Category Archives: Automotive

Know more about wheels balanced

Smooth driving is a balancing act that requires getting the wheels and tires to rotate at high speeds without vibrations. That’s not a slam dunk; a dirty little secret about wheels and tires is that they usually aren’t perfectly round, even when brand new. What’s more, their weight often isn’t evenly distributed, so they’re heavier in some spots than others.

Either issue can cause annoying vibrations. Out-of-balance tires can also cause rapid tire or suspension wear, so it’s not just about ride comfort.

That is why when new tires are mounted on wheels they’re spin-balanced to detect vibrations. Some vibrations can be eliminated by rotating the tire on the wheel so the heavy or “high” spot is in a different location that better matches up with the wheel. Small weights are attached to the wheels with adhesives or clips to counteract the heavy spots and provide a smooth ride. Over time, though, the weights can fall off. If that happens to a front wheel, you may feel vibrations through the steering wheel that typically become more pronounced as vehicle speed increases.

Many tire dealers include free lifetime rotation and balancing with new tires (something you should ask about before buying). Tire rotation is when the vehicle’s tires are removed and reattached at a different position to ensure they wear evenly, which should be done every 5,000 to 7,500 miles on most vehicles, or according to the automaker’s recommendation.

Many consumers neglect the balancing part and have their tires rotated only periodically. If balancing was included with the tires, it would be wise to remind the shop to check the balance at the same time. Even if balancing costs extra, it’s a good idea to have it checked at least every two years, or more often in areas where roads are not well-maintained.

Vibrations can also be caused by a bent wheel, a damaged tire (which won’t be fixed by balancing), worn suspension parts or worn wheel bearings, so balancing the wheels and tires may not eliminate all vibrations.

Tires and wheels are balanced before being attached to the vehicle by spinning them on a balancing machine that identifies heavier or stiffer spots that cause vibrations. Some tire dealers and repair shops use “road force” balancing machines that simulate the weight and forces applied to tires and wheels during driving conditions. They say this method provides more accurate and detailed readings that allow more precise balancing.

High Mileage Engines Worth

Most major oil brands market oil made specifically for engines that have more than 75,000 miles of wear, claiming that additives help reduce engine wear and provide anti-aging benefits. They are often a blend of synthetic and petroleum-based oils, and they typically cost at least a couple of dollars more per quart than conventional oils.

But are they worth the extra dough?

Some oils may be more beneficial than others because they contain conditioners purported to rejuvenate seals to prevent or stop oil leaks, a common ailment in engines with a lot of miles on them.

Internal seals and gaskets become brittle and shrink as they age, allowing oil to seep by. Sometimes this becomes visible as oil stains on a garage floor or as streaks of oil on lower engine parts. When valve-guide seals wear, oil can leak into combustion chambers and the engine will literally start burning oil. With small leaks, blue smoke from burning oil may not be visible from the exhaust, but your oil level will probably drop below the full mark on a regular basis.

The seal conditioners found in some high-mileage oils may reduce or eliminate small leaks and seepage by rejuvenating seals to their original size and shape. If an engine isn’t burning or leaking oil, or if it uses, say, less than a quart over 6,000 miles or so, switching to high-mileage oil may not be worth the extra cost for you. It’s really a judgment call if you should pay more for high-performance oil when your car has 100,000 miles on it but is using little or no oil. It doesn’t hurt and it could prevent leaks from starting. Most vehicle manufacturers would say it’s normal for an engine to consume some oil between oil changes.

In addition to having seal conditioners, high-mileage oils usually boast more detergents designed to clean out sludge inside the engine, plus other additives meant to reduce wear on moving parts. Every oil, though, makes similar claims that it does great things inside an engine.

Justin Wilson Dies After Being Struck

Late in today’s IndyCar 500 miler at Pocono, Andretti Autosport’s Justin Wilson was struck by debris from Sage Karam’s Dallara. He has been airlifted to Lehigh Valley Network Cedar Crest Hospital. No further information is known at this time, but this post will be updated when further official word on his condition reaches us.

The race was not red flagged, it was restarted for eight laps, allowing Wilson’s Andretti teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay to take the win.

Google may be winning the race to self-driving cars, but Uber isn’t giving up. The University of Arizona has announced that it will be partnering with the ride-sharing behemoth to help with the development of optical systems for its self-driving car.

Thanks to the deal, the University of Arizona will be the new test-bed for Uber’s prototype mapping vehicles and Uber will donate $25,000 to the university’s College of Optical Sciences. On top of all that, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has signed an executive order “supporting the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles in Arizona,” according to a release from the Arizona Governors Office.

Previously Uber had been rumored to be partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to open a robotics lab in Pittsburg, where Uber’s prototype cars have been spotted already. It’s unclear if this deal is instead of that one, or in addition to it. After all, self-driving cars require optics research and robotics research. It may not be long before Uber can get rid of those pesky humans it needs to drive the cars around. 

New Tesla Model S While Driving

Car hacking has been a big concern lately. After a Wired article demonstrated how security researchers could remotely disable a new Jeep Cherokee by worming into the car’s infotainment system, automakers are under increased scrutiny over their digital security. Now, security researchers have reportedly figured out how to take control of one of the most tech-heavy vehicles on the road today: The Tesla Model S.

According to a Financial Times report (which can only be accessed through a subscription), researchers Kevin Mahaffey and Marc Rogers were able to completely disable a Model S as it drove along at low speed. Reuters quotes the researchers: “We shut the car down when it was driving initially at a low speed of five miles per hour [. . .] All the screens go black, the music turns off and the handbrake comes on, lurching it to a stop.” Mahaffey and Rogers will present their findings at the Def Con cybersecurity conference on Friday.

Wired goes into greater detail, explaining how the hackers were able to gain control of the vehicle. First off, unlike the Jeep hacking event, Mahaffey and Rogers’ exploit required physically plugging a laptop into the Model S dashboard. Once their computer was connected to the vehicle, they were able to start and drive the Tesla through laptop commands. The researchers say that they were also able to plant a remote-access Trojan into the car’s software while the laptop was connected, allowing them to remotely cut the car’s motor at a later time.

Wired also reports that the duo found that the Tesla’s large center dash touchscreen uses an out-of-date browser that, theoretically, could allow an attacker to gain wireless control of the car if the owner navigated the dashboard touchscreen to a malicious web page. The researchers did not specifically test this vulnerability.

In all, the researchers found six vulnerabilities in the Model S’s software, and worked hand-in-hand with Tesla to develop fixes. Wired reports that an over-the-air patch was distributed on Wednesday to every Model S to close the loopholes discovered by the researchers.

The researchers say they chose to hack the Tesla because of the electric carmaker’s reputation for understanding software. A Tesla spokeswoman emailed us the following statement:

“Our security team works closely with the security research community to ensure that we continue to protect our systems against vulnerabilities by constantly stress-testing, validating, and updating our safeguards. Lookout’s research was a result of physically being in Model S to test for vulnerabilities. We’ve already developed an update for the vulnerabilities they surfaced which was made available to all Model S customers through an OTA update that has been to deployed to all vehicles. “

Hey, at least Tesla was able to push out the fix over-the-air—Jeep’s response was to ask owners to bring their cars to a dealership, or download the fix to a thumb drive.

Hydrogen Prototype on Looks

BMW’s hydrogen strategy is starting to take shape. The company has been working on hydrogen-powered cars since 1984, but for a long time the focus remained on the internal-combustion engine. The efforts, first shown in a 7-series in the mid-1980s, culminated in 2006 in the V-12–powered Hydrogen 7. Now the company has switched to a different tack.

While those early vehicles were fun to drive, they suffered from the inefficiencies of super-cooling the liquefied hydrogen, and the hydrogen vaporizing in storage. Around the turn of the century, BMW began to research the hydrogen-powered, fuel-cell electric vehicle as an alternative to the hydrogen-powered combustion engine. The result of that research is the matte-black, two-seat sports car you see here, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the i8.

Built atop an early prototype architecture of the i8 plug-in hybrid, this “eDrive Hydrogen Fuel Cell Prototype” is powered by a completely electric, 272-hp powertrain. The passenger compartment of the fully functional, 125-mph-plus sports car uses many i8 components, but the space typically occupied by the rear seats is instead taken up by the hydrogen-electric powertrain.

The car was assembled in BMW’s prototype shop, and it lacks the sophistication of an i8. But the headlight/front-grille treatment and the trapezoid taillights suggest that BMW’s styling department invested more than a cursory glance.

In 2013, BMW’s hydrogen strategy took another decisive turn, when the company announced its cooperation with Toyota, a major proponent of the technology. The tech sharing has led to several prototype vehicles. Two of them were present at a technology backgrounder in Miramas near Marseille, France. Based on the 5-series GT, they were fitted with a “cryogenic pressure vessel,” a double-walled hydrogen tank with 350 bar of vent pressure that integrates easily into the (admittedly, somewhat large) vehicle architecture and can be refueled within minutes and far more conveniently than, say, a CNG vehicle.

Are You Working on Self Driving Cars at the University

Google may be winning the race to self-driving cars, but Uber isn’t giving up. The University of Arizona has announced that it will be partnering with the ride-sharing behemoth to help with the development of optical systems for its self-driving car.

Thanks to the deal, the University of Arizona will be the new test-bed for Uber’s prototype mapping vehicles and Uber will donate $25,000 to the university’s College of Optical Sciences. On top of all that, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has signed an executive order “supporting the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles in Arizona,” according to a release from the Arizona Governors Office.

Previously Uber had been rumored to be partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to open a robotics lab in Pittsburg, where Uber’s prototype cars have been spotted already. It’s unclear if this deal is instead of that one, or in addition to it. After all, self-driving cars require optics research and robotics research. It may not be long before Uber can get rid of those pesky humans it needs to drive the cars around

Late in today’s IndyCar 500 miler at Pocono, Andretti Autosport’s Justin Wilson was struck by debris from Sage Karam’s Dallara. He has been airlifted to Lehigh Valley Network Cedar Crest Hospital. No further information is known at this time, but this post will be updated when further official word on his condition reaches us.

The race was not red flagged, it was restarted for eight laps, allowing Wilson’s Andretti teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay to take the win.

Plastic Carbon Fiber Gears Could Be a Viable Alternative

Researchers from Gifu University in Japan might have developed a worthy metal gear replacement from two unlikely materials: plastic and carbon fiber.

Metal has long been used in cars because of its toughness, but a new plastic gear made with carbon fiber handles the pressure just as well. The researchers first identified which part of the gear is the weakest. Turns out it’s the teeth that connects to its core. So, they lined it with carbon fiber to strengthen that part, which gives it the same stamina a metal gear has.

Initial tests are promising because the gears hold up just as well as the metal gears do.

This plastic and carbon fiber gear has two major advantages over metal. The first is cost because it’s substantially cheaper than metal. Second, it’s much lighter so if it could help a vehicle’s fuel efficiency and increase its speed.

If all goes well, the gears could be commercialized by 2017. Sadly, it will take a few years after that before they hit the road because of regulatory approvals.

Check and Fill Tires

While it may seem like a mundane task, inflating tires is much more crucial to your car than you may think, and it results in a safer and more economical experience on the road. Your vehicle’s handling also will be greatly improved as the larger a tire’s inflated footprint, the more responsive and comfier the ride balance will be.

Because it’s National Tire Safety Week, it’s the perfect time to check your car’s tires.

Before starting

To find your tires’ proper inflation level, look for a sticker on the driver-side doorjamb. It displays the vehicle weight restriction and tire information. The info is also found in the maintenance or car-care section of your vehicle’s owner’s manual.

Don’t refer to the sidewall markings on your tires, which in part specify the maximum tire pressure — not the recommended pressure.

Unless your tire is visibly flat, don’t judge tire inflation just by looking at it; you have to use a tire pressure gauge to get the correct pounds per square inch reading. There are three types of tire-pressure gauges: digital, internal slide and dial. Prices range from $5 for a basic gauge to more than $30 for one that is digital, has an air-release button — or even talks. All will do the job, but you may want to consider the conditions in which you’ll be using your gauge. “We’ve found that low-cost digital pressure gauges are very accurate and maintain the accuracy longer, but in extremely cold temperatures the gauge may not show up properly,” said John Rastetter, Tire Rack’s director of tire information services.

Tips for checking and filling your tires

Tire manufacturers suggest checking tires when they’re cold for the most accurate reading. Outside temperatures can cause tire pressure to vary by as much as 1 psi per 10 degrees; higher temperatures mean higher psi readings. “Tires are black; what does black do? Attract heat,” Rastetter said, noting the importance of finding a shady place to check and fill all four tires.

Temperature plays a huge part in tire psi, Rastetter said, adding that the most crucial time of year to check pressure is in fall and winter when days are shorter and average temperatures plummet.

Check your tires in the morning before going anywhere, because as soon as you get behind the wheel for an extended amount of time, psi will rise. Rastetter said that if you’ve been on the road a long time and notice higher psi in your tires, don’t let the air out, as the increase in pressure has built up due to the warm, constantly-in-motion tires

What to do

1. Pull your car onto a level surface in the shade.
2. Remove dust caps from the tires’ valve stems.
3. Using your tire gauge, firmly press the tip of the gauge straight on to the tire’s valve stem for a brief moment.
4. The tire gauge should provide a psi reading; if the number seems unrealistically low or high — for example, 85 psi or 1 psi – you will need to repeat the previous step, ensuring that the tire gauge’s tip is properly making contact with the valve stem.
5. If the tire gauge’s recorded reading is higher than the manufacturer-recommended rating, press the gauge tip on the valve stem until you hear air leak out. Check the tire pressure again.
6. If the reading is lower than recommended, fill the tire with air by firmly pressing the air-hose tip onto the valve stem. You will hear air quietly enter the tire. If you hear air leaking or spraying out, you need to double-check that the connection between the air hose and the tire’s valve stem is secure.
7. When you think you’ve added or let out enough air, check the pressure a few times with the gauge.
8. Replace the valve dust caps. Rastetter emphasized the importance of keeping dust caps on during winter driving because if water gets into the valve stem and freezes inside the tire, it could cause a flat.

 

New car model for self driving

New research from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute indicates that self-driving cars are more frequently involved in accidents than conventional vehicles. For every million miles driven, autonomous cars had an average of 9.1 crashes, compared to 4.1 for conventional vehicles according to data for Google, Delphi, and Audi autonomous vehicles between 2012 and 2015 and the total accident rate of conventional human-piloted vehicles in 2013.

However, this data amounts to 11 total crashes for self-driving cars. All of these involved Google vehicles (which have been undergoing testing for much longer) but most importantly, the self-driving cars were not at fault in any of the accidents.

“One might conclude that self-driving vehicles are more dangerous, but I don’t think the data actually show that right now,” Brandon Schoettle, one of the study’s authors, told NBC. “They appear to be more likely to be involved in crashes in general (though not at fault and always being hit by conventional vehicles), but the injuries that occurred were less severe, and all minor so far.”

Schoettle went on to point out that no fatalities have occurred in accidents involving self-driving vehicles, and there were no severe crashes such as head-on collisions.

The University of Michigan identifies multiple caveats to be considered when drawing conclusions from their data, including the fact that self-driving cars have only traveled 1.2 million miles total, compared to 3 trillion miles travelled by conventional vehicles in the U.S. every year.  Also, self-driving cars have yet to be tested in dangerous driving conditions, such as in the snow.

Though there isn’t enough long-term data to draw any hard-and-fast conclusions about the safety of self-driving cars, it seems possible that they behave differently than conventional drivers, and we humans haven’t adjusted to having them on the road.

Which software Let Cars Cheat Emissions Tests

The VW Group is coming under scrutiny from the EPA for equipping 482,000 diesel cars from 2009 until 2015 with software that would only have the cars meet emissions regulations when they were being tested.

When the cars were not in a test environment, the EPA says that the device was turned off and the cars are producing 40 times the pollution they were during the tests when being used on the roads. The defeat device is not something that was described by VW to the EPA before the cars went on sale, which is another violation. Apparently, the device had two modes, with one mode that would detect when the car was being tested and restrict the emissions, and another that detected road driving and would have the car producing far more emissions than during emissions testing.

The EPA says VW admitted that the device existed when they were threatened with not being allowed to sell 2016 model year diesels in the US.

New research from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute indicates that self-driving cars are more frequently involved in accidents than conventional vehicles. For every million miles driven, autonomous cars had an average of 9.1 crashes, compared to 4.1 for conventional vehicles according to data for Google, Delphi, and Audi autonomous vehicles between 2012 and 2015 and the total accident rate of conventional human-piloted vehicles in 2013.

However, this data amounts to 11 total crashes for self-driving cars. All of these involved Google vehicles (which have been undergoing testing for much longer) but most importantly, the self-driving cars were not at fault in any of the accidents.

“One might conclude that self-driving vehicles are more dangerous, but I don’t think the data actually show that right now,” Brandon Schoettle, one of the study’s authors, told NBC. “They appear to be more likely to be involved in crashes in general (though not at fault and always being hit by conventional vehicles), but the injuries that occurred were less severe, and all minor so far.”

Schoettle went on to point out that no fatalities have occurred in accidents involving self-driving vehicles, and there were no severe crashes such as head-on collisions.

The University of Michigan identifies multiple caveats to be considered when drawing conclusions from their data, including the fact that self-driving cars have only traveled 1.2 million miles total, compared to 3 trillion miles travelled by conventional vehicles in the U.S. every year.  Also, self-driving cars have yet to be tested in dangerous driving conditions, such as in the snow.

Though there isn’t enough long-term data to draw any hard-and-fast conclusions about the safety of self-driving cars, it seems possible that they behave differently than conventional drivers, and we humans haven’t adjusted to having them on the road.