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German Engineering

2009-05-30 21:33:13.625505+00 by Dan Lyke 24 comments

Two whines about "German" engineering.

First, hey, Volkswagen, it's great that you show off that fancy cool Bluetooth system, and we were quite surprised to discover that despite what our dealer told us the Bluetooth got installed at the factory, but it'd be nice if the one you showed off on your cars was the same thing that we got. The one you showed off had a lot of cool features, the one we ended up with was bare-bones, which is fine, but you have to answer on the phone. Just a single button somewhere would be awesome, but this doesn't appear to have one. So the headset ends up more functional.

Second, the Brill 380 ASM electric lawnmower, seems like a really good idea, when it works it's fantastic, however... Every time I use it I have to fix the switch on it because something's gone wrong, so I've finally yanked their switch and put something else in line, but the other issue is that you have to have another mower anyway because no matter how quiet and nice this one is, if you let the grass grow just a little too long it chokes.

Grrr... Looking for a corded electric rotary mower now.

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2009-05-30 22:29:25.934234+00 by: ebradway

I got a Homelite at Home Depot. Our yard is small enough for a reel mower, but we want to keep the grass a little longer. It's also small enough that we didn't want to mess with a rechargeable mower or the larger Black & Decker.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-05-31 17:38:25.40599+00 by: mvandewettering

I had the black and decker electric (well, I still do) but it really didn't do a very good job. It is supposedly a mulching mower, but it really doesn't cut the grass up fine enough to just settle back into the lawn, and I'd have to "dethatch" the lawn a couple of times a year. For some reason I could never discover, it's bagging attachment never seemed to work either (grass wouldn't end up in the bag... strange) so a couple years ago I got a gas powered Toro. It works much better, with a lot more torque.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-05-31 21:57:13.323228+00 by: meuon

I'll wager the difference in functioning levels of the Bluetooth system is a software key. ie: the electronics and software are on the car, enabling the additional functionality is something the dealer is able to do. The question may be: price.

And twice now, on my Mini, I've enabled intermittent wipers (a premium package feature) and they have worked beautifully until I turn the car off. If only I knew what the magic sequence was that I enabled.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-05-31 23:01:46.38966+00 by: ebradway

Meuon: Hadn't thought of crippleware in cars. I guess it was just a matter of time. Of course, the folks hacking the engine control firmware have always thought of the software as crippled. I recall you telling me about a friend who was hacking the Corvette ZR-1 firmware for use in generators.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 01:43:13.345736+00 by: Dan Lyke

Meuon, it also involves a new steering wheel and about an hour's worth of labor.

Eric, I'm pretty sure that the main difference between the different Audi, for instance, cars is largely which options in the engine control code they enable. All cars nowadays have the electronic stability control, the more expensive the car, the more sport modes that system has.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 02:18:44.332496+00 by: Larry Burton

The company I just left was developing a standard software package that had all the bells and whistles in it for each product. If the customer wanted the extra functionality we just charged them more and checked another box on the setup screen. If more I/O was needed we just added it to the drawings and, if needed, added another I/O card. The software was already setup to handle the extra I/O.

#Comment Re: Volkswagen CC made: 2009-06-01 03:19:28.889424+00 by: jeff

I averaged approximately 33 mpg today in 250 miles of driving (mostly highway) with the new Volkswagen CC I picked up yesterday. With an 18.5 gallon tank, that yields about 600 miles of highway range, depending on conditions and driving. And the turbocharged 4-banger still does 0-60 in 6.9 seconds when needed. I am glad, however, that I chose the manual transmission over what I felt was a rather pedestrian automatic that I test drove earlier in the week. Here is a photo taken earlier this afternoon:

This is my first personal taste of German engineering in a car, and I must say that I'm liking it so far. The function, design, aesthetics, and price point have all come together in a very attractive package for some of the driving that I do.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 06:09:44.106072+00 by: meuon

I'm halfway sure if I plugged a steering wheel from a Mini with cruise control buttons on to my car, I'd find the wiring harness ready and waiting and it'd probably work. They probably don't sell many base models.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 13:52:11.258173+00 by: petronius

Speaking of crippleware...long, long ago I had an HP Bicentennial memorial calculator(!). It did the then usual add, subract, divide and multiply. I once dropped it and the tin faceplate fell off. Underneath a blank spot on the plate I discovered hidden square root key! Had I bought a unit back then with the square root they would have charged me 20 bucks more. All I needed to do was mark a radical sign on the plate and press real hard. No that I had much call for square roots....

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 15:33:50.441118+00 by: jeff

I believe the Bowmar calculator that I used in 1974 to replace a slide rule in my junior high school physics class had these specifications:

MX90 -- 4-funct, mem, %, sq rt, recip, sgn chg, red LED, sealed batt, 3.0x5.25", 1974 price $80, looks like MX70.

I remember % and sqrt functionality were both a big step up from the typical four-function calculator of the day!

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 16:01:55.494862+00 by: ziffle

Recently bought a 04 Toyota Minivan. Did not come with the remote lock buttons.

They can be expensive; found one in Ebay for $19. Found the sequence to program it on The net.

The process requires turning the ignition off and on, opening and closing the door X times and then at the right time pressing the lock button. Worked perfectly!

Its interesting I have not seen anywhere how to hack this cars computer... where is the open source code for my Lexus transmission?


#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 16:16:15.231771+00 by: Dan Lyke

Ziffle, a friend asserts that all cars built since '97 (don't know if its built since, or designed since) have the same diagnostics output format, and thus it's relatively trivial to retrofit a mileage computer. I don't know about input or tweaking your transmission shift points.

I do know that the car manufacturers are doing their best to keep anyone but their licensed dealers to be able to work on those cars...

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 20:55:14.491367+00 by: spc476

A friend of mine used to work at a company that made car diagnostic computers (hmm ... next time I see him I'll have to ask if all cars now use the same diagnostic output; I know they all don't use the same physical layer or protocol) and in testing one of their devices managed to brick a BMW. Even an engineer from BMW had a hard time fixing that.

So yeah, I can see why the car manufacturers are a bit leary ...

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 21:22:26.110401+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

Aha, here we go: OBD II.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 21:38:09.869599+00 by: jeff

Very interesting! All European and most Asian imports apparently use ISO 9141 circuitry.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 22:54:38.768684+00 by: Dan Lyke

I started looking for info on how to read this stuff with a microcontroller, and ran across the Scantool.net ScanGauge II. Looks like most of what I'd want to get out of the OBD II port without me having to write the code.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-02 17:56:10.297615+00 by: petronius

Ziffle: now that you have closed your door X number of times, all your neighbors think you suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. But I have seen this with other on-board chip items. On my car you have to start the engine, turn on the lights, switch off the engine and pump the gas thrice or some such eldritch ritual to reset the Service Engine light.

#Comment Re: Rim Issue made: 2009-06-09 17:13:40.652963+00 by: jeff [edit history]

I've been having trouble with air pressure in one of my tires on my new CC. The on-board diagnostics tell you that your air pressure is too low, but they don't indicate which tire(s) are at fault. How difficult can that be? It's just a boolean (low, normal) value, so only two bits are needed for four tires? Well, maybe 3 bits if you include the spare?

After a second trip to the dealer (during lunch today), it was discovered that the rim on the left rear tire has a tiny pinhole in the actual rim casting. So, I'll be having the entire rim replaced as soon as the part arrives.

Other than those two items, it's been a great driving experience so far. Aggregate mileage, very reflective of the mix of driving that I do, was 26-27mpg for the first tank of gas. I should be able to consistently do better than the 31mpg advertised for the highway. And I'm very impressed with the performance that little 2.0L turbocharged four-banger delivers when pushed.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-09 18:28:27.907928+00 by: meuon

Depending on how your car measures air pressure, it may not know which tire is which. My Mini really only knows that the tires are spinning at different speeds. ie: A tire could be over-inflated, under-inflated, or I am traveling in a large long arc or circle. Rims with actual pressure transducers and RF senders are available but they get expensive quick. (Some Vettes have them)

Note that if the tires are all equally low (or high), this technique does not work.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-09 20:03:54.218668+00 by: ebradway

meuon: I wonder how much variation it takes for the sensor to go off? And won't you at least have two tires spinning at the same velocity? I mean, if traction control can tell which wheel is slipping, then why can't the same system give the feedback for the tires?

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-10 12:12:09.670542+00 by: jeff

I suspect my CC relies on feedback about tire speed differential. Which still begs the questions which Eric has raised. I've fired off an e-mail to a European car mechanic who I know in San Diego.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-23 16:26:31.428727+00 by: jeff [edit history]

The previous tire air pressure question obviously centers mostly around data acquistion, marketing, feature-set, and price point. Most my recent tank filling on the CC yielded the following:

547 miles, 17.5 gallons (18.5 gallon tank), ~31.3 mpg.

The driving mix was mostly highway, but also included two stops at the USA/Canadian border with the engine running (20 minutes entering Canada at Windsor, 10 minutes entering the U.S. at Port Huron). It also included 50 miles or so of city driving in London (Ontario), some moments of very spirited acceleration, and a day trip to Pinery Provincial Park, with four adults and a fully loaded trunk.

I'm really becoming a fan of GDI/FSI engine design (not necessarily exclusive to German engineering).

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-24 03:57:36.975921+00 by: ebradway

Jeff - what impressed me the most about my 2004 Jetta Wagon TDi was that it got 40mpg driving through the Mojave Desert between Vegas and LA at 100mph+ with the windows down and sunroof open. Oddly, the only way to get it to get worse than 40mpg was to run the AC!

I need to dig up a link, but there was an interview someplace where the President of Ford Europe was talking about how the American market won't accept the more expensive engines that are common in Europe. Basically, the reason Ford doesn't sell a diesel Focus in the US is because it adds $5K-$10K onto the sticker price of a $13K car.

I think it may be time for American's to start ponying up for more advanced engine tech... And hybrids aren't really it!

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-24 11:17:30.706526+00 by: jeff [edit history]

Eric - that's really impressive mileage and volumetric efficiency at that speed and with those aerodynamic dynamics (windows down, etc.). There's nothing quite like 100mph forced air conditioning in the desert. The only time I've driven at a sustained 100mph clip was in my Acura TL during the trip from Ohio to California in 1999, and only briefly (for less than an hour) in a section of highway west of Salt Lake City (before reaching Nevada).

As an aside, many veteran VW owners who have purchased the CC are clamoring for a TDI engine option for the car (I'm not sure if it's available in Europe, but I bet that it is). As a first-time VW and European car owner, I'd certainly have considered it. I'll never forget a time when I arrived in Gatwick some years back, and the drive in a TDI-powered vehicle to my hotel. I came away thinking/asking, "wow, that was a diesel?!?" Amazing low-end torque and subjective feeling of overall power.

I'm not really a fan or a proponent of the current "hybrid craze" or craziness. You may remember the VHS/Betamax video technology war in the eighties. The better technology (Betamax) lost due to politics of the day. When one considers all of the energy costs and all of the energy inputs required for hydrogen fuel cell motor economy, I bet it's "less efficient" at a macro/global level than an evolving battery technology and pure-play electric motor driven car economy.

I saw my first Tesla in person at the Cincinnati Concours d'Elegance show a few weeks ago. Neat looking vehicle! (Although I must admit the traditional oil/gas-based Ferrari next to it was even cooler). And it's going to be hard for me to eventually part with my Ducati 848 desmo-powered motorcycle. There's no other sound in the world quite like a desmo. I rode it to Euro Bike night last evening here in Columbus.

But times are slowly changin'...