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A Car With A Mind Of Its Own 1416

Posted by michael
from the maximum-overdrive dept.
mindriot writes "When Hicham Dequiedt, driving on a highway between Vierzon and Riom in central France in his Renault Vel Satis this Sunday, was overtaking a truck, his car began accelerating to 120 mph on its own, apparently due to a defect in the cruise control system. Stomping on the brakes proved pointless and, having a magnetic card for a car key, he could not cut the ignition. After calling the police from his cell phone who then attempted to clear the streets of any danger to him, in what he described as the most fearful event of his life, he raced down the highway for another hour before finally managing to stop the car. Read about the incident here or, in more detail, in this article by the German 'Spiegel' (translation). The case is still under investigation. Are we putting too much trust in the increasing number of electronic systems that our lives depend upon?"
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A Car With A Mind Of Its Own

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  • by garcia (6573) * on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:11PM (#10440422) Homepage
    If this ever happens to you do not ever attempt to turn the ignition all the way off... In most cases you will lose both your power steering and your power braking. Make sure that you keep it at least on partially as most cars will not lose total power this way.

    If you are traveling at a high rate of speed losing power steering/braking will cause more problems for you. First try neutral and even a lower gear if for some reason neutral isn't engaging. It's going to over-rev the engine but personally I'd prefer to replace a transmission or the entire engine rather than my blood or organs.

    I couldn't read the translated article as it just wasn't working so I don't know if this was suggested or not but if it wasn't suggested by the police I just can't understand why not.
  • Emergency Brakes (Score:1, Informative)

    by N8F8 (4562) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:13PM (#10440457)
    Don't know about French cars, but all card sold in the US have Emergency Brakes that are mechanical brakes. You pull the handle and a cable activates the brakes.
  • Re:Emergency Brakes (Score:5, Informative)

    by greechneb (574646) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:21PM (#10440594) Journal
    Emergency brakes no longer exist. They are called parking brakes now, because they aren't designed to resist the torque of the engine, they just have enough power to hold the car from rolling, and even then, cars with manual transmissions are recommended to be put in either reverse or first gear to give additional resistance to keep from rolling.
  • Re:Emergency Brakes (Score:5, Informative)

    by plilja (91030) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:22PM (#10440610)
    The "emergency brake" is really just a parking break or "hill holding break" (designed to hold a car on a hill while engaging a manual transmission). Generally, enough force cannot be applied by the "emrgency brakes" to slow down a rapidly moving car without significant stopping distance. The "emergency break" also has the added disadvantage of ususally being attached to only two wheel breaks. Because of this, when applied at higher speeds, they tend to spin the car (usful for sheading speed only if you are an expert and have the road clearence - also usefull for "cool bootlegger moves").
  • Re:parking brake? (Score:3, Informative)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:24PM (#10440649) Homepage Journal
    Try driving with your parking brake on sometime. Don't do it too long, because it will destroy your rear brakes, but the point is that you can do it. The parking brake/e-brake wouldn't help in this situation.
  • Re:Emergency Brakes (Score:5, Informative)

    by jridley (9305) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:25PM (#10440687)
    Ever try to stop a car with them? Ain't gonna happen. They're rear wheel only, and even if you do manage to put them on hard (requires a LOT of force), you'll just lose control of the vehicle.

    Once, when I was about eight years old, I was in the car with my grandma when the brakes went out. She didn't know what to do. I said "shift down" (automatic transmission) - she did, and we coasted to a stop shortly thereafter.

    It's amazing to me that this guy had the presence of mind to call on a phone, but for an HOUR didn't think of downshifting.

    Probably he, like most other drivers, is only concerned about going FASTER, not slower.
  • by SydShamino (547793) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:28PM (#10440756)
    If you read the Google translation, it appears to say that, as he approached the toll booth, he was finally able to pry the smartcard out of the car. At this point, the car's speed started dropping, and he was able to bring the car to a halt before he drove into the booth.

    That might or might not make it any less rotten, but that helps provide a more viable explanation. The English parent article just dropped that part completely - probably because they don't have a native translator and couldn't figure out what the Babelfish translation meant.
  • by DG (989) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:28PM (#10440758) Homepage Journal
    Most every car made since the mid eighties has an electronic rev limiter on it. Attempt to rev past this limit, and the ECU will selectively cut fuel/spark to keep the engine speed under control.

    It's very accurate; +/- 20 RPM typically.

    Sticking an engine with a stuck throttle into neutral will result in it banging off the limiter and making a lot of noise, but it won't overrev.

    You can, however, MECHANICALLY overrev a manual transmission by downshifting into a lower gear while the wheels are turning at a faster speed than is otherwise proper for that gear. The wheels and the engine are mechanically connected, and downshifting to too low a gear will spin the motor up - no rev limiter can protect against this.

    In certain BMW M3s, the transmission mounts get a little sloppy, and engine torque reaction under hard acceleration can rotate the transmission enough to move the shift gates. It's possible then to try and go 2->3 or 3->4, and hit 1 or 2 instead. This is invariably fatal to the motor. You will bring your pistons home in a bucket.

    Depending on the contstruction of any given automatic transmission, it may or may not allow you to take it out of gear and go into neutral under throttle. If you are silly enough to be driving an automatic, this could be a problem - but anybody who'd buy an auto trans where a manual was availible would steal sheep - so you probably had it coming. ;)

    DG
  • by YankeeInExile (577704) * on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:29PM (#10440770) Homepage Journal

    Uhmmmmmmmm ... no.

    Unless you have one of the (few) cars with electrical power steering, you certainly will not lose power steering by shutting of the ignition.

    So long as the engine is turning, the entirely mechanical power steering pump will continue to rotate and provide pressure to the system.

    So long as the engine is generating manifold vacuum, you will have power brake boost. Beyond that, some cars (I know my old Volvo had one) have a diaphragm vacuum pump in addition to manifold vacuum to power the brake booster.

    The only danger in killing ignition is in carburated autos, where you will continue to run fuel through the engine without spark. This will destroy any catalytic converter, and has a good chance of causing numerous backfires, and damaging the remainder of the exhaust system.

    In the same Volvo wagon with the vacuum pump, it had a major overheating problem, but with its fuel-injected engine, killing ignition was a non-issue. No electricity, no fuel pump, no backfire. After climbing a long grade and getting up to 130, cresting the hill, and killing the ignition would cool it back down in just a few tens of seconds just from pumping all that relatively cold air through the engine. (Of course, shock cooling the engine was probably worse for it than the overheating, but it was a dispos-a-car anyway.)

  • Re:Hey! (Score:2, Informative)

    by slartibart (669913) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:29PM (#10440775)
    But we do put a lot of trust on cruise control. On really wet surfaces, the wheel will be spun really fast because it slips and the car is trying to speed itself up. Once it grips, the car goes flying.

    Huh? How do you think a speedometer works? Radar?? The car only knows its speed from the speed of rotation of the tires. So when the tires slip with cruise control on, the wheels keep spinning at the same speed, while the car slows down. The cruise control doesn't know the car is slowing down, so it does not try to gun the engine while the tires are slipping.

    When traction is regained, the speed of the wheels suddenly drops, and the cruise control sees this as a sudden drop in speed, and tries to speed up the car back to cruising speed (as it should).

  • by dykofone (787059) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:34PM (#10440856) Homepage
    I've got a 97 Landrover Discovery, so not exactly a new car, but it does what you talk about. If you shift down to 1st while going at high speeds, it won't shift until you've decelerated enough to avoid damaging the engine. If you keep your foot on the gas, it won't ever shift down.
  • by Enigma_Man (756516) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:34PM (#10440858) Homepage
    Here's why:

    About turning off the ignition: The only time it is hard to steer a car without power assist is when the car is sitting still, or moving only very slowly (less than ~3 mph). When the wheels are rolling, it is just as easy to turn (I have removed my power steering to save weight in a car that isn't light by any means, I'm a skinny geek and it isn't a problem). The brakes might possibly lose their power assist (unless they are vacuum assist), but even then, as long as you know that the brakes will be harder to push, it isn't _that_ hard.

    Next time you are driving in a large isolated stretch of road, try flooring it and putting on the brakes to try to overcome the engine. The car will come to a complete stop (unless you drive a POS with worn out brakes) even with the engine floored. Also, the emergency brake should have a mostly similar reaction, though you will probably end up dragging the rear tires along the ground, given the propensity for front wheel drive these days.

    Third, many cruise control systems (not sure about brand-spankin' new cars) use some sort of vacuum or hydraulic control over the throttle pedal. You can physically override the cruise control by pulling up on the throttle pedal.

    Fourth, he should have been able to put the car into neutral, even in an automatic. If the car is modern enough to have cruise control, it will slip into neutral, and the engine RPMs will bounce off the rev limiter, and not grenade the engine either (modern engines can run for weeks at maximum rpm without problems). Pull the car over, pop the hood, disconnect the battery or spark plugs until it stops running.

    This guy is either a complete moron, or someone looking to speed down the highway semi-legally.

    -Jesse
  • Many cars have an anti-theft lock that lashes the steering wheel in position when the ignition key is in the off position. Of course as soon as the engine cuts out, you can put it back into ON, and use inertia to coast.
  • by alanxyzzy (666696) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:36PM (#10440890)
    But was charged with dangerous driving. I can't find a story that tells whether he was found guilty or not.

    1999-06-10 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/365915.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    1999-06-08 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/364260.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    1999-06-07 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/363407.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    1998-10-21 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/197964.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    A driver praised as a hero when he rang police on his mobile phone to say his 38-ton lorry was out of control has been charged with dangerous driving. Michael Rayner, 26, now unemployed, from Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, will appear before Hendon Magistrate's Court on 17 November. Mr Rayner was praised for preventing an accident on the M1 in May when he said his accelerator had jammed on the motorway. The articulated lorry careered towards London for more than 20 miles at speeds of up to 80mph. Mr Rayner gave police a running commentary and the busy motorway had to be cleared by patrol cars and a helicopter. The Scania P124 lorry finally came to a halt by hitting a crash barrier and fence near Hendon in north-west London.
  • by ssclift (97988) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:36PM (#10440896)

    The German language article says he came to a stop about 20km before a toll booth...

    On the same theme: Saturn made a interesting assumption about their cars a few years ago. At high speed they reduced gas to the engine to control the speed to a maximum of 105mph. According to this entry in Risks digest [ncl.ac.uk] (source of endless scary stories about computing and automation risks) the author was left going down hill at over 105mph, coasting, with a stalled engine, no power brakes and no power steering.

    ... not fun at all...

    Audi had a problem years ago that was supposedly due to a programming error. At low RPM the computer would increase power but fail to sense it under some circumstances. Net result: your car would suddenly go foot to the floor while you were stopped at a red light.

  • by fdisk-o (754721) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:37PM (#10440904)
    I don't think that's the truth of what happened.

    I've not yet heard of a production car in which the brakes cannot overpower the engine. In fact, they are required to be able to do so in order to pass highway safety standards in any european country. This sounds much more like a joyride.

    This also reminds me of the issue a number of years back when a number of folks had "unstoppable acceleration" in their Audi 5000 cars. They had been driving an automatic transmission and mashed the accelerator instead of the brake.

    It would seem that people are so very willing to blame the equipment when they have made mistakes. Technology misunderstood by the vast majority of folks sure does make a great scapegoat.

    Of course, I wasn't the one driving, so what do I know?
  • by teeker (623861) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:41PM (#10440968)
    I wonder if the electronic transmission has "safety sensors" that won't shift to a lower gear if it might cause engine damage.

    Bingo. I bet this is the case...many (most?) modern cars have this...hell even my old Buick Park Ave wouldn't allow a manual downshift if it would redline the engine..it would only go down as far as engine speed allowed and no lower.

    And as for cutting ignition and losing power steering and braking, well every car I've ever seen has a vacuum reservoir that will give power assist for a couple stops if the engine stops providing vacuum (stops running). After that, they still work but you do have to push much harder. All cars (in the US at least) have to allow the steering and braking to control the car in the event of an engine stall, albeit with increased effort. While it may make things more difficult, it's still probably your first best chance to come out of the ordeal alive.
  • for sure (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:45PM (#10441028)
    And as Audi showed years ago to reporters, the brakes on a car are always strong enough to override the engine. And there is no car which has true brake-by-wire, so the computer can't intercept that.

    This person is either having people on, or a complete idiot.

    You can prove to yourself your brakes are more powerful than your engine by pushing both pedals at once in your car. If you don't want to do that, then just think about it, does your car require more distance to accelerate to 60 from 0 or to stop to 0 from 60? The answer is it stops at least 3 times quicker than it acclerates. That means the brakes are applying more stop force than the motor can apply acceleration force.
  • by Psychotext (262644) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:45PM (#10441030)
    Lol... I just posted this same thing right after you. A search on the BBC website states he was found innocent: Runaway lorry driver cleared [bbc.co.uk]
  • Re:Emergency Brakes (Score:3, Informative)

    by compwizrd (166184) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:46PM (#10441038) Homepage
    i take it you've never seen someone do a burnout.

    my car can _easily_ spin the back tires with the regular brake fully applied, let alone the parking brake(which is completely useless)
  • by remou (146100) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:52PM (#10441115) Homepage
    Reuters Article [reuters.com]

    The driver called police to say the cruise control of his Renault Vel Satis had jammed while overtaking a lorry, and that all attempts to brake or put the automatic into neutral had failed, police said Tuesday.

  • by ljavelin (41345) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:52PM (#10441121)
    do not ever attempt to turn the ignition all the way off... In most cases you will lose both your power steering and your power braking.

    Of course, power steering and brakes are specifically designed to work if the power component fails.

    Losing power steering at a high rate of speed is not a problem - you turn the wheel very little when at speed. Power steering is only important when you're going very slowly and/or stopped.

    You can easily lock up the brakes using your own leg power alone. Power brakes are just a vacuum booster, to make it way-easy to lock up the brakes. Without power, you just have to press harder. But it certainly is far from being impossibly difficult. And in any case, the vacuum ramains in the booster for some period of time. Just try it the brakes in your garage with the engine off, and you'll get a feeling for it.

    Of course, many cars of the up into the 1970's didn't have power brakes or steering. And do you know what? They were steerable and stopable at all speeds. Basic steering and braking systems have NOT changed at all since then.

    The only significant danger is enabling the steering wheel lock while turning off your ignation at speed. Watch out if you turn off your ignition while moving - you don't want to mistakenly LOCK your steering wheel while at speed.

    Mod down parent.
  • actually..... (Score:2, Informative)

    by to_kallon (778547) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:53PM (#10441133)
    i had something similar happen to me. we have a lincoln navigator and the control chip on the transmission went out and it started running wide open at will. now granted, it took me a few months to notice given my driving style, but i did end up driving through downtown at 7000 rpms, shifting to neutral (automatic trans) and coasting into stoplights. now of course the problem becomes that you are sitting in neutral at 7000 rpm and you can't very well just drop back into drive. so i had to shut the engine off, put it in drive then turn it on. let me tell you, there is nothing like burning rubber, sitting still, for 10 seconds in a small semi. i did finally make it to the dealer and, as it turns out, there had been a recall issued but not publicized.
    in short, while it may seem a fishy tale, these things do happen, although i didn't call the police nor did the problem fix itself on approaching a tollbooth.

  • by xeper (29981) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:57PM (#10441182)
    "Vel Satis has been awarded the maximum 5-star rating from Euro NCAP, an independant consortium. It is now the safest saloon in the executive-car segment. "

    What does this say for safety ratings in Europe?

    Nothing really: You get Euro NCAP Stars for good performance in crash tests. No electronics involved, just plain old metal...

  • by mollymoo (202721) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:59PM (#10441217) Journal
    hifting it from drive to neutral will disengage it, and again the rev limiter covers the engine while the brakes stop the car. I'd like to see documentation of any automatic transmission that will refuse to disengage at any given engine or car speed, because that auto company would be wiped off the face of the Earth by lawsuits. I doubt such a transmission exists.

    I doubt you can shift straight to neutral with many of the "F1-style" paddle-shift gearboxes. You have no lever to shift to "N" and the box won't shift down if the revs are too high. There simply isn't a control which lets you do anything but shift up and down.

    A car going off on its own is one things - you still have steering and brakes. The guy in the story survived, after all. The idea of a malfunction with fly-by-wire steering is truly terrifying.

  • Fail dangerous? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:06PM (#10441319)
    Cool...

    The throttle sensor gets stuck on max, the gearbox is a sequential automatic with safety features to prevent damage to the engine, they take away the key and lock the card while driving and you get launched down the road at 120mph.

    Yay Renault! Sounds like a lot of thought has been put into how to make a single point of failure *really* dangerous.

  • by pe1chl (90186) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:09PM (#10441367)
    >and breaking a floored car doing 50 does - absolutely nothing

    As explained in many other followups, this is absolutely nonsense.
    A car in normal operating condition should brake much harder than it accelerates. Try it the next time you drive the car: time how long it takes to accelerate to 50, then time how long it takes to stop from there.
  • Re:Cheap shot ... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:10PM (#10441384)
    Your search - "Quality French Engineering" - did not match any documents. http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&ie =UTF-8&q=%22quality+french+engineering%22
  • Re:Cheap shot ... (Score:2, Informative)

    by rsidd (6328) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:10PM (#10441394)
    People -- there is a reason the least often uttered phrase in the world is Quality French Engineering

    Cheap insult: moronic ignorant xenophobic American. Heard of the TGV? 300 km/h (over 1800 mph), running since the early 80s, not a single fatality and only a small handful of accidents. Compare that with Amtrak or British Rail. Heard of the Concorde? Heard of Airbus?

  • by visgoth (613861) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:17PM (#10441495)
    Some cars have the parking brake mounted to the front wheels, which would definitely have a negative impact upon vehicle stability at 120 mph.
  • Re:Cannonball Run (Score:4, Informative)

    by MORB (793798) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:26PM (#10441619)
    According to another article [leparisien.fr], Renault's ceo said that on first examination on the premises, they noticed no particular marks on the brake disks and on the brake pads.

    If it's true, it's fishy indeed.
    They also say that the car seemed to behave normally when a mechanic drove it from his truck to a garage, but if it was some kind of rare sftware malfunction and the computer reset itself, they wouldn't notice anything anyway.

    I don't even know if they have logs in these car computers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:33PM (#10441739)
    Yes, and the increaded effort was nearly enough to cause an accident when I was going 25 mph and a vacuum hose split open on my Oldsmobile...
  • by Lethyos (408045) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:37PM (#10441802) Journal
    And as for cutting ignition and losing power steering and braking, well every car I've ever seen has a vacuum reservoir that will give power assist for a couple stops if the engine stops providing vacuum (stops running).

    Interesting mention. This is exactly what gasoline-electric hybrids like the Civic Hybrid and the Prius rely on when they shut off their engines. I've personally found that this reserve braking power can do quite a bit for stopping your car. (Basically, the Civic Hybrid will restart the engine if it detects this reserve running low. So, after coasting down a hill and reaching high speeds with the engine off, I can easily bring the car to a stop without the engine kicking back in.)

  • by dozer (30790) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:55PM (#10442041)
    Ummmmm .... no.

    In most cars, the engine won't be turning no matter how fast you're coasting. Try it with an automatic transmission and see.

    10X as many automatic transmissions are sold as manuals in the U.S., and the numbers are somewhere around 7X for Europe. With an automatic transmission, as you know, the torque converter is driven off the output shaft of the engine.

    So, if the engine stops developing power, the pump half of the torque converter stalls. Unfortunately, torque converters don't work backwards. Therefore, the fluid pressure in the fins disappears and engine and drivetrain effectively become disengaged. You're now coasting. Thanks to compression, the engine comes to a halt really quick.

    Know what that means? No power steering, no manifold vacuum, no power brakes, no engine braking. You're in for a hell of a ride.

    This is a real problem when taking automatic 4X4s offroading. Picture stalling the engine on a steep hill... *shudder* Unfortunately, I don't know of any good way of fixing this, short of converting to stick.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:58PM (#10442096)
    Actually, manual transmissions can't let you shift into reverse while you're moving forward. It has less to do with it being a safety feature and more a side-effect of the design of the transmission.

    It may make a lot of gear-grinding noise, but the teeth physically can't mesh. This means your engine is safe (even if it's a bit rough on the transmission gears) Nice, huh?
  • by arivanov (12034) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @02:14PM (#10442356) Homepage
    1. I do not find it hard to believe. Vel Satis is fully electronic automatic transmission with keyless entry and ignition. You cannot switch to neutral if the computer is bust. You cannot turn off the engine either. And if it has already been allowed to accelerate to 120mph the handbrake (dunno if it even has one) and the breaks will not do shit.
    2. It is what you get from integrating non-vital and vital circuits to save costs. Dunno if the Vel Satis uses similar electronics, but the recent Citroen and Peugeot (the other two french makes) run using a single integrated on-board computer that controls everything from wipers to engine. To add insult to injury it is a low end crap running Windows CE. It is quite noticeable - their speed displays are fully digital and it takes them 2+ seconds to update between reading (as of Citroen C2). Enough to lose your license in some of the UK speed camera happy areas. That is besides that it is an el-cheapo passive LCD which cannot be read if you have polaroid sunglasses or if the sun is behind you (Citroen C2 and C3 at least).
    3. This case is an example why you should not buy an automatic and a keyless entry until proper cars are available. In fact I would rather have my speedo analogue as well (it takes less time for human brain to read an analogue dial compared to a digital number).
  • by dozer (30790) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @02:17PM (#10442384)
    This is stupid thing to say because it totally ignores momentum. Remember that you're in a 3000 pound car. At highway speed, the brakes need to overcome both the engine AND the massive amounts of kinetic energy you're carrying. Can they bring you to a full stop before they fade? That's a tall order with the crappy hardware put on most cars nowadays. Good luck if you're on a mild downhill!
  • by revmoo (652952) <`sw.peem' `ta' `todhsals'> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @02:22PM (#10442467) Homepage Journal
    Your not going to be able to shift from 5th to reverse while moving, because reverse doesnt have synchros ...perhaps you could double-clutch it into reverse, but that's just silly :p

    As far as my car, the transmission doesnt allow you to downshift if there is more than a 3000 or so rpm deficit between the gears.

    Also, to the GP who said never to turn off the ignition in a moving car...you can surivive without power steering, in fact *GASP* some cars don't have it to begin with.

    Braking is more of an issue but that's why cars are equipped with emergency brakes.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @02:31PM (#10442581)
    In the last two decades airplane piloting has gradually replace most direct contact with controls by a mediating computer layer. Some pilots dont trust the computers or software completely. This is called the fly-by-wire debate. Some accidents are attributed to bad software, although the testing is quite rigorous.
  • by blorg (726186) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @02:39PM (#10442684)
    10X as many automatic transmissions are sold as manuals in the U.S., and the numbers are somewhere around 7X for Europe. With an automatic transmission, as you know, the torque converter is driven off the output shaft of the engine.

    It is nothing like 7:1 automatic:manual in Europe; if you inverted that you'd be closer to the truth (I work for an Irish used car website and out of 16,500 cars currently on the site well under 10% are automatic.)

    The Vel Satis is a relatively high end Renault so the chances of it being an auto are higher; still however out of the six Vel Satis models sold here new, four are manual... [carzone.ie]
  • by 0peth (259860) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @02:43PM (#10442740)
    That's the reason at least in the USA, cars with cruise control systems are required to have a master kill switch in addition to the normal methods of turning them off (some subset of the brake, clutch, and steering-wheel "cancel" button.)
    I have no faith in the computers put in cars these days. Part of it is definitely a 1997 Accord which has a couple of problems with it. Similar to the guy in the post, cruise control will sometimes settle on a speed 5-15 mph higher than what it was set at (but is luckily responsive to turning it off.) Also, and possibly more annoying, is the door locks. The doors are supposed to lock when the car starts, and unlock when it stops, and they do, but they keep doing as such randomly. I'll be driving around, and the doors will randomly click locked a dozen or so times.
    Can't wait for them to get such features as online, software/firmware updates--it'll be great to have virusses on my car.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @02:49PM (#10442809)
    Planes have pilots to take over if the electronics go down.

    I don't know if anyone has told you this, but the yoke that the pilot yanks on does not hook up to anything. It is all electronic. So if the electric system goes, you can yank on that yoke all day long, and the plane will keep flying in whatever direction it's going.

  • by HoneyBunchesOfGoats (619017) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @02:56PM (#10442923)
    The reason you don't want to turn off the ignition is that on most cars doing so locks the steering. Much more troublesome than losing power assist.
  • by citiZen2010 (802381) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @02:58PM (#10442937)

    I was smugly chuckling to myself about this also, until I read this. [businessweek.com]

  • Re:Hey! (Score:3, Informative)

    by fucksl4shd0t (630000) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @03:07PM (#10443029) Homepage Journal

    "traction control" is nebulous.

    Generally when someone's talking about traction control using ABS, they're referring to a fancy system that's designed for high-speed maneuvarability, like in a slalom or something, and actually has *nothing* to do with the road surface.

    of course, the GP isn't aware of that, poor guy.

    Just being pedantic, because generally when people argue about what traction control does, they're all right, it's just that "traction control" is such a nebulous phrase as to be virtually meaningless.

  • by Carnildo (712617) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @03:14PM (#10443132) Homepage Journal
    An ignition usually has four settings:
    1) Lock: This locks the steering and lets you remove the key
    2) Accessory: Unlocks the steering wheel and provides power to things like the radio, but not the engine
    3) On: Provides power to the spark plugs
    4) Start: Provides power to the spark plugs and starter motor.

    You can safely turn the key from "on" to "accessory" if you need to stop the engine while driving. Normally, turning the key further into the "lock" position requires extra effort, such as pushing a button.
  • I've never heard of a car where you could turn the key to 'lock' while in gear, even with pushing a button. That would just be stupid...how often do you need to physically remove the key while the car is in motion? (What, you're in such a hurry you need to unlock your front door while your car slams to a halt, plastering you against the steering wheel and ripping out your transmission?) All you want to do is stop the engine from running.

    Now, I've heard of cars where you can't turn the key to accessory when the car's not in neutral or park, but never actually seen them, and I'm not actually sure they exist...I think it's just people making assumptions about their car. If anyone actually has a car that will not do that, please respond to me. (I'm talking physically, here, not weird-ass drive-by-wire cars that you turn off electronically, like in this article.)

    My automatic Pontiac Sunbird would not only let you do that, it would also let you 'push start' it. Of course, you had to be going like 30 mph or so, so you couldn't actually push start it unless you had a damn big hill, but if it stalled while driving down the highway, you could just flip the key to accessory and then back while in gear.

  • by bleckywelcky (518520) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @03:42PM (#10443427)
    I had my engine stall while going 50 mph through a winding mountain road (was a '96 or '97 vehicle). Freaked the hell out of me, but I was able to stomp on the brakes and brute-force the steering wheel so I wouldn't drive off the side of the mountain. It took a lot of effort (as I suspected) and I don't know if really young drivers, seniors, or someone with just-below-average strength could have handled it. Luckily I found a turn-out fairly quickly and was able to pull off the road and check my vehicle out to see what had happened.
  • >Oh, you mean the handbrake (I guess "emergency brake" is an Americanism, as it doesn't make sense).

    Or, perhaps in countries outside America they don't sell vans and trucks. Must be interesting getting cars from the factory to the dealership without putting miles on them. :-)

    In these you operate your so called "hand"brake with a foot. No, I'm not talking about the pedal just beside the gas. I'm talking about a totally separate pedal with a latch release.

    Ergo, it is no longer a handbrake. The term "embergency brake" works better as it covers any method of operating a manual brake for the rear wheels only.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @03:55PM (#10443623)
    They don't work by vacuum any more: most modern cars (at least those in Europe) use electric power assistance.
  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @04:33PM (#10444082)
    the driver has tried to use the brakes, but he says they quickly heated up and became ineffective.

    In almost every car ever produced, the brakes are far more "powerful" than the engine. This is complete bullshit, unless the car was poorly maintained or had a serious defect. You can't ride them- you really have to push hard and bring the vehicle to a stop quickly, or yes, you will overheat the brakes- but even if you do that, you don't have to wait long for them to cool down. You CAN'T use your handbrake- it's a PARKING brake, not an "emergency" brake, and yeah, they tend to not be properly adjusted so they won't do a very good job of stopping the car; since little weight is on them, manufacturers don't make the rear brakes very big. Use the BRAKE pedal, people.

    Elizabeth Jordan, a NY EMT who called 911 claiming her car was out of control, became completely hysterical- a cop finally stopped the vehicle by pulling in front of her and using the cruiser's brakes(and rear bumper) to stop.

    Funny thing, but they found absafuckingloutly nothing wrong with the car she was driving. The woman was simply a hysterical bitch who wanted attention. Suddenly after being brought to a stop by the cruiser, she could turn off the ignition. Why the fuck didn't she do that in the first place?

    99% of the stories about cars going "out of control" are bullshit. It's almost always driver error- or a complete fabrication by the driver to get out of trouble (or for attention).

  • by DrPepper (23664) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @05:00PM (#10444389)
    Removing the key card - I can confirm that this is quite hard even when the car is stationary (and the engine running).

    I have a Renault Laguna II which has the same card key ignition system. It holds the card in the slot when the engine is running - there is a hole in the card and I guess it puts something through that to stop you removing it. Whatever it does, it doesn't want you removing it without turning the engine off first.

    In addition, part of the front of the card (that is usually exposed when it is in the slot) pulls out to reveal a normal key. You can use this key to unlock a hidden lock on the doors if you ever have problems with the card. The card is great for everyday use, but I can appreciate that in an emergency there isn't much to grip on.

    I can also confirm that the semi-automatic gearbox used is designed to make sure that you don't kill the engine. Eg. in manual mode it won't let you shift when it might stall/over-rev the engine. In fact, if you put it into a gear and accelerate, once it hits the rev limiter, it will (after a short pause) shift up for you.

    I imagine that the cruise control system got fried, so pressing on the brake or pressing the "0" button on the steering wheel would both have had no effect as they are both signals to the same computer. The vehicle computer probably wouldn't let him shift to neutral either to protect the engine.

    Chances are that being in France, he would have had a diesel as it's the most common engine choice in Europe and given it maxed out at 120mph. As I am sure everyone is aware diesel engines tend to be fairly torquey, so it could well be quite fun trying to brake at the same time the engine is running flat out.

    Renault also don't have a very good reputation for electrics; very worrying given their latest vehicles contain a lot of technology as standard, which makes them attractive over the competition. That and the overall design is, shall we say, different :-)
  • by bobbozzo (622815) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @05:44PM (#10444955)
    OK, I asked Google [google.com] to find me articles on the Audi problem.

    The first article [mfes.com] is on point... it says average cars' brakes have 3-5 times more horsepower than their engines.

    Here [wardsauto.com] is an article which specifically talks about the Audi problems...

    Most car experts and magazines such as Car and Driver supported Audi's position, knowing full well that working brakes can always overpower the engine, even at full throttle. But major media outlets chose to ignore basic facts and instead gave front-page treatment to theories about sunspots causing cars to run wild.

  • by the real darkskye (723822) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @05:57PM (#10445080) Homepage
    Actually it is quite simple to shift in a manual (or stick shift for our pond-side readers) without a clutch, it just involves matching the engine RPMs with the gear+wheel speed for a smooth change.

    The things you learn fast when your clutch cable snaps while driving.
  • You can't safely pull the hand brake at 120 mph. Brakes have metal wiring in them that can snag the tires if it's bared, and pulling the hand brake at that speed would probably rip away the pad pretty quick. Not only that, but there's no way the brake could've stopped the car before it burned up unless it caused the cruise control to finally stop as well. If you don't believe me, you've gotten a half mile up the road and suddenly realize you left the emergency brake on. It's only meant to hold the car in place on an incline and to add some extra power to your real brakes, it's not meant to actually stop the car on its own.

  • by BasilBrush (643681) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @11:30PM (#10447419)
    What kind of wierd hand brake are you describing? How the hell can the brake cable ever come in contact with the tire?

    In all the cars I've ever owned/seen, the hand brake cable is connected to the exact same rear brake pads as the foot brake is connected to. If the pads wear out, the solid metal behind the pads comes in contact with the drum/disk and they overheat. But there's no wire in contact with tire outcome.

  • Ironic... (Score:3, Informative)

    by WebCowboy (196209) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @12:47AM (#10447813)
    ...because if your Nissan is less than five years old, then it was engineered by the same team as the Renault that is the subject of the article. This is because Renault and Nissan practically merged some time ago. Renault is the single biggest shareholder in Nissan (about 40% owned), and Nissan owns 15 or 20% of Renault. from a corporate structure standpoint, their arrangement is almost identical to the Renault/American Motors alliance from 1978 to 1987 (American Motors Jeep division had to divest AM General--makers of the Humvee--because US regulations did not allow the vehicles to be supplied by a foreign company. Odd how "American" motors was considered a FOREIGN company by the federal gov't in the last decade of its existence).

    If it weren't for Renault management Nissan would not be around today as they were nearly bankrupt when they formed their alliance. Whatever the rep for lack of quality Renault had, they learned from experience and became quite a well run company. And I wouldn't discount the possibility that Renault parts are being used more and more in Nissans (and vice versa of course...the two brands are even starting to visually resemble each other).

    Back in the AMC/Renault days the same thing happened--a Renault diesel engine, instrument cluster and bucket seats turned up in a handful of Jeep models sold in North America. The AMC Alliance/Encore was mechanically identical to the Renault 9/11, except that AMC supplied different accessories (bumbers, grille, headlamps, wheels, radio...). AMC was also planning to bring the Espace to the US and Canada to compete with the Dodge Caravan (possibly to be assembled alongside the "AMC/Renault Premier" in Brampton, Ontario). Of course, that plan was quashed when Chrysler took over, but the Canada-built R25 was sold as Eagle Premier and Dodge Monaco.

    The same thing is happening to Nissan, except Renault seems to have learned from its mistakes. This time it seems they are not only trimming the fat and get in effective management like they tried with AMC, they figured out that ultimately you cant stay in business seling junk. I KNOW some Renault engineering/styling is finding its way into Nissans, and they definitely source most if not all of their parts through common suppliers. Thankfully, for the most part Renault is learning from Nissan about quality control.

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