Eight Car Questions Answered
Cup holders, stamp duty, engine ‘tick down’ and other car curiosities explained.
We take a look at 8 car questions and find out the answers to clear up the confusion.
- Why do new cars have that new car smell?
- Why do cars have so many cup holders?
- How does Tesla make money?
- Why do cars ‘tick down’ when you turn the engine off?
- What’s stamp duty?
- Why do some cars use premium fuel?
- What’s the deal with the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ?
- What happens if you put sugar in petrol?
1. Why do new cars have that new car smell?
It’s off-gassing - glues and new materials releasing gases as they ‘settle’ after manufacturing. The smell is the result of interior adhesives and sealants drying.
Different materials are bonded together in a car’s interior, leather to vinyl and other plastics for example.
The phenomenon has become so popular that many automakers hire panels of ‘scent experts’ to dial up or down or alter the new car smell. This explains why some cars smell different than others and/or the smell lasts for longer or shorter periods of time.
2. Why do cars have so many cup holders?
Most people like a cup holder in their car for themselves and their passengers, but some vehicles take it to the extreme.
The 2020 Hyundai Palisade has an astronomical 18 cup holders. Many other vehicles have over ten. You can only fit 5, maybe 7 people in the car!
So, why are we bathed in liquid luxury? It comes down to a few reasons.
Firstly, automakers sell models in a large number of countries which means interiors need to suit different lifestyles. For example, many cars in Australia also sell in Asia, Europe and North America, which means big cities like Tokyo, London, L.A. and Shanghai.
Think of the time some commuters spend in their cars in those big cities, they may end up needing a morning coffee (or two) and water and carpool with colleagues.
The average London commuting time is around 74 minutes per day, in L.A., many people spend over 90 minutes a day in their cars.
Marketing also comes into play. If a [potential] customer is 50/50 on two competing vehicles, they may be swayed by the one with more amenities, cup holders for example.
Cup holders also act as storage for phones, masks, keys and other personal effects.
Ashtrays, once a common feature in cars, are pretty much gone so automakers fill the void.
3. How does Tesla make money?
From selling cars! Well, it’s not that simple.
To give scope to Tesla’s income, the company was valued at around US$800 billion in early 2021. That sounds like a lot, because it is.
Other car brands’ net worths in 2021
- Toyota: US$236bn
- VW: US$97bn
- Ford: US$60bn
- Nissan: US$21.08bn
The bulk of Tesla's income comes from selling their cars but a lot comes from other sources.
For example, the company’s Bitcoin purchase in early 2021 saw a US$101 million profit - not bad for doing nothing.
Just under US$500 million comes from energy storage and supply, like their Powerwalls and charging facilities.
Other sources include vehicle servicing, a stream which is only growing as their cars become older.
As far as electric vehicles go, Tesla is the industry’s centerpiece.
In response to Tesla’s success, shares in the company rose over 700% in 2020 alone.
4. Why do cars ‘tick down’ when you turn the engine off?
This usually happens with ICE (internal combustion engine) cars, not EVs. The ‘ticking down’ noise refers to a soft ticking sound an engine makes as soon as you turn it off.
It’s most noticeable if you turn the car off and stand next to it in a quiet area after driving it.
The ticking noise is due to heat. When the engine is started and driven, it heats up a lot which causes components to expand. After you turn it off, it cools and shrinks back to its original size.
This expansion is very minor and not noticeable to the eye, but it is noticeable to the ear. It’s this ‘shrinking’ that makes the ticking noises and that explains why it only happens temporarily after you turn the engine off.
You typically won’t hear it when you warm up the car (during expansion) due to engine and road noise, and sitting inside the vehicle.
It’s even in some games.
Rockstar North’s popular Grand Theft Auto V is one such example. The game prides itself on attention to detail. If a player exits a vehicle after driving, a ticking down noise can be heard for a few moments if within close proximity.
5. What’s stamp duty?
It’s a tax you have to pay when you buy a car. The amount is typically a percentage of the sales price of the vehicle.
It is the buyer’s responsibility to pay the stamp duty.
States and territories in Australia calculate stamp duty differently, so check with your government’s website to get a clear idea of what you might be up for when you buy a car.
Other big purchases attract stamp duty too. Residential property, commercial plant and equipment (factory), intellectual property, just to name a few things, also typically attract stamp duty.
We don’t even use stamps anymore!
Stamp duty can be big bucks considering an actual postage stamp is a matter of cents and most people don’t even need stamps as processes are all online.
Stamp duty is thought to have originated in Venice or Spain back in the early 1600s, making the idea around 400 years old.
In Australia, stamp duty is a once-off tax levied by state governments and is sometimes referred to as "transaction duty".
Make sure to factor in stamp duty when you make a purchase attracting the tax, for example, cars.
6. Why do some cars use premium fuel?
You’ve likely seen different petrol types at the petrol station; 98, 95 and 91 are common. The higher this number is, the higher the cost per litre is too.
The numbers refer to the octane rating. Basically, the higher, the better - but the more refining and processing is needed, therefore, the more it costs.
The octane number determines the fuel’s anti-knock ability, which means resistance to premature ignition, aka; engine knock, pinging or detonation.
Engine knock is bad news. It occurs when the petrol doesn’t ignite solely from the spark plug like it’s supposed to. It can cause major damage as the ‘shock’ or vibrations from the cylinders firing is uneven and unbalanced.
What can cause engine knock?
Here are a few common causes;
- Using the incorrect type of fuel
- Incorrect air/fuel mixture
- Wrong or heavily worn spark plugs
- Incorrect engine timing
There are other reasons too. Avoid engine knock by getting your car serviced as per the logbook and following manufacturer recommendations.
Engines under extreme conditions, like turbocharged engines and/or high performance engines need the extra protection that 98 and 95 RON offer.
RON stands for Research Octane Number.
Always use the fuel that your manufacturer recommends, however, many motorists report that adding premium fuel once in a while has benefits such as more mileage per tank.
7. What’s the deal with the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ?
With badges removed, most people would struggle to tell the difference between these two vehicles.
And for good reason too.
The Toyota 86 and the Subaru BRZ are a joint product made in collaboration by the two companies having been released back in 2012.
Both variations use Subaru’s 4-cylinder boxer engine. A boxer engine means the cylinders are horizontally opposed, rather than vertically like in traditional engines.
Differences between the two brand names are mainly cosmetic. They have slightly different front bars and headlights, giving a slightly different appearance. Other than that, the two vehicles are pretty much the same, however, some variants have other minor differences.
For example, the steering wheel looks the same in both cars but has specific brand logos where the horn is.
The engine cover, on the other hand, has both Subaru and Toyota printed on it meaning costs are saved during manufacturing.
86 - the number is a throwback to Toyota performance vehicles built from 1984 to 1987. The famous AE86 "Hachi-roku" Toyota Corolla Levin and Toyota Sprinter Trueno are where the ‘86’ comes from. This vehicle was popularised in the Japanese anime series titled Initial D which also gave way to games and a movie.
BRZ - it stands for “Boxer, Rear Wheel Drive, Zenith”. Zenith means ‘at a time of highest performance’ or ‘peak performance’, similar to ‘prime time period’.
8. What happens if you put sugar in petrol?
Firstly, never put anything in a vehicle’s petrol tank other than recommended fuel and additives.
You may have heard of some people seeking revenge or causing trouble by putting sugar in a vehicle’s petrol tank.
The theory is that sugar will disable a vehicle’s ability to drive. It’s supposed to ‘react’ with the petrol and caramelise and ruin the engine.
It’s not true.
Sugar, like any foreign substance (sand, debris, dirt), has the potential to clog injectors, the fuel filter and other components.
The myth may have come from vehicles in the 1950s when fuel pumps were situated at the bottom of fuel tanks. A big clump of sugar (or anything else) could sink to the bottom and block the pump.
Car questions wrap up
We hope that the above questions and answers clear up any confusion you may have.
There are millions of cars on Australian roads built by the mammoth global car industry and that naturally means a lot of questions.
Stay tuned for more answers to car questions in the future.