Car Shocks: How They’ve Gotten Better Over the Years

“Float like a Cadillac, sting like a bimmer.” That may not have been the original phrase, coined by Muhammad Ali, but automotive enthusiasts like the pun. Cadillacs are luxurious to ride in, and BMWs inspire confidence when the roads get twisty. All thanks to the modern suspension system.

Cars have come a long way over the past century or so, especially when it comes to how they handle. Let’s take a look at just how far.

car shocks

Source: theoldmotor.com

Early Shock Absorbers

Have you ever heard the phrase “This thing rides like a buckboard?” Similar to many of today’s pickup trucks, early suspension setups utilized leaf springs, several layers of steel sheets that are shackled together to create a spring. Leaf springs are still used in a lot of off-road or heavy-duty applications because of their rugged nature and ability to suspend heavy loads. A smooth ride? It’s not their strong suit.

The first shock absorbers were much different than what you’ll find on your car today. While today’s units are tubular in design and house a piston that moves through hydraulic fluid, the first shock absorbers were merely a lever with rubber pads between the frame and the leaf spring. The first cars to employ this setup were said to provide a “magnificent” ride — try one today and your kidneys would likely disagree.

Today’s Shock Absorbers

Depending on what kind of car you drive, you’ve either got shock absorbers or struts. Struts are basically the same thing as shocks but are part of a different setup and are generally used on front-wheel-drive cars. The MacPherson Strut, named after the General Motors engineer who invented them, are housed inside a coil spring and attached to the upper control arm of a front-wheel-drive car. In the rear, they’re also inside a coil spring and are bolted to the strut tower housing. Coil springs have been around since before 1800 and didn’t require lubrication like leaf springs did (to avoid getting squeaky), but they weren’t combined with a shock absorber inside the spring until MacPherson gave it a try.

The basic principle of the shock absorber has remained the same for decades. Monroe, a major manufacturer of shock absorbers, produced the first OE shocks in the 1930s. Today’s most advanced shocks utilize the same theory but use modern technology to enhance their versatility.

Typically, the piston within the shock housing or tube has small holes or passages in it that the oil is forced through as the piston moves through the tube. This dampens the up-and-down motion of the tires as you go over the road. The primary goal of the shock is to prevent your tire from leaving the ground. If it doesn’t do that, the ride gets really rough and the car becomes hard to control. Many of today’s shocks use multiple valves, electronics, or even magnetism to adjust how they behave over certain terrain or driver preferences. Does your car have sport mode? Pressing that button on a car that has adjustable suspension changes the way the valves in the shock respond, increasing the firmness of the ride and improving your cornering ability and control.

Some of the first cars to use electronics in how their suspension responded had sensors in the front bumper that would send a signal to adjust the ride from firm, medium, or soft, depending on road conditions. Today’s most recent innovation in shock technology can be found in the new 2017 Ford Flex. Similar to the early method, the Flex has sensors in the front area of the car that can react to poor road conditions like the dreaded pothole. The sensor will actually send a signal to the computer and lift the strut just enough to lift the tire off the ground, essentially passing over the pothole without spilling your morning coffee.

Whether you want to “float like a Cadillac” or “sting like a Bimmer,” many of today’s cars can serve up both with the push of a button, unless your shocks have gone bad. Most shock absorber manufacturers recommend replacing them at 50,000-mile intervals.

 

Have you had experience with some of the older shocks? Tell us about it in the comments!

So, What Is a Trickle Charger?

trickle charger

Trickle chargers, also called battery maintainers, can come in handy if you have a struggling car battery or when it’s time to dust off the long-garaged cars or recreational vehicles like boats, jet skis, RVs, motorcycles, and golf carts. Even though you may be ready to hit the road (or water), it doesn’t mean your vehicle’s battery is.

There’s an easy way to prevent battery failure when you’re storing vehicles for a while, however. Read on for some expert advice about battery maintenance and how these trickle chargers work.

First, about your batteries

All batteries self-discharge, which is a decrease in power over time. Motorcycle batteries, for example, self-discharge 1% every day, even when not in use. The same goes for car batteries: keep a car stored in the garage for a couple months and you might not have enough battery juice to start it. A car’s alternator does the job of maintaining a healthy battery, but it won’t recharge a dead battery. That’s where a trickle charger comes into play. Basically, trickle chargers help the battery maintain power and stop self-discharge.

Even when not in use, a battery still gradually loses power.

How trickle chargers workhow a trickle charger works

Trickle chargers use electricity to replenish batteries at the same rate as the self-discharge. The energy is transferred in a “trickle,” thus the name. We recommend that you use a trickle charger that shuts off automatically, or goes in “float” mode, when your battery is fully charged; otherwise, you need to monitor your battery and unplug the charger when you have enough power. A trickle charger can overcharge and damage your battery if you leave it on for too long, so don’t forget about it!

The “low and slow” method provided by a trickle charger results in a more thorough, reliable charge and longer battery life.

Low and slow wins the race

A quick jump charge from your neighbor or tow station may get your vehicle running, but it comes at a high cost to your battery by prematurely wearing it out. The “low and slow” method provided by a trickle charger results in a more thorough, reliable charge and longer battery life.

trickle charger for atvs

Battery storage and maintenance tips

A trickle charger is just one tool you can use to maintain your vehicle’s battery life. To ensure you don’t end up stranded on the road or lake, you can also follow these steps:

  • Store your battery or vehicle in a cool location protected from extreme temperatures and changes.
  • Use a battery with the correct amperage needed for your vehicle. Consult your owner’s manual.
  • Reduce vibrations by tightening the battery’s hold-down clamps when in use.
  • Accidents happen, but try to avoid deep-discharging, aka “killing/draining,” your battery (by leaving on your vehicle’s lights for example).
  • Never keep a battery dead for long periods of time.
  • Keep your battery fully charged as often as possible.

So, do you use a trickle charger to help with keeping your battery powered? Let us know in the comments.

Talkin’ Carbs…As In Carburetors vs. Fuel Injection

1970 Camaro Z28 350

1970 Camaro Z28 350

From the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, American performance cars’ fuel delivery system of choice was four-, six- or even eight-barrel carburetion. More often than not you saw a single four-barrel sitting atop the engine’s intake manifold. But a trio of two-barrel carburetors (called “Tri-power” and “Six pack” among other cool sounding names) could be seen on some Detroit iron during the ’60s and ’70s, such as the Pontiac GTO, Chevy Corvette, Plymouth Road Runner, and Dodge Challenger.

For monsters such as the early ’60s Impala SS409 and the ’67 Shelby GT500 Mustang, nothing less than two four barrel carbs (“dual quads”) would do. Carburetors were not without their pitfalls, however, as tasks like changing jets, syncing those multi-carb setups, and generally getting them perfectly dialed in were usually best left to a shop with all the necessary tools and expertise.

Pontiac 389 V8 Tripower

Pontiac 389 V8 Tripower

Enter fuel injection

Fuel injection during that time was very rare but available on a handful of American cars during some years. For example, certain 1957 GM products from Chevrolet and Pontiac offered it just that one year. As fuel injection was relatively new technology, the bugs weren’t fully worked out and it was dropped as an (admittedly expensive and not popular) option for the full-size GM cars the very next year. It did, however, continue to be optional on the Corvette through 1965.

As performance-themed American cars passed through the 1980s, fuel injection came online big time. Thanks to their ability to monitor and make millisecond adjustments for various parameters such as intake air temperature and idle quality, these modern-era fuel injection systems were instrumental in bringing back performance after the dark days of the mid-’70s to early ’80s. Being able to precisely control the air/fuel mixture, they allowed engineers to fine tune the engine to both meet tough emissions standards and offer increased power output. Other benefits included smoother operation all around, such as when driving in high elevations and in very cold or hot weather.

Carburetor or fuel injection?

Now for the big question: With an older performance car, should you keep the old carbs or make the switch to fuel injection? Unless you want to keep your ride 100% factory correct for seriously judged shows and such, we’d suggest jumping aboard the injection express.

These “self-tuning” systems offered by Edelbrock, FAST, Holley, and MSD will have your ride always operating at peak efficiency without you needing to scrape knuckles. And no worries about having that classic engine compartment ruined with something that looks like a Flux Capacitor, these systems mimic the iconic look of a big four-barrel carb. So go ahead, put on that original chrome-lidded air cleaner with the engine call-out sticker on it. We won’t tell.

Unless you want to keep your ride 100% factory correct for seriously judged shows and such, we’d suggest jumping aboard the injection express.

State of the art self-tuning systems make for a fairly simple, bolt-on proposition, essentially the same effort as swapping out carburetors minus the subsequent tuning. After you’ve bolted the system in place, you then enter basic information such as engine size and camshaft specs into a hand-held controller, which gives the system its base-line operating parameters. One twist of the key usually fires up your engine, and then you’re smoothly off and running.

As you drive your car, the system’s ECU (Electronic Control Unit) continuously fine tunes itself according to information it picks up from the oxygen sensor. No more rough idling. No more cold-weather stumble. Indeed, according to this article in Hot Rod magazine it couldn’t be easier. “No jets, no adjustments, no laptops—just bolt it on and turn the key.”

What do you think? Should the carburetor stay a classic performance vehicle or go? Share your experience.

The Future Is Now: Helpful Car Diagnostic Apps

Mechanic using laptop photoEver since 1996, On-Board Diagnostics generation two (OBD-II) has required all new vehicles manufactured in the United States to have self-diagnostic and reporting capabilities. This gives you access to the status of your vehicles’ systems in real time using a standardized series of diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs).

This is accomplished through a 16-pin connector mounted near the instrument panel that provides four-digit codes for four main areas: P for powertrain; U for computer; C for chassis; and B for body.

Car apps 1Diagnostic scanning tools make DIYing it so much easier – and here are apps that you can access from your smart phone to help you do diagnostics right. Use the app on the road, order the appropriate car parts and you’re off and running on your latest car repair.

Actron U-Scan and more

With U-Scan from Actron, you can discover the cause of the check engine light by plugging a device in your vehicle’s adapter and reading the relevant code definitions. With the QuickCheck™ feature, you can use your Android or Apple device to read the codes appearing on your vehicle, and then, when appropriate, erase them to turn off the check engine light. You can also monitor your emissions status, and maintain a log of vehicle tests and procedures and more.

Advanced features include:

  • Powertrain enhanced data ($7.99 per vehicle or $15.99 for all these manufacturers for most vehicles that are 1996 or newer: GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota): Get access to Powertrain codes and definitions. U-Scan’s freeze frame data describes the vehicle’s conditions at the time when the trouble code first appeared. More than 300 sensor/data items are available.
  • ABS codes and definitions ($5.99 per vehicle or $29.99 for all listed manufacturers): Discover the likely causes of ABS warning lights.
  • CodeConnect® ($12.99 per vehicle or $39.99 for all vehicles): More than 4.3 million fixes are available in this database, verified by ASE-certified technicians. Note: You must first purchase the powertrain enhanced data and/or ABS codes and definitions before buying and using CodeConnect.
  • Airbag codes and definitions ($7.99 per vehicle or $39.99 for list manufacturers): Access the most likely causes of airbag warning lights.

It never hurts to compare. In The 6 Best On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) Apps for your Car, you can get more information on other similar apps.

What’s next: car key apps?

In June 2015, the New York Times published an article titled The Future of Car Keys? Smartphone Apps, Maybe, predicting how the car key and fob might evolve. Right now, if you own a Tesla, BMW, General Motors or Volvo, you might already own a key fob that allows you to start the engine, unlock doors, turn on heat and monitor the battery remotely. With the PEPS keys (passive entry, passive start), you don’t even need to remove the fob from your pocket. Its very nearness to the car allows you to unlock doors with a touch, and to start the car with a button push.Car apps diagram

What’s next?

Experts don’t believe that a smartphone app will replace a key, not when a slow data network or dead phone battery would keep you out of your car. Plus, who wants to pay a monthly data subscription plan, which would likely be part of the deal, if you only got what a car fob previously provided? Especially with the complications provided by slow data networks and dead phone batteries? What would be the point?

Hakan Kostepen, the executive director for product planning strategy for Panasonic Automotive Systems, says that keys will eventually carry driver preferences, such as seating positions and favorite audio choices, even when you’re in a rental car. A smartphone app could work with the key data to recommend places to visit, eat and so forth, based on your known preferences.

Finally, Audi and Volvo are experimenting with groceries and packages being delivered to car trunks and the owner being notified. Car key usage would be authorized for a one-time use.

Editor’s note: What apps do you like? Which ones do you plan to try next? Leave us a comment below.

 

Does the Type of Gasoline You Use Really Matter?

gasoline pump photo

Gassing up isn’t as simple as it used to be. The following questions and answers can help clear up some of the confusion around choosing the right gas for your vehicle.

Is there a difference between the gas at “name brand” stations—Exxon, Mobil, Shell—versus the “grocery store gas” or other discount stations?

In the early days, gas was dispensed from a pump with a glass globe on top so motorists could check the “quality” of the product. Gas quality today, however, is regulated and legally required to contain certain levels of detergents, octane, ethanol, and other ingredients. While “name brand” gas might contain more engine-cleaning detergents, there’s a good chance that the gas found at “off-brand” stations was actually produced by the same name-brand manufacturers you know. So, buy gas where it’s convenient for you and easiest on your wallet and comfort level.

Do I need to spend more money on a higher grade fuel?

There are generally three grades of unleaded gasoline available at nearly all U.S. gas stations. The price per gallon rises in tandem with the fuel grade. Depending on what you drive, these grades—or octane ratings—matter. For starters, high-performance engines need higher octane fuel. That’s because your engine was designed to generate higher compression within the cylinder and increased power. Higher pressure and lower octane aren’t a good match. High-performance engines that require a higher-octane fuel and don’t get it will deliver decreased power and performance. To help determine what octane rating your vehicle needs, start by looking in the owner’s manual.

Some drivers also determine whether they need a higher octane fuel through experimentation. If the vehicle runs great on 87 with no knocking, pinging, or performance issues, and choosing the lower grade fuel doesn’t run afoul of any warranty requirements or specific manufacturer guidelines, why spend the extra money on a higher octane fuel?

If the vehicle manufacturer doesn’t specify high octane and there aren’t any performance issues, save some money by sticking with a lower octane fuel.

Is the gas I use causing the engine to knock?

First, it’s important to understand why your engine is knocking, and why it’s a concern. As the octane rating goes up, so too does the gasoline’s ability to withstand compression without spontaneously detonating or igniting. In gasoline engines, the air/fuel mixture inside the cylinder is supposed to ignite only when a small flame is created by the spark plug. As that small flame gradually grows and spreads out within the cylinder, the air/fuel mixture should ignite in one detonation. Problems arise, mainly in the form of an audible “knock,” when more than one detonation occurs within the cylinder. That knocking can be more than just an annoyance. It robs your engine of power and can destroy it quickly or over time. Higher octane fuels better withstand the increased pressure or compression, preventing spontaneous detonation.

But gasoline isn’t the only thing that can cause engine knocking or spontaneous detonation. Take a look at these additional considerations:

  • Environment – Areas with high temperatures and low humidity can increase knocking and the need for higher octane.
  • Vehicle age – Older vehicles can have a buildup of carbon within the cylinder, creating hot spots that lead to pre-ignition. These deposits can also decrease cylinder volume leading to higher pressures.
  • Malfunctioning EGR system – This increases cylinder temperature.
  • Malfunctioning spark plug.
  • Increased load – Do you use your vehicle for towing or steep uphill climbs and frequently see higher RPMs?
  • Malfunctioning cooling system – Higher engine operating temperatures contribute to knocking.

To better understand this topic, read up on why engines misfire.

Is ‘unleaded’ gas my only option?

Many drivers will remember the days of having to choose between leaded and unleaded fuel. Around the 1920s, a partnership between GM and ESSO (now Exxon) discovered that adding tetraethyl lead (TEL) to fuel helped raise the octane ratings above what they were listed at by increasing the compression ratio.

Leaded fuel also came with the added benefit of helping protect soft valve seats, like those found in many 1970s-era vehicles and earlier. During engine operation, heat from combustion gases causes valves to temporarily weld themselves to valve seats, if only for a tiny fraction of a second. Each time the weld between the two is broken, minute metal pieces from the soft valve seat are torn away, attaching to the valve. Over time, these deposits oxidize and further harden, inflicting damage on the valve seat as the valve continually hammers down. Lead in fuel helped prevent the two from welding, reducing valve seat recession or wear.

It was soon discovered, however, that the lead gasoline spewing from the exhaust of millions of vehicles worldwide was toxic for the environment, not to mention devastating to human health. As a result, leaded gas was gradually phased out in the 70s.

Then how do I prevent damage to my 1970’s muscle car?

In the absence of leaded fuel, you have two options. You can install hardened valve seats or replace a cast-iron head with an alloy one. Also, don’t overwork your engine; be sure to turn consistently high RPMs; prevent your engine from getting too hot; and add a lead substitute to your gas tank, which contains anti-wear properties.

What about fuel additives?

Consider using one of the countless octane boosters available, most of which are designated as being safe for turbos, oxygen sensors, and catalytic converters. You can also use a fuel stabilizer like Sea Foam. Both products will improve performance and prolong the life of your engine.

 

The Future is Now: Artificial Intelligence and Driverless Cars

Robotic cars photo“Self-steering will become a fringe taste – like baking from scratch and riding horses – but regarded as dangerous and socially irresponsible. It will be left to young men who are prone to high-risk behavior, a few type-A personalities with control issues, and some old people who just don’t like to change.” (D.C. Innes)

As of June 2015, there are 77 public-street permits in California for driverless cars, also called autonomous or self-driving cars. Not surprisingly, 48 of them are licensed to the Internet giant Google (up from just 23 in May 2015), with Tesla coming in second with 12 permits – and Mercedes-Benz having two. Google plans to test its 25 added permits on a new fleet of cars on private roads, transferring them to public roads later this summer.

Reasons for the push for driverless cars include that these vehicles are expected to:

• Reduce accidents

• Eventually eliminate most traffic congestion

• Decrease the need for highway expansion because these cars operate bumper-to-bumper at higher speeds, reducing fuel consumption and emissions

Currently, there are 306 people who are licensed to operate autonomous cars – and 202 of them are associated with Google. Sound like something you’d like to do? Here are guidelines for California drivers who’d like to be licensed for driverless cars.

Six accident reports have been filed with these driverless cars so far, five of which with Google’s vehicles. Google had already disclosed four of those accidents, stating that they happened because of human error, either the one in control of the driverless car or by another driver. The fifth accident happened in June and, since Google has committed to reporting these accidents, information will likely be forthcoming about that incident soon. Here are more specifics.

Drive via your smartphone — and much more

Take a look at this quote (and be prepared for some British spellings): “It SOUNDS like a scene from a James Bond film. BMW has revealed a car that can drive itself around a multistorey car park and then manoeuvre itself into a bay – all at the touch of a smartwatch. When the owner returns, weighed down with bags of shopping, the car will come and meet them.”

BMW calls this feature “remote valet parking” and they did the big reveal at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. Meanwhile, here is a demonstration of the current park assist feature available from BMW, which is still cool all by itself.

Another feature revealed by BMW at the Consumer Electronics Show involves a camera that’s embedded in the headline between the driver and passenger. And, if a phone call comes in, point a finger and move it towards the screen to answer the call. Move your finger to the right – and you’ve declined the call. If the screen is in music mode, you can adjust the volume by making a finger circle. Lost? Point two fingers at the screen to get directions home.

Robotic cars 3Sitting in the rear? You really can become a back-seat driver through your Samsung tablet. You can adjust the car’s temperature, the music or movie that’s playing or your seat’s position with just a few quick clicks.

Also revealed at the show was Driver Assist technology, in development by Hyundai. This technology tells drivers how to reach a destination, but “also displays upcoming street signs, warns the driver of other vehicles that are likely to cut them off, and helps them navigate difficult turns and exits with easy-to-follow arrows on the monitor. It also has a warning system that alerts the driver of pedestrians and animals in the car’s path and will automatically brake if they are too close.”

This car can also monitor drivers’ heart rates and pull itself over and call for emergency help if the driver suffers signs of a heart attack. For more on that subject, see our previous blog post titled Cars of the Future: Personalized Ambulances.

To put its money where its mouth is, Audi had its A7 Piloted Driving concept car drive to the Las Vegas Convention Center from Palo Alto, California, traveling for more than 550 miles without the human in the driver’s seat taking charge. The car safely changed lanes and passed other vehicles. The car can recognize SUVs, trucks and police cars, distinguishing them from more ordinary cars, and can spot pedestrians, even those partially blocked by parked cars.

All of this technology takes real computer power, so Audi invested in the Tegra X1 superchip that allows a car to “learn” how to drive via the computer’s training algorithm. Although the Tegra X1 is only the size of a thumbnail, it’s said to have the power of a room-sized supercomputer from only ten years ago.

 Mercedes-Benz displayed the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept, where passengers can rotate bucket seats to face one another while the car automatically drives, a seating arrangement not available since the days of horse and buggy. Door panel touchscreens allow passengers to make video calls, surf the web and post on social media. LED lighting on the outside of the vehicle tells pedestrians whether the car is being driven by a person (white lights) or autonomously (blue lights). Plus, the car can project a virtual crosswalk to let pedestrians know how to safely cross the street when near the vehicle.

All of this new technology can seem exciting – or scary. To calm fears, journalists were taken on a ride with a Volkswagen Passat with Cruise4U technology, which allows for autopilot steering, accelerating and braking.

What does the future hold for driverless cars?

Ford Motor Company is predicting that vehicles will have “fully autonomous navigation and parking” after 2025. Ford already has its own automated research vehicle, released at the end of 2013 in an experiment with State Farm Insurance and the University of Michigan to develop ways for cars to “’communicate with each other and the world around them to make driving safer’ and reduce congestion.”

This vehicle contains sensors that scan up to 200 feet of roadway, “using light in the same way that a bat or dolphin uses sound waves.” Meanwhile, some Ford cars can already send a signal when another vehicle has entered a driver’s blind spot, and the steering wheel vibrates when the driver is veering out of his or her lane.

IHS Automotive agrees that self-driving cars will debut for the average person around 2025, and predicts that, in the first year, about 2/10 of 1% of sales will be self-drivers. That would be about 230,000 cars of the projected 115 million car sales anticipated for that year. Within twenty years of their debut, IHS expects that driverless cars will account for about nine percent of car sales.

So, how are you feeling about all of this? Excited? Anxious to own a self-driver? Or, do you like driving too much?

About a year and a half ago, Advance Auto Parts talked to experts about automated vehicles, including Phil Floraday, senior web editor of Automobile Magazine. Phil open admitted that he wasn’t thrilled about the trend, saying that, “I want people to have the driving experience. Face it, at Automobile, we still like manual transmissions. We believe in man-machine interaction because of the amount of joy you can get from really good transmission, from really good brakes. You blend into the car and become like one.”

Fast forward to today. On June 22, 2015, WorldMag.com published an article by D.C. Innes, who is an associate professor of politics at The King’s College, titled The car of the future and our future in cars. Innes believes that, “Despite our love for the wheel, we may be drawn inexorably into going driverless.” He blames insurance companies, saying that carriers will most likely charge high premiums to people who want to steer their own vehicles.

The good news? It’s likely that people who do own driverless cars will see a significant reduction in their insurance premiums. Less likelihood of accidents = lower premiums.Robotic cars 1

Time of transition

The transition to driverless cars will be – and has already been – gradual. In 2013, we’d talked to Steve Garfink of Seer Communication. Steve consults with companies, research groups and governmental agencies that are focusing on the transition from human driving to autonomous driving. He shared a rating system where the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) lists five levels, some of which have already taken place:

• Level 0: no automation, with the driver needing to be in complete control of steering, braking and the like at all times

•Level 1: function-specific automation, where vehicles have at least one automated feature, such as adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes, which help a driver brake more quickly

• Level 2: the combination of two or more autonomous technologies, such as adaptive cruise control and lane centering; in this level, a driver must be prepared to take manual control of his or her vehicle back at any time. Some of these technologies may only be workable in highway driving, in favorable weather conditions and the like.

• Level 3: in this level, drivers will not need to constantly monitor road conditions; rather, he or she will be given a reasonable amount of time to transition from the autonomous driving experience to the more traditional manual driving; in theory, a driver of a level 3 car would, according to Steve, presumably “be free to talk on the phone, text, read the paper, or do whatever else they want knowing they will have plenty of reaction time before they have to pay attention to the road.” When this type of driving becomes available, a long trip could become a productive time, without the “tension of navigating among the big rigs plying” the highway.

• Level 4: the vehicle can handle all “safety-critical driving functions,” and can simply provide destination/navigation information; this vehicle could be occupied or unoccupied.

Steve gave a couple more predictions:

• In California – and perhaps other places – there will be no new regulations until a vehicle reaches level 2.

• Drivers may treat level 2 vehicles, where a driver must be prepared to take back control at any time, as level 3, where more transition time from driverless to driver-controlled exists. It will be interesting, Steve says, to see the effects of that on road safety.

Editor’s note: What are your thoughts about driverless cars? Share them in the comments below! And know that, as cars evolve, Advance Auto Parts will keep providing you with what you need to maintain and upgrade your vehicles.

The Triumph of Technology: 3 Ways Computers Make Cars Better

KITT_Interior

Knight Rider’s KITT interior. Photo by Tabercil.

Think about the muscle-car era, back in the ’60s and early ’70s. If you know anyone who grew up during that era, chances are that his or her father taught them how to wrench on engines from a young age (just like this ol’ wrencher). And you’ve probably heard them lament the fact that fathers just don’t teach their kids how to fix cars anymore.

But there’s a good reason for that: modern cars are as much about computers as they are about carburetors. Maybe more so.

To fix cars today, you often need a special computer just to diagnose the problem, and you may need advanced electrical knowledge to do the job. How about rebuilding a problematic part? If it’s connected to the car’s computer network, you better be an actual electrical engineer, or else you might just make things worse.

So that’s why kids don’t grow up with grease on their fingers anymore.

But they do grow up driving some truly incredible machines.

In this installment, I don’t want to bemoan the fact that times have changed. Even as a weathered, ahem, older car fan, I want to celebrate it. Because the truth is, technology has taken the automobile to heights that were scarcely imaginable 50 years ago.

Let’s look at three specific ways that the triumph of technology has changed cars for the better.

Better Handling

You may not think of suspensions as having much to do with computers, but when you take a closer look, you realize that they’ve got a lot to do with ones and zeros. Consider electric power steering, for example — back in the hydraulic days, we used to talk about the steering of a car as being “heavy” or “light,” but today you can buy a Hyundai or Kia for less than $20,000 that provides electronically adjustable steering effort. Want to move up the price ladder a little? Adaptive suspension dampers with selectable modes are proliferating across the industry, allowing drivers to choose a firm or compliant ride as conditions dictate. And then there are roll-resistant systems like Mercedes-Benz’s Active Body Control that keep the car eerily flat through fast corners. It’s hard to see these technologies as anything but a win for most drivers.

Better Powertrains

We could devote a whole feature to this category alone. Seemingly every aspect of automotive power generation and delivery has been revolutionized. On the engine front, perhaps the biggest news is the rise of advanced computer-controlled turbocharging, enabling small-displacement engines to deliver strong, lag-free acceleration with little if any penalty at the pump. Transmissions have benefited, too, with advancements ranging from automatic rev-matched downshifts for manuals to launch control and adaptive shift programs for automatics. And then there’s the way the power gets to the pavement — increasingly, differentials are equipped with torque-vectoring technology that transfers power laterally to ensure that the tires with the best traction are getting the most oomph. There were certainly fast and capable cars back in the day, but the computer-enabled precision and efficiency we see today is simply unprecedented.

Better Interiors

This one’s really night-and-day. Cars used to be transportation devices with radios thrown in for your driving pleasure, but now they’re like rolling entertainment chambers. What’s interesting is that mass-market personal computers go back to the late ’70s, but it took another few decades for dashboard computer systems — or “infotainment systems,” in current parlance — to become commonplace. But in 2015, you can get an infotainment system with a high-resolution color display in virtually every economy car on the market. Who would argue that cars used to be better when all you had was AM and FM? Now you can enjoy satellite radio, USB connectivity, Bluetooth phone and audio, home theater-quality sound reproduction, mobile-app integration and even Wi-Fi hotspot capability. Nostalgia dies hard, but even hardcore classic-car devotees know the truth: there’s never been a better time to hang out in an automotive interior.

The Power of Change

As a longtime DIY’er and car enthusiast, I’ve done my share of grumbling about the effects of technology on the character and feel of modern cars. Still, I have to admit that cars today are astonishingly capable machines thanks to their computerized components. What are some of your favorite developments in automotive technology? Shout it out for us in the comments

Editor’s note: High tech or no tech, count on Advance Auto Parts for a large selection of parts, tools and accessories to get your projects done right. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Top 5 Car Engines Shared Between Models

Our man Gearhead talks through his top interchange engines.

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to light an enthusiast’s hair on fire, it’s a purpose-built engine that doesn’t appear in any other car.

Car guys like me will geek out for hours about the Porsche Carrera GT’s 5.7-liter V10, for example, or any number of air-cooled Porsche 911 engines. Lamborghini’s distinguished line of V12s also comes to mind. If you know cars, you’re no doubt thinking of other candidates, too.

But there’s a flip side to that coin. Just because an engine is shared between multiple models doesn’t mean it’s a dud. In fact, some of the greatest engines ever have enjoyed multiple applications, because if something’s that great, why not spread the love around?

With that in mind, I racked my brain — or what’s left of it at this point — and came up with my personal Top 5 engines that have known more than one master. There are a lot of illustrious motors out there fitting that description, so it wasn’t easy to whittle ’em down. Check it out and tell me what you think.

Dodge Viper engine 8.0-liter V10 pictureDodge Viper V10

When Dodge brought out the Viper exotic sports car back in the early ’90s, they needed something that would shock the world. The radical styling was almost enough in itself, but the engineering team chipped in with an 8.0-liter V10 that made an even 400 horsepower — heady output for the day. Never mind that it sounded like a UPS truck; the Viper V10 was the stuff of dreams, and it helped make the car a legend virtually overnight.

Since then, the V10 has gone through a few iterations, now displacing 8.4 liters and pumping out a just-plain-silly 640 horsepower at last count. But that’s not all; it has also been borrowed by two other vehicles for limited-production use. The first, Dodge’s gonzo Ram SRT-10 full-size pickup truck, used an 8.3-liter version of the massive motor that was good for a truck-record 154 mph. The second, the Bristol Fighter, was an exotic British sports car that reportedly sold just 13 copies.

BMW S54 Inline-6 engine pictureBMW S54 Inline-6

So many great straight-sixes have come out of BMW’s factories over the years, but for my money, the 3.2-liter S54 is the greatest of them all. It debuted in 2001, appearing simultaneously in the E46 M3 and the Z3 M Roadster and Coupe. The S54 was limited to 315 hp in the latter pair, but it cranked out a full 333 hp in the M3.

With a sky-high fuel cutoff at 8,400 rpm, this engine loved to rev, yet it also had muscular midrange response that always felt like enough. The sound was nearly as thrilling, a metallic banshee wail that got more and more frantic as redline approached.

BMW gave the S54 new life when the 330-hp Z4 M Roadster and Coupe debuted in 2006, but it was brief, as both models bid adieu in 2008. Even today, I still cruise the classifieds looking for all of the above models. It’s on my engine bucket list, for sure.

Chevrolet LS7 V8 engine pictureChevrolet LS7 V8

When the C6 Corvette Z06 bowed for the 2006 model year, it came with a great big surprise under the hood. Displacing a full 7.0 liters, the LS7 was the biggest small-block V8 that GM had ever installed in a factory model. Unlike most small-blocks, the LS7 had an affinity for redline, making it ferociously fun when driven to its full potential. The noises were sublime, and 60 mph was yours in less than 4 seconds via the 6-speed manual transmission — no automatic was offered.

Now that the C7 Corvette Z06 has come out with its supercharged 6.2-liter V8, it looks like forced induction will carry the day going forward. But if you’re like me, you know there’s no replacement for displacement. Plain and simple, the LS7 is the best small-block V8 there ever was.

Thankfully, the C6 Z06 team wasn’t a selfish bunch. The LS7 has turned up in all kinds of places since it appeared, including the Corvette 427 Convertible (basically a Z06 drop-top), the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, the Hennessey Venom GT supercar and even a helicopter.

Mercedes-Benz M156 V8 engine pictureMercedes-Benz M156 V8

If you don’t think Mercedes-Benz and NASCAR belong in the same sentence, you haven’t driven one of the cars from the “AMG 63” series. Ranging from approximately 450 to 580 hp, and technically displacing 6.2 liters, the M156 V8 was the first engine to be developed from start to finish by the performance wizards at AMG. You can certainly feel that hand-built touch. There’s endless thrust throughout the operating range, and the sound is astonishing — like a Detroit muscle car with impeccable manners. It’s impossibly well-behaved for such a beastly engine, but those noises betray its animal nature. Pity that Mercedes never saw fit to pair it with a manual transmission; otherwise, the M156 is a perfect 10.

What’s particularly awesome about the M156 is that it was made available across most of the Mercedes lineup, from the humble C-Class to the exotic SLS AMG sports car. Turbocharged V8s have since taken its place, but only recently, so there are plenty of low-mileage used M156 cars out there for the taking.

Volkswagen Golf 2.0T Inline-4 engine pictureVolkswagen/Audi 2.0T Inline-4

You don’t always need huge horsepower to have a good time. It took me decades to realize that, and the VW/Audi “2.0T” turbocharged 4-cylinder engine helped me see the light. There are actually a bunch of slightly different engines that fall under this heading, but you know what I’m talking about, right? Volkswagen has been putting a 2.0T in the GTI for about a decade, to take one example, and Audi offers a similar 2.0T in seemingly everything it makes. Whatever the setting, this engine serves up an amazing blend of refinement, fuel economy and smooth, spirited acceleration.

If there’s a better all-around engine that you can have brand-new in the $25,000 price bracket or thereabouts, I haven’t met it.

What’d I Forget?

A lot, I’m sure. My wife’s sure, too. Did any of your favorites get unfairly excluded? Let’s have it out in the comments.

 

Editor’s note: Keep your engine running right with parts, tools and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Ford trademarks “EcoBeast”

Ford EcoBoost Logo

As recently reported by Motrolix, Ford has made formal moves to trademark the name “EcoBeast,” an obvious reference to its massively successful EcoBoost engine line.

Filed this past week with the US Patent and Trademark Office, the application falls under the “automobiles and automobile engines” category within Goods and Services.

Here are some more details:

Ford EcoBeast trademark applicationFor the uninitiated, Ford’s EcoBoost engine can be found in its ever-popular F-150 trucks, and is known for its unique combination of power and fuel economy. It’s no surprise that “EcoBeast” has been used for some time as a nick-name by Ford enthusiasts, but what makes this new move by the company even more interesting is what comes next. Will Ford use EcoBeast as the moniker for a new line of mammoth pick-ups? A concept car? A higher-end line of engines?

Or, will the Ford Motor Company just let the trademark languish into obscurity as so many other massive corporations have done before, just to ensure no one else can use it.

What do you think?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Read the full story at Motrolix.

What’s the Downside of Heated Seats in Your Car?

car interior with car seats
When cars were first invented, riding in them could be downright chilly, especially during winter months. After all, these early-model vehicles were open bodied, so wind could whip around drivers and passengers alike as rain, snow, and/or sleet fell freely upon their heads. Glass windshields started to appear around 1907, breaking some of the wind, and motorists bundled up and put gas lamps in their cars to create some radiated heat, but still, it was cold.

A history of heat in cars

At the 13th National Automobile Show in New York, a mass production car debuted that was fully enclosed: the Hudson “Twenty,” which was produced in Detroit, starting on July 3, 1909. Because this car was a warmer ride, 4,000 vehicles sold that year—in spite of it having a nearly $1,000 price tag (about $26,000 today). Remember, car financing wasn’t typically available to buyers then. In 1910, Hudson built nearly 6,500 of these cars to continue to meet demand. By 1925, Hudson was the third largest US car manufacturer behind Ford and Chevrolet.

Although an enclosed car was warmer than an open-bodied one, traveling was still a cold proposition in the winter. Enterprising people tried to recycle exhaust fumes into their vehicles to benefit from small amounts of interior heat. This isn’t a particularly safe idea, though, and it couldn’t have smelled great, either, so inventors progressed and in 1929, a hot air heater was available in the Ford Model A. It took a while to fire up and it provided inconsistent engine-generated heat, but it was safer than inhaling exhaust fumes. Ford continued their innovation and in 1933 installed the first in-dash heating unit, which was gas powered.

In the midst of Ford inventing, General Motors created a heater that used redirected engine coolant, debuting the first modern heater core in 1930. Although improvements are continually being made in the auto world, including with heaters, this 1930 model is still the basis of what’s being used today.

Heated car seats: the history

Although car heaters made driving far more comfortable, a heated car seat would provide targeted heat to one particular body part, an appealing idea to many. It’s reported in many places online that General Motors (GM) tested car seat heaters as early as 1939 on select models, but no additional details or sources seem to be available. GM was a pioneer in the heated seat effort, as Robert Ballard of GM is credited with the first patent. He applied for his patent in 1951 and was issued #2,698,893 in 1955. See pictures and detailed text of his patent.

1966 Cadillac Deville convertible

1966 Cadillac DeVille convertible, Source | That Hartford Guy, Flickr

In 1966, the Cadillac DeVille came with the option of heated seats, along with two other luxury innovations: headrests and an AM/FM radio. This option more closely resembled heating pads for the seats, rather than today’s more sophisticated options, but least they were warm.

Who gets credit for the first “real” heated seats? Saab, although their initial goal was to minimize backaches, which would lead to more pleasurable traveling and make for safer driving, according to Saab. The original press release reassured car owners that the heating system was not affected by dampness or water, causing Jalopnik to have this bit of fun: “I like the ‘not affected by dampness’ part in there, because that’s automaker code for ‘Go ahead and wet your pants! You won’t die! Enjoy!'”

Heated car seats: the drawbacks

In a 2011 article in The Legal Examiner, it was stated that approximately 30% of cars on the road today come with heated seats. Edmunds.com states it in a different way: that nearly 300 car models come with seat warmers.

There is no doubt that they provide comfort in the cold months. However, although manufacturers typically list that these heaters max out between 86 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit, temps can sometimes reach 150 degrees. Third degree burns can develop in about ten minutes when temperatures reach 120 degrees. Drivers with diabetes, neuropathy, and/or other paralysis issues may not have the ability to sense danger in time to shut off the heater.

Toasted skin syndrome is an actual condition that, according to the Chicago Tribune in 2013 “results when the backs of your legs, thighs, and buttocks become darkened and discolored after too much time snuggled into a heated seat. Yes, your Fanny Fryer accessory package literally could tan your hide.” This includes the use of heated cloth seats.

The article goes on to say that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Society of Automotive Engineers alike have formed “what can only be called crack teams to get to the bottom of it all and forge safety standards.”

It’s all too easy to joke about seat warmer challenges but results can be quite serious. The integrity of the burned skin, The Legal Examiner article states, could be compromised permanently. Numerous people have already received significant burns from car seat heaters.

Bottom line? (Last joke, promise.) Heated seats can do wonders to warm cold posteriors, so long as drivers are aware of the risks and use them according to manufacturer recommendations.

Does your vehicle have seat warmers? Do you use them? Share your experience in the comments section.