The obsession….

obsessionRecently the Toronto municipality, in its great wisdom, come up with an idea of closing hookah bars. According to city council hookah bars are place where little kids are being addicted to smoking tobacco (like little Johnny and Jane have never done it in a high school). As every good citizen knows, tobacco is bad for health, therefore tobacco has to be ban from public use because public has to be treated like irresponsible children.

The obsession with fighting tobacco smoke can be compared only to obsession with avoidance of having toilet clogged with paper. Nearly every restaurants and rental place in Toronto has washroom ornamented with signs printed in approximate English saying something about not flushing toilet paper into the toilet. Usually toilet is the place where toilet paper ends up unless you are in Russian Olympic village, so any suggestion that toilet paper should be dumped into garbage bin makes me wonder how the Toronto Public Health’s food safety program “DineSafe” actually works.

The only reasonable explanation of this phenomenon is that Toronto sewage system is in poor condition because of massive amount of pot butts being flushed down. Stressed people of Toronto who were banned by the City Council form smoking regular tobacco products switched to smoking pot, and this must be true since 15 min walk at Dundas square gives a second-hand high, and design of roundabouts with stop signs certainly has something to do with presence of pot smoke in City Infrastructure Committee.

Daily life is full of similar obsessions usually created at different levels of the nanny state. Take the EPA for example. Its sky-high regulations led VW to rig the emission system so it kept low level of NOx only in test conditions. Thanks to this cheat their diesel cars had performance and fuel economy that justified the price tag. After problem is fixed VW diesel may not be as efficient or economical to attract customers. Apparently for EPA it is incomprehensible that no one buys diesel to save polar bears, and 40 mpg is the factor that really counts here.

So what if you really do want to get on bandwagon and buy a diesel? Would that really save you some bucks? Let’s do some math. Since VW and Audi removed all diesel offers form their website and buying a truck is out of question the only option we have is Chevy Cruze from the GM garage. Cheapest 2015 Cruze with gas motor is priced at about $17,000 and its fuel efficiency is rated at 6.8L/100km on a highway with automatic transmission. The diesel model is priced at $27,000 and it is rated at 5.1L/100km on highway. This brings $10,000 in the initial price difference and 1.7L/100km fuel consumption difference. Assuming fuel prices (Dec. 11th, 2015) $0.98/L diesel and $0.89/L gas, cost of driving  1 km is  $0.04998 in diesel car and $0.06052 in gasoline car. You would certainly believe the savings in fuel costs will balance out higher price tag of diesel car, right? Let’s see the total accumulated cost of fuel in each car versus distance driven.

diesel_vs_gas_2015Cruze

So yes, the diesel will rebound the $10,000 extra you paid for diesel car. You just have to drive it over 900,000 km! Considering you will never keep the car for so long time and you will sell it before it hits 300,000 km you will never recoup the extra cost of diesel motor.

Do yourself a favor and keep the ten grand in a pocket. You will afford life time supply of pot and some change for a plumber when your toiled gets clogged….

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Posted in Cars and Driving

The enlightened…

enlightementWalking through shopping malls before Christmas allows me to contemplate bright interiors. Cold bright lighting makes impression of sanitized interiors, where no dust or dirt have right to appear. Light reflected from shiny walls amplify impression of being in a science fiction movie where everything is spotless. Sometimes the lighting is too strong or badly positioned that entire mall like like Christmas tree set up by a drunk. This is certainly not a good place to arrange jazz concert.

I see increased number of cars with flat leveled front headlights. For some strange reason car makers do not follow the common sense of asymmetric headlamp configuration where driver side lamp is pointing a bit lower then the light on passenger side. This configuration prevents from blinding oncoming cars and at the same time shows the roadside well lighted.

According to urban myths this configuration was introduced by Saab (those Swedes and their common sense…), but apparently it did not pick up with others.  Unfortunately the rest of the bunch did not grasp idea that we do not need to blind the oncoming traffic and driver side headlamp may point a bit lower then eyes of oncoming drivers.

Car makers seems to be reluctant in introducing this solution, or if they do it’s inconsistent at best. Hyundai, Mazda and Subaru have it in certain models (why not all?). I have not seen yet any GM or Ford with such lights. The worst are SUVs. Since their headlamps are higher than regular car, any oncoming or following SUV lights up my car interior like shopping mall just before Christmas. Blinding oncoming traffic increases chances of accident and if it happens to be on a highway you can imagine how this may end up.

Ah, those sensible Swedes! What did they know that Americans, Germans or Japanese do not know? How come they got enlightened with such simple idea, while others still live in darkness?

Posted in Cars and Driving

The glitter….

glitter_mercBlack Friday, Cyber Monday, Boxing Day, Boxing Week, New Year Sale, etc… Consumers are totally submerged into ocean of excuses to max-out every single credit cards they have in their thin wallets. Cash is not anymore known to humanity since even small coffee in McDonald can be put on plastic. Masses of consumers flooding shopping malls with religious-like believe that deals offered during special days are honest and genuine. Looking for labels 20%, 30%, 40% off and even deeper “discounts” attracted iSheep crowd ready to buy stuff labeled with magical discount stickers. Business knows it and business takes advantage of financially illiterate crowd (I’m not blaming business – it is here to make money). People somehow still believe they will be offered a top quality product for the lowest possible price, as they are convinced that manufacturing and retail business is not allowed any more to make a profit.

It is a game. Every year we all enter a game, where retailers uses old tricks to convince us the 40% discount is an awesome deal and we have to figure out ourselves if it is worth attention or not. If you did not check prices a month before Black Friday or Cyber Monday then you are royally screwed. You can not figure out if this TV is really discounted from $700 to $500, or perhaps $450 was its regular price two months ago?

Inevitably the consumer ignorance is extended to car business. We read tons of reviews about cars and then we shape our opinions based on texts written by journalists with emotional intelligence of fifth grader. We read that some SUV has very bad blind spot without realizing that most of SUV have thick B-pillars that obstruct view. If you want to have minimal blind spots get a regular sedan, not SUV. Then we read that imports have low reliability and high maintenance costs, like it was not yet obvious that imports are build for handling and cornering rather than longevity. If you want a car that will lasts million years don’t buy BMW or Audi, look instead at some used Crown Vic or Grand Marquis – you will look with it like 90-year old but the car will outlive your grandson.

If you really want to develop a legitimate opinion about car, take it for spin. Test drive on highway, potholes, bumps, parking and corners. Feel how car behaves and how responsive is steering. I’ve  happened to drive Fiat 500 rental. This tiny metal box was applauded by some mindless journalists as “car of the year”. It is everything but the car of the year. Although interior was not desperately cramped the ride was awful. Wheels feel like they are made out of wood and gear stick has texture of bicycle bell. There is no difference between sport mode and regular mode, except sport mode makes car noisier. Forget about having anyone on back seat, unless you have 5-year old kid.

Fiat 500 can be potentially used as pizza delivery vehicle since it is small enough to move in city traffic and trunk will accommodate couple XL pizza boxes, but GM already offers a competition here: Chevy Spark the “pizza delivery edition“.

Shakespeare said:  “All that glitters is not gold…..”  and he was right.

Posted in Cars and Driving

The snow factor…

nowfactorWe got finally some snow. Not too much, just enough to intensify Christmas carols on the radio, ignite spending amok in shopping malls and make plowing business full of hope. As every year the first thought in the morning is “is it a right time to  set the Christmas tree or not yet?” or “should I start looking for a gifts for boxing day or not yet?” Somehow the wet white stuff falling from the sky makes people feel different like they have just open a new chapter in their life. 

I would not care less about annoying Christmas commercials played on the radio and TV since November 1st, nor I would care about stupid flyers thrown into mailbox, nor I would care about my neighbor plowing through his basement in search for winter jackets or mittens. The first thing I do care is how (bad) driving will be this morning. Not because of this laughable amount of snow that will disappear before the afternoon, but because of mindless state of other people driving this morning. Every year I can see plenty of drivers who behave like they completely lost their mind as soon as first snow flake hits the road. Soccer moms in minivans, seniors in buicks, ego maniacs in monster SUVs, they all behave like they suddenly lost all their driving skills (assuming they’ve ever had any skills).

I would never expect that desperately thin layer of snow would ever bother any driver, who passed the driving test. I would expect that traffic flow will not change and the only obstacle slowing it down would be cyclist in middle of  West Hunt Club Rd. Yet large number of drivers behave like their IQ never reached double digit numbers and they drive like Alice in Wonderland. How is it that in Canada, where where half a year we have real winter and parking lots in northern provinces are occupied by polar bears, people still have no clue how to drive in snow. Suddenly drivers got scared by white powder on street like it was a deadly poison. As the result streets are congested, traffic is moving slow like molasses and I have to keep hand on honk like I was driving in Italy.

It makes me wonder why in this geographical region there are no compulsory learning how to drive in winter conditions. How come driving schools are limited to parallel parking and driving with speed of a horse in a school zone, and absolutely no attention is paid to teaching about driving in winter conditions! Average Joe has no idea how to behave when car loses grip, when ABS fails, or what to do with under- or over-steering on black ice. 

Perhaps Ontario government some day will stop wasting time on inventing new taxes and hiking hydro rates and it will start improving regulations for driving schools so average Joe will know a little bit more than how to do parallel parking.

It is up to us, tax payers, to demand from provincial government implementing some useful changes. It would be nice, wouldn’t it….

Posted in Cars and Driving

The Comfort…

comfortWhen I look to buy any kind of furniture that supposed to accommodate my butt or back I obviously make sure that it does provide good comfort. The appearance may be left as a secondary feature to check since my floor is empty enough to be a landing zone for 747 and everything placed there will look just as good as tulips at Parliament Hill. Similar perspective one may have on other aspect of daily life: social relations, neighbors, kids, pets, food etc…. We naturally attracted to things we feel comfortable about or comfortable with, and this is more-less universal truth across the world … maybe except monks that meditate on the top of Mount Everest.

Yet when come to cars we somehow differ. Europeans tend to choose small cars with stiffer suspension that prefers good handling over the comfort. Americans, in contrary, choose big heavy cars that handle at corners like piano falling from stairs but offer soft ride. When Europeans drive sensible Volvo station wagon, Americans drive Suburbans that are little bit heavier than a house. When Europeans look for family sedan such as Jetta or Mondeo, Americans look at Impalas and Malibus that have appearance of rental cars. Of course there are some exceptions: old continent has S-Classe that will accommodate you even if you are size of Helmut Kohl, or Audi A8 that you can have if you happen to be Gerhard Schröder.

You may think that American cars are worse and not worth to consider, but you would be wrong. Everything depends on where and how you drive. On narrow streets of Bremen or Rome Golf or Panda would do excellent job and you would not wreck nerves while looking for a big parking spot. If you happen to drive long distances (in old continent this would be about 2 hour travel) then Passat, Mondeo or BMW 5-series will give you a nice ride. North America differs a bit. Streets are wide, parking spots would accommodate Dutch house, and travel from one city to another is like expedition to the Moon. Since everything is over sized in the land of hamburgers then large sedan with soft suspension and mediocre handling would certainly be a good candidate for a highway cruiser.

Take for example Lincon Town Car. It is a good car if you drive in America. Its motor is heavy like aircraft career and develop the whole 5 horsepower, but it  rotates very slow so it is whisper quiet, lasts a million years and it is cheap to repair. The car is wide like airport tarmac so it accommodates four passengers (or 2 Americans) on back seat, plus another 3 extra bodies in a trunk if you happen to be a hitman. Its suspension was designed 100 years ago but its softness can smooth down the biggest potholes in New Jersey. Town Car has a presence that reflects everything what America offers: it’s big, heavy, comfortable and cheap to run. Sadly this RWD car with old fashion body-on-frame construction is not produced anymore. Ford replaced it with Lincoln MKS that has face of a sad dog.

Sometimes, especially after 6 hour long flight, I want to step down from Euro-fashion quick racers into quiet floating boat that isolates me from surrounding world and its noisiness. What would you prefer to be in after 6 hours of siting in over cooled tube with no airflow: would you rather be in something that circles Nürburgring track in 10 sec or something you can sleep in while it hoovers over potholes?

Posted in Cars and Driving

The Change…..

thechange_smallThere comes a time when you look at your furniture, TV, appliance or cat and you think to yourself “it is time for a change”. Like Obama’s election slogan, the “change” starts driving your mind towards exploring new ways of moving around your existing stuff or replacing it with new one. If you are lucky enough and your place is not cluttered with stuff collected with hamster-like patience you do not have to worry about moving anything anywhere. If you have at home things that makes you feel like you are living in the past your attention will inevitably turn into new ways of spending money on stuff that soon will make you feel the same again. So here comes couch, chair, table, dishwasher, fridge and other stuff you happily put on your credit card 2 years ago and now it makes you again feel like you want to get rid of it.

Similar feeling you may have about your car. Car that you desired 4-5 years ago now becomes nothing more than a worn out appliance that takes precious space in your garage. You look at new shiny cars in dealerships and think: “Could I get one of these?”. You browse BMW, Mercedes or Cadillac websites and you play with configuration tools skipping price tag since all you want to know is how much it will cost you per month because you can not afford to pay cash even for used Kia.

In all this insanity there may come a thought that perhaps new car may not be any better then new one. Perhaps your existing car is reliable enough and getting a new one will be only good until warranty expires and then it will become a gambling item that may cost you arm and a leg if you happen to drive an import.

If you like me: with older car that is rock solid and floor at home that is empty like airport tarmac, don’t bother with “change” imposed by iPhone addicts and $5-latte sippers. Enjoy what you have and wait one more year before you make an change. Then you can get 1-2 year old (still) shiny car. Let someone else spend half of annual income on a new car just to lose half of its value in the first year.

Instead of browsing dealership website take your squeeze for a beer…

Posted in Cars and Driving

The wishful thinking….

toomanytailpipesI can not recall how many times I looked at passing car and thinking how it would look with this or that changed. Since I’m not special I believe that similar self entitled feeling “I know better….” goes nearly every day through heads of other people although not necessary about cars. Countless times I looked at cars parked around through finger made photo frame and I realized “This should look different!” or “If it only looked in different way I would buy it….”.

I am wiling to believe this wishful thinking about imaginary modifications imposed on  surrounding world is not necessary driven from perceiving things as bad or ugly but rather seeing things through gradual improvement; sort of “Let’s make things a bit better or nicer here”. This is not just about cars but all other bits and pieces of our daily life: houses, appliances, furniture, municipal services, condo board, road system, local grocer, kids of next door neighbor, etc. It is not about how things are around us but how we perceive them through our senses.

Disappointingly car designers and manufacturers seem to not share our wishful thinking about improvements. Looking at city traffic and comparing cars moving from one stop light to another I can’t stop thinking that those vehicles could be better, nicer, more functional. It is not that modern cars are bad (at least not all of them): Honda Fit (called Jazz in old continent) is a good car, Ford Focus is a good car, Lancia Ypsilon is also a good car (despite its dreadful motor). It is about sense that car manufacturers could make those cars better. This sense is even stronger when I realize that manufactures know they could make them better. So, we want cars to be better and we want manufacturers to build better cars, but manufacturers make improvements that do not always reflect our vision of “better”.

Old VW Golf (first, or second generation) was crampy, noisy, slow, but it handle well, it was indestructible and easy to fix. Many of those are still on road in various stages of rust. New Golf is bigger, more spacious and more comfortable. One would say: “It is better!” but after you look closer and do further comparison it is clear the new car is also heavier, ten times more expensive, difficult to fix, and it does not handle as well as the old one did. This comparison can be done for nearly every car that has been on market for more then 10 or 15 years.

Cars got bigger, more comfortable, faster, but at the same time they are much heavier, more expensive, and their maintenance (after warranty runs out) is usually a nightmare. There may be two reasons for this questionable “improvements”: cars (like any other kitchen appliance) can not be design to last forever because we would not buy a new one for a long time. Cars are design to to be: 1) difficult to fix so we almost always have to pay for specialized service, 2) too expensive to fix after warranty expires so we have to buy new car. On the other hand socialist over regulation of the industry forces car makers to fiddle complicated safety systems (adds to the weight) and implement expensive cleaning system in engine output (affects power).

Have you ever wonder why new BMW 7 or Jag XK have much taller front bonnet than the same cars build 20 years ago? New safety regulations require front hood to be able to bend couple centimeters before it reaches engine block. In the eyes of bureaucrats such flexibility supposed to protect pedestrian from injury in case front hit and fall on the hood. So car makers had to raise front fenders and round front hood to accommodate those couple centimeters imagined by bureaucrats. This of course changed entire front of the car and we will never see again beautiful shape of 1990 BMW 7 or 1980 Jaguar XK.

Many other examples prove that cars are being constantly improved not in the way we wish: electric steering isolates driver from handling response, power gadgets require kilometers of electrical cabling that is impossible to trace when something goes wrong, recycling mantra led the interior to be manufactured out of old plastic bottles (ever noticed how new cars stink inside?).

Perhaps it is time to stop following idiotic regulations and start following common sense, so the wishful thinking may become reality some day….

Posted in Cars and Driving