The Most Important Safety Feature in Your Car

Spring 1971. My mother is the passenger in an early 60’s Chevrolet Impala.  Sitting at a traffic light, turn signal engaged to indicate a left turn, waiting to cross traffic and enter a neighborhood.

At this same time, A full size tractor-trailer flatbed (no freight, thankfully), looses it’s brakes as it accelerates down the hill behind the Impala.

As with most accidents, within seconds, there are sounds of screeching tires, shattering glass, and the metallic crunching of metal. The Impala spun across the intersection and hit a stone wall with the name of the neighborhood on it. Within a few more seconds it was over and there was nothing but silence. The tractor trailer had rear ended the Impala squashing it to half of its original length.

Back in those days, there were only lap belts, if any belts in the cars. The Impala had lap belts and both my mother and her friend that was driving had theirs clicked. Even so, the impact was so great,  my mother’s head left a significant impact indentation in the windshield.  Miraculously her injury was not life threatening. Her friend was banged up, but not seriously injured. My mother dealt with back issues for 20 years, but she was alive. And so was her friend.

Oh, wait, did I mention that my mother was 5 months pregnant with me?  Incredible, right? OK,  go on and laugh it up, I’ve heard all the jokes…..”Oh, so that’s what’s wrong with you”, blah blah blah.

My father recalled reaching the scene and the paramedics telling him that if it wasn’t for the seatbelt, my mother and her unborn child would have been dead.  Once at the hospital and all vitals were checked, it was determined that I was unharmed. (ok, cue jokes again).  The point is, the fact stands that a single seatbelt (lapbelt) simultaneously saved two lives that day. There’s no joking about that.

The Highway Safety Act of 1966 authored by then President Lydon B. Johnson put in motion mandatory seatbelts in all cars and included the shoulder belt for 1968 models. Since then, there have been remarkable technological advancements contributing to the safety of occupants in cars. Crumble zones, Air bags, Anti-lock Braking Systems and more. I am a champion of these safety features. After all, the most basic of them all, saved my mother’s life and my own.  Consider this, with all the technology currently implemented in race cars of all types, multi-point seatbelts are still the primary safety feature to keep the driver safe.

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3 of 5 people killed in auto accidents would have survived if they were wearing their seatbelts. Approximately 9,500 people are saved by using their seatbelts each year.  These are staggering numbers.

So, the bottom line is this, the easiest, most efficient, most important safety feature in your car, is your seatbelt. Make it click and make it to your destination safely.

-E

Sneakers for your Car

 

Black_Converse_sneakersYes, you read the title correctly. I know what you are thinking, “ah, Eric, my car has tires, not sneakers”. Well, technically you’re right. But, by the end of this article, I hope that I can help you understand that your tires are a lot like our shoes, er, sneakers. (not all shoes have rubber, most sneakers do…and tires are made of rubber….oh you get it). Moving on.

First, let’s look at this from a “shoe” perspective. When we walk, play, work, run we wear shoes. Those shoes are the only thing that’s keeping your body in control on the surface you’re walking or running on, right?  The bottom of your shoe is the “contact patch”. That patch is significantly smaller than you, but it does it’s intended job.

There are hundreds, thousands of shoes of every type imaginable. The short list can be, high heels, flip-flops, wingtips, sneakers, workboots….you get the idea. They all have a different job when we are walking, running, working or playing.

Close your eyes and imagine a ballerina, during a performance of Swan Lake with a pair of steel toe workboots on. How about a basketball player with high heels on, trying to run up and down the court. Maybe an iron worker with flip-flops on. Sounds ridiculous, right? It should, because specific shoes are designed for specific applications. We buy our shoes for style, protection, grip, durability, comfort and most importantly, safety. You should also buy your tires with the same mindset. I know, sounds a little dumb…..well, stick with me here, you’ll understand soon enough.

Back to sneakers on your car. The tires on your car, are it’s “shoes” (sneakers). Just like your shoes are to your feet, your tires are to you car. Just like your shoes, there are hunderds, thousands of tires of all types and purposes. The short list can be, off-road tires, snow tires, high-performance tires, high mileage tires, low-rolling resistance tires and of course, just plain ol’ black, round and made of rubber tires.

Make no mistake, the tires on your car/van are the most critical component you will ever purchase. At least they should be.

Your shoes help keep you in control while you are walking, running or playing sports, right? Your shoes are quite a bit smaller than you. Remember that “contact patch”? You are only a couple hundred pounds. Now compare that to your car. The average car weighs about 4,000 pounds. The “contact patch” for each tire is about the length and width of your hand.  The ratio of the “contact patch” between your shoe/your weight and the tires/car is remarkable. There is significantly less “contact patch” controlling far greater weight of the car verses the shoe controlling you.

Have you ever noticed the tires on a race car? How wide they are? The large diameter? Maybe on a high performance car? These significantly larger tires produce and equally significant larger “contact patch”, which helps the race cars perform better. Just like basketball player wears high top sneakers for ankle support. Better performance.

Let’s look at this another way. If the soles of your shoes were falling apart, the leather was tearing, would you continue to still wear them? Could you trust that they would perform for you like when they were new?  Look at your tires. Are they properly inflated to the recommended psi? Do you see cracks or bulges in the sidewalls? What does the tread look like? Is there any tread left?

Worst case scenario if your shoe fails, you might break an ankle. (I’m not down playing that, it’s still serious, but stay focused with me). What about if you didn’t wear those steel toe workboots that your employer requires and a 1,000 pound skid falls and lops off a few of your toes? These are issues. Broken bones hurt. But, let’s put the perspective of the tires on your car into this scenario.

First scenario, your backing out of your driveway and realize you have a flat tire. That never happens at a convenient time. Now the kids are going to be late for school and your boss is going to give you an earful, once you get to work. Worst case scenario your traveling down the highway with your family at 75 mph and a tire blows out?  You could easily loose control of the vehicle, causing a serious accident with a high potential of deaths. Obviously this is far worse than a broken bone.  The most recent statistics I could find were that 400 people died due to tire failures in 2014 alone.  The number of severely injured was over 10,000. I am speculating, but I’m sure those numbers are higher now.

Am I getting through to you? Are you beginning to understand the significant role the tires have on your vehicle? I’m not making some creepy attempt to scare you. I’m not getting any “kick-backs” from tire manufacturers. I spent a long time in the industry and all to often experienced severe wear on tires and the owners showed zero concern.  That saddens me.  (reminds me of the brilliant commercial by Michelin, with the little baby sitting in the tire, and the narrator states, “because so much rides on your tires”).  Many times, people just didn’t care.

So when you get a chance (do it now lol) check your tires. If you are not really sure what you are looking at and looking for, take it to a trusted auto technician. They will surely help you.

Remember, you wouldn’t put on a pair of shoes that were ragged, with torn leather and worn out soles out for a long run, right?

Please, check your tires and don’t go anywhere with worn out sneakers on your car.

-E

For you environmentally minded folks out there, like myself, there is a company that takes recycled tire treads and makes sandals and shoes. Cool stuff.  www.indosole.com

Women of the Automotive World

 

Let’s be honest, we don’t hear too much about women at the forefront in the automotive industry. Well, the truth is, they are and have been as early as the late 19th century. Nowadays, it seems (this is just speculation on my part), that there are scores of women working behind the scenes. There are engineers, designers, software IT specialists, marketing strategists and in manufacturing. I am certain I’m leaving many other positions and areas of expertise out. (we will touch on that shortly). My point is that men have traditionally dominated the auto world

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In fact, as I did research for this article, I would quiz friends, former coworkers, etc. “Can you name a prominent woman in the auto industry?” Henry Ford, Dodge Bros, David Buick, Enzo Ferrari, Ferdinand Porsche, just to name a few men. But no women. This is where the story takes a turn. Several turns, if you like.

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There were women pioneers. They brilliantly brought their ideas to fruition, in that their developments became and are currently standard equipment on every car manufactured today. Worldwide. That’s impressive.

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Bertha Benz, that last name I’m sure you are familiar with. Yes, Bertha was Karl Benz’s wife and business partner. The esteemed Mercedes-Benz manufacturer would not be if it were not for Bertha. See, she took this long “road trip” in one of Karl’s first horseless carriages. Her trip was about 66 miles one way. In 1886, that was an incredible distance! Along the way, she encountered numerous issues. She performed minor repairs, such as clearing out a fuel line with a pin. When she noticed that the wooden “brakes” had worn and fallen apart, she found a cobbler and with her direction, he fashioned leather pads to replace the wooden ones. In essence she created the first effective brake pad! Of course the rest is history!
This is the 1886 Benz that Bertha drove.
1886benz

Picture courtesy of volovcars.com

Isn’t it nice, being able to see through your windshield during a down pour or the salt, slush and grime that the windshield accumulates? Well, you can thank Mary Anderson. She is credited with inventing a devise that the driver could use to rotate a handle, which in turn would move a “wiper” across the window to clear it. In 1903 she applied and was awarded a 17 year patent. She made an attempt to market the invention to a Canadian company, but was rejected, citing “that it wasn’t practical”. Unfortunately, by the time the patent expired in 1920, many cars were using a motorized variant of her design. Cadillac was the first manufacturer to use the system on all their cars as standard equipment. Thanks, Mary, I can see clearer now.

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Margaret A. Wilcox was a mechanical engineer in Chicago that enjoyed experimenting with different ideas in hopes of creating something that would help others. Well, she did just that. In 1893 she invented the first car heater. She developed a system of tubes that would route the hot engine air into the cabin of the car. You can imagine in the late 19th century, riding around in one of these horseless carriages, your little tootsies would get frosty! There’s no doubt that her invention was well received!
Doesn’t it make you nuts when someone doesn’t use their turn signal? Or how about when they slam on their brakes at the last minute before a traffic light or stop sign? It sure is helpful to all drivers when using the turn signals and using the brakes slowly and evenly. Using these lights and responding accordingly are responsible driving habits. Florence Lawrence is credited with being the first movie star in the early 20th century. As her success and fortune grew she became able to purchase a car. She instantly fell in love with driving and making repairs when necessary. The more she drove, the more she saw a need for more safety with the cars. In 1914, she developed a mechanical “arm” that when the driver pushed a button, a small “flag” would pop out from one of the rear fenders indicating which direction they were headed. 60 years later several manufacturers took the idea a bit further with lighted arms, usually set in the “b” post. They were most commonly used on 50’s era VW Beetles, although other manufacturers used them as well. Ms. Lawrence wasn’t done. She also created a device that when pressing the brake pedal, a small flag that read “stop” popped up from the rear of the car. In my opinion the auto industry, the billions of drivers on the road, owes her quite a bit. There’s not one single car manufactured today that doesn’t have turn signals and stop/brake lights. In fact, in many countries, it’s LAW. Unfortunately, her ideas didn’t gain traction and were not used much. It wasn’t until 1925 when manufacturers began submitting patents for their own versions.
Here is Lawrence in a Lozier (a noted luxury car of the time).
lozier
Photo credit Wisconsin Center for film and Theatre Research

Alright, I know what you’re thinking. What about the 20th or 21st century? There are plenty. I’ll touch on a few, but list more that you can search and read about their accomplishments yourself. After all, it is Women’s History Month!

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In 1980, Mary Barra got a job working for GM as a co-op student. Working in several positions, rising through the ranks, in 2011 she was named Executive VP of Global Product Development. In 2014 she succeeded Dan Ackerson as CEO of General Motors. This phenomenal accomplishment marks the first time a woman has been at the helm of a major international auto manufacturer. It’s not much of a surprise that Fortune’s List of Most Powerful Women in 2015, listed her at #1.

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2017 Honda NSX. If you liked the first generation NSX, you’re going to love this one. Twin-turbo, V6, 3 electric motors, all wheel drive sitting on an aluminum and high strength steel framework. And this is the best part. It’s lead designer is Michelle Christensen. She is the first woman to lead the project of a super car, that can easily compete with other super cars on the global market. She grew up with a father who was into hotrods and muscle cars. She then went to school and learned about design. I believe that there is no doubt we will be seeing more of her creations in the future!

2017 Honda NSX2017HondaNSX

Women cannot be ignored within the automotive industry. They have the gas pedal to the floor and they are shifting into high gear!
Here are some more women in the industry that have and are leaving undeniable impacts.

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-Denise McCluggage; race driver, journalist, author and photographer. Started racing in the 50’s with a MG TC Midget, then a Jaguar XK140 then in a Ferrari 250 GT won the grand touring class in 1961, she raced Porsches, Maseratis, Ford’s and others.
-Danica Patrick; is the most successful woman in American open-wheel racing history, rookie of the year 2005 for the Indy 500 and the Indycar series, she’s the first woman to win an open wheel race, Indy Japan 300 in 2008, taking pole position in the 2013 Daytona 500, and other remarkable accomplishments in autosports.
-Shirley Muldowney; first woman to get licensed by the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) to drive a top fuel dragster. She won three national championships in 1977, 1980, and 1982.


-Suzanne Vanderbuilt                 -Courtney Force
-Ruth Glennie                                -Ashley Force Hood
-Marjorie Ford Pohlman             -Lyn St. James
-Jeanette Linder                            -Michele Mouton
-Sandra Logyear                            -Jutta Kleinschmidt
-Peggy Sauer                                   -Helle Nice
-Sarah Fisher                                  -Pat Moss

Women are pushing the boundaries in all areas of the automotive world. And to their credit, I am buckling my seatbelt!

-E

Taxi!! The Drive Towards Autonomous Cars

 

The Drive Towards Autonomous Cars

Are you ready? Are you prepared to jump in that taxi or onto that bus, realizing that there isn’t a human being sitting behind the steering wheel? Well, if your answer is “no” then I would suggest that you start to get yourself ready. It’s coming, they are coming, and the drive for putting these autonomous vehicles on our roads is increasing rapidly. Google, Tesla, Hyundai, GM and others are digging deep, testing rigorously and spending billions of dollars to have the first successful autonomous vehicle.

There already have been plenty of accidents during this testing phase. With the exception of one accident that included the death of the driver, all other accidents have been minor. According to a study performed by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, at the request of Google, autonomous cars or self driving cars, are less likely to be in an accident than human driven cars.The article goes on to say that there was another study conducted, that revealed opposite results (1).

This is where I slam on the brakes with both feet and bring it to a halt (thankfully the brilliant, high-tech Anti-Lock Braking System helped me to stay in control). I turn my four-way hazard lights on (of course operated through a fiber optic system connected to a data-bus in constant communication with the main Electronic Control Unit), so that I can worn others of the potential danger ahead. Hmm, something isn’t quite right….

I’m not against advancement through innovative technology being applied in a safe, useful, and productive way. I’m concerned for the people of our country. Not everyone is going to understand. Not everyone is going to care. Not everyone is going to be educated about these vehicles. And really, lets be honest, we’ve all experienced stupid people. You can’t fix stupid.

I believe that there will be a small cross section of Americans that will ever even see an autonomous vehicle, let alone ride in one. I’ve been in all of the lower 48 states. I’ve been to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Phoenix, and many other cities. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve used public transportation, (taxi, bus, subway, or train). And what about the incredible amount of foreigners that are here? Even if they are just traveling. Are we to expect that they know what one of these vehicles are? I can see it now, people pointing and laughing believing that someone is playing a trick on them. Let me set a scene; You are taking your first steps from the curb to cross the street, since the crossing light flashed it was ok, you turn and see a car moving straight towards you, and then you don’t see a driver! What would you do? Scream? Run? Freeze like a deer in the headlights? I believe that it will rattle many folks. *Sigh* I think I feel an anxiety attack coming on already!

I applaud these companies in their battle to successfully develop the complicated software to interact with the hardware and safely leave someone out of the driver’s seat. I’m excited, but cautiously so. I’m apprehensive, with my hands firmly at 10 and 2 on my own steering wheel.

I’ve renewed my anxiety medication……I’ve added 15 more minutes to my meditation each day…

TAXI!!

-E

Winter is coming…

Alight, I know I used the phrase…..for all you Game of Thrones fans out there, including myself. But, the reality is, winter is coming. No season can be more brutal on our cars like winter. We beat up on our cars anyway, with hard stops, potholes, fast turns, etc. Sub freezing temperatures make taking car of your car a bit more challenging. So, here are some easy tips to help you beat ol’ man winter.

First, start off with a fresh oil and filter change. Most reliable garages will do a courtesy inspection on your car to keep you up to date. (they put the car on a lift where there is an obviously better vantage point than you crawling around on the cold concrete and trying to check yourself). If your garage does not do this type of inspection, ASK them. Or, find a better and more reliable repair garage.  Have them check  all fluid levels and top them off if needed. Have them set the tires pressures to 35-36psi. I know what you are thinking, the tire pressure is too high. Well, truth is warm ambient temperatures expand the air molecules and can possibly increase the tire pressure in the summer. On the opposite, the cold ambient temperatures will cause the air molecules to shrink causing the tire pressures to decrease.  Remember that your tires are an incredibly important component of your car. (we will talk more in depth about tires another time).

Second, you want to be prepared for an emergency. I would like to think that we are always prepared, however, we all know how fast a winter storm can roll in while you are at work and dump 8 inches of snow. Then you have to get home. Simple enough, except maybe the plows didn’t get to your area yet. You leave work, get halfway home, then get stuck in the snow. Now  what?  We need to be prepared. So, here are some things you should have in your car for such occasions. A blanket, a flashlight (check your batteries), a bottle of water, an ice scraper (I usually get one with a brush on it), be sure that your cell phone is charged, if possible, call a family member or neighbor so that someone knows you will be out there trying to get home, some energy bars (these are great if you are stuck for an extended period of time), and finally a few flares. There is no doubt there are more things that you can keep in your car, I just want to offer the basics.

Third, and this one is tough because we are all too impatient. So, you are done work, you get to your frozen, icy, snowy car jump in and start the engine. The first thing you do is turn the windshield wipers on to clear the snow/ice. The wipers don’t move and all you hear is a moan. Not good.  So, don’t do that. EVER. Take a moment and let it sink in, so all your synapses are in full cooperation with one another. Store this in the file of your brain that you access regularly.  There is a very high possibility that a component will break and then your worse off than  you when you started. So, to avoid this, once then engine is on, turn your defroster on high and let the engine and the warm air it generates do all the work. It won’t take long. After a bit, you will see the snow and ice melting and then you can begin cleaning the rest off with your scraper/brush that you stowed in your trunk. I saw constant windshield wiper and wiper components break because we are too impatient and wouldn’t take the time.  The key is to be safe. We need to be extra sure of that during the winter. And always, always clean ALL of the car’s horizontal surfaces and the windows. There are laws is some states that if a chunk of ice flies off your car and hits another causing damage, you can be held liable.

Finally, know your roads. Huh? what? Yeah, know your roads. If you haven’t noticed before there are roads in your area that are designated as “snow routes”. These are the roads that your city and or county is going to get cleared first. So, look for those roads and see if you can plan a different route home using the snow routes when the time comes.  I know you like to take the back roads normally, and the snow routes may take a little longer, but it’s better to make it home in one piece. I’m certain your family would all agree.

-E

The Green Flag Drops

Welcome to Global Auto Scene, or GAS for short. (yes, I did that deliberately).  Though technically vehicles operate on fuel. Wait, maybe it’s petrol. Well I suppose it could be diesel. And there that deep fryer oil stuff.  Ok, whatever, it’s GAS.

We are still in production to get the site fully up and running. so, I wanted to give a quick, broad view of what this blog will be covering. Short and sweet, just about any four-wheeled vehicle with an internal combustion engine (not motor, we will discuss this another time) and a steering wheel. Pretty simple, right?  Well, if you know anything about cars, which I am sure that if you are at this site, you know the auto world is rather complex. There is nothing simple about cars. In 2015 there were over 68 million cars produced worldwide. As it is extremely difficult to get an exact number, analysts estimate that there are just over 1 billion cars on the road, world wide. This number does not take into account heavy duty trucks, tractor trailers, etc. Countries like India, Russia, Brazil and China are mass producing small inexpensive cars at incredible rates. In 2015, China sold over 24 million cars. In the US, over 12 million cars were sold. In third place is Japan at over 9 million sold.

These are staggering numbers, but hang on and pull that seatbelt tight. In 2010 the global auto industry was worth just over 728 billion US Dollars. Experts belive that this number will rise to over 908 billion dollars. Ouch, I think there was a small explosion in my head! Incredible numbers.  Now, remember, this does not include any money generated in all the other areas of the auto industry. The after market industry (or secondary industry), for tires, air fresheners, wheels, go fast goodies, well and just about anything you can think of is an enormous money maker. This is part of the auto world that is as complex as the (primary industry) auto manufactures are. The folks in good ‘ol USA spent over 318 billion dollars in 2013 on all the doo-dads you could dream of to put on or in your car. So these aftermarket companies are classified in two different areas. The first being Parts. This means any part that is used to replace and original part. This can be anything from a fender, to an alternator, a set of brake pads, a tail lamp, or a valve cover gasket. The second being accessories. This means anything that will enhance the car beyond what the manufacture offered when the car was new.  So, that may mean a high performance exhaust system, suspension lowering kits, high powered audio systems, seat covers, body kits, high performance ignition systems, and even that little Hawaiian girl in a grass skirt, dancing on your dash.

There’s more. Lots more. These numbers don’t accurately reflect the Hot Rod scene or the racing scene. Some parts may over lap, but in these categories, it’s the added cost of the LABOR to modify these cars. For example, a friend and I built a ’49 Ford F1 pickup truck. It was heavily modified from suspension to interior. Custom four link adjustable rear, custom fully hydraulic dumping & tilting bed,  custom wood slat bed floor, and a fire breathing 460 cubic engine, ported and polished heads, .30 over cylinder bore, dry sump oil system, custom made stainless steel headers, and a massive 850 cfm four barrel carburetor. The only part on the truck that was original was the fire wall. Every other piece of the truck was changed and or modified.  It won a number of local shows and it was a scream to drive. Here’s the catch…..it took us almost 11 years to complete it! Why? Well we aren’t loaded with cash, we both have families, and we did all the work ourselves! My point is this, how can the experts and analysts calculate the labor people all over the world put into their cars? They can’t. Common repair shops demand $80 to $150 per hour for labor. It sure would be an interesting study! If you are a gear head, or just an automobile fanatic, you get it. You understand. If you’re not, well it’s ok, we will teach you!

So, my foot is on the throttle and it’s gong to the floor!! We will be covering all sorts of cool auto stuff, racing, maintenance and repairs, car shows, new models and antique beauties, environmental ideas and brilliant discoveries and inventions. I would love for you to stop by now and then and see what’s new.

-E