Digital Side Mirrors

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Op-Ed by Andy Bunch

You may have heard that digital side mirrors are coming. This is a loose interpretation of equipment automakers have been tossing onto concept cars or adding to limited runs of super-luxury vehicles these last few years. However, most of us who cover the car business have been skeptical. Edison once had his people come up with an electric pen.

Does the world really need one more doodad that must be better because it relies on technology rather than simple physics?

We’ll Lexus has announced that they’re ready to put them into production on their full line of cars and the US is evaluating them for safety, so someones pushing hard for them. My real question was echoed by Stephen Williams in his September article on the topic, entitled “Digital Side Mirrors Become a Production Reality, but You Can’t Get Your Hands on One Just Yet.

“…replacing side mirrors with two 5-inch screens located at the base of the vehicle’s A-pillar is an extra measure of radical….But how much do we really see in our side-view mirrors?”

I’d put his question more as a statement, “it better do something really great if you’re going to continue to train people not to look outside there own car.

Williams eventual support can be summed up in four words, “Bike lanes & night vision.”

But there are other potential advantages. The cameras are designed to be less affected by rain and to reduce road noise. The screens can replace ones already employed for side impact warnings and parking assistance. On the whole, drivers report them as more intuitive than other center-column backup camera screens.

Bottom line they show a wider angle, which has long been a desire of many drivers. How many times do you see people fasten extra mirrors onto their side mirrors, especially when towing a trailer?  Well, that issue could be a thing of the past. These mirrors could add zooming in and out to the adjustments you already make to accommodate the height and taste of the individual driver.

It’s likely these cameras will succeed in gaining mainstream use as early as 2019.

Here’s some video, see for yourself:

Peace and Cars

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(BTW: It’s a Pearl Harbor Day. Don’t forget to take a moment and reflect on the men and women who stand between us and danger.)

Many of us find driving very relaxing. Though it shouldn’t be a place to doze off, being behind the wheel of a car should be a relatively peaceful experience where you can forget your current woes, maybe listen to some classical music or light pop? (Of course, if you love rock-n-roll peace of mind might not be how you relax in the first place.) Something like a comic song or a discussion from talk radio might also distract, but it’s important not to forget the road altogether! Obviously stay alert, or accidents happen.

If you don’t want to employ the radio to drown out road noise you can try some gentle driving techniques make a car quieter but this means you take longer in reach your destination! There needs to be a better way.

You may have noticed that, in general, cars are getting quieter with each new model. The Green City project has spent some time trying to figure out how to make cars quieter for those inside or outside, in order to promote a more peaceful coexistence of cars in dense urban areas. They promoted an idea about reducing the sound in cities by changing tire design and adding more sound cancellation tech to new cars.

The problem is that you can’t really do much with the wind and the vibration that moving at speed is all about. It costs money to make an active difference, mechanically, though many car companies seem to be making some progress. Adding cost is a big obstacle.

So that brings us back to needing to cover up the sound. Try a download of something like whale music. Seriously, some folks swear by it. Not of fan of watery mammals? Then maybe an extract of spoken meditation will suit? Not something to make you sleep, just something to make you more comfortable.

Okay, OKAY! We have a real answer and its cheap, simple, and won’t slow down your commute. To explain it we need to look at one simple reality. Folks either find driving relaxing or stressful. Even more promising, most of us would probably say it depends on the day. So we just need to examine the forces that make it stressful one day and the polar opposite the next.

#1 Change the Situation:

Clearly, there’s a difference between a drive on a country road and sitting in traffic on the way to work. Not much you can do about your destination, right? Well, you can plan ahead. Leave a bit early and find something totally self-indulgent to do with the time you have by getting there early. Maybe sit in a coffee shop or look for a new pleasure read. Whatever it is, just make sure it’s something you can look forward to enough to jump in your car a bit ahead of the last minute.

Speaking of last minutes. Don’t add to your stress by having to make up time. You’re literally making your commute more stressful and it’s entirely in your hands to prevent it. It’s your fault you’re late and that’s good news!

#2 Examine your Options:

Whether the car doesn’t do precisely what you want, or the other drivers seem to be working hard to wreck your day, it doesn’t seem a place to relax. Well, have you checked into mass transit? We’re big fans of personal cars here, but frankly, it’s not worth dying for. If driving to work is shortening your life, consider taking a bus or train for all or part of your commute. You might save on parking and stress, and you can use the time to read or catch up on social media.

Carpooling is another way to possibly save money and time can pass more quickly when you have someone to chat with.

#3 Examine your Company:

On the opposite side of the coin from carpooling is the dreaded school run. Driving with kids can be the not-relaxing kind of conversation. You’re the adult AND the driver–it’s going to land on you to set rules and train your passengers to help not hinder.

Here are some helpful tips: getting into a routine, try to let your children know you need to concentrate on the road, not them. Try a book on CD that the whole family can get into. Or get them headphones.

If reasonable arguments aren’t working pull rank. Don’t let your kids do things that make you not like them. Remember if you battle out the rules on the way to school picking them up will be easier, not harder. Also, remember that they’ll be driving in a few years and modeling the priority of taking it seriously is going to pay off very soon.

#4 Try Silence:

Having the car in perfect quiet can act as a detox to your routine, until the next time you have to make the school run or head to a work presentation. If the rest of your life is stressful, try thinking about your time in a car as a single activity worthy of your full attention. There’s a meditation in the simple operation of the multi-thousand-pound beast surrounding you. It’s your job to at that moment to get yourself and everyone around you to their destination safely. if the rest of your life is so hectic, you may soon begin to yearn for the simplicity of driving alone in the quiet.

#5 It’s a choice:

At the end of the day, all these tips revolve around taking charge of your perspective. If you don’t like our commute, change it. If you absolutely can’t change anything else, try changing your attitude.

Many of these problems revolve around the theme of not being where you want to be. Not being at home, or being stuck in a traffic jam. Make a choice to remember that the journey is more important than the destination. It’s not just about being there instead of here, it’s about how well you do where you are right now. You can only impact the here and now. Don’t lose out on opportunities to do something well now because you wish you were somewhere else.

Whatever problem your mind is drifting back to, won’t be solved by obsessing on it. You will be home soon, or relatively soon. It’ll be fixed in a short while.

 

 

The Car Propping Up the US

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Op-Ed by A.R. Bunch and Paul Wimsett

The car industry has long been considered too big to fail in America. The car manufacturers employ tens of thousands of mostly union members, not to mention sales, marketing, and transportation to market. Clearly, if no one buys cars it would seem self-evident that the steel industry and the petroleum industry would be greatly affected, but economists say the impact can be felt as far afield as healthcare and agriculture.

The news cycle has been dominated by recent political wrangling over keeping the parts and components of cars domestically manufactured as well, from haggling with Canada over steel, to haggling with Mexico over assembly, to threatening tariff wars with China over parts.

They’ve Been Connected from the Start:

The direct tie between the American Economy and automobile manufacturer was first recognized in the 1940s as “Fordism”, the phrase invented by Antonio Gramsci, a Marxist philosopher. Ford had the idea to pay workers more money $5 a day (the equivalent of $90 today). The first effect was actually to decrease the city population as more people moved to suburban areas. Motorized transport, in general, made the population more portable, allowing working-class citizens access to opportunity and freedom.

Recent Historical Context:

A quick check of recent history confirms that when the economy dives it takes the car industry with it. Take the housing, bank, and stock market crash of 2008 for example. In that year alone around 52,000 workers in the automobile industry became unemployed. So what happened to those people?

Most states do not have that many automobile workers. So most of those job losses were in states such as Michigan. When unemployment happened to people here the only answer seemed to be to leave the state entirely. Between the years of 2001 and 2009, Michigan lost the equivalent of one resident every nine minutes (or 465,000 people), the equivalent of a small town. Luckily this wasn’t a permanent fixture the state did recover if only a little way.

Predictions of the Near Future:

If a drop in car sales impacts the economy and vice versa then even a slight drop in car sales is an indicator of potential economic disaster.

That is why the industry starts getting rattled if there seems to be a drop in car sales, which might be happening right now in 2018. 2015 and 2016 recorded sales years for new cars, when the NADA released its forecast for 2017 & 2018. The 2017 number was 17.1 million, a modest plateauing in sales, which they pretty much hit. Their 2018 number was only 16.7 million, a 2% drop from 2017 sales numbers.

Why the negativity? One could point to the end of the impact of the Cash for Clunkers government buyback. Fear over rising fuel prices, rising interest rates, and the rise in vehicle sticker prices. In reality, though, millennials aren’t buying cars the way previous generations did. Remote work has become attractive, especially in younger workers.

There is good news for the economy on the whole and gas prices have been fairly stable. However, many of the unfilled jobs are in blue collar jobs which means until they’re filled people aren’t driving to work. The job growth is primarily in areas which can be done remotely. In many ways, as the car and the economy go hand in glove, gas prices will continue to be the key indicator to watch.

What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

But look at it like this: There are 226 assembly plants in America. If they all were to disappear tomorrow the effect would be catastrophic.

But not all the impacts of the motor car are economic. Currently, about 85% of American people drive to their jobs on their own. The effect of this is not only financial, something you must do to earn money; it also has a distancing effect on our fellow humans. As we spend several hours behind the wheel trying to get to and from work each day, many people are struggling to feel like they’re more than just part of a large machine.

This is why we at the Kicker have long encouraged the commuting public to remember the romance we once had with our car. If we can fall in love with the experience of driving again, and keep buying cars, we can keep our economy strong and free.

The Car and the Male and Female Thing

 

CompareIf you want to lose a girl, go on about cars. If you really want to lose a girl, take her to a motor show.

This seems to be the general image of the whole guy/gal thing. The whole idea of the testosterone-fueled alpha male going on about cars for the fan of the hot rod, people like Chip Foose and Chris Jacobs. A car is not just something to get in to drive from A to B, it is a show that you are wealthy to the lady of your choice. It is what makes the great male who he is, or so it would seem.

Pitching these type of shows on sports channels seems to be the way to go, like Caffeine and Octane, found on the NBC Sports Network. Okay, there is something sporty about fast cars but this show is also going for those who like style. Not the usual macho audience, you might think. Though given the car theme calling it ‘Beer and Octane’ would send a bad message.

Why are cars macho though? You can almost hear the barroom arguments around this question. One side drawing a connection between a hot rod and his other favorite anatomy, while the other pushes the stereotype that women can’t park. This discussion could get a bit heated if it carries on too long.

It could be that the macho audience isn’t necessarily the one to advertise to, despite how it might come across on the small screen or on the billboards. With a family audience, it doesn’t always help to show the man in charge. An anecdotal study by the magazine Auto Trader showed that 92% of the viewers felt most of the ads were far too masculine,  the actual word might have been “hyper-masculine,” so maybe the advertisers haven’t picked up on how we really are? They might be better off showing more females behind the wheel, especially in family situations. If there’s a disconnect with your audience, the problem isn’t with your audience.

Speaking of surveys, there are many surveys done which show that women still want men to be in attractive cars, maybe they’re more attracted to the car? Well, one study had women choose between the same man–one in a Bentley and another in a beat-up Ford Fiesta–and most liked him better in the Bentley. The University of Cardiff in the U.K. conducted the study, but it might be a no-brainer, really…

When the study was repeated with men, the results were unclear. The popularity of an attractive woman seemed unaffected by the type of car she sat in. Maybe the guys just wanted to drive the vehicle themselves? It’s possible.

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Diesel Trucks Chevrolet vs. Ford Head to Head

 

Ford VS Chevy

(At the Kicker, we try to be agnostic about car brands. So while we’ll stop short of endorsing one over another in most cases, we do enjoy a good apples-to-apples comparison. PS Don’t forget to set your clocks back this Sunday!)

You know you’re going diesel for your next rig, and chances are you probably already have a pretty strong affinity for either Chevy or Ford. However, in the name of fairness and injecting a little variety into your life, find out just who comes out on top in the Chevy vs. Ford Wars: Diesel Edition. You might be surprised by some of the perks one make offers over another—and it might just be enough to lure you over the fence to the other side.

Even before dipping into the performance side of things, consider that Isuzu makes Chevy diesel trucks and Ford makes Ford trucks. Take that information and interpret it how you will, but some “purists” think this is a sign that Ford is the winner already—but not so fast. There are so many other considerations, like block and head materials as well as battery configuration.

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Pop the Hood

When it comes to cylinder configuration, it’s a clear tie: Both vehicles boast a 90-degree V8 engine. Both make their head material out of aluminum, too, and this race is closer than anyone expected. However, things get shaken up a bit with the block material. Ford opts for compacted graphite iron while Chevy goes for cast iron. According to some, compacted graphite iron is stronger than cast iron, but of course, cast iron is a more classic (and proven) material.

With injection type, both Chevy and Ford use a Bosch Common Rail system (29,000 psi), making the race even more neck and neck. And that valve configuration? Both feature OHV 4 valves per cylinder. What about battery configuration? Chevy has a single 730 CCA battery while Ford ponies up a Dual 12-volt 750 CCA battery.

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Pushing the Limits

The max torque reported for Ford is 677 with a max horsepower of 333. Chevy ups the ante with 671 max torque, but 360 horses. The most heavy duty of Fords, the F350, can haul 22,700 pounds with a fifth wheel and the Chevy Silverado 3500HD can carry an astounding 23,000 pounds with a fifth wheel. However, Ford offers a range of gear options while Chevy only has the 3.73 gear ratio available.

With engine displacement, Ford offers a 6.7-liter power stroke and Chevy is right on their heels with a 6.6-liter power stroke. Complete with a 3.9-inch bore for Chevy and a 4.06-inch bore for Ford, the engine comparison is really too close to call. For some, the stroke makes all the difference, and Ford offers 4.25 inches at a 16.2:1 ratio while Chevy has 3.9 inches and a 16.8:1 ratio.

Which one is the winner? As you can see, each one reigns supreme in different areas, so it really depends on personal preference, what you’ll be using your rig for and just how much hauling will be done. No matter which direction you head, keep in mind that a great way to up performance is to install a performance air filter or cold air intake—both of which will give your diesel engine the extra oxygen it craves.

Age and the Car

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Op-Ed by Paul Wimsett & A. Bunch

It does seem a shame that the moment you can afford a car, that car is out of bounds. Either the car is too big, or too sporty, or too showy, or some other reason society comes up with to disapprove of your choice. It’s the way of the world.

 

automobile-1853936_1920When you first get your license…

Previous generations just wanted a car. It represented freedom to explore the world and also not needing to borrow the family van to take your date out for pizza. Or worse, having a parent chauffer you to and from your date. If you bought your first car yourself, chances are was pretty scary and nearing the end of its life. If you’re one of the lucky few whose parents bought you a car then we recommend keeping your mouth shut. Especially if it’s something sporty, (you should know your peers hate you).

However you got your ride, just drive your chick/dude magnet up to school and remember that all that adoration won’t put gas in your tank. Better ask your date to pay for the pizza.

These days, teens seem to prefer mass transit or rideshare. They see cars as an extra expense, (and well it is, but come on) and since teens are not allowed to have jobs the only teens who get cars are those whose parents bought it for them.

 

auto-2179220_1920At the quarter life-life crisis…

This may be in the middle of your twenties. It’s when you realize every day you wake up you’re closer to 30 than 20. There’re three schools of thought here:

1) If you can pull it off, this is the time to get the car of the dreams. It doesn’t have to be practical when you’re established in your early career and splitting rent with friends. Well, work with your budget that’s the only solution. If you can’t get something like the Ford Mustang, go with a car slightly more reasonable option. Having said that the Mustang is better on the old finances than a Beamer…

2) This is the time when you can really impact your financial future. Buy something reliable, fuel economical, eight to ten years old with a reputation for living a long time. Pay it off in four years and make that car last for a decade.

asia-2179107_19203) Go for something strange in car, truck, or motorcycle. If you dance to the beat of your own drum, well go ahead and buy that surplus meter-reader mobile that get 60 miles to the gallon and has just enough cargo space for a bag of groceries. Maybe buy that scary van from the guy down by the river so you have a place to crash if you lose your apartment. If all else fails you can buy something practical in five years when you hit your next life milestone.

When you get married…

There must be an unwritten law that you must buy an SUV. You need something with a third row of seating and you just can’t make yourself go “full minivan.” You’re not really fooling anyone. It’s just today’s equivalent of the station wagon. Unless…you go for it and get something that actually can go off-road if needed…maybe a jeep grand Cherokee, Toyota FJ, or an H2. Another option might be a crossover. Something like the Grandland X SUV which combines both agility with brilliant design. And it’s useful even if you aren’t on the school run. What you have to watch for here is gas mileage. Some of these guzzlers drink a gallon every ten miles.

In all seriousness, think about a car that can get your kids to soccer now and that you don’t mind loaning them in a few short years. Unless you’re one of those mean parents who insist on driving your teens to pizza. (Assuming they still eat pizza when our kids are teenagers.)

 

ford-63930_1920The mid-life crisis…

This is when the temptation sets in to buy something sporty and impractical, but it’s really not worth it. I get it, your kids have left home and you want a car to relax in. If you can avoid it don’t buy either the luxury car of your dreams and the street racer. You’ll save money and avoid looking ridiculous. Kids have an annoying habit of moving home. You may not be as financially free as you think you are, and you sure don’t want to loan them either kind of car.

That Ferrari won’t hide your belly fat anyway, and the BMW won’t make your hair grow back. On the other hand, if you’re going in for a regular prostate exam, you probably deserve a comfortable ride…maybe a Mercedes is just what the Doctor ordered. You certainly deserve it.

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When its time to retire…

Well, we would never tell you to wait until you retire to live your dreams. BUT in our highly unprofessional opinion, it’s finally time to be impractical. Go ahead and buy the car of your dreams. You know the one teenage you couldn’t afford because your parents wouldn’t buy it for you. Sure it’s now called a classic car but just ignore all that. The point is, it’s yours and you don’t care what anybody thinks. Enjoy it. At least until one of your kids decides you need to be chauffeured.

 

4 Benefits of Detailing Your Car

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Think auto detailing is a “splurge” or something you should only do when you’re getting ready to sell?

That’s like thinking you can do just as good of a job professionally cleaning your house, landscaping your yard, or doing your hair. Yes, practice can mean you do a better job each time—but is it worth it? Professional auto detailers have more experience, better tools, and much more practice than you could ever muster on your own.

In fact, there are many benefits to regular auto detailing that the average driver overlooks. Yes, it’s important to get your car washed on a regular basis (especially during rain seasons!) and spending a few quarters on the vacuuming machine can pick up major crumbs and debris. However, that DIY approach is more like maintenance in between regular details. Here are a few benefits to detailing you’re probably overlooking and why you (and your ride) deserve better:cleaning-1837328__340

  1. Get Rid of Scratches

From falling pine cones to setting that shopping bag on the hood for “just a minute” your car looks nothing like it did brand new—but it can. Only a professional exterior detailing can remove tiny scratches, minimize paint fading, and address any swirls that might have appeared. Plus, it helps ensure that your car stays in prime condition for longer. Only trained professionals know exactly what materials and solutions to use for your paint job and can dish up those kinds of results.

  1. Stay Cleaner Longer

cleaning-1837333_1920An object in motion tends to stay in motion—and a car that’s clean tends to stay clean. The reality is that the cleaner your car is, the longer it will stay that way. Thanks to protective treatments that resist dirt as well as the desire to keep that gorgeous shine going as long as possible, this is a healthy habit to get into.

  1. Boost Your Mood, Self-Esteem, Confidence and Success

There’s no denying that a detailed car catches admiring glances. Many owners are shocked at just how good their car can look after a proper detailing (and not just a run through the car wash). However, aesthetics can do more than have you admiring your car in a store window while parked at a stop light. Just like how you’re more confident when you’re looking your best, you can get the same boost form a great looking car.

  1. Retain the Car’s Value

Whether you’re looking to sell right now or not, a car that’s maintained has a higher value. You might get a sudden offer in a parking lot you can’t refuse when your car is detailed. You might fall in love with a new car on a whim and want maximum trade-in value. Detailing is curb appeal for your car, and it’s something you should prioritize if you want the most bang for your buck.

 

Bear in mind that not all detailers are created equally. Do your research and choose a shop that specializes in customized detailing packages with glowing reviews. After all, if their reviews aren’t sparkling, what does that say about their detailing?

 

The Car as a Commodity

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For many people, a car is not a means of transportation; it is a commodity. You may have pondered a vehicle as an investment, in recent years, instead of a loan being financed against your house, many people have used their car as collateral. But in order to think of it as a commodity you’d have to consider three things:

  • Is it an asset or a liability?
  • What’s its current value vs cost
  • What’s the likelihood of future appreciation or depreciation?

Asset or Liability?

We’re car people here at the Kicker, not certified financial advisors. So let’s take a moment to state the obvious—the purpose of this post is to get you thinking about the impact your car has on your finances and some smart moves you might choose to make regarding your car.

That said, every physical asset is also a liability. Vehicles are status symbols, toys, and a source of joy, but they’re primarily a tool you use to transport yourself and your loved one’s places you need to go. Often if you don’t have a car you can’t earn an income. So its an asset. It can also break down or you can get into an accident which could cost you a lot of money and leave you’re physically injured.

Current Value vs Cost?

This consideration includes getting a good deal on a car purchase, but it’s more than that. Fuel economy is a big thing to think about. Do you really need a truck for your daily driver or would it be better to get an old truck to drive mainly on weekends and a smaller daily driver?

Do you need a car at all? Sometimes in a city, with rideshare, bus lines, mass transit and all. You might be better off with a minimal investment for your occasional use. Maybe buy something older that you don’t rely heavily on so you aren’t stuck in a bad way if it breaks down occasionally.

Maybe your needs warrant buying new to get a low maintenance car, that’s safe and reliable.

Retained Value?

But do you need a brand new car or a classic car? What happens to the price of a used car?

Imagine that there is a brand new car, a used car about 5 years old and a classic car from the 1960s. For them to be the same price, the used car might be low mileage and luxury vehicle. A lot of the value of a new car is the warranties offered to the first owner. Sometimes special financing is available on a new vehicle. Maybe the brand new car isn’t popular and is discounted to make room for the next year model. Generally, a slightly used car will have a much better value for the price.

But what about the classic car? Of course, mileage, service history, condition, and popularity really come into play with the classic car. Well, that would also need to be a good make and comparatively well-serviced. For the classic car having not much mileage on the clock may be a disadvantage, it could indicate a history of sitting broken. It can also be bad for cars to sit if not properly stored. A considerable amount of mileage would be expected and wouldn’t do much with the price of the vehicle.

The used car and the classic car may have the problem with obtaining parts in common, with the difficulties tending to stack up with the classic car. Another point in the used car’s favor is that it would probably not break down, but the classic car may break down all the time.

The classic car is the car almost like a commodity in one respect, not bought to be used, but as a status symbol and perhaps the most likely to gain value. Of course, if you actually use the classic car as a family car it won’t retain its value as well as if it’s babied.

How it usually stacks up:

The real problem with the new car is that its value decreases extremely quickly. A car can lose 10% of its value simply through being driven home. That’s a big hurdle to overcome. The sales price is only one factor, however, and very soon the used car and the classic car will be the more expensive to maintain so the carrying costs are higher.

When you factor purchase price and carrying cost (likelihood it’ll break down and cost to fix), plus cost to operate, it’s not looking good for the future of these three vehicles. Which is the best choice?

It always comes down to your needs and intended use. Most of us need a slightly used car, with a fair upfront price and spread the expensive maintenance over the next few years. However, if you buy a lemon you’ll regret it, so have your car inspected.

You might ask when these three cars will be the same price again.

Certainly not when they are sold for scrap. The classic car has a much higher scrap value – the parts are novel, the standard of the interior much more likely to be worth preserving. Certainly, it will be a long time before the new car is scrapped, but when it does there will be nothing remarkable about the parts.

So which car would you have?

 

Are AV’s on hold? Should they be?

OP-ED by A. Bunch

There’s so much we could say on the topic. Actually, there’s a lot we have said on the topic. The opinion above is interesting and worth viewing.

I notice these city tests always take place in a special zone of a city that’s pretty straightforward. More than that, they’re also specially mapped. That means that they don’t just download the same navigation you or I do, they specifically vet the maps in that zone. This means even if AVs start taking over certain city zones, the outlying areas will still require human assistance.

Why is that? Because things happen that haven’t been specifically foreseen and accounted for by programmers. Will these zones be the challenging downtown areas with heavy pedestrian use that TNC (rideshare) drivers already hate to navigate? NO! Not at all. GPS is notorious for dropping when the signal is blocked by skyscrapers.

The goal of all automation should be to replace the types of routine work that people don’t like to do and therefore grow bored and unproductive at. But if humans will still be needed for rural areas and inner-city areas, what’s the point of automation?

Crash avoidance systems, automated braking, and automatic transmissions reduce driver fatigue but it seems like the challenge of replacing drivers entirely may not be worth the billions some folks are willing to spend to do it. Will automakers be able to train their machines to recognize a human in a crosswalk? I’m sure they will. Will it justify the money they’re spending? Only the future will tell.

New Car Smell

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It’s one of life’s great mysteries, why the new car smell is so appealing. But what exactly is it?

Maybe the smell is just newness in general? If a car hasn’t been used it doesn’t have that “lived in” feel? It’s an unfamiliar situation which might be reacting with our noses? Okay, that’s not very scientific talk. So then – let’s get scientific.

You’d think it would be a simple question to answer, like “the leather” or “the paintwork” but the answer is a great deal more complex than that. Any salesperson will tell you that consumers are rational but not logical, which means we care about the features of the car like gas mileage, safety, and reliability but our decision is ultimately an emotional one.

Our five senses heavily influence our answers to questions like:
How does it run?
How does it look?
How does it feel?

We may not consciously be aware that we’re asking, “how does it smell?”

And ‘smell’ is the best description, right? It’s a pleasant odor, but not perfume. Its fresh like ozone more than sweet like air freshener. It can be hard to put your finger on, and one reason could be that it’s a complex cocktail of other odors.

 

 

So what does a new car smell of?

Well, it could remind you of a newly washed sweatshirt, a bath sponge or an escalator. This is because the most active ingredients are both polymers found in those two items; polyester (sweatshirt) and polyurethane (the sponge or an escalator). Not really connecting the two odors? As appealing as you may find the smell of sweatshirt/sponge/ escalator, there’s a big difference in intensity. Escalators are in big rooms and we’re not usually closely confined with our sweaters and sponges. The odor doesn’t collect and stagnate the way it does in a car. The complexity of the molecules in a car is greater too.

 

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The scent of polymers comes from something called “outgassing” or releasing their raw materials. Fortunately, vehicles are not as insulated as houses because continued exposure to polymers it can cause headaches or dizziness. Despite the innocuousness of these materials, compared to exhaust fumes or cigarette smoke it may also lead to lung cancer if you have too much exposure to these types of materials.

 

Some simple chemicals come into play as well, which don’t account for as much volume but due to their volatile state put our more scent.  And not all the chemicals are simple. A number of more complex ones include benzene and formaldehyde. Benzene is found in gasoline while formaldehyde is a disinfectant type substance.

Most likely the compelling odor comes from all these substances coming in “one big hit” which would be a happy accident for car sellers, at least at first. Used car dealers quickly adapted and the industry has managed to bottle the scent so they can spray it in any freshly cleaned vehicle to add that special zing.

While the bottled smell fades rapidly after purchase a truly new car smell is hard to remove quickly. If you are one of the folks who doesn’t enjoy the smell of a fresh new car, don’t bother trying to mask it with a car air freshener—they’re not up to the task. The best thing is just to avoid taking the car on too many long journeys and if you do take some long breaks park in the shade. Sun and warmth just exacerbate the problem.

So to sum up, the new car smell, while pleasant is only mostly harmless. The problem is of course that people generally like a new car smell and it’s one of the reasons people buy a new car. There has been some attempt to remove some of the more volatile substances but the actual smell won’t be going anywhere for a long time.