Thursday, June 28, 2007

Car stereo speaker monsters

Car stereo speakers officialdom tries to turn down the volume on a road menace one enthusiast likens to 'the voice of God'

When Ritchie Warren plays his car stereo at a level he regards as unexceptional, the bass booms and snarls, waves of sound enveloping everyone and everything in their path. Mr Warren views the experience as life affirming. "If you think of explosions, thunder, volcanos, all release a subsonic sound. Booming sounds increase the adrenaline. It is a tribal and a cultural thing. Bass is like the voice of God."

But for millions in town and cities throughout Britain, the seemingly limitless power and ferocity of in-car music systems is closer to a curse.

Officials in London, mindful that the predicted summer heatwave is looming, have begun discussing how they might clamp down on the antisocial use of monster stereos. They are considering whether the owners could be penalised with penalty tickets or antisocial behaviour orders.

Many modified stereos will pump out up to 100 decibels but Mr Warren's system, once judged the world's loudest, can reach 154, comparable to Concorde. A jackhammer emits 80 decibels. Scotland Yard has been involved in the discussions and says it is willing to lobby for a change in the law to impose new restrictions.

Other authorities are experimenting with their own solutions. In Blaenau Gwent, officials have been targeting hotspots, hoping to modify the behaviour of those who cooperate and punish those who will not. In Tayside, police can confiscate offending vehicles. Discussions in the capital are being led by Valerie Shawcross, a member of the London assembly. "It is high time we clamped down on this sort of behaviour," she said. "No one objects to someone playing a bit of music as they drive along in the car. We all do that. But these stereos take us into an entirely different situation. People who live alongside major roads suffer incessant noise. It makes their lives a misery."

Jenny Jones, a Green party member and the mayor's environment spokeswoman, said: "This is noise pollution. The police could give on-the-spot fines and warnings, but most of all I would like them to make these drivers turn the noise down."

Marie Maguire, 42, lives in a second-storey flat above an intersection in south London. She says the noise from cars stopped at the traffic lights is intolerable. "Some of them shake the house. The windows rattle. Watching television is almost impossible. It is just getting worse."

The problem is far from straightforward. Anyone causing a noise nuisance from premises or from a stationary vehicle in the street can have an abatement notice served on them by local authority under section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. But there is the practical difficulty of catching a moving vehicle and demonstrating that the noise, for the short duration it occurs in one place, constitutes a nuisance in law.

One possibility is that apolice or local authority officer be empowered to make a subjective "judgment of nuisance". They might then take action after obtaining the owner's details through the computer system.

The prospect invokes palpitations among exhibitors at Birmingham's NEC, where the car modifications industry comes together this weekend for the Max Power Live event, billed as the "fastest, loudest car show ever".

It's a meeting of the clans for those consumed by the need to make their vehicles the loudest, the shiniest, the most gadget- laden. The Pimp My Ride stand, promoting the fantasy modifications favoured by rich rap stars on the MTV programme, has pride of place.

So does Mr Warren's Dodge Challenger, its giant exterior speakers hoisted by hydraulics. He is part of Fuel, a company specialising in car modification and the accompanying lifestyle. Its slogan is Wake Up the Neighbourhood, Destroy the Street. Unsurprisingly he has no time for those who want a quiet life, especially those in London.

"It is a noisy city anyway," the 38-year-old said. "In the suburbs there are not a lot of ways for people to move themselves up the pecking order. So they bling their cars, they pimp their rides. It's boys but also girls with their pink cars and massive sound systems. They are queens of the street."

Car audio – and cops

Auto accessories like a stereo "boombox" for drivers who persistently induce a nuisance in their community by playing music at overly higher volumes risk having their audio equipment confiscated by cops.

This law makes it an offence to create any noise likely to cause annoyance or discomfort to any resident in the area, and that includes noise emitting from vehicles.

Officers will issue drivers with one warning before they are reported for prosecution. If the case should go to court, the driver could be punished with a CI$500 fine for the first offence, CI$1000 for a second offence and a CI$5000 fine and prison term of six months for a third offence. In addition, upon conviction, the court may order the equipment to be confiscated.

The Cayman Islands are the latest jurisdiction to tackle the problem of what are known as ‘Boom’ cars.

In the USA, local noise codes in at least two major cities have been revised to clamp down on ‘Boom’ cars. In Florida, a citizen has successfully sued the owner of a ‘Boom’ car for damages and police in the UK seized a “Boom’ car after deeming it to be causing alarm, distress or annoyance to the general public.

In addition to the noise nuisance outside the vehicle, Car audio ‘Boom’ cars are believed to present significant health hazards to their occupants.

A website in the USA advises that people who are exposed to this type of noise on a daily basis suffer from hearing loss, sleep deprivation, chronic fatigue, anxiety, hostility, depression and hypertension.

The advice continues, “To those who drive in boom cars, besides causing permanent hearing damage, the noise is damaging to the nervous system. Many boomers claim that the infrasound noise (low frequency bass sound) induces an addictive drug-like euphoric effect.”

The medical journal Thorax reported the cases of four young men who suffered a lung collapse triggered by loud bass music. Three of the men were at a concert or club, while the fourth was in a boom car outfitted with a 1,000-watt bass system.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that one-quarter of vehicle accidents are caused by driver distraction. Drivers experience reduced reaction times when listening to loud music and adjusting the controls on their car stereo equipment. Another problem they identify is the fact that the pounding bass noise decreases drivers’ ability to hear pedestrians and other vehicles. This includes emergency vehicles, such as police cars audio, ambulances and fire trucks.

Used Cars deal tip

Make a listing and stop it twice for used cars Yep, another listing, but this one is a little distinct. Now it's moment to discover real candidates for purchase. This listing might include some of the same cars you looked at during your test-fit hunt, but get backwards to those websites and your local paper and yield the biggest listing you can. Note that new-car dealers will mostly get the better candidates -- cars that were used for test-drives or that have been newly returned by folk who leased them -- and these are frequently offered under maker "certificate" programs that include a warranty. Make these your best stopover.

When I go used car shopping, I usually try to figure out if there are any colors I can't live with and any features I can't live without. Of course, the market has a way of calling my bluff -- I once decided I could live with my target car in any color except yellow as long as it had a manual transmission, only to immediately find a beautifully maintained yellow one that had every single option I wanted, just the way I would have ordered it from the factory, at a great price. I spent a weekend hemming and hawing over the color, only to go back with my checkbook and find that it had been sold. I ended up with a dark red one that worked out well, but I paid more for it. The moral: Make sure you really know where you can (and can't) compromise.
The large tryout: Test-drives Test-driving, with that salesperson in your cheek, can be a fraught experience if you're not prepared. Before you get, learn our test-drive primer and go the Foolish Test-Drive Vow: No buying today! No issue what, wear't let stories of particular one-day offers and new buyers who are purportedly expected backwards any microscopic lure you into taking away your checkbook. Really, get read that primer and have certain you know precisely what you're going to tell when the salesperson starts his song and dancing act.

Making the deal
Have you found it? The green one with the twincam engine and the good stereo? The one that meets all of your needs and most of your wants? Congrats, Fool ... but hang on a minute. This is a used car, so we can't just make the deal and drive it home. You need to know what you're getting. If it's "certified" by a new-car dealer, make sure you understand the terms of the warranty. Some certification warranties, particularly those from luxury brands like Toyota's (NYSE: TM) Lexus division, General Motors' (NYSE: GM) Cadillac, and BMW, are very broad and rival new-car warranties from cheaper brands -- including cheaper brands from the same manufacturer. Others may sound good, but their long-term coverage might be limited to "powertrain" problems, which are far less common than, say, warped brake rotors.

Sometimes independent used-car dealers who specialize in just-off-lease luxury models will offer an extended warranty package that compares well with "certification" programs. (And occasionally, you'll find a car that is still covered by the balance of its original factory new-car warranty.) But often, the independent extended warranties that are offered by used-car dealers are expensive and offer very limited coverage. Read the fine print and make sure you know what you're getting -- and paying -- before you sign.

If the car you're considering doesn't come with a warranty, you'll need to arrange for an inspection by an independent mechanic to make sure it isn't a "salvage special." Many used car dealers will resist this step; if they do, and if they aren't willing to stand behind the car with a warranty of some kind, just walk away. Unless you know how to evaluate a car for crash and flood damage yourself, it isn't worth taking the risk.

Wrapping it up
Congrats, Fool! With luck, at this point you've found one or two examples of the used car of your dreams. It's time to make the deal and drive it home. Follow the steps outlined in the Fool's car-buying primer, remembering to use sites like to get the true fair-market value of the used cars you're considering, and you'll cruise through the process like a champ. Enjoy your new ride!

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