Stop-Start systems - cleaner tech or empty gesture?
Everyone knows the noise. Well, except perhaps those people who live remotely and who have never seen a stop-light - oh, how I envy you. But when in traffic, there's a noise that you can hear at any set of red lights, just as the signals are about to turn green.
It could come from your car. It could be the one next to you. It's the sound of a sleeping engine snorting and coughing awake like a smoker after Saturday night beers. It's the bark of the car's stop-start system prodding it into life after having dozed off when the wheels ceased moving.
Photo by Nabeel Syed (@nabeelsyed) on Unsplash
It would be easy to simply sign off this article with a "Nah, don't like 'em" and carry on, but there are times that I feel that there is something a little underhanded occurring. It's not often that car enthusiasts and environmentalists can see eye-to-eye on matters - and I'm going against a firm belief of mine now in never discussing politics or religion - but if there's a common ground we can all find, then I'm all for it. Allow me to explain.
The car industry has done a lot of things to clean up its emissions. Regulators have also done many things to incentivise them to do so. Regardless of whether you believe in the aim, the efforts are being made to lower carbon emissions from the tailpipe.
But I am of the feeling that stop-start systems in cars are a cynical device that serve little purpose than to simply lower the fuel consumption figure on a car's advertising material. There. Simple. I said it.
I remain somewhat dubious on the efficacy of these stop-start systems for regular consumers. Perhaps if there is a lot of idling (and I mean a lot), then maybe there is some saving to be had, but modern engines are remarkably efficient at idle, and to shut them off frequently is arguably not really worth the minor inconvenience of having to shake the car into life at every junction.
Taxis and cabs might have more of a case, or perhaps the kind of peak-hour traffic that is experienced in the likes of London, Los Angeles and New York. The question could be asked, that with many millions of cars sold across the globe, how many find themselves regularly in the snaking queues of honking horns and heat haze?
Photo by Alexander Popov (@5tep5) on Unsplash
Anecdotally, I have yet to meet anyone who, when prompted on the subject of Stop-Start tech, doesn't state that it's the first thing they turn off when they start the vehicle. Their startup routine consists of igniting the engine and extinguishing the stop-start system.
Reporting in 2016, Carsguide indicated that the testing for vehicle fuel consumption with these systems was not particularly comprehensive, using rolling roads and being shut off for long periods. This kind of methodology would hardly be representative of real-world conditions, even if people were to actually use the technology, and not stab it off when they start up.
So, if the regulations to lower emissions are being gamed for the purposes of advertising a lower number on a brochure - on a tech that arguably has little benefit to that aim - it should upset environmentalists. If the technology is intrusive to the driving experience, and proves to be more a nuisance that doesn't really deliver a gain, then enthusiasts should be equally upset. As car enthusisasts, we have become accustomed to "generous" fuel consumption figures for some time, so the fact that these number can be further fudged should irk us.
But any technology can also become a point of failure in a vehicle as the car ages. Anecdotally, I am aware of one individual who became stranded at an intersection when their stop-start battery failed.
There is, I feel, some common ground here, between my outlined divide of those who want lower emissions, and those of us who enjoy driving. If stop-start technology is dubious, then the benefits of stop-start features do little to reduce what environmentalists want reduced, while also intruding on the actual driving experience of the car, all the while not reducing what car enthusiasts want reduced ie money spent at the fuel bowser.
Photo by Jay Skyler (@jay_skyler) on Unsplash
The nature of debate does tend to get heated, especially if one side perceives themselves to be making all the concessions. On this topic, if some common ground could be achieved, then perhaps a dialogue could be started, so that consumers are actually given tech that is both clean to use, and unobtrusive to drive.
In summary, we potentially have a feature that allows companies to claim their consumption and emissions are lower, while adding a feature that is more annoying than useful. It's a feature which could fail in the future, and may be regularly disabled by the driver anyway, negating the benefit.
It a tech that seems to have been given for appearances, but arguably has little gain.
So, effectively, stop-start functions should annoy all of us. It's baby steps, but maybe this is one thing we can all rally around, and we can stop the coughing of the engines, while simultaneously cleaning the air to stop the coughing from our own lungs.