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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Car & Driver

I went to the dentist this morning. I have to cool my heels in the waiting room for a few minutes, but they have a couple of new car magazines, so I am entertained. Car & Driver has a story about five American made cars that the auto industry can be proud of. First one was a Cadillac Coupe. In general I approve of Cadillac. If I ever need another car I might buy one, but it will be a used one. They want too much money for the new ones. And I suspect there are plenty of late model ones available. Something about Cadillac seems to attract the flash in the pan crowd.

Then again, if I were ever in the market for such a car, it might not be a Cadillac. I don't like the look of the recent models, all "edgy" and all. I want a car that looks like a car, not like someones' Hot Wheels fantasy.

Another car they liked was the Buick Regal, which is going to be available with, get this, a manual transmission! When was the last time any Buick had a manual transmission? I just can't imagine such a thing. Turns out the Buick Regal is a rebadged Opel, or an Opel is a rebadged Buick, your choice, and they build the Opel with a manual transmission. So for the first year or so, they will be importing Buick Regals from the Opel factory in Europe. Weird.

A third vehicle was the new compact M-RAP vehicle from Oshkosh, weighing in at a svelte 12 tons. Oshkosh has a billion dollar contract to produce these things. Car & Driver was impressed with it's off road capabilities. They had it out on a course on the 73,000 acres of the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. That's another one of those weird East Coast things, like New Jersey being called the Garden State. In my mind the East Coast is so crowded there isn't room to turn around, but you get 50 miles out of town and you can be lost in the woods, just like here.

They also had a story about a new little, diesel Volkswagen that gets really good mileage. The weird thing is that the engine seldom gets warm enough to generate enough heat to heat the passenger compartment. Car & Driver is based in Michigan, and Michigan is cold in the winter. Canadian versions of this car have an auxiliary electric heater. This is just too weird. I wonder if running the electric heater has a significant impact on mileage?

The last thing I read was their story about the Toyota gas pedal fiasco. They tried stopping some cars while holding the gas pedal to the floor. No problem, car stopped, often in not much more distance than normal. You get up to crazy high speeds (greater than 100 MPH) and okay, it does take a little more distance. You get up to crazy high horsepower (500+) and crazy high speeds and they weren 't actually able to stop the car, but they did get it down to 10 MPH. At that point you can turn off the ignition and stop the car without power assist on the brakes.

You may remember that Audi had a similar problem a few years ago (people complaining about unintended acceleration). Audi were front wheel drive cars with in-line engines mounted in-line with the car. (Most front wheel drive cars have the engines mounted crosswise, the crankshaft is parallel to the front axle.) The transmission protrudes into the passenger compartment, much like it does on a conventional rear wheel drive car. But it's European, and compact, so the drivers foot wheel is cramped, and the accelerator pedal is to the LEFT of the center line of the steering wheel. You sit facing forward, but your legs are canted a few degrees off to the left. (And this is for a car with left hand drive, like America and most of the rest of the world.) Supposedly it was not enough to be a problem, except that, well, evidently it WAS. They never found anything wrong with the Audi's. If there was nothing wrong with the car, the only thing left is the driver.

I really don't like the shift-to-neutral advice being given out. In my experience, an engine given full throttle with no load (shifting to neutral removes the load) will indeed experience unintended acceleration leading to the engine breaking some expensive internal pieces. Engines are expensive. Of course, these days, engines probably all have computerized controllers that will keep them from over-speeding and cratering. And for that matter, I have not actually seen an engine destroyed by running at full throttle with no load. Never in a position that I could afford that kind of damage. I have had a couple of engines throw a rod, which pretty much destroyed them. One was an old $150 Cadillac, and, well, you get what you pay for. It was a heck of a car while it lasted. The other was a Ford LTD that went from fine to finished in about 5 seconds while I was accelerating up an on-ramp. I suspect a bolt on the big end of a connecting rod bearing must have broken. I can think of nothing else that would cause it to go from to fine, to tap, Tap, TAP, BANG in that short an order.

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