Most of my work is technical explanations, but on occasion I like to rant in the form of an opinion piece, or flat-out just invent something. So I put all of that work into this ebook!
Buy it on Amazon:
Here’s a sample story:
DEAR 4WD MAKERS. I’m going to be using your vehicles offroad. No, keep reading, I may not be the focus of your marketing campaign but I’ve still got a few opinions I’d like you to hear.
But relax, I’m no luddite! I love technology! It makes the cars safer and more capable on and off road.
But I’d like control of the vehicle too. Actually, I need it. For safety, you see.
If I use a command-shift auto transmission I want the thing to shift gears when I say so, not only if the computer agrees. For chrissake, at least it could tell me if it doesn’t want to shift up or down!
If I lock a centre diff then it should stay locked, not unlock at speed. If I raise air suspension then it must stay raised, until I, not the computer, lowers it. If my car has stability control I want to switch it off, and it stays off until I switch it back on again. If I want to drive at speed with the suspension raised and the centre diff locked, then, dammit, I paid for the car and I should be able to do so! If I want to pull away in fifth gear, I should be able to, and if I feel like starting a manual with the clutch up, well don’t stop me from doing that either.
Yes, I know all these safeguards are apparently for my own good, and to protect the car. But as a free-thinking human I reserve the right to bugger up my own car and life.
The thing is, 4WDing is a funny old business and you can never tell when you’ll need to do something with the car the engineers never thought of. If you’ve ever had to recover a broken 4WD you’ll know you need to do odd things like drive at speed with the centre diff locked if you’ve removed the rear propshaft because it has snapped. And if you insist on making the park brake work only on the rear wheels, then allow us to lock the centre diff so all four wheels are locked and we stand a chance of securing the car on a hill. We’ve also had to induce excess wheelspin to pivot a car around into a recoverable position.
At times like those the last thing you need is the car say “nuh-uh, not allowing you do that!” Who’s driving the car, me or the design team?
Sometimes the nanny mode goes a bit far. I mean, on a track you might be forever leaping in and out of the car to shift trees, leaving it running with the keys in the ignition. I don’t need a high-pitched warning bleep driving everyone nuts to tell me what I already know.
And all those cool little ideas that seemed so good in the focus groups? Like, for example, the idea that the car will squat down to Access Height after the engine is off? Ask yourselves this – what happens if you’re on a track, switch the engine off and dive under the vehicle to look at something like branch stuck in the running gear? Squashed 4WDer, that’s what! Or what if you’re halfway through jacking the car? Have this feature if you must, but also allow it to be disabled. Here’s another design principle – think carefully before having the car do anything by itself, because guess what – out in the bush it may not know best.
Now I know you’ll be worried about Joe Average who won’t know his diffs from his distributors, and thinks windup is something comedians do. That’s why you spend all this money automagic this and on-demand that, so Joe can just point and go. Fine, leave that in, but for everything you – and I’ll be blunt – dumb down – leave manual override controls in place for those of us that understand this stuff and want the control.
The fine wallahs at Land Rover created Terrain Response where you look at the terrain (the driver still has to do that, for the moment) and then select a setting on the transmission to match what you see out the window. All good, but that’s like my old stereo unit which had preset modes for rock, pop, classic and jazz. It categorises too many varieties into too few baskets, you see. I’d prefer individual graphic equalizers for bass, treble and so on. In the same way, I’d like a Terrain Response that allows me (that’s the driver, just to be clear) to set throttle sensitivity, traction control slip, centre and rear locking diff operation and so on. Sure, I’ll use the recommended settings as a guide, but please, give me control of the vehicle I’m driving!
So let’s summarise. You can leave the dumbed-down stuff in place, no worries there, but everything must have a manual override, because us 4WDers want it and will need it, often in ways we can’t even think of until the situation arises. The switch can on the underside of the transfer case and be operated with a Torx screwdriver so our friend Joe won’t find it, and we will when we’re under there replacing those plastic bashplates with real steel. Oh, and can we please ban screw-in towing points too.