car tuning

21 Aug 2007

French roadtrip update 2

Driving along in France you suddenly realise that the conventions of driving no longer apply. In England when you meet another car coming along a narrow track one of you stops and pulls over to give way. In France the cars just drive along the grass verge or up the embankment without even slowing. When this first happens it is a little disconcerting but after a while you find it quite liberating to be able to just drive on the verge or up the bank. I'm sure that this approach to driving really wrecks your suspension and if you needed to do an emergency stop on the road with half your wheels on a low grip surface you will not be able take evasive action.

The roads also have unusual rules which leave you never quite being sure if you have priority over other cars, and unless you are happy playing a game of car based Russian roulette you tend to become rather adept at emergency stops. I think all drivers visiting other countries will start off driving rather cautiously. You then encounter drivers of slow vehicles and delivery vans which have some psychic power that enables them to overtake you on blind bends!
Sign posts are pretty good and somewhat informative when you develop a basic grasp of the language with most number referring to some kind of speed limit. The speed limits are not too dissimilar to what we have over here in good old Enland, it just takes a little while to convert them from KM to Miles. I'm still struggling to come to terms with driving on the right side of the road but this seems to be the preferred modus oparandi for most of the world. One day I'm sure that we will just move over to the continental style of driving on the right and this will ensure that we get cars which are fully compatible with the rest of Europe without having to change them or get them converted and messing around with headlight.

We encountered an emergency vehicle which was following us up hill. It looked like some kind of fire engine and I'd swear the thing was powered by a 1.0 diesel engine. You look in your mirror and see the flashing lights and start reducing your speed, then you look again and see that despite your slowing up it is still in the distance. Still not being quite sure what is going on we decide to pull over and wait for the emergency vehicle to lumber past. This seemed to take quite an age and eventually we were able to slowly follow it. Next time I think we will wait and see if the hing has enough power to keep up with us before deciding to move over.

The European commission does appear to be standardising road signs and regulation across Europe which makes the transfer to continental driving a lot easier to adapt to. One thing we don't get in good old England is the breath taking scenery and the exhilaration that one wrong move in the bends will result in the car plummeting down a 2 mile drop from sheer rock face. When you get the hang of the bends and learn not to look down the sheer drop you start to enjoy the roads and actually start driving at a pace which even the locals are unable to keep up with.

20 Aug 2007

Driving in France

Time to report in my sojourn across the channel. Last year we flew down to France and hired a car. At the time this seemed the most cost effective option with a flight costing as much as fuel but the cost of hire car was a lot more than we had anticipated due to the "optional" extras like fuel, collision damage waver and additional driver. The car they gave us was a new Peugeot 205 Diesel and apart from the steering wheel and pedals being on the wrong side of the car it drove like a dog. On the twisty country roads it was hesitant and stogy and seemed to have had its suspension modeled on a supermarket trolley.

This year we decided to bite the bullet and drive down, a somewhat scary prospect considering the sheer distance we needed to cover and the fact that we couldn't understand half of the road signs. Thankfully the ferry journey was very simple, with no airport style security and check in lounges to fight our way through.

Despite my initial apprehension I must say that driving in France was a bit of a pleasure. The motorway system is very well maintained and intuitive and there are good service facilities with opportunities for toilet, sleep and a good cup of coffee every few miles. I prepared a small sticker to remind me to drive on the right which is only really needed in town areas when pulling out onto main roads and this also includes the statutory speed limits for each type of road (including conversions from KM to Mph as the KM measurements are not very visible in most road conditions). There were signs up apologising for poor road surface on roads which were better than out most well maintained surfaces. Fuel economy was also better, perhaps it was the lack of congestion, the sheer distance we travelled or just the fact that the car did not have to fight with bumps and poor surfaces. Our car typically returns around 37 mpg and for a distance of over 500 miles it hovered at 42.2mpg and considering we were doing 130 most of the way this was excellent (kph not mph!)

When you get off the motorways and into the towns you see rural decay everywhere. Buildings appear to be neglected and whole towns deserted, that is until the siesta time finishes and people start arriving in their droves. Road manners were also impeccable and only a couple of drivers cut us up - something that happens every few minutes back in good old blighty. There are also an unusually high amount of old cars - real classics but with little attention or care lavished on them. (I'd be surprised if there is a French word for Restoration!) Perhaps this is due to the lack of rain and rust or perhaps the French do not place a high priority on buying new cars.

16 Aug 2007

Driving makes us lazy.

Car ownership makes us lazy. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen someone park right outside their destination, often illegally instead of parking further up the road and walking. Most Torquecars members when asked also agree that having a car has made them a little lazy. People popping in to their local shop are the biggest culprits.

How many journeys are really necessary. I think that at some time we have all taken the car around the corner for speed or if it is raining. Years ago we used to walk to school, now children are delivered to school by car. Is the growing problem of childhood obesity down to the car induced laziness as much as the increased junk food diet.

We need to ask ourselves when was the last time we walked for 30 minutes? Its not a long time and certainly not a long distance but most people would consider taking the car for this short journey, which has some major drawbacks.

  1. The wear and tear on the car is much greater on short journeys when the engine does not have time to warm up.
  2. It would be another missed opportunity for some gentle exercise.
  3. A wak of 30 minutes refreshes the mind, in the car we tend to be distracted more and usually put the radio on. The silent contemplation whilst walking is beneficial and you will often solve problems or be more effective at work.
  4. Stress levels are reduced when walking, you are less likely to get raised blood pressure whilst walking compared to driving the same distance.
  5. You will be easing both congestion and local pollution levels as any Asthmatic or hay fever sufferer will fully appreciate.
  6. You save money.

What though about the extra time cost? When you think about it logically a 30 minute walk is about the same as a 5 minute drive on an uncongested road, the thing is that we do not have uncongested roads. My journey typically takes 10-20 minutes at a crawling pace on most days and they I can spend anoteh 10-20 minutes looking for a parking space. You might live in an uncongested area and If you do I am a little jealous, but with our modern lifestyles do not expect that to always be the case.

Throw away the car keys for short journeys and WALK instead. 2 legs are for walking, if we were born to drive we would have 3 legs, one for each pedal ;)

13 Aug 2007

Car Paranoia

We at Torquecars all take a pride in our cars, the question we need to ask is are we obsessive over our car? Some warning signs of obsession include waxing, vacuuming or potentially washing the car once a week. It is nice to have a clean and tidy car and I would be the last to object to someone cleaning their car, but to watch their expression as a bird targets their gleaming paintwork.

Then the rules start appearing, particularly when children are around.

  1. No Eating in the car
  2. Remove dirty shoes before entering the car
  3. Touching any part of the exterior including door handles is forbidden
  4. If you put it in you take it out again
  5. Windows must not be breathed on and wiping them with the hand is a definite no-no
  6. Shoes with buckles may not be worn (Leather seat paranoia)
  7. Buttons must not be pressed
  8. Switches must not be thrown
  9. No rubbish or refuse may be carried
  10. Ashtrays are strictly for coins only
  11. He will open the doors for passengers to protect the doors
  12. When children are playing football in the street he will keep his eye on them at all times

If someone else were to wash the car the paranoid owner will ask what cleaning products were used and then complain that there's a new swirl mark in the paint. He will insist on using a wool mitt to wash the car with a separate one for the initial, main and final wash process.

Taking this to the next level includes the driver that parks in the furthest bay from the shop entrance and then proceeds to walk for 3 minutes to the shop in order to reduce the risk that anyone accidentally or deliberately scratches their paintwork. If such a space is not available they will park across 2 bays diagonally to avoid the possibility of a car opening its door into the side of the car.

The same paranoid car owner keeps the car in a garage and only drives it when 3 separate weather forecasters have confirmed there is no chance of rain. Cars cared for to this extent usually are also driven very slowly for fear of getting a stone chip or worse still a scratch mark from a hedge. To liberate yourself from this harmful compulsion take the car through a safari and pause in the monkey enclosure. At first you will be extremely stressed and vexed but after 10 minutes you will be thoroughly cured of your paranoia until you get your next car.

10 Aug 2007

Beware of drivers wearing hats.

I recently noticed a pattern which identified bad drivers and should shout out as a warning to all other motorists. It is simple and we need to perform a scientific study to see if this is a cause or is the result of being a bad driver.

The revelation is simply this - "Bad drivers wear hats". The worst cases of driving ineptness I have encountered this week held up this theory.

I was driving along and caught up with a car doing half of the speed limit, when the road was clear and the possibility of overtaking him safely appeared he would move into the middle of the road and speed up. This was an old driver wearing a Trilby. I really don't think he was aware of me following him despite the fact my car is purple, my lights were on and I was honking my horn and waving my arms at him. (OK, so I lied about the horn and my arms but I was nearly tempted!)

Then he turned off and allowed me to continue my journey. Then a young blood in his mothers shopping car which for some reason he had replaced the exhaust pipe with a drain pipe and covered the front wing in stickers of manufacturers who wouldn't even dream of making parts to fit the car he was driving, proceeded to screech out of the petrol station into busy traffic causing cars to swerve and skid all over the road to avoid him. With his generous dissemination of Drum and Bass to the neighbourhood I think he was completely oblivious to the other drivers around him. Did my theory hold up for this driver too? Yes - he was sporting a charming baseball cap which appeared to be facing the wrong way!

Following this an old lady with a dog proceeded to attempt to park at the side of the road managing to get both back wheels on the pavement. I checked out my theory and yes you've guessed it - she was also wearing a hat (a big white floppy one if you are interested!).

So the question that remains is does wearing a hat do something to your brain? Does the heat build up impair your judgement or hamper your social interactions? Or do people with impaired judgement and bad social skills always choose to wear a hat? Is this natures way of warning those around of an approaching moron?

9 Aug 2007

Do all colours show up the dirt?

Most Torquecars members agree that the nicest colour for a car is Black. Nothing beats the shine and reflections that gleam from a freshly cleaned black car. After a good wax layer the surface of a black car becomes highly reflective and this makes it look fantastic in a way that no other colour can. The downside is that Black is one of the hardest colours to keep looking nice and the dirt and grime show up so easily.

White is also another colour to be avoided by the work shy as this too will show up every spec of dirt. One of the biggest problems with white is when you get splashes of tar up the paint which is a problem on every freshly laid road surface, the only way of getting the tar off is with the use of a solvent based cleaning product. Having owned a white car you get to appreciate the need to always rinse of with fresh clean water - the slightest amount of murkiness seems to leave a coating over the paintwork.

This lead me to conduct a minor survey of what colour is the best one for people who want to avoid washing the car frequently and the results are in.

Most strong colours like Blue, Red and all dark colours will show up the dirt and grime, as will light coloured cars such as beige and yellow. Grey seems to be a good colour though and metallic grey for some reason just does not dirty. It seems to be the one colour which is able to seamlessly blend in with the dirt along with mid tones of blue although this can still look grubby in a short period of time.

So if you are work shy get yourself a grey metallic car and only wash it every six months!

8 Aug 2007

Driving in Rainy weather

In rainy weather beware of aquaplaning. This happens when the tyre is unable to push away the water causing the car to float on a thin layer of water. When this happens the steering will feel lighter and the car will seem to veer on a set course. And you will have no steering or braking control over the car while it is aquaplaning. Do not start Braking, steering or accelerating just ease off the throttle and hopefully grip will have been restored before you hit something.

Flooded roads also present a unique danger. Driving to quickly through a flood will cause water to splash up into the engine components and cause the car to stall.

  • Rule 1 is keep your speed down and do not enter a flood unless you are sure the car can get through it.
  • Rule 2 is keep the engine revs up - dip the clutch if you want to slow up. If you lift off the accelerator you run the risk of sucking water in to the engine and a water filled engine will require a complete engine rebuild
Be especially careful on bends and corners and on poor quality road surfaces as these can exacerbate the problem of aquaplaning. Try also to stay in the swathe cut by the car in front as the road will usually be a little dryer. If you have a 4x4 you will notice the acceleration is still good in the wet but you must remember that braking and steering will still be poor so do not drive beyond the safe limits of control. Also check you have plenty of tread depth on your tyres the more the better.

For more driving tips on coping with weather conditions read the Torquecars article this blog page inspired on Driving in weather hazards.

6 Aug 2007

How to avoid a speeding ticket!

Torquecars rule number 1 has to be don't speed! Any driver who exceeds the speed limit by a fair margin deserves to be caught and punished for that. Speeding is a major contributing factor in accidents and either increases the possibility of a collision by decreasing the margin of error and increasing the drivers reaction distance and braking distance. If you want to drive fast, sign up for a track day with the associated safety features.

At times we all tend to blend in with the traffic and as we look down we notice that our speed has crept up to exceed the speed limit. It is on occasions like this that we are discussing, wilful speeding is anti-social and very naughty ;)

If we are caught by a camera there is very little we can do the process is automatic and evidence is accepted by the courts. Keeping an eye on the road ahead will usually alert us to the proximity of speeding cameras. Also warning signs like brake lights ahead will often indicate the presence of some kind of law enforcement apparatus.

The next rule is to blend in. If we are in a line of cars which are all travelling at the same speed a police patrol will have to select a motorist. If he has a choice between a young driver in a hot hatch covered with stickers and plastic parts and a mature driver in a boring family saloon he will usually go for the former. Young drivers often have more to hide and there may be other vehicle condition violations to add to the speeding ticket.

So drive an ordinary looking car, remove badges and trim that could indicate performance. Choose a silver, black, grey or blue car and avoid red and fancy metallic colours. Loud exhausts and blaring music also attract attention and the key is avoid attention at all costs. Moving at a similar speed to other cars will also mean we blend in, if we are travelling at twice the speed of other cars we become an obvious and conspicuous target.

The police officer has a job to do. A speeding conviction will require he submits paper work and files a full report. He has the law on his side and if you show a proper amount of respect and avoid getting his back up he will probably let you go with a warning. Do not try to be funny, sarcastic or rude and never allow the officer to provoke a negative response. Evidence for the speeding offence must also be provided and the officer will try and get a confession from you - if you can realistically deny all knowledge of your speeding it will make his job harder.

1 Aug 2007

Take 2 cars or just own 1 all rounder.

Car ownership is getting expensive as all Torquecars members will tell you. When you start tuning up a car you increase the running costs by reducing your fuel economy and reduce the reliability of parts because of the extra stress on the components. The servicing regimen on a highly tuned engine is generally a lot tighter than on a standard car and by tuning it you are reducing the margin for fault toleration.

More drivers are switching to run a track tuned car and many kit cars like the Caterham, robin Hood and Westfield are gaining popularity. The idea is that you can have a hardcore track car to throw around the track and get a car with a power to weight ratio greater than most supercars and an effortless 0-60 sprint of sub 4 seconds. Having a track specific car means you can throw out the comfort to maximise the track performance. Most track bred cars are a simple lightweight scaffold pole style chassis and large power plant such as a Honda Type R supercharged or Vauxhall or Ford pinto derived engines. Kit cars are also a popular choice as they have very lightweight body shells and huge engines and many good quality replicas of supercars are around with engines that outperform the originals they mimic.

Your other daily commute car is then an ordinary run of the mill realiable car and the combined running costs of the 2 cars is about the same as having a highly tuned car which you use every day.

Never underestimate the fun you can have with a classic or large engined American car on the track and often older car have lower tax and other concessions that make ownership of them a little less expensive.

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