I’ve been wanting to do this for many years, having read some interesting and odd articles over the years. Coming up are some myths that I’m keen to dispel. These could potentially save us a whole mountain of money in the long run, so let’s not delay. Let’s discuss these car facts (or fake news).
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Smaller Engine means Better Economy
If we browse through car brochures, this is the general trend. But before we all rush off to buy a car with engine size of a phone, consider this. A smaller engine will generally produce less power and torque. If we go for a car that is too small and weak, then we may find we need to drive a bit harder to just keep up with traffic. If that happens, our fuel economy will be worse.
This doesn’t mean we should all go out and buy Bugatti Veyrons, for too many reasons to list. We should consider the environment the car will be used in before diving in. Cars are optimised for use in certain environments. If it’s mainly motorways, it may make sense to go for a slightly larger engine. The engine won’t have to work as hard at speed, boosting economy and long term reliability. If the car won’t leave town frequently, a smaller engine should suffice.
Manuals are Faster and More Economical than Automatics
When I was growing up, this was generally true. Take two otherwise identical cars. Give one of them a manual, and the other an automatic. The manual was quicker, kinder to trees and grass. However, this is no longer the case. Automatics these days have dual clutches, reduced losses, and enough gears to ensure that engine revs are kept low. This keeps the economy lower than the equivalent manual in a lot of cases. Couple this to automatics being easier to drive, and the case for the manual looks weak. Surely they can claw back some ground in terms of performance?
Well this is where it gets more interesting. Today, car makers turbocharge their cars to maintain performance and reduce emissions. Without sending everyone to sleep, a turbo is most effective when the car’s throttle is wide open. While this isn’t the case between gears, the faster shifting times of an automatic means more time spent in gear accelerating. This is beneficial for any vehicle accelerating, but here it also means the turbos can be on full boost for longer. Combine this with greater efficiency, and it becomes clear why the manual transmission is becoming rarer.
There is an important side note to all this. Manual cars are generally much less expensive to repair if something goes wrong, and many suggest that manuals are less likely to go wrong in the first place. In addition, we can negate the fuel differences by being more selective with our gears and throttle input. This is worth a small amount of investigation before committing.
Diesel is More Reliable than Petrol
I can think of quite a few examples where this isn’t the case. There are two aspects to measuring reliability:
⦁ How likely is it to go wrong?
⦁ How expensive will it be to fix if it does?
It’s true that diesels by nature have stronger blocks as they run higher compression ratios, but reliability goes much further than the fuel choice.
Turbo failure can be expensive to fix on both. As an example, some diesels have a particulate filter which traps dirt from the exhaust to reduce emissions. However if we do too many short trips, this can become blocked and very expensive if replacement is needed. It’s too simple to say that one fuel is more reliable than the other. There are other reasons for not buying a diesel, but I won’t be too unkind about them: My Father-in-law has one….
Higher Mileage means Worse Reliability
I would urge everyone to see past mileage. A car that’s done 100,000 miles sitting on the motorway may be more reliable than something on 30,000 that’s never left town. My own car has done well over 100,000, and it’s actually running better now than when i bought it. It’s all down to maintenance. We need to look at car condition over car mileage. The car condition tells us much more accurately whether it’s worth our money. Clues like cheap, mismatching tyres and missing service history is more telling. For mileage, around 10-15,000 per year is absolutely fine for those looking to buy. Cars from the last 20 years or so can take much higher mileage than many think….
0-60 Times are Critical
No, they’re not. Not for me. And to be honest, they shouldn’t be most people. In reality, no one drives from 0-60. We drive from 0-30 (or more likely, 20 given what keeps happening). We drive from 50-70 to join motorways. Winning the traffic light grand prix depends more on our reactions than anything else. From 0-20, the Mercedes C63S I drove last year honestly felt barely faster than my Focus. The Merc has 4 times the power, and half the 0-60 time. But none of that is very apparent in town. I would argue that for most of us, torque is more important. Torque can indicate how flexible and muscular an engine is, as well as how dependent it is on gear changes to maintain performance.
In my old age, I’ve concluded that overtaking power is most relevant. This is where the Merc will show the Focus a clean pair of exhausts. Well, four exhausts. Acceleration while in gear is what we actually feel each day, so I would suggest that’s what we should focus on. In the case of automatic, the engine power and the kick-down is what gives us great overtaking. Better acceleration here reduces the time we spend on the wrong side of the road, while overtaking. This is good for crash avoidance and safety. Torque can save lives. Maybe one day that will catch on.
Specific Output is King
The specific output of a car’s engine is the amount of horsepower it has per litre. This is for some reason being used as a measure of how good an engine supposedly is. People see a 2.0 engine like mine, developing 130 bhp, and compare it to the newer 1.0 Turbos that also develop around 130 bhp. The assumption is that the smaller engine must be better. But bhp / litre only tells half the story. Obtaining big power from a smaller engine may bring with it reliability issues, some of which are already being realised with some powerplants. A smaller turbo charged engine will also have a different power delivery which may or may not be more compatible with car or driver. So instead of merely looking at the brochure numbers, try out the car first and assess what’s best for you.