The Truth About Cars » Technology The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Technology JD Power Initial Quality Study Shows GM, Hyundai, Porsche Leading The Pack Thu, 19 Jun 2014 12:00:29 +0000 2013 Buick Encore, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

J.D. Power has released their U.S. Initial Quality Study for 2014, where General Motors, Hyundai and Porsche earned top marks despite consumers still struggling with the gizmology taking over their vehicles.

Autoblog reports GM’s Buick, Chevrolet and GMC captured more awards than anyone else in the 2014 IQS, with six vehicles winning in their segments. Meanwhile, Hyundai and Porsche were ranked best overall mass-market and premium brand, respectively, where the former reported 94 issues per 100 vehicles reported in the first 90 days, 74/100 for the latter. Porsche also dominated the IQS, having the best score of all brands surveyed.

On the other end of the scale, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles ranked poorly in the study, with Fiat holding dead last at 206 problems per 100 vehicles reported in the survey period. Jeep came second-to-last with 146/100, while Dodge was just below the industry average at 124/100. Only Ram and Chrysler fared the best, matching or just exceeding the average of 116/100.

Part of the results may be due to automakers pushing the envelope on technology and new features to make consumers’ lives easier. J.D. Power Vice President of Global Automotive David Sargent says “almost all automakers are struggling” to introduce these pieces “without introducing additional quality problems.” In turn, some consumers are noting the technologies involved are “hard to understand, difficult to use, or [do] not always work as designed.”

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Solar Roadways: A Modest Proposal? Wed, 28 May 2014 16:07:10 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Last week, an amazing video popped up on my Facebook feed. Produced by a small Idaho based startup seeking funding from the public via an IndieGoGo campaign, it offers a glimpse into a possible future where the roads are made out of reinforced glass panels that contain solar cells, microprocessors and LEDs. The company, Solar Roadways, has been working on this product for years and it has already attracted a considerable amount of attention from the tech community. Now, as it seeks money to hire a team of engineers to perfect and streamline the production process, it appears as though Solar Roadways is finally ready for the big time.

The proposal is simple in concept but the implications and the potential costs are vast. The best breakdown I found comes from who looked at the project in-depth back in August of 2010 and crunched all the numbers with a mathematical expertise I have no hope of matching. The long and short of it is this: If we were to replace the approximately 30,000 square miles of paved roads, sidewalks and parking lots in our nation with currently available commercial solar panels which offer about 18.5% efficiency, the project could generate approximately 14 billion kilowatts of energy – or about three times what the US currently generates each year. Replacing all our nation’s pavement, however, would require around 5.6 billion panels and, at a cost of around $10,000 per 12’X12’ section, could ultimately cost somewhere on the order of $56 trillion dollars. Factoring in longevity and repairs, Singularity hub’s mathematicians figure that Solar roadways will be about 50% more expensive than asphalt but admit the relative costs may change given improvements in solar technology or a spike in oil prices.

Hard numbers aside, the technology presented is pretty amazing. Tied into a computer network, the LED lighting incorporated into the system could be used for any number of purposes including variable lanes, speed limits, crosswalks, or written warnings. The video also shows how heating elements could be used to keep the roadways free of ice and snow year round, something that might actually ease the coming transition to self-driving cars. Just sitting here thinking about it, it occurs to me that it may even be possible to tie the network into an on-the-road charging network where cars’ batteries are charged as they pass over magnetic fields generated by the roadway itself. Who knows how else it might be used?

It would be easy to dismiss this Solar Roadways as just another hippie dippy, pie in the sky idea but there was a time when many people dismissed the cellular telephone, too. The network was virtually nonexistent and the phones themselves were outrageously expensive, but what seemed only marginally useful back then has transformed modern day society in ways we never imagined. Solar Roadways, it seems to me, could be another leap forward and, while the costs are huge, so too is the opportunity. I’d like to see this go forward.

Solar Roadways’ IndieGoGo campaign has far exceeded its rather modest million dollar goal, but will remain open until the end of the month.

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Mercedes-Benz To Support First Responders With “Rescue Assist” Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:15:10 +0000 Benz Jaws Of Life Demo Courtesy www.autoevolution.comWith little fanfare Mercedes-Benz recently announced a claimed first-of-its-kind program designed to help firefighters and EMTs at sites of severe accidents involving Mercedes-Benz vehicles.  With Rescue Assist, the company is installing QR code stickers on their cars so First Responders will be able to use a Smartphone to bring up a schematic of the vehicle showing where airbags, the fuel tank, and other critical structural components are located. Their intent is to make the accident scene safer for rescue folks and passengers, particular in cases where the “Jaws Of Life” are needed.

The QR code stickers will be applied to the inside of the fuel filler cover and the B-Post on the opposite side of the fuel tank. All Mercedes-Benz vehicles produced after October 31, 2013 have had the QR code adhesive labels installed at the factory. Rescue Assist retrofit kits were shipped to U. S. Mercedes-Benz dealers last week. Owners of 1990 to present models will be offered the product for free when they come in for service while more enterprising Benz stores may reach out to its eligible customers via direct marketing campaigns.

The following video includes supposedly unscripted comments from firefighters about Rescue Assist.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Naturally, the ultimate assessment of the validity of Rescue Assist will be to hear from the B&B, particularly those of you who are employed as First Responders…


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Department of Energy Looking At Suppliers For Revamped Fuel-Efficiency Loan Program Thu, 03 Apr 2014 12:45:39 +0000 US_Dept_of_Energy_Forrestal_Building

Established in the waning days of the Bush Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program lent a total of $8.3 billion (out of the budgeted $25 billion) to Nissan, Tesla, Ford and Fisker, yet has not been able to make new loans for a number of reasons since 2011.

That status, however, is about to change.

Autoblog Green reports DOE secretary Earnest Moniz announced the program will be retooled with a focus upon suppliers. Improvements to the program will include clarifying eligibility requirements for potential applicants, better responsiveness toward applicants, and a revised application process.

As for said applicants, the program wants to bring in companies who help make fuel-efficient vehicles possible, including suppliers of “advanced engines and powertrains, light-weighting materials, advanced electronics, and fuel-efficient tires.”

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ZF’s 9-Speed 9HP Transmission Puts Dog Clutches On The Leash Sun, 09 Feb 2014 03:34:39 +0000 ZF 9HP Transmission, Picture Courtesy of Land RoverIn a week we will post our first full review of the all-new and all-controversial 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The new Jeep isn’t just raising eyebrows for the love-it or hate-it styling. Or the resurrection of the Cherokee badge. Or the constant delays in production. Or the transverse mounted engine. Or the lack of solid axles. None of that laundry list seems to cause as much discussion around the automotive water cooler than ZF’s 9HP 9-speed transmission. Click past the jump for a deep dive into the tranny with more speeds than my bicycle. If you don’t want to explore transmissions in detail, don’t click. You have been warned.

When Derek drove the Cherokee at a launch event he complained about the transmission. When I drove a pre-production model for a very brief hour and a half I was more perplexed than anything. I chalked it up to pre-production programming issues and the fact that the transmission has 50% more speeds than a 6-speed, so I expected 50% more shifting. A month later I was able to sample a different Cherokee with newer software and some of my shifting complaints had been solved but something still felt “wrong.” Now three months later a full production Cherokee landed in my hands and while the shift logic (when and why the transmission would shift up or down) was finally where I thought it should be, the shifts themselves felt different from what I am used to. The reason is all down to clutches, but let’s start at the beginning.

In general terms an engine is most efficient in a somewhat narrow band of RPMs. That exact band varies from engine to engine based on what the designers intended at the time. The longer you can keep the engine in this range of RPMs, the more efficient the car will be. Secondary to this is a desire for improved off-the-line performance, this necessitates ever-lower first gear ratios. The distance between the lowest and the tallest gear in a transmission is called the ratio spread. (You get it by dividing the lowest ratio by the tallest and that gives you a number that represents the delta between first and last.) GM’s venerable 4-speed 4L80 has a spread of 3.3 while their new 6-speed 6L80 has a spread of 6. The deeper first gear and taller 6th allow the 6L80 to deliver better performance and better fuel economy. The reason ZF’s 8-speed 8HP doesn’t have the same delta in performance over the average 6-speed as the 6-speed had over the 4-speed, is easy to explain. The 8HP’s ratio spread is 7, just 1 higher than a 6 speed while the 6-speeds had a 3 point advantage over the 4-speeds. Aisin’s new 8-speed transaxle in Volvo and Lexus models goes a small step further with a 7.59 spread. These can all be seen as progressive improvements. The 9HP is different. With a 4.7:1 first gear and a 0.48:1 ninth gear the overall spread is a whopping 9.8.


On closer inspection you’ll notice something interesting about the 9HP’s ratios. Fifth is the 1:1 ratio where the output shaft of the transmission is spinning at the same rate as the engine meaning there four overdrive ratios. In contrast both ZF and Aisin’s 8-speed transmissions have just two overdrive ratios with 6th gear being the direct-drive (1:1) ratio. As a result the 9HP’s lower gears are farther apart, especially first and second gear. When you look deeper at the numbers you’ll also notice that the 9HP is geared much taller at the top end with 7th gear being approximately equal to 8th in the Aisin or ZF 8-speed units. Many reviewers of the Cherokee noted they never experienced 9th gear during their test drive and I now know why. At 0.48:1 with the 3.2L V6 (3.251 final drive) you have to be going faster than 80 MPH to engage 9th because at 80 your engine loafs around at 1,460 RPM. (The 2.4L four-cylinder in the Cherokee Trailhawk would be going about 1,810 RPM at 80.) According to ZF this results in an impressive 12-16% improvement in fuel economy versus the same final drive ratio and their own 6-speed automatic and 11-15% when compared to their 8-speed.

OK, so the 9HP has plenty of gears, but why does it shift the way that it does? It’s all down to the clutches. While a traditional automatic uses friction clutches in the form of either band clutches or multi-plate friction clutches, the 9HP blends friction clutches and dog clutches in the same transmission case. Dog clutches are “interference” clutches more commonly found in manual transmissions and transfer cases. Friction clutches work by pressing two plates together. The friction between them allows the transfer of energy and it allows one plate to spin faster than the other or “slip.” Think of slipping the clutch in a manual car, it is the same action. Automatic transmissions use this clutch type to their advantage because changing gear doesn’t always require engine power to drop, the transmission simply disconnects one clutch as it engages another, they slip and engage and you’re in another gear. Dog clutches however are different. If you look at the illustration below you can see a dog clutch on the right. Power is transmitted by the tooth of one side pressing on the tooth of the other. This type of clutch cannot slip so it is either engaged or disengaged. This is the type of clutch used inside manual transmissions. When you move the shifter to a different gear, you are physically disengaging and engaging dog clutches. This style of clutch is used because it suffers little parasitic loss and it is simple and compact. The use of a dog clutch in an “automatic” transmission isn’t new, dual clutch robotized manuals use this style of clutch internally as well, but it is the key to understanding why the 9HP shifts the way it does.


Because dog clutches can’t slip, their engagement must be controlled and precise. Going back to the manual transmission example, this is why modern manual transmissions have “synchros” or synchromesh. A Synchro is a mechanism that aligns the dog teeth prior to engagement. Without them you get that distinct gear grinding noise. Synchros work well in a manual transmission because when you are changing gear you are disconnecting the engine with the clutch (a friction clutch), then engaging a dog clutch for your gear selection. Because one end of the transmission is “free” the synchro synchronizes the two sides and then allows the toothed gear to engage. There is a “pause” in power when a shift occurs. If you look at an acceleration chart of a car with a good manual driver and an automatic you will see pauses in acceleration in the manual while most autos just have “reductions” in acceleration. That’s down to the pause required to engage a dog clutch vs a friction clutch that slips and engages without much reduction in power.

Let’s digress for a moment and talk about the DSG. The reason dual clutch gearboxes exist is because of the dog clutch. As I said engaging a dog clutch takes time and precision. This is part of the reason single-clutch robotic manuals like the one in the Smart ForTwo and the RAM ProMaster (and other Euro sedans) have such exaggerated shifts. Double clutch gearboxes get around this by having two gears engaged at all times. DSG style gearboxes are really two manual transmissions in the same case. 1st gear is engaged via the first transmission and 2nd is engaged but not active on the second. Changing gears simply involves swapping (via a friction clutch) from transmission A to transmission B. Once that is accomplished, the transmission A disengages and engages the dog clutches to select the next gear. Going from 2nd to 3rd involves swapping back from transmission B to the already shifted transmission A.

Let’s put it all together now. To save space and increase efficiency, the 9HP uses two multi-plate clutch elements, two friction brakes and two electronically synchronized dog clutches. (The 8HP uses two brakes and three multi-plate clutches.) The way the gearsets are arranged inside the case, shifts from 1-2, 2-3, and 3-4 involve only the traditional friction brake and clutch elements. As you would expect, aside from 1st being fairly low and somewhat distant from 2nd, these shifts feel perfectly “normal.” Under hard acceleration there is a momentary reduction in engine torque (courtesy of the computer to reduce clutch wear) and the shift occurs quickly and smoothly. The shift from 4-5 however is different. The transmission has to disengage dog clutch “A” in addition to engaging a friction clutch. This shift takes slightly longer than the 3-4 shift and the car’s computer makes a drastic reduction in torque to prevent wear of the dog teeth. Shifts 5-6 and 6-7 again happen with the only the friction elements at which point we need to disconnect the final dog clutch for gears 8 and 9 so we get the same kind of torque reduction in those shifts. The result is a transmission that has two distinct “feels” to its shifts, one that has only a slight torque reduction (1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6, 6-7, 8-9) and one that has a more “manual transmission” feel where torque is cut severely (4-5 and 7-8).

2014 Jeep Cherokee Instrument Cluster

Because of the positioning of the two dog clutches in the shift pattern, the torque reduction isn’t objectionable in upshifts. Hard acceleration from a stop didn’t involve 5th gear even in the 1/4 mile. However, once you let off the gas the transmission will shift upwards rapidly for fuel economy settling in 6th or 7th in the 60-65 MPH range and 8th in the 70-75 MPH range.

Downshifts are where the 9HP truly feels different. Because of the design, if you’re in 8th gear and want to pass, the transmission will often need to drop 4 or 5 gears to get to a suitable ratio. (Remember that 4th gear is the first ratio going back down the scale that is lower than 1:1.) To do this the transmission has to accomplish the harder task of engaging two dog clutches. To do this the transmission doesn’t use cone synchros like a manual (too bulky) it uses software. Engaging dog clutches requires a longer and yet more severe reduction in torque than the disengagement because the transmission has to align the clutch and then engage it. In most automatics when you floor the car you get an instant feeling of acceleration that improves as the transmission downshifts. Although there would be moments of power reduction (depending on the programming) during this time, the engine is always providing some force forward. The 9HP’s software on the other hand responds by cutting power initially, then diving as far down the gear-ladder as it can, engaging the dog clutches and then reinstating your throttle command. The result is a somewhat odd delay between the pedal on the floor and the car taking off like a bat out of hell. According to Volvo’s powertrain guys, this shift behavior is one of the main reasons they chose the Aisin 8-speed (shared with the Lexus RX F-Sport) over the ZF 9-speed used by Land Rover and Chrysler.

All of a sudden the “odd” shift feel made perfect sense. In the march toward ever-improving fuel economy the automotive public will continually be introduced to cars that feel different from the “good old days.” Electric power steering numbs the wheel-feel but steer-by-wire promises to artificiality resurrect it. Dual clutch robotized manuals have a particular feel that was accepted by performance enthusiasts but has been a source of complaint for Focus and Fiesta shoppers. For me, understanding why the transmission is doing what it is doing is key to my like or dislike of a car’s road manners. Once I understood what the Cherokee’s automatic was up to, I was able to focus on the rest of the car. What about you? Are you willing to “sacrifice” shift quality at the altar of fuel economy? Be sure to let me know.

Have an automotive technology question? Want to see a deep-dive on another powertrain component?

Let us know by using the contact form at the top of the page!

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Twincharging Is Volvo’s Replacement For Displacement Wed, 29 Jan 2014 14:00:53 +0000 Volvo Drive-E Engine, 2.0L twincharged, Picturre courtesy of Volvo

Engine downsizing is all the rage. Making the engine smaller increases fuel efficiency, reduces emissions and cuts vehicle weight. With ever tightening fuel economy legislation in the United States and CO2 emissions regulation in the European Union, mainline manufacturers are turning to turbochargers like never before. In 2009 just 5% of cars sold in America sported turbos, and that 5% consisted largely of European brands like Volvo and BMW with a long history of forced induction. By 2013 that number had more than doubled to 13%. Honeywell expects the number to rise to 25% in the next four years and the EPA tells me that by 2025 they expect 90% of cars sold in America to sport a turbo engine. With turbos becoming so ordinary, what’s a turbo pioneer like Volvo do to keep a competitive edge? Add a supercharger of course.

I recently had the opportunity to sample the new Volvo V60 (expect a first drive review shortly) but the star of the show wasn’t the car itself, it’s what’s under the hood. New engine designs are truly a rarity in the automotive world with engines being tweaked over time to keep them fresh. Volvo’s own modular engine found under the hood of most Swedish cars (and the occasional Focus RS) turned 24 years old this year, but it’s a spring chicken compared to the Rolls Royce L series 6.75L engine that dates back to 1952. Being the engine nerd I am, I spent a new hours with Volvo’s powertrain engineer discussing their new “Drive E” engine family.

Volvo’s new engine family is primarily a clean sheet design, although many design components are descendants of the old “modular” engine family. The line consists of four different variants dubbed T3, T4, T5 and T6. As before, T indicates turbocharged but now the number represents power output rather than the number of cylinders involved. Yes, this is the death knell for Volvo’s funky 5-cylinder because this is a strict four-cylinder lineup. Volvo has said the 149 horsepower T3 and the 188 horsepower T4 won’t be headed to America at the moment, so don’t expect to see a direct competitor for BMW’s downsized 320i from Sweden this year. Instead we get the 241 horsepower T5 and the 302 horsepower T6 under the hood of everything except the XC90.

Volvo Drive-E engine, 2.0L, picture courtesy of Volvo

All engines share a common block design, but what changes is the boost. T3, T4 and T5 engines use a single turbo while T6 adds a Roots-type supercharger in addition to the turbocharger. VW and others have dabbled with twincharging in the past, with VW’s 1.4L twincharged engine finding a home under the hoods of Euro models and putting down 140-180 horsepower. Volvo is taking things to the next step by calling their 2.0L engine the replacement for not just the 3.0L twin-scroll turbo but also the recently departed 4.4L V8.

While supercharging and turbocharging sounds excessive, there is a logic to the madness. While peak torque on the turbo-only T5 just 15 lb-ft lower than the T6 (when in overboost), the supercharger allows the T6 to deliver approximately 140 lb-ft more torque just off idle. The torque curves converge around 1,500-1,600 RPM when the T6 switches over to the turbocharger. From approximately 2,000 RPM to 3,500 RPM torque remains flat on both engines but the larger turbo on the T6 allows it to maintain peak torque all the way past 4,500 RPM. When torque does start to wane it does so more gradually than turbo-only engines.

Aisin AWF8F35 8-speed transaxle, picture courtesy of Aisin

Why not stick with a supercharger alone like Jaguar and other auto makers? The reason is two-fold. Turbochargers operate off of “waste energy” from the exhaust. Exhaust gases spin the turbine which in turn spins the compressor forcing more air into the engine. In truth “waste energy” is a misnomer because there is a horsepower toll for having the turbo interfering with the exhaust stream, but in general this toll is smaller than the power required to operate a supercharger. The downside to a turbo is well known: turbo lag. Turbo lag is the time it takes the turbo to start “boosting.” Although the turbo is spinning at idle, it’s creating little positive pressure. Step on the gas and it takes a while for things to start humming along and boost to be created. That’s why the T5 has a lower torque rating off idle.

Superchargers are typically driven off the accessory belt. Because of the “direct” connection to the engine, they are always creating boost. Because this boost happens in sync with engine RPMs, the response is immediate. On the down side superchargers can consume up to 20% of an engine’s total power output according to Honeywell. This is considered a good trade since they can boot power up to 50%. Because of design trade offs, factory supercharged engines tend to “run out of breath” at higher RPMs which explains why Jaguar’s 5.0L supercharged engine lags the 4.4L and 4.7L twin-turbo German engines by a wide margin in peak torque.

Volvo’s answer to both problems was to use a supercharger for immediate response at the low end. From idle air flows into the supercharger then through the turbo into the engine. This not only improves low end response but it also helps get the turbo up to speed faster. At some point determined by the car’s computer (around 3,500 RPM) the engine opens a butterfly valve to bypass the supercharger and then de-clutches the supercharger to eliminate the inherent loss. This process allows a supercharger tuned for low end response and a turbo tuned for higher RPM running to be joined to the same engine. The result is a horsepower and torque curve superior to Volvo or BMW’s 3.0L twin-scroll turbos in every way, from torque at idle, length of the torque plateau, to high-RPM torque. To further increase efficiency Volvo relies on a variable speed electric water pump for cooling, direct-injection for combustion efficiency and low friction bearings and rings. Volvo’s marketing literature hails this as the answer to the V8.

But is it really? Yes and no. The pint-sized engine allows the XC60 to deliver 29 MPG on the highway in 304 horsepower T6 trim which is a 50% increase over Volvo’s 2009 XC90 V8. Score one for Drive-E. Out on the road, the 2.0L engine delivers more low end torque than any other 2.0L four-banger sold in America giving the XC60 more punch off idle than I expected. The T6′s torque curve may be flatter than Volvo’s sort lived 4.4L V8, but it’s not quite as robust at the top end or at idle. The broad torque band and the Aisin 8-speed auto allowed the XC60 T6 to tie an XC90 V8 to 60 MPH.  Aurally, Volvo’s “burbly” V8 is the clear winner. The Drive-E engine has a distinct (but muted) supercharger whine under 3,500, a definite four-cylinder exhaust note and an eerie silence at idle. Volvo was cagey about any Polestar tunes for their new engine, but I suspect considerable work will need to be done to best Volvo’s own Polestar I6.

My inner engineer is excited by the possibilities of modern forced induction technologies and small displacement engines. I suspect that the vast majority of American shoppers would be hard pressed to notice the difference between Volvo’s twin-charged 2.0L engine and a V8 in the 4L range in terms of power delivery and drive-ability. The constant march towards fuel economy also fills me with sadness. No matter how you slice it, a naturally aspirated V8 has a sound that we’ve grown up associating with performance and luxury. This association is so strong that BMW pipes V8 sounds into the cabins of their turbo V8s because the turbos interfere with the exhaust notes. As our pocketbooks rejoice, join me as I shed a tear for the naturally aspirated inline-6 and V8.

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Piston Slap: To What End Unibody Repair? Wed, 11 Dec 2013 13:12:47 +0000

Matt writes:

Hi Sajeev, Long-time listener, first-time caller. I have a 2011 Volvo C30 that was recently rear-ended pretty good. As a result of the collision, the car has just had $8k+ of work done in a body shop. Included in the list of work done (among the obvious paint, bumper cover, tailgate, etc) is 4 hours of labor for a “unibody pull”. Like everyone else, I know people who have horror stories about cars that have never been the same again after accidents. I’ve only had the car back for a couple of days and everything feels ok so far, but I do fear lingering issues.

What are your thoughts on a repair like this making the car 100% again? Would you dump it immediately to avoid any potential issues or hold on to it and see?

Sajeev answers:
Oh boy. As Reverend Lovejoy from The Simpsons would say, “Short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but.”

Short Answer: Too many variables to consider, so you must hope the collision center and the insurance company are both honest in their damage assessment and intelligent in their repair procedures.  Those with frame repair issues probably had a problem with human error.

Long Answer: We have the technology to repair just about any car, but doing so requires a cost/benefit analysis.  For many cars, if the roof shows signs of structural damage, your insurance company will happily scrap it for you.  And if you are a wannabe Gas Monkey with an absolutely hammered Ferrari F40, you buy that heap at auction, make it into a rolling death trap and sell it again. But that’s not the point…

An honest assessment from a collision center with proper frame straightening tools easily measures and tweaks the frame until every part is back to factory specifications.  All the doors close perfectly.  The wheels sit just where they should.  Everything bolted up back as designed. And back to the short answer, it boils down to the quality of decisions made by the people involved.

I remain optimistic that your repair was sound, that you’ll enjoy this Volvo for years to come with zero problems.

UPDATE: The B&B brought up a great point, making a diminished value claim.  Definitely consider this, you won’t regret it.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Hammer Time: Old Tech / New Tech Tue, 29 Oct 2013 11:00:18 +0000

Ah, the good old days. A time when smartphones were just PDA’s with hormone imbalances.

A time of basic cell phones, brick-thick cameras, and camcorders barely big enough to require a hand strap.

I remember all this old tech like it was yesterday, and for one simple reason: I still used all of them until recently.

Until about a month ago, I used the same basic cell phone I got for free back in 2008.

Absolutely nothing special, the bare bones MetroPCS phone enabled one-handed dialing and texting without even looking at the screen.

One thumb and dome. I mean, done.

That primitive device was brutally brilliant for yours truly because it was essentially “dope resistant”. It withstood a 45-MPH launch from  a Lincoln Town Car’s hood with nary a scratch.  I lost it dozens of times, once for two days. Yet I would invariably find it again and continue to beat it like a red-headed stepchild.

In time it was scratched, kicked, dropped, thrown, and beaten all to hell.

I treasured it. With each passing month, that miniature screen would get a little bit more faded and dim. Sometimes – not often…maybe once a month – the screen would freeze up or a button would stick.

No worries. At least not for a guy in a time warp. Even a few minutes of downtime each month was not nearly enough for me to invest in modern smartphones. Five-hundred dollars for a friggin’ phone? Ha! Not from this frugal zealot!

Then something happened…


I left it on top of a Subaru Outback and gave the keys to one of my customers. After a ten-minute test drive I heard the words that would change the course of my technological future.

“Steve, I really like this Outback. But I heard this strange clunking sound when I made my first turn. Are the CV joints okay?”

“Ummmm… I think it was my cell phone.”

A futile search on the nearby intersection yielded nothing more than a shocking amount of litter, and mild amusement from the passersby.

The time had come.

It was September 19th, 2013, and the cost of not having a phone for my business was far more dire than the relatively low cost of buying a good phone…a damn good phone…maybe even…the best phone?

So I powered up my fully-functional 2001 Pentium 4 with Windows XP and Googled “cell phones” and “best.”  A relentless assault of one-worded responses confronted me:


It was not because the iPhone was better than the Galaxy S4, which was better than the HTC One, which was…. what the hell are all these things?

No, it was because Apple was releasing the new iPhone 5C and 5S models the next day.

So I went to Wal-Mart.

And the AT&T store.

And T-Mobile.

And Best Buy.

But the iPhone 5S was nowhere to be found. It was worse than Chrysler’s release of the new Jeep Cherokee. I couldn’t find this thing in my neck of the woods to save my ass from first base.

I had to do something, anything, to get a decent cell phone.

I Facebooked. I called friends. I contacted people that I’m not even sure are my friends anymore.

One guy offered me a phone, but batteries were no longer available for that (2007) model.  However, the teenage girl working at the battery store was my savior.   She ducked in the back and emerged with something small, pink, and adorned with a Hello Kitty sticker.

I quietly sighed, but left with a new battery and the following phone for $40.


The damn thing’s called a lollipop.

Back in 2010 these phones were state-of-the-art…for the low end. But it could do pictures, voice, and even send your photos off to Kodak.

Kodak! Damn!  I was hitting the big time!

Within two days, I had it deciphered and was busy texting and calling away. The flip design would keep the sub-two-inch screen in stellar shape. All would be well again in my world.

Until, that is, I attended a nearby media event. Here, I realized brutal truth of my Luddite life.

I was the sole guy at the event without a smartphone. Not only that, I was the only journalist not typing away before the event began.

When the new car rolled out, they simply  snapped photos with their phones and sent them.

To online publications…to their social media pages…and probably a half-dozen other places thanks to various apps.

Me? I go and unsheath a 2005,  5-megapixel Sony digital camera, whose lens extends like a three-inch probe. I wait for the right exposure, take two pictures, and then the thing spontaneously seizes up in my hand like the relic it is.

Confession time: It wasn’t always like this for me; I used to be a hardcore technophile.

Party on Wayne!

Party on Wayne!

Twenty years ago, I was the first student at my college with a laptop. Thanks to it helping me overcome a fine motor impairment, my grades skyrocketed.  That’s Wayne by the way…

Technology was a beautiful thing in my life, and I almost accepted an offer with an IT consulting firm before my love for cars took over.

The car business, and the interrelated world of auto auctions, became my career, and I eventually became a ”tool guy” technologically.

If the hammer works, just keep on using it. Because “new” means “money”. And “nearly-new” means “nearly free.” And “old” means durable and often perfect for my limited needs.


A lot of long-time auto enthusiasts look at cars in much the same way. Older vehicles, especially those past a decade or even two, can perform the same functions as new models for a fraction of the cost.

Then again, you do miss a few pieces of technology as you go back in time: navigation, stability control, airbags. Everything from the steel polymers used to make vehicles, to the maintenance requirements for a daily driver, have changed substantially within the last ten years.

So here’s my question: Where do you draw the automotive line between old and new? Does a car with ABS, traction control, and dent resistant panels, like a 1992 Saturn, earn the right to be seen as a contemporary? Or does it have to Sync, Link, CUE and Think with mobile and hands-free technologies?

Where do you draw that line?

Oh, and if you happen to have a spare gold iPhone 5S with 30 times more gigabytes than my “pre-Ipod” computer, feel free to let me know.

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Ford CEO Mulally To Head Boeing Or Microsoft Soon? Sat, 19 Oct 2013 16:06:35 +0000 ford-ceo-alan-mulally-china-lincolnjpg-894a92e3f2c9121aThe rumor mill has been grinding away as of late regarding the possible return of Ford CEO Alan Mulally to helm either one of two of Seattle’s many economic engines: Microsoft and Boeing. In the face of these rumors, Mulally has opted not to dispel the rampant speculation.

Reuters was  among those in attendance at an automotive conference in Wuhan, China, where Mulally’s response to being asked whether he was directly or indirectly approached by either company to take the wheel was, “I love serving Ford.” He added that there were no changes to the plan laid out for Ford to find a successor to the third longest serving CEO when he steps down at the end of 2014, though Reuters did report that the auto maker may be open to an earlier departure should Mulally accept an offer elsewhere.

Since taking over Ford in 2006, Mulally helped steady the then-troubled company through his One Ford plan, which led to the sale of acquired brands — including Aston Martin and Volvo — to bring the focus back upon the Ford and Lincoln product lines. In turn, Mulally’s Ford was the only auto maker to avoid the pitfalls and bailouts experienced by Chrysler and General Motors during the Great Recession’s early days in late 2008.

With Microsoft’s market price still stagnant a decade on, and Boeing’s own woes with the 787 Dreamliner, either company could possibly benefit should the right offer approach his desk, especially if hand-delivered by his senior contacts in both companies to his home in Seattle.

Of course, when asked if he were open to a new executive post upon the end of his term at Ford, Mulally laughed and only had three words for the reporter: “I don’t know.”

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On Brittany Howard, LeMons and New Jersey College Virgins Mon, 12 Aug 2013 14:07:52 +0000 Yeah, I opened this up for the screen shot, but I had been listening

Yeah, I opened this up for the screen shot, but I had been listening

You have heard it before, you’ll hear it again. Probably soon, probably better and probably from Louis CK, in which case it will definitely be funnier.

But what an age we live in! Literally, a mere 10 years ago my wife sat at home hoping my once a week phone call from Africa would actually connect. Today, I am texting her as she has lunch with her little brother in Virginia. But what’s more impressive is that I am doing that while watching real time race updates as my buddies the Three Pedal Mafia and their beater Rolls Royce battle Speedycop and his amazing upside down racecar at on the 24 Hours of Lemons at NJMP. The mighty K Car wagon is there as well.

Unfortunately, I believe that is the S-10 Sea Sprite, The Rolls is not doing well

Unfortunately, I believe that is the S-10 Sea Sprite, FB tells me the Rolls is totalled

Yeah, you can watch big races live on the a giant TV from almost anywhere with electricity, but I am here, in a hotel in Amman Jordan, Guinness slippers on, getting real-time lap by lap updates on my iPhone with the Race Monitor App. This allows me to annoy my east coast teammate with useless observations and pointless advice so obnoxiously, it’s like I am there, only they didn’t have to buy me a case of Dos XXs.

Seriously, what is most unlikely? Unicorn farts or NJ College virgins?

Seriously, what is most unlikely? Unicorn farts or NJ College virgins?


This is not up to the minute action of the latest Formula 1 race, but this is “as-it-happens” track data from a crapcan race. All in the comfort of a small couch while Brittany Howard serenades me from my Alabama Shakes Pandora station.

Yeah, I know I’m not cool, call me a fanboi, trend jumper, whatever. I will read it, from right here, on the same couch, 8,000 miles away. I will probably read it within seconds of you clicking “comment.” But I move my lips when I read, so it will take a while. I am from Georgia after all.

But think about it. To place the concept in another time frame; it’s like my Dad being able to watch a Friday night grudge race from his leatherette La-Z-Boy by tuning to a UHF channel back when I was a wee lad. Except the TV is in Spain, a heckler can toss beer can at him from Australia, all while he typed up a story about it. Then mailed that story to German editor in Japa…you see where this is going right?

Of course you do. I am pointing out that you can mock me, as I bother my team, while we are watching live updates and our snarky criticism of other people can span the globe. I only ask that for a few seconds prior to your slapping that “enter” key with resolute authority, you think about the wonder of it all.

It’s pretty cool huh?

Go Three Pedal Mafia!

Fire away.

W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is a graduate of Panoz Racing School, loves cartoons and once exceeded the speed of sound. Married to the most patient woman in the world; he has three dogs, a Philosophy degree and a gift for making Derek and Jack wonder if English is actually his first language.

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Apple announces “iOS in the Car” Mon, 10 Jun 2013 21:45:19 +0000 Apple Maps displaying in a car

Apple just announced a bunch of new stuff today as part of their annual developers conference. Most TTAC readers don’t really care that iOS7 is ditching the old skeuomorphic look (fake brushed metal, fake leather, etc.) for a flat design that is damn near identical to what Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows 8 have been doing. However, they’ll care about this.

Apple has announced “iOS in the Car” (TheVerge has a summary; see also Cnet, Engadget, Gizmodo). Apple didn’t say much, beyond a a few pretty screenshots and a list of car manufacturers who will support this in 2014. We don’t know if this will be an Apple-proprietary protocol or if it will be an open standard that Android and other phones can use. Regardless, we can expect non-Apple phones to be hacked in one way or another to work with this, assuming they’re willing to do battle with Apple’s patent portfolio.

This is a big deal. For the first time, we have car manufacturers conceding a significant part of the driver’s user experience to a device or company outside of their control. For example, if you buy the most alpha nerd car available today, a Tesla Model S with its monstrous 17″ touch screen, you have well-integrated Tesla-skinned Slacker and TuneIn Internet radio, complete with a secondary display of the current song next to your speedometer. Would you prefer Pandora or Google Music? Sorry, you’ll have to stream that through your phone, which won’t be anywhere near the same slick experience. In Apple’s new world order, your car is an accessory to your phone, which is exactly the way it should be. Many people replace their phones every time their two year contract comes up for renewal and some replace it even more often. Conversely, most any modern car should handily last ten years or more with the right tender loving care. You can go through five generations of phones in the same time that you go through a single car. Your phone keeps getting better and your car (generally speaking) doesn’t. Furthermore, as I go from my personal car to a rental car to whatever else (a taxi?), I get to take “my” navigation system and “my” music along for the ride, rather than learning my way around yet another car manufacturer’s dial that spins, clicks, slides, and otherwise goes out of its way to annoy the driver.

I’d previously been skeptical that something like this would ever come to pass. Why would a car manufacturer willingly allow themselves to be commoditized like this? Why would they willingly give up the chance to upsell their customers on monthly service charges? In the new world order, a third-party app installed on your phone could use the built-in accelerometer and GPS to figure out that you decelerated in a big hurry and probably had an accident, just like GM OnStar and other such manufacturer-provided subscription services do. Would you rather have that service attached to your car or to your phone? I’d vote for the phone, since it would be with me regardless of what car I happened to be in.

If I were king for a day, I’d not only push for the phone/car video interface to be standardized, but I’d also push for the car to provide specific sensors and data to the phone. For example, the car might feed your phone telemetry data (wheel angle, speedometer, tachometer, etc.), which can aid a navigation system that temporarily looses contact with the GPS satellites, or give you great feedback on your hot track laps. They might even consider providing deeper manufacturer-specific hooks to allow for over-the-air software updates. At that point, some interesting security threats rear their ugly heads, since the phone needs to be treated as a potentially hostile component within the otherwise-friendly world of the in-car network. Still, color me excited. I’ve wanted this for a long time.


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Ten Best and Worst Automotive Gadgets Wed, 17 Apr 2013 18:44:47 +0000

As the line between automotive electronics and consumer electronics grows ever closer, the list of new-car options has grown at an incredible pace. As a person who’s constantly in a new vehicle and has an insatiable love for gadgetry, click through the jump for my top 10 must-haves and the 10 options you should avoid at all costs. Picking the right options can help your car’s resale value and choosing the wrong ones can lower it or even limit the market for your ride.

1. iPod/USB integration with voice commands

We all love tunes and you know that we all secretly love to tell our car what to do. It’s a match made in heaven.

2. Adaptive cruise control

I’m not convinced self-driving cars are going to pass legislative and legal hurdles, not to mention the inevitable flood of lawsuits, but one key technology the systems depend on is available on a wide variety of cars: adaptive cruise control. Using a radar system mounted on the front of the car, the car’s computer works the stop and go pedals for you to keep you under your pre-set speed and a safe distance from the car you’re following. The steering and panic stopping are up to you of course, but if you’re in moderate to mild freeway traffic I find it makes me a better driver by dealing with the slow down, speed up, slow down nature of traffic that drives me crazy. The fact that most systems will alert you if you’re not paying attention and are about to rear end the school bus is just icing on the cake.

3. Keyless entry/go

Keys are so last century.

4. Collision mitigation systems

A car that’s out to save my bacon (and my insurance premiums) ranks high on my list. I dislike systems that intervene too early, but the systems by Lexus and Volvo wait until the 11th hour (or the 11th nanosecond) to do something about your rear-ender-in-progress. I was a skeptic at first, a Volvo XC60 stopped itself automatically when I was momentarily distracted and that made me a believer.

5. Bluetooth integration

One of the greatest changes sweeping the industry over the last 5 years is the near universal availability of Bluetooth. While many new cars come with the technology standard, it is still on option some so do your homework. Don’t order a car without it. Aside from speaker phone capability, Bluetooth allows you to stream audio from your music device to the car and is one of the few technologies likely to survive for your car’s lifetime.

6. Dynamic beam headlamps

You know, the ones illegal in the USA? Yea. Them. In a nutshell the car scans the road ahead with a camera and using a sophisticated projection headlamp array it “blocks out” the light that would shine onto a car ahead of you (your direction or the opposite side of the road) so that your high beams can light up the rest of the road without blinding anyone. I’ve had the opportunity to drive several prototype vehicles and the system has to be the best thing since French car sales stopped in the USA. Sadly the Feds won’t let us have snazzy headlamps.

7. Heated steering wheel

Much like anal sex, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

8. Automatic climate control

Many years ago I decided that any new car I own must have certain features. Power seats, a telescopic steering wheel, heated seats and lastly automatic climate control. Over the years I have added plenty of must-haves to my list, but none top the automatic climate control. Why? Because I am that buy that’s too lazy to adjust knobs and buttons on my own.

9. Active suspension systems

I’ve owned three vehicles with active suspension systems and driven at least 40 to date. The systems on offer vary from simple load-leveling systems like the one in my GMC Envoy that drastically improve vehicle behavior when towing (and make it easy to deal with heavier-than-normal tongue weights) to fully-dynamic systems that alter the ride height and damping firmness. While the early systems on the Volvo S60R/V70R  had some software bugs, every modern system I have tested has done exactly what it says on the tin.

10. Heads-up displays

As the name implies, the goal is to give you information while keeping your eyes on the road. While I wouldn’t pay extra for the GM or Toyota systems, BMW’s full-color system is gorgeous and is the first system to display enough information to be worth ordering. In addition to the usual suspects of speed, tachometer, and gear information it will also show you your cruise control info, the speed limit on your current road and you can browse your media device. Last time I was in a dealer I broke my “never interfere” rule and told a customer “no, seriously the sales dude is right, the heads up thing rocks, get it.” If you own a 2013 BMW 3-Series and don’t have it, you should be forced to drive a Chevy Spark.

1. Lane watching cameras

The idea sounds good, it’s kind of like blind spot monitoring with a camera. At the press of a button, or when you use your turn signal, the system shows the video feed on your infotainment screen. My problem is: the same information can be gleaned by turning your head and looking over your shoulder and/or in the mirror which is on the side of the car anyway. If you must have a blind spot nanny, get one that beeps if someone’s in your blind spot, that’s more helpful.

2. Electric parking brakes

Sweet Jesus, save me. I love gadgets as much as the next person. I love power seats, power mirrors and power windows, but why on earth would I want an electric parking brake? Sure, they automagically set themselves when you turn the car off, but releasing them is an exercise in frustration. By all indications they are less reliable than the traditional mechanisms and should you ever need to use it as an “emergency brake,” they are a royal pain. Pray to whatever deity you believe in that the creator of this lever of horrors is struck by lightning.

3. Capacitive touch buttons

I love an easy-to-clean surface as much as the next guy, but I’m bright enough to know that if you are trying to pay as much attention as possible to the road, buttons that you can stab without looking down are the way to go. Instead, the automotive trend has been moving towards “touch” buttons. The button-free buttons don’t move when you press them and are impossible to find by feel. Sure, some companies but little bumps on them so you think you can hunt by feel. When you attempt that process you just hit all the wrong buttons sending your infotainment system into a crash-inducing tailspin. Of course, Cadillac’s CUE system doesn’t need any help to go haywire and crash.

4. Night vision

Night vision is a great technology if you’re hunting the enemy in Desert Storm part 2. In suburbia it’s just a $2,500 option that won’t get you laid. Trust me, I’ve tried. The systems allow you to “see” further than your headlights in the dark, but don’t try driving by looking at the screen you’ll get yourself into a world of hurt. The field of vision is too narrow, the response time is too slow and it’s in the wrong position anyway. I have a better idea: if you can’t see at night, don’t drive. Problem solved.

5. Launch control

Launch control sounds like a great idea and I couldn’t wait to get in a car with a modern launch control system. Sadly, like most things you eagerly anticipate, LC isn’t all its cracked up to be. Most systems are overly complicated with too many steps to follow before you’re ready to race. By the time you follow the procedure, the modded pickup you were trying to race has forgotten all about you. Adding insult to injury I have yet to test a system that made a difference in our 0-60 tests. The M6, M5, Challenger SRT8, Grand Cherokee SRT8 and others all posted better numbers when I used my 1990s launch control system: a properly calibrated right foot. Trust your instincts.

6. Satellite mapping

Don’t confuse this with navigation. I love me some navigation. I’m talking about Google satellite imagery overlayed on the car’s nav map. Until I get the flying car that was promised on the Jetsons, I don’t see why I need a mile-high view of the mall. Maybe if it was displaying big brother’s “creepy-live” data so I could see what parking spots are free, but until then just say no to yet *another* cellular data subscription.

7. Integrated booster seats

They sound like a great idea. You’re either planning on having kids or you have kids. The trouble is, if you’re planning on having kids, plenty can happen between the vehicle purchase and the time your progeny are age/weight appropriate. If you have kids already, it won’t be long before they are too old or too heavy to be in the booster seat. This just means you’ve paid for a very expensive set of booster seats that you’re stuck with until you ditch the car. Oh, and the seats are less comfortable for everyone, the kids in the seat and any adult unfortunate enough to have to sit in it.

8. Fog lights

In N. America we’re talking about front fog lights, not the rear fog lights required in some countries. Although, I really should talk about both. Front fog lights stopped being about fog and started being about fashion soon after they started. I live in a foggy area and I have yet to drive a vehicle whose fog-lights helped visibility. At best they light up the area immediately in-front of your bumper, but nine times out of ten they throw light everywhere making visibility worse. Rear fog lights are great, except nobody in America knows how to use them, especially Audi drivers who think its cool to leave them on 24×7.

9. Sports appearance packages

Just say no. Sports appearance packages do nothing to make your ride go faster, they usually just make it depreciate faster. Ouch. Sports handling packages can help the car’s dynamics with stiffer springs but your money is usually better spent on better tires.

10. Rear seat entertainment systems

Yep, RSE systems are totally cool but they are also one of the worst things you can spend your money on. Aside from the fact that most RSE systems have small displays, clunky software, crappy integration and are expensive, they are often integrated into strangely shaped front seat headrests that destroy the aesthetics of your car. Save yourself some cash and get an iPad or two. Not only are they better at entertainment duties while in motion, the digital babysitter is portable and will go with your kid on the plane.

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QOTD: Time For A Luddite Trim Level? Mon, 18 Mar 2013 13:28:23 +0000

In the endless rush to attract younger buyers, luxury car brands may have ended up alienating their traditional customer base – older buyers, specifically those old enough to collect social security – by implementing complex, technologically advanced features like touch screens and complicated infotainment systems. What if there were a way to opt-out?

Larry Vellequette of Automotive News has jokingly suggested a “Luddite” trim package for older buyers, which pairs traditional knobs and buttons with comfortable seating options. It may be a semi-satirical idea, but I am sure that plenty of older buyers would take well to it. I know of a few instances where older buyers have gone for the car that offers the least technology, even if it meant forsaking the brands they were traditionally loyal to.

That has meant traditional customers of Lincoln and Cadillac have shifted over to something like a Lexus ES350, because they found CUE or MyLincoln Touch to be too much of a burden. Bear in mind that these are the sort of people who find sending an email to be a great technological feat, and it’s not hard to understand their reluctance in embracing in-car computerization.

Vellequette notes that the resistance to touchscreens and their ilk is ultimately a futile pursuit. It’s also true that this demographic is literally a dying one, and the future of these brands will be with those who are technologically savvy. On the other hand, those with the means to buy new cars tend to be older. Perhaps the solution would be the ultimate automotive tech cliche – an iPad-like interface with a simple menu and easily recognizable icons. Though I’m not a “Mac Guy”, Apple products like the iPad and iPod seem to click with older users, with a minimum of futzing around required to operate them.

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GM Mobilizes Geek Squad, But Should Have Talked To Me First Tue, 27 Nov 2012 16:32:19 +0000

In-car entertainment and navigation systems bamboozle customers and ruin the out-of-the-box experience.”You see a lot of people get into the vehicle, and they can’t figure out the damned system,” Mark Harland, manager of GM’s connected customer team, told Reuters. “They get frustrated, and they get online and bash it, and that ends up on J.D. Power and Associates.” GM decided to do something about it. Will it make the damned systems more intuitive? No, it throws 25 people into the fight against technological ignorance. It has been tried before …

GM thinks the problem is not the system, it’s the damned dealer that won’t explain the damned system. GM sends 25 tech-savvy specialists to its 4,400 U.S. dealerships to show how to teach customers about technology. GM’s geek squad is backed-up by a dedicated team at GM’s call center. According to the report, “GM is also requiring that its dealers have at least one staff member trained in all of GM’s in-car systems – MyLink, CUE and IntelliLink – by the end of this year.”

Years ago, when I advised a very large European carmaker in these and other matters, the company had similarly huge problems with then much simpler technology.

For instance, car radios were swapped several times under warranty because the volume was changing without anyone touching the dial. The swaps did not fix the problem. Customers became upset and satisfaction scores plummeted. After months of drama, it emerged that it wasn’t a bug, it was a feature: The volume adapted to in-car noise, actually, the volume rose and dropped with the speed of the car, but nobody had told the customer. Or the service writer.

Like GM now, the large European OEM that starts with “V” and ends in “olkswagen” sicced trainers at dealers and required them to explain the verdammte System to the verdammte Kunde. The dealers said this would take at least an hour each, they would rather use the time to sell cars, and if the car company really wants them to teach tech to the uninitiated, then only in exchange for a horrendous hourly fee. Thus ended the project.

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Carnegie Mellon Researchers Invent Smart Headlights That “See Through” Rain, Snow Fri, 06 Jul 2012 15:01:12 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

The problem with driving at night in the raining or snowing conditions is that your headlights work too well. They light up the rain and snow as much as they illuminate the road ahead, sometimes more so. In a novel approach using cameras, computers and DLP projectors to replace conventional headlight bulbs, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a “smart” headlight system that essentially shines light between the rain drops.

It turns out that less really can be more, at least in terms of night driving. By selectively reducing the amount of light projected, by not shining light on the computer predicted path of the rain drops or snow flakes as they enter the critical 3-5 meter space in front of the driver, there is significantly reduced glare.

Theoretically in a perfect system with minimal latency, illuminating 100% of rain drops would come at a cost of only a 2% reduction in total light projected. Precipitation is only a small fraction of the total visual field. So far in lab tests with real water drops falling at normal precipitation levels and slow (30KPH) travel speeds, they can reduce the visibility of rain almost 70% at a cost of only 5% loss of light. The system is less efficient with snowflakes, because they are larger and move more slowly, so there’s about about 15% loss of light, but it can still keep from illuminating more than 60% of the snow. At higher speeds it’s less efficient but lead researcher Srinivasa Narasimhan says that continued development for highway speed use is worthwhile, while stressing that the current system cannot account for wind, turbulence and that it needs to be more compact. Though the researchers stress the data capture and processing parts of the system, it couldn’t work without a DLP projector, one of our age’s unappreciated wonders. The microminiature mirror array in a DLP device can be precisely controlled as to where it shines light.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading– RJS

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Volvo CEO: “Our Cars Are Too Complicated” Mon, 25 Jun 2012 13:00:21 +0000

Here’s a breath of fresh air; Volvo CEO Stefan Jacoby declared that his cars, laden with safety systems and other gadgets, are too complex for most of Volvo’s customers.

Jacoby cited a study, which claimed that 75 percent of Volvo customers didn’t know the full potential of their cars. Citing Apple as an example, Jacoby said

“Our cars are too complicated for the consumer. Our intention is to have an intuitive car that lets the driver actually feel like he’s in command,”

My parents have an XC60, and while they’re pretty tech savvy, they still have trouble deciphering the various three-letter safety systems in their car, and I don’t think they’ve ever gone deep into the muti-layered menus since taking delivery of the car. Taking a pro-simplicity position is something that most of us can identify with.Volvo will have a unique challenge on its hands, since so much of its identity is wrapped up in being on the leading edge of safety and design. Making their cars easier to use while progressing technologically is a task that many have failed at – witness the lack of a legitimate iPod competitor if you need further proof.

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Have We Reached “Peak Adjustment” For Performance Cars? Thu, 14 Jun 2012 15:04:31 +0000

Chris Harris may have been wrong about Miatas, but his review of the Audi RS4, where he describes the various configurable driveline settings as “adjustment theatre”, brilliantly describes the overly-complex systems that are cropping up in today’s performance cars as they attempt to appeal to not just the lead-footed, but the well-heeled.

The RS4, as Harris notes, is supposed to be the sports car for everyone, able to carry dogs, people and cargo while offering unbeatable performance in every situation. It would be easy to dismiss the whole package as a hopeless compromise, and tell everyone to go buy a Caterham and a base A4 wagon, but luckily, Harris has the empathy to see past that fallacious, nonsensical line of thinking.

Adjustment theater isn’t just defined to the OEMs. Think of the adjustable shocks that offer different “clicks” that presumably adjust how soft or stiff they are. But what about pre-loading, or rebound damping or any of the other parameters that really matter. Turning a knob from “1″ to “10″ doesn’t tell you much, but it sure does sound cool when bragging to friends or forum users.

Adjustment theater isn’t just the domain of the RS4. The E60 M5 was famous for having all kinds of different modes (including a “Power” button), the Nissan GTR is like Gran Turismo come to life and even the Hyundai Elantra GT, which we’ll be driving next week, has different power steering modes.

Harris notes that one of the great things about the previous RS4 was that it “…just worked out of the box”. Today’s breed of performance car seems to be able to do that – as long as you know the right cheat codes.

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Apple, OEMs, Not On The Same Page With Siri Wed, 13 Jun 2012 18:15:09 +0000 A Fast Company article on in-car integration of Siri, Apple’s voice activated Artifical Intelligence system, revealed that despite Apple’s usage of their brands, a few manufacturers aren’t even aware of plans to use it on their vehicles, let alone within the 12 month timeframe that Apple had suggested.

The article quotes Chrysler as saying

“We haven’t seen the statements attributed to Apple and we have nothing to announce at this time,” a Chrysler spokesperson said by email. When pressed, the spokesperson would only add that “Chrysler does not comment on future product plans.”

Audi and Toyota were on the fence about what kind of timeline would be possible, while BMW said that mid-2013 is likely. Mercedes-Benz and GM said that things would happen in 12 months or less, with GM citing Chevrolet in particular as the first application.

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SAE World Congress: Not Enough Automotive Engineers to Go Around Tue, 01 May 2012 12:30:10 +0000

The Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress held in Detroit every April serves a number of functions for the automotive engineers’ professional association.

There are speeches (lately, it seems, more by Washington bureaucrats than by real, you know, engineers), technical panels, papers presented, standards suggested, and the big floor of Cobo Hall is pretty much turned into a trade show with booths from car companies, vendors, startups, and regional & international economic development delegations. If you want swag you can sell on eBay, go to a big auto show media preview (though things have changed and thumb drives aren’t quite as collectible today as diecast models once were). However, if you want free pens and the kind of swag that appeals to nerds like the cool little screwdriver set that Magna Powertrain gave out, go to the SAE convention. Also, if you’re an engineer looking for a job, or,a company looking to hire automotive engineers, you need to attend.

Last year, the concourse at Cobo was two-thirds filled with recruiting booths with companies looking to increase technical staffing that had been cut deep into the bone during the meltdown of the domestic auto industry in 2007-2009. The 2011 SAE World Congress saw a hiring frenzy. This year, the concourse was completely filled with recruiting booths. SAE international president Frank Klegon told me that there were significantly more companies at the recruiting fair this year than last. There wasn’t so much of a hiring frenzy this year, though. A recruiting frenzy, yes, but just about every company that I spoke to said that they were struggling to meet their quotas.  In addition to the recruiting fair, there were also kiosks with job postings and the engineers in attendance seemed far more interested in the booths on the show floor than in the job postings. Most of the companies in the recruiting fair were also represented on the show floor, trying to sell something, but some came to the World Congress just to hire engineers

It’s sometimes difficult getting people to recognize just how international the automotive community in southeastern Michigan has become. Yes there were delegations from Korean, Canadian, Mexican, Italian and other foreign companies and trade groups in the vendor displays inside Cobo Hall, but a walk through the SAE job fair in the building’s lobby shows just how many international companies have located engineering and production facilities in America’s industrial heartland. Almost all of the companies recruiting have offices or operations in Michigan or nearby states and they were hiring for those facilities. In the vendor displays, Tata Technologies showed off their eMO EV concept, designed and built in the Indian company’s facility not far from Detroit.

Not all the recruiting was for American operations. In the lobby, Tata’s parent company was again trying to recruit engineers for their corporate R&D center in Maharashtra state, India. Next door to the Tata recruiter was a table for Saudi Aramco. With companies telling me that they were having trouble finding enough automotive engineers to staff their operations in Auburn Hills or Plymouth, Michigan, I don’t envy the folks trying to place engineers in Pune and Jeddah.

The story was the same at small firms looking to hire a relative handful of engineers and those looking to fill 200 or more positions. They were getting interest from qualified applicants, but not enough to meet their needs. One problem facing recruiters is that during the carpocalypse of 2007-2009, many engineers permanently left the automotive industry, tired of its constant boom and bust cycles. Some will never return to working in automotive, but for others, like the Jatco rep demonstrating one of the CVTs they supply to their parent, Nissan, there was a reason why they worked in the automotive sector in the first place. I’m not sure if the metaphor fits in an era of Lithium-Ion batteries, but some people are just born with gasoline in their veins. Unfortunately for recruiters in the industry, right now there aren’t enough of them to go around.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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Blind Spot: The Twilight Of The Volt Mon, 05 Mar 2012 00:44:30 +0000

 “Do you want to accompany? or go on ahead? or go off alone? … One must know what one wants and that one wants”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight Of The Idols

This week’s news that GM would stop production of the Chevrolet Volt for the third time in its brief lifespan came roaring out of the proverbial blind spot. Having watched the Volt’s progress closely from gestation through each month’s sales results, it was no secret to me that the Volt was seriously underperforming to expectations. But in the current media environment, anything that happens three times is a trend, and the latest shutdown (and, even more ominously, the accompanying layoffs) was unmistakeable. Not since succumbing to government-organized bankruptcy and bailout has GM so publicly cried “uncle” to the forces of the market, and I genuinely expected The General to continue to signal optimism for the Volt’s long-term prospects. After all, sales in February were up dramatically, finally breaking the 1,000 unit per month barrier. With gasoline prices on the march, this latest shutdown was far from inevitable.

And yet, here we are. Now that GM is undeniably signaling that the Volt is a Corvette-style halo car, with similar production and sales levels, my long-standing skepticism about the Volt’s chances seems to be validated. But in the years since GM announced its intention to build the Volt, this singular car has become woven into the history and yes, the mythology of the bailout era. Now, at the apparent end of its mass-market ambitions, I am struck not with a sense of schadenfreude, but of bewilderment. If the five year voyage of Volt hype is over, we have a lot of baggage to unpack.

When a history of the Volt is written, it will be difficult not to conclude that the Volt has been the single most politicized automobile since the Corvair. Seemingly due to timing alone, GM’s first serious environmental halo car became an icon of government intervention in private industry, a perception that is as true as it is false. I hoped to capture this tension in a July 2010 Op-Ed in the New York Times, in which I argued that

the Volt appears to be exactly the kind of green-at-all-costs car that some opponents of the bailout feared the government might order G.M. to build. Unfortunately for this theory, G.M. was already committed to the Volt when it entered bankruptcy.

But by that time, the Volt was already so completely transformed into a political football, the second sentence of this quote was entirely ignored by political critics on the right. The culture of partisanship being what it is in this country, any nuance to my argument was lost in the selective quoting on one side and the mockery of my last name on the other. One could argue that that this politicization was unnecessary or counter-productive, but it was also inevitable.

The Volt began life as a blast from GM’s Motorama past: a futuristic four-place coupe concept with a unique drivetrain (which still defies apples-to-apples efficiency comparisons with other cars), a fast development schedule and constantly-changing specifications, price points and sales expectations. It’s important to remember that the Volt was controversial as a car practically from the moment GM announced (and then began changing) production plans, becoming even more so when the production version emerged looking nothing like the concept. But it wasn’t until President Obama’s auto task force concluded that the Volt seemed doomed to lose money, and yet made no effort to suspend its development as a condition for the bailout, that a car-guy controversy began to morph into a mainstream political issue.

At that point, most of the car’s fundamental controversies were well known, namely its price, size, elusive efficiency rating, and competition. Well before the car was launched, it was not difficult to predict its challenges on the market, even without the added headwinds of ideological objections (which should have been mitigated by the fact that they were actually calling for government intervention in GM’s product plans while decrying the same). But GM’s relentless hype, combined with Obama’s regular rhetorical references to the Volt, fueled the furor. Then, just two months after Volt sales began trickle in, Obama’s Department of Energy released a still-unrepudiated document, claiming that 505,000 Volts would be sold in the US by 2015 (including 120,000 this year). By making the Volt’s unrealistic sales goals the centerpiece of a plan to put a million plug-in-vehicles on the road, the Obama Administration cemented the Volt’s political cross-branding.

When GM continued to revise its 2012 US sales expectations to the recent (and apparently still wildly-unrealistic) 45,000 units, I asked several high-level GM executives why the DOE didn’t adjust its estimates as well. But rather than definitively re-calibrate the DOE’s expectations, they refused to touch the subject. The government, they implied, could believe what it wanted. Having seen its CEO removed by the President, GM’s timid executive culture was resigned to the Volt’s politicized status, and would never make things awkward for its salesman-in-chief. And even now, with production of the Volt halted for the third time, GM continues to play into the Volt’s politicized narrative: does anyone think it is coincidence that The General waited until three days after the Michigan Republican primary (and a bailout-touting Obama speech) to cut Volt production for the third time?

Of course, having used the Volt as a political prop itself from the moment CEO Rick Wagoner drove a development mule version to congressional hearings as penance for traveling to the previous hearing in a private jet, GM is now trying to portray the Volt as a martyr at the hands of out-of-control partisanship. And the Volt’s father Bob Lutz  certainly does have a point when he argues that the recent Volt fire controversy was blown out of proportion by political hacks. But blaming the Volt’s failures on political pundits gives them far too much credit, ignores GM’s own politicization of the Volt, and misses the real causes of the Volt’s current, unenviable image.

The basic problem with the Volt isn’t that it’s a bad car that nobody could ever want; it is, in fact, quite an engineering achievement and a rather impressive drive. And if GM had said all along that it would serve as an “anti-Corvette,” selling in low volumes at a high price, nobody could now accuse it of failure. Instead, GM fueled totally unrealistic expectations for Volt, equating it with a symbol of its rebirth even before collapsing into bailout. The Obama administration simply took GM’s hype at face value, and saw it as a way to protect against the (flawed) environmentalist argument that GM deserved to die because of “SUV addiction” alone. And in the transition from corporate sales/image hype to corporatist political hype, the Volt’s expectations were driven to ever more unrealistic heights, from which they are now tumbling. Beyond the mere sales disappointment, the Volt has clearly failed to embody any cultural changes GM might have undergone in its dark night of the soul, instead carrying on The General’s not-so-proud tradition of moving from one overhyped short-term savior to the next.

Now, as in the Summer of 2010, I can’t help but compare the Volt with its nemesis and inspiration, the Toyota Prius. When the Toyota hybrid went on sale in the US back in 2000, it was priced nearly the same as it is today (in non-inflation-adjusted dollars), and was not hyped as a savior. Instead, Toyota accepted losses on early sales, and committed itself to building the Prius’s technology and brand over the long term. With this approach, GM could have avoided the Volt’s greatest criticism (its price) and embarrassment (sales shortfalls), and presented the extended-range-electric concept as a long-term investment.

Even now, GM can still redefine the Volt as a long-term play that will eventually be worth its development and PR costs… but only as long as it candidly takes ownership of its shortcomings thus far and re-sets expectations to a credible level. And whether The General will defy and embarrass its political patrons by destroying the “million EVs by 2015″ house of cards in order to do so, remains very much to be seen. One thing is certain: as long as it puts PR and political considerations before the long-term development of healthy technology and brands,  GM will struggle with a negative and politicized image. And the Volt will be seen not as a symbol of GM’s long-term vision and commitment, but of its weakness, desperation, inconstancy and self-delusion.

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Future Volvos Powered By Turbocharged Modular 4-Cylinders Fri, 06 Jan 2012 21:44:51 +0000

Amid Volvo’s announcement of a plug-in hybrid for markets besides diesel-loving Europe came another tidbit about the lone Swedish brand’s future direction. Rather than 5, 6 or 8 cylinder engines like years past, Volvo will be downsizing, much like BMW – and using modular engines to boot, much like their Bavarian rivals.

While Volvo’s plans weren’t articulated as well as BMW’s modular engines, the 4-cylinder will not only form the core of Volvo’s lineup, but a 3-cylinder version is possible. Each cylinder will be 500 cc’s by itself, and use a variety of turbochargers to attain various power levels. Volvo is also claiming that fuel economy will be 30 percent better than their current engines without any sacrifice in performance.  Good news, considering that the XC60, which offers a punchy T6 engine that can move the XC60 and S60 sedan down the road pretty well (as much as 325 horsepower and 350 lb-ft depending on trim level), but also offers V8 fuel consumption, returning an EPA rated 19/25mpg.

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Our Daily Saab: Hold On And Believe Tue, 22 Nov 2011 16:23:45 +0000

The last attempt at saving Saab failed when GM said it would not supply or license technology to Saab if it were 100% owned by PangDa and Youngman, scuttling the Chinese firms’ bid for outright control of the company. Now the two firms have sent a revised proposal to The General in hopes that they can provide safeguards for intellectual property, allowing them to purchase Saab without losing the link to GM. After all, both the 9-3 and 9-5 rely on GM technology and parts, while the 9-4X is wholly supplied by GM. Rachel Pang of PangDa tells

We have not discussed any changes with regard to ownership structure. We are concentrated on the GM issue… It’s about more commercial terms.  We want to meet them and have asked for a meeting. First we must give them time to review our proposal. We are waiting for GM’s response and then we will of course respect it.

Of course, our understanding is that “the GM issue” is the same as the ownership structure issue… and keep in mind, PangDa and Youngman are looking for a meeting, not an agreement from GM. Which means this could drag on a while… and wouldn’t you know it, it’s time for Saab to pay salaries again.

Victor Muller, who TTELA says “has increasingly fallen into the background” of negotiations, agrees that it could be a while, noting

GM will first need to digest the information gained from Saab. It is up to Youngman and Pang Da which they want to conduct the negotiations with GM

And while PangDa/Youngman are waiting to hear back from the RenCen, they’ve got to keep the cash flowing. Apparently Youngman injected some $3m into Saab this week, and PangDa could help out with wages, which must be paid at the end of this week. Which raises an interesting question: why are PangDa and Youngman continuing to inject cash into a company they may never be able to own? Surely not because GM has sent promising signals, as its last message was

We have not changed our point of view. We are not negotiating with the Chinese since our contracts are with Saab

When asked about this puzzling state of affairs, Rachel Pang gave an answer that definitely gains something in  the Google Translation

TT: Why do you continue to invest in Saab when you do not know if you can buy the company?

- A good question. I do not know what I should be on it at the moment, says Rachel Pang. (Original: En bra fråga. Jag vet inte vad jag ska vara på den i nuläget, säger Rachel Pang.)

I’m sure Ms Pang’s answer must have been more reasonable than this appears, but then, every time I dig back into the Saab story, I tend to not know what I should be on at that moment. A stiff drink? Painkillers? Some kind of exotic hallucinogen, synthesized from the pancreas of Amazonian salamanders? What could possibly make me understand the point of all this burning capital? At this point, I’m almost considering tucking into the barbiturate overdose-in-applesauce that Guy Lofalk is keeping warm for Saab.  This story is a killer.

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Ford: Wait, We Fixed MyFordTouch! Mon, 07 Nov 2011 20:18:33 +0000

MyFordTouch was supposed to build on the SYNC system’s momentum, extending Ford’s edge in mass-market infotainment gizmology. Instead, MyFord nearly killed the golden egg-laying goose, by earning Ford a sharp downgrade from Consumer Reports and widespread criticism. Ford has decided that 40-minute training sessions weren’t going to cut it as a response to the complaints that the system was balky and confusing, and The Blue Oval is now trumpeting the all-new for 2013 version of MyFordTouch. Because, in the words of Ford’s spokes-interior-designer-person

As you can see, with a software platform like SYNC, it’s easy to continuously improve and upgrade your system.

You know, in comparison to the all-new Ford Escape she’s sitting in. It’s still not quite as easy as a computer software update: instead of downloading the reflash, you have to go into a dealer to get the upgrade. Meanwhile, this is just the latest hurdle in the hot-hot in-car gizmo side of the business. The big one comes in 2014, when the government issue rules on distraction-mitigation in voice-activated in-car systems. That could make this minor public beta testing fiasco look like nothing…

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Paper Treated Differently Than Smartphones in Automobile Searches Tue, 01 Nov 2011 14:16:52 +0000

Motorists searched during a traffic stop may find their iPhone data electronically grabbed by police in ways that would not be possible or acceptable with written material. Some police departments, including the Michigan State Police, are equipped with a mobile forensics device able to extract images, videos, text messages and emails from smartphones. In some cases, the device is able to bypass password protection. Several states have been reluctant to curtail law enforcement access to this information.

In January the California Supreme Court ruled in California v. Diaz that a police officer did not need a warrant to read the text messages on a cell phone grabbed during a search incident to arrest. A Court of Appeal ruling in September (view opinion) found a Blackberry in an automobile was nothing more than a “container” subject to warrantless examination. Golden State lawmakers recoiled at the precedent being set and moved quickly to introduce legislation requiring police to obtain judicial approval before searching a phone. The state Senate approved the measure in June by a vote of 28-9 and the state Assembly unanimously passed it in August. Governor Jerry Brown (D), however, used his veto power last month to prevent the measure from becoming law.

“I am returning Senate Bill 914 without my signature,” Brown wrote in his message to the Senate. “The courts are better suited to resolve the complex and case-specific issues relating to constitutional search-and-seizures protections.”

Nationwide, the courts do not agree on how such cases should be handled. On Tuesday, New York’s Supreme Court, Appellate Division ruled that police had no right to read a driver’s paper notebook during a search. The case began when a Suffolk County Police officer pulled over Cristobal Perez for driving while talking on his cell phone and weaving in his lane. Perez had been operating on a suspended license, so his car was impounded. Police did not wait to ask a judge for a warrant before reading the papers found in the vehicle. The state’s second-highest court saw no reason why law enforcement could not wait for a judge.

“Here, the police officer’s initial entry of the defendant’s impounded car to leaf through notebooks located in the back seat was an unjustified unconstitutional search, and the notebooks and any information gleaned therein by the officer must be suppressed,” the unanimous court ruled. “Further, the plain view doctrine does not apply, because the incriminating character of the notebooks was not immediately apparent.”

Lawmakers in the Empire State have not addressed the issue of electronic searches. A copy of the New York decision is available in an 85k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File New York v. Perez (New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, 10/25/2011)


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Austin, Texas Explores Smartphone App For “Vigilante Meter Maids” Mon, 31 Oct 2011 14:07:21 +0000

Residents of Austin, Texas may soon have the power to issue parking tickets by taking a few photographs of someone else’s car with their smartphones. A unanimous council voted on October 20 to explore the concept of deputizing vigilante meter maids using an iPhone app. Disabled advocates pushed the program at the council meeting in the hopes of guaranteeing easier parking. They were joined by others who were just interested in writing the $511 tickets.

“I am a community policer from way back,” one resident said at the meeting. “I’m also one of the first code compliance volunteers in my neighborhood… Low income people like me can’t even afford a cell phone, so I think if you’re going to allow this you should also expand this ordinance to include the ability of the police department and code compliance to purchase smartphones for their volunteers.”

Councilman Kathie Tovo noted a number of volunteers had already emailed looking to join the program. Under Texas Transportation Code Section 681.0101, cities may deputize volunteer meter maids who swear an oath after taking a four-hour class before they can start ticketing.

“I can’t help but think that there’s some solution that does involve the use of smartphone technology putting those powers in the hands of citizens and enabling them to help the city extend its reach to do a better job of enforcing handicapped parking restrictions,” Councilman Chris Riley said.

The non-profit group Parking Mobility, created by George Soros-funded organizations, created the Android, Blackberry and iPhone parking ticket app which encourages cities to adopt the program because they can “generate revenue.” The system requires a person take three photographs of the alleged violator — one of the license plate, one of the windshield and one showing the car and the handicapped parking sign. The software sends the photos and the GPS location to the city so it can issue the expensive ticket.

“There’s really no better enforcement tool than our citizens policing themselves,” Councilman Mike Martinez said. “I think the merits of this program deserve our support.”

The council ordered the city manager to create a report on the feasibility of the program within ninety days.


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