Cars News and Reviews Teaching Your Teen to Drive a Stick- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Wednesday

Our car has what is still called "standard" drive (because auto transmission is really a luxury item). I bought it in large part because manual-transmission cars are more fuel efficient, and have a significantly smaller price tag, than cars with automatic transmission. I confess freely: the other part is prejudice on my side. I grew up in a place where the only people driving an automatic transmission cars were either handicapped or elderly. I'm not ready to fit in those categories, even if the classification is entirely in my own head.

There has been some grumbling on the part of CelloDad about that stick shift deal, but that's mostly because he learned to drive as an adult. In fact, I was the one who taught him to drive a stick, in a VW van with a very forgiving gear box. But he never did get to the point where shifting came naturally and without thinking. When we make the switch to an electric car, it will of course have no gear box. Until then, I am the family's designated driver.

But the upshot is that our children get to learn to drive in our standard drive car. This is great because that way they will never get stuck or - embarrassed - if they are required to drive one. For instance, when they need to drive most anywhere outside the US.

Starting out with a standard transmission can be a little hairy especially if they have been taking lessons with a driving school, which in the US has mostly automatic cars, unless you specifically request standard. I mean, suddenly the student driver has to deal with three pedals in that footwell.

So the first time I started driving with my eldest, we never even left the driveway. We spent quite a bit of time adjusting the seat, the mirrors, the steering wheel to a comfortable place, with me talking the safety aspects. ("Don't drive wearing flip flops.")

Then we did dry runs with the transmission. With the engine off, we went through the motions of shifting the gears, going through all of them several times, including reverse. We covered braking to a full stop - (which requires two feet, probably the part that's easiest to forget.

Next, we went on an imaginary drive around the block. I talked us through the turns, the stop sign, the gear shifts, and even an emergency brake to avoid hitting an imaginary dog. My children, like all children, have lively imaginations so this trick works really well. At the end, we "parked" the car, backing it into the driveway in our heads, with me talking through the use of mirrors.

And then we got out.

The next day, we found a deserted parking lot (a church lot on a weekday). We switched placed and I handed the keys to my daughter. We went through a short dry run, and then she started the engine. A rush of excitement rippled through the car.

When you first start to drive, getting the car to go where you want it takes a bit of practice. If you add that whole bit with the shift stick and the clutch pedal, it can be overwhelming at first.

So we took it one step at a time: getting going in first gear, turning around the corner, and braking to a stop, with all the actions in sequence so she was dealing with one thing at any given time. This lot had an elongated island in the middle, and we crept around that several times, all in first gear, until she could do it smoothly, that is to say, without my head bobbing forwards and back.

I have to say, I had an easier time on my first time, when my dad took me on a similarly deserted parking lot and handed the keys to me. It was a similarly sized car (also a Golf, in fact) but with a significantly smaller engine. It was a gasoline engine too, so it didn't have the kind of kick you get out of a turbodiesel.

Nevertheless, I am proud to report that my daughter took to this four-limb experience with a natural ease. She only stalled a very few times through the many stops, starts, and gear changes. She was ready to hit the road, but we had been on that lot for 45 minutes and I could tell her left leg was getting tired. By then she had gotten the hang of the first and second gears, which are really the hardest: if you can handle that, you can deal with the higher gears.

So our next drive was a quiet residential neighbourhood with relatively long stretches of straight road, where you can get into third gear. In a car with more than four gears finding that third gear is actually a little tricky, since it's somewhere between first and fifth, and you have to develop a feel for the right position. So yes, on a few occasions she put it in first gear instead of third, revved the engine, freaked out and stalled. Is why you do it in a quiet neighbourhood.

Also, I had printed a "Student Driver" sign and another one that said, "If you can read this, you're too close!" and fixed them to a magnetic bumper sticker. I would take them out before our driving stints and stick them on the hatch to warn people. Those signs helped a lot - especially on the one or two adrenaline-laden occasions that she stalled in the middle of an intersection and it took a few tries to get going again.

And so it went until one day were were on the highway, accelerating on the on ramp, and going through the whole range of gears. At this point she was ahead of CelloDad. When he finally came on a ride with us, he admired her smooth shifting without revving too loudly, and sheepishly admitted that he never uses the fifth and sixth gears, having learned to drive in a four-gear car.

Looks like I've got another one to coach.



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Cars News and Reviews The EV chicken-and-egg problem has hatched several solutions- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

When automobiles first started to make roads noisy and dangerous, nobody had to worry about where they were to get the gas: of course you got it from your local gas station. People had not yet been bitten by the travel bug, and weren't used to straying that far from home. Besides, before the Interstate highway station was built it was nearly impossible to traverse the country in a car, anyway.

The advent of the electric car has seen a few road blocks, so to speak. Apart from the fact that better batteries urgently need to be invented, we have been bitten by the road trip bug, we do have a network of highways on which we can travel coast to coast, and we got used to traveling a few hundred miles to see friends and relatives over a weekend. And short of going around in circles in some remote area, we can be assured that we'll be able to fill up the tank. Because there is also a dense network of gas stations. You get used to it.

So an electric vehicle, or EV, that has a range of less than 100 miles is just not an impressive thing, especially if you can't be sure that you'll find a charging station once you get more than 50 miles away from your home charger. In fact, for many it's just not a practical thing.

Here is the conundrum: “Why would anyone buy an electric vehicle if there were no place to charge them? And why would you put chargers out there if there were no electric vehicles? Somebody had to blink.”

The quote is from Kent Rathwell. You can call him The Guy Who Blinked. Rathwell started providing chargers to whoever was interested: places like restaurants, hotels, and stores, through his company, Sun Country Highway (nearly eponymous with his other company, Sun Country Farms, which produces bird seed).

After bringing his persistent persuasion everywhere, eventually Rathwell completed a network of chargers that runs coast to coast in Canada, where any EV can pull up and charge for free.

This screen shot of Sun Country Highway's charger map shows a rather robust network of chargers, and more are being added. For instance, the network now extends into California and other parts of the US.

The US has its own coast-to-coast charging network, courtesy of Tesla who, understandably, is eager to break the chicken-and-egg conundrum of EVs. This network has several branches traversing the country, but is quite a bit sparser than the Canadian network, a clear demonstration of the power of crowdsourcing.

Of couse, there are many more charge points that aren't on either of these maps; I'll cover those in another post. But these are the networks built with the express purpose of connecting the coasts.

And now EV owners in China can drive between Beijing and Shanghai by charger-hopping the first segment of the network installed by State Grid, the electric utility which is, as its name suggests, state owned.

These charging stations are utilitarian boxes, without the sleek design that comes standard with anything Tesla. But they do the job, so those who want to drive the first 1200km segment can cover the distance.

It does take a while. This map shows the route between Beijing and Shanghai: it takes more than 13 hours to drive it by car - that's not including charging stops. In contrast, if you take the bullet train on the Jinghu High-speed Railway, the journey will take less than six hours: not even enough time for a good night's sleep. Just sayin'.

Still, when China determines that it will make it its business to support green vehicles, you can be sure it will do so in a big way. So stay tuned for further developments.

In the end, whether the cross-nation network gets installed by an independent enthusiast spearheading a crowdsourcing effort, an EV manufacturer or a government, is less important than that it gets built. After this, the switch to EV will be easier for a lot of people. That's what counts.



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Cars News and Reviews Turns out Americans ARE worried about global warming consequences - they just don't realise it.- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Saturday

The Pew Research Center has done a survey on what policy issues Americans think deserve top priority for the federal government. Respondents were asked to select one or more of 23 issues.

It is notable that 38% view global warming as a top priority, up from 29% only a year ago. The increase is indeed good news. But these numbers may be misleading (what is is they say about "lies, damned lies, and statistics"?)

The caveat is that the policy issues on the poll are not independent of each other. For instance, energy policy has bearing on the economy, the environment, transportation and global warming. The economy has bearing on just about every other policy issue.

Global warming has implications for a surprising number of the policy issues covered by the survey.

Clearly, our transportation, which is currently dominated by vehicles and vessels running on fossil fuels, contributes mightily to global warming - to be precise, 28% of total US emissions in 2012.

It is becoming more apparent that money in politics and the influence of lobbyists are key issues that need to be addressed if meaningful progress is to be made on fighting climate change. Because what is required is nothing less than a complete overhaul of our energy system toward low-carbon sources.

I am not going to guess at what people may have in mind with "moral breakdown". But it is clear that climate change will disproportionately affect the poor and the needy, and because there are racial correlations in the demographics, that will have bearing on race relations.

If you think economic immigration is a problem, wait till we get to deal with climate refugees. And race relations will play a role there, as well.

The military is readying itself to face the consequences of climate change. Crime is expected to increase in a hotter world.

As the number of days over 90F skyrocket and heatwaves become the norm rather than the exception, health issues are set to become a pervasive and expensive problem, both from the heat itself and from the migration of disease carrying pests. That has impacts on health care costs and medicare.

As for the budget deficit and the economy: Hurricane Sandy alone has a price tag of $60bn. The extreme and persistent drought in the Southwest is a continuing blow to the region's agriculture. Wild weather everywhere is inflicting economic damage.

Speaking of damage: it is well known to the world that Americans are, and have been for a long time, profligate users of energy and that we have contributed disproportionately to global warming. Desperation can lead to violence and even war, as it has in Syria where a large population was displaced by a persistent drought. I don't like to dwell on this, and sincerely hope it will not come to that, but I would not be surprised if at some point a retaliatory terrorist act was directed at the United States.

So the issue of global warming "bleeds" into a majority of issues that are very important to the American public (red bars in the graphic, above).

In other words, if you are so worried about these issues that you'd put them high on the national priority list, you really need to be highly concerned about global warming as well.

The fact that not everyone grasps the connection between even the environment (a priority for 51%) and global warming (a priority for 38%) means that climate communicators need to spell out more clearly the implications that climate change has on our natural infrastructure and our personal, everyday lives, and the things we, John and Jane Doe on the street, care about.

Speaking of climate communication: while there is a large opinion gap on environment and global warming which falls along party lines, a majority of Republicans put a high priority on, among other things, terrorism defense, reducing the budget deficit, strengthening defence, reducing health care costs and dealing with immigration. Climate communicators would do well to point out how dealing with global warming is aligned with these goals. It will take all of us to deal with this, so everyone of us needs to get on board, and clearly see the urgency.



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