A look at America's biggest self-driving playground (CNET On Cars, Episode 94)
Cooley On Cars
A peak around America's biggest self driving city.
Adding bluetooth and streaming to your older car and it seems you've got paint problems, time to check the tech.
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We love them on the road and under the hood but also check the tech and
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The good, the bad, the bottom line.
This is CNET on cars.
Welcome to CNET on cars, the show about high-tech cars and modern driving.
I'm Brian Cooley.
Well recently we got some rather rare access to a really interesting place here in the San Francisco Bay area.
A former nuclear weapons depot that's being converted into a city for self-driving cars.
Now the point is, you can let self-driving cars kind of frolic, on these cars, around these buildings, without having to put the real public at risk.
And yet, they are still real roads, with real buildings and real scenarios.
We thought it'd be interesting to take a deep look at what you try to learn at a place like this, in light of some of the recent self-driving car accidents in the news.
So let's go to GoMentum station in Concord, California and check the tech.
Today, autonomous cars can legally drive the roads of California, Nevada, Michigan and Florida But so far only under adult supervision.
So where do AVs go to stretch their legs and really test their abilities?
We're at the Concord Naval Weapons Depot.
This is in Concord, California.
Back during the Cold War, this place would have ranked just behind France as a nuclear power by warhead count.
That's all been decommissioned and now something of a different type of intrigue takes place here Teaching self-driving cars how to drive in the real world.
Car makers have typically tested their new cars on their own test tracks, but also heavily on public roads.
An entire industry of spy photography grew up Up around that fact, but autonomous vehicles are different, because bugs in them can lead to dead people.
This is the largest autonomous car test site in the world, 2,100 acres, 20 miles of road.
Rather than go to sea.
This base was realigned in 2007.
That's just fine by car makers because a pristine traffic environment presents few of the real world potholes, faded lane lines and poorly marked abutments that that autonomous cars will encounter in the real world.
Ninety-nine percent of the time when we drive on the roads it's easy driving.
One percent of the time something unusual happens.
So, by testing at GoMentum Station we're able to stage those one percent situations, a ball running across the road or a child coming out from between cars.
These vehicles see their way around [UNKNOWN] station as many sensors.
Here's a high resolution GPS antenna, to make the mapping really precise.
Up here on the roof is a lidar.
This does contour mapping with a spinning sensor that sees shapes in the In the world around it, and then cameras have their own unique ability to not just tell what's out there, but where something is.
But what's also being tested here is early implementation of V to V, vehicle to vehicle communication.
Using a slice of RF spectrum in the 5.9 gigahertz band, which then becomes labeled DSRC, dedicated short range communication.
Vehicle to vehicle communications, or V to V Vehicles speaking or talking directly to other cars ten times a second.
Basic information of how fast am I going, what heading am I on, is there an aspect of the vehicle in motion that needs to be transmitted to another car.
And what that does, it allows drivers to be warned But it also allows vehicles to automatically avoid collisions.
The B2B wireless spectrum is being hotly fought over by car makers, and wireless carriers, who each want it.
Car makers, though, are weary of sharing it with [UNKNOWN], because their automotive mission is so critical.
They don't want to see an autonomous car run into something, just because some Netflix packets got in the way of an important signal to the car.
V2V via DSRC is expected by the US government, to eventually cut 80% of all collisions that involve non impaired drivers.
Honda and Acura engineers are here now, but [INAUDIBLE] station would like to add more curious geeks, from vehicle makers, to those who may be one one day.
Google, Apple, other manufacturers
Have approached us and we've taken a look at maybe partnering with these companies to begin their testing here, at least in California and Concord at the GoMentum Station.
GoMentum Station is in Silicon Valley's back yard, but the groundbreaking Mcity testing grounds in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Is in the auto industry's back yard, and running cooperation with the esteemed University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute.
M City's about 32 acres of intersections, roundabouts, benches, buildings, and parked cars, and also something [INAUDIBLE] station doesn't have, crappy winter weather.
An important and serious hurdle for autonomous vehicles.
Ford's one of the biggest customers of M City
And they've appropriately been one of the first to announce that they've got autonomous cars testing in the snow.
Michigan may soon be the first place with two major autonomous vehicle playgrounds.
The coming American Center for Mobility is planned for the old Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti
Best known for building B24's back in the day.
It'll be about 10 times the size of M city, but still much smaller than GoMentum.
You want to find out more about that GoMentum Station facility, they're over at gomentumstation.net.
We'll stay on top of all the self driving facilities around the US as they develop, and get some really interesting learnings.
Now when I come back,
We're going to add two of the most requested tech features to your older car, and do it for less than a hundred bucks.
It's a really useful how-to.
When CNET On Cars returns.
Okay, back to CNET On Cars.
I've noticed that a lot of our emails Some of those communications we've had.
A lot of you are driving cars that are six, eight to ten years old.
You're kind of like me, you hang on to them as long as they're still good.
But that means you're probably missing two of the greatest hits of cabin tech, which is hands-free calling and streaming of media from your mobile device on your factory stereo.
So what we're gonna do today is we're going to add a device that will solve that.
We're going to put in a FM modulator here on the '04 Crown Victoria.
[SOUND] Now I can hear some of you groaning now because you may have tried something similar called an FM Transmitter.
They typically stick in your power port on the dash and transmit your phone's audio over the air to your car's antenna.
That means they're fighting with much more powerful radio transmitters in your area.
The quality can be meh, but they're about a 1-minute install and transportable between cars.
The FM modulator that we're doing today is integrated with your audio system and sends it's FM signal to it via a closed circuit that interrupt your car's antenna completely.
That gives you much better quality, but it does take an hour to install and it's not transportable between cars.
Additionally, the FM modulator as flagged up to today, gets audio from your phone by either Bluetooth or its own AUX cable.
Many others only use an AUX cable, but I prefer a little tidier cabin.
Okay, now before you start, a couple of steps of prep.
First thing is, if you're car is one of those radios that has an unlock code if the power is interrupted, anti-theft, get that code ready.
Make sure you have it first, because we're going to pull the power.
Next step, locate your fuse box in the Crownvic
Underneath the steering wheel.
And find a fuse that's gonna be able to give you a source of switched 12 V power.
In this case, the radio fuse is perfect, because our adaptor's never gonna be called upon if the radio's not powered up.
And these don't draw much current, so I'm not worried about overloading that Circuit, I'm gonna go ahead and gang onto that fuse.
Okay now go and disconnect the battery, you know we did this before in one of our battery segments.
Take off the negative and safe that thing so it's not gonna go back by cable memory and touch the negative post again, and suddenly your car's alive.
Next up, you're going to pull the radio out of the dash.
Most radios these days require some kind of special doohickey or tool.
These little tool kits are seven, eight bucks on Amazon, and they've got tools for just about every car out there.
In this case, the ones for a Ford are simple little U-shaped fangs.
Put those in the little holes and there that one.
And now we're gonna pull this guy up.
I pull these thing to the out, and that's how you get that to release.
Pull and the radio comes out like so.
Okay, do yourself a huge favor.
Do something low-tech.
Get yourself a nice thick, soft rag, and pad this part of your dash, where the sharp under-belly of this radio is gonna be coming and going a couple times, as work and fiddle with connections.
I'm gonna pull out the antenna connector.
I'm just gonna pull connectors off here.
Now that one comes off.
Okay, now with the radio out, you got access to the well back there.
Try and find a clear space to mount your actual modulator body.
You want this to be close enough so these antenna leads reach to the antenna lead from the car and back of the radio.
That same region back there.
So you can't go mounting this thing in the back seat or something.
And the other thing is, try and mount this away from any hot air ducts or any moving levers back there that are part of the climate control system that might get snagged on it, or pull on its wires.
When you mount this, we tend to use velcro, which is a great idea, except velcro sucks for this.
Instead, you wanna use the cousin of velcro.
This really super strong Stiff locking tape.
This stuff doesn't have the kind of fabric-ey softness of velcro, it's really rigid and really strong.
These are great for this kind of tour.
Okay next up, we're gonna mount the control button which either turns the thing on and off or, in our case, it does that and also operates Bluetooth pairing.
Now this little button they provided to us, it's a surface mount thing with a piece of adhesive on the back.
What could be tackier?
I'm going to go find an actual button that mounts in panel and mount it somewhere discreetly.
Wherever you decide to do that, use a stepper bit to drill the button hole, not a traditional drill bit.
You get a much cleaner hole, and it'll pop automatically to any of a number of standard sizes that you're button's gonna want.
Okay now we're gonna connect the antenna lead from the cars antenna to the female antenna lead on our modulator and then this end, the male end is gonna go back in the radio and the radio goes back in the car.
Remember this is an interrupter of the antenna circuit.
Now a couple things unusual about the device we're putting in because it's also a bluetooth hands free adapter.
Not just a media playing adaptor.
It's got a microphone that you need to tuck somewhere.
Again, I'll leave that to you.
Every car's going to be different, but that microphone has to get plugged into the body of this thing, right over here, before you start tucking this all away and buttoning things up.
Make sure you've got a way to route this up and out To your headliner or somewhere in the upper console.
Now I connect my red power lead that I found over in the fuse box to the read power lead coming into my modulator box.
I also have a black ground wire in there, you gotta run Run that to ground, which shouldn't be too hard to find anywhere inside the dash here.
Okay now we'll put things back together, here's the fun part.
Let's complete the antenna circuit by taking this antenna lead from the modulator and that now goes into the radio instead of the antenna that used to go here directly.
And now just throw the factory connectors back.
Transit Blue H yeah.
I'm going to pair that and now it says connected right there.
I'm going to go to that menu and I've got phone audio and media audio.
It shows that I've got both streaming and hands free calling.
Okay, so our system works pretty well.
Now to use this, as I'm listening to FM radio on another frequency that isn't my modulator frequency, I've gotta do several things.
I have to get up to my modulator frequency, which in my case is currently 98 one.
I've gotta switch my modulator into phone mode, so it's grabbing and listening to this And now longer passing FM antenna through, and then I've got to go fuss with my phone and get it to play stuff.
I can use this button to advance tracks on my media player as well, and it's always very sensitive where you set the volume on your phone going out to a modulator to make sure you're not over-driving it, so it's not sending crappy sound Into the FM of your radio.
So you've got several stages here, but you're gonna have to fiddle with a little bit and figure out what sounds best.
This one right off the bat is sounding pretty clean as these things go.
I like the fact that it's bluetooth wireless, and I like the fact that it's not that hard to switch between different modes.
Let's get to the best part of the show.
You know what that means.
And this week, we're doing all paint emails, because we got a slew of those from you this week, after I did last episode, talking about how damn good modern paint jobs are.
And of course, as soon as you say that, a bunch of you rightly raised your hand and said, guess what.
I own the exception.
My car's paint job is crap.
Let's talk about some of these.
This once comes from Umar, who says One of the cars I own is a 2000 Honda Accord LX and I have noticed almost all the Accords, he says, from that year have the same issue of paint coming off.
He goes, what's the issue?
Was there ever a recall?
And I've got one here from Manuann as well who says You mentioned the clear coat and paint failures happen rarely.
Well, I have a black 2004 Honda Accord and the clear coat on it has been chipping away for several years.
He does admit the car sits outside all the time but he wants to know is there any real risk of rust damage if I don't get the clear coat fixed?
All right guys you and a few other users are pointing out the exceptions obviously here but it does seem as though Honda's got More exceptions than others, at least from a cursory glance had a lot of complaints and slights in forums that aggregate this stuff.
Now Honda has offered some extended warranty protection on some of their cars that have paint failures.
Let's take a look at what some of these are.
This is not an inclusive list, by the way.
06 to 11 Civic, 07 to 11 CR-V, 09 to 11 Pilots And 11 to 12 Odyssey's, and I believe also on '03 to 2007 Accord and Civic.
Now that would apply to at least one year of cars, so think about that.
Now more broadly, regardless of what kind of car you've got, if it has got a paint issue.
Know that one of the things you wanna do is look up its technical service bulletins, or TSBs.
I would look those up for any Honda, or any car you've got, that's got some paint problems.
TSBs are shy of a recall, but they are a formal notice from the manufacturer saying, yeah.
We've got a problem here.
And here's how we deal with it.
It's basically a communication to the dealer, but if you know it's out there, you can go leverage that.
Look these TSBs up, at either ALLDATAdiy.com, which is one site that aggregates them for a pretty modest subscription.
15 to 25 bucks, per model of car.
And, see what these TSBs are for your vehicle.
Or you can also go to a site, called Mitchell1 DIY.
They also have the TSBs for your car.
These are really powerful if you're trying to find out, if they've got a document problem with paint, or anything else on your vehicle.
Also know that recalls around paint are I won't say unprecedented, but I can't recall one, because recalls are almost entirely based on safety, that's where the federal government gets involved, not really on aesthetic issues and customer satisfaction stuff, so that's not an avenue you can go down.
And, finally, if you're looking at a legal avenue, from my lay person's research, it looks as though a couple of attempts were made to do class action suits.
About Honda paint jobs for cars made since the turn of the century.
And they don't seem to have a lot of traction.
The most recent was Nguyen and Dibenedetto versus American Honda, and as far as I can tell in my late person's research, That got dismissed as a class action in late 2012 and I don't think anyone's had any traction around that since then.
Look, Honda makes a lot of great cars but they do seem to have a higher than typical rate of some paint failures.
In the last ten years or so.
[SOUND] Okay, our next email comes in from Christine W. She is in New South Wales, Australia.
It says, I have a 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo, cool little car by the way, and I shelled out, she says, the extra $1,000 for matte paint, specifically a charcoal color called Young Gun My local car wash, he says, assured me that this car can be taken through the automatic wash with his matte paint, and not have any damage.
But no one at Hyundai seems to willing to hazard a guess as to whether that's okay on that paint.
I'd get nervous to that point, too.
So her question is, what's our opinion here at on car, is about this carwash saying, you can run a matte car through an automatic brush.
The big turning brushes and all that, without damage to the finish.
Okay, I'm glad you asked, Christine, and I hope you haven't taken your car through the automatic car wash yet, that's basically a bad idea.
Because here's the thing.
Matte paint jobs look really cool, it looks great on your car I think.
They're sporty, very urban kind of a look, but they are actually a pain in the **** to live with.
Not that the car wash will make a different damage to it.
All car washes do micro-scratches, those automatic ones, you almost never see them.
It's not a big deal.
But with a matte finish, if there's any damage at all, the problem is you can't do much about it.
Now normally, if you get some scratches in your gloss finish, you can often buff it out.
Whether it's a scuff, which means you get something rubbed onto the paint, like a black mark or something, or whether it's a scratch.
Which usually into the clear coat.
Either way you can often heal that with a buffing compact.
You gotta polish.
You buff it out that takes the scratch off the clear coat or it blends down those white edges of the scratch so you barely notice them but not on a matte finish car.
You can't buff it out easily.
Because, that will make that area shinier.
And it will never look right against the rest of the matte car.
So these are touchy vehicles.
Matte paint jobs are only right once, and the key is to be extremely careful of your car's finish.
I would say that means no automatic car washes, get the more expensive hand car wash by the same car wash crew, Park way far out in the parking lot, you don't want to get any dings, little scratches, things like that.
You'd have to live with them at that point.
So there's a price beyond the cost you pay for matte paint, and that is real vigilance.
But your car looks great, so hopefully it's worth it.
Okay we come back, more of your paint problems including on that takes us through the fruit stain.
When CNET On Cars returns
Welcome back to CNet on Cars!
Coming to you from our home here at the Mountain Motor Club, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Okay back into your email, continuing our Paintapalooza theme.
This one comes in from Alvaro O. who's writing in from Barcelona, Spain and he says, "I have been shopping for a new car recently" and he says,"I can't believe it!
How come "orange peel" is so prevalent on high-tech paints and and brand new cars with all their amazing techniques they've got at the factory?" He says I've seen this very clearly on a wide range of new vehicles, from value cars to German premium brands.
Okay, honestly, you shouldn't bring this up, Alvaro.
I wouldn't call it a dirty little secret because it's obvious for everyone to see, but it kind of is a dirty little secret.
I have never brought this up in a review, but I've noticed it for the 11 years we've been shooting cars here at CNET, most of the factory new cars we get, and I've shown over a thousand of them now.
Have some orange peel somewhere.
So what's orange peel?
Orange peel is literally the finish you see on a piece of citrus or typically an orange.
If you look at that skin, you've got a very soft, kind of a smooth, stippling.
You may not see it on a car unless you look really close.
From ten feet?
No, you won't typically notice it.
But inspect it carefully and yeah, you see something like this.
And you'd say, okay, well, I've never really noticed that.
Take a look at your car with this little trick, look at it with a bright light coming down on it that has a straight edge like we have some skylights here on our set.
And if you look at that green Porsche back there, for example, gorgeous paint job.
But if you really wanna look at it close, You can find orange peels in it.
Look closely at where the dark and light edges, and move your hand back forth.
You'll see the steeple very clearly along that line.
That's because there is orange peel in the paint.
And just about every car here on out set.
The same test would reveal some orange peel.
Now, the reason you're gonna see a lot of that is because modern factory paint processes are automated.
OEMs do their painting hands free, it's amazing to watch Was each robots go through and do all the spraying, and get all the perfect techniques.
There is no intermediate hand step, where someone gets in there and does a sand between coats, which is one of the main ways you get super smooth A Glossy paint or for that matter a wood finish.
Fine sand between coats takes out and levels the finish but theres no time for that, no place for that in the modern OEM paint finish.
So as a result, orange peel, to a very slight degree is very common on production cars as you may have noticed.
Now on the other side in the defense of factory robotic paint jobs.
Exceedingly well that matter more.
They dip the whole car for prep.
That means you've got every single part of it ready, corrosion proof, and ready to take on a finish.
That's a very hard task to do in a body shop.
You also get complete coverage in a factory robotic paint system.
These robots don't miss anything.
And they get it absolutely and every nook and cranny, both paint coat, as well as clear coat.
So you get a really nice Steeling of the body.
And finally, you won't get any drips, runs or sags.
Even the best body shop out there, their best spray guy is gonna have a bad day or have a hangover and guess what, you're gonna have some of those problems that robots never ever do.
So there pros and cons to the modern factory paint job but I do agree with you, it tends to result in some slight orange peel, in some or all parts Of a modern paint finish.
A funny sidenote on this, I remember touring the Jaguar factory in Coventry, England ten plus years ago.
And when the XJ8s came off the line, a few of them went to another final inspection area with incredibly bright lights and inspectors in white coats, white gloves, and magnifying glasses doing the final check.
And those were the cars that were destined to be sent to Japan Where buyers had zero interest in even minor defects in the finish, possibly including pronounced orange peels.
So maybe your inside tip is go to Japan [LAUGH] to buy a car, and then bring it back to Spain.
Boy, that sounds expensive.
Okay, our last email, we'll leave our paint theme now.
Let's wrap up the email section with actually a nod to a previous email an episode or two ago where Mishary In Saudi Arabia wrote in, and he was asking about tips for cleaning his engine bay.
And I told him some tips, and I also said, you know, I'm not a huge fan of cleaning engines.
I think it's something you do for aesthetics if you really want to.
It probably doesn't affect your engine's running this day and age.
But he may have changed my mind.
He went ahead and sent in some before and after photos.
So here's what his engine bay looked like in his VW CC before he got to work.
A dusty, grimy, mess.
I wouldn't want to take that on in 1,000 years but look at how nice that engine came out when he got done cleaning it.
That's amazing are you sure that's really our engine?
That looks like a brand new car.
Mashar you did a beautiful job getting your engine bay looking great, nice work you did a great job there.
I would not believe an engine would clean up that well.
Now all you need is a glass hood to really show it off.
As usual, thank you so much for watching.
Hope you enjoyed this episode, keep the emails coming onCars@cnet.com.
That's a huge driver for the content that goes into this show, and you have some of the best ideas out there.
I'll see you next time we check the tech.
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