Electronics Stores – getting Durban on the map

Electronics Stores – Durban

Recently having moved from Cape Town to Durban I have been rather surprised at the lack of electronic stores.  This especially in a region where we have predominantly Indian youngsters whom gravitate towards electronics and IT in general.

electronics stores - heathkit

Heathkit HW8 Amateur Transmitter TX QRP RX CW

We have listed three new but well established stores in the Durban area, Candi and Protec (also known as DIY Electronics) and Audio Mart, suppliers of professional audio equipment.  We include AV Supply in the Cape Town, Canal Walk area. I recently purchased from all of these stores except Candi and can thoroughly recommend their good quality of service.

  • AV Supply – for all your converter and networking solutions. Great pricing on 4 – 1 HDMI switches with digital / analogue out.
  • Protec / DIY Electronics – Arduino and 3D printing, electronic components. Also affiliate to PQSound.
  • Audio Mart – professional audio gear at great prices.

Johannesburg and Cape Town

Johannesburg and Cape Town are two of the larger cities in South Africa and although it’s not a surprise to find Johannesburg having the bulk of the DIY electronic stores, Cape Town has been no slouch. Always check as to physical address – I do not like to shop from an IP address alone. There needs to be a walk in facility or at least a land line telephone number. Cell phone numbers associated with satellite companies leave me rather anxious.

Some previously listed stores, Communica, Yebo and Mantech are all very well established and found in both Johannesburg and Cape Town.  I would not be surprised to find a business model similar to Yebo doing very well in Durban.

Many electronics stores and smaller hobbyist shops are founded out of passion and although the intent is to make a profit they often provide a service which the public doesn’t fully understand. Going online does give a larger footprint and in a country like South Africa where mathematics and science takes a backseat we should embrace these stores. Because after all, electronics is all around mathematics and science.

Readers are encouraged to comment and give us a list of their favourite electronics stores in South Africa. As they provide a service so should we drive business to your favourites of the bunch. As South Africa needs more entrepreneurs in the electronics field, these stores may hold the answer.

Read:  Consumer Reports for best electronics stores.


The Danger of Autonomous Cars

Autonomous Cars – embracing the inevitable

Let’s face it, we all dream about it but know it can’t happen – a self driving car! Yet, this is on the cards. Mercedes, Kia, Toyota, Ford, Audio, BMW, Volvo, you name it, they all have a car which can drive autonomously. “Not on our roads though” say the authorities.

It wasn’t that long ago that our great-grandfather was told never to drive faster than 100 m.p.h. because the blood would leave his body. In those days 40 m.p.h. was classified as breathtaking. Now we have Andy Green in his ThrustSSC breaking the sound barrier. He might have been white as a sheet when he cruised to a halt but his blood flow was normal and his body parts were still intact. Of course we digress but isn’t this what science is about – proving it wrong!

Autonomous or rather automated vehicles which require external and environmental assistance through usually magnetic strips and road navigation transponders is not something new, in fact was on the drawing board in the early 1980s. However, with smaller, faster and more reliable computers, highly sophisticated sensor systems and state of the art electro-mechanical output devices we have come to a cross-roads – cars which are driven near autonomously and when to mass manufacture? Only time can tell although major manufacturers already talk about the latter part of this decade, some as near as 2017. Unfortunately all of this will come to a nought, we believe, because of the road traffic authorities. Actually more so, the fraternity of global electronic engineers all shake their heads in disapproval. The thing is, we can fly an aircraft totally unmanned only because there are critical backup and redundant systems in place, not many obstacles to bump into and even less corners to negotiate. Motor cars are on land, they rely on absolutely accurate input data at all times and last but not least, the critical thinking aspect to this entire exercise, no errors or hardware failure. And this is where we have a problem. Imagine driving merrily along at 70 m.p.h when a sensor fails, the radar decides to stop working or the computer decides to reboot (unlikely but who knows).  The global think tank may be right.

Control freaks will never let go of the steering wheel. They are also some of the world’s worst drivers. Every year hundreds of thousands of people, pedestrians, drivers, occupants, (animals too) are killed on our roads. Traffic authorities have all but given up. What percentage is caused by driver failure?

Partially automated vehicles already protect the occupants of a vehicle when crossing lanes inadvertently, applying brakes when needed, stabilising a vehicle which may be on the verge of rollover and preventing unnecessary skidding.  So why can’t they be made to drive the occupants to a destination without driver intervention?  Because it cannot. It’s called the unknowns. What happens if?

Interesting to note that driverless cars use the cloud but flight MH370 didn’t. Losing communication to the driverless car may make it pull over to the side of the road and stop. What happens if the side of the road happens to be a cliff, dropping 300m to the sea or a rocky outcrop? No thanks. Although the same electronic engineers designing the workings of your trusty four wheeled carriage will swear to the reliability, they are the first to banish the notion of driverless cars. Quite rightly.

Autonomous Cars – if the roads allow it

Just as one was told that you may drive safely but not necessarily the “other” driver so it just so happens to be the reason why driverless cars may be on the drawing board and even successfully tested, it’s the “other” car that remains the problem. Just because the roads in Sweden and Germany are better than most third world countries makes the very idea of driving the Yungas without a steering wheel a frightening thought.

But no, as a matter of fact we do believe that driverless cars are here to stay. We do believe that if the road is not safe the driverless car will stop and tell you that you are on your own. If a machine which has proven to have more powerful thought processes than the driver’s brain pulls over because it is not safe then believe me, you are not safe.

Many years ago most drivers took to the roads because of the pleasure of it. Nowadays it’s a case of whether you will make it back alive. We cannot blame the authorities neither can we blame the electronic, automotive and mechanical engineers. Unfortunately scientists and engineers alike know that we can no longer rely on the human element, there has to come a stage where there is forced intervention. We can only blame ourselves. The authorities and engineers shouldn’t put a ban on it but embrace it.


Vehicle reliability statistics – are they reliable?

Reliability Statistics - Toyota comes up trumps every time

Reliability statistics – a dodgy dump of grievance

About ten years ago my sister-in-law phoned her husband frantically telling him that her engine had just fallen out of her Renault Modus. It was a protection cowling. She now drives a Spark.

Wiki: Reliability in statistics and psychometrics is the overall consistency of a measure. A measure is said to have a high reliability if it produces similar results under consistent conditions.

Reliability Statistics - Toyota comes up trumps every time
First Generation Toyota Corolla – from Wiki
Toyota Corolla that appeared in 1966. The photograph is taken in industrial technological memorial (TOYOTA TECNNO MUSEUM) in Nagoya City in October, 2005. Photo : taken by D.Bellwood, modified by Tennen-Gas

Plugging up your service plan

It wasn’t all that long ago that cars ran forever and you only needed to change the plugs, condenser and points for a full service. Now we have a major problem on our hands: cars are unreliable according to statistics and you need to be a millionaire to own an entry level car.  Ummm, not quite.

Cars are much more reliable these days. Engine design, materials and lubricants have improved many times over. Your old 2.5l Chev motor may have put our 90HP, modern day engines put out 300 or more HP for the same capacity. And they last longer. But the truth is out….

It’s all in the driver.

Drivers don’t have a maintenance plan!

Find out which cars are owned by whom? Would a 20 year old settle for a 2001 Toyota Corolla when he can get an Audi A4 for the same price and it’s a 2005 model. Would a 60 year old fisherman settle for a Q7 or a HiLux pickup? A Honda Civic is a sensible car. It’s known for high mileage, cheap to service and fairly fast. Sell it to a 20 year old, it gets chipped, after market parts and an impressive set of wheels. Suddenly it becomes unreliable. Are we looking for longevity or something that never breaks down? A Formula One is reliable but is not known for longevity even when it’s just parked.

Reliability sells but it won’t catch you a cheerleader.

Repair prices and vehicle failure statistics can make or break a sale. Toyota sells off the used car floor faster than a porn star takes off her underwear. Likewise Honda, Subaru, Golfs and Polos. German cars of the luxury variety are getting some serious media attention these days and it’s not good news. They are just plain unreliable. But here’s the thing, are these stats taken in the USA or Germany? The Germans are pioneers in precision. Don’t say their technology is too advanced. They were sending rockets into space when the rest of the world were trying to figure out why our blood doesn’t leave us at over 100 m.p.h.

A wolf in a sheep’s negligee

Statistics cannot be reliable when one doesn’t know that Joe Blog uses his Mazda RX 7 as a jet ski, that Auntie Sue drove her Galaxy to church only, at 80 m.p.h. in first gear and Uncle Percy could get up the Himalayas in his Vauxhall which was towed by a Land Rover.

What If – my car has a tow hitch in the front?

Each vehicle brand carries the culture of the manufacturer.  The manufacturer homeland 0ften carries a semblance of the culture of the country. And so it goes. Putting this another way, experience showed me that the Panasonic TV (CRT) was the most reliable TV of all time. Phillips made wonderfully easy to repair TV sets.  Sony made really great to view TV sets but once out of warranty could be a bastard to fix. What we do also know is that in many of these brands the failure was usually caused by Electrolytic and Tantalum capacitors. This then caused other parts to blow, usually semiconductors. Picture this now in an automobile where stresses are much higher and of course, the temperature.  Picture the crises we face when hybrid cooling systems fail because we get water in the transmission fluid. Cars parts must be more durable. In an aircraft there is absolutely no room for error. If NASA designed a TV set or car it would run for ever or at least it should. What’s the message here? Stress and heat kills. And here we have the “what if” scenario.

What if a manufacturer took the bull by the horns, went back to the drawing board and laid out a plan which took all possibilities into account which may reduce unreliability many times over. We would have a perfect car.  But here’s the thing though – they try to. That’s why we have R&D and crash testing. The bigger problem here is how fast do they want a new product on the market to stay in competition (and some cynics ask whether they want their cars to be all that reliable). A common complaint is that Toyota stick to the tried and trusted formula, their style is conservative and it reflects in their cars. Good for them. “What if” is important. That is why Boeing and Airbus stick their necks out and make sure if something can happen it won’t. But it does.

The best advertisement on earth.

Toyota also take great pride in their product and do ensure that the owner gets the best bang for his or her buck for every little part used in their vehicles. So what if the door clangs, at least it doesn’t fall off. Remember that Top Gear series which had a HiLux as the unintended star of the show. After trying to destroy the vehicle through hitting trees, drowning in sea water, dumping a caravan on top of it and then cruelly sending it to planet earth in a building demolish this HiLux made it through, not unscathed of course but still running and moving under it’s own power. Off the top of your head what do you think this meant for HiLux sales. And the Arctic expedition?

Maybe other manufacturer’s should be letting Jeremy do the same with their products. Then again maybe that would not be a good idea. Me, I am a Volvo guy. I fell in love with the 144 and every product thereafter. I’d love to see a Volvo falling off a building on it’s roof. And then driving off. Toyota appeals to me but their high end models are very expensive. Because they are so good at what they do Toyota gets good resale value on all their products, sometimes more than what one paid for it. Anybody for a Conquest?

Marriages made in hell.

What happened to the great Chrysler-Mercedes wedding? Ford and Volvo? It’s no hidden secret that Ford wanted the Volvo roof to use less steel because there was no proof that it saved lives. Ouch! Ask breakdown truck owners whether this is true or not? Or the authorities. It’s also true that Chrysler and Mercedes do not share the same company culture, employee culture, country culture. Geely and Volvo? The outcome here is going to be interesting. From my armchair I predict that for the first time ever Volvo is going to be giving the German’s the shakes like the South Koreans and their Japanese competitors and yes, even VW. Volvo needed a cash boost. I would have loved Volvo to go to Tata but Geely is under powerful leadership.

Car parts cheap today, much cheaper than yesterday!

Car parts are a sticky subject, not because they can be expensive but because they get sold to more than one manufacturer and their resale prices are oh, so different. I had the pleasure of befriending a mechanic whom showed me the margins made. Oh-Oh. Heater fan motor for a Golf goes for $38 compared to Mercedes $150.00. Same part number. And yes, it was a Bosch. So yes, when we complain about unreliability we often mistakenly look at the repair bill. Some parts are marked up over 1 000%.  Luxury cars also carry a fancier labour rate per hour. Car part pricing needs to be monitored and if excessive the supplier needs to explain. Watch those anti-competition lawsuits.

Doing some research of our own:

Our own research has lead us to believe that the following holds true: (forums, tech notes, professional guidance from experienced mechanics and looking at workshop service manuals).

  • Previous driver history, not necessarily the car.
  • Your history book does not tell you everything.
  • Manufacturers should own up to problems that will arise after the warranty has expired. i.e. Radiator failure causing damage to the transmission.
  • Where was the car manufactured. German cars in Germany?
  • Is the dealership qualified to be working on your car? More often the small company private owner come technician in the grey overall has better quality control on the vehicles leaving his premises than a high end dealer.
  • Engineer change notices are not always available to the public.
  • Vehicle usage. Mileage means nothing – how was it used?

This list is virtually endless.

Most vehicles on the road have their own glitches, some not even pertaining to same year models. We have heard about the Monday and Friday manufactured car.  What about the car driven at 24:00 hours after a visit to the local pub. Street racing and other little jaunts.

Germany is proud of their engineering ability, likewise Italy, France, British, America, Australia, China, Sweden, India, South Korea, Japan and even South Africa. It’s in their culture.

You as a driver, what’s your culture?




Aisin Warner AW55-50SN and AW55-51SN Transmissions

Aisin Warner / Graziano A/T

Japanese Aisin Seiki – American Borg–Warner

The Aisin Warner AW55-50SN and AW55-51SN automatic gearboxes are used in a wide array of motor vehicles on the roads today and gauging by the amount of complaints they should never have been manufactured or at least they should have been replaced by a better gearbox. That’s how the story goes in any event. Truth of the matter is that these gearboxes are plentiful and because of their popularity they would reflect as having a high failure rate but the true test is how many have been manufactured versus failure rate.


Aisin Warner / Graziano A/T
Graziano Transmission – ZF 6 gear automatic gearbox 6HP-28A with integrated, electronic all wheel allocator for cars.
By Stratos L – https://www.flickr.com/photos/10547107@N03/13821592845/, CC BY-SA 1.0 https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42480791

General motors have also used the Aisin Warner AW55 series under their naming code AF33 which is identical, also a trans axle designed to drive the front wheels. Whatever naming convention is used,  AF23/33-5, FA57, SU1 or RE5F22A the reliability of these gearboxes has been more often than not taken a beating from car owners because of solenoid failure and usually expensive repair. Many auto technicians do not like computerised gearboxes and will refer the owner to a specialised repair center. Although the internet is full of DIYers completing successful repairs on the valve body it is ill advised to dive into the electronics or mechanical aspects of these gearboxes unless one has a full understanding of their inner workings and has the specialised tools.  It is generally accepted that certain malfunctions can leave one stranded but the more cautious of us will be aware that a faulty gearbox can be dangerous.

I came across this little nugget during the course of the week whilst looking for common problems with these gearboxes which just makes one think how many other gems we miss by not doing a proper search: The AF33 Is A Common Transmission That All Shop Owners Should Learn About. GM technical training on the AF33-5 is listed on the site.

Tech Files:  AW55-50SN

AW55-50SN/AW55-51SN  (from our friends in Russia, the ATSG service manual)

Do you have a personal favourite company specialising in gearboxes, engines, suspension, clutches and brakes? Please use Business Entry to add the company.  You will do all of us a favour. You will need to be registered or logged in.

Please add your experiences with the Aisin Warner gearboxes under comments.

Oh yes, why are Volvo resale prices so cheap?  Is your Volvo hard-shifting?





Racing engines – gas to electric


Noisy engines versus silence in a Formula E

A question recently posed by a colleague in our electronics prevalent industry was in which direction motor racing was going with the current V6 technology in formula one as opposed to the formula-E which many technologists believe is the future. From a personal belief I would rather never want to see internal combustion engines disappear off the race track which I see as akin to the disappearance of two stroke racers. Sure they may not have been green but wonders just how much of a pickle we would be sitting in if there was proper population control.

Electric engines - the Tesla S Tesla Model S – hugely popular in the USA.

By free photos & art –  https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35308956

Electric versus ICE

Well as luck would have it Le Mans is going to see some exciting stuff from Nissan this year, a car with a 1.5L 400HP engine known as the DIG-TR delivering 380Nm of torque.  What is more spectacular is that it delivers this power with only three cylinders and weighs in at less than 100 pounds. The car, known as the ZEOD RC will do one lap on only electrical power and thereafter powered by the DIG-TR. Some awesome pictures here at Asphalt and Rubber.

Electric motors have been around for longer than any internal combustion engine and the inner workings have remained almost the same. Their main advantage over any ICE is the mere fact that they deliver huge amounts of torque from start which makes a gearbox really not necessary. Formula E cars do have a two speed gearbox where drivers usually do a shift at over 100km/Hr.  Tesla’s motor vehicles bear testament to the torque range of these motors, spinning wheels at intersections at the push of the throttle, doing doughnuts with ease and easily attaining the magic 100 mph in a few seconds. They have a drawback however. They don’t run on petrol (gas).  They are powered usually through a multitude of Lithium Ion cells delivering a few hundred Volts at many Amperes.  Their capacity is measured in kW/Hours which sadly, although sounding immense does not equate to many hours on the race track but more in the range of a few minutes at full engine power.

Limitations of the Electric Propulsion Induction/Brushless Engine

Petrol (gas) engines run for as long as the fuel supply is present, they are quick to refuel and still carry man to the ton in a few seconds. Formula E racers have two drivers and two cars per driver per team.  Even with two cars the teams are at the mercy of the battery bank. The electronics we believe is stable and reliable. Likewise the engines. The excitement will possibly be likened to that of owning your first Scalectrix set with the same sounds and smells. Possibly not in the rubber burning department.  The upside of this is that electronics engineers will have a lot more to do on their week-ends redesigning, cooling and doing extreme tests on brushless motors and inverter packs.

The downside to any motor sport will always be the cost. Although high speed electric motors have their place on the DIYer workbench this is not sadly the case for the fuel supply. Battery banks are horrendously expensive and the unknowns of the effects of a rapidly discharging Lithium Ion battery far outweigh that of a petrol (gas) engine making high energy battery supplies possibly more dangerous than that of a flammable fuel type.

Home tinkerers – DIY Engines and Batteries

There is a place for the home tinkerer however and that would be in the utilisation of 72V battery power through lead acid accumulators, the control circuits and brushless motors. Industry types could lay out a framework which would include chassis weight, gearboxes, differentials or multi-motor and a solid safety mechanism to prevent injury.  This may be a cue for the budding scientist to design a lightweight solution to our current affordability problem as well as pave the way to better engineering practices. Of course Tesla springs to mind – how could they leverage off this? And all the other electric vehicle manufacturers.

Looking at Nissan’s DIG-T R and Volvo’s 450HP 2L engine it is hard to believe that these internal combustion units are slowly creeping up to the power-to-weight ratio of their electric competition but there is one thing we need to bear in mind. Just how many mechanical parts are required to get this power and what is the lifespan?  That we don’t know right now but what we do know is that the simple brushless cooling fan used at home runs for years without a problem. Adding heat into the mix may cause premature breakdown but with electric motors running with ease at over 100 degrees Celsius we doubt that this will ever be a problem.

Taking the battery supply out of the equation for a few minutes one need no longer deliberate, electric powered vehicles are the way of the future and the sooner we get there the better.  My money is on the Asians, most probably the South Koreans in getting us there.



Who makes that Auto Part?

Why are my auto parts not made by Mercedes?

Damn, this is getting silly!  Almost every motorcycle or car website has a forum which complains about one specific model car (or motorcycle) which was a lemon. Either the engine or transmission is a dud. Then we have the electronics. That model “xxxx” is a piece of crap because of the high ECU failure or model “yyyy” has a known problem with solenoid B in the valve body.  Well here’s the gen:  Most car manufacturers do NOT make their own transmission, engine, electronics and even seats.  Yes, this is correct. From brake pedal rubber to lightbulbs, these can be obtained by the Original Equipment Manufacturer or OEM at a better price than at your dealer. Ever priced a headlight bulb at the dealer?  Be cautious, look at what you drive and then discover the truth about auto parts. A complaint often heard is that because you purchased a pirate part the bottom is going to fall out of your world. Well, here’s the thing – maybe, just maybe your car has always used that so called “generic” or “pirate” part.

Auto Parts - the worlds biggest supplier: Bosch
The Bosch R&D center in Abstatt, Germany, which is a major site for the development of automotive components. Work by Timo Engelmann – Wiki Commons

ZF Friedrichshafen – high end gearboxes for BMW, Land Rover and Jaguar

Years back I had a Kawasaki 750 twin which unfortunately through stupidity on my part ended up with a damaged voltage regulator. I ended up purchasing through Toyota a Volvo ( yep! ) regulator which worked just fine.  This regulator cost me at the time about 6 US dollars.  (in the 1980s)!  The same Kawasaki part was offered to me at 150 dollars.  Interestingly enough this was not even a Kawasaki part and I really don’t recall the manufacturer except this was a blatant rip-off.  Then we move on to Lucas, the Prince of Darkness and the butt of many other jokes e.g. “get home before it’s dark” and inventor of the intermittent wiper. Lucas was in fact a very proud and able manufacturer and the many experienced technical resources complain more about lack of maintenance causing issues than anything else. Having owned a Morris Minor 1000cc as a kid I do recall the pathetic cotton insulation covering wires and harness (and the positive earth). But yet all electronics had cotton insulation for everything, just look at the old valve/tube radios.  An article I recently read covered the imbecilic generator which used commutator brushes which wore out. I wonder whether the author is aware of slip-rings in alternators and that they also wear out.

Can modern cars handle a reverse polarisation (battery in the wrong way) as wonderfully as the older vehicles. Definitely not! If there was damage it could be quickly and cheaply put on the road again. Modern vehicles use semiconductors and if there is no way to shunt the reverse polarised battery to ground through protection circuits and blow a multitude of fuses you are in for a very, very costly wake up call. So Morris Minors may have had a bad rap but first look at the power distribution system maintenance before pissing all over your Lucas.

In THE dreaded situation of having the gearbox fail on you don’t be quick to blame your auto manufacturer, have a look at the maintenance on the vehicle. Some cars look really neat on the outside but positively suck once you get to the suspension, engine or gearbox. Some DIYer types just bypass the radiator / cooler for transmission with an external cooler. They have proven NOT to be reliable and cost some to replace, costing even more once there is water ingress into the transmission.  Here we can quite easily blame the manufacturer.  There is plenty of BS floating about pointing fingers to lack of maintenance but truth be told we also know of just too many car owners that did go through the full maintenance and warranty process only to find themselves out of pocket when things went belly up.  The shame here is that the manufacturer did decide to go with the combi radiator/transmission cooler. The negative side here is that to date we still continue with this process. Older sedans never had this problem. So Aisin Warner, GM and many others should not always be blamed for a shoddy product but rather chastised for keeping quiet. Oh yes, just read about CVT transmissions now, transmissions fast on to the market with possibly too little research into durability.

Will an automatic transmission last if left in the sun or your dog pisses on it?

In a recent article the technical writer come author talks of traffic congestion being the biggest cause of premature transmission failure through overheating. Some gurus will tell you to put the car into park whilst idling in heavy traffic. But we read about lack of lubrication whilst in Park. We also read about putting the transmission in Neutral because of the extra wear on brakes etc whilst in Drive. And finally we settle on keeping the car in Drive with parking brake up. What does the manufacturer state?  I have looked high and low and there seems to be a lot of misguided information out there. What I can say is that if in Park and a car rear ends your vehicle you will have a serious problem with the gearbox afterwards – parking pawl breaking etc. In Neutral which is where you would be in a manual shift there will be no damage to the gear train. In Drive, your car is always edging forward so the result may be even more devastating. All logic tells me that the vehicle should be in Neutral. Yet drivers through the ages will recommend to always leave in Drive, it causes less wear and tear. Hoo Boy! So back to square one, what does the manufacturer recommend and not the vehicle manufacturer?

Next comes your fluid changes. ATF should be changed every 15 000 miles, some say 30 000 miles and the car manufacturer recommends that the fluid should never be flushed or changed – it is sealed for life. What does the manufacturer state? Not the car manufacturer.

Car engines nowadays are remarkably resilient. I have heard that the older Opel Astra models have a problem with the oil filter – now this is an interesting one. A mechanic told me they just drop off and the engine seizes. What the…..  I have never read about this idiosyncrasy. Surely there is a Haynes manual for these vehicles?  There is of course a bigger problem – hearsay.  I know two mechanics, one is a Ford lover and the other, VW. Do you too? Listen to why the one hates the other. Like politics and religion there is just no stopping mechanics when they get together unless they both work for the same company. But not always. Personally I find both VW and Ford both very good companies with great cars. Just sometimes they bring out something which makes us wonder what the design team were smoking. And at what price to you.

Why expensive cars die but never roll over (or stay on the highway for long)

Problem after problem after problem. Nobody likes the unnecessary stress of being caught in traffic with a dead car. Yet we have all seen it countless times. In my experience these are almost always Audio, Mercedes and BMWs, all cars I’d love to own. And they all look new. (don’t forget the Volvo). So where to from here? – these cars cost a lot and they are expensive to repair. Road side assist for expensive cars but never entry level. I have never seen a Polo on the side of the road.

Blogging on auto parts

As this is purely a blog and most probably a highly opinionated one at that I do feel that manufacturers and car owners should take a strong stand about where their priorities lie. I’d rather have a cheap reliable car than one which boasts all the bells and whistles which falls over at the drop of a hat. Sure, fuel economy is important but not more important than losing 5 000 dollars through some shoddy design work on a car which impresses the neighbours. When one starts paying upwards of $50 000 for a trophy on wheels we expect it to do 350 000 miles with regular maintenance. This is not happening. When we do buy a 4 wheeler, especially, we do need to know where the engine and transmission is manufactured and their specifications given to us, not the manufacturer of the car. We need to have access to these parts and spares. We need to know what they expect from us. As a driver and owner of a car I expect manufacturers of both the OEM parts and vehicle to be in touch with us via email and not only through the dealership when there is a recall. There’s just too many cover-ups taking place leaving owners out of pocket.

Just as  motherboard manufacturer will not build their own capacitors the same is true of your vehicle. The ECU was not made by Volkswagen. The heater fan motor was not built nor designed by Mercedes. The brake rotors and pads do not come from Volvo or Ford. There needs to much more transparency. BS to the person that says makings too much transparency is leading to confusion and misguiding the public. Tom’s Hardware makes users more informed and critical of what they buy. Our goal is to do the same.

For many, auto part resellers are just another cog in the trasnmission. They aren’t – getting the right part every time and knowing where else these are used will go a long way to see just how much we are being ripped off.


Breaking the bank for an Automatic Gearbox

Automatic Transmision 8 Speed

Automatic Gearboxes – are they really all that unreliable?

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the reliability of automatic transmissions over the last five years, not least the semi or manual automatic. In a survey done of the numerous forums covering the steady migration of drivers over to automatically assisted drive trains in all make of vehicles one thing becomes abundantly clear:  Are manufacturers really doing us all a favour by computerising their transmissions?


Automatic Transmission 8 Speed gearbox
By Ritchyblack – Stefan Krause – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

Most drivers in Europe, Australia and Africa have one thing in common and that is their preference for manuals or stick shift. Whilst drivers in the USA have never felt the need to have stick shift thrown at them a lot must also be said for their vast open spaces – akin to Australia roads perhaps? Lazy driving doesn’t always point to roads with less sharp corners and cheaper gas. Modern manufacture has veered in the direction of computerisation, better shifting, lower emissions, faster acceleration and a smaller gas bill.  But at what cost to the owner?

Manual shift has long been the favourite of racing drivers and those wanting to have control over their vehicle. Manual shifts are also cheaper and gauging by the user forums, a lot more reliable. And here is the topic of the conversation – almost every forum is going to have someone whom will never buy a specific vehicle again because of the automatic transmission. Always at a ridiculous cost! Now this is interesting because there aren’t that many manufacturers designing and building their own trannies. Aisin Warner is one of the most commonly used transmissions on the market but it gets a bad rap. GM likewise. Yet some forums claim them to be the best. VW the worst? Some claim the VW direct shift to be the best. Honda is bad, Honda is good! We can rattle on and on but here we need to come into this with an open mind.

Gearbox Abuse

The best transmission is the one that will handle abuse over as many years as you like and not fail. Manual transmissions can do this. I’ll stick my head out here and say straight off that an automatic gearbox is not a dandelion. It can handle plenty of hard riding and will not fall over but NEVER load it beyond manufacturer spec. Likewise manual transmissions. Three out of three people I know having damaged their transmission which was caused by doing stupid things – driving over sand dunes, pulling a tree out of the yard and driving through the sea. But there is another gremlin at work – the cooler.

The Grim Reaper:  Water/ATF combination

The radiator and transmission cooler often sit in the same frame and corrosion through the separator causes the higher pressure water to flow and mix with the ATF in the cooler. If caught in time your transmission can be rescued but sadly this seldom happens. It is the death knell of the transmission – the small ingress of water is sufficient to damage the friction material used in the bands and clutches, moreover dissolving the adhesives used in the bonding process of clutches and brake bands. The higher running temperatures cause the water to boil off causing damage to bearings and seals as well. Although there have been cases where the auto technician has managed to salvage the gearbox through a total flush manufacturers will tell you the bad news, that the transmision is going to break down possibly even a few months from the flush. And this will be a costly repair. Is this fair to the owner of the vehicle?

To answer the above question one needs to see what the average Joe DIYer does to prevent this problem again, indeed often doing this as soon as the vehicle is out of warranty. He will put an aftermarket cooling system which is completely isolated. One would think this is common sense. I know of Volvo and BMW owners that sat with $3 000.00 repair bills. This DIY remedy cost 200 dollars. The forums are full of drivers or vehicle owners which succumbed to the dreaded water/ATF mix, 99% of them had to redo their transmissions.

Older kit

In the early 80s I purchased a Rover SD 2600 (1977 vintage I think).  The car cost me about 350  dollars and did about 150 000 miles with only the engine being serviced. I forgot completely about the gearbox except to top the fluid up on occasion. The gist of this story is what many forum users are complaining about – modern automatics aren’t as reliable as their older sibs. With modern technology one would think this would be the other way round. Gearboxes are just not making the same age as the engine.

Maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board?

Some Do’s

Always inspect and change fluid every 30 000 miles. (minimum)

Manufacturer claims to have a sealed for life gearbox is for warranty purposes only. It also prevents you from putting the incorrect fluid into the box.

Burnt fluid does not mean a damaged transmission – but do replace it immediately.

Fluid or ATF as it is more commonly known is not always a pink colour. Read up on the fluid type.

Always use the right fluid – given by the manufacturer and/or hopefully owner’s manual.

Always get a second opinion – the web is full of stories which will put you off auto trans “experts” for life.

And the eye opener of the year – read up about why auto technicians sometimes shouldn’t even work on a wheelbarrow – the 2002 Volvo XC70 which shot it’s bolt……
Some interesting videos

Understanding the basics of automatic transmissions, solenoid hydraulic fluid control, drive train and how your gearbox interacts with the engine and driver. Links to top websites or videos are below.

Planetary Gear Set Operation – Automatic Transmission

This planetary gear set operation video edited by John D. Kelly at Weber State University is a true classic. Much of what is seen on You Tube with regard to auto transmissions is either covered by a person that is also clueless or the video footage is weak. Here we have both a strong classroom lecture as well as exceptional footage. Thank you!

Automatic Transmission – Basic hydraulic flow (Weber State University)

Torque Converter Operation and Components – (Weber State University)

FreeASEStudyGuides.com – tutorials and section quiz

Drinking water through Desalination

Nuclear Desalination Plant

The desalination of seawater needs to be re-invented!

Interestingly enough, whilst scientists can put man on the moon, split the atom and build driverless cars we just cannot cope with the water shortage. We can create distilled water from permeable membranes and a vacuum desalinator but it’s never enough or just not cost effective.

Nuclear Desalination Plant
Shevchenko BN350 desalination unit. Wiki/User:Themadchopper

The natural process of distilling fresh water from seawater is found in the form of rain, the cycle of evaporation and collection  of water. After thousands of years we can pipe oil but it still remains a mystery as to how to pipe fresh water. Is there really an Utopia? Maybe if the ancient Romans, Greeks or Egyptians were still around they would have given us the answer.

Maritime desalination plants

Ship or marine fresh water generators methods have almost always been of the vacuum type getting heat from the main engine or prime mover. Often where there is drought we sit with very high climatic temperatures. Often this is right at sea level and indeed often on the coast. Israel is possibly the world leader when it comes down to fresh water recovery and the efficiency thereof. Egypt has also proven to be very resourceful in this area. Small solar desalinators have been manufactured using the cone design, Watercone being one of the most popular. This is by no means new or unique. As a boy scout you may have used plastic sheet to harvest the sun’s energy causing evaporation, running the condensation into a capturing mug or jug. For survival this has long been common practice.

The issues that  arise during drought conditions are not only human based, we can be resourceful. Not so with cattle or most animals for that matter. We need water to survive, lots of it.

When a ship gets scrapped what happens to those old desalination plants? Can we use coal or any fossil fuel as a heat source.  Can nuclear energy be our saviour?  In a report it is noted that to produce 1 million gallons of fresh water (distilled) we use about 15MW of energy.  (Bloomberg).  Our seawater has a salt content of about 40g/l whereas the brine byproduct stands at about 60g/l. (sidem-desalination). Although it is believed that the injection of brine back into seawater will be balanced we also need to be skeptical.  Balancing eco systems are rarely as  simple as reciting our abc.

From Norway to the Dead Sea

Fresh water – Less than 1,000 ppm
Slightly saline water – From 1,000 ppm to 3,000 ppm
Moderately saline water – From 3,000 ppm to 10,000 ppm
Highly saline water – From 10,000 ppm to 35,000 ppm

There are always some obstacles in the way of having a successful water supply and although city dwellers do not experience drought horrors on the same level as agriculture or livestock farming it must never be forgotten that over-population is a big problem. When there is a shortage of water in any city there’s going to be mayhem.  Mayhem created by short-sightedness, lack of planning and complacency by local government and ourselves.

Droughts have been with us for ages but the modern scientist still battles to innovate and compensate. We don’t need electricity but we do need to hydrate. Washing becomes a secondary need. Water is used in abundance in any industry,  steel in motor car manufacture is a big culprit. The eco driven reader should know just how much water (fresh) is circulated to manufacture one ton of steel.  Guestimates put this at about 60 000 gallons (250 000) liters for one ton. These figures vary from source to source.

Why crises management hasn’t found an answer?

Good town planning requires vision but often it comes down to crises management. We do need to consult middle eastern academics, engineers and technical advisers, experts in the field. Often we find an immediate short term solution but never a long term one. Remember the good old days when scientists talked of tug boats bringing in ice from the Arctic region?

Geothermal distillation

On a large scale we need to understand and utilise geothermal activity where and if possible.  Simple Sterling engines can be used to drive pumps to move contaminated water and generate a vacuum. Standard chlorination processes to be followed to prevent algae growth and further purify the water.

Instead of abusing tax payers money have your number one project linked to generating fresh water in the same manner as nuclear powered ships and submarines. This may not be cost effective but will act as a relief in emergencies. A small ship may generate about 30 tons of fresh water per day. (note that ships also do have drinking water tanks – the fresh water generation does not necessarily comply with a safe drinking water specification). What happens to gear in shipbreaking yards?

Inexpensive techniques using electrolysis is also explored as explained by Lisa Zyga. The water here is not seawater but brackish water with moderate salt levels.

The “Slingshot” by Dean Kamen – company DEKA Research

Reverse Osmosis (also used in the maritime industry but an expensive alternative although claimed to be more energy efficient than other means) – Wiki.

Water distillers – thewatersite







Why Demerit Points don’t work without Insurance

Demerit Points

Demerit Points – How to achieve a lot more awareness

So there’s an article here that states the the demerit point system does work and I would like to give my version of what I saw and know having worked in the traffic services for close on twenty years in the UK.

The Joe Citizen and press are quick to argue that there should be more exposure. Traffic services bring in schools for training sessions. Kids go amok with vehicles, gadgets and the constables. What happens ten years later?  As cigarette smoking and the banning thereof becomes prevalent from one country to the next, as we display images of lung disease on the packaging we should be a bit more vulgar in the display of road carnage. A person dying of lung disease and the portrayal of this is shocking but we continue to smoke. Road carnage and the loss of life is hopefully quick and painless. This is rarely so.

Demerit Points
Head on Collision
Wiki / Damnsoft 09

Demerit Points – why insurance companies should start becoming a lot more proactive.

Would traffic services be allowed to show potential drivers what a real head on collision looks like, what it must feel like for a first time constable to be told to assist in the removal of that headless body.  That body crushed beyond recognition. The innocent victim, the son or daughter of loving parents.

No, it’s time for other players to come on to the field. Whilst insurance companies are quick to offer wonderful incentives to great drivers they should start looking hard and fast at deterrents.  A no accident bonus scheme doesn’t help a dead or maimed victim.  Insurance companies have always penalised bad drivers but they should now encourage everyone to start reporting dangerous driving practices through dash-cam footage.  A demerit system can only work if there is insurance on the vehicle and the vehicle is roadworthy. The insurance companies should be ensuring that the vehicle is roadworthy by having annual checks or more. What good is it that a driver wittingly takes his unroadworthy car onto the road and causes an accident and only after the fact does the claim get repudiated. Taking candy from a baby.

Why the demerit points system needs assistance?

Insurance companies should be taking more responsibility, not just palming off this one holy mess-up on to the authorities.  The traffic services get the blame over and over again for our dangerous driving practices but it’s time they started being proactive. (including drivers).

  • All vehicles must carry insurance as in most first world countries.
  • Start doing proper governance – get your local traffic services to start training kids already, bicycle riders and pedestrians play a huge role in every country’s death toll.
  • Potential drivers (pre-learner) and learner drivers get first hand experience of the function of paramedics and other emergency services.
  • Drivers get exposed to what happens on the real road when iced up, when cars are unroadworthy and yes, gory but necessary – real road accidents and their victims.
  • Insurance companies start being proactive instead of shooting the gun from the bullet.

Yes, the demerit system is really a great tool, in the right hands. No the insurance companies do not do enough.  Do you know if you drive under the influence and you get killed in an accident your insurance may not pay out.  Your wife is home with your two kids, they loved you but you didn’t love them enough to stay responsible.

Demerit points does not cut down imbecilic driving.

I get angry when I write this only because traffic services get a bad rap when things go wrong.  We cannot control what a person does once they have had a few drinks or drive like thugs – we can certainly act as a deterrent but you know what, often it is too late. Third world countries do not (always) have the budget or the technology at their disposal. Insurance companies do.




Oil – where to use and what to use

Mobil Oil ATF3309

Not all Oil is created the same!

In a previous article and on the many forums there have been many debates as to which lubricant to use in your car and although the engine lubricant needs to be dumped and refreshed every 3 000 to 10 000 miles many owners neglect their transmission fluid. Whereas a motor car engine is fairly resilient when it comes to emergency topping up, your auto transmission is not.  The bottom line is that you as owner are responsible for what you put in your car and in 100% of cases you must adhere to manufacturer advice and the service manual.  The thing is, car manufacturers don’t make lubricants and they will re-badge to push their profits up.

Mobil Oil ATF3309
Mobil Oil ATF3309

There are many companies manufacturing their own typical blend of oils and some technical experts suggest you need to stay away from the no-name brands or rather stick to the ones you know like Mobil and Castrol to name just two of them. Well, unfortunately they may be quite right although we all like to see what is new on the market just to get that bit of extra performance out of an old engine.

Be tough on yourself – buy the best oil you can afford

No use buying a used car for 3 000 U$ and then not changing the gearbox, engine and whatever else lubricant. This is a recommendation by all technical and service personnel: change all fluids. Just as we quickly jump to change the timing belt don’t forget the fluids. There’s a catch though.  When buying yourself a nice high end vehicle with all the trimmings at a very good price remember that there is never something like a free lunch. Ever notice how many luxury vehicles park in the high speed emergency lanes on your way to or from work?  More to go wrong or just lack of maintenance?

Modern engines are very hardworking. Twenty years ago one could purchase a 3L V6 which has less output than a 1600cc of today. Then we chip or remap and the 2.5L engine is pushing out over 300kW.  Sure you’ve rebuilt the engine and used parts designed to handle the extra stress and loads but the lubricating fluid may no longer function at critical mass, so you put in a cooler but now what high performance lubricant to use? Cutting to the chase Enginelabs  gives a pretty good rundown on the differences between the street racer and Captain Slow’s lubricant requirements. Driven Racing Oil gives you a slant on Zinc or Zinc DiakylDithioPhosphates or ZDDP as we know it.

There is always an issue with warranty when adding lubricants to your engine without following the manufacturer guidelines. And yes I do know of someone that had their Mercedes engine lubricant analysed. Don’t rely on the fuel jockey, he knows even less than we do about the products sold under counter.

Do read the article on Car Bibles . com:  The Engine Oil Bible