The Right Pedal

Friday, June 23, 2006

Is it safe to pass?

Not if that’s a police car in the next lane!

As a service to citizens in a hurry, here are some tips to help you identify unmarked cruisers.

As everybody knows, watch out for Ford Crown Victorias. Almost all unmarked cars are Crown Vics. Keep an eye out for Chevy Impalas and Dodge Intrepids, too, but these are rare in our beloved Commonwealth.

Know the difference between a Crown Vic and its near-twin, the Mercury Grand Marquis. A Mercury is never a cop car, so don’t be afraid to blow right by. From the back, you can spot a Mercury by its full-width red tail light lenses—the newest ones have a garish chrome platter instead. From the front (in your rear-view mirror), you can ID a harmless Merc by its vertical chrome grille.

Grandpa's Mercury: vertical grille, wide tail lights.

OK, so you know the bogey is a Crown Vic. From every angle, there are clues that will help you separate the “unmarked” car from grandpa’s rolling sofa…

From the back, examine the tail lights. Civilian Crown Vics have an orange lens at the bottom of the tail light; nearly all cop cars have a red lens. A red lens means there’s a 90% chance that Smokey has his eye on you.

That’s the best evidence that you’re looking at a Police Interceptor, as the patrol cars are known in Ford-speak. But there are other signs that it's a government-issued car, and probably a cop car… or possibly the official vehicle of the Waltham city sewer inspector.

Look between the tail lights and the license plate. If you see big, dark plastic panels, hit the brakes. Grandpa’s Crown Vic has panels the same color as the rest of the car, so gray plastic a sign that there’s a taser and tire spikes sitting in that trunk.

From the back: Cop tail lights are all red (no orange), and panels are black plastic

Moving to the side of the car, one of the easiest ways to ID a cop car (or at least a government Crown Vic) is by the lack of bling. Cop cars have two beauty marks:
-Ugly black-rimmed wheels … regular Crown Vics have mildly spiffy alloy wheels. But cheesy chromed plastic hubcaps can go either way, so don’t let your guard down!
-Drab plastic door handles and window frames… Grandpa’s Crown Vic has chrome everywhere!

Finally, the front of the car may offer a dead give-away: if the grille is black plastic, it’s almost certain to be a government Crown Vic, and probably a cruiser to boot. But if you’re looking back at the grille, it’s probably too late!

Front and side: cops have black plastic grilles, de-blinged door handles and windows, and ugly whees (cheesy chrome hubcaps shown):

Friday, June 16, 2006


How’s this for irony: my brother’s brother-in-law’s 23-year-old car is more iPod-compatible than my five-year old car. Or Michelle’s one-year old car.

The old car—Diesel-powered, by the way—has a cassette player. Just pop an adapter into the slot, and the universe of your music expands to fill the car.

Our new cars were designed in the unfortunate lull between cassettes and the Next Big Thing. These CD-era cars require an FM adapter. If you’re reading this blog, you probably know what I’m talking about, so I won’t waste words describing the crappy sound and endless fussing with frequencies entailed by these electro-nuggets.

I’ve had enough: in one month, my usual oil change will be combined with an order to install an aux audio jack. It costs more than I care to admit, but it’s absurd to have a 10-speaker stereo that can’t talk to the device that contains all my music.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Diesel, dammit

Enough of this foolishness. I'm sick and tired of hybrids. They're Rube Goldberg machines that, compared to Diesels, give worse fuel economy at a higher price. Here's one single example: Priuses have software glitches that cause them to shut down. Why buy a car that risks the Blue Screen of Death???

There has been a lot of yapping lately about alternative fuels, too. Ethanol, hydrogen, etc. Hey there Moonbeam, did you know that hydrogen comes from water, and the only "pollution" from hydrogen cars is also water? Yeah.... totally eco-awesome!

Guess what. Splitting water molecules to create hydrogen fuel requires energy. From fossil fuel. Or we could use nuclear power. Nothing's free, Moonbeam, so shut up about powertrains and get back to weaving dandelion crowns.

Not that it really matters whether anyone believes hydrogen fuel could work. Hydrogen power is decades away from being used in real cars. (But if you want a million-dollar prototype with a 70-mile cruising range, act now! Supplies are limited!) The biggest proponent of this waste-of-time is everybody's favorite steward of the planet, George Bush. He can say "we're working on hydrogen" to keep us happy while GM and Ford sell 15-mpg SUVs for another 30 years.

It's true that Diesel cars pollute more than gasoline-powered cars. But that's only because of an unfortunate law: catalytic converters, which capture pollutants, are required to work for eight years without maintenance. If car makers were allowed to build converters that required a top-off of a special additive (say, when you get your oil change), clean Diesel would be a snap.

But personally, I don't give a rat's ass about this eco-crap when the Saudis have our nuts in a vise. First priority: stop sending money to the people trying to kill us.

Second priority: help the penguins and Australians, who might be getting a bit crispy from UV rays.

Once we stop worrying about whether we can get another hit of the sweet, dark stuff from Sheikh Pusher al-BoomBoom, we can leave him and his buddies alone. They won't hate us anymore, and they'll remember how much they hate each other.

So what?

I'm not saying we should trade in our cars for a Diesel-powered VW McNuggets. (Why McNugget? Because they're small and awful.) That sort of grass-roots action is for people who get a hard-on from flaunting their moral superiority. And Shiekh Pusher Al-BoomBoom doesn't care if all the eco-weenies buy Diesel McNuggets (or Priuses), as long as the rest of us are buying normal cars and SUVs by the millions.

Diesel has a politcal policy problem, and we need a policy solution. Liberate Diesel cars from the catalytic converter maintenance regulation. (Such an obscure thing holds us back!) Or just relax pollution rules for Diesels. Whatever. It will take about 8 years to make a big impact on national fuel consumption... but we've been dicking around in the Middle East for 60 years, and there's no end in sight as long we need their oil.

Just imagine: if we had done this 25 years ago, we might have avoided TWO Gulf Wars, which would've already saved about $150 billion dollars. Imagine if the government spent even a tenth of that on initiatives to preserve the environment. I bet it would still be a net ecological gain, even if the entire national fleet switched to Diesel.

And oh yeah, we might have spared the lives of about 2,000 soldiers--and counting--who gave their lives for this country. It's painful to acknowledge that they might have died for a cause less honorable than the one for which soldiers died in World War II, Korea, or Vietnam. But it's just oil. If it weren't for the oil, the Middle East wouldn't deserve any more attention than Africa. Should more American soldiers die for emissions regulations? Yeah, I know it's not that simple, and that it's not a direct link.

But shouldn't we exhaust every reasonable option before going to war? Shouldn't we make a little more effort to cut our fuel consumption before sending soldiers to die? I'm not saying we should give up our SUVs (blasphemy!) or take the bus to work. Just let Diesel have its place at the pump.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Passat Pokemon

BEWARE! The new VW Passat has a diabolical combination of brake lights, tail lights, and turn signals that may induce seizures if the driver hits the brakes and signals a turn in the wrong (right?) way.

I wish I had a video to post here to make my point. So you'll just have to imagine the tail lights blinking, flashing, alternating, and generally freaking out. Then imagine yourself going all spazzy and biting off your tongue.