Where did July & August go ?

Am very sorry I have not been writing as much as I would have liked to. These are some of the things going on in my world outside the blog keeping me away. I am hoping these days are over soon and I will be back.

July: My day job raised its head like a fierce dragon and took over my time from morning till late at night. What little was left on the weekend was spent with family.other side effect of having to stay late – I have to drive – so no train journeys to type up posts.

August: A pair of salmonella based pathogens ‘S’ &’O’.Typhii to be precise raised thier ugly pestillential heads and took over my small intestines from Aug 1.Having happily evaded a blood test they flourished well for a bit, not satisfied they caught my son as well and had their fun with him. They were caught on his blood test. Finally last week these pests were caught making merry in my second test. Been out of office for a whole week now and only now got the energy to type this up.

If all goes well I should be back at work in a couple of days.

10 Tips for Child Car Safety

Free child looking out a window with reflectio...
Image by Pink Sherbet Photography via Flickr

I usually park my car in such a way that I have to back the car into the spot. Every time I do so, I worry that someone from my family will be behind the car and I may hit them by mistake. This fear has grown ever since my son started walking a couple of months ago.

I saw this on the net: Miracle Baby Pinned Under SUV Survives Unharmed. I proceed to freak out even more.  The story referenced a website called: http://kidsandcars.org/ which seems to be a site collecting and maintaining statistics of children injured/killed in accidents involving automobiles. Their statistics reveal that of all fatalities involving children from 2002 – 2007 the top 3 reasons were:

  1. 44% were due to “back overs” (backing up over a child)
  2. 17% was due to “front overs” (opposite of back over)
  3. 16% due to Hyperthermia.

Having freaked myself out enough – I started to worry that since this is not tracked well in the US which usually has statistics of everything, the statistics in India would be very different. I do not even want to think of it since it will be more gruesome than the US statistics. Rather than think about that I thought maybe I should put together some tips for parents / drivers.

Tips for vehicle drivers with little children around:

  1. Check for small children hiding/playing immediately in front of , behind or under the car before starting. Always!
  2. Secure children inside the car in child seats or have adults who are secured with a seat-belt hold the child (India specific – since the usage of car seats is minimal).  Child car seats are best kept in the rear seat away from airbags if present in the car. When held by an adult make sure their heads are away from window panes since bumps on the roads could cause their heads to hit the glass. If asleep they should either be held by an adult -not left on the seat alone.
  3. Children should never be allowed to stand inside(in the middle of the seats etc.) a moving vehicle since sudden stops could cause them to fall.
  4. Children should not be allowed to sit/lie down in the luggage area of hatchbacks or SUVs where there are no proper seats.
  5. Never  leave children in vehicles alone. Parental supervision is a must. Doesn’t matter if it is hot or cold or whatever in between.  (Recently a car was  stolen from near the Chennai airport with 2 children in it – thief lead police on a chase until he was finally stopped.)
  6. Enable the power window locks and child locks on the doors to ensure that children cannot open the doors/windows unless under adult supervision. If the windows are to be kept open (no A/c or non-working a/c) make sure the children’s hands and feet are always in the car and never outside.
  7. Keep enough toys/food/water in the car and always have an adult to keep them entertained and busy to prevent them from crying/distracting the driver thereby causing an accident.
  8. Check for little hands and feet when opening/closing doors/windows/trunks/bonnets/tailgates etc. Applies when sliding/folding seats/gloveboxes/cigarette  lighters as well.
  9. Do notallow children who are not old enough to drive a vehicle.
  10. Drive carefully, within speed limits, follow all rules, be courteous to other motorists and set a good example to the young impressionable minds in the car.

Request: Dear readers – have I missed any key tips ?  Please doadd more tips through the comments – I need your help to  build this list up.  Please do share these tips with parents of small children who may find it useful as well.

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Almost my last blog post here !

PB Visa Gold Credit Card
Image by liewcf via Flickr

I wrote this on 5th August worrying that this may be my last post to this site – barring some miracle happening.

My hosting account so far for the past 5 years has been www.godaddy.com. (Even though this blog has been active only in the past 6 months I had the domain name for a while now and had my own personal photo gallery etc on it).  My bank for the past 4.5 years has been www.hdfcbank.com. So far no issues with them.  Every month GoDaddy posts a transaction for my monthly hosting amount, it shows up nice & neat on my credit card, HDFC pays GoDaddy, I pay my credit  card bill and all of us are happy.

Aug 2nd: GoDaddy tries to post a transaction for my monthly billing for my hosting account to my credit card. HDFCbank denies the transaction and GoDaddy sends me a nice little emails telling me that they were not able to get their payment for the month. I was a bit surprised since my credit card is never close to being maxed out (as far as I have known) and no where near being near its expiry date. I didn’t think too much of the email till the next day when it struck me that there is something more to it than that.

Aug 3rd: A call to HDFCBank gets me in touch with my first “Hell-line” assistant – who can only mumble something about verified by Visa being required since August first and that I should go enable it on my credit card before I make a purchase online and when I make a purchase I have to go convince the vendor to also go register online for secure access/verified by Visa as well. I blow my top since I have had this crappy Verified by Visa authentication enabled on my card from around October last year and all it has done is confound me with one additional field to fill in on the Airtel Website when I pay my broadband bill. When I ask why something has changed suddenly the “hell-line” person has no answer. He refuses to get me in touch with a supervisor who could answer this question and tells me to first check with the vendor if there was a problem on their side ! I give up after having had enough for the day. I had missed work being sick with fever and this added to my feeling sick.

Aug 4th: Another call to another HDFC credit card “hell line” person who is not able to even mumble anything about the verified by Visa but mumbles something else that their own systems were having issues over the past few days. But regardless I should still talk to my vendor and convince them to get on Verified by Visa. I yell a bit at the person and then I remember some spam mail I kept getting from someone from HDFC who was marked as my “Relationship” Manager – since I was a reliable sucker for the past 4 years dutifully dropping my money in their bank and generally wasting my time. The Relationship Manager was shocked to hear from me but recovered quickly – however she was more the relationship kind only and needed an email with everything explained in simple terms for her to send someplace else. I did that and crossed my fingers.

I checked several times through the day,  whenever I could if the GoDaddy hell line could be reached – but always had a wait time of over 20 minutes. Didn’t feel like blowing ISD rates just listening to music so sent a support incident using the GoDaddy contact page. Plus fever still hadn’t gone and was trying to rest a bit.

Suddenly my fevered brain thinks I may be able to use PayPal. So hobble over to the computer and do the initial part of the Paypal account creation. Am stuck when I try to link my credit card – since the authorization Paypal does with your card to verify it – was denied by the bank again ! So no luck and back to square one.

I tweet about this and get some friends on FB asking details – but it is very clear no one has faced this recently/till now.

Aug 5th:
I come across yet another link on the net talking about this http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/rbi-tightens-online-card-use/364772/. I try being patient since I sent out emails to GoDaddy and to HDFC.  I go for work for the first time after being a patient down with fever for the 3 days prior to today and somehow manage to last a long long hectic day. Come back home at 10 PM with fever and a nasty headache again !

I had given my gmail address in the contact form on the net – but strangely the reply comes to my hotmail account since that was what was used years ago signing up for hosting. Guess what a standard Level One type answer here:

Dear Sushil Cherian,
Thank you for contacting online support.
Please ensure to update your payment methods on file as one of the credit cards is expired. We would recommend updating this information and then contacting your financial institution directly if the issue continues.

To manage the payment methods for your domains or services, please follow the directions below:
<whole page of instructions follow on how to update my credit card on file – and so detailed I wanted to repeatedly beat my head on the nearest wall>

I blow my top – first then calm down and nicely write up a reply (without capital letters or swear words – I promise) telling them that the card mentioned as being expired is just listed in my account (among 2 cards listed there) as an old card that was used 2 years ago- it was not used in the last 2 years. The card I am talking about was the one that was used till July 2009 with no problems and which has not yet expired and of course will not expire for several months more. I again politely ask about Verified by Visa.

HDFC Bank : No update from them at all till now.

Aug 6th:
I begin to get a bad feeling about all this and start emailing all my key friends who have web hosting and ask for suggestions of alternative web hosting – since I think there is just a few days before I have to move all my data off and start afresh.  I get reccommendations from Ajith Edassery (www.dollarshower.com) , George (www.wheelosphere.org), Danesh (www.daneshzaki.com) and Fas (www.motorbeam.com). Thanks a lot – all of you for patiently answering my several questions.

Got this email from Go Daddy Support:
Dear Sushil Cherian,
Please note that in order for a product to renew with the correct payment method, the product must be assigned to that payment method. To make sure a product is using the correct payment method to renew, you will need to update it within your account.
To change the payment method for domains and services, follow the directions below:
First, log into your account:
• Go to the Go Daddy Account Login Page
• Log in using your account username <lots more useful info and steps follow filling another page. Stuff that just made my eyes bleed !>

I come home from work early since I felt the need to visit the doctor again.  Still worrying about the issue with the hosting – The plan that had vaguely made sense of paying by the month leaving me the luxury to move to another better host at moments notice seemed to have backfired on me ! Doc when visited asks me to take rest and do a blood test for Typhoid !

Aug 7th:
I went for the blood test, came back extremely tired and want to just sleep. I do so and when I woke up after a long nap I remembered I had one other credit card that I have not used till now – which was not Verified by Visa ! I jump up from my sick bed and feverishly type in the card details into GoDaddy renewal manual transaction page. I renew my hosting for all my domains at one shot – and sit biting my nails with my fingers and toes crossed while the transaction goes through. Finally it does and gives me a receipt number ! I almost kissed the screen !

5 PM – spent most of the day sleeping – when I get a call from an unknown number – thinking it may be someone from work I answer to hear someone from HDFC Bank asking about my card transaction that had failed. Of course I had to explain the whole detail till I started feeling sick again and of course they ask for a screen shot to be emailed. I do that. That should keep them busy for a minute. Of course there is no support request number for follow up etc – to ever prove I had called them on Aug 4th etc.

No typhoid – just needed some rest – I got the rest and am feeling much better now.
So whats the reason for this post – well it just is that the RBI new directive just means nothing if it comes in the way of your trying to transact online – with a vendor outside India who just doesnt care.  So from now on – we can forget buying stuff from online stores outside India with our credit cards.  If we do – we need to use cards that are not verified by Visa or Secured by Mastercard ! Which again defeats the good old RBI mandate.  It may soon become easier to trade in goats and sheep than to use a credit card for an online transaction.
HDFC still has no answer – may never have , GoDaddy still thinks my card from 2007 which I possibly couldnt have used for the past 2 years is still the cause of the error.  Glad I had a card from another Indian bank that went through !

An Indica Experience of ~ 9 years & 1,25,000 Km

This post is written by one of the readers of this blog Jacob Chacko who on request shared the ownership experience of his Tata Indica (he owned and drove it for around 9 years clocking around 1,25,000 km in the duration selling it this past Friday). Thanks Jacob Chacko for sharing your experience with the Indica!  Here is his story with photos of his car: 

After 11 years on a petrol Ambassador, I had begun to feel weary of driving with such a heavy steering wheel (perhaps, because I was also growing in age), that I started looking for a new Car. India’s dream car, TATA Indica had been launched just about a year ago. The euphoria that peaked with margins for new Indicas had died down and teething troubles had taken over. Since I was contemplating a change from an Ambassador, my priorities were adequate space (for my parents), ease of ingress and egress, driveability and good fuel efficiency. I needed to run 1000- 1500 km a month and a diesel alternative to my ambassador had become rather imperative.

 The TATA tagline was quite impressive : “The space of an Ambassador with the efficiency of a Zen at the price of a Maruti-800 !” This description vastly suited my requirements. I did a TD to verify facts. The space indeed was fine. The diesel engine did not sound all that bad – certainly not the roar of (shipping) diesel engines that were doing duty on some Ambassadors. The only competitor was the Fiat Uno, in which efficiency and build were reported to be superior. But, then TATA was coming up with a passenger car for the very first time. Who wouldn’t give them a try, especially in the context of the near-repulsive service from Uno’s then dealers, TVS ? The decision in favour of Indica was rendered easy by a comparative feature that appeared in one of the auto magazines, which gave the verdict, something to this effect : Despite, all that, the scales can be  seen ticking the Indica way with the claimed superior fuel efficiency at much lower vehicle costs. The local TATA dealership took personal interest, offered freebies and supervised the delivery of an Emerald Green (no semblance to green ; more to grey, though !) Indica in November 2000.

I remember I was ecstatic all through the running-in period : it had already fetched me a fuel efficiency of 17 kmpl ! And, I did like the soft sound of the new diesel engine.

 Problems It was smooth riding until around 37000 km when trouble surfaced with the car showing excessive oil consumption. Besides oil changes specified at service schedules, I had to keep topping-up every now and then. I had maintained my own diary on the mileage and the oil consumed. I started writing letters to TATA management, with little reprieve.

This went on until the vehicle clocked about 70000 km. Meanwhile, confronted with my repeated visits to the TASC with the very same complaint of excessive oil consumption and allied effects of excessive smoke on initial starting etc., the service advisors privately hinted that engine overhauling was the only way out. They narrated several instances of similar occurrences and how, after engine overhauling, such vehicles were rendered out of the clutches of this malady.

After repeated complaints to TATA management, the TASC was instructed to conduct a HOC Test (High Oil Consumption Test). All oil was drained out of the sump, weighed and poured back before it was driven by TATA (me seated alongside) for 300 km at a stretch. The residual oil was again drained and weighed.

Oil consumption was calculated as : Weight of oil x 1000 / 0.88 x Km run.

In my case, for 299 km, the difference in weight of oil was observed to be 125.2 g.

Thus,  125.2 X 1000 / 0.88 X 299 = 475.83 ml / km

TATA explained that 500 ml / km was the maximum permissible limit for Oil consumption (but, I was not shown any documentation to attest this claim) and that, therefore, this value was indeed within limits ! The fact that the value was almost at the max. of the permissible limit was not a matter of concern to them.  Even so, it was clear that at as low a mileage as < 70000 km, the car was already nearing the upper limit of “permissible” oil consumption. The import of the idiom, “You can take a horse to water, but cannot make it drink,” dawned upon me with full force.

My last resort was to address none other than Mr Ratan Tata himself. If this excessive oil consumption were not to be attributed to flaws in manufacture and / or in strict quality control, were Indica cars expected to undergo engine overhauling at mileages as low as 70000 km. His office replied that Mr Tata was on tour and that the matter would be attended to by others. This question, finally, fetched me some minor discounts by way of piston rings and accessories for carrying out engine overhauling at < 70000 km ! 

TATA ought to be more receptive to customer feedback / complaints and should demonstrate the resolve to redress genuine grievances to mutual satisfaction. For those like me who were prepared to accept the new Indian venture with all its teething troubles, TATA – through their actions, rather inaction – seemed to prove the point that they cared a hoot for us ! They ought to display the readiness, leave alone the grace, to acknowledge deficiencies / faults.

Visits to TASC (Focuz Motors)

This car has been with me for 104 months now and has clocked 125000+ km. I have strictly adhered to TATA recommendations on service schedules and have maintained it with utmost care. In all, I have had to make 49 visits to the TASC, of which 23 were for regular service check-ups at specified intervals. In all fairness, I must compliment the service personnel at the TASC (Benz Motors, later renamed as Focuz Motors) for being receptive, considerate and helpful. I might well be one among their long-standing customers. 

Other issues / repairs

After overhauling of the engine, there has not been any complaint of excessive oil consumption or the like. Other issues have been the following :

  • Clutch plate replacement at ~ 70000 km (done along with engine-overhauling)
  • Glow plugs were the most problematic, requiring 8 replacements
  • Steering rack and pinion assy was replaced at ~ 95000 km
  • Wheel cylinders replaced 6  times
  • Ball joints replaced 8 times
  • AC bearing, compressor repairs effected at ~ 87000 km

Despite all these troubles, this Indica of mine has never let me down on the road. Fuel efficiency was an average of 16-18 km/ litre within the city (with AC) amidst Cochin’s notorious traffic snarls and between 20 -22 km on the highways (with AC). It has even peaked to 24 km / litre at times.

The first battery had a remarkable life of 68 months !

I have bills, vouchers and accounts of every expense incurred at TASC all through the past ~ 9 years and ~ 125000 km. Costs for maintenance (includes spares, lubes, consumables, servicing, labour and taxes, but excludes tyres, battery and fuel) of this vehicle have worked out to an average of ~ 80 ps per km.

My Next Car – Not a TATA:

The new version — Indica Vista is generous on space and tempting in appeal. User reviews that sing praises (for sure, they have the right to do so) to the vehicle are all written based on the early few thousand km experience. Problems crop up only after the vehicle has run ~ 15000 km. All across the web, I have come across only a single review from an owner who had used his Vista Quadrajet for ~ 16000 km and that review was indeed daunting. I wouldn’t want to risk a repeat of the snags I faced – all of which could be traced to manufacturing defects arising out of severe deficiencies in strict quality control at every stage, including that at the site of the vendors that supply spares to TATA cars. After all, isn’t experience the best teacher ?

TATA badly needs to reorient their functional priorities to be sensitive to the needs and perceptions of the customer, if ever they intend to befriend and build lasting relationships with him. The Indica Club, launched by TATA with much fanfare, appeared to have met with a premature death; TATA did not seem to be bothered even by this.

Therefore, sadly though, I have decided to trade off my Indica for another brand from a different manufacturer, keeping my fingers crossed on what might yet lie in store for me now !

PS:  Please do reach out to Jacob through the comments here on this post in case you need any tips or advice on Indica’s. Am hoping to get an update on his experience with a new brand of vehicle after his move from Tata.