Monday, December 23, 2013

Perfect weather for a long drive



Perfect weather for a long drive


This morning when having my cup of tea, the marriage of those myriad conditions around me was proposing the idea for a long drive. For a brief moment I really felt like taking charge of the wheels, obviously intercepted by the reality bug. What was it that made my emotions flow through the brim, what was it that asked me to rebel against the world and follow my dreams, what was it that the idea of a long drive started itching me suddenly?

In retrospect, I understood it was the perfect weather for a long drive.

The temperature was just one step away from being cold or you might even declare it as the farthest step away from warm. The sun was giving a mild fleeting look through the greyish clouds every now and then. The clouds which felt as if might pour down if they get amalgamated however the fissure between them was confidently portraying the fact that they won’t come down hard. The slightly cold breeze which was rustling through the tree leaves besides the road was also shuffling the clouds above in the sky. This breeze was cold enough to make you realise that the moment you shut your car door, roll up your windows and switch on the AC, you will only be able to see the breeze but not feel it any more. Yes! You don’t want to feel it but it’s just ideal for you to whizz past it on a smooth 4 lane highway where you can hear it racing against your windscreen.

What else does a man need whose first love is driving? It’s the perfect setup, it’s the perfect plot for you to break all shackles and meet your dream, live your dream and be a part of your dream till the car is running, till the road doesn’t end, till the last bit of strength remaining in you to keep your eyes open and cruise through and fulfil the highway odyssey which you never wish to end.

Happy driving!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Car tyre maintenance and rotation



Car tyre maintenance and rotation



When it comes to tyres, the myriad myths surrounding it are flabbergasting. Be it the tyre rotation, tyre maintenance, tyre pressure, anything and everything regarding tyres are spoken off in abundance, every mortal has his own set of opinions.

To unravel some of those myths and to unearth the points that really count, I put forth here the critical aspects of tyre maintenance.

Car Tyre Rotation:

The most neglected and often overlooked aspect is rotation of the tyres on a regular basis. This is the most critical aspect to get the maximum life out of the rubber. Any decent tyre can easily run for 50,000 to 60,000 km if maintained properly. The key is to have an even wear and tear on all the 5 tyres. YES! 5. Most people forget that the spare tyre actually is very important in this process, if you want to have the maximum from your tyres.

A simple diagrammatic explanation on how the tyres should be rotated is explained in the image below.


This rotation should be carried about after every 5,000 km run. This rotation works well for front wheel drive, rear wheel drive and 4 wheel drive as well. It ensures that all the 5 tyres are run in all possible directions with all possible weight combinations hence an even wear and tear for all tyres thus maximizing their life. In between this 5000 km if you face a flat tyre situation and you have to use the spare wheel for a few kilometeres then as soon as you get the wheel fixed, put it back in its original position and the spare wheel should go back immediately. This will ensure that there is no hindrance in the rotation policy. Sometimes the servicing centres replace the tyres while doing certain mechanical job, to ensure they placed the tyres in the correct position is almost impossible. Hence it is advisable if we just number the tyres for our sake of convenience. Use a simple paint to number the tyres somewhere inside the rim where it isn’t openly visible.

Car tyre pressure:

Second point to ponder is the recommended pressure. Always study the car manual and ensure the recommended pressures are maintained. Get the pressure checked regularly ideally every fortnight. The wear and tear of the tyre is significantly dependent on the tyre pressure. Anything higher than recommended will result in tyres getting uneven wear from the centre. Anything less than recommended will result in the trim of the wheel to wear fast. To ensure that the trim and the centre of the wheel have equal wear, the pressure should be ideal.

Myth about tyres: 

Another myth that surrounds the driving community is that while going on highway tyre pressure should be reduced. The logic they give is that the tyre gets heated and hence the air expands and might result in tyre burst. Well, scientifically it looks okay but factually it’s wrong. The companies give the recommended tyre pressure under COLD conditions. One should always get his tyre pressure checked early in the morning or late evening after minimal driving. Never one should check it in a hot day after a long drive. So when you go on a highway it’s always recommended to have a bit higher pressure than recommended rather than lower. If the pressure is lower than recommended the wear and tear will be far more as both the trim and the centre will be rubbing against the road, increasing the chances of burst. In higher than recommended pressure only the centre of the wheel will touch the road avoiding the trim hence less danger of tyre burst. Ideally during highways the tyres should have 2-3 psi more than recommended in all tyres.

Quality of Rubber: 

Besides, another insight is important to know more about the quality of the rubber of the tyres. If the rubber is hard, the life of the tyre will increase but you will feel the road more. The gravels on the road will be more noticeable although the life will be more for your tyre.
However if the rubber is soft, the feel of the gravels on the road will be less. Not to mention the life will also decrease. So it is kind of a trade-off. I personally prefer hard rubber with more life than soft rubber with more comfort. Obviously it doesn’t mean that hard rubber is not comfortable. It’s just a fraction difference of comfort and durability. To quote certain examples, MRF usually is hard rubber and Bridgestone / Michellin is soft rubber.

The brand could be anything; it’s how you treat your tyres that define their life.

Happy Driving!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Day Driving vs Night Driving in India



Day Driving vs Night Driving in India


Year 2006, Month October, I was driving through NH5 in torrential downpour, heading my way back to Cuttack from Hyderabad. Near Behrampur town at around 2 AM in the night, after successfully manoeuvring a lot of diversions because of the Golden Quadrilateral work in progress, I saw a straight smoothly laid road in front of me. With the intention to reach my destination Cuttack as soon as possible, I pushed the accelerator. I might be running at around 100 kmph but because of the rain, near zero visibility, non-fluorescent painted diversion, I hit it head on and that was the end of my epic journey. I was saved by the seat belts but in retrospect I know the blame goes to “driving in the night”.

Year 2013, Month October, Time around Midnight, I was driving through NH7, this time returning to Hyderabad from Pondicherry via Bangalore. A firm determination that I will not cross 100 kmph during the journey, made me realise how amazing night driving is, if you choose to stay within limits. My almost 8 year old Ford Fiesta (Petrol) gave a mileage of 16+ kmpl with 5 passengers on board and with AC on always. Now that’s something which cannot be overlooked.

This brings me to the topic of today’s debate, advantages and disadvantages of Day Driving vs Night Driving in India.

Advantages and Disadvantages of DAY DRIVING:

By day driving, I mean to leave very early in the morning just before the first light of the dawn, drive whole day and end the journey maybe just hours within the dusk.

Advantages:

  1. Normal biological clock prevails, no stress on the body to overcome the biological clock
  2. Leaving early morning, one can easily avoid the traffic exiting the respective city
  3. Visibility is the best – you can see tll the horizon of the road with all the road signs properly
  4. You can speed up to the limits of the road, of your car and of your guts
  5. People around on the road to help you in untoward situations – say a flat tyre, etc
  6. Easier to get reach of people to ask for direction if required
  7. Most eateries open along the highway
  8. Far less people driving under inebriated condition in the day time
  9. Roadside dhabas also have less lorry drivers drinking alcohol that time
  10. Lorry traffic is far less during the day time as mostly they prefer to drive in the night
  11. If ladies want to relieve in any of the fuel outlets, day time it is safer and cleaner
  12. No high beams from the opposite direction to trouble you and blind you
  13. Lastly the beauty and fulfilment of seeing the sun rise, while you are on the highway, is just beyond description

Disadvantages:

  1. A lot of villagers and local travellers can be seen on their 2-wheelers, even on the highway – might be a hindrance in smooth flow of your car, reducing your speed
  2. Crossing over a city is troublesome in day time because of high traffic, killing your precious time
  3. Heat is a factor to be considered, since AC will be on high power under high sun hence mileage will reduce to some extent


Advantages and Disadvantages of NIGHT DRIVING:

By night driving, I mean the time after 9 PM till the dawn.

Advantages:

  1. Less local traffic in and around city cross-over
  2. Less heat hence lower AC thus better mileage
  3. Smooth flow of vehicles on highway with less congestion

Disadvantages:

  1. High beam from opposite end is too stressful for the driver
  2. Less visibility in the night results in more accidents
  3. The normal biological cycle might trigger the driver to doze off
  4. Inebriated condition of other drivers might result in accidents
  5. Not safe for ladies if the car breaks down in midnight in the middle of the highway 
  6. Difficult to find help and support if needed
  7. Speeding up will be highly restricted because of low visibility hence journey will take more time


VERDICT and MY PREFERENCE:


Since 2006, amongst all my long drives, 90% are Day Driving, for obvious reasons as mentioned above. Whenever I did night driving, it was for the reasons beyond my control. After driving 73,000 km, and after facing 2 unfortunate accidents, my money will always be on DAY DRIVING. If ever I do night driving, I will ensure I have proper 8 hours sleep the day before the journey; I will stick to the speed limit of 100 kmph all through even if the roads are too inviting and I will keep my senses wide open to ensure my safety and that of my co-passengers.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Driving in foggy conditions


Driving in foggy conditions


Foggy conditions in India, is a common phenomenon this time around. Especially prevalent in some selected parts of the country in the winter months. Driving surely becomes a challenge in early morning hours and late evenings as well. However, a few tips of caution can save the blues and we can drive through the fog avoiding all possible accidents. 


Things to remember while driving in fog:



  1. First and foremost – Fog Lamps. We should consider ourselves lucky that we are born in an era where so much of development has already happened and we have all the tools to make our lives simpler and more comfortable. Have you ever wondered how a fog lamp really helps? Well it’s simple physics. Yellow light travels a farther distance than the conventional lights of headlamps because of the higher wavelength. Fog lamps have much higher wavelength than that of headlamps hence it percolates through the fog and travels much ahead helping you see the road ahead or the oncoming person can see your lights and adjust his course accordingly. (Remember: why all danger stop signs are red in colour? Red has the maximum wavelength)
  2. Try to maintain lane discipline. This is highly imperative in foggy conditions. Since you won’t be able to see the road ahead, you have to take assistance of the white lane markings on the road and stick your tyres to those lines. This will avoid most possible causes of accident.
  3. Keep your windows rolled up and put on the AC otherwise fog will enter your car and mist will condense inside your windscreen. Again simple physics, since the outside of the car will be colder than inside hence condensation happens inside the windscreen hampering your visibility. (Remember how a glass filled with cold water condenses vapour outside the glass)
  4. Ensure your tail lights are operational and there is actually no harm in using your hazard lights as well.
  5. Lastly, to keep it short and simple – drive slow!

Driving in rain on Indian roads


Driving in rain on Indian roads



Monsoon is definitely the most awaited season in India. The entire country’s agriculture being rainfall dependent and the sultry summers for so many months, monsoon does bring in a lot of respite for the Indians. However, for driving enthusiasts like me, rainfall is definitely a show spoiler.

Talking about driving in rain on Indian roads, I will stick to the drives on highways. In city driving, rain is always not that bad except the water logging. Who would mind a romantic drive in the rain alongwith your wife or girlfriend? However, when it comes to long drives, rain does play a spoil-sport.

Things to consider while driving in rain:


  1. The obvious things first – the roads will be wet and slippery. Hence the first thing to ponder about should be good braking. Braking again depends on 2 factors, tyre tread condition and ABS+EBD+BA kind of technology.
    • Tyre condition: Just be vigilant about your tyre tread wear. Deeper the tread pattern, better the hold on the road. Bald tyres are an invitation to disaster on wet roads.
    • ABS+ABD+BA: Technology like these can save you on a bad day, save you much better than you can even think of. Read my other post on braking technology to understand this better. So prefer to have a car with these technologies for rainy driving condition.
  2. Wipers are important equipment - ensure the rubber on the wiper is smooth and while moving on the windscreen it should not be noisy. If any sound comes while operating wipers, get them changed as soon as possible.
  3. If visibility is hampered badly because of the downpours then just stop by. It is not a good idea to keep moving in torrential rain when you can’t see the highway ahead. Be even more cautious if it is night driving.
  4. If you really need to be moving even when visibility goes low, then ensure you follow the white lane markings on the highway; sometimes that is still visible even if it is raining heavily.
  5. Always keep the AC on, even if you feel cold inside. The moment you switch off the AC you will notice haze on your windscreen, this happens because the temperature is colder outside the glass and inside the car it is hot that’s why vapours condense on the inside of your windscreen. (Remember a glass filled with cold water has mist condensed outside – same principle). So to avoid possible accident cause, just turn on the AC and keep the temperature just optimum. If the air is chilled direct it towards the inside of the windscreen.
  6. I have noticed many times that the water forms small puddles near the median section of the road, just beside the road divider. If the car is in good speed (above 40 / 50 kmph) if you go through this water puddle, you will notice that the car goes off-balance and vibrates quite a bit through that water. So try to take the left lane in case of rain to avoid these small puddles.
  7. You could possibly use high beam to increase your visibility however fog lamps can be used as well.
  8. If your car doesn’t have a rear wiper / defogger then again it’s a challenge. It’s very very difficult to understand who is coming behind you. Since the side view mirror also doesn’t help much as the side window is all wet hence you can’t see through it as well. If you have rear wiper then use it at your will, if not then the only thing that I can say is – be cautious.
  9. Last but not the least – slow down!


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mileage vs Speed

 Mileage vs Speed 





I was driving through the beautiful stretch of the newly laid 4 lane road of NH2 which is part of the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) from Hazaribagh towards Varanasi. Incidentally that stretch of GQ is a concrete surface and not a bitumen one. The roads were empty with no sign of vehicles for kilometres all together. The roads were so straight, where you can even see the horizon merging into the end of the road as if the road itself is a pathway to heaven. 

Sighting that never ending road in front of me, I was holding the steering wheel with that amazing machine at the touch of my foot pedal, which if I press will kiss 180 kmph without a second thought. Still the dilemma was hazing my thoughts, whether to push it as my heart wanted it to or listen to my mind and save a lot of money. 

Mileage vs Speed was the debate between my heart and my mind. 


Aiming for Mileage: 


After all these years of driving, I have realised that to get the maximum fuel efficiency from a car one should drive just below 100 kmph and just below 3K RPM of the engine. There’s no hard and fast rule to this theory however with all the permutation combinations that I have tried all these years, I have reached towards this conclusion. 

It is also evident that beyond 100 kmph, every increase of 10 kmph results in the mileage to drop by 2 kmpl. Hence, if you were getting a mileage of 16 kmpl at 100 kmph, if you increase the speed to 110 kmph then mileage will fall down to 14 kmph, at 120 it will be 12, at 130 it will be 10 and beyond 140 or 150 it will be simply pathetic. 

When I was driving from Bangalore to Hyderabad on my 3rd instance, I decided to aim for the best possible mileage and my 7+ year old car which is a petrol sedan, with 5 passengers and full AC on returned a mileage of 17 kmpl. That’s a lot. In the city it never gives more than 10. 


Relation between Speed and RPM: 


If the vehicle is moving in the 5th gear just under 100 kmph, you will notice that the RPM is just below 3. However if the gears are lower, RPM at the same speed will be much higher. The relation between these two variables is quite simple; we can achieve the maximum fuel efficiency from the car if we just stick under 3K RPM whatever be the gear. Since 5th gear will give maximum speed under 3 RPM, the vehicle will move the maximum distance and hence more efficiency. 


Gunning for Speed: 


After all, when we are on the highway not always we can stick under 100 kmph. We have distances to cover, destinations to meet and many a times with time constraints. In these situations it doesn’t really make sense to stick under 100 kmph when the roads are so inviting that one can comfortably cross 150. When I was going to Gir, Gujarat from Mumbai I had to cover a distance of 980 km during the day time. I left morning 6 AM but I knew that if I aim for mileage I will not reach my destination in time. Since I wanted to reach before dark so I had to push and I did push to 175 kmph on many occasions. Obviously the roads were also good enough for me to do that. 


Verdict: 


If there is no hurry to reach to the destination, if you have enough time available to complete the journey, if there are no set time targets then one should Aim for Mileage. However when the distances are long and there is time constraint involved then it’s advisable to Gun for Speed. In my driving experience, when I have around 500 km to cover in a day I go for mileage, since I know that I can easily cover that 500 km in about 8 hours. However whenever I drive for 1000 km in a day then I always drive as fast as a can to reach to my destination and complete the journey during the day time. Usually it takes around 14-15 hours for 1000 km, hence can’t stick below 100 kmph. 

Now would you like to know what decision I took when I was facing that dilemma on the NH2 GQ between Hazaribagh and Varanasi? Yes! I agreed to listen to my heart and I pushed the gas to drive above 170 kmph and kept my mind aside for my next journey. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Driving through Ghats – Hill Driving in India

Driving through Ghats – Hill Driving in India 


I don’t consider myself to be an expert in driving, even after thousands of kilometeres I still feel I have a lot to learn.  However, during these thousands of kilometers I have driven in many different situations including several different terrains. Undoubtedly driving through the Ghats section of India, is definitely a challenging task. Be it driving through the Western Ghats or driving through the hills of Kumaon, each has its own set of challenges and excitement. I will list down my experiences, learning and some driving tips that might help other enthusiastic drivers. 

I will try to list down my instances of hill driving in India here below, 


Simple tips to drive through the ghats: 


  1. Drive unhurried – it’s the first lesson to be learned. Any haste, rash or fast driving in the ghats section should be completely avoided. 
  2. Always stick to the left side of the road – Even if you find the roads completely traffic free, still maintain the discipline of holding the left side. This will avoid all possible accident causes that happen on the blind turns. 
  3. The right to move on the hills always goes to the upcoming vehicle – if you are driving downhill always allow the upcoming vehicle to pass, even if that requires you to stop. 
  4. Honking in that serene environment is not always acceptable, unless it is a completely blind turn and you don’t see anything on the other side. In some turns it is mandatory to honk, they even have placed symbols to honk there, but people carry this habit in the entire ghats section and try to honk in every turn. Somehow that is not required and is very irritating as well. 
  5. During the night however honking is never needed since headlamps give clear indication regarding vehicle approaching each other. 
  6. It is not advisable to use high beam on the hills as the glare and blinding effect can be very dangerous for the oncoming vehicles, always maintain dipper. 
  7. Always drive at the maximum possible gear, only when the car isn’t able to hold then downshift – this will give you enough power when required on some steep climbs and will significantly improve your fuel economy. 
  8. If the roads are too narrow for two vehicles to pass simultaneously, the same rule applies as to who goes first – it’s always the upcoming vehicle that gets the preference. 
  9. For people or co-passengers who have motion sickness – it’s advisable for them to sit in the front seat and watch the road ahead. Sitting at the back seat and looking out of the window gives the impression to your mind that you are still however your body is actually moving. However sitting in the front seat and watching the road ahead will keep your mind occupied in thinking that everything is in motion, hence there won’t be any conflict. (Have you ever noticed that drivers in the ghats section never suffer from motion sickness – the reason is very simple – there’s no conflict between their mind and body) So sit in the front seat, watch the road ahead and you will be surprised to see that you wont suffer any motion sickness 
  10. Always carry Ginger Ale drink with you – it’s a remedy of motion sickness during the hilly terrain 
  11. If you have to stop and park your vehicle in the hills on the roadside, ensure you don’t do that immediately before or after a turn. Always try to park outside the road and so that your car is visible from a long distance from both ends of the road. 
  12. When going downhill, never ever switch off your ignition thinking that your car will be able to roll downhill without any effort. Most modern cars have their electronics linked to the ignition, once the ignition is turned off all these gizmos turn off as well.  For instance, without ignition the power steering won’t work and the steering wheel will get locked in certain cars. In some cars even the brakes stop functioning properly when the ignition is off. So to avoid all possible accidents, never switch off your engine when rolling downhill. 
  13. It’s okay to let your car roll downhill in neutral gear. Just ensure the engine is on. This will ensure all electrical systems are running and since the engine will be at its lowest RPM, so the fuel consumption will also be minimal.  
  14. Always anticipate the turns and keep a watch on the signboards along the road 
  15. If you are driving with windows open, then be cautious in foggy conditions. As the fog may mist your windscreen resulting in hazardous situation. It is advisable to roll up windows in the hilly terrain and keep the AC on. 



Friday, October 25, 2013

Advantage of ABS in cars – Anti-lock braking system

Anti-lock braking system


 


We all know ABS is a better braking technology but only 1-2% of the driving community actually knows what that technology is all about. I have always maintained that we Indians are really ill-equipped as far as knowledge is concerned. And to state the facts, it’s not our fault entirely. Even the sales person prefers to portray how good is his car than the competitor, instead of showcasing and educating the customer on ABS – EBD – BA and stuff. 

I can say from my personal experience that if I was explained about ABS while purchasing the car, then I would have surely given a second thought on buying the base model without these features. 

After being 73,000 km old in my car, after putting in some R & D on ABS, after watching videos of ABS on youtube, now I realise how significant is ABS and that it’s literally a gamble with your life, to not have ABS in your car and venturing out on the road. (unless of course you never drive above 40 kmph). 

Earlier it was only ABS (Antilock braking system), now they even have gone a step ahead with EBD (Electronic Brake force distribution) and BA (Brake Assist). ABS however works on a very simple concept. We all have noticed those long black tyre marks on the road, both in the cities as well as highways. We immediately know that somebody tried to apply the brakes with full force and because of that the rotation of the tyre stopped but the vehicle skid and kept on moving because of the sheer inertia, hence those black tyre marks on the road. The vehicle ultimately stops but it’s not effective. First it’s risky as the driver has no control on the vehicle when it is skidding and second is obviously the wear and tear of the tyre. 


What is ABS


In simple terms ABS is a technology that restricts the skidding of the tyre. Technically ABS is a sensor installed in the tyres that checks whether the rotation of tyres has stopped or not while the vehicle is moving. If the rotation has stopped because of the sudden application of brakes then ABS immediately releases the brakes and initiates the rotation so that the vehicle doesn’t skid. Once set in motion it again jams the wheel by applying the brakes. This entire process of jamming and releasing happens for multiple times in every second. Effectively, it increases the friction of the tyre with the road by keeping the wheels moving and also avoids skidding by stopping it immediately once set in motion. 

Hence, if you apply sudden brakes in ABS vehicles then you wont find that long black stretch mark on the road behind the vehicle rather there would be small intermittent black marks suggesting that ABS was working during the application of brakes. 


Advantages of ABS



  • Lesser stopping distance 
  • No skidding of tyres (even on wet road condition) 
  • Control is always available on the steering wheel for manoeuvring left or right 
  • Less wear and tear of the tyres 



What is EBD – Electronic Brake Force Distribution


EBD or electronic brake force distribution is the next level of technology that goes alongwith ABS. With the help of EBD the braking pressure is distributed onto the 4 wheels of the vehicle based on the weight that falls on that particular wheel. Hence if during the braking the car is not straight on the road then some wheels will have more pressure to brake than the others. EBD simply understands the requirement of braking pressure distribution and applies the brakes in all 4 wheels based on the force, hence obviously more effective. 


What is BA – Brake Assist 


Brake Assist is a second step over and above ABS and EBD. The idea behind BA is that when we apply brakes in an emergency situation, sometimes we might not be putting in all the effort to brake completely. Hence Brake Assist is a technology that recognises a emergency situation with the force with which we press the brake pedal and in such a situation if there is any remaining braking power available, then it completes the full force of braking by assisting the driver, hence, helping in emergency situations. 

So much for braking effectively. A lesser known mortal would just add his few cents here saying, why drive so fast at all? To be precise, it’s not about driving fast, it’s about braking more effectively. Even at 40 kmph if the roads are completely wet, ABS can significantly reduce your stopping distance and avoid any skidding of the vehicle. 

So next time you go into that car showroom, don’t get loaded with the competitive blabber which the salesperson gives you. Rather, take an informed decision and go for the model with ABS + EBD + BA, Sometimes that might also mean spending a little bit extra. But the peace of mind will surely be yours.