Rally Here We Come! (aka: what have I done???)

Since I was a teenager, I remember playing the video game – ‘Colin McRae Rally’ – on the various video game consoles and then on the PC and I remember dreaming what it would be like to one day drive my own rally car. Growing up since then, I regularly played other rally games and still the fire inside me burned. Here’s a memory of old which just struck me like a lightning bolt: ages and ages ago…I rounded a round-about under construction in my 2003 Hyundai Accent which was modified. The roundabout was all gravel, and whilst my Accent was near-new and very doted-after and shiny, as I negotiated the roundabout, I remember giving it some welly in 2nd gear and I distinctly remember the smile burn itself across my face as the front wheels did their thing and the car came around. Being that my Accent was in very good condition however, I never pursued my passion of rallying. But, interesting that that moment was seemingly forever ingrained in my memory…

WELL…fast forward about…hmm…a WHOLE DECADE…

The other week I was sitting at work, browsing the Internet (on my lunch break of course…) and suddenly came upon a forum where users described amateur car rallying. It was a Hyundai Excel rally forum. It instantly piqued my interest. Unfortunately however, the events were all held anywhere else but in my state (which is Western Australia). My hopes dashed, once again thinking that our state never gets anything fun…I then came upon www.rallyaction.com.au!

I found out that they recently built a track in WA and had already run the first rally round in March 2017! And better yet…round 2 was scheduled for May! Only about a month away!! After scouring their web page and taking-in as much info as I could, I rang the event organiser on the phone and had a nice chat about the event in more detail. After confirming some of my queries, I was happy to proceed!

So naturally, I went online and started looking for vehicles…I initially looked at Hyundai Excels…I’m a bit of a ‘Hyundai Nerd’ (the original, according to some of my friends), so of course I was going to try to fly Hyundai’s flag as much as possible. I found a great candidate in one Hyundai Excel. It seemed perfect, good paint, low mileage, and VERY CHEAP – $1,200 cheap! I phone the seller, however it seemed that I had missed it by only hours, as the seller mentioned that it was literally just sold 30 minutes earlier!

My hopes dashed – for the second time – I went-on to look at other vehicles…and somehow…came upon a 2001 Hyundai Accent. In Silver (one of my favourite colours). I learnt to drive in one of these cars too…so naturally I guess I had an affinity for them. Sure, it was priced at $2,000, but that price was still manageable. Plus I figured I could probably knock the seller down a few hundred.

I messaged the owner, who stated it was still available, so off I went then, to take a look…at 6.30 pm in the evening, when it was well-dark!

The couple I bought it off were nice enough. The wife was obviously sad to see it go, but hey, I’ve been in that position more than once now and I definitely know the feeling. Apparently, it was her car that she learnt to drive in and they apparently owned it for eight years.

In case you’re asking why an Accent, well, this car once featured in the WRC (quite successfully, I might add). I doubt I will reach such lofty heights as the WRC with this vehicle, but hey, it’s a start, right?

The vehicle is a bit rough around the edges paintwork-wise (clear-coat deteriorating on some panels and lots of bumps and scratches, but mechanically, it seems robust enough. The best thing is, the car only has 163,000 odd kms on it! For a 2001 vehicle, this is quite good! Whilst the service history is severely lacking, the oil colour in the engine is still golden and the oil change sticker on the windshield indicates an oil change required at 167k kms…so not bad! Unfortunately, the coolant is another story…it’s basically water! But not too rusty or muddy from what I can tell. Still, I intend to get that changed out ASAP and flushed and replaced with quality coolant.

Otherwise, the vehicle drives fine. As aforementioned, because I learnt to drive in a vehicle just like this, so memories came flooding back as I bought the car and drove off! The best part, I knocked the seller down from the advertised price of $2k to $1,800. That’s $200 in my pocket to pay for the rally entry fee…which is, incidentally, $200!

Within minutes of getting the car home that night, I started stripping-out the interior…this included removing the rear seat and parcel shelf trim. The spare tyre and basic tools as well as some spare oil will have to stay, given the nature of rallying…better to be safe than sorry!

This car has a princely 100-ish horsepower, is front-wheel-drive, but only weighs sub-1000 kg in factory trim (I think the official figure is somewhere around 960 kgs). I figure that stripping it down will save me about 40-50 kg and with some skillful driving, I should have a fighting chance…especially when I read that round one of the Gravel Action Sprint was actually won by a Ford Laser – a front wheel drive vehicle – in a field of turbo all-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive cars! So I figure, I should hopefully have a fighting chance…once I get my driving experience up to task, that is!!

All that said, I should note that I don’t intend to fully ‘soup-up’ this vehicle…even though I may sometimes refer to it as the ‘Rally Beast’ haha…this is more just a vehicle to ‘get my feet wet’ in the rally world and who knows where it may take me if I like rallying more than I already think I do!

Here’s some links to the rally event I’m entering and the organisers:

http://www.rallyaction.com.au/

http://www.rallyaction.com.au/sprint/

Also, here’s a video summary of round one, where you will see the winner of the rally, a Ford Laser…

I will close this introductory post here, save for including a few photos…more updates soon! Enjoy!

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ScanGauge II Reveals Deep, Dark Secrets!

Image courtesy www.scangauge.com.au

Well the postman has been and gone, so I am now officially the proud owner of one of these nifty car computers. There’s just way too much to say about this thing in one post! So, I’ll use this update to show you what this little baby looks like out-of-the-box, run through my in-car installation and share my initial thoughts (and save the rest for later posts!).

Get me out of this box!

The packaging for the ScanGauge II isn’t anything to write home (or to you) about, but it does the job. More notable (aside from the unit itself), is the two manuals that the unit ships with: the “Quick Start” guide, and the full-blown User Manual.

With the package open, the unit itself is quite compact, measuring in at just 12cm wide, 4cm high and 2.5cm deep; this does seem to help lend the unit for easily mounting in almost any desired position on the dashboard, but more on that later (!). Packed with the unit is the data cable which consists of a RJ45 connector at one end (which connects into the ScanGauge II unit) and an industry standard (male) OBDII connector on the other – this is the business-end of the cable which actually plugs straight into your vehicle’s OBDII port*; on my car, this port is immediately under the dash, near the steering column.

Box front
Box back
It's loose!

Connecting…

Installation of the ScanGauge II is straightforward. Connect up the cable and turn the ignition to “ON” or start the car up. The ScanGauge II display will show “Connecting…” for a short period during which time it automatically detects the OBDII protocol the vehicle uses (my Hyundai Tucson uses “KWPF” incidentally – there is also a way to manually “force” the OBDII protocol to be polled if needed).

After a short moment, all the secrets that your car has been holding back from you will be revealed! If you’re a bit of a gear-head like me, you’ve probably always wondered just what the coolant temperature was upon initial start-up (and when it was safe to start applying some full-throttle!), or whether starting off in 2nd gear at a gentle pace used less fuel than using 1st, or perhaps just how cool (or warm) the air going into your intake manifold was…well fear not, ScanGauge II has all these features – and more! Just try not to get too distracted by it!

Even if you’re not a gear-head, this unit can give you all sorts of handy info – hows about how much your trip has cost you in fuel $$$ as you drive (read: taxi meter for all your freeloading friends!).

I’ve only had the ScanGauge II for a day or two yet, but already it’s proved to be quite a handy gadget which I find myself referring to (and sometimes fumbling with) way too often while I drive (safety first mmkay).

Up on a pedestal

There are quite a few locations in the interior which the ScanGauge II can be mounted. Included in the package are two Velcro strips which will help you in your mounting endeavours. I ended-up settling on the top of the centre dash panel/fascia as the new home for my ScanGauge II because it was a bit too thick/long/wide for mounting any place else hehe :(.

See pics below…

Centre dash mount
Close-up 1
Close-up 2

Calibrate me, baby

One of the best features of the Scan Gauge II (and one of the main reasons why I purchased it) is that it’s capable of displaying not only average fuel consumption over a given period, but real time display as well! This might not seem like a big deal, but on my car, I only get average fuel consumption read-out, so having a real time display telling you just how much fuel you’re dumping into those cylinders right now is definitely handy. I should also mention at this stage, that all the measurements shown can be displayed in either Imperial or Metric, so if you prefer “gallons”, go right ahead – I’ll stick to “litres”. :)

In order to obtain the most accurate measure of fuel consumption, the ScanGauge II has a straightforward (but optional) calibration process which you can perform that only requires two tanks full of fuel. Basically, fill your fuel tank, set the “Fillup > Done” command to tell the ScanGauge II you’ve just topped-up, and drive around. When you get down to 1/4 full, fill up the tank for the second time (ask for the receipt!), use the same “Fillup” command again, but only this time, the ScanGauge II will tell you how much fuel it thinks you used, and you have the chance to manually adjust this value to actual amount you did use (by looking at your fuel receipt from the second fill-up ;)). I only just managed to complete this procedure last night, and I was surprised at how close it was with its initial reading (my tank took 39.2 litres to fill back up, and the ScanGauge II thought I’d burnt 41.2 litres).

As a quick aside, there are actually quite a few factors which can lead to differences in fuel consumption measurement (which I won’t go into here), which is why the manuals recommend that you attempt the calibration process using the exact same fuel station pump for your first and second tank fills (and ideally I’d say at the same time of day too). Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed this privilege as I stopped at a random fuel station at 10pm last night on the way home, so it could well be that the ScanGauge II is more accurate than I thought (the calibration process can be run again at any time).

Watchya got?

So just what can this thing show you on its compact display screen? Here’s the definitive list of “gauges” which are built-into the unit along with the label descriptors which denote each gauge on-screen (note: some of these may not be supported by your vehicle):

* Average Fuel Consumption (AVG)
* Real Time Fuel Consumption (LHK/MPG)
* Battery Voltage (VLT)
* Coolant Temperature (WT)
* Intake Air Temperature (IA)
* Engine Speed (RPM)
* Vehicle speed (KMH/MPH)
* Manifold Pressure (not available on some vehicles – isn’t available on mine)
* Engine Load (LOD)
* Throttle Position (TPS)
* Ignition Timing (IGN)
* Open/Closed Loop

And that list is just half of what you can get. There is also a seperate mode named “TRIP” which displays things like fuel used, fuel cost, fuel remaining, max RPM reached, max coolant temperature reached, and much more. And you can view this information for the “current” drive, today’s average, (as well as yesterday’s) and for the fuel readings, you can get averages for the current fuel tank.

Virtually whatever data your car’s computer can “pull” from its on-board engine and fuel management sensors, this thing can pick-up and show you**. I haven’t yet had a chance to view all of these gauges for any respectable length of time (the screen allows you to display any four at once), but so far I have noticed how warm the intake air temperature (IAT) can get while idling away in traffic. Today while home-bound and battling peak hour traffic at a standstill for what seemed like an age, the IAT eventually reached 66 degrees (C)!!! Once I picked up some decent speed and started cruising, this figure dipped down by around 50% though and cruising around on a cool night or just after starting the car in morning, temperatures of 25-35 are generally expected. Warmer temperatures generally yield better fuel economy and lower emissions though, at the expense of outright engine performance (which is why you notice a lot of so-called “tuners” install cold-air intakes on their cars).

Also worth mentioning is the fact you can use the ScanGauge II to “pull” trouble codes from your car’s computer (if it’s experiencing any…trouble) and after repairing the issue, “clear” these codes using the ScanGauge II as well. This feature I don’t really see myself using given the relative “new-ness” of my car, but who knows I guess right?

Closing (initial) thoughts

Cruising around...

So what do I think of this thing? Well, considering all the read-outs and information available at a glance with this unit ( that is normally “hidden” from view), it’s definitely worth the $159 (Aussie retail). The fuel information this thing can show is almost worth the price of admission alone, and over time, it’s very possible that this unit will pay itself off by “teaching” you to drive in a more fuel efficient manner (especially if you are a particularly “fast” driver). Even if you’re not interested in the fuel-saving premise, there’s still a wealth of other information that you can glean from it. For me, this unit shows me a whole other dimension of my vehicle’s operating characteristics that I simply wouldn’t have got by looking at the standard dashboard gauges and readouts that came with the car from the factory.

So yes, I’d say it’s a good buy.

* Australia has been a bit iffy regarding the inclusion of the OBDII port on its vehicles so you may want to check if your vehicle has one before you shell out for this unit (otherwise it’s useless). Only since 2006 has there actually been a requirement by the Australian Design Rules (ADRs) to include this diagnostic port in all new vehicles – having a 2009 model vehicle myself, I of course didn’t have to worry, but depending on your vehicle make and year, your mileage may vary (haha).

** I’ve heard that with a bit of code tweaking, it’s also possible to display automatic transmission oil temperature with this nifty unit, but that apparently it’s a bit hit-and-miss depending on your vehicle – oh how I can wish…

ScanGauge II Incoming…

As I write this, there is a ScanGaugeII somewhere out there with my name on it.

I’m expecting delivery of this nifty fuel economy computer in a matter of days and providing 100% compatibility ensues and everything goes off without a hitch, I’ll be able to report on my fuel economy findings with great detail.

At the moment, I’m reliant on the Tucson’s trip computer which only displays average fuel consumption rate and distance to empty; while this is not exactly a kick in the teeth, I would really love to have some type of real-time (or as close to) fuel consumption readout so I can see just what’s going on as I jab the accelerator with my right foot.

Not only that, but the SGII provides lots of other information from the OBDII port of the car, such as throttle-position, intake air temperature, manifold pressure, coolant temperature, and much more. I hope I don’t get too distracted from the road!

I’ll be providing updates (and perhaps an un-boxing hehe) as soon as the mailman arrives with my precious parcel.

More soon.

Average Joe’s Guide to “hypermiling”

All this talk of “hypermiling” – you may or may not have heard about it already. With the cost of fuel increasing it’s perhaps no surprise that there is a huge community of drivers out there who are challenging themselves to achieve the best possible fuel economy from their vehicles on a daily basis.

I’ve only recently become aware of this “phenomenon” and I must confess that already I’ve become a little bit addicted to it – it’s almost like a game where you repeatedly try to hit a higher score. This is quite a confession coming from me, as only 2 or 3 years back, I was a serial speeder or “hoon”, trying to get from A to B as fast as possible, and getting myself worked-up and stressed out over people who seemingly couldn’t get out of my way fast enough.

So…just what is this “hypermiling” business all about?

Basically, you take a car – any car (preferably your car mmkay) – and you set about driving in the most efficient manner possible. Note: this does NOT mean you drive as slowly as possible, making every other poor driver who’s stuck behind you furious and ending up late for every appointment.

Rather, hypermiling is all about getting the most out of your tank of fuel. There’s heaps of hypermiling guides out there (some of them pretty extreme) on attaining the absolute pinnacle of fuel efficiency from your vehicle, but that’s not what this post is about.

This post is intended to introduce you (and I’m not calling you an Average Joe btw – not directly anyway hehe) to hypermiling and open your eyes to just what it can do for you and outline some simple things you can try next time you’re out on the road to start you on your own way to “hypermiling”.

So let’s get started…

1. Get your car serviced

It should be no surprise that a well-maintained vehicle uses less fuel. The main thing is to ensure that your engine’s oil and filter is changed in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations – generally every 6 months or 7,500km if you drive regularly and drive in traffic (who doesn’t these days). Apart from this though, ensuring your vehicle is serviced and tuned regularly will go a long way to helping you save cash both in the long term (by avoiding costly repairs later on down the track) and the short term (by saving you money in fuel).

2. Check your tyre pressures

Yes this might seem obvious, but when was the last time you checked your tyre pressures? Low tyre pressures have the effect of increasing drag and friction on the vehicle and can also adversely affect your road handling. Properly inflated tyres help your vehicle move along the road as efficiently as possible. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to pedal a push-bike with flat or under-inflated tyres…believe me, it’s no fun. The laws of physics for cars is no different.

Check the tyre placard inside your glovebox or on the driver’s side door jamb which shows you the manufacturer’s recommended tyre pressures depending on your vehicle and its load. If you have aftermarket tyres and wheels of a differing size than the manufacturer’s standard, this placard may not be of much use to you, but generally speaking, the lower the profile (skinnier the sidewall) of your tyres, the higher the tyre pressure you should run.

3. Lose some weight

Every single object inside your car requires energy to move it along as you drive. Things like unnecessary boxes loaded with miscellaneous paraphernalia and any other junk which you might be carrying around in the car with you – it’s safe to say if you won’t need it at your destination today, then leave it at home. The lighter your car is, the less energy it will take to move it along. Some might argue that most items you remove will make such an insignificant difference it’s almost not worth it, but I believe that every little bit counts and it’s the mindset that matters.

Plus if you regularly cart around your favourite 5 bowling balls in the boot of your car, they definitely can’t be doing you any favours in the fuel efficiency department…

Note: I’m not asking you to be paranoid here and start removing everything from your car (you can leave the back seat and the spare tyre in the car – you might need them one day) – and I’m not asking you to flatly refuse taking your slightly obese Aunt Betty along to her doctor’s appointment once every few years either.

4. Leave early – relax!

A lot of people these days jump behind the wheel of their car and start racing towards their destination. Sure, we all have our days when we’re running late and simply must GO, but speaking in an overall sense, if you finding you’re having to do this more often than not, it will actually contribute to you using more fuel, wearing your car out faster, AND, perhaps most importantly, stressing you out more as well.

By leaving the house a few minutes earlier than normal, and driving at a comfortable pace (read: not a snail’s pace), you will find you will eventually end up being a calmer person behind the wheel and you may even save yourself some money at the fuel bowser too.

5. Accelerate gently

Moving a car from a dead stop takes the most amount of fuel of all and this is arguably the most fuel inefficient time as you drive (see point 6 below on ways to avoid this). Once you get up to speed and start “cruising”, you’ll find that your fuel consumption drops off quite significantly (provided you’re not “cruising” at 120mph). This is the main reason that cars generally use more fuel “around town” – because driving in busy areas generally requires more stopping and starting (and thus more fuel) than say, cruising comfortably down a quiet country highway at a constant pace.

So, with that in mind, the goal is to accelerate from a stop gently, and reach the speed limit (yes that means staying within the speed limit – see point 7 below) in a timely manner – not too slow, but not too fast either – and to try and maintain that speed for as long as possible.

If you have a manual transmission or an automatic transmission which allows you sequentially select gears (+ and -), aim to shift as early as possible as you accelerate (but not so early as to labour the engine). Holding gears excessively and building up engine RPM as you accelerate will only hurt your fuel economy. You will get to know when your own vehicle’s “sweet spot” is to shift up. In my Tucson, the transmission will shift up into top  gear at a measly 57km/h and the torque converter lock will kick-in straight away provided the throttle application is light or moderate allowing the revs to drop right down.

6. Build a “buffer”

As you drive, particularly in urban and built-up areas such as cities and towns, you’ll generally encounter many sets of traffic lights. As we’ve learnt above, starting from a stop is the most fuel inefficient time as you drive a car. This is because it takes much more energy to move a stationary object from a standstill than it does to simply maintain speed or slightly increase your speed.

With that in mind, aim to “time” your red lights, i.e., lights ahead just gone red? Start slowing down earlier (again, be mindful of drivers around you – don’t be a snail) and you may find that by building up a so-called “buffer zone” between you and the red light, the lights will more likely go green again before you reach them, allowing you to coast through them perhaps even without ever touching the brakes. This is obviously much more fuel efficient than speeding right up to the red light, stopping the car, then starting it back up again.

7. Stick to the speed limit!

This is probably the most annoying point of all to a lot of people, but believe me, speed limits are there for a reason. Driving at elevated speeds only causes more wear on your car, more stress on you and of course, increased fuel consumption.

By driving the speed limit, you’ll be able to react to events around you earlier and with greater efficiency, not to mention you’ll definitely use less fuel cruising at the limit (or dare I say it – just below it…).

8. To sum it up…

There’s loads of other little things you can try to get better fuel economy from your car, but the above is what I consider to be the key points for starters. I may no doubt delve deeper into this “phenomenon” in future posts, but I figure this is enough bed time reading for the time-being.

You’ve probably realised by now that hypermiling is all about “energy preservation”; by driving in a consistent manner, changing your speed as little as possible, and if you need to make changes in your speed (stopping or starting) aiming to make those changes as moderately as possible. Hypermiling is not about driving slowly, but about driving as efficiently as possible, as much as possible.

Until next time, happy hypermiling!