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Motor Mouth articles 2012

The mysteries of stop-start

THE trouble with technological innovations in cars is that it’s only people buying brand new vehicles who get to experience them.

Most of us buy used cars so it may be some years down the line before we get to try out such tricks as touch-screen controls, on-board computers or gadgets that beep loudly if you’re about to reverse into a brick wall.

By the time the technology has filtered down to us, it is old hat, so the only way to experience these things up close is to rent a new car or to hang around with rich friends who drive new cars.

When I recently had occasion to hire a car for a couple of weeks, it was the first time I had encountered the vagaries of the stop-start system.

I hadn’t been warned by the car hire firm that the car had stop-start so it came as something of a surprise when the engine cut out the first time I stopped the car.

For the first few times I restarted it with the key before remembering that all I had to do was press the accelerator and it would/should burst back into life.

But the engine didn’t always cut out – only sometimes. And it didn’t always restart – only usually. I found the whole business initially unnerving and ultimately just plain annoying. I couldn’t believe that the saving in fuel and emissions made this hassle worthwhile.

It wasn’t until I had finished with the car and had a chance to do a little research that I discovered more about stop-start, which incidentally isn’t new – Volkswagen introduced it on one of its Golf variants 21 years ago.

Anyway, in a manual car, you engage stop-start by putting it in neutral when you come to a halt. Then when you push the clutch, the engine restarts. Obviously when it wasn’t shutting down, it was probably because I was still in gear with the clutch depressed.

The system is designed to ensure that all the ancillaries, such as sat-nav, heaters, lights and so on, remain active. It necessitates a far more robust battery and starter motor to cope with so many engine start-ups.  

Official figures claim the overall saving on fuel consumption by conscientious use of stop-start can be five per cent, with eight per cent or even more in town conditions, so I guess stop-start may have merit after all.

I find the whole business of the engine conking out to be rather unsettling, perhaps because I still have vivid memories of having stop-start on my cars years before it became fashionable. The trouble was that they stopped when they felt like it and sometimes didn’t bother to restart.

Today’s manifestation is all very clever, of course, and probably worth the extra few hundred pounds it adds to the cost of a new car, but if I ever get one of my own, I think I’ll have it disabled.

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