Tuesday, September 15, 2009

KERS and the common Prius

Formula One racing this season has endorsed and allowed Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS for short) for the 2009 season. The systems have been used with some success by Ferrari, McLaren and Renault this season. I won't go into detail about the systems allowed in F1, but there is plenty of information available here. The main idea behind the systems is to capture energy while braking, store it in a battery or flywheel, and release it to aid the performance of the racing cars. F1 cars using the KERS system get an 80 HP boost from their electric motors, but can only use the extra power for about six seconds each lap. Drivers press a button in the cockpit to engage the system.
In the past, many advancements from motor racing have been used to add safety and performance to road-going vehicles. rear-view mirrors, active suspension and quick-changing manual/automatic transmissions are all examples of this. The idea of using a kinetic energy recovery system through regenerative braking, however, is not an idea created by racingteams. It has been used for several years now in production hybrid cars and trucks.
I had never driven any sort of hybrid, but had an opportunity recently when my mid-sized rental turned out to be the very popular Toyota Prius.
I must admit that I was excited to see the cars available for hire at the Hertz agent at the San Jose, CA airport. As I came onto the lot I spotted special Hertz-liveried Corvette ZHZ models, as well as new Camaros and Mercedes C-Class vehicles. Since I was going to be driving on Highway 1 along the scenic California coast, I was salivating at the thought of using a high-performance car for the duration of my trip. When I arrived at the counter, they gave me a high-performance car of a different type. After only three minutes or so of pressing buttons and looking for directions, I was able to get the car to turn on and move out of the lot. The start up procedure is not intuitive, but simple once you understand the steps.
Since the Pruis uses a sort of KERS system, I thought I would give the car a fair shake. The biggest thing I dislike about the Prius (before driving) is the self-righteous attitude of the drivers and of the manufacturer about how good their car is for the planet. The commercials show Priuses driving around emitting only flowers and rainbows, and the fact is that while it does use a bit less petrol, the manufacturing process for the batteries offsets any eco-karma generated by lowering emissions. But this does not seem to diminish owner enthusiasm for them and there are many on the road. On at least three occasions while in my Prius, I was in a "train" of at least three Priuses in a row.
After driving some friends from Los Gatos to Monterey, I was happy that for the most part, it drove like a normal car and achieved pretty impressive fuel economy. The car seated the three of us comfortably (though I wish the seat went back a bit further) with all of our luggage and some of the party favors for a medium-sized wedding.
I woke early the next morning to wring-out the Toyota and the explore the scenic California coastline.
Any motoring enthusiast would surely love to see a sign indicating 74 miles of twisty road and I was no exception. I was nearly the only vehicle on the road when I set off, and the speed limit was a very reasonable 55 mph for most of the 60 mile stretch of Hwy 1 I drove.
The technology of the Prius has been written about ad naseum, and I am not going to go into how it works, but will instead give my take on its utility and function. Suffice to say the Prius electric motor does not provide quite the performance benefit of F1's KERS.
I set out to drive the car hard. I sped past the sign pictured nearby indicating 74 miles of curvy road. When I saw the sign and decided to take a picture, I wasn't shy about jamming on the brakes, pulling onto the gravelly verge and flooring the car in reverse to get myself back in position to take a shot. The brakes on the car have a two-phase operation. At the first tough of the brakes, the power regeneration system activates, and if more stopping power is required, the conventional hydraulic brakes operate. There is a jerkiness to the two systems that requires some getting used to. The car skidded around a bit as I pulled it onto the shoulder of the road. Upon shifting into reverse, a back-up camera turns on and shows on the display on the dash. As I found in a parking lot, the camera is great for locating the lines of parking stalls, but bad at letting you know how close you actually are to objects behind. The fish-eye lens of the camera gives no sense of distance to the objects in the camera. Also, there is an annoying beep inside the cabin any time the car is in reverse. The beeping is not a radar-type parking assistance device with beeps that get more frequent as you get closer to what is behind you--it is just an annoyance letting you know you're in reverse.
After snapping the pictures, I sped off from the verge, spinning the inadequate tires as the traction-control icon lit on the far-away dashboard.
The display in the center of the dashboard can be switched to show information about performance/economy, climate systems and audio. I found the climate system to me non-intuitive, and it required a bit more distraction from the road to be able to accurately adjust the temperature and fan settings. The radio controls were even more frustrating. There were seemingly three ways to adjust the volume for the stereo. There buttons on the steering wheel, a knob on the dash, and buttons on the LCD touch screen. The knob on the dash never seemed to work to control volume, but the dash controls were the only way to scan the radio. I was never able to turn the radio off, only down.
I really tried to go just about as quickly as possible down the highway. I was braking late and jabbing the go-pedal to get maximum thrust out of the corners. Driving this way I was surprised that the battery stayed at near-maximum charge. It is apparently easier to charge the battery than drain it this way, as there were lots of short bursts of maximum acceleration and lots of heavy braking. For my taste, Toyota could have put a bigger electric motor in the car to provide more of a kick. The acceleration did not come quickly, but instead came on quite oddly, due to the continuously variable transmission (CVT). I'd never driven a car with a CVT, and I'll say I'm not anxious to do so again. The engine stayed at a near constant rev while speed increased, which is a bit of an odd sensation. But I'm sure the computers were doing their best to give me maximum power.
The information display on the Prius provides a bar-graph history of the last 30 minutes (in five-minute increments) detailing both fuel economy and power captured through regeneration. In normal driving the higher regeneration numbers would mostly correspond to higher MPG numbers. However, as I was trying to wring-out the Prius, regeneration numbers were quite high, but MPG numbers were pretty low (below 25 MPG). The one thing I think the display is missing is a figure to show how much electricity the motor is using, in addition to showing how much is generated. Again, with how slowly the battery seemed to discharge during spirited driving, I think a more powerful electric motor would definitely help the car's enjoyment factor, and it seems it would also be able to power the car to a cruising speed of 30 mph or so before the gasoline motor kicks in. (The gas motor seems to kick in at 10-15mph in normal operation.)
After 60 miles of driving south on Hwy 1 and passing through Big Sur, I turned onto Nacimiento Road. Nacimiento Road was barely more than a paved donkey path that wound its way up a steep mountain. The bottom part of the road was covered fog, and there were blind curves the enitre way up the mountain. The bottom three-to-four miles were paved, with steep gravel edges that plunged into a deep canyon and out to sea. Near the top of the ridge the road turned to dirt and grew steeper, and potholes were common. I shortly entertained ideas of rallying the Pruis, but the car's small wheels and tires, combined with the deteriorating road conditions led me to turn around.

By the time I reached the top of my climb, the battery was nearly depleted, and the engine was running non-stop to recharge the battery, even when the car was not in motion. Indicated mileage for the duration of the climb was in the 10-12 mpg range. Indicated mileage on the descent was much better. Almost all acceleration I used on the trip back down the mountain was taken care of by the electric motor. By the bottom of the hill, however, I had pretty substantial brake fade, and the smell of hot brakes permeated the car.
Overall, the Prius drove about as I expected. On hard, skinny tires the car would plow through corners if I tried to carry too much speed. Needless to say, I did not have to deal with any wheelspin on corner exits. I was craving the ability to press a button on the steering wheel and gain another 80 HP, if even just for a few seconds. The car seemed rather well-balanced, and I think that if the car had better tires and about twice the power, it could be useful and entertaining to drive.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wisconsin Weather

Well you know I never blog about the good weather in Wisconsin, so it must be snowing again... I almost posted last week with temps in the 70s at the start of November, just because it was so nice, but I didn't. However, it was in the 70s for three days in a row, then the 50s, and now we're on out third day in a row of flurries. Not flurries of sunshine. So far nothing sticking, but it is supposed to get more frigid, and maybe get up to an inch or two over the next couple of days.
Soon on tap also is replacing the brake pads and rotors on the Volvo. It would have been better when it was in the 70s!!!
And with this talk of snow, I'm looking at more of the 700c Nokian Hakkapeliitta W106 35mm tires for Dr. Katie's bike.

Monday, November 3, 2008

House guest (guest worker program) Part Two

So on the second day we took on door number two. This was the door from the dining room to the screen porch. We found a great replacement that looks like this one at Menards, and put it right in. This was probably the easiest door of the three. While we had the old door out and were preparing to put the new one in, it started snowing!

Later that day, after mom left for her conference and Katie left for work, dad and I decided to try to clear some leaves out of the vent pipe from the downstairs bathroom. The outlet for the vent is almost even with the deck, and there is very little access to the duct. There was no cover on the vent to keep things out. We had to take off the first deck board in order to access the vent, and that was a chore in itself. Many of the deck screws were stripped, and others had broken off. Dad had to use the Dremel tool to make cuts in the top so we could use a slotted driver to remove the screws. When we got the deck board off, we discovered that not only were there leaves, but there was a lot of dirt and rocks in the pipe as well. Some sort of critter had made its home in the pipe, and had made it so that the air had nowhere to go as it was trying to be pushed out by the bathroom fan. That could help to explain why we had some mold develop in the basement during the summer. We cleaned the duct out, and the next morning went to the local Ace hardware store and got a bunch of stuff, including a damper/dryer vent style flapper to try to keep out whatever had been living inside.
At the Ace we also bought electrical stuff to wire up some switches downstairs so that we don't have to pull strings to get the lights to come on.
On Wednesday, the day before dad left, we replaced the front door. This one had a higher degree of difficulty, since we did all of the work from the inside in order to not have to completely take apart the trip work outside the front door. Here is the new front door getting ready to go in:
We really got a lot done while my dad was here. (by we I mean he got a lot done). We replaced three doors, wired lights downstairs to come on with a switch, cleaned out and insulated around the bathroom vent duct, poured a cement "transition" from the driveway to the garage where there had been a bit of a ditch, and measured for a bathroom project that he can work on next time he comes, provided that he ever wants to come back, since all he does is work when he is here. But I'll let him have a day off next time.
Thank you dad!!!!

House guest (guest worker program) Part One

So last week my parents came to town! It was nice to see them, although I only saw mom for a few hours between conferences in Chicago and New Jersey. But my dad was here from Saturday afternoon through Thursay morning. He initially didn't want to stay for that long, but we convinced him that there would be enough to do while he was here, and it turns out that we were right. There was plenty to do!
Saturday night we had a flank steak on the grill, blogged about the wine we had, and planned out the rest of the week.
We got up on Sunday morning and headed out to the Home Depot to get what was needed for the projects. The primary project would be to replace the three doors coming into the house. They were old and fairly drafty. We were not too happy with the choice of doors at the Depot, so we decided to head to Menards to see if they had a better selection. Boy, did they ever! I think I now have a new favorite home improvement store.
Here are three pictures of the first door we did, from the garage to the house. When we pulled out the old door, we found a void beneath the threshold, and needed to poor some cement in to support the door.
The second picture shows dad using the screwdriver from the Volvo tool kit to chisel out the recess for the strikeplate of the new lockset. Not having the right tools for the job was a primary mantra for the week.

The first door finished:

My mom arrived just as we finished this door, and then we made dinner, a pork roast with a somewhat spicy gravy. But at least now I know how to make gravy. Thanks mom!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Auto Shop Class

So, I didn't really have too much time to get this car stuff done, but the Volvo needed it. Especially since the T5 is now our only automobile. Tuesday I came home and pulled her up on some makeshift ramps and changed the oil. It was not too messy, but while I was under there I noticed that some oil had leaked, and is dripping slowly from the turbocharger. The cause is as yet unnown, as my ramps were not high enough to get all the way under there. I think the oil change went okay, but I inda wreced my thumb when the drain plug finally loosened and my hand slammed into something on the bottom of the car. Well, it wouldn't be working onthe car if you didn't hurt yourself, right?
So, since that Auto Shop 101 project was done, it was time to get started on 102 and maybe 103. Here is what arrived last week from IPD: Spark plug wires, spark plugs, distributor & rotor, torx tool set, brake fluid & brake pads (not pictured).So I removed my bike from the garage and pulled down the workbench to get started.First step was to remove the spark plug cover, which is the black piece on the engine that proudly says "Volvo 20 Valve." I noticed while taking it off that one of the special Torx screws that holds it on is missing, and another is stripped. The rest are corroded, so I'll need at least two, but may as well get all six new. They're $1 each from IPD.
I removed the spark plug cover and was surprised to see oil sitting in the indentations on top of the engine. It looks like oil somehow seeps up out of the oil fill cap, and then trickles under the cover. That is a bit of a relief, since I was a little concerned about the old oil on the back side of the engine, and I'm sure this is where it is coming from, not from a bad gasket.
So I replaced the spark plugs one at a time with Denso Iridium plugs. I'd had Bosch Super plugs, which were copper. I've actually heard conflicting reports. But it sounds like if you are driving a Turbo and really pushing it a lot, Iridium plugs are not as good as copper, since they run hotter and Turbocharged engines generate lots of heat. But they actually do better where you are in a lot of traffic or colder climates where the engine does not achieve as high of temp. Sadly, I don't take many spirited drives in the T5 these days, so I think these plugs will be good.
After changing each plug, I went through and replaced the wires with a higher-quality upgrade. The routing of the wires was a bit of a pain, especially trying to get all of the clips back in place. I did it pretty well, but then lost part of a clip that clamps down on all five wires where they exit the spark plug cover. It sprung out of my hands while I was trying to force it onto a wire, and fell behind the fuel injector rail, and then out of sight.
Here are the new wires installed. I decided not to do the rotor and distributor last night, because I had a lot of other stuff to do and was tired of working on the car!
So what is next? Brake pad replacement and brake fluid flush need to be done, and maybe my dad will be able to help with that while he is in town. Also I need to take the car in to have somebody look at the turbo oil leak and at least tell me what the problem is. I've also started to notice some noise coming from the fuel pump, which is located under the back seat/cargo area. Hopefully that doesn't go out!
Finally, a weather report: Bring clothes for rain/snow/wind if you are coming to Wisconsin on Sunday.

Monday, October 13, 2008

One Car Family!

We sold the Honda! It took less than 12 hours. We're now a one-car, six-bike family...
1994 Honda Accord Wagon. 127.5K miles.
Bought: 2003 for $4500
Sold: 2008 for $1700.
That is about the same return you'd get on a stock in the same period, maybe better. :)

The Garage Project

So I've had the goal since we moved into the new house of being able to park my Volvo in the garage. The garage is not big, and besides the car we want to keep bicycles and the lawn mower inside. There is a low ceiling in the garage, and I'm pretty sure it is not structural. The ceiling supports run perpendicular to the roof beams. I'm not sure what exactly is holding up the roof, but it doesn't seem like it would be these ceiling beams. Before I started this project, I took out some shelves that extended two feet out from the back wall of the garage.

I cleared out the attic area on the small side of the access, and removed the floor boards. Then I used my new reciprocating demo saw and cut out the beams. This allowed me to hang the bikes up higher, and park the car below them.

I saved the lumber, and removed all the nails. Too bad I don't have room to put any shelves in the garage!

Here is a picture from the "attic" looking down through the narrow access.
In the Next photo, I've taken off the "floor" boards.
Now, I've used the new sawz-all and taken out two of the beams!
There is a much better view into the "upstairs" storage area.
Success! It fits! But the car is so leafy and dirty...
Here is where we will keep the commuter bikes for easy access.
Notice that in this picture the car is clean, and in the garage so hopefully it will stay that way!

I back the car into the garage so that I can open the door to get out. There is no passenger-side access to the car while it is in the garage. The garage is quite narrow, and as I'm backing in, there are only about 3-4 inches to spare between the mirrors and the garage door frame. My brother won't be allowed to move the car in or out of the garage!
This project is pretty much done. I need to mount a support for the commuter bikes to that they don't fall over while propped on the wall, and I think I'll repair the concrete where the garage meets the driveway. There is a pretty decent curb there now.
The next projects will be car-related, as I need to work on brakes, oil change and spark plugs and wires.