Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Drive from Jamshedpur to Kolkata and back

Jaya and I drove from Jamshedpur to Kolkata (about 300 km) earlier this month and returned after spending a week there. It was a pleasant surprise to find the Jharkhand roads (NH 33) in a much better condition now. The 100 km stretch between Jamshedpur and Bahragora is quite okay now barring a few very short bad stretches. But the 20 km distance between Bahragora and Chichira (Jharkhand / West Bengal border) still has some pretty horrible stretches. The border checkpost itself is highly chaotic (as usual) with nobody to control the flow of traffic and is frequently jammed. The road surface at the border is literally 'rock bottom' with gigantic craters.

After Chichira the roads in West Bengal are quite good and the stretch of NH6 between Kharagpur and Kolkata (part of the Golden Quadrilateral) is excellent. For the first time (I have been regularly driving on this highway since 2000) I did 140 kmph on this stretch and 110-120 for long distances. It was fun.

I got a mileage of 24 kmpl on the highway and around 16 kmpl in Kolkata with about 90% AC.

3rd (last) Free Service after 10,000 KM

Got the 3rd. free service carried out at PEBCO Motors workshop (MASS) at Sonari, Jamshedpur sometime back. Would rate their quality of work 5 out of 10. Specifically, the following issues need to be mentioned :
1) The workshop does not have the special tool to unscrew the engine oil filter housing cap. They used a 25 mm double ended spanner for it after removing the plastic engine cover (to create some space to move the spanner). I found this a very unsatisfactory arrangement which could damage the oil filter housing cap as well as some of the electrical cables leading to the glow plugs.
2) Both front doors make a rattling sound while closing when the glass is fully down. PEBCO mechanics tried to rectify this by putting some thermocole packings inside the door under the glass but failed.
3) I find it difficult to engage the reverse gear at times. PEBCO had no solution for it.
4) The service booklet specifies tightening of cylinder head bolts during this service (after 10,000 km). The workshop was not in a position to do this confidently and so this job was not attempted.
5) The mechanic attending to my car was not aware of '5-tyre rotation' and would have put the wheels at wrong places if it hadn't been for my intervention.

Clearly, Maruti Service leaves much to be desired.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Reliance petrol pumps and A1 Plazas

A Reliance A1 Plaza
Any motorist who is fond of long drives and has driven in India along with his family must have experienced the woefully inadequate toilet facilities along the Indian highways. While for Indian men the whole country is one large open toilet, women find long drives problematic. Very few dhabas (roadside eateries) have toilets. All new petrol pumps of PSU oil companies (like HPCL, BPCL, IOL, etc.) do have toilets but usually they are in such a horrible condition that one feels like throwing up.

In this scenario, the Reliance petrol pumps have arrived like a breath of fresh air. Their toilets are usually clean, always have water and the flushes actually work. They even have liquid soap dispensers! Furthermore, all Reliance petrol pumps have water coolers fitted with Aquaguard water purification systems.

My family and I have been using the Reliance petrol pumps (BTW, only for the toilet and drinking water facilities; the fuel, especially diesel, is much costlier) ever since they started coming up along the highways. Each and every Reliance petrol pump has an identical design / layout and that makes things even more convenient for the motorist.

Of late, some of the bigger Reliance petrol pumps along the highways are offering the additional convenience of ‘A1 Plaza’ which serve food as well. Apart from a large dining hall, A1 Plazas have family dining rooms too. They also have TV's, conference rooms with digital projection facilities, bigger toilets and facilities for taking bath.

Sales counter inside A1 Plaza

My wife and I always look out for Reliance A1 Plazas during our long drives -- especially at meal times. They offer a decent choice of food – both veg and non-veg. Prices are quite reasonable. Cold drinks, ice creams, snacks, etc., are also available.

An open kitchen inside A1 Plaza

A poster inside A1 Plaza

Overall performance of my Swift VDi during Jamshedpur-Bombay-Jamshedpur trip

Once again, my Swift VDi exceeded my expectations during this long drive of 4450 km (Jamshedpur – Bombay – Lonavla – Bombay – Sambalpur - Brajrajnagar - Sambalpur - Jamshedpur).

The car was completely trouble free and 100% reliable during this long drive, as any self-respecting modern car should be. Additionally, my Swift VDi was a pleasure to drive both at high and low speeds – thanks to a jewel of a diesel motor which produces peak torque at only 2000 RPM and is highly responsive over its entire power range.

There were hundreds of kilometres of bad roads on the way and the suspension took it fairly well. The suspension is definitely better than that in my previous car (Maruti Esteem). There were a few ‘bottomings’ of the front suspension (while hitting unmarked speed-breakers, for instance) and the metallic sound given out by the front suspensions during such bottomings was pretty jarring. When I heard that metallic clang for the first time I was quite alarmed but subsequently I discovered that the clang from both the left and right front suspensions was identical. Anyway, I must probe further into the root cause of this metallic clang.

Another little flaw was a couple of minor body noises – apparently coming from the doors.

Driving the car at 160 kmph on the Lonavla-Bombay expressway was pure ecstasy. There were 4 adults plus weekend luggage in the car and the AC was on when I touched 160 kmph quite effortlessly.

The climbing ability of the car, even in higher gears at relatively low speeds, is excellent. It was a very pleasant new experience (as compared to my earlier petrol cars) for me to drive my new baby on the numerous ghat stretches in Maharashtra and Orissa.

And once again, the icing on the cake was the phenomenal mileage figures. Overall mileage obtained over this entire 4450 km trip (including city driving in / around Bombay and Bombay – Lonavla – Bombay trip) was 24 kmpl. If city driving and Lonavla trip are excluded, the mileage comes to 25.5 kmpl. The best mileage measured (over a distance of 890 km between Nagpur and Bombay) was 26.56 kmpl. AC use was around 50%. Non-premium diesel was used.

Can one ask for more?

Bombay to Jamshedpur in 4 days

Jaya and I started from Bombay on 05.01.08 and reached Jamshedpur on 08.01.08, covering a total distance of 1988 km over 4 days. En route we also visited a relative at Brajrajnagar (60 km from Sambalpur in Orissa) which increased the distance by 120 km. My Swift VDi again performed superbly during this drive. Brief day-wise details as follows :

Day 1 (05.01.08)

Started from Thane at 5.30 AM and reached Khamgaon (529 km from Thane) around 6 PM.

From Thane it did not take much time to reach Bhiwandi as this stretch is a 4-lane dual carriageway. But I had to drive very slowly and cautiously after the dual carriageway ended at Bhiwandi because it was still dark and the highway did not even have the white lines on the edges. As is common in India, many oncoming vehicles continue using high-beam while passing you and one gets momentarily blinded. Luckily, the major ghat (hill) stretches started after daybreak.

Parasnath Jain temple at Nashik

Day 2 (06.01.08)

Started from Khamgaon at 8 AM and reached Rajnandgaon (Chhattisgarh) around 7 PM, covering a distance of 527 km.

Gigantic statue of Hanuman along NH6 at Nondura (Maharashtra)

Day 3 (07.01.08)

Started from Rajnandgaon at 7 AM and reached Brajrajnagar (Orissa) at 5 PM, covering a distance of 405 km.

Brajrajnagar, where we paid a brief visit to a cousin of mine, is not situated along the main highway (NH6). One has to turn off northwards towards Jharsuguda from Sambalpur and drive for 60 km to reach Brajrajnagar. This stretch (constructed by L&T a few years ago) is very good and one can safely do 100-120 kmph. As the roads in Orissa between the Chhattisgarh border and Sambalpur are quite painful, this L&T road was a welcome break!

Day 4 (08.01.08)

Started from Brajrajnagar at 6 AM and reached home (Sonari, Jamshedpur) at 7 PM, covering a distance of 527 km.