Niagara Gazette

April 4, 2013

TOM'S CORNER: Notes from the America's Car Show newsroom

By Tom Torbjornsen
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — EDITOR’S NOTE: The Gazette has partnered with local automotive expert Tom Torbjornsen to publish his weekly national column. Tom’s Corner will appear in Thursday’s editions. 

There have been some noteworthy happenings in the automotive world lately, so I thought I would cover a few interesting ones along with recent recalls.

Hyundai fuel cell vehicle in the works

Hyundai has become the world’s first automaker to begin regular production of a fuel cell vehicle. Hyundai began production of its ix35 Fuel Cell last month at the company’s Ulsan manufacturing facility. “With the ix35 Fuel Cell vehicle, Hyundai is leading the way into the zero-emissions future,” Hyundai Motor Vice Chairman, Eok Jo Kim said. “The ix35 Fuel Cell is the most eco-friendly vehicle in the auto industry and proves that hydrogen fuel cell technology in daily driving is no longer a dream.” The ix35 Fuel Cell, which emits only water vapor, can accelerate from 0-62mph in 12.5 seconds and top out at around 100mph. The ix35 Fuel Cell can cover 365 miles between fill-ups.

Misfueling — what to do if it happens to you

With all the diesel vehicle offerings coming on the market the rise in incidents of ‘misfueling’ may be attributed to this sales trend.

Traditionally thought of as running particularly noisy engines, diesel engines have been getting increasingly quieter and (particularly in the case of rental cars or second cars) it’s easy to forget you’re driving a car with a diesel engine. The high-pressure fuel pump in a diesel engine is very sensitive, and adding gas serves to strip it of essential lubrication. As metal grinds against metal without diesel fuel’s lubrication, the fuel (contaminated with loose metal particles) soon affects the rest of the fuel system. And the further the contaminated fuel travels, the worse the problem gets. Diesel engines are particularly sensitive and extensive contamination could necessitate the replacement of multiple costly parts.

Putting diesel in a gas engine has also been known to end badly. Spark plugs get contaminated by the oily fuel, and the engine suffers detonation and produces smoke from the exhaust. Luckily, this is a less frequent mistake because a standard diesel fuel nozzle is incompatible with the filler neck on today’s gasoline vehicles. In both cases, don’t turn on the ignition or start your vehicle if you know you’ve added the wrong fuel. Additionally, contaminated diesel should be removed from the tank and replaced with clean fuel as soon as possible.

Honda recall

A stability control problem that affects vehicle braking has prompted Honda to recall about 183,500 Acura RL and MDX and Honda Pilot models in the US. The recall covers ‘04 and ‘05 model year vehicles in the US. The issue with the stability control’s wiring could cause the brakes to operate even if the driver doesn’t push on the brake pedal. Similarly, the brakes might activate more strongly than the driver intended under light braking. Honda says it isn’t aware of any accidents or injuries directly related to the problem. Honda will begin alerting owners soon and it will remedy affected vehicles free of charge at its dealerships.

Nissan recall

Nissan has announced the recall of five different models lines due to an airbag fault. The recall covers Nissan vehicles from the 2013 model year. According to Nissan, the vehicles included in the recall may have a defect in their Occupant Detection System. That fault could prevent the system from detecting a front-seat passenger and, in turn, turn off the passenger-side airbag. Naturally, if the passenger-side airbag fails to inflate in the event of a crash, there is a higher likelihood of passenger injury. Nissan is still determining just how many vehicles will be covered by the recall, but the automaker has sold more than 50,000 2013 Altimas alone this year. Nissan will remedy the problem by installing new ODS sensor where needed. The recall is expected to officially begin early next month.

Subaru recall

Subaru has announced the recall of nearly 50,000 vehicles in the US due to an unusual electrical fault that could cause a car to start all on its own. The recall covers Legacy, Outback, Impreza and Crosstrek vehicles from the 2010-2013 model years. Subaru says the key fob that controls its Audiovox remote engine starter could malfunction if dropped, causing a vehicle to start without any human intervention. If the fault occurs, the vehicle may start and run for up to 15 minutes. Subaru says that loop will continue until either the key fob’s battery is drained or the vehicle runs out of gas. Although mostly a threat to a costly tank of fuel, the National Highway Traffic safety Administration warns that if the vehicle is parked in a closed area the exhaust fumes could cause asphyxiation. Subaru will remedy the problem by replacing the key fob for all 47,419 vehicles covered by the recall. Subaru expects to begin the recall by the end of next month.

Ohio judge calls speed cameras a “scam”

In what could prove to be a landmark case for drivers across the United States, an Ohio judge has ruled that speed cameras used in a Cincinnati-area village violated the state’s constitution. Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman put a stop to Elmwood Place’s speed camera “scam” that was generating $326,250 per month for the village of 2,200 people. Judge Ruehlman ruled that Elmwood Place’s speed camera enforcement didn’t provide drivers with the necessary due process afforded by state law. “Elmwood Place in engaged in nothing more than a high-tech game of 3-card Monty [sic],” Judge Ruehlman wrote.

Judge Ruehlman took issue with Elmwood Place’s oversight (or rather lack thereof) of the speed camera system. Rather of being controlled by the village’s police force, the entire speed camera operation, from ticketing to calibration, was handled by Maryland-based Optotraffic LLC. For its troubles, Optotraffic pocketed $42 or 40 percent of every $105 ticket its system doled out. Judge Ruehlman also took issue with process of contesting a camera-issued speeding ticket in Elmwood Place.

“The so-called witness from Elmwood Place testifies from a report produced by the company that owns the monitoring unit. This witness has no personal knowledge of the speeding violation and therefore, their testimony is based solely on hearsay.” Elmwood Place plans to appeal the ruling, but the case could prove to be the blueprint for similar litigation in other states.

That’s it from the newsroom!

‘Til next time ... Keep Rollin’

"America's Car Show" with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.