Feb 262019
 

If you’ve ever driven an automatic car and wondered how the engine works the gears for you, or why it doesn’t stall the moment you take your foot off the accelerator, we are here to enlighten you.

Unlike a manual car, an automatic transmission doesn’t have a clutch pedal, which means no gear shift either. Once you move the ‘gear’ box or paddle into drive mode, all you have to do is control the speed and the brakes, everything else is managed for you – hence the automatic moniker.

So if an automatic car provides the same overall output as a manual car, what is the difference between them?

Actually, quite a lot.

In fact, the way an automatic transmission works is in direct contrast to how a manual transmission works – but with the exact same end result – your car moving.

Let’s start at the beginning with the fundamentals of what makes an automatic transmission work, and go from there.

What is a transmission

Automatic transmission. Image credit: Art of Manliness.

The transmission is essential to driving your car, without it, you would be confined to a solitary gear ratio. Putting that into perspective: if you wanted to drive the car at say, 70mph, the corresponding solitary gear would probably be third gear in a manual car.

Now, if you’ve ever tried to accelerate from stationary in third gear, you’ll appreciate the delicacy of the situation; and if you’ve ever driven a car in third gear at 70mph, you’ll know it screams in protest.

The transmission therefore is the power switchboard of the car. It includes gears, which allow you to take maximum advantage of the engine’s torque, so you can go from zero to hero, seamlessly.

To do that with a manual transmission, you lock and unlock the various gears to the output shaft by pressing your foot on the clutch and moving the gears into the required place, to utilise all the gear ratios.

In an automatic transmission, this process is done for you, through a device known as the planetary gear set.

The secret to automatic transmission: the planetary gear set

Planetary gear set. Image credit: Instructables.

About the size of a small melon, the planetary gear set – a little piece of engineering ingenuity – is responsible for creating all of the different gear ratios required to get you smoothly out of the start gates and up to full speed. Everything else in an automatic transmission is merely there to facilitate the planetary gear set to do its thing.

There are three parts to the planetary gear set (so named because of these components):

  1. The sun gear
  2. The planet gears
  3. The ring gear

Each of these gears can be the input, the output or remain in stationary; deciding which combination they go in, determines the gear ratio for the gear set.

Image credit: How Stuff Works 2018

The different inputs are decided upon by connecting and disconnecting a series of clutches and steel brake bands inside the automatic transmission. The brake bands themselves are controlled by a hydraulic system, and whether the clutch engages or not is driven automatically by a combination of mechanical, hydraulic and electrical magic*.

*OK, not necessarily magic, but it’s easier to watch this video than read a wall of text on the subject.

Gear ratio decision for an automatic transmission

The gear ratio for an automatic transmission is therefore determined by which segments of the planetary gear system are moving or not. And the movement of the various segments is decided upon, depending on which clutch or band is engaged.

And that, dear readers, is a brief overview of how an automatic transmission works.

Having gone through all that, allow me to blow your mind with a quick fact: engineers developed the above wizardry in 1932 – before computers were invented.


Feb 202019
 

What Car 2019 logo

The What Car? Car of the Year Awards, in association with Warranty Direct, is one of the biggest events in the UK motoring calendar. Hosted at Grosvenor House, this was the 42nd time the annual awards ceremony took place in central London on January 22nd, 2019.

What Car? is the UK’s key car-buying brand and has been helping Britain’s car buyers make purchasing decisions for over 40 years. Only the cars setting the standards for their respective class are nominated for each category.

Prior to the awards, 61 new models were in contention for the top award of the evening; the What Car? Car of the Year. The Kia e-Niro was crowned the winner of this, which was a massive achievement as not only was it the first time Kia took home the main accolade, but it was also the first time an electric car has won the What Car? Car of the Year Award.

The event was particularly exciting this year as What Car? also introduced three new awards categories: Best plug-in hybrid, Sports SUV and Pick-up. Of course, traditional categories still achieved much recognition and included winners for; Best small car, Family SUV, Convertible and Estate car, to name but a few.

In addition to being the headline sponsor, Warranty Direct also sponsored the individual Hot hatch award category, revealing the best new hot hatch currently on the market.

When considering the short list for what makes a great hot hatch, the judges had strict criteria, considering a number of key features including:

  • Ease of use – most of these vehicles are based on existing family hatchbacks, so should be practical enough to use every day
  • A keen list price with low running costs
  • The low prices could not entail poorly finished cabins or mean skimping on vehicle equipment lists
  • Performance and driving fun

Contenders for the Warranty Direct sponsored Hot hatch award were the Ford Fiesta ST, Honda Civic Type R and the Hyundai i30 N. The overall winner of this category was announced as the Honda Civic Type R 2.0 VTEC Turbo GT.

Simon Ackers, CEO at Warranty Direct commented on the awards:

 “It is a privilege Warranty Direct once again returned as headline sponsors, especially as the What Car? Car of the Year Awards is one of the most highly anticipated events in the motoring calendar. 

“The What Car? Awards recognise the fantastic achievements of individual car manufacturers and produce expert advice, essential for consumers considering their next motoring purchase.

“We are proud to have supported this year’s results and are extremely happy Honda won our sponsored category against some stiff competition!”

One thing’s for sure, we are incredibly proud to reprise the title sponsorship of the What Car? Car of the Year Awards for the seventh year running.

Not only do the awards provide great insight into what motorists can expect to see leading the way in 2019 but they also demonstrate the industry’s ability to revive and improve their products every year.

Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index also provides motorists with a ‘real world’ picture of car ownership, for those considering next vehicle purchase. The index collates and analyses 50,000 live Warranty Direct policies to rate vehicles in order of reliability.

As well as finding out the overall reliability of a car, it offers information on which parts fail most often such as air conditioning, axle & suspension, braking, cooling, electrical components and engines.

Feb 042019
 

Autonomous VehiclesWhile fully self-driving vehicles aren’t quite part of today’s reality just yet, many new cars feature assisted and partial automation already.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders predicts the technology being developed for connected and autonomous vehicles will have prevented 25,000 accidents by 2030.

Warranty Direct looks at some of the key self-driving technologies making today’s vehicles safer and more efficient.

Ultrasonic sensors

 Most drivers will be familiar with ultrasonic sensors, with many vehicles already adopting the technology to help with reversing into tight parking spaces and more.

Ultrasonic sensors send out sound waves to detect surrounding objects. When the waves hit an object, it gives the car an accurate measurement of how close they are, to avoid collisions.

Blind-spot information system

Blind spot monitoring technology uses radar systems or rear-facing digital cameras, to sense vehicles which appear in a car’s blind spot. If this happens, a warning light shows in either the door mirror or within the A-pillar to alert the driver and make them aware of a potential hazard.

It’s become particularly useful when a motorist wishes to change lanes, as the technology offers an audible or haptic message if there is another vehicle in a car’s blind spot.

While it should reduce the number of collisions caused from changing lanes, drivers still need to check their blind spots and mirrors regularly and not become dependent on this technology alone.

IoT connectivity

Utilising IoT connectivity gives vehicles the ability to access wider data, like real-time traffic and weather updates, to ensure the safest and smoothest drive possible.

Connecting to a world of internet devices poses its problems, though. Privacy and safety are the biggest issue, with automated cars open to hacking, and the threat of information theft from connected devices like mobile phones.

Lane-keeping alert and automatic steering assist

By using a forward-looking camera, this technology has been developed to recognise when drivers are drifting out of a lane. Most vehicles will give either a visual or audible warning, but some higher-end motors now have automatic systems to divert a car safely back into the correct lane.

At the moment the technology is most effective on dry motorways and in a smooth flow of traffic, but there are developments being made to make it more precise and better suited to other situations such as driving on rural roads.

Traffic sign recognition

This uses a camera to scan road signs, then communicates this information back to either the dashboard or infotainment section of a vehicle.

All drivers should be well-versed on the Highway Code, which provides information on all the relevant road signs. However, this technology has been designed more as “extra driving assistance”, to help people when on unfamiliar roads or if they may have missed a change in the speed limit.

What’s next…?

Automation is measured in five stages; with the final, most advanced stage being a fully autonomous system. This is when a vehicle’s performance is equal to that of a human driver.

The majority of vehicles are currently at stage two, which is what the systems listed earlier like park assist and lane-keeping alert are currently rated.

But what are some of the technologies the motoring industry has in the pipeline to take us to stage five?

Car-to-x

Mercedes-Benz is currently working on a new technology – car-to-x – which will allow drivers to see ‘into the future’ – past multiple bends and maybe even further.

The sophisticated technology establishes networked links among and between vehicles and traffic infrastructure, so you can adjust your driving behaviour and defuse potentially dangerous situations.

The new GPS

Fully self-driving cars will rely on GPS devices to locate their position, helping to establish a route, know when to turn and more.

The worry is GPS devices can sometimes be off by a few metres, which would be extremely dangerous for a travelling vehicle. However, by connecting to other built-in sensors and cameras, vehicles can pinpoint an exact location.

Jan 102019
 

Petrol v DieselPetrol vs Diesel Cars – Which One is Better?

When buying a car, there are a lot of elements to consider. Some choices – 2-door or 4-door, black or white, leather or cloth – are easy to make and are informed almost entirely by your personal taste. But, some choices – like whether you want a car that is petrol or diesel powered – requires a bit more research. Why? Because your choice could have financial, environmental and experiential consequences.

The Cost of Petrol Cars Vs. Diesel Cars

The cost of a car isn’t calculated using the purchase price alone. You also must factor in the cost of fuel, tax, insurance and servicing. So, while the cost of a comfortable, 4-door car with a diesel engine will cost around £1,500 more upfront than the equivalent car with a petrol engine, it could cost less over time.

Historically, this upfront cost was offset for owners of diesel cars because of lower fuel costs and reduced tax rates. Now, only the former applies. Before April 2018, drivers with cars that produced less than 100g/km of CO2 emissions (for example a Volvo S60, Audi A4 Saloon, or Hyundai i30 Tourer) got a tax break. As of April 2018, though, drivers with diesel cars – even those that produce less than 100g/km of CO2 – are required to pay tax.

But, diesel cars are still – in general – more fuel efficient and therefore require less fuel. While the cost of fuel per litre is slightly higher for diesel, the fuel economy (which is higher both on the motorway and around town) supports lower running costs.

When you also figure in the extra cost of car insurance which, for diesel cars, tends to be 10-15% higher because repairs on diesel cars tend to be more expensive, one could make the argument that in general, petrol cars cost less. Of course, this is completely dependent on the make and model.

The takeaway: do your research! The purchase price is just part of the equation.

Do Diesel Engines Pollute More Than Petrol Engines?

A lot of the conversation around diesel cars has to do with their environmental impact and, in particular, their toxic emissions. But, if you look back several years, you’ll see that in reaction to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emission (especially CO2), diesel was actually promoted as the environmentally friendly option. This, again, comes down to the cars’ fuel economy.

While diesel fuel does contain more carbon than petrol, their CO2 emission tends to be lower because diesel engines are a lean-burn meaning they use less fuel and more air compared to petrol engines.

So, what’s changed?  Nothing…in terms of CO2 emissions. Now, the public (and governments) are equally concerned about toxic emissions that are immediately harmful to humans.

Both petrol and diesel engines produce nitrogen oxides, but petrol cars have a built-in three-way catalytic converter that cleans up these toxins to emit significantly less than diesel cars. Diesel cars have something similar – a diesel particulate filter or DPF – but these require regular maintenance.

This explains why, in the UK, new MOT rules dictate that diesel cars with a DPF can’t have visible smoke coming from their exhaust and can’t show any evidence of tampering. Both result in an automatic fail.

Given the environmental impact, higher tax rates, and more strict MOT rules, some people are starting to wonder if diesel cars will one day be banned. While it’s impossible to answer this question, it is worth mentioning that the UK government is under significant pressure to ban both diesel and petrol cars by 2032 to ensure all cars on the road are zero emission by 2042.

Are Diesel or Petrol Cars More Powerful?

 If you’re looking for a car with some serious ‘get-up-and-go’, you might prefer a diesel powered vehicle. Diesel produces huge amounts of torque (power), which explains why lorries, buses and other large vehicles are often diesel powered. Torque allows for better overtaking power and towing ability but that’s not to say that petrol cars won’t get you where you’re going.

So, Which is Better?

That’s up to you! Both come with a list of pros and cons and it’s important that you decide what’s important to you when buying a car, whether it’s used or new.

Whichever you go for, make sure you protect yourself in the event of unexpected vehicle failure by getting a quote with Warranty Direct today!

Policies underwritten by Pinnacle Insurance plc. Arranged and administered by Warranty Direct. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

 

Jan 072019
 

Motoring Trends 2019While the auto industry is undoubtedly looking ahead to driverless cars and automation, drivers are also focusing on the here and now and looking to enhance both their cars and the overall driving experience.

With this in mind, Warranty Direct looks at the car trends set to hit the auto industry next year…

Stay connected

The number of connected cars has increased in recent years but it looks set to rise even more in 2019.

In simple terms, these vehicles use mobile internet technology to control the main car functions remotely via a tablet device, smartphone, computer or smartwatch.

Not only does this enhance the driver’s experience, but it could also reduce accidents and ease traffic.

Vehicle speed and the distance to other vehicles can be adjusted to reflect conditions on the road, marking a major breakthrough that could reach beyond the auto industry.

She’s electric

Electric cars will see a significant growth in 2019, following 2018, which saw a record high in sales. This surge reflects growing consumer interest in both hybrid and electric cars.

With the UK government confirming plans to end the sale of all new conventional petrol and diesel cars, there will be an increase in manufacturers expanding their electric and hybrid roster.

In-car payments

Most motorists will know using your mobile phone behind the wheel is illegal, however, some may not know using your phone for contactless payments at a drive-through could land you in trouble with the law.

Luckily for us, car manufacturers are creating built-in in-car payment systems to combat this issue. Jaguar was the first to introduce this technology, after launching the world’s first in-car payment system in association with Shell.

At the moment, it can only be used when paying for petrol at Shell garages; however, future cashless tech research from Jaguar includes parking and drive-through restaurants.

Tech wins

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are set to dominate in 2019, making the apps you use on your smartphone available every time you get behind the wheel.

Not only that, wireless charging is appearing in more and more new cars as the number of smartphone handsets with this capability increases.

Both of these features are designed to boost the driver’s experience, creating seamless and easy-to-use features that will take the stress out of driving.

Buy, finance or rent?

With consumers going crazy for subscription services such as Netflix and Spotify, it looks like the car industry is following suit.

2019 will see a sharp rise in websites looking to disrupt Britain’s car industry, offering customers a chance to rent a car online. Some services will see drivers pay a monthly subscription fee which covers the car and other aspects like insurance and servicing.

If you’re purchasing a used car this year make sure you look into obtaining warranty cover for protection against unexpected mechanical or electrical breakdowns.

Launching ‘new classics’

Motoring experts predict we’ll see revivals of old nameplates, refreshed and redesigned with modern twists and enhanced versions of current vehicles which have historically performed well.

Revamped classics set to be big in the new year include the Audi A3, Peugeot 208, BMW 1 Series, Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall Corsa, Renault Clio and SEAT Leon.


Policies underwritten by Pinnacle Insurance plc. Arranged and administered by Warranty Direct. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.