Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Trusting the robot.

I've owned my current car for eight years. Let me tell you, drive one vehicle for the better part of a decade, and you get pretty good at it. From mundane tasks like parallel parking to pushing the envelope in the twisties, I know where my car's limits are.

There's one feature I'd never really liked, however, because I'd never really had a chance to play with it: Traction control. The traction control system on the Bimmer works by cutting power (via retarding the spark and/or cutting fuel delivery) when it senses rear wheel slip under acceleration. When it does this, an orange light comes on in the middle of the IP. For the whole time I've owned the car, the only time I really had to deal with this was in the rain, coming away from intersections. As the orange light would come on, I'd back out of the throttle, causing a sickening bogging down of the engine. I got to where I unconsciously drove in a fashion to keep the traction control from kicking in.

The other day, after it started snowing, I was taking a back route home from the grocery store which led me to an intersection where five little suburban side streets came together. Looking out over about a quarter acre of asphalt covered in an inch or so of virgin snow with no parked cars or other obstacles to hit, short of the distant curbs, I suddenly thought to myself "Let's see what this traction control is really all about."

I did a very nearly dragstrip launch from the stop sign, winding the motor up to almost three grand and sidestepping the clutch. On dry pavement, with the traction control turned off, this is the recipe for a smoky burnout. With the traction control turned on, and fighting my natural instinct to back off the gas when the orange light blinked on, the car just rolled forward smoothly across the snow-covered intersection with only the slightest hint of fishtailing from the 40-series Falken steamrollers in the rear. When I came to the next stop sign, I was giggling like a loon and did it again... Same result.

Robby The Robot may not be much at playing chess or writing sonnets, but he's got the whole "getting the power to the pavement" thing figured right the heck out.

24 comments:

D.W. Drang said...

A buddy drives a Z3. We learned to avoid the subject. If the traction control could cook, he'd probably marry it. (It raining a lot around here, and Seattle, like Rome, having been built on seven hills...)

WV: bearmism. Again,. the possibilities are endless...

Les Jones said...

"Robby The Robot may not be much at playing chess or writing sonnets, but he's got the whole "getting the power to the pavement" thing figured right the heck out"

As someone who works for Teh Man all I can say is that if I was blogging in your shoes I would substitute the word FUCK. That is all.

Sgt.Fathead said...

Those crafty Teutonic Engineer types made and still make some nice shooting irons too, eh?

reflectoscope said...

I do indeed envy you; the traction control system in My Car is very much a one-bit proposition. The first real lesson that car teaches you is that if it cuts power because you were outside the limits of it on a hard start, get off the gas (right now!) and stay that way til the tires reconnect. Failing to do so is.. unpleasant.

Jim

Warthog said...

Your German rocket evidently works a bit better than my gas guzzling SUV does then because my traction control cuts power to the drive wheels and makes it kinda iffy getting out of some slick spots. The part that really pisses me of is that it will even kick in when I'm already in 4 wheel drive. I hate that.

DBA Dude said...

Getting any kind of traction out of my old bimmer in the snow involved loading the boot with as much heavy stuff as I could lay my hands on.

Even then it was a tough nut to crack, traction control was not an option in those days - ABS was though and the best £1,000 I ever spent.

It only ever kicked in twice in 9 years but being able to steer around assholes pulling out saved me and the car a lot of grief.

Brian J. said...

I've discovered the traction control thing on my Toyota Highlander the last couple of days. When all of the wheels are spinning with no contact with terra firma, it flashes a red light on the dash and beeps a little klaxon.

Because that's what Joan Soccermom needs when she's losing control of her truck. An alarm.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

traction control can be a curse, too.

A friend of mine in atlanta brought me along to one of the Audi "fests" he was invited to since he had a then new Audi TT. Part of the festivities was a bit of demonstrative track experience.

Since he had no compulsions in tossing me the keys, I ended up going around the wet skidpad. I nearly had it too, was set up for a nice 4 wheel drift when the traction control kicked in and it *wouldn't* *give* *me* *any* fucking* throttle. I know, I booted it a couple times in reflex, like the carb had vented under G and gagged the engine. My nice drift entry ended up a sickening push right out of the circle because I couldn't get any weight transfer.

I got it back though.... the little autocross they set up, I posted the second fastest time... not bad for a driver and car that had only met an hour or three earlier :)

staghounds said...

So Miss Shilling's diaphragm is in your engine too?

Tam said...

Dr. Strangegun,

"traction control can be a curse, too."

That's why there's an "off" switch on most sports cars. :D
(Of course, on some bleeding edge vehicles with adaptive stability control systems, they've convinced me via laptimes that Robby is smarter than me, there, too...)

EmmaPeelShoots said...

I have a love hate relationship with the traction control on my car. It usually comes on at the slightest thing when I'd happily drive it through it. But, it can be handy.

Eric von Michigan said...

Traction control on my 1968 Buick means "assume all your inputs are suggestions". That 7 liter V8 will get power to the pavement provided there's nothing in between it and the tires, like water.

And the four wheel drum brakes take your suggestions literally when they're cold (i.e. the wheels WILL lock up and scare pedestrians if you try a panic stop), then casually ignore you as they heat up.

Dock said...

Yep. My 528iT does the very same thing. I only notice it at wet intersections when leaving. "Blink blink blink" and that's it.

Anonymous said...

Last winter I was living in serious snow country just a few hours north of Tam and had my first hands on experience with modern vehicle control. My Scion has ABS, Traction Control and Stability Control. As long as the snow wasn't too deep for the front end to push through, that car can go ANYWHERE. Startup full throttle on glaze ice? Only as much throttle as the tires can apply gets through the black box. Break loose and start to skid or slide? Stability control takes over and starts applying braking to the wheels one at a time, knowing which ones will pull the car back into a straight line. It felt as though I was driving on tracks. Amazing engineering.

Formerflyer

John B said...

I've had a new beetle for 4 years now. I love that ESP traction control. I do wish it weren't so indulging of my lead foot though. 140+ MPH through Montana w/o a single ticket. Apparently they were watching for Pierce Brosnan in his Aston Martin......

Yeah the Germans make some hip guns. But I'll burn in hell before I buy a HK pistol again. I hope Sue Grafton got Product Placement bux......

falnfenix said...

if ye think that's fun, try a small AWD coupe with no traction control.


now THAT is fun.

the pawnbroker said...

wifey's '03 audi quattro could take the wide, flat 90 on the sebring parkway under full throttle tracking like it was on a rail; fun, but not a rill thrill.

the '05 baby bimmer that replaced it could break the rear loose, but not enough power for foot control. the little black '08 benz c300 that is her current ride takes that turn in third with the back end out and pirellis in full roil...but totally under control with foot and hand...all with etc in the correct mode...off.

keep robby the f out of my seat...spellcheck for the road.

jtc

Tam said...

jtc,

I learned to drive in a V-8 Gran Torino on gravel roads where on one side there was a mountain and on the other side there weren't nothin'. I know how to steer with the throttle.

Sorry, but that snow experience the other day was flat amazing; I'm sold on it for bad weather applications. If I go drift in circles in a parking lot like little miss hooligan, I always turn it off... Er, I mean, if I ever did want to do something like that, I could turn it off.

the pawnbroker said...

maybe ya got me there...not much snow in fla (well, not that kind).

as for the gran torino, that was the first new car for wifey and me...chocolate metallic '74 with too many doors (hey, we were just 19 but had a baby girl and another on the way), vinyl roof and opera windows. i let folks think it was more like the fastback in clint's movie, but this sled was the first year for front and rear 5mph bumpers, weighed 4000lbs and with a tiny 5ltr v8 barely got 8mpg...we got her just in time for the gas lines...but we loved that thing.

jtc

the pawnbroker said...

btw, let that inner hooligan off the leash, no apologies...ya don't get many more chances after yer *ahem* fourth decade...(i knows of whence i speaks).

Mike W. said...

What Falkens are you running Tam? 512's or 912's?

Tam said...

Neither. These are Falken 452's.

Mike W. said...

Damn! 452's in the snow?!..... you're brave.

Tam said...

It's only a few blocks to the store. If there's any serious snowpack, I walk.