Tag Archives: car-ownership

Car Auctions: How to be cool on the dance floor…

28 Mar

If you can answer “YES” to any of the following questions, then for goodness sake don’t read the rest of this post.

1) You drive a BMW Mini and thought it would be funny if you attached fake ‘eyelashes’ to the headlights.

2) You recently purchased a new Saab for a great price by using your truly awesome bargaining techniques.

3) Your boyfriend drapes his arm around your seat top when you are driving and glares at passing motorists.

Okay. I think we shook them off.

Oh – hang on!  There’s a couple of stragglers who are still here out of curiosity, not sure if I’m joking or not…

4) You often order fresh pizza to be delivered to your home because it is cheaper than cooking stuff yourself.

Got ’em.

That’s the last ones. They just clicked the ‘back’  button and typed “Pizza” into Google. We can talk freely, now.

Right. Buying at a car auction is very easy but you have to take a few simple precautions. There are so many excellent vehicles passing through right now that you may lose your self-control and make a serious mistake.

Resist temptation. Consider my analogy of the night-club. Car auctions are so similar to night-clubs that it is untrue. If you understand how a night-club really works, you will have no trouble at a car auction.

Do your homework.

Check the terms and conditions of the auction house. Visit the place and make sure that you are aware of  your duties as a buyer. Stand to the side and watch people who are bidding. Watch how the auctioneer manages the bidding and notice how little time each car actually spends in front of the podium. Notice that there are areas in the room where the speaker system that relays the auctioneer’s voice sounds crystal clear…and also areas where it is impossible to hear what is being said.

Smarten up your act.

Research the exact car you want to own by using the internet and asking around. Look at similar examples on a local dealer’s forecourt. Visit the auction and watch as identical cars to the one you want go under the hammer. Make a few notes on the vehicles concerned: the last six digits of the chassis number or the registration plate, specification, mileage and service history. Do not even think of buying, just watch. If those cars go under the hammer for 25% – 30% less than the price you would expect, then you may be at the right auction. Go to the very next auction at that site. Did those exact same vehicles go through again? Why?

Don’t pretend to be somebody you aren’t.

Nobody cares who you really are at an auction. Keep it that way.  The serious buyers are so discreet and polished that it may take you many hours or even days before you notice them. They are not your competition. They will always pull out before you do. When the day finally arrives where you go in for the kill and buy, your competition is most likely to be an idiot private buyer who obsessively bids against you, stupidly jacking the car’s price up beyond its real worth.

Practise a few clever moves.

On your first visits to the auction, find an example of the car you want to buy and stick with it as if it were your own. Watch as dealers come up and survey it. Watch what they see, watch what they do. Learn to move your head as they do, so that reflections on the car’s paintwork  (the hall lighting, the car next to it) ‘slide’ over and across the bodywork. By following the reflections, you will more easily spot dents and paint differences. Notice how some dealers run their index finger along a clean car as they pass along it. Do the same. Resprayed panels often ‘feel’ different.

When the car is started up, ready to enter the auction line, watch what the dealers do, where they look, what they check. If the dealer reaches in and turns the steering wheel sharply, you can bet that it is because power steering racks are expensive to replace on that model. If the dealer tries all the electric windows, perhaps they are prone to fail? Watch what is checked under the bonnet. Follow the car into the hall and watch if those dealers bid on that car.

Beauty had better not be just skin-deep.

That 2008 Audi A5 Quattro Sport in the picture above, with 75,000 miles on the clock, sold for £14,200 ($22,580) last week. Now, that actually is the same price that you could buy that car at a dealership here in Britain. So, did somebody get carried away and forget to stop bidding? Perhaps. But then again, in Germany, $22,580 would only buy you that model if it had been hit hard in a collision. You’d need to find at least an extra $8-10,000 to buy an A5 like the one in the photo.

So, a one-way ferry ticket and two days driving will possibly see that car sitting with a delighted new owner in Eastern Europe who has got a bargain.  Alternatively, that A5 may first of all spend a week in a back-street garage, somewhere in Europe. The dashboard and chassis numbers from a crashed left-hand-drive A5 Quattro will be fitted and it will ‘become’ the crashed car…but apparently now no longer crashed. However, that will be somebody else’s problem; the car shown in the picture is the real deal.

Buying a second-hand car always carries risks, whether you buy privately, from a dealer or from an auction. Strangely, perhaps counter-intuitively, the largest auction houses provide a greater level of protection than you might at first think.

More explanations, buying advice, plus extra-clever tips and safety hints to come!

Car Auctions: How to win on the dance floor in 2012

19 Mar

Firstly, I must apologise for the long delay in posting this guide. After I uploaded the introduction on March 6th, I was attacked by two masked people while I was relaxing at the dentists. Although I put up the best fight I could, they stole one of my teeth.

The main attacker was a Caucasian male who drove an Aston Martin DB 9. He had bought it at an auction. How could I tell? Because it still had the little white label with the bar-code on, stuck to the bottom right of the windscreen. You can see one of these stickers if you click  on the car in the picture above.

Microsoft Paint is one helluva handy little program for airbrushing out details in photographs. But if you take a 500mg Amoxicillin, 1000mg Co-Dydramol and then pop 50mg of Tramadol, you will get the kind of sloppy results you can see in my picture. Assuming, that is, you can actually remember which room you put the damned lap-top in and can still work door handles.

I took this photograph at an auction in the UK last week. This 2003 Ford Focus 1.6LX Automatic Estate had just “had the auctioneer’s hammer drop on it” – a casual term to describe that binding and contractual sale made between the Auction House and it’s new owner who offered the highest bid. That owner was rushing off to get hold of the car’s documents while I went out and snapped this pic of their new possession.

The car shown has air conditioning, alloy wheels, parking sensors, leather interior and holds a current mechanical safety certificate (MoT). It has six Dealer stamps in its Service Book, confirming that it has been driven only 35, 000 miles from new and was regularly serviced by its previous owner.

It was sold for a “hammer price” of £250 ($396). You would be hard – pushed to buy a leather sofa for the same price as this entire car.

The “hammer price” of £250 reminds us that the buyer will have to also pay a further ‘Buyer’s Premium’ to the Auction House – a commission that is charged on all sales. That will be another £200 ($317) making a total of £450 ($714) for the joy of driving that Focus away.

Somebody just bought themselves a great little car for everyday use!

If you enlarge the picture, you will see some clues as to why it went so cheaply. The trade dealers didn’t want it on their forecourt because this car has got a little ‘ding’ or scrape on some of the panels. Car dealers rarely get approached by a customer who says:

“Hi, I’d like to buy a good used car for everyday driving but it must have a couple of little dents and scratches.”

The system just doesn’t work like that. So, the dealers held back and didn’t bid. The bidding “stalled”. Only the ‘private’ bidders (ordinary people like you and I) remained interested and only two people out of about two hundred were concentrating for that moment – about forty seconds – when this car was driven up to the stand.

The auctioneer did what he could to raise interest but he can see a queue of eighty more cars waiting their turn and time is money. Lunch break beckoned. The car was sold.

So, Rule Number One of buying at a car auction is that you have to actually be there with your credit card and your eyes and ears on alert. You can alternatively bid online but I would not personally recommend that. You can tell so much by simply ‘looking’ at a car up close and watching as it is started and driven into the queue for the podium. More on all those techniques in future posts.

This year is proving to be a good year for auction bargains. Over-supply of new cars is resulting in huge discounting of cars that are three years or more in age. However, the increasing cost of insuring certain models is also skewing the market values of some cars.

If you are walking down the street and you see a car that is similar to one which you would like to own, write down its registration plate details and then feed them in to an insurance comparison website ‘search’ page.  That way, you’ll get its exact make and model details up on the screen. Speed-Dating.

A good car to have a crash in…? Part 4

2 Mar

This is the final part in this mini – series on how to choose a car that can save your life.

If you haven’t read parts 1, 2 and 3 then I suggest you do before reading this so that you can make better sense of the points raised in this particular post.

The latest figures released for America and Western Europe suggest that the cars we drive on the road are approximately ten years old on average. Personally, I am surprised to read this. I would have thought that the ‘average’ would have been younger – closer to seven. However, I simply cannot find data that contradicts this claim and so I shall have to accept it.

A good car to have a crash in is one that will maximise our chances of survival and minimise our chances of becoming “KSI” – Killed or Seriously Injured.

At this point, we can all imagine in our minds a few particular cars that we might choose to be in, solidly manufactured by makers who have a long and proven reputation for collision safety research and who build large and well-upholstered cars. ‘Large’ cars? No – hang on – we are already becoming confused.  Just because it is large does not mean that it better protects us from KSI. Yes, it may be scientifically correct that a large car is likely to better survive a collision with a small car, but large cars do not necessarily save us from being KSI. Ask Princess Diana.

We have to look carefully now at a whole range of factors and ‘values’ to understand how to make the best choice.  If “large cars from reputable manufacturers” are good to have a crash in, three questions immediately pop up:

1) Will manufacturers or insurance companies reveal KSI data for these cars?    Answer: No.

2) Is it easier to quickly alter the direction of travel of a large car compared to a small car?  Answer: No.

3) If both large and small cars are driven at 100 kph into an unmovable concrete block, is KSI data identical?  Answer: Yes.

To find out what is really going on with modern cars and to make an informed choice, we must go back and look again at the three ‘interested parties’ involved in a collision: The Car – The Occupants – The Investigation. I call this: “The Facebook Triangle”;  each player has an opposing self-interest. Let me explain it to you.

The car manufacturer works hard to build a car with a low KSI factor, including safety by design, by build quality and by product testing.  In the real world we live in, the manufacturer will only go so far before the budget dictates that they release the car on to the market.

The crash investigator visits cars that have been involved in KSI collisions and tries hard to establish what  factors caused the KSI result. Although the investigator may see obvious reasons for KSI that were not actually  to do with the car itself, for example – a 100 ton tree falling on the car when it was stationary, the investigator will still have to attribute a KSI cause – “car roof structural integrity failure”.

The driver and passengers of the car unintentionally became involved in a collision. Effectively – if we are accurate – the driver ran out of ways of avoiding the collision and therefore became involved. The driver now hopes that the car will protect them as a last resort.

There are three players involved: the manufacturer, the investigator, the driver. All three have totally different aims. The manufacturer is trying to avoid having KSI data attached to its product, the investigator has to attach a cause of KSI to the product. Lastly, the driver (or their surviving relatives) is hoping that the cause of KSI is not attributed to the driver.

By accepting the above scenario, we can see a greater truth emerging:

A mass-produced, affordable commuter car will attract more KSI “hits” than an expensive luxury car simply on the basis that it is generally driven for more miles, driven by a more diverse range of drivers, driven in more diverse circumstances.

So, manufacturers of large luxury cars do not want to reveal accurate KSI data because it might actually show that, mile for mile in the real world, that precise model of car has similar or more KSI hits than a competitor’s standard ‘budget’ car. Manufacturers of standard ‘budget’ cars don’t want to discuss KSI openly for fear that their product gets unfairly associated with a high KSI. We can see their point because many more unskilled or otherwise dangerous drivers will drive their product instead of an expensive luxury car.

Collision investigators have to attribute a cause of KSI. If they keep writing down “…I don’t know but, jeez, the driver was completely like spaghetti once he’d been passed through all the round dials on the dashboard…” they are only hanging on to their jobs by their fingertips. Accuracy is key.

And then, there is the driver. We drivers come in all shapes and sizes and skill levels. The collision investigator and the manufacturer want to ask us – in all seriousness – “…could you have avoided that collision?…”  We rarely answer “Yes.” When looking at KSI data, it is often difficult to separate out the acts of the driver from the behavior of the car. For example, did a car leave the road because it has poor road-holding or handling characteristics or else did the driver fail to use the car’s controls correctly?

Several popular manufacturers currently have cars on the road which, technically speaking, have fatally flawed handling characteristics.

More truth emerges: Insurance companies sift through the data of KSI. They have close access to that accurate data. Do they reveal the accurate, dissected data? Absolutely not. It is competitively sensitive. However, they do often put pressure on manufacturers to improve their products. They sometimes do this quite bluntly by telling the manufacturer to improve a particular car or else the insurer will effectively “kill it off” by use of high insurance premiums.

Conversely, the ‘People Carrier’ design of car emerged partly because insurance companies noted a new KSI trend: where two vehicles collided and one vehicle had its occupants seated higher than the centre of gravity of the other, (say, a conventional car) much of the collision shock passed underneath them. The obvious flaw in this initial advantage was that it canceled itself out if all vehicles were designed in that same way and it also raised the centre of gravity, increasing the chance of the People Carrier turning over.

To find out which car is good to have a crash in, we have to run all the data backwards. Instead of looking at all the shiny cars we have available to us and then wondering which one to drive, we must imagine each one already crashed and stationary, its occupants still inside. By doing so, stark realities become clear that were previously obscure.

All cars perform worse as more occupants and luggage are added to them. Regardless of size, if the car is carrying maximum occupants and maximum luggage, that luggage and those occupants increase the distance needed to stop or evade, increase the kinetic energy that has to be dissipated in the collision, reduce the interior space available to act as a ‘free zone’ where there are no obstructions.

All humans become KSI if their internal organs are subject to an impact above approximately 27mph. When we watch film of cars being crash tested, we see how the manufacturer tries to solve this problem by making the car’s passenger compartment slow down ‘progressively’. This is done  by transferring the impact forces away from the compartment and ‘soaking up’ as much force as possible in the parts of the car that are outside the passenger compartment – the engine compartment and the luggage compartment in particular. These areas are particularly used to make impact shocks to the passengers become more softened.

Airbags and flexible interior trim add more shock-reduction still, so the more of them one has, the better overall. They convert those sudden shocks and impacts into a series of more gradual ones. That passenger compartment has to keep it’s integrity, leaving the passengers with room to move inside it as the actual impact takes place. So, a sophisticated manufacturer can turn a crash at above 30mph into a series of decelerations, each one lower than 25mph, the g-forces dissipated as much as possible within the time frame of the collision.

Drivers and occupants often survive high-speed crashes because their car actually is involved in a series of collisions within that one event and each individual impact is lower than 25mph. For example, suffering a tyre failure at 100mph (lose 10mph), bounce off the railing (lose 15mph), skid diagonally across three lanes (lose 20mph), bounce off a truck (lose 20mph), bounce backwards into another vehicle (lose 20mph) and then skid to a halt (the final 15mph). Far better than hitting one item at 100mph.

Since the vast majority of crashes are head on, it is wise to design the front of a car so that it sequentially changes shape during an accident, altering the onward course of the car. This is best illustrated by looking at a Formula 1 racing car. Notice how the driver sits in a narrow canoe-like pod with a pointed nose? What would happen if two racing cars were to collide head on? The two passenger compartments would slide past each other, decelerating more slowly over a longer time period as  ‘sacrificial’ parts – front wheels and suspension – take the brunt of the forces. Clever stuff.

So some newer cars have their mechanical components angled such that they will fold inwards and downwards, reducing the chance of the vehicle stopping dead or becoming interlocked with another vehicle. Their suspension and wheels will progressively shear off as forces rise, their passenger doors will interlock with their door frames to provide a continuous structure instead of acting as a separate panel.

Walking among the lines of crashed cars in a recovery yard, I became aware that one category of car rarely appeared: the car with four new tyres. It was disproportionately absent. I checked this with my calculator and this car was under-represented by a factor of 75% in a yard made up of 175 cars. Those “missing” cars were not there in the yard because they had managed to stop in time or else swerved to avoid the crash.

Think on that. They never actually got involved in the crash. The crash never happened.

“A good car to have a crash in…?” has been a series of articles intended to help you make informed decisions and good risk assessment. In real life, a good car to have a crash in is a two to three year old medium-sized or large car from a reputable manufacturer, carrying a five-star (maximum) safety rating. Its occupants are average build, seated and belted correctly and relaxing as the airbags explode to meet them.

A good car to avoid having a crash in?  Well, that is a different question!

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 Roadwax.com

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 Roadwax.com

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 Roadwax.com

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 Roadwax.com

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 Roadwax.com

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 Roadwax.com

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