Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lazarus' Preferred Garage

I put finger to keyboard tentatively, rather wishing I had one of those bamboo laptops.

Not that I am superstitious or anything, but something nice just happened and touching wood reassures.

And it happened here:

A short while ago my Volvo V40 bi-fuel developed a problem with its LPG operation that our local garage could not handle.

Hence I brought it to our nearest dealer, in Hereford.

They kindly provided a courtesy car and kept it for investigation.

After a fair amount of time they got in touch to say that they had worked their way through the system and had already near reached the £200 mark without success (I foolishly had not specified that such amounts to see what was up were not favoured), and with no guarantees on a solution being found, I was looking at a very expensive component being sourced they could not easily locate, plus a major job swapping it in.

Hence I agreed with them on disconnecting the LPG for safety, even this meant lugging around a 40kg (they had asked for it to be filled) LPG tank despite future petrol operation, as there was no venting facility (fun fact... LPG has to be at a very precise mixture in air to be explosive, so a leak in the open is unlikely to be as serious as may be feared).

Upon picking up the car, after a few miles smoke started pouring from the bonnet. Rather foolishly (despite the above fun fact, LPG is not something to mess with) I drove it straight back.

The staff present were very defensive, claiming all sorts of nonsense. I was in particular unimpressed that, after a £200 engine investigation they tried a) to claim that the leak was possibly coincidental and b) had in fact been noted. Just... no one had evidently thought to mention it to me or on the invoice/advice. Plain silly to try such a tack.

Following a conversation with the manager by phone I was at least provided with the courtesy car again and left it with them.

I was called some further days later by the manager who, to his credit, conceded that the smoke was not from a leak at all, but due a a cap blowing off pressure testing, resulting in oil spraying on the hot engine. They had cleaned and checked and deemed all well.

However, I was now lumbered with a mono-fuel car.

Enter, thanks to Kathy, lovely PR for Autogas, Hilton owner Billy and LPG guru to the stars, Arthur.

In less than 3 hrs these guys reconnected the system (comprehensively unconnected by the dealer), ran diagnostics, identified problems, replaced parts and serviced other key areas that had, until that point, still been left unaddressed/serviced. Including one component most likely responsible for or contributing to the running issues that were the initial problem. Not the one guessed at with such a vast proposed cost, I might add.

Specifically, look at the components above. The one at the bottom is what was removed. It seems to be  a bodge, welding two parts together. This was what was in the governor (also possibly called regulator). It was either in there when brought to the main dealer, or introduced by them. In any event, it remained unremarked. The one above is what should have been in there, and now is. That the car runs perfectly now suggests it was a wise thing to replace, and did not require a £multi-hundred governor to be replaced as well, as suggested in their invoice.

So, for the price of Volvo taking days to tell me nothing could be done and almost setting fire to my car, these guys took but a few hours to fix and improve.

I am now under no illusions that bi-fuel was an experiment by Volvo (as with the other major brand dabblers) and dropped very quickly as a unprofitable job (this model was not even registered with TFL for the congestion charge exemption). I bought that car as factory-fitted to avoid any such concerns, trusting the brand would live up to its commitment to reliability and eco (that I support thanks to green beliefs). Not to have hands washed as it's all 'rare' and unusual and too hard.

Volvo evidently dropped LPG years ago as a priority, and despite a responsibility and duty of care has not admitted it, failing to train, or ensure the authorised service centres are aware of the systems and how to service/repair them.

No one has been honest enough to admit this, preferring instead to try a stab at addressing maintenance or problems, but actually making stuff worse, adding the insult of huge fees to the injury of failed, dangerous work and clearly inaccurate advice.

It is my view (expressed now to Volvo head office) that if you cannot handle your own manufactured product any more, at least have the decency to locate and recommend those who still can.

There are folk out there who do know what they are doing. They should be sought after, treasured, and highlighted as I do here.

What was as amazing as the repair, was that I was welcomed as an observer throughout, and learned a lot in the process.

A few snippets (I may get my regulators, governors and distributors mixed up as the terms seem to vary between who is talking)...

LPG in the UK

Unlike our EU cousins, LPG is treated rather differently here. It is a sensitive fuel, comprising a mix of butane and propane. With temperature, this mix can offer markedly different results on performance. Hence, before getting into our tanks, on the continent the blend is tuned to optimise the result.

Oh, and the 'quality' of UK LPG is a lot lower too. Sadly, the price difference and range from a 40l tank doesn't make a Calais top up trip worth it.

ps. On matters fuel storage, LPG is good to go for long periods. That 4* in the Jerry can in the garage for the next tanker strike?... little better than last week's milk. Best to only use in the lawnmower.

pps: Never be tempted by cheaper gas options. Arthur showed me the guts of a unit where the 'saving' on fuel was rather offset by the need for a new unit.


LPG is a fickle beast. You need to get from a high pressure liquid in the tank to a precise pressure gas/air mix in the same pots as fire up on petrol. That takes some kit. Kit with moving parts, and ports, injectors, etc. These need to be tuned to perfection and clean.

The top unit pictured above is the distributor. It has a piston that moves up and down, with V shaped apertures vertically along the barrel. The piston moves and you get more or less gap, and hence fuel. The edges can fur up. So they need cleaning. The good news is that, at 8k a year, this can be stretched to 2 years. I'd guess that may be pushing it to ensure optimal performance.


Finally, beyond all the filters, etc needing to be clear, there are the spark plugs. Again, any old plug will not do. Different fuel, different demands. And LPG needs a perky spark. Hilton recommend NGK LaserLines. Not cheap, but false economies catch up with you. Looking to find, and figure out how to fit.

I am now poorer, but a lot wiser, though richer in knowledge. Especially about LPG as a fuel and source or vehicle power. Plus I have a car deemed at one point worth £750 as a favour, but now a still perfect, 5-door estate with 75p/l fuel. Good for several more years, he hopes, holding the table top.

Hope my experiences are a lesson of use to others either driving LPG or thinking of doing so. It's good to share. (first published 10/6/11)


Addendum - Follow-up service - 26/June/2012

An unashamed plug for the Hilton Autogas guys. Some misfires necessitated a re-visit. After a thorough once-over nothing was found, but some sage advice on living with an aged car with a temperamental fuel system was freely provided. Tx, guys

A few new tips...

Part of an LPG system is the regulator. These are usually rated at 80,000 miles. And around £400+ fitting to replace. So, worth bearing in mind if buying 2nd hand.

If not totally messed up (a diaphragm degrades and affects performance) they can be 'helped' by some behaviour changes. These can also help with cars, such as Volvos, where the auto switch-over on start up from petrol to LPG, rigged too early to meet emissions demands, can mean that the chamber is not warm enough to pre-heat the gas and causes misfires.

Hence the trick is to start with the LPG disabled and only switch on once the engine has warmed after a few miles.

So far... it has solved the problem.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

In memory. In honour. In love

Thanks Dad.

Time to again reflect on the person who helped make me what I am, and whose example inspired this site.

I still use all the tools (physical and experience) he left me, and continue to share his love for making the best of things.

Friday, June 08, 2012

IP, IP Hoo... no... make that boo

This really should be on the RE:tie blog (and will be later).

But as it goes to bigger issues, and more people read this, I'll kick off here.

Quick bit of background.

I have, with much encouragement from HMG and her various organs of business promo, patented the RE:tie around the world.

Where its patent has been granted, no questions, or hassles, bar one place: the US of A.

Starting in November of last year, when they blew it out... on the basis that if the inventor of a bottle cap and the inventor of a woman's breast pump met in the pub, they 'could' together, if so minded, have come up with a RE:tie, such that the world's consumers would rush out and by a one-off $30 personal milk expressing device to get a free 0.00000001 cent weekly multiple-use hardware item.

Yeah... me too.

But games have to be played.

But games take time. And if lawyers get involved, expensive.

So two sets of lawyers, and two sets of rejected (the second, by a different USPTO examiner to the first, being a pure cut & paste job) appeals later, I am no further on. Bar being down a set of lawyers. And a ton of money.

Now, when painted into a corner you have little to lose, so you reach out anywhere and everywhere.

Which I did. UK IPO, BIS, British Embassy, UKTI, Chamber... you name the acronym purporting to support SMEs and or IP protection, I told 'em all.

And to a man... or woman... up to Baroness and Minister (or both) level, I got oodles of sympathy. 

'Tut-tut', they said. 'Awful', they intoned. Some thought it fun to share they knew it would happen as that's what always does.

Coming from paid civil servants who are paid to seduce unpaid SME innovators to blow time and money on IP, that can rankle a smidge. No, make that... a lot.

As it stands, I not only cannot argue my appeal, but the US examiner is, to all intents and purposes... hiding. Won't answer phone calls, or emails. Me having danced to every stupid tune and leapt every hurdle and obstacle put in my way.

And on the UK side (from London to Washington) now, the same. Blanked. It can't be happening because they don't have to look at it to see it is.

This... is what country and international governance has come to. Looking like stuff is going on, and spending vast resources on that 'look', but behind the edifice...zippy.

So, Ladies & Gents, let me bring you this gem of a PR email just in, which as you may imagine, was just what the doctor ordered:


You are a subscriber to the email alerts service from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS). 

A new BIS press release has been issued and is 

UK and US call to make the most of international patent system

Measures to make the international system of patent application faster and more effective were announced today by the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) with changes to the UK’s Fast Track system. These moves come as part of a wider effort by the UK and US intellectual property authorities to get more businesses to use the PCT system.

 So... businesses... more of you... USE IT!!! Tick them boxes.

That none of it works, at all, and no one wants to go near why, or how to resolve it... that is not a matter of concern.

No wonder this country is stuffed.

The few doers that remain have their very own posse of stoppers ready to knock them out at every turn, and vast PR machines in complement to pretend that it is all going just fine.

With some experience, and well-filed archives, I beg to differ. It's patently clear it's not working. At all.

Addendum 1

In the mail yesterday day I had a letter from the USPTO, apparently sent round the Horn via clipper to beat the Royal Navy blockade of Boston.

A snail mail letter that, frankly, takes the whole thing to a new level of farce if it were not already. If they simply did their jobs as opposed to concocting stuff like this in avoiding doing so, they might clear the 5 million case backlog apparently causing such behaviour.

If I understand what they have written correctly, I am now in some feedback loop of Purgatory, whereby I can't appeal on my own patent's behalf because they refuse to release the US affiliate as power of attorney. This being the one they would never talk with anyway. But is the only one they wish to deal with. But now deny was ever appointed.

Because I note, in amongst the vast legalese, two intriguing statements, especially given what I understood to have happened based on what I was told, and the USPTO's version of events:

1 - 'a review of the record shows that no attorney's/agents were ever appointed power of attorney in this patent application'

Given the USPTO's rather clear dedication to procedure up front before doing anything, if my US affiliate was, as far as they are now claiming, never appointed, why then have they spun this out with them over several months, including costly appeals,  if they never ascertained they were our/my representatives in the first place? They seem pretty clear on who they can or cannot be talking with, and when... if it suits.

As I recall, the USPTO called my US affiliate to complain that I was trying to contact them directly, and they can only talk to them, which was what instigated this latest flurry of activity. Now... they are claiming all this?

2 - 'Additionally, the present request cannot be approved because the requested change in the correspondence address is improper'.

What it goes on to define as 'proper' is beyond me, as it was, presumably, to the person first advising it.

Maybe it is best left here as they surely cannot reject the patent if they are unprepared to live up to their own procedures, which at the very least means that while the patent is not granted it is stuck at not being rejected either, which serves to deny any copycats.

I am stumped. I have reached out for advice and help from UK trade and IP bodies but... so far... nothing.

So now thinking of adding to my lexicon of public sector syndromes, with 'If not you... who?'.

Because a ton of folk earning a ton of money and spending acres of time promoting endless 'initiatives' have suddenly gone quiet. The IPO. BIS. Chamber. UKTI. Embassy.  All the guys advocating the joys of IP and getting me in this deep... mute.

Not hugely impressed. Landed it back at the door of my now IP UK lawyer too, as some of those accusations from the USPTO also go to professional competence and codes of conduct. At least as to the actions of the affiliate they commissioned (or possibly did not) to act on my patent's behalf there.

Addendum 2 -

Have been kindly contacted by Ian Hartwell of, and offered a further option, for which thanks:

The USPTO has a “Patents Ombudsman” for “when there is a breakdown in the normal application process” – see

As I am painted into a corner it can't hurt, but am not too hopeful, as my experiences with Ombudsmen of any hue, from any country, is not great.