Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The Rise and Fall of The Diesel Engine

It seems sales of Diesel engined cars has slumped dramatically. No wonder really, as diesel engines have suffered a a series of knockbacks in recent years. This after successive governments and enviromentalists have said that Diesels are better than petrol engines, having focussed solely on CO2 emissions rather than emississions in the round, ignoring the particulates and NO2 that diesels produce. Favourable tax breaks have promoted Diesel cars in favour of petrol in the fleet market by a significant amount. Try and find a used medium sized petrol car from the past 10 years and you'll probably find they are outnumbered by Diesels 2:1.

But after all that promotion, tax breaks and environmental good will, the Diesel car has crashed sales-wise in spectacular fashion. For a number of reasons. One of the main ones is the risk of a change in the favourable tax structure suporting Diesels and also the risk of being locked out of clean air city centres in the future.

The VW scandal showed how difficult it was for manufacturers to make a diesel-engined car that met tough emissions tests and still drove well. EU emissions standards thrown down for manufacturers to meet in a ludicriously short time threw up a number of issues. From inappropriate installations, clogging particulate filters, self-destructing fuel pumps, additive issues, driveability issues (which led to  manufacturers using software routines in the ECU to detect testing scanarios and use a different ECU map for the tests as opposed to real-life driving).

Owners of older cars are finding that diesel-engined cars have problems all of their own and modern, high-pressure direct-injection diesel engines are horrendously fragile and expensive to maintain: in some instances the very fuel they use destroys the engine!

Examples of inappropriate installations are diesel engines in small town cars, that hardly ever get run on motorways. The Diesel Particulate Filter fitted in the exhaust which is required to meet EU emissions standards needs to run at a high temperature in order to turn the particulates to less harmful ash. Town cars or diesel cars doing short journeys never get up to anywhere close to those temperatures and so the DPF clogs up. Replacing the DPF can cost around a thousand pounds, a significant proportion of the cost of the car once it hits the used market.

High pressure direct-injection diesel engines rely on complex high pressure pumps to inject diesel fuel into the cylinder when the pressure is it's greatest. That's makes the engine very efficient. The problem is that at the pressures we're talking about (over 1000 psi), the pumps need very good lubrication. They are designed to use the diesel fuel itself to lubricate the pump. At these enormous pressures, any deviation from pure diesel, can have a catastrophic effect on the lubrication qualities of the fuel. For instance higher levels of biodiesel mixed with regular diesel can affect it's lubrication properties to such an extent that injection pumps eat themselves and fail. Another mode of failure is cavitation inside the pump as it works. Again any change in the fuel formula affects the cavitation restance and eventually the pump destroys itself as it works. 1000 psi pumps are not cheap items to produce and are horrendously expensive to buy. New ones can run to around £1000, again making used diesel engined cars almost a throw-away item.

The drive to tax diesel cars more, or refuse them access to clean air zones in cities means that mixed messages are reching the car-buying public, around the same time the used market are getting wise to the extreme costs diesel cars can rack up. They're becoming the leppers of the car world.

Since 2001 there have been ever tighter standards legislation pushed onto the automotive industry and manufacturers have been pushed to their limit trying to keep up. That's not to say they haven't used the changes in standards and manufacture to their advantage.

I have a 1999 car as I won't buy one younger than 2001, nor will I buy a modern diesel-engined car. Why is that? It's because newer cars get increasingly complex, so much so they become difficult and expensive to maintain outside the dealer network. My car has fuel injection, electronic engine managament, ABS, and even a fly-by-wire throttle (by far the weakest part of the car as they are known for failing).

Modern cars go even further, with each item in the car having it's own control module. For instance electric power steering: the steering will have it's own control module. BUT the manufacturer codes that unit to the car, but if it fails you can't just buy a used unit from another car and swap them over. Because the code will not be the same, the unit from another car is rendered incompatible. Not from a hardware standpoint, but it is deliberately coded in software so a unit will only work in a particular car and no other, rendering the used spares market difficult at best. These days there are companies that have cracked the codes and offer re-coding services, but not all modules are crackable and the re-coding service isn't cheap, pushing up the price of used parts.

Another area is where something should be user-serviceable, but the manufacturer deliberately makes it dealer-serviceable only. For instance in certain diesel Peugeots, they carry a tank of additive to improve emissions. If you have seen tubs of "Adblue" on petrol station forecourts, it's the same stuff. It's injected along with the diesel to help emissions.

However, rather than have a level gauge like a fuel tank, the cars computer is linked to the fuel tank filler cap. It counts the number of times the filler flap is opened and then calculates the amount of additive that would have been used for a FULL tank. Obviously if you part-fill the tank you use less additive. So you eventually get to a situation where the computer says the additive tank is empty (as calculated by filler flap openings) but you may actually have half a tank left. No problem, just top up the tank eh? Nope! It's a dealer-only service! There is no filler cap. You have to pay a dealer to fill up a tank you can't yourself even though the additive is freely available. And only the dealer can reset the computer to say the tank has been filled.

Again there's an evolving aftermarket working to deal with these issues, but why does it even have to happen? A small tank with a fuel gauge or a warning light and a filler cap just like a washer bottle should suffice.

But no, as with the coding issue I've already mentioned, dealers are turning new regulations and standards along with new technology to their advantage.

It's this mechanical complexity, poor after sales support and unfair use of new standards and technolofy that car buyers are railing against.

Small modern diesel-engined cars are unfit for purpose. Unless you rag them along the motorway every couple of weeks then eventually the DPF will block up and you will end up with a big bill.

If a fuel supplier puts more biodiesel on the mix, then the diesel high pressure pump dies, with (you guessed it) another big bill.

If a part wears out, you can't swap a used part from another vehicle to the car, with yet another big bill to replace the part.

It's this that is putting new car buyers off. I'm sure that most small diesel buyers are waiting for electric car technology and it's support infrastructure to mature and will probably jump to either an all-electric car, or if they can't wait a petrol-electric hybrid.

However, like all modern cars, these also have their pitfalls along the way, especially battery life and replacement cost later on in life.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Rise of the Remainers

It seems the Brexit remain camp are getting their act together and are putting forward some plausible reasons for denying the democratic will of the people.

The latest is Tony Blair, who says that on the day of the referendum we voted to leave, but didn't know the terms of the deal and therefore Parliament should have a vote on the terms of the deal.

As a statement it all sounds very straightforward and reasonable, except:

After article 50 was triggered, the EU puts a deadline of 2 years on negotiations. Parliament will be debating on the outcome of the negotiations at the end of the two years. So it's not like Parliament can send the negotiators back for a better deal: it's take it or leave it. Vote to accept the deal or vote to reject it. Reject it and you drop into hard Brexit, exactly the scenario the remainers are dead against.

Are they really saying they will accept a poor deal or a worse situation than we are in now under any circumstances in order to keep the UK tied to the EU? Paying billions to the EU with no voting rights, no influence on legislation?

Are they saying they will not agree to any deal that involves us leaving the EU so we go to a hard Brexit just out of Spite to teach the population a lesson?

Or are they going to (as I suspect) put some spin on it and say the deal is bad, hard Brexit is worse, so lets stay in the EU anyway.... In effect having a "stay in" vote, without actually giving the population a say in the matter. And then revoke article 50.

In any of these scenarios, the remainers are saying they will frustrate the democratic will of the people. We are thick, we didn't know what we were voting for and therefore need to be steered away from the course we plotted for ourselves. We are petulant children that at best should be ignored or worse we should be punished.

The establishment figures in Parliament and it's Westminster bubble need to remember they are our servants: we put them there to do our bidding. They are not there to tell us to be our nanny. They asked us the question: in or out. We replied out and now Parliament should deliver that, as ordered by the people.

Out means out. Hard Brexit is the outest of outs, but I do acknowledge we have prior agreements to fulfil. Once those agreements and projects are completed, then we should not be contributing to the EU in any way. In effect paying extortion money to be able to trade with Europe.

In the years after Brexit and during the transition period, a more permanent solution to the Irish border needs to be produced. One that does not involve us paying money to the EU and certainly one that does not involve an open border to the EU. Otherwise we have a new route for immigrants.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Brexit Becoming a Binary Choice

Last night's vote by the commons to have a say on the Brexit deal virtually ensures that Brexit will become a binary choice: in or out.

There will be no deal. The remainer MPs in May's party will raise their heads again during the vote to kill any deal that May will have extracted from the EU in an attempt to make the exit from the EU as hard as possible.

I suppose they think that once they have killed any deal and we face a hard Brexit, that the public will demand we stay in the EU after all.

Not Me.

I understood when I marked my ballot paper that a Hard Brexit was necessary.

So hard Brexit it is then. Make your plans everyone.

I just hope that the snowflakes don't stampede back to the EU.

After all, the things us leavers disagree with, like an EU army commanded by unelected beaurocrats, EU-wide taxation set by unelected beaurocrats, immigration levels set by unelected beaurocrats and all the other things have started to be mentioned by the EU. They were not unsubstantiated scare stories after all.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Brexit: May Capitulates.

It seems that we are getting Brexit lite: out of the EU, paying the EU, subject to EU rules (regulatory convergence) but not actually in the EU to make those laws.

It's the worst of all worlds.

Not yet negotiated, but I suspect this will be the sticking point of the next phase:

If we have regulatory convergence, then we must abide by EU trade deals surely? i.e. we won't be able to go out and negotiate our own trade deals as was the plan to bring prosperity and cheap imports after Brexit.

For instance, if we keep the same regulatory framework, we can't import non CE-approved equipment from China. Because our border is effectively the EU border. We have to keep up the same standards. It would be impossible to have an open border on one side and be importing goods that comply to a different standard than in the rest of the EU on the other side. Because those non EU standard goods will be able to slip over the border into Europe unopposed.

So as far as I can see it, the version of Brexit we're getting has all the red tape and expense and non of the benefits of free trade.

I look forward to Jacob Rees-Mogg demolishing this agreement.

I'd email my MP to insist on a firm Brexit with no deal, but he's Alan Mak, a remainer. A remainer in a majority Leave constituency. A remainer who I'm sure will be happy to be effectively staying in the EU.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

I Hate Social Workers (2017 edition)

One of the most popular threads on my blog was one entitled "I Hate Social Workers"  I wrote a few years ago. It ended up with over 5000 replies espousing hatred for social workers. Some very serious and personal messages were posted. So much so I had to delete the thread.

Back then in 2009 I was fighting to get my Autistic son housed. He was homeless, sleeping on my couch after being let down by Oxford Social Services in regard to housing. After months of ups and downs their only solution to housing him was: a homeless shelter. Yeah, like that's an option. He moved South with us.

So we'd moved South, he wanted to stay but had been let down for housing. Annnnd guess what? Exactly the same scenario started to play out down South. Not our responsibility, blah blah, then even when they stepped up, they failed to attend his supported housing panel, etc. A whole litany of fuckups. Despite their incompetence he was found not entirely suitable housing lodging with a chap that houses youths that come out of prison, that sort of thing.

Well, fast forward a few years and he's being made homeless again. I guess the landlord after 8 years has decided my son should move on and give the landlord some space again.
My son has been given notice.

Soooo, back to Social Services. Went to the GP, he heard the issues with my Son Autiscic, withdrawn, no social skills, no outside intereaction, depression, etc. He fired off the referral to Social Services quick smart.

My son got a call from Social Services today, which he didn't understand, so they called me. What we needed (as we've been advised by various local charities) is to have my son's needs assessed so he can be offered suitable housing.

But wait: there is now a waiting list; not for housing, but to be assessed for housing. So he is now on the waiting list to be assessed to be able to go on another waiting list for housing.

You couldn't fucking make it up.

Oh, and there are no timescales as to when this assessment will take place, it's all based on need. My son's being kicked out in February, I think the need is pretty fucking obvious! So chances are he will not have had an assessment of his housing need before he becomes homeless.

I think some canny thinking needs to be done here: social services hate nothing more than publicity and having how shit they are exposed. I think a Twitter account may need to be set up detailling the failures in Social Health and Welfare coverage in the UK.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Coming Conservative Catastrophe.

It's pretty clear now that the Conservatives are quite a way away from planning that post-Brexit pissup in the local Brewery. A long, long way.

I've already said what I think are the failings of the Labour party, now it's time (in the spritit of fairness and balance) to have a pop at the Tories.

Straight away, there's theresa may, the leader. Not "A" leader, but "the" leader. Past experience with her in the Home Office and other jobs leads me to understand she's good at talking the talk, but not actually walking the walk. She fails on almost every key delivereable sent her way. She wouldn't last the first episode of the Apprentice. She's the most Shambolic of omnishambles, everything she touches turns to dust.

You get the idea.

So, you can imagine, I have a very little respect for the current Tory government.

The thing is, I have very little respect for their policies either. Time was, the Conservatives stood for hard work and high rewards. You worked hard, you got more money in the form of tax breaks. You went self employed, you got tax breaks again to help and reward you for taking the risk.

Now, what the fuck is all this "Gig Economy" shit? If you are self employed, you take the risk, have no employee rights, no paid holidays (you're self employed: you take your own holidays when you like and you pay for them).

Since Tony Blair's introduction of the IR35 rule, that classed certain self employed people as employed and started to sting them for full PAYE tax and the "employer" (actually the client) for employer's contributions

That the IR is doing this under a Tory government shows the government is not Conservative in the true sense. IR35 should have been abolished the day the Conservative government took office, to shake the self-employed sector up again, kill the politics of envy and start having self-employed independent contractors out there earning big wages as a result of taking big risks.

Instead, since the Tories got in, there has been mission creep by the Inland Revenue.  They are now going after workers in corporations and the public sector that by the normal definition would not be classed as employees but contractors instead.  i.e. risk having no employee rights for higher wages, lower taxes etc.

That's just one example. Back in Thatcher's day, there was another element to the social mobility strategy. Decent government-funded training schemes were launched in order to fill skills gaps. I know: I went on one of them. I learned I.T. skills and was paid £27 a week back in the early Eighties. I learned how to operate and program computers and as part of the course had placements in industry. With no qualifications, instead based on entrance exams to test aptitude, I got on the course.

That's the sort of thing missing today. The people at the bottom of the social ladder, disenfranchised and disqualified, stay at the bottom. There is no means for them to improve their life, earn more than they ever dreamed of and contribute to the economy.

From no qualifications, two decades after that course I was earning £70K as a self-employed I.T. contractor. Had IR35 not put an end to that, I would still be there, earning that money and contributing to society at a high level. the amount of money I paid in professional insurance, critical ilness cover and personal pension contributions, purchases of I.T. kit, etc. was almost as much as I'm earning now. All that gone.

Instead, I'm earning less that £20K in a low-risk job. Would I stick my neck out now? Not likely. I don't have the support of the Government, instead they want to keep me down. A Conservtive Government not providing social mobility and killing aspiration.... what a shame.

The Tories have just continued to determine that all your wages are theirs and want as much of it as they can get away with, just like Labour. Not that you control how you run your life and business: they know best and tell you how you run things.
And what to Tory voters do in the face of these "Red Tories"? i.e. the current mob with their socialist non-aspirational agenda? Do they abstain and let the Commie/Trot Labour party in?

Someone, somewhere deep in the Tory party needs to start sticking a rocket up the various MPs and higher-ups and start to bring the Tories back to what they were: a party for small-medium business, a party that rewards risk-takers, that is for aspiration irrespective of background, that understands that light regulation is necessary than no regulation or an overburden of it, that knows a light tax economy is a prosperous one, that recognises current house prices kills home ownership for the poor, and recognises that their early policies back in the eighties killed social housing and recognise that is a neccessity and strategic asset, not a dirty phrase to be ignored. It needs to be caring for those that need care, but tough on those that abuse the benefits system, not by setting arbitrary limits, but instead having fair rules that root out abusers.

Combine that lack of old-school Conservative firm-but fair compassion, a lack of aspiration and the impending Horlicks regarding Brexit, who the hell would vote for the Tories again?

I smell not just a single catastrophe ahead for the Tories, but Brexit is just the tip of mis-management iceberg. There will be more to follow after they deliver "Brexit-lite", the "almost-in/almost-out" fudge that no-one that voted in the referendum wanted.

No-one will vote for them for a very long time....

Sunday, 3 December 2017

No Confidence in May, in er, May.

My sources say the knives are out for Theresa May. I mean really out this time, not the idle speculation of previous months.

Her lack of ability to make significant progress on anything has created a problem for her. Not that it was any different at her other posts. Some tinkering around the edges, shuffling the papers, rearranging the furniture: call it what you will, but that's what she's good at. Making herself look busy whilst not doing much of any substance.

I believe she'll be out by May. The Corbyn threat will have reduced significantly by then as new information comes to light regarding the current Labour front benches.

The Tories will start to promote their May replacement in the New Year, Just watch the political TV programmes to see which Tory MP gets a lot of air time. :-)