Upgrade cutting-edge car accessories

  • What"â„¢s on the dot - the vehicle"â„¢s laser-etched VIN number.
  • Upgrade cutting-edge car accessories
  • BMW"â„¢s new "smart" voice control system
  • PLX Kiwi Drive Green
  • Wrangler AT/SA
  • Thule 520 dm3 Excellence
Date:31 July 2009 Tags:, , , ,

Even if your vehicle comes with a ‘full house’, there’s still scope for enhancing its value

Crimefighters go dotty

Every year in South Africa, 90 000 vehicles – total value more than R9 billion – are stolen or hijacked. Less than half of them are recovered. But that’s not where the bad news ends.

Of the cars recovered, as many as 16 000 are either damaged beyond repair or unidentifi able. They can’t be returned to their owners. So the police do the only thing they can: they crush them. That’s R1 billion worth of cars a year.

Now, in a sustained initiative that roleplayers hope will put a brake on car theft, microdot technology is being harnessed. To date, 370 000 vehicles have been microdotted. They’ve been standard on all Nissans since 2006 and are also on some BMWs and Toyota Quantum vans.

Mainly intended to make it easier to identity vehicles or components sold as used spares, microdots have been shown to act as a deterrent for hijackings and motor vehicle theft. Internationally, statistics indicate that microdot technology halves vehicle thefts and hijackings, and boosts recoveries by more than 55 per cent. Locally, studies have since shown that the recovery rate for the microdotted models was 91 per cent against a rate of only 52 per cent of non-microdotted models within the same class.

“We’re not going after the actual thieves,” says Dereck Menday of Datadot, one of the microdot suppliers. “But we are confident that positive ID will cut the legs out from under the huge structure that underpins vehicle theft – from chop shops to cloning of registration documents.” It’s this quasi-legitimate infrastructure that makes it easier to launder the proceeds of vehicle crime. This is where the real money is, and it all depends on a vehicle being passed off as perfectly legitimate, when in fact it’s been stolen.

The reason for Menday’s confidence? Take a look at the full stop that concludes this sentence. That’s the size of 10 000 polyester or metal dots that are sprayed in at least 88 locations on a vehicle within minutes. The vehicle identification number (VIN) is laser-etched on each one. Ordinarily not easily to see, the dots fluoresce under suitable light, and can be read with low-tech magnification. “Just one dot represents a positive ID,” says Menday. Once read, the VIN number can be verified against existing databases and the vehicle’s own engine and chassis markings. To avoid any possibility of being caught, thieves would have to respray every single component – including body, engine, wheels, glass, trim and interior – to be sure of covering every dot. It’s like DNA for vehicles.

And the dots are hard to dislodge. In a controlled test, Business Against Crime South Africa (BACSA) blew up a car and were still able to find plenty of marker dots.

Recently, in conjunction with key partners including the police, Department of Transport, SABS, Vehicle Security Association (VESA), Nissan South Africa and four microdot suppliers in South Africa (Datadot, Holomatrix, Impimpi and Recoveri) launched a standard for the use and application of microdot technology. This makes it possible for motorists to have the dot system applied with confidence in the aftermarket, at approved suppliers countrywide. Expected cost will be about R1 200; factory-applied on the production line, it’s a lot cheaper at a few hundred rand. Aside from this, kits for dotting personal items are available at suppliers such as Digital Planet at around R600.

There’s nothing to stop a vehicle being microdotted more than once, with a different unique identification number. They don’t replace the need for vehicle tracking, locks, and alarm/ immobilisers, but besides being a valuable addition, will lower your insurance premiums.

The use of microdots as a way of reducing vehicle crime date back seven years. Under the auspices of the National Vehicle Crime Steering Committee, a national vehicle identification strategy was adopted as an important component of the fight against vehicle theft and hijackings; and it was agreed that microdot technology could form an important part of this battle. Laser etching and barcoding were ditched as solutions on the grounds of expense or impracticality.

In the seven-year period since microdots were first given the green light, theft and hijackings have dropped 12,4 per cent, mostly in regard to thefts. Although Business Against Crime CEO Dr Graham Wright conceded that this showed much still needed to be done, he said the microdot standards were being launched in anticipation that, when some future tipping point arrived, microdot Technology would really take off .

Bring it back

You must be familiar with the advertisements: car thieves strike, but even as they make their getaway a crack squad of vehicle recovery operatives is being mobilised. Within minutes, they¡¯re in the air and on the road, and to a soundtrack of throbbing helicopter blades and soaring music they lock on the trusty tracking transmitter to swoop on the unsuspecting baddies.

Chalk up another success for the good guys . and, by the way, the rightful owner is still out shopping, blissfully unaware that his vehicle has been stolen.

Just how much of this is reality? And what should you be looking for when you shop around for a tracking system?

At the very least your list of criteria should highlight:
. Network reach
. Backup
. Ease of use
. Tamper-resistance.
Of course, cost can be a big factor, too. Monthly costs typically start at about R250. But ask yourself: what's it really worth to you to be without your wheels? Here's what's on offer from the big players.

Tracker claims to be the only fully comprehensive Stolen Vehicle Recovery System used in conjunction with the police. The company says it has achieved more than 26 000 vehicle recoveries in just over eight years including more than 5 000 arrests and the shutting down of more than 260 chop shops and crime syndicates.

The transmitter unit is suitable for all vehicles and approved by motor manufacturers and can only be activated or deactivated by Tracker's national control centre. For the personal safety of the driver, there is no panic button or external identifi cation on the vehicle.

More than 8 000 units are installed every month and clients may qualify for substantial insurance discounts.

The Tracker network covers 98 per cent of South Africa's populated areas and its fleet comprises 1 100 vehicles and 42 aircraft, with recovery teams based all over South Africa.

At the other extreme TraceTec calls itself the affordable alternative to established vehicle-tracking technology. Its credit-card-sized transmitter can easily be fitted and hidden anywhere in your vehicle. It emits a unique identity signal to the company's countrywide beacon infrastructure. From there, it is relayed to a control centre and database, containing the details of the asset and owner. The system is permanently active . no need to press a button.

When clients discover a theft, they alert a 24-hour control centre, that will "red flag" their transmitter number and notify all fixed and mobile beacons countrywide. A continously updated tag signal history allows mobile response teams to track, home in on, locate and recover the asset.

The transmitter has its own five-year battery, making it harder to detect and disable than systems that are hardwired to the car's electrics.

TraceTec is accepted by major insurance companies and brokers and may qualify for a premium discount. It carries a threeyear guarantee on hardware.

Speak your mind BMW Voice Control

Watch what you say when you’re at the wheel in future. You may find things happening that you didn’t expect, if BMW’s new “smart“ voice control system, due out in September, is anything to go by. Voice activation is nothing new, but up to now it’s been restricted to a halting step-by-step sequence of instructions, perhaps even spelled-out details. BMW describes its new voice control system as a signifi cant step forward: it’s able to “understand” complete addresses. It also responds to music requests.

Just speak an address specifying the place, street and number and the system processes it immediately, all data going directly into the navigation unit. In addition to this, there’s a tweak to the infotainment system: not only can drivers choose the appropriate audio source by voice command, they can also find individual music titles. The BMW system monitors and interprets the user’s voice commands regarding the type of music, the name of the artist, an album or an individual title, ensuring precise access to the audio programme desired. One option is to specify the type of music you desire, the artist, album or even the title of a specific song by voice control. You’ll be presented with a choice of audio files saved on the hard disc in a title list.

As of spring 2010, the system will even cover data files on a music player connected to the car. Looking for the user’s favourite song, BMW’s voice control system recognises several languages parallel to one another, finding, say, the English title of a song sung by a German artist without the slightest problem.

The new system comes in a wide range of languages. Because it operates in multi-mode fashion, users can customise the way it works to suit their preferences. To enter regular destinations into the navigation system quickly, for example, the driver may first use voice control and then, through BMW’s existing i-Drive control system, call up specific information on sights and special stopovers along the route. He has the option to pre-select the music programme by voice control and then call up his favourite title at the touch of a button.

BMW introduced full-word destination entry in 2006, and is now the only car maker to off er a system able to “understand” a complete address entry.

Easy does it – and save

There’s no shortage of gadgets offering to save you a fortune in fuel costs. From magnetic rings on your fuel line to water injectors and electronic switching devices, they all promise huge savings.

Although they’re all quite different, they do have one thing in common: they usually don’t work.

The sad truth is the most effective fuel-saving device of them all is your right foot. It’s not simply a matter of lifting off , though; it’s all about efficiency. Driving green is a matter of optimising the way you drive. But how to develop a cultured driving style that wouldn’t be out of place on the Fuel Economy Run?

Well, that’s where the PLX Kiwi Drive Green (below) comes in. About the size of a cellphone, this little device promises to reduce your fuel consumption, not by its own direct action, but by its ability to alter your driving style. Efficient driving, the company says, can cut consumption by a third.

Kiwi Drive Green acquires and analyses data on the move. Using this information, it’s able to build up a picture of your driving habits. From that, your optimum driving efficiency can be derived. Like a computer game, it teaches you to drive more fuel-efficiently via 20 built-in lessons displayed on its 5,6 cm OLED screen. The drive green lessons are designed to maximise your smoothness, drag, acceleration, and deceleration parameters. Your daily goal is to obtain the highest “Kiwi Score” possible.

Other features include a driving behaviour score, engine scan tool, trip computer, daily green tips and – hey, it’s aimed at the PlayStation and Wii generations – a customisable fun screen. The unit interfaces with a PC via a USB port and connects to the car’s existing diagnostics port. And yes, we knew you’d ask: why Kiwi? Because it’s green. Duh. To find out more, see plxkiwi.com

Roll 'em

Rubber engineers may beg to differ, but frankly there’s not much that’s sexy about tyres. So we’ll get right to the point and say that Goodyear has launched three new models – well, actually make that two entirely new, and one updated.

The two all-new products are aimed largely at urban warriors:

DuraGrip is designed to deliver high mileage on aff ordable city cars. Duramax G22 has been engineered specifically for minibus taxis. Wrangler AT/SA is a revision of the familiar Wrangler all-terrain tyre. It now incorporates SilentArmor Technology with high-tensile steel belts to improve strength and puncture resistance, and Kevlar for a smoother ride.

Twice the fun

Hard on the heels of Land Rover’s split-vision dashboard display comes Mercedes-Benz’s own version. Still, they’re calling Splitview the first display screen from a premium brand that allows driver and front passenger to view two different programmes at the same time. While the driver checks out navigation instructions, the front passenger can sit back and watch a film on the very same display – or vice versa, if you like living dangerously.

Developed by Mercedes-Benz and Bosch, the 20 cm monitor shows a backlighted active matrix colour display (TFT-LCD). This shows two different images simultaneously by placing pixels adjacent to each other. A filter masking the display divides this mixed image in such a way that, depending on the seating position, only the pixels making up one or the other image can be seen. Result: one screen shows two different programmes at the same time.

The driver still has access to all the information from the control and display system COMAND on the display. The front passenger uses the remote control to choose an entertainment programme with DVDs, TV channels or music videos.

To avoid distracting the driver (consider the potential for confusion: “Please turn left… are you feeling lucky, punk?”) the passenger has the option of using headphones.

Splitview technology is initially available in the S-Class.

The parallax barrier that makes dual-view screen view possible is in eff ect an electronic screen whose precision-cut slits channel each of the two images to a different viewing angle. For more about Land Rover’s version, visit www.popularmechanics.co.za

It's not inside… It's on top

When you need extra storage a trailer is an option, but why not consider going up?

Today’s cartop storage is worlds away from the traditional roof rack. Those well-known drawbacks of topheaviness and excessive drag are a thing of the past when you’re using a modern lowline aerodynamic storage box.

The latest from Thule, the world’s largest manufacturer of car roof rack systems, roof boxes and accessories, is a case in point. The 520 dm3 Excellence (right) is designed to combine ruggedness, high load capacity and the ability to enhance rather than detract from modern car styling.

The lid is UV-protected and reinforced – both lid and base contain strengthened elements and have been developed and tested to withstand high structural impact. Smooth opening mechanisms from newly developed Dualforce lid lifters and anti-flex elements allow easy opening and closing as well as easy access to the car boot. Thule’s Power-Grip mounting system allows fast and secure fi tting. Naturally, it’s lockable.

Like all Thule models, the Excellence has been crashtested and comes with a 5-year guarantee.

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