Category Archives: Automobile News

New Auto Paint Is Not A Crime In Florida

We’ve all had the sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach when a police car pulls behind us, even when their lights and sirens are not active. But as long as we are driving below the speed limit and obeying all other traffic laws we know the police car is likely to just keep on driving when we turn off.

However, police might be looking at other things beside the quality of our driving. With in-car access to advanced and detailed driving records, some with access to a national data base of information, police are on the lookout for more than just unsafe drivers. In one case in particular Florida police pulled over a driver because the van he was driving had been painted a color different from what was reflected on their vehicle registration. Subsequent to the stop police discovered the driver had marijuana and crack cocaine in his vehicle. He was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

However, a recent ruling by the Florida appellate court reversed the conviction and freed the driver, because the fact that his vehicle had recently been painted was not justifiable cause for police to pull him over. That means that although the man was discovered to be in possession of illegal drugs, the police would not have discovered that information if they hadn’t pulled him over wrongly in the first place.

This was a win for the convicted felon but a loss for police as it limits their ability to make a traffic stop when they see something suspicious. Apparently the Florida Appeals court doesn’t think a paint job different from what’s on the vehicle registration isn;t suspicious enough for a traffic stop. Even though it resulted in getting a drug user (dealer?) off the streets.

Flood Damaged Cars From Sandy

Some very early estimates from Hurricane Sandy indicated that the number of flood damaged cars might exceed the 600,000 vehicles damaged by flood waters from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. However, more than a week after the storm and the insurance companies covering that area show that fewer than 40,000 vehicles were damaged during the recent storm.

Flood damaged vehicles are notorious for showing up months later and miles away on some used car dealership lot where they are fobbed off on an unsuspecting buyer. These poor folks get cars with untold hidden problems such as short-circuited electronics, strange odors and internal rust. These cars are usually not worth more than you could get at salvage yard for them, but if nobody is the wiser they can fetch much more from a dealership.

Although some bet that Hurricane Sandy would produce a huge influx of these types of “second-hand” cars, but these estimates have proved wrong. Perhaps car owners in the northeast were better prepared than those living in New Orleans prior to Katrina, or perhaps it was just the luck of the draw. Whatever the cause, the number of vehicles damaged by flood waters last week was not as bad as might have been expected given the breadth of devastation.

There are strict laws forbidding the sale of previously flood damaged vehicles, or any vehicle with a known defect which is not fully disclosed to the new buyer. All states and the federal government have rigorous standards when it comes to the buying and selling of automobiles, but buyers should still be cautious, nonetheless.

Amphibious Vehicles: Try, Try Again

Remember when Sir Richard Branson made headlines in his black, ocean-going aqua-car? In 2003 he set a record for crossing the English Channel in an Aquada, yet another “car of the future” which promises to give drivers the option of getting to their destination by land or sea.

Unfortunately, that was almost a decade ago and as of now the Aquada is still not ready for mass market production. The company that makes the Aquada, Gibbs, said they are still planning to make a consumer version available, but first must overcome problems with United States environmental and safety standards and possibly rules put in place by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Among the problems they need to overcome in production of their three-seat Aquada are salt-water tolerant electrical systems and air bags. The company has said it is working with these groups to find a solution and is confident a solution will be found sooner rather than later. In the meantime, while plans for the Aquada remain shelved, Gibbs said it will release a new amphibious vehicle called the Quadski in 2013.

Amphibious vehicles have been around for decades. In 1961-1965, 4,000 ‘Amphicars’ were released in the United States. The vehicle was road worthy and drivers were able to drive it into nearby lakes or calm rivers and shock passengers (and anyone watching them drive into the water.) Produced by the Quandt Group specifically for the U.S. market, the Amphicar is still considered the most successful civilian amphibious vehicle mass-produced. In fact, it is only the one which made it to the “mass-produced” stage, and 4,000 vehicles is not a stunning claim to fame.

As difficult as it has been to make a flying car available to the consumer market, amphibious vehicles have shared much the same fate. The fact is, trying to meet current safety and environmental standards imposed on automobiles for boats and planes is a bit of a stretch. If companies can find a way to bridge this gap we might all one day be flying, driving or boating around our world.

Are Electric Cars Better For The Environment? Maybe, Maybe Not

One of the biggest drivers of consumer demand for electric powered vehicles has been the underlying belief that these vehicles are actually better for the environment. However, a new study conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology seems to cast doubt on this belief.

The study was conducted to determine is electric vehicles simply shift concerns about the environment from one aspect to another. In other words, these new vehicles might not run on fossil fuels, which has been shown to cause global CO2 issues, but what about the toxic materials used in construction of the batteries and the production of the electricity used to power these vehicles? Do these factors outweigh any benefits gained from the fact they do not require fossil fuel to operate?

Perhaps not surprisingly to many, the study showed that yes, these vehicles do shift the balance away from fossil fuels and that the shift results in negative gain. In other words, are electric vehicles better for the environment? The answer is, no.

This does not mean that electric vehicles are bad and the technology should be abandoned. It simply means that consumers should be made aware that there are disadvantages to using electric vehicles and efforts should be undertaken to make them less harmful to environment, much as those same efforts made fossil fuel powered vehicles less harmful to the environment, such as the introduction of the catalytic converter and the elimination of the need for gasoline with lead.

No technology when first introduced is perfect. There is always a learning curve and always room for improvement when something new is rolled out. However, it is important for consumers to understand exactly what they getting before they commit to buy. If they are choosing an electric vehicle simply to decrease their dependence on having to stop at a gas station, then that’s ok. If they believe that buying an electric vehicle will somehow save the planet, well, that’s another story altogether.

Driverless Cars May Soon Haunt California Roads

This week California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing driverless cars, like the ones currently being tested by Google, to be operated on all California roadways. The caveat is that someone, a licensed driver no less, will still need to be seated behind. a functioning steering wheel, ready, willing and able to take control of the vehicle at any time in case the computer has a meltdown.

Despite these caveats California has now become the third state, and by far the largest state, to allow autonomous vehicles to operate on their roadways. Also, because these cars are still being tested and legislators are manufacturers are still trying to understand how to integrate the technology needed in a streamlined sort of way that meets their specific engineering criteria, it will likely be at least five years, if not much longer until these cars start showing up in showrooms.

And how much will they really affect the way we get around now? The bill clearly states that a licensed driver must be seated behind the wheel at all times, so it’s not as if these cars will help blind people get around (as had been hoped) or help elderly seniors who have surrendered their license. No, these vehicles will likely only help the very wealthy multi-taskers in our society who want to be able to conduct business during their daily commute, or allow the laziest among us to watch a movie while they ‘drive’ around town.

Granted, once these vehicles prove they are safe and reliable it seems likely the regulations limiting their use may be lifted, but since it will be almost a decade until we see any autonomous cars on the road, and some real world testing will need to be done for several years before legislators take any action, it seems as if the 21st century will be mostly over before driverless cars really start making a difference in our lives.

Pope Goes Electric!

If you are a ‘Pope Watcher’ then no doubt you have noticed his fancy new automobile. What you might not realize is his new ‘Pope Mobile’ is an all-electric Renault. Specifically, Pope Benedict XVI now has two new electric cars, both of them based on the Kangoo Maxi Z.E, an electric version of the Kangoo delivery van currently in use across Europe.

Pope Benedict has made no secret of his interest in renewable energy. Not so long ago he had solar panels installed on the roof of the Vatican. He has repeatedly said (through Vatican spokespeople) that he was eager to add electric cars to his line of armored vehicles.

And Renault has delivered in style.

The first of the Pope’s new vehicles is painted in a saintly shade of white, with the Papal coat of arms emblazoned across the doors. The car will be used when the Pope is traveling at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

The second will be used by the Corps of Gendarmerie Corps in Vatican City, the Pope’s own personal police force, and is painted blue with a yellow and white stripe down the side. Each has 60 horsepower, and a range of just over 100 miles.

The only downside to the new electric ‘Popemobile’ is the limited range and speed caused by the additional weight of the body armor required for vehicles in which His Holiness rides. Proponents of renewable energy and electric vehicle in particular see this as a boon for their industry. For millions of people (Catholics) around the world and endorsement from the Pope is a feather in anyone’s cap.

U.S. Sets New High For Fuel Efficiency

President Barack Obama this week took the next big step when it comes to fuel efficiency standards by increasing the U.S. average for cars and light trucks to 54.5 mpg by 2025.

The move is being touted by both environmentalists, who see it as a way to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and pursue alternative fuel sources, and those who are interested in freeing the U.S. from dependence on foreign oil.

“These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

However, some are saying the move will cripple the U.S. infrastructure and is a direct attack on personal liberties, not to mention safety, because increased fuel efficiency will only be available in much smaller cars.

Previously, the standard was to be increased to 35.5 mpg by 2016, but the Obama administration felt the nation could do better. They also say the new standard will not only increase fuel efficiency and lower greenhouse gases, it will also spur innovation as automakers seek to bridge the divide between what the consumer wants and what the government wants them to provide.

The new fuel efficiency standards will save consumers $1.7 trillion in gasoline costs and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels over the period, according to the White House.

And automakers say they are up to the task.

The fact is the United States is lagging behind most other industrialized nations when it comes to fuel efficiency. This is especially significant that for most of the 20th century the U.S. was a leader in innovation and technology. What is required now is a massive national effort to turn around manufacturing and technology industries and the Obama administration seems to be pursuing this.

Whether or not the automobile industry will be able to meet this new demand, and whether or not subsequent administrations will hold them to these new standards remains to be seen, but for now at least, it appears they are on the right track.

No ‘Super-Car Taxis’ In Jakarta

If you’re interested in starting a taxis service using super cars in Jakarta, Indonesia, there seems to be a great deal of interest already. In fact, a recent publicity stunt by a Jakarta bank showed that not only is there interested in a super car taxis service, but if you promise one and don’t actually deliver on that promise, people are likely to get angry.

That was the lesson learned by Indonesia’s largest bank, Mandiri, after it start rumors about the new super car taxis service and even decked out some Porsche and Ferrari vehicles as if they were going into service and sending them out around the city if Jakarta. Unfortunately which have seemed like a great idea at the time, didn’t work out quite the way they intended:

But it turns out that the company never existed and it was just an extremely elaborate marketing campaign by Indonesia’s biggest bank, Mandiri.

The bright-yellow super-cars were fitted with taxi signage and MM Cabs logos but were nothing more than a publicity campaign for Bank Mandiri’s new smartphone App for iPhones and Androids.

Hoards of excited Jakartans flocked to MM Cabs Twitter page expecting to find out more about the exclusive offering and it was from there that the confusing publicity stunt became clear.

The social media followers were then able to click a link which took them to Mandiri’s website which was promoting the new mobile banking app.

The campaign is thought to have cost the company a whopping £135,500 which includes renting the two super cars.

The other thing they might have considered is the fact that local traffic rarely gets up to speeds over 25mph so all that horsepower is pretty much just wasted space.

Your Car Can Earn You Money With OnStar And RelayRides

Most people look at their car as a function of modern living. We need a car to run errands; go to the doctor, go to work, go to school or whatever. When we aren’t using it, it just sits in the driveway gathering dust and losing value.

This is fine for the wealthiest Americans who really don’t care how many cars they have or what they are worth, but for some of us, having a way for our car to actually earn its way would be a blessing.

For owners of GM cars with the OnStar system, there is now a way to make money from your car when you aren’t using it. OnStar is now partnering with RelayRides, a company which specializes in renting users cars to other certified members of their system. That means if you are not using your car, you can rent it out.

This is a great idea for anyone who has a second vehicle which is only used for emergencies, or when the primary vehicle is unavailable. Instead of parking that car in the driveway and letting it gather dust you can make it available on the RelayRides network. If a certified user comes along looking for a rental car, and your is a good match (size, availability and location) then the company helps put the two of you together.

Here’s how it works: an owner of an OnStar equipped vehicle logs on to his OnStar account and makes the car available for rental via RelayRides. Once a picture is uploaded, the car can be rented right away by anyone with a RelayRides account.

When the car is rented, the prospective driver need not meet the owner to exchange keys; instead, the renter contacts OnStar via smartphone to unlock the doors of the vehicle. The owner, presumably, must leave a spare key hidden in the car, much to the delight of car thieves everywhere.

Renters get the added peace of mind that OnStar gives, meaning that directions or emergency assistance is just the press of a button away. Owners also benefit from knowing that if their car is stolen, it can be tracked and even disabled by the OnStar service.

American Petroleum Hates Ethanol (And For Good Reason)

If a company releases a delicious thirst quenching carbonated soft drink it stands to reason that Coca-Cola and Pepsi might try to dissuade consumers from even tasting the new product.

Business is business after all, and if you want to stay in business you need to convince people to buy your product and not a similar product offered by a competitor.

So it seems only logical that the American Petroleum Institute, a group dedicated to protecting the interests of petroleum producers, would have a problem with ethanol. Ethanol is a fuel additive produced in the United States which can be mixed with petroleum. In fact, it can also be used as a direct fuel for many vehicles, without the need for mixing with gasoline at all.

If not for the sale of gasoline the API would be out of business, so of course they are adamantly opposed to the use of the product. However, their efforts to convince drivers not use ethanol products, or even gasoline with ethanol in it, they are also saying that ethanol will destroy vehicle engines, which is simply not true.

The fact is that ethanol is perfectly safe for use in almost all engines, even those which are not specifically designed for “flex-fuel.” The API is playing on the fears and prejudices of some drivers who simply do not like change. If these drivers had their way “leaded” fuel would still be in use today because “unleaded” fuel was going to destroy their engines. (The theory being that the lead helped keep engine parts lubricated.)

In the meantime, ethanol producers have launched their own campaign to promote the use of their domestically produced fuel product in all vehicles. They have worked tirelessly in support of the agricultural producers who bring the ethanol to market and have helped demonstrate the effectiveness of ethanol as both a fuel and a way to support the national economy.