Posts Tagged ‘Car’

Real Life Road Safety: An Office on Wheels

Posted on January 13th, 2012 by James Luckhurst

Real Life Road Safety: An Office on WheelsNo matter how good a driver you believe yourself to be, road safety should be observed by all. In this series of articles, motoring journalist James Luckhurst, will be looking at real life cases of drivers who are inadvertently putting themselves and others in danger on our busy motorways.

MARTIN WILCOX, 34, was stopped by police on a British motorway when he veered suddenly from the third to the fourth lane, in front of the unmarked police car, causing the police driver to brake heavily to avoid a collision. Martin pulled back into the third lane and, as the officer drove past, he saw him holding a styrofoam cup of coffee in his left hand. He was driving a two-year-old, 2.5-litre company car.

Martin told the officer he was driving from Twickenham in south-west London, with a colleague, to a client meeting in Liverpool. He drives about 500 miles per week, some of this as part of his work. He has nine points on his licence, all from camera-recorded speeding offences. He has also collected two parking tickets in the past three years. He occasionally makes and receives calls from a hands-free mobile phone when driving. He admits to having once fallen asleep at the wheel, though it was a momentary lapse with no catastrophic consequences. His employer imposes no limits as to the hours or mileage he drives, and does not operate a road safety policy. Martin has never been offered a driver training course and there are no company guidelines on mobile phone use while driving.

Driver training expert Graham Griffiths pointed to a lack of perception by Martin that his actions were unsafe. “Martin is not your typical high-mileage businessman, but when he is on the road he treats his car as a mobile office, restaurant – or padded cell,” he said. “The real problem is that driving is just the nuisance factor that goes with his need to do his job. Quite possibly this view is confirmed by his employer, and exacerbated by the trials of actually getting from A to B. He is unlikely to recognise his behaviour as unsafe.

“A coffee cup in one hand limits Martin’s ability to take any avoiding action if someone messes up. On this occasion, he was lucky that the avoiding action was taken by the policeman. It’s no surprise that getting on for two-thirds of all company-owned vehicles are involved in an accident – and insurance claim – each year. Here, neither the individual nor the company appreciates the risk to which they expose themselves. His car is either his desk on wheels, or his restaurant.”

GM better dead or alive?

Posted on July 26th, 2011 by Rob Marshall

Last weekend, I enjoyed a 1,000-mile trip to the Scottish Highlands, which gave me plenty of time to think about life in general and, unusually General Motors (GM) was a subject that popped into my head and refused to go away.

GM better dead or alive?The reason may be one of pity or even anger. Over the past decade, any sympathy that I might have held for GM’s situation has diminished somewhat, although, I do feel sorry for the working employees, none of whom are responsible for that enormous car producer’s ailments.

Allow me to put a number of its worst traits into perspective. One of Japan’s more prestigious brands was Isuzu. GM owned a controlling 49% stake in the company. Ask any farmer, which 4×4 he would prefer to live with on a regular basis and Isuzu Trooper invariably percolates to the top of his list. Isuzu also produced some fine cars, remember the advanced Piazza Coupe of the late-1980s, complete with its ‘Suspension Engineered by Lotus’ boast?

Now, Isuzu is a very pale shadow of its former self, reduced to making old-model pickups, a host of heavy-duty trucks and buses and diesel engines by their millions. GM effectively destroyed the company as a credible car producer, a factor highlighted by its recent departure from the US market.

GM took large stakes in a variety of other Japanese niche manufacturers too, such as Subaru, or Suzuki, and it owns all of what remained of the failed Daewoo Corporation in South Korea. Its products are now marketed as Chevrolet across Europe, which has succeeded in confusing car buyers even more, as many of them (especially in the UK) think of Chevrolet as the producer of the respected Corvette and of immensely huge American family cars, not wheezing shopping trolleys for elderly commuters.

Neither Suzuki, nor Subaru can claim to have gained much from their relationships with GM. The once highly-respected Subaru was a brand ‘in distress’, GM ensured that its quirky designs and rallying heritage were shelved and replaced by mundane-styled vehicles that GM believed that Americans wanted to buy, while both interior and build quality nosedived. Remember the dreadful and slow-selling Tribeca? GM’s efforts also showed little respect for corporate heritage and identity, by badge-engineering the esteemed Impreza as a Saab 9-2 for some years, which was a disgrace for both brands. Fortunately, Subaru escaped the malaise and is now part-owned by Toyota, where a fruitful partnership is emerging and proves that a positive existence can flourish after a GM divorce.

If only Saab was finding life so easy, after being subjected to twenty-years of being strangled, after the Swedish carmaker was bought in 1990. GM applied its poorly engineered, mass-market platforms to the line-up and started the downward trend for the company. Despite the amazing loyalty of its dealer network and customers, it took 20 years for Saab to be forced to its knees. I remember driving the 9-5 ethanol-powered estate in 2007 and, instead of being amazed at a car that could be driven briskly on 85% alcohol/15% petrol mix, I was shocked by a car of its purported class that boasted a creaking interior and shuddering plastic trim.

Now owned in a questionable deal struck between the Dutch Spyker Cars and GM, Saab is relying on Chinese investment to fund its manufacturing operation, although it has lost the respect of an entire generation of people, around the world. As a current owner of a classic 96 V4, I fear for its very survival, especially as bankruptcy came too close for comfort again last month.

GM’s involvement in a strategic partnership with Italy’s Fiat Group started out fine in 2000 but was dissolved, when Fiat tried, in 2004, to sell its car division to GM under the terms of a four-year ‘put option’. GM’s failure to meet the terms of the deal meant that it was forced to withdraw and pay a $2billion penalty. Perhaps Fiat should be happy that the deal collapsed, considering GM’s ‘achievements’ with other manufacturers outside of the US. Yet, GM obtained the small capacity Fiat diesel engineering that it needed badly for its own needs, although the dependability of those units is questionable and must have cost the company a fortune in warranty claims.

Amazingly, there is a success story. Sort of. Vauxhall Motors, has been owned by GM since 1925. Its products have enjoyed critical acclaim over the decades, although only its appeal to the burgeoning fleet sector in the UK enabled its continued survival in volume terms. Its products were of very poor quality dynamically and, only by courting fleet managers expensively, was its on-going survival guaranteed. For some reason, possibly because the company was tired of being criticised so heavily, Vauxhall (with Opel) has, in recent years, introduced a raft of new models that can compete head-on with Ford’s mainstream efforts, at least in the UK, where it shares top sales honours. The popularity of the Insignia model is, in my opinion, deserved.

Despite this, GM makes no profits in the UK, minimal profits in Germany and scarcely enough money to settle its bills in North America. Just look at what its malaise has done to the car-making heartland in that country, which looks more like a collection of ghost towns than vibrant production centres.

Perhaps I am being a little harsh in my critique of GM but its recent sins are overtaking its past glories. Should GM die? Yes, if its current behaviour continues.

Solving sticky steering wheels

Posted on July 13th, 2011 by Rob Marshall

Being one of the few parts of a motor vehicle that is in almost continuous contact with the driver, manufacturers have tried to ensure that the steering wheels of modern cars are much warmer to live with, compared to the cold Bakelite items that were fitted to cars of yesteryear.

Unfortunately, some of the materials used have proven not to be very durable and certain leather-clad steering wheel rims seem to denigrate into a horrible sticky mess after a surprisingly short time. It seems that the material reacts with either the natural oils that are present in human skin or other chemicals, such as the ingredients of hand cream or even remnants of fuel that remain on the driver’s hands after a visit to a fuel station.

Despite covering only 40,000 miles, the wheel on my four year-old Citroen C5 was starting to degrade and I was keen to arrest the decline. New steering wheels are often very expensive and, even if a second-hand replacement is found, the airbag module will require swapping over. An alternative is fitting an aftermarket cover but these can increase the width of the wheel dramatically and, as slip is an omnipresent risk, they can be far from pleasant to handle. I also prefer something that is a permanent addition to the wheel, rather than a snap-on cover that might come loose, with potential safety implications.

The best solution that I could come across is not a new one. Essentially, I took a gamble on a kit, sold on eBay, that comprises a strip of real leather of the appropriate diameter for the C5’s steering wheel, which comes with a needle, thread and instructions supplied.  Although fitting the part took over an hour of fiddly sewing, the end result looks almost factory fresh, for a total expenditure of under £20.00.

Solving sticky steering wheelsSolving sticky steering wheels

Holiday car rental: words of warning

Posted on April 12th, 2011 by David Williams MBE

Holiday car rental: words of warningIf you’re planning to hire a car on holiday this year, it might be helpful to know some of the common difficulties other holidaymakers have experienced, so that you can avoid similar problems when you’re away.

John Sansom, a travel trade journalist, says it’s damage to or theft from vehicles that have historically formed most of the complaints to hire firms, as well as endless queues at rental desks after long flights.

“The absolute classic was low cost holidaymakers pouring off night flights to Florida in the early hours of the morning and joining a huge queue for car rental,” he said.

“Many of the classic ‘condo’ (self-catering luxury house) holidays out there were based on the fly/drive model. Somewhat exhausted, often with fractious young children in tow, holidaymakers would be pressure sold into buying more insurance than they probably needed.

“If they wanted to check the fine print, they could, in theory do so. But if they tried to read the back of the rental form, they were confronted by paragraphs of tiny, light grey type that was completely unreadable in the circumstances, particularly with another 100 fellow holidaymakers behind them, all desperate to get out of the airport,” he explained.

Getting out of Miami was an adventure in itself, especially if you managed to take a wrong direction. “You would suddenly find yourself in a dodgy part of Miami very quickly,” warned John. “One firm, Holiday Autos, actually hired a local police car at a particularly tricky junction, to direct people the right way towards their holiday destination, and away from trouble.”

Thousands of holidaymakers have suffered from being oversold insurance and thus have ended up paying too much. The answer here, of course, is to buy online before you go, when you have a chance to examine all the terms and conditions and decide what level of cover you want. Then it should, in theory, be a quick pick up and go.

GEM has some good advice for making sure the hire package you choose is the right one: