Gears and the Gearshift (for Youngsters)

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Op-Ed by Paul Wimsett and Andy Bunch

The old joke among generation X and Baby Boomers is that you can completely handicap a millennial by taking away their cellphone, giving them a manual transmission and writing the directions in cursive. Well, if you are want to understand gearshifts but don’t want to appear foolish by asking about it, here’s the skinny. Sorry, here’s the 4-1-1.

Those of us who grew up with gear shits are united by a common memory having the driver reach over and invade your space every time they needed to change a gear—which is pretty much all the time. The worst was the pickup trucks, which often had bench seats. If you had to fit in three people, and you lost the ro sham bo, you had to sit in the middle and move your legs all the time.

steering-801807_1920When car makers developed the automatic transmission, they moved the gear selector to the steering column which improved life immensely. As car makers increasingly started installing bucket seats in the front most modern cars have a “gear selectors” which looks like a gear shift, but instead of manually operating a physical gear box the way a manual stick shift does, it merely selects the gear for the automatic transmission.

(On a side note: some high end sports models allow for a manual operation of the automatic transmission by adding functionality to the gear selector.)

But by far, the biggest difference between manual and automatic is the amount of time it takes when first learning to drive a car.

To Operate a Manual

Since we know all of you can already drive a stick I know you’ll all be skipping this section, but just in case you don’t know how…

In order to engage the engine the driver must depress a pedal on the floor, called a clutch pedal. This disengages the engine from the drive train which powers the wheels. With the clutch depressed the driver must select a gear and slowly release the clutch while applying some gas to keep the engine from dying while it must re-engage the drive train. It’s a bit of an art form, officially known as “feathering the clutch.”

car-interior-1834270_1920The difficulty of feathering the cutch goes up exponentially when you’re attempting to start on a hill. The dreaded “hill start” is so bad because the moment you depress the clutch the car begins to roll backwards. The answer to going uphill is getting the engine engaged quickly. So effectively the driver must engage the engine before the car runs into another car behind it, but not so quickly that it kills the engine instantly.

If everything is going well there should be a slight vibration. Only now should you release the clutch pedal. Should you wish to accelerate further continue to take your foot off the foot pedal and put your other foot on the accelerator pedal.

Do you always need a gear shaft?

Not necessarily – sports cars often have levers known as paddles. One paddle shifts up a gear and the other down. Formula One cars also have paddles but they are mounted on the steering wheel. This complicated procedure is definitely not suited for the amateur and even paddles haven’t made their way into the mainstream. However, paddle shifter on the steering wheel in place or a gear selector on an automatic transmission has made it into the mainstream, but this isn’t the same thing as a true paddle shift.

Special Accommodation

It can be hard for those with either limited mobility or arthritis to operate a manual gearshift because it requires a certain amount of force. Instead a special adaption needs to be made or purchased. One way that they work is pressing a comfort handle rather than adjusting the gearshaft itself. Clearly an automatic transmission is way to go, depending on your disability.

Automatic Transmissions have proven themselves reliable and simple to operate. They are easier to learn to operate and make the entire process of learning to drive simpler. They can also reduce driver fatigue for city, stop-and-go, driving.

So are Manual Transmissions Obsolete?

Not exactly! Manual transmissions are a bit more fuel efficient, because a human intelligence can keep the engine in neutral at stop lights. Most stunt drivers agree that manuals give them better performance when precision moves are required. Other than heavy traffic, most drivers who know how to operate a “stick” prefer them over automatic.

Here’s the real difference that no one really talks about. An automatic transmission is a complicated thing. It’s more likely to breakdown and when it does, it’s more expensive to fix. The other issue is that manual transmissions can be rebuilt from pretty simple parts. It’s possible to get these parts long after that particular car is no longer manufactured.

Automatic transmissions are so complicated inside that rebuilding them isn’t cheap and soon the internal parts aren’t available for order. Then the only source of a replacement transmission is a junk yard. Even the junk yard becomes difficult eventually. How soon depends on the popularity of the vehicle you bought, but generally things start getting hard to find after 10 or 12 years.

So when you buy an automatic you’re basically buying a car with a shelf life, which seems counter to the ethics of most environmentally conscious millennials.

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Cars in Bulk

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Imagine this scene…

A salesman in a plaid suit wearing a giant cowboy hat and smile he stole from a shark, stands before his many toys; all of them have one careful owner, not scratch or ding on them…at least not on the outside. A client approaches to look over the stock and suddenly from nowhere, orders two thousand of them.

 Welcome to world of buying cars in bulk. Okay, it doesn’t happen like that. An independent used car-slinger doesn’t deal in bulk, as far as we know of. Although many new car lots have a fleet representative that takes over if a buyer wants between two and 20 cars, fleet buying and bulk-buying-are nor the same thing.

But the military, taxi cab firms, other car hire firms, the police and so on have to deal with the idea of buying more of the same car at once.

It goes back longer than you might think. Oshkosh Corporation for instance delivers specialty vehicles, mostly trucks, for access, fire, emergency or military and has been in business for a hundred years.

One recent purchase was for 6,107 light tactical vehicles for the US army – mobile command centers-for which the bill came to a cool 1.69 billion. For that price the vehicles need to be fully operational and well serviced, though having said that army vehicles do have a reputation of breaking down, maybe it’s due to attempting to squeeze the price?

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When you’re talking about emergency vehicles you also need something extremely reliable. Increasingly, these deals go to an electric motor vehicle rather than gas or diesel. Although it is a bulk buy as such there needs to be a customized design to start from.

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They may look the same to an outsider, but something as straight forward as a fire truck varies greatly from one state to another, based on their needs.

When it comes to purchasing taxis what do you go for? Ride-share vehicles are privately owned so each one is unique, but when trying to maintain a fleet of corporately owned taxi s it’s best to have all the same car. Uniformity of vehicle profile helps reinforce the brand just like the paint jobs does, but as an added bonus your mechanic can order parts in bulk as well. Every car is purchased outright, except for special circumstances when cars are leased. The contracts on leased taxis are detailed because of the wear and tear inflicted, and the high mileage added. It’s hard to imagine not going to be out of pocket leasing.

automotive-1250546_1920Another person who might buy cars in bulk is that salesman referred to above. Sure cars come in on trade, and many are purchase at auction, but when an independent car dealer finds another dealership liquidating inventory they may buy sever dozen at a time, sight unseen.

Dealerships who offer new vehicles do so by negotiating a bulk rate even though the cars arrive in batches across the year.

This can really help the salesman because if a customer is looking for one specific type of your brand of car they can order one through you and you still make a commission.

These dealers are also less likely to get stuck with hundreds of cars they cannot get rid of…however, they need to be pretty savvy to avoid low or high inventory. Too few cars on hand and you don’t close as many deals. Too many cars on hand and you run into a host of problems including tax issues.

What considerations do you need in order to make a purchase (or should I say several purchases?) this way? In some ways buying a car wholesale is similar to buying cars retail. You want the full service history. You want the papers to be in order. So you can put the car on your lot, and ideally, sell it. It’s that simple.

 

Installing a Sunroof

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What most of us generally think of as a “sunroof” is more accurately called a “moon-roof.” Is the distinction important or just a selling pitch? It depends. The difference is actually the level of tint in the glass. So the short cut to thinking about it is that a moon-roof tends to have a sliding transparent glass panel, rather than something opaque, or with built-in SPF. What used to be called a sunroof isn’t all that popular at the moment, though it is not clear why.

It comes down to whether you need more natural light inside your vehicle or if doing so has brought in too much heat. So one possible explanation for the latest craze of moon-roofs is this. Minivans and SUV’s have a lot of windows and easily over heat the passenger space, but also have and area for the moon-roof to be where it won’t shine a ton of direct light onto any of the people in the vehicle. So with modern air conditioning no one really notices the extra work the engine does to keep it cool.

Another reason is that its possible to add tint to a moon-roof aftermarket without impacting any warranties you might have on your vehicle. So manufacturers, who don’t know how hot or cold your climate is can send them all out with clear glass and count on your dealer to offer tinting services if that’s a hot add-on in your climate.

Adding a Sunroof

Speaking of manufacturer warranties, if your car feels too hot and/or stuffy it might seem tempting to install the sunroof, especially if you have some experience with auto repairs. Be warned though that a hobby mechanic shouldn’t attempt to create a sunroof to a “normal” car (this would just create leaks and even cause damage to the interior) and would also void any warranties you might have.

Assuming you are not a hobby mechanic there are several types of sunroofs you might look at:

A pop-up sunroof is the least expensive type of sunroof. In a similar way that a house window can be kept open using a latch, the pop-up sunroof is kept in place using a hinge.

A Sliding sunroof is the more general type of sunroof, again they have a latch system but the window doesn’t rise up.

An electronic sunroof tends to be a more expensive of type of sliding roof which can be operated by the driver of the vehicle.

The first thing that needs to be done is the measure the square space on your roof. It has to be the flat part of the roof. Using the curved spaces would make for a much more expensive sunroof and most commercial sunroofs tend only to use the flat part.

Next you need to purchase a sunroof kit. For best results, chose a sunroof which is an inch smaller (that’s what the instructions say but a square inch smaller would make more sense?) than your maximum dimensions. A complete kit includes a full template, weather proofing and even wiring (if you are creating an electric sunroof).

Don’t even think about doing it from scratch—just buy a kit. Besides if you are serious about it, you probably should study pictures and look at all the steps in greater detail, which comes with the kit.

Time to Complete Installation

With proper tools, this task surprisingly takes only 60 to 90 minutes, which you might think it is a comparatively short time, but if you think about it, it doesn’t involve the engine or making “major” changes to the bodywork (such as might be needed in the case of an accident). It’s just complicated.

As placing a sunroof in a car cost about $1,000 it might seem like a cheaper option to do it yourself but consider these three benefits to hiring a professional.

  • They already have the tools and training to do it.
  • They will get it done more quickly and if they don’t, they have to keep it out of the weather.
  • You can’t KNOW that you did it wrong until months later when your interior is ruined overnight.

Perhaps the best option is buying a car with a sunroof? It’s an excuse to get a new car, in any case.

 

Best of the Web: History Channel’s Car Week

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Today we bring on you a best of the web that’s really more Best of Cable.

History Channel is running some interesting programming for gear heads and car buffs like us all week (7/7/19 – 7/13/19). It’s Car Week.

7 AM Monday Modern Marvels is covering the road to car week which should give us the road map for the week.

Of course many of the regular shows will do special episodes like American Pickers doing an episode call Car-rama at 1 PM.

There are some other specials getting a lot of press, like the Epic Guide to Military Vehicles, hosted by Chuck Norris.

At the Kicker Blog we look forward to DVRing all of it so when a long day of covering everything else in the vehicle universe is done, we can kick back with a cold beverage and binge on MORE CARS!

PS Just because we love vehicles doesn’t mean we never walk anywhere. Its summer folks and our health tip for you is to park your car at the far end of the parking lot. You get a little more walking it which is good to ease the stress of bad drivers and it’s good for your heart because you get less door dings. Just say’n.

Night Systems

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It’s not just the darkness, but fog, smog and even the glare of light can prevent you seeing nearby obstacles. Introducing the automotive night system which can detect objects you wouldn’t see with mere headlights and alert the driver to them. Given its potential to improve safety and how long we’ve had the basic technology it may come as a shock that it only dates back to 2000. That means it came in about the same era as  Sat-Nav, which is also handy, but not a safety concern.

As with most innovations night systems were first installed in the luxury brand and even now hasn’t become a standard safety feature in mid-cost vehicles. The first car to employ an automotive night system was a Cadillac de Ville.  This style of Cadillac was originally developed in the 1950s, but it has undergone several generations of improvement.

From the start, the goal was to make automotive night system passive and intuitive so that they didn’t provide more distraction than a driver simply concentrating on the road ahead. All the systems employ an infrared beam to pick up on objects which the human eye would miss. The main difference in the systems is how it alerts the driver.

Less passive systems were introduced by  Mercedes and Toyota, which produce a black and white image for the driver.  The Mercedes can only use this function when you are going at 28 mph, presumably because you are less likely to be killed by a car traveling below 28 mph. (But honestly who  wants to be hit at any speed?)

You might think that as people aren’t used to black and white images that it might hard for a driver to know when to react. The people behind the DS Night Vision have thought of this. Its sensors give a red border around any objects that may be a potential danger, and then adds a yellow border if the danger changes to critical.

The BMW has a pedestrian detecting device which flashes a caution symbol if its infra-red senses that a pedestrian is in the driver’s “eye-line.” In recent years they added an animal detection device. If an animal is in the vicinity a number of LEDs will start flashing.

Should you discover something called “active vision” it means it only works on nearby obstacles. Far away obstacles can appear grainy in this type of footage, which isn’t necessarily a problem as such obstacles can generally be ignored.

Naturally the idea of creating a live stream in front of you to show you how the road is looking seems an obvious evolution. However, it’s currently thought to be too distracting.  As drivers become more accustomed to technology in cars its quite possible we’ll see this innovation soon.

As this is the latest in tech it will remain quite expensive for some time, to the detriment of the pedestrian and maybe other drivers. This isn’t, from a tech standpoint, much different than ordinary surveillance devices. Night vision comes standard on baby monitors these days. The safety of others seems to come secondary to price, which isn’t how other safety features have been prioritized. The court of public opinion can shift swiftly so perhaps we’re one bad night accident away from a handy new standard safety feature.

The Car Interior

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Sometimes we buy a car for speed, sometimes for convenience, sometimes it’s a project to do up and sell. But there are many who buy a car because they look of the interior. Well, you only see the outside of the car now and then but the majority of the day will be spent seeing the interior, especially if you use it to commute. But interiors do not stay the same.

Some Changes Come in the form of Updates on the Same Theme

In the 1980s, for instance, the in thing was Mercedes with wood trim, leather upholstery and a superfluity of buttons. Having more buttons seemed a common selling point back then. They needed to be the right type of button though, the Audi V8, to give one example, had buttons which were too small to press.

Some exotic hardwoods, like mahogany, are banned, so current models from BMW or Aston Martin use color patterns which suggest a wood finish.

porsche-1583750_1920The selling point of the BMWi3’s interior is the car seats made of “active wool” which consists of various recycled materials such as plastic bottles. They are not exactly unique though, as other big names like Honda and Toyota use recycled materials in their seats as well as glove compartments. Whatever its origin it remains a good pitch for BMW.

Buttons have also gone out of fashion a bit, perhaps not for the better. The modern sleek look has inspired companies like Tesla to put as many things on sticks affixed to the steering column its hard to tell if you’re engaging the autopilot of adjusting the wheel tilt.

Other Changes are more Innovative:

Until recently you’ve been pretty much stuck with a couple seats and a dashboard, but there are ways around this too. Instead of the normal looking Sat Nav the Lincoln Navigator and the Bentley Continental has a center console located between the driver and the passenger. The Audi A8L operates by means of the two touchscreens and a gauge cluster.

It’s hard to create the truly original design but Carlex a car interior design company focuses on sleek images and the noticeable stitching in the car seats, which may lead the passengers to think of high-grade black denim jeans? There may be a problem here with sliding off the seats but presumably, they took that into consideration.

Some things don’t Change Regarding Interiors:

Other than adding or subtracting buttons or various control sticks, the basic design of the steering wheel hasn’t changed much since the first vehicles were built. So far technology has altered the dashboard mostly, but that may soon be changing.

With the introduction of Lidar systems (which use lasers to guide driving) and other connected vehicle technology, the way we drive may be altered forever, getting rid of the steering wheel entirely.

Can you Refurbish Your Car Interior?

Generally speaking, cars depreciate faster than say houses, so we don’t see a big market in people trying to restore of improving car interiors.

mercedes-benz-2498264_1920.jpgIt is not, however, unheard of. Some wealthier car owners have had their vehicle reupholstered because they liked everything else about the car except the feel of the seats. Vintage and classic car owners may restore the seat material as well, as part of the whole car makeover.

If you’re pondering doing it to improve resale value, check out the numbers first. It is hit and miss finding a buyer willing to pay that much more for a vehicle with a slightly improved interior. A car interior upholsterer is quite a niche market so an upholstery kit costs $800 and the professional to install it costs $750. If the total value of your car would go up more than $2,000 it could be an option. There’s probably a reason used car dealers just swap in new factor seats to handle such issues.

 

 

Auto Testing

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When you hear the words new car testing, what probably flashes to mind are dramatic videos of cars deliberately smashed against walls in a closed facility with a number of dummies inside. In reality, this is only one of the many tests cars go through before entering the market.

Post premarket auto tests are carried out in “the real world” to see how the car, including its components (paintwork, engine, etc) cope with the vigorous conditions; mud, fording streams, icy conditions and so on.

car-1242080_1920The actual number of tests that a manufacturer takes a car on is a closely guarded secret, but it is known that they use places like Death Valley or a test track in the mountains of Germany in order to see how the car operates. The testers are interested in how the car accelerates and, perhaps more importantly to us as drivers, how it brakes. Generally, they are looking for how the car handles on these extreme roads and this driving routine.

Driving smoothness in what most people might feel are unsmooth conditions is important. Although it would be impossible to remove all the bumps and jolts it is up to the designers the minimize discomfort.

Comfort is another aspect that people tend to need to think about. If the front seats or the back seats do not feel right some redesigning might be needed. Then there’s the problem of leaks, either air leaks or fluid leaks might need to be looked at. Is there a likelihood of something further along the line? Your prototype is your opportunity to address problems before they get truly expensive, which is when it’s gone into production.

Although unfamiliar to most of us, the industry refers to this as “rig and component level testing.” Think of the rig as another name for the chassis or body and the components as everything else. More precisely, rig testing works out exactly how durable and sensitive the chassis is to certain stimuli, and component testing focuses on individual elements and how they work together.

Some tests require the car to be built but others can be accomplished through computer simulations. Jaguar, for instance, uses computer simulation as a good way to save money. Why build a car that will be considered unsafe? Many people have heard of Computer Aided Design or CAD but the car industry is more reliant on CAE or Computer Aided Engineering. Simulation is hardly a new use of computers but as technology increases the number of virtual tests also increases.

Perhaps the single most important car feature, after safety, is fuel economy. Despite all the projections about miles per gallon, someone has to actually drive the car far enough to establish the actual number. Until recently, cars haven’t been very efficient in this respect, but car buyers are starting demand better efficiency even in luxury sedans and trucks. The need to save energy and fuel prices changes things.

There is so much testing involved in automobile manufacturing that is a wonder that any car ever goes into production at all. Perhaps more startling is the number of high profile recalls of cars in recent years given the rigorous testing designed to make the cars safer. Still, with all the money involved, and all the possibilities of what could go wrong, testing is an important step in the process.

 

The Sound of Silence

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This post was written by our overseas contributor, Paul. He’s from the U.K. so I’ve provided some interpretations for those of us in the U.S. Just having a go at you, Paul.

  • Indicators = Turn Signal
  • Windscreen = Windshield

The Sound of Silence

When you use a car all day every day you begin to recognize its individual sounds. The sound of the ignition starting up, the sound of the windscreen wipers, the sound of the indicators. When you hear a noise you don’t recognize you instantly get the feeling something is wrong. But stepping back a bit, why do cars make any noise at all?

We assume cars make a noise for the same reason jet airplanes make a noise–big engines are noisy. It’s all do with their mechanical nature. Despite the fact that many components in a car have become computerized, it is still really a mechanical object.

Internal combustion engines suck a fuel-air mixture into two or more chambers, and POW, there’s a series of explosion. Tiny explosions, sure, but it’s going to make a noise. That sound would actually be quite a bit louder except for the exhaust system which channels the exhaust and sound back along the bottom of your vehicle to dissipate it before dispersing it out to the world. Along the way, it goes through a muffler designed specifically to reduce the sound. (Except, of course, for the jerks that live behind my house, who’ve never heard of a muffler.)

But some noises are harder to place than others, the sound of rubber tires on the road is something we all recognize, but why do objects like the windscreen wipers and the indicators make the noise that they do?

Although they are performing mechanical functions, the circuitry performing these actions helps create a noise. In the case of the indicators, what we hear as a click is a circuit whose function is to cause the indicators to flash. This might not make much sense, as we encounter lights all day long which don’t make a noise, apart from some humming, but because the indicator is needed to flash, there needs to be a certain type of circuit here.

Why does a faster car make more noise? Well, when a car is accelerating its exhaust has to work harder. It’s quite complicated what is going on, but in layman’s terms, it is a mixture of axles, pistons, and transmissions which need to work harder in order to increase the speed. More work means more energy, which we hear as sound. This is also why the engine is more vocal when you start the car up, especially on cold days.

We tend to be more suspicious of the less mechanical noises, the thumps and the twangs, such as may happen when the tires rub against metal or something in the trunk hits the side of the car. It might be part of our survival instinct; no one wants to drive a vehicle which is a death trap. If there’s a problem it should be fixed. It doesn’t mean that everybody takes notices of these sounds, but many drivers feel it is part of maintaining a car properly.

One fun fact, new cars often come with long mileage tires which have very hard rubber. So they will make a lot more sound inside your car than the ones you put on later.

So what about a silent engine? Well, that can only be achieved by an electric car but they provide their own problems. Pedestrians are used to cars making a noise, so when they don’t hear a car they feel that no car is there. It makes sense, therefore, to add sound to the noise of the electric car. The only problem is that a selling point of an electric car was its smooth movement, its lack of noise. So you remove this if you add a different noise when the car is in motion.

For good or bad it seems that cars will be noisy for quite a time yet.