The latest industry discussions.

AAA SPILLS THE TRUTH ABOUT OIL +

If Dorothy oiled the Tin Man with synthetic oil, he probably wouldn’t have rusted on the way to the Emerald City. That’s because new research by AAA Automotive Engineering on engine oil quality revealed synthetic oil outperformed conventional oil by an average of nearly 50%. What does this mean for members? For only about $5 more a month, synthetic oil will provide significantly better engine protection than conventional oil.

While consumers don’t generally want to spend additional money on synthetic oil changes (about $70 vs. $38 for a conventional oil change), the long-term benefits are worth considering.

“It’s understandable that drivers may be skeptical of any service that’s nearly twice the cost of the alternative,” said John Paul, senior manager for traffic safety at AAA Northeast. “But, while manufacturer-approved conventional oils won’t harm a vehicle’s engine, the extra $30 per oil change could actually save money in the long run by protecting critical engine components over time.”

The Car Doctor also points out, “If you are a DIYer, the difference in prices between conventional and synthetic make the switch to synthetic oil an easy decision.”

Synthetic oils have superior resistance to deterioration, and AAA’s research showed they would especially benefit newer vehicles with turbocharger engines and vehicles that tow heavy loads, operate in extreme temperatures, or are frequently driven in stop-and-go traffic.

While only a few vehicles require synthetic oil, Paul says all vehicles would benefit from making the switch. “Upgrading to synthetic oil is not merely a selling ploy by repair shops,” adds Paul. “More than 80% of service professionals use synthetic oil in their own personal vehicles because they know the value it has on the long-term health of the automobile.”

The study focused on eight industry-standard ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) tests that evaluated the quality of both synthetic and conventional engine oils in terms of shear stability, deposit formation, volatility, low-temperature pumpability, oxidation resistance and oxidation-induced rheological changes.

CONNECTED CARS +

You may not be aware, but every time you use your vehicle’s navigation or touch screen audio systems, get a diagnostics report or maintenance reminder, or have your doors unlocked remotely by OnStar, you’re using telematics. Telematics is the use of wireless information to enable your car to interact with the outside world.

For the most part, telematics has made driving safer and more enjoyable with enhancements such as:

  • Emergency assistance, such as calling the police, a tow truck or an ambulance.
  • Insurance support, by providing vehicle location or disabling engine operation to help recover a stolen vehicle.
  • Travel guidance via navigation services, including real-time traffic information and automatic trip rerouting to minimize delays.
  • Travel information, such as points of interest, weather forecasts, fuel stations/prices, hotel and dining reservations, and more.
  • Car care extras, including maintenance reminders, vehicle health reports and diagnostic information.
  • Parenting assistance services, such as monitoring teen drivers and getting alerts if restrictions are violated.


“Telematics is a growing sector in the automotive landscape,” says John Paul, senior manager for traffic safety at AAA Northeast. “It offers many benefits to drivers, such as convenience, comfort and safety. But the use of telematics brings concerns that many in the industry haven’t fully addressed yet.” Any information that can be scanned from a car’s computer system can be transmitted. This includes engine performance, vehicle location, even the driver’s weight. For example, telematics can monitor driving behavior. Some big insurance names use this information to offer discounts based on how you drive, when you drive and where you drive. This usage-based car insurance (UBI) provides more competitive auto insurance quotes if the technology deems you a “safe driver.” While this may be economical for most AAA members, several experts have raised concerns about potential discrimination, privacy issues and the potential for unfair surcharges.

Many new telematic features in vehicles, like infotainment options and touch screens, can be a distraction to drivers. A 2013 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study found that these types of vehicle interactions are among the most distracting for drivers, and a 2015 AAA study of teen drivers found distracting behavior a leading cause (58%) of all crashes.

“Automakers will have to work on ways to reduce the risks and minimize distractions for all drivers,” continues Paul. “And government officials, insurance companies and individual drivers will have to sort through the complicated issues that come with monitored driving behavior.”

THE SKINNY ON VEHICLE-TO-VEHICLE COMMUNICATIONS +

Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication systems use a GPS receiver, radio/antenna and a computer to share automobile location and movement information with other V2V-equipped vehicles up to a 1/4 mile away. That information is then analyzed and used to alert the driver to potentially hazardous situations. Warnings can be provided in a variety of ways, including sounds, visual icons, control feedback or seat vibrations.

“We’ll be seeing more and more automakers add V2V systems to their vehicles,” predicts John Paul, senior manager for traffic safety at AAA Northeast. “There are definite advantages to equipping cars with this technology, from improving traffic flow on the roads to keeping occupants safer.”

Unexpected emergencies and ineffective driver reactions result in millions of crashes every year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration projects that V2V systems could help prevent up to 81% of collisions involving drivers not impaired by drugs or alcohol.

In more advanced V2V systems, the vehicle could take control of the brakes and/or steering to avoid a collision if the driver fails to react in time. These systems also may employ vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications that allow drivers to receive driving conditions from traffic lights, road signs or even the highway. Notifications might be made for traffic jams, changing speed limits, or height restrictions on bridges and tunnels.

Cadillac recently introduced a V2V system in their 2017 CTS Sedan, and Volkswagen recently announced plans to equip its vehicles with the technology beginning in 2019. As the number of V2V-equipped vehicles grows, shared information also could be used to reduce traffic congestion, improve fuel economy and cut emissions.

 “New technology that makes vehicle travel safer is exciting,” adds Paul. “But we have to be cognizant of other issues that come along with it.” 

The smarter cars become — whether by parking themselves, providing maintenance reminders or indicating an approaching car in your blind spot — the more people are concerned with privacy. Cars can record massive amounts of data, including driving habits and routes traveled; knowing how and where this information is transferred is critical to its adoption. Paul also points out the vehicles’ ability to resist “hacking” should be a number one priority with vehicle manufacturers.

In June 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Trade Commission held a joint conference in Washington D.C. to examine privacy and data issues in advanced car technologies. Panelists and cybersecurity experts agreed that manufacturers need to be vigilant about their methods of encryption and authentication, and must actively address any discovered vulnerabilities.

As automakers include V2V technology in their vehicles, we’ll be monitoring the issues that arise. To be continued…

WHO ARE YOU CALLING A LIGHTWEIGHT? +

Nearly nine out of 10 consumers agree that automakers should continue to improve the fuel efficiency for all vehicles, and believe that fuel economy is the area with the most room for improvement in their current vehicle.*

“There are many ways car companies can make their vehicles more fuel efficient,” says John Paul, senior manager for traffic safety at AAA Northeast. “Downsizing engines, improving aerodynamics, and selling more electric and fuel cell-powered vehicles are a few examples. But one of the biggest changes will be to reduce the weight.”

More and more, manufacturers are adopting aluminum alloys and other lightweight materials to shave pounds off their vehicles. In fact, the amount of aluminum used in cars is expected to increase significantly by 2025, according to a recent study published by the consulting and research firm Ducker Worldwide. Components are being retooled in lighter high-strength steel, aluminum, plastic and composites. Every pound counts; studies have shown that reducing vehicle weight by 10% can improve gas mileage by 6 to 8%.

The new BMW i3 electric car may be the poster child for light weighting. The compact four-seater weighs a svelte 2,635 pounds, despite carrying a 500-pound battery pack. This was accomplished by using a carbon fiber passenger compartment and aluminum subframes that carry the battery and powertrain.

Despite using some similar materials, you needn’t worry that modern vehicles will crumple like soda cans. Lightweight cars and trucks will still be safe thanks to high-strength metal alloys and high-tech composites such as carbon fiber. These materials can be just as strong as heavier materials, and with proper engineering, they are often even better at absorbing collision impact energy.

“Despite carrying higher sticker prices, lightweight vehicles will use less fuel over the life of the car, allowing consumers to recoup the higher costs,” states Paul.

Collision repair costs and insurance premiums may also go up due to special training and equipment needs, though some experts believe the difference will be minor since the portion of most insurance premiums devoted to collision repair is small. In the end, both consumers and the environment will benefit from lightweight vehicles. That’s a diet we can probably all agree on.