Unnecessary

Following a link from Insty, I was reading Car & Driver‘s review of the Audi A7 (not that I’ll ever own one, but reading about any car beats reading about Nancy Pelosi’s bullshit by about a dozen country miles). All went well: car drives well, is comfortable blah blah blah, looks good etc.

Then came the speed bump.

For us, the chief benefit of the 48-volt system is that it allows the auto stop/start feature to operate more smoothly and more often. Cleverly, that system can trigger a restart when the forward-facing radar sees that the vehicle ahead begins moving, rather than waiting for the driver to lift off the brake.

Of all the bullshit inflicted on us by the Glueball Wormening cult, this “auto stop/start” thing is one of the worst. I remember driving a rental car in Britishland not long ago, and while waiting at a red light, the engine died — this, in a car which had only about 1,200 miles on the odometer. Panicked, I punched the ignition button, the car restarted (phew) and as luck would have it, the light changed and off I went. All was well until the next light, when the engine died again. This time, however, I didn’t panic, realizing that the 1100cc engine was being governed by “auto stop/start” on the basis that a tiny engine idling for two minutes at about 200 rpm is going to cause polar bears to die of heatstroke or something.

Here’s my problem with all of this. A starter motor is an electro-mechanical device, and as such has a defined lifespan before it stops working. It doesn’t matter how well it’s made — the higher quality simply means the mean time between failures (MTBF) is longer than for a cheaper economy starter motor. It is going to stop working, at some point: and as with all motors, the more it is used, the sooner that point will arrive.

So let’s do the mathematics on this one. Let’s assume that a particular starter motor has a lifetime of 20,000 operations. Let’s assume also, for the sake of argument, that a typical week sees you operate the starter about five times per day, while going to work, stopping at a couple of stores, running errands and doing chores, then going home. That’s 365 x 5 = 1,825 operations per annum, which means that your starter motor is going to last 20,000/1,825 = 10.985, in other words, about eleven years. Now with “auto stop/start”, instead of five operations per day, you’ll be hitting nearly twice that number, assuming that each day you have to stop at a couple of red lights or wait for traffic before you can make a turn, and so on. All of a sudden, that 11 years turns into 5 years — or much less, if you live in an area with more than a few traffic lights or which has heavy rush-hour traffic.

The actual numbers aren’t important, of course; what’s important is that at some point, your engine is going to stop, and then not restart. This would be bad enough at a traffic light; it would be much worse on a congested freeway like L.A.’s I-405 or the Long Island Expressway (which, as any fule kno, is an egregious misnomer).

I know, I know: the stupid engine-killing device can be overridden, which begs the question as to why it should be there in the first place.

And don’t even get me started about the wisdom of having a device which “can trigger a restart when the forward-facing radar sees that the vehicle ahead begins moving“. Quite apart from the issue of involuntary forward motion (a topic all by itself), it means that in stop-start traffic you’ll go from 5 operations per day to 20 or 30. Do the math yourselves.

It’s a stupid, pointless device and we should do away with it. Other than for “saving the environment” (i.e. specious and untrue) reasons, it has no place in a car. And if one day we reach the point where it can’t be turned off, it would be a reason not to buy that particular car, wouldn’t it?

15 comments

  1. As I get older, I’m getting to more of a fan of older cars.

    The new ones are just too filled with nanny loving shit to overcome their improvements.

  2. Absolutely correct, Kim, and also a “feature” of hybrid vehicles: the internal combustion reciprocating engine will be restarted by the electronics when battery electricity is insufficient.

    And, while absolutly correct, also incomplete: When the engine stops, so does oil circulation. Study after study has determined that most engine wear occurs during cold starts, while the engine waits for oil pressure and oil circulation. True, stoplight restarts aren’t – technically – “cold” starts, but it only takes several seconds for oil pressure to dissipate to zero, so any restart has to recover oil pressure. Not to menttion all the other systems that – now – oscillate between operating pressure and non-operating pressure; what, for example, happens to fuel system pressure during traffic-light length periods of inactivity (you know, and I know, that fuel injection systems are pressure dependent, tht pressure coming from electric (or mechanical) pumps that will cycle at the same frequency as the starter motor but not everyone knows). The nut here is not just that the starter motor will wear out prematurely, and at the least opportune time, but that wear throughout the engine and its systems will be accelerated.

    Not to mention the critical impact of time delay the “eco system” adds to the operating cycle; should a gap in traffic develop suddenly it may be necessary to accelerate quickly NOW to get into the flow. Instead, one is waiting for RPM to go from zero to some useful number and pressures and flows stabilize sufficiently to generate sufficient active horsepower to accelerate expeditiously.
    (Expecting that from an 1100cc eco-strangled engine at idle may not be a lot different, but I suspect it may be the difference between being in front of a Kenworth and an unwilling passenger on one….).

    Then, there’s the “totally unexpected” consequence of that time delay: unforeseen circumstances such as traffic emergencies, atempted carjackings, etc. in which maximum acceleration RFN is an imperative.

    I foresee older cars and trucks completely lacking the new modern bullshit increasing in value among Those Who Understand How Things Work.

  3. IIRC starting the typical car burns an amount of fuel equivalent to 60 seconds idling time. So the system loses ground, pollution-wise, unless the shutdown time is mandated to be more than a minute… regardless of how soon traffic begins to move. Does the term “New York minute” not resonate in Ingolstadt?

  4. The automatic start/stop is right up there with my favorite bugbear: cars without ignition keys, that sense their owner’s presence by a key fob. If you’re too lazy to use an ignition key, stay home.

    As more of these cars get stolen by high-tech thieves, I’m predicting manufacturers are going to go to the “Oops, this isn’t a good idea” mode.

    1. My wife has a Kia that does that. You still have to push a button on the dash and the fob has a removable key if the electronics fail, but yeah, stupid over elaborate idea.

      The only good thing is the computerized start sequence always works, even in very, very cold weather.

  5. Last year I rented a car in Portugal with the same uncharming feature. I eventually figured out how to game the computer by stepping on the gas and brake at the same time at the stop or something equally idiotic, I can’t remember the details. Anyway, it’s doable, at least for a Skoda.

    If they ever make that garbage mandatory up here in Canada I will have to go postal. When it’s -40 and blizzarding one needs to keep that motor running all the time.

  6. I had a BMW loaner that did the auto-on/off routine. I had exactly the same thoughts.

    I still buy cars with a manual transmission despite the fact this limits my choices. At least some of this nonsense isn’t possible when I’m in charge of the transmission.

  7. My Caddy ATS-V has pushbutton keyless start. It’s a six-speed manual. I’ve stalled it twice in the year I’ve had it, the first time, in traffic, a half hour after I picked it up. Had a bit of anxiety until I realized the starter would not engage unless the clutch was disengaged. My habit with my other rides is to put the transmission in neutral and start it with the clutch engaged.

    The car does not have the auto-on/off routines and cannot be started remotely to warm up but I’m in Florida and don’t care. It does have cruise-control and that has me scratching my head a bit as to how that works. I’m not likely to find out as I bought it as a driver’s car and don’t care much for cruise-control anyway.

    1. I use my cruise control – on the highway in 6th gear. You obviously can’t hit the “resume” button at any old speed like an auto.

  8. I had exactly the same reaction on a vacation in Ireland last summer. First stop light out of the rental garage and it died. Figured it out by the second light. Was a bit of an adrenaline moment.

  9. Something to remember, Murphy’s law.
    If it can fail, it will and at the worst possible time.
    And
    I’ll bet that Larry K grew up with British cars.

  10. My dear daughter had a VW that did that trick – but she could punch some buttons to over-ride it, and the engine would keep running. She learnt to punch the buttons whenever I sat in the passengers seat.
    And apropos technical changes, I thought of buying a Land Rover Discovery Sports. They now come with a ‘particulate burner’. This device collects the soot from the diesel engine, and in its own sweet time heats up until very hot, and thus cleans away the soot. I asked the salesman if we can disable the burner. “Oh no sir, we are very conscious of the need for a clean environment”. Well mate, when I am in the middle of the stubble paddock I ain’t too worried about emissions, but I sure do not want this thing setting fire to the dry grass!
    Next question -Can I fit a bull bar? “Oh no sir, we are very conscious of pedestrian safety”. Listen mate, there are no pedestrian on the country roads where I drive, but there is a plague of flamin’ kangaroos, so if one jumps in front of me I would rather have a bent bull bar than a mangled car.
    Next question – how many of these things have you sold to farmers? “Well, none actually”
    I belong to the generation where any change should be an improvement – but now, too often it is a con-job. Sigh!

  11. I have a 2017 Audi A6. It has the auto start/stop “feature”. During the test drive the engine died and I’m asking the WTF question of the saleswoman. That’s how I learned about this “fuel saving feature”.

    Apparently Audi went this route because it allows them to make the CAFE mileage standards and still make an engine that produces good power. Seems a bit silly to put this nonsense on a car with a 3 litre supercharged engine producing 340 HP. The car will routinely get 30 MPG @ 75 MPH on the highway, so the start/stop BS seems somewhat redundant.

    I really enjoy everything else about driving the car and I now automatically turn this “feature” off as soon as the engine is started. Guess we can put part of the blame on the government, but I’m perplexed by the juxtaposition of German performance on one hand and the silly implementation of the start/stop crap on the other.

    1. “The car will routinely get 30 MPG @ 75 MPH on the highway, so the start/stop BS seems somewhat redundant.”

      Without trying to defend the feature–which I’m not doing–obviously it’s not there for the highway. It’s there for city traffic, like how in Dallas it can take you an hour to travel 20 miles during rush hour or 15 minutes to drive 3 miles at lunch time in Addison (I spent some time measuring it when I had that 20-mile-each-way commute: about 40 minutes of the trip was driving vs 20 minutes sitting at red lights. You’d probably actually get measurable gas savings by getting rid of almost 40 minutes of idling a day.)

  12. Been driving a Honda with the auto stop/start feature for 12 years now. Never once has the engine failed to start up. Apparently the Japanese know how to design these things and the Germans and Brits don’t. In the case of the Brits, it is probably a Lucas device but I am unable to explain the German fail.

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