passenger colliding with the retaining skin, skull and rib-cage of their body.

Now, we can see the limitations of the Crash Test Dummy. Researchers have to pre-load mathematical values into the crash data of a dummy because a dummy does not have a living brain or living organs.

Collision data gathered from real life crashes is far more valuable than might be expected.

A co-worker of mine called Dave once lost control of his Mercedes van and monumentally stuffed it into a wall, backwards. He was treated at the scene for shock, cuts and bruises by paramedics and again later on at hospital. He was released from hospital but collapsed within hours. Nobody had noticed a tiny, bloodless hole among his bruises. The ball point pen which he had left on the ledge below the speedometer had been launched backwards towards him during the crash. As his body twisted sideways the pen entered below his armpit, between the ribs, punctured his lung and then exited as his arm swung back and removed it. The pen was later found down by the pedals, thinly coated with the fluids from inside his body.

He recovered and returned to work. The rest of us spent our time debating furiously and fruitlessly over the safest place for a pen to be placed in our van’s cab. We eventually gave up and put them back…on the ledge…below the speedometer. Put it in the glove box? The glove box lid from Dave’s Mercedes was never found so we crossed that idea off the list early on in the debate.

This startling randomeness of real-life crash data evokes a behavioral response among emergency personnel involved in routinely attending serious collisions. It becomes necessary to cope with the unimaginable, the tragic and the completely insane world they encounter. Working with an established vehicle recovery operator, my own life changed forever. My daily contact with grieving and traumatized relatives and witnesses, handling body parts of the recently deceased, helping the Police and agencies reconstruct the last moments and cause of death of a stranger all taught me so much.

Two lessons that we discovered were deeply uncomfortable but also most enlightening.

Regardless of the car that the person drives, be it safe or unsafe, the advances in medical paramedic skills have significantly increased collision victims’ survival rates. More people’s lives are saved by prompt paramedic skill on the scene than ever before and this improves the survival statistics. One extreme example is the simplest way of linking this first fact to the next one. I have removed ‘identifiers’ from this following true story. It will make you think.

A woman was driving her medium sized car to work at 30mph on a wet road. Coming towards her round the bend was a 3 ton van, driving at 50mph. The male driver slid wide on the bend and the two vehicles met, directly and symmetrically head-on. The impact pushed the car 60 feet backwards down the road.

Paramedics and Police were on the scene almost immediately. The driver of the van was under the influence of alcohol, cocaine and cannabis. He had bruising and minor cuts. The female driver of the car was alive and sober. As the collision became inevitable, she had pushed both feet hard to the brake and clutch pedals. As the collision impact compressed the cabin in front of her, her hip bones had dislocated and her legs had traveled upwards, outside her rib cage but beneath her skin.

Paramedics were able to sustain her but she died later in hospital. Her survival that far illustrates the astonishing support for life that can now be deployed.

This account illustrates the second fact. Given the extreme but short-lived forces involved in many collisions, occupants of a car often reduce injury to themselves if their bodies are relaxed at the time of impact. If their body muscles are relaxed, they often escape greater injury when excessive force is applied to limbs and torso. Obviously, the unique and complex events of each collision involve many factors. However, it was apparent from our own empirical data as a business that drunk and therefore relaxed drivers were “walking away” from their heavily crushed vehicles more often than drivers who were sober and tense as they crashed in similar circumstances.

If, as either a car passenger or a driver, you realise that you are about to collide unavoidably with an object, you may decide to serve your body well by relaxing and making like a Crash Test Dummy.

© 2012 Loop Withers

The OFT…Kaylee…and your talking car.

14 Feb

The OFT describes itself as “The U.K.’s consumer and competition authority”. It was  previously known as the Office of Fair Trading. I draw to your attention the fact that there is a difference between “ensuring fair trade” and  “making markets work well for consumers” – which is the OFT’s latest mission statement.

Either way, the OFT has singularly failed to achieve much of benefit for us consumers recently but it has done quite a lot to towards its other goals of increasing competition and expanding business – neither of which have anything to do with fairness. Sorry to labour the point but this is what I wish to draw to your attention.

In 2003, the OFT decided that car manufacturers were using their Dealer Franchise system to unfairly lock owner’s of new cars into over-priced servicing in return for keeping the car’s valuable Warranty up to date.

The OFT estimated that a staggering £500 million could possibly be saved by consumers if car manufacturers dropped their demand that owners could only have their servicing carried out by garages belonging to that manufacturer’s group. The OFT found that franchised dealers were “significantly more expensive” than independent garages and that there was “no clear difference in quality in the services offered by each”.

So far, so good…albeit with that certain whiff of bears, personal hygiene and woodland hanging over their finding.

In 2004, the OFT removed the demands of manufacturers that effectively “lock in” new car owners to their own franchised garages and decreed that the consumer was free to choose independent garages without jeopardizing their warranty.

The manufacturers bowed their heads, examined their finger nails and complied with the OFT.

Independent garages flourished and consumers were delighted to escape the clutches of a single Dealer Franchise garage, whom most believed were milking their wallets.

I would draw your attention at this moment to a line spoken by the character The Terminator, in the film of the same name:

“…I’ll be back…”

Eight years on and we see new car owners skipping without care from one garage to another, finding the right one for their needs while still maintaining their new car warranty.

Unless their car goes wrong. If it goes wrong, it needs taking to a Franchised Dealer. It may go wrong at least once a year.

How does it go wrong? Well, the dashboard lights up like a cheap Christmas tree and the independent garage mechanic looks as if he’s just spent two hours having the EU Directive (PSD 2007 /64/ EC) read to him by a person without teeth.

Kaylee, my delightful eight-year-old friend, is still recovering from the shock of her recent misfortune. In a bid to speed her recovery, I decided it was worth trying out hypnotism on her. Her family had asked me to keep an eye on her while they nipped off to Matalan and I’ve always been fascinated with the inner workings of the human mind.

Kaylee was surprisingly easy to hypnotise. I asked her to regress to a previous life and she soon began talking in a curious dry voice, similar to Anthony Hopkins in Silence of The Lambs.

Me: Where are you, Kaylee?

Kaylee: I’m sitting in an office, Clarice…I’m just chewing on the thoughts of an adversary…

Me: Who are you, Kaylee?

Kaylee: I’ve solved the problem now. The man from the OFT was very ill-educated, Clarice. His poor manners tired me…

Me: What have you done?

Kaylee: Everything is back to normal. The little people…I gave them cars that talked. It was simple.

Me: Cars that talked? Did they ask for cars that talked?

Kaylee: Clarice, you really should listen more closely. If you listen then you will hear the cars talking. Do you remember the lambs, Clarice…? How they screamed..?

Me: You mean the Engine Control Unit? The ECU talks to the diagnostic equipment at the garage?

Kaylee: Precisely. It screams like a victim of torture. It tells the manufacturer of all its faults and all the things wrong with itself.

Me: Well that is a good thing, isn’t it? That means the mechanic can tell what parts need adjustment or replacement.

Kaylee: Only if he understands the secret code, Clarice. And I write the secret code.

Me: Yes, and you sell decoding equipment to garages for big bucks.

Kaylee: That’s right. Big bucks…to garages. But you know that I have high standards, Clarice…it simply would not do if every unwashed mechanic in the world could learn the  beauty of my car’s ECU. Learn its greatest secrets…

Me: You mean, you program in multiple ‘fault codes’ that cannot be collectively interpreted or else do not solve the problem when rectified one by one in a non-accredited garage?

Kaylee: The cars are like children to me, Clarice. All children need to be protected by their family…protected from strangers….wouldn’t you agree…?

Me: Are there fault codes and lines of programming in the car’s ECU that simply do not make sense to anyone but the manufacturer?

Kaylee: A mother always knows what is best for her baby, don’t you think? I do. Anyone can bring up a child, Clarice…but mother always knows best…

I don’t actually have much experience of bringing people out of hypnotism. None, in fact. So, when Kaylee’s parents came in through the front door I told them that Kaylee was in good spirits and that I had a pressing engagement elsewhere.

© 2012 Loop Withers

A good car to have a crash in…? Part 2

13 Feb

We all risk injury or death with every car journey. But how do we assess or value that risk? Is it great or is it small?

My 87-year-old mother drives every day in a style that leaves her with few willing passengers. In her defence, I will point out that she has never caused an accident in over fifty years, a record that many of us might envy. Okay, there was an incident with a gate-post quite recently. But, since the gate-post no longer exists and therefore the evidence has disappeared, we cannot sentence her to hang for her crime.

She has what the French might describe as “…a joy of life…”. Many witnesses to her ‘enjoyment’ may later  need counselling or possibly just a stiff drink but my point is still upheld.

A passenger being driven by the late actor Sir Noel Coward once told of his horror at Noel’s driving style. During a ‘brief’ journey across London, the passenger suggested to Noel that it was perhaps safer to slow down for cross-road junctions and not to speed up, as Noel was in the habit of doing.

The great man disagreed. Noel argued that the less time one spent in a situation of great danger, the better for all concerned.

Today’s Motor Insurance industry seems to agree with Noel; they minimise their exposure to risk. They do not wish to insure people who are continually exposed to risk and danger. Taxi drivers, (who are driving for long periods of time  but therefore gain great knowledge and skill through their vast experience) have to pay over £1,000 for cover. My mother (who sees the world like Noel, or would do – were it not for her failing eyesight) is fully insured for £50. The price of a parking ticket.

Motor Insurance Claims Investigators fly across the world each day to visit the crashed remains of new cars. Why? The answer is a fascinating one. Switch your phone off and lean closer to the screen.

To avoid being pulled smartly off the internet by stone-faced lawyers, I shall illustrate my answer by using the example of a 1964 Morris 1100. All you have to do is open a new tab, click ‘Images’ on Google Search and type in the date and name of the car. I’ll wait.

The Morris 1100 first appeared in 1962. Although it looked as sexually alluring as a pork pie, it gained immediate success as a solid and well-priced family car. It had many features that made it attractive to buyers and was well designed and quite advanced for its time.

One of the features it originally possessed was a long and narrow chrome strip that runs along the centre of the bonnet. Held in place by wire clips, this bright metal strip added a sense of luxury and much-needed style.

After about two years, the small wire clips often became corroded and weakened. Insurance assessors noticed a fatal flaw. If you were unlucky enough to crash your 1963 Morris 1100 above a certain speed, you would be propelled forward through the windscreen just as a long, sword-like strip of metal was travelling backwards towards you.

Notice that the Morris 1100 quietly loses that chrome bonnet strip, some time around 1964.

This example perfectly illustrates how both manufacturers and insurers have to accept that new cars are effectively ‘Beta-Tested’ on their first owners. There is no such thing as a complete set of crash data information. Manufacturers and Insurers get much important collision information inside floodlit laboratories but all the rest of the facts are gathered by them daily, on location, under emergency floodlights, while those same cars drip their fluids and their metal clicks and pings.

Several luxury car makers proudly describe their vehicles as being “…built without compromise…” What hog-wash. No car would ever meet its owner if this statement were true. All cars are designed within a budget. There comes a point where money has to be made back for all the investment and research and that is called the “New Car Launch”. Get it out in the showrooms and get it sold.

Manufacturers are quick to try and come up with what the driving public wants. When Ford USA noticed American families desired an affordable and chunky-looking 4×4, Ford rushed to release the Ford Explorer. To mask its under-developed ride and handling, Ford lowered the tyre pressures. The tyre manufacturer objected. Ford persisted. Families lost loved-ones. Ford got sued and paid heavily.

Ironically, Renault went to great effort to protect rear-seat passengers from injury with their 2002 ‘New’ Megane II. The resulting rear end design reminded people of a cow’s backside. People just could not take the new car to their hearts. In a stroke of marketing genius, Renault spent a massive wad of money on a song and dance routine: “…I see you, baby…shaking that ass…” and by sheer persistence changed the customer’s mind-set. The car became a success, particularly with women of a certain age…

Once rust and wear takes significant hold of a car’s structure (normally after about six years) the car often behaves much less well in crash situations, even if it was originally well-designed and built. Therefore, we have to rule out most older cars as being a good bet to protect us in a hard collision.

It is a sad fact that young and less experienced drivers are mostly confined to driving old and small cars due to extortionate insurance quotes. While under 21, their yearly insurance routinely amounts to over twice the cash value of their frugal city car. Next time you read that local newspaper headline: ” Teenage clerk fined for being uninsured” consider that if you only take home £8,000 for a year’s work, £6,500 is a lot less to live on.

If both new cars (too little data) and old cars (too much corrosion) are ruled out, then cars of about three years age are ruled in; old enough  to have been modified using ‘real-world’ collision data and young enough to be rust-free, we can add them to the list inside our heads.

Large, heavy cars perform well but with some notable exceptions: tall SUVs have a higher centre of gravity and tip over far more easily than lower-slung cars, particularly if T-boned just in front of the rear wheels as they drive. Their larger, wider tyres  try to hold the car to the road, just as the laws of mechanics want to push them sideways and upwards. It is not a coincidence that top marque SUVs are becoming wider and lower, sacrificing ground clearance for a lower centre of gravity.

I have divided this post called “A good car to have a crash in…?” into segments. The reason is that so many factors come in to consideration that the answer is not a simple list and a box-tick. I can and will show you the answer…but you may at first feel uncomfortable with the results.

© 2012 Loop Withers

Please send Kaylee your best wishes

12 Feb

Roughly an hour after visiting the Dealer Franchise with me, Kaylee was knocked over by a car. She only suffered a few nasty bruises and is now convalescing at home, surrounded by well-wishers.

Although she has not yet regained the power of speech, she drew a picture of me using felt tips and crayons. I managed to burn it before the Police received it. I am sure that Kaylee will be back with us soon, helping me to solve life’s great motoring mysteries.

“Toyota accused of deceiving customers” – Sunday Times, 6th February, 2012

11 Feb

The Sunday Times believes it has discovered evidence that Toyota were telling their dealer network not to fix problems in customer’s new cars if the customer hadn’t spotted the problem or the problem itself did not pose a threat to safety.

The Sunday Times has also discovered evidence that the Pope is a Catholic and also that there is a drastic shortage of modern rest-room facilities for bears who live in woodland areas.

The Sunday Times article made me feel a sense of despair inside. Was this “investigative journalism” at its best? No. Were Toyota being singled out for doing only what every other mass production car manufacturer does? Yes. Was this news? Hardly. Is there a three ton elephant standing in the corner of the living room that The Sunday Times cannot see? Maybe.

I would like you all all to meet Kaylee. Kaylee is an intelligent and sweet eight year old girl. She is normal and healthy and today I am taking her to a Dealer Franchise.

Kaylee:  Is this where cars are made?

Me:  No, Kaylee. This is where cars are sold to people and where cars are fixed if they go wrong.

Kaylee: So, the car maker owns this big building and employs all the people?

Me: No, the car maker would rather nail himself to the mast of a sinking ship than do that. He just has his name over the door, like McDogburgers or Putrid Pizza.

Kaylee: So, this is a franchise operation, an administrative and business ‘firewall’ between the manufacturer and the end-customer, acting as a quasi-independent provider of car financing loans, spare parts, service facilities and a drop-in centre for owners with warranty issues?

Me: Yes. Now, get me a coffee from that machine next to the lady with the white blouse.

Kaylee: I got you a FairTrade double latte with extra sugar but you need to put your own vodka into it.

Me: Thank you.

Kaylee: So, the people here make their money buy selling spare parts to the people who bring their cars in for service and also charging them for the time spent to fit the parts, sundry items used in that process and selling them service packages?

Me; Yes. Kaylee, this is tomato soup.

Kaylee. Deal with it. So, surely the franchise dealer is motivated to increase profit by maximising the amount of work that can be carried out on each car that comes in?

Me: Yes.

Kaylee: Ideally, that would necessitate separating the honest mechanic from the ‘front-of-house’ sales team, who are then heavily incentivised to use their highly developed interpersonal skills to maximise the commitment of the car owner, encouraging them to pay for necessary and/or advisable and/or arbitrary work. For this system to be perfected, surely the franchise should nominate a Service Manager and that individual will then instruct the mechanic on what work needs to be carried out on behalf of the customer?

Me: Yes. Kaylee, did you put sugar in this tomato soup?

Kaylee. Sweetener. You need to lose weight. So, if I was the owner of a dealer franchise and I wanted to make extra bucks, I would get the most persuasive, devious and manipulative person I knew and make them my Service Manager. I’d cut a secret cash incentive scheme with them, based on the increased net sales of services added to existing customer’s data. I’d tell the mechanics to carry out work without questioning the Service Manager’s authority and I’d make sure that the customer never gets to talk to anyone but me or the Service Manager.

Me: I bet you would.

Kaylee: However, At the same time, I can ingratiate myself towards the customer I am currently milking to death by suggesting that we invoice the manufacturer for any defects that  might reasonably be covered by the terms of the warranty? Either way, as a franchise, we get payed by one party or the other, don’t we?

Me: That’s right Kaylee. That is why manufacturers fight hard to control warranty claims made by customers who find faults in their cars. The manufacturer is always paranoid that the Service manager is playing both ends for his own benefit.

Kaylee: But surely, there is always evidence of a clear failure or defect in a part and that would have to be presented either to the manufacturer or the customer as evidence of work needing to be done? I mean, people aren’t stupid and there are such things as laws to protect against blatant fraud?

Me: The manufacturer always asks to see the part and can usually tell if it is a legitimate claim. But 99.9% of the time, you can hold up any broken part, one you’ve taken from another car, and the customer will assume that you are not lying. The deception is almost impossible to prove and the customer rarely if ever, disputes the integrity of the Service Manager.

Kaylee: But surely, the scam must go belly-up every now and then? I mean, one day, the Service Manager goes too far with the wrong person?

Me: Yes, but then he has covered all his bases. He has dismantled the customer’s car, has the parts stacked neatly all over the workshop, he holds his ground and he knows that the customer desperately needs his car back. If the customer accuses him of lying, he folds his arms and drags the franchise owner back from the golf course. The customer soon gets the message. Beyond ‘rigging’ a car with hidden cameras, many scams are impossible to prove.

Kaylee: But surely, if the Service Manager is pulling outrageous scams, the service data returning to the manufacturer will show disproportionate levels of component failure on cars serviced at that franchise?

Me: Yes, if the Service Manager is stupid but normally they are clever. They ‘cluster’ faults, attributing them to certain customers or cars where either the customer is an ass or the car is actually a ‘turkey’ which the manufacturer already knows about. That way, it makes it  almost impossible for the manufacturer to prove anything either, regardless of their suspicions. If the manufacturer loves the sales figures for the franchise overall, the manufacturer would be shooting himself in the foot by getting involved.

Kaylee: So, every time we put our car in to be serviced, we stand to get ripped off?

Me: Not every time, not every dealer. Focus on how the scam works and you will see that it pays to pick and choose your dealer and not come across like an ass with plenty of money and no knowledge of modern cars.

Kaylee: But hundreds of thousands of customers must be being ripped off for millions each year by unscrupulous Service Managers and dealerships. Why don’t big investigative newsgroups ever cover this outrageous scam?

Me: Good question.

Kaylee: How old do I have to be before I can buy myself a dealer franchise and learn to play golf?



© 2012 Loop Withers

Six Second Pass

11 Feb

Do you want to know why the local garage you always take your car to could also be taking you for a ride? You don’t think that they are? Does it always seems to cost you between £300 – £400 for the annual service? You still don’t think they are taking you for a ride…?

Read my next blog feature. This is just a Six Second Pass.

Feeling like I just wasted your time?

Get your wallet out and count the money. Its all still there.

A good car to have a crash in…? Part 1

9 Feb

Fancy a good car crash? Oh, come on, don’t be a chicken. Let’s do it. Its fun…!

About twenty years ago the German Police were  mystified by a sudden spate of random accidents involving stolen cars. Something was not quite right. Something did not make sense. At the crash scene, the lack of tyre marks that would indicate that the driver was braking, the direct angle of impact, small details like these were not as they expected.

It is beyond the comprehension of most of us to intentionally crash the car we are driving into a stationary object. Yes, a few crooks do intentionally crash cars to claim thousands of pounds in insured injury pay-outs, but they are the exception; they are doing it for business reasons.

What the German Police discovered was that a handful of streetwise teenagers were crashing cars for fun. The incredible adrenaline buzz of doing it, the excitement of the unknown…the whiff of gunpowder as the airbags go off and the near –  certainty of running away, high on life, to laugh about it with their mates.

One of the great things about youth is that it draws together the established world it sees and makes of it a new world. These kids had seen the promotional videos for Volvos, Audis and Mercedes. How the calm voice of the manufacturers explained in patient words that these “airbags” would deploy and save the occupants from serious injury in the event of a crash at even 50 kilometers per hour.

Game on…!  One can picture the face of  the staid and methodical German Police detective at the moment where he finally thought the previously unthinkable, imagined the hitherto unimaginable. He was first on the scene at a completely new category of crime: “crashing cars intentionally for the joy of cheating death and serious injury”.

Years later, when the idea had become boring and uncool, even Jeremy Clarkson did it on Top Gear.

In Europe and America, car manufacturers now use the idea of passenger safety as a sales tool, a means of selling their cars to us. It was not always so.

When Ralph Nader, an American pioneer of consumer rights, published a book in 1965 criticising American car manufacturers for designing cars that killed their occupants because they were poorly  designed, he singled out the General Motors Chevrolet Corvair. General Motors responded by singling out Ralph Nader as an untrustworthy commie beatnik with a dangerously un-American agenda.

Nader was right. This new concept of ‘passenger safety’ became forever more  of great importance to western car-buyers.  Nader and his cause flourished while General Motors were shamed into a mumbling apology and ‘getting with the program’. Swedish manufacturer Volvo invented  the three-way diagonal seat belt and, in an act of high-principled generosity, offered it patent-free to all the world’s motor manufacturers, their competition. It immediately became the now-familiar seat belt that we all still wear, albeit in improved form.

Today, when we westerners buy a car, we ask ourselves: “How safe is it?”  This is an interesting point because forty years ago in 1970, we still asked “How sexy will I look and how fast does it go?”  The manufacturers were happy to answer. They were still working hard on developing safety equipment. It was a long, uphill research programme so, in the mean time, hey – look…! Sports Wheels…! Extra Stripes…! Metallic Paint…! Cheap, shiny things. Go on, have a couple of front fog lights, as well. They are totally useless in fog but your neighbour will be jealous and that is what counts, isn’t it?

Even though we knew that safety was important in 1970, we still wanted our cars to be symbols of sexual prowess and have a little of the ‘weapon’ about them. Yes, women too – it was not exclusively men who lusted after power and sex-appeal back then and don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise…

But by 1990, twenty years ago, passenger safety had become the most-used sales tool for western manufacturers and the most talked-over issue when choosing a new car. Safe sex. We westerners still wanted to look like gods in chariots of steel on the outside but please, can we have lots of soft,  curvy plastic bits on the inside instead of all those pointy steel knobs and handles?

Western manufacturers saw their golden opportunity. They stopped talking about how fast their cars went. They talked instead about how safe, economical and trustworthy they were. Cars stopped being sold to us as powerful rocket ships and  began being sold to us as powerful accountants, trustworthy and silent bodyguards, loyal friends.

Now, in 2012, those German teenagers have settled down, had kids and they probably have an Audi A3 parked outside.  Airbag safety and passenger-cell technology is far more advanced. Every day on western roads, men and women walk away from crashes that would have killed them without doubt in 1972, just one generation earlier.

Now, take a look at India in 2012. The Indian economy is racing forward, a well-heeled consumer class is emerging and is hungry for new products. Once again, the car is being pushed like a drug as the ‘must have’ consumer item for the modern Indian family. Just as we westerners were encouraged to take to the roads, spend our money on fuel, tax, insurance, servicing, repairs, depreciation and, oh yes, a shiny new car, so the easterners are being willingly courted by the huge car manufacturers. Now, it is their turn to be dazzled by choice.

But something is not right.

While the wealthy elite of India are rushing to buy luxury cars so fast that America’s top imported brands are increasing sales at an astonishing 40% per year, the average aspirational Indian is being sold something quite different: hastily re-skinned versions of old car designs that will mostly not even pass current European and US safety tests. At best, they will scrape through with disgracefully low scores. Knee joints, rib cages, upper jaws will be broken far more frequently.

Maruti Suzuki manufactures India’s best-selling range of vehicles. Out of their 13 most popular family cars, the company’s own publicity doesn’t even mention the word “safety” on ten of them. It does, however, mention “…bold, sporty styling…”  “…the new force of excitement…” “…thrilling drive…” “…you will smile when you press the accelerator to pass another vehicle…”  All very similar terms to those used by western manufacturers like Ford or GM back in 1970.

So, let’s just pause for a moment and get this straight:

India in 2012 is going to greet the truly massive expansion of private car ownership by building cars that will not protect their occupants any better than westerner’s cars did in 1970?

Which lessons didn’t get learned?

Where is India’s “Ralph Nader”?

© 2012 Loop Withers

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