Gadgets and stuff for vehicles Just how useful/necessary are they?
During the ongoing search for another set of wheels, I got to thinking about upgrading the Zephyr convertible to modern specs. First up was the inboard computer. Initial attempts had me simply place the hard drive and monitor screen on the back seat, facing forwards. There were several problems with this, not the least of which was that, when I tried to view it via the rear-view mirror, the screen read back to front. With no safety belts required, there was nothing to hold the computer in place during sudden braking, thus my ‘inboard’ computer was suddenly in danger of becoming an ‘overboard’ example! And the only ‘programs’ I was able to download into it were old tapes of previous Zephyr conventions that I had attended, which were not much help with day-to-day running. Having said that, I remember one North Island convention in the mid 1980s, when, at one point, we were all on route from Rotorua back to the convention base in Taupo, and one of the cars got a flat tyre. Believe it or not, that car had no jacking points, and the only way to effect a tyre change was for several of us to lift up the rear of the car while the owner quickly removed the wheel and fitted the spare! I can recall exactly how heavy it was, but editorial policy prevents me from using that sort of language here, though I can say that one of the words was ‘heavy’, preceded by an adjective.
Another upgrade option was installing an airbag, but the nice old lady next door was reluctant to go cruising in the convertible with the roof down, especially in winter!
So, I flagged the electrical upgrade to the Zephyr and returned to the search for something halfway decent in a modern vehicle, and one that had not spent the past six years bouncing around over the generally still-stuffed Christchurch roads (but hey, the council can still spend thousands of dollars on sculptures!). While we’re still on ‘computers’, the other thing that bothers me about them is that they are only as accurate as the information inputted into them, and, if that information is wrong, they are effectively useless. I have previously mentioned that, as fast as manufacturers develop ‘tamper-proof’ odometer systems, someone else develops a way of tampering with them. BMW previously developed a system whereby several devices around the car recorded the odometer reading, so that, in the event that someone tampered with the one on the speedo, the other recording devices would reveal that the mileage was ‘dodgy’. However, as you would expect, some bright spark developed a program that (via a laptop) asked the car where all its recording devices were, and then altered the mileage on all of them. Of course, this tampering would take place before the vehicle was presented for ‘border inspection’ and the fancy little sticker for the windscreen to indicate to prospective buyers that the speedo reading was ‘reliable’. Yeah, right!
Which leaves me with the inevitable question — if the (for example) Japanese standards are so stringent that Japan’s cars become uneconomic and/or unsafe at around the five-year mark, why is that so with such low-mileage vehicles? Here in New Zealand, cars of a similar age, which are purportedly New Zealand new, have often covered between 150,000 and 200,000km or more, and yet they are still able to be driven!
A problem that arose after the tsunami in Japan was that a significant number of the cars were affected by radiation and couldn’t be exported. No problem! The solution was to move them to another part of Japan that was not affected by the radiation and re-register them there, thus avoiding the radiation border testing here in New Zealand and in Japan!
Remember the Wahine? The Union Steamship Company’s advertising at the time claimed, “We take you there and bring you back”. All the vehicles recovered from the wreckage had their ownership papers (registration certificates) stamped “Ex Wahine”. Again, no problem for the dodgy retailers. They simply applied for a duplicate set of papers, which was issued without the Ex Wahine stamp! The same thing happened after the Invercargill floods.
Just the other week, I read that crafty truckers were avoiding using the diesel additive required for cleaner-burning emissions from said trucks, and were fitting a small device that fooled the truck into thinking that the additive had been added! Which begs another question — if an electrical device can fool the truck’s enginemanagement system, why is the actual additive needed at all?
Reduced ACC levies
As an aside, the Federation of Motoring Clubs (FOMC) has recently taken up an idea I floated many years ago via this column, which was to change the ‘40 years and older’ category of vehicles to 30 years and older, meaning that, once a vehicle becomes 30 years old, it becomes eligible for vastly reduced Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) levies. The FOMC is looking to get it changed to ‘over 25 years’, which will be really great if it pulls it off, but the ACC needs our levies to make up shortfalls when its investments in the share market go belly up, as they have done in the past. Not quite sure how that could be applied to weed out the clapped-out cars of that age, but perhaps membership of a recognized car club could be one of the criteria or limited mileage, as is required by some of the insurance companies? In any event, I hope the FOMC has more support than I got during the introduction of unleaded petrol in the mid 1990s — fewer than 2500 signatures nationwide from affected car clubs. But with former Labour transport minister Harry Duynhoven now at the helm of the FOMC, I’m expecting big advances for classic car and motorcycle owners — after all, Harry owns a fleet of them himself!
But back to mileage issues — on second thoughts, mileage is not really an accurate indication of actual distance covered, as many owners of diesel-fuelled vehicles simply unplug their odometers for much of their tripping around. The bad news is that the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has recently started looking at diesel vehicles that previously recorded lots of kilometres but for which records suddenly show limited or no increase in mileage — because they’ve been laid up in the garage, perhaps. Bad luck on that score, as it is a bit like income tax. The NZTA can say that it estimates you must have covered X-amount of distance and send you a roaduser-charges bill for the estimated amount! Try dodging your way out of that.
Getting back to gadgets for a moment, anyone remember the old Morris cars of the 1930s to 1940s that had the Smiths Jacking System on each of the four wheels? This allowed you to jack up each wheel, or the entire car, while you swapped the wheels around. The only problem was that you had to have the vehicle on a perfectly level surface, lest it move forwards and thus jam the jacks in the extended position — as happened to me once. Of course, had I bothered to turn the page in the driver’s handbook, I’d have noted the warning! Smiths Jacking Systems also provided the power hood mechanism for the MKI Zephyr convertibles.
In the meantime, I am rapidly learning Japanese so I can read the service records for some of the imports I am currently looking at, as I’ve found the Billy T James ‘How to speak Japanese’ excerpt from one of his memorable shows just doesn’t quite cut it when trying to read those Japanese driver-instruction books — not to mention the dash-mounted TV monitors!
Drive or ride safe!