Sticky road salt solutions make cleaning your car more important

De-icing fluids contain ingredients that can stick to your car and damage mechanicals and parts over time

Meet the new gunk; different from the old gunk.

Come winter, your municipality used to keep you from slip sliding away by using a combination of rock salt and sand. It would be applied after the snow had started, to penetrate through the ice and provide traction. It was a less than ideal solution, for several reasons. Rock salt can literally blow off the road surface in wintry conditions, lessening its effectiveness. Waiting for accumulation meant road crews could be on the road at 2am and 4am and more, chasing conditions and requiring expensive multiple overtime shifts on shrinking budgets. The environmental impact of that salt being washed into drainage systems and roadside vegetation also took its toll.

Today, the solution is in the solution. Creative minds discovered the best remedy was to make something sticky; things like beet juice or corn oil or starch or sugar, often in combination with magnesium chloride. You can lay down a layer of something that is effectively glue, meaning you can do it ahead of a storm. It is more likely to stay put, meaning less man-hours required, and less likely to blow away, meaning more effective at increasing tractions for cars. It’s also easier on the grass and more environmentally friendly, though it is harder on asphalt and infrastructure like bridges.

The new solutions are more cost effective and safer, but are taking a toll somewhere else: your vehicle.

“All of that glue coats the underside of your car,” says Freeman Young, president of Krown Rust Control. “It coats your gas and brake lines, ABS and exhaust sensors, spot welds, unit ties and the space over the gas tank.” All places where corrosion goes to live.

“It pits windshields and destroys wiper blades,” Young continues. “It clouds headlight covers and has a negative impact on tires, as it can dry the rubber.”

We usually associate rust control with body panels, but Young is highlighting another reason to pay close attention to your car’s other components at this time of year. Krown treatments will provide protection to the underside of your car at the same time they’re dispersing their product throughout the body of your car. Rust protection is crucial in this country; do your homework and address the issue in some way to extend the lifetime of your vehicle.

So while our roads are being made safer, how do you counter the cost to your ride? Keep it clean.

“Wash it as often as you can, to remove the residue that is clinging to it,” suggest Young. By all means run it though a car wash, but make sure it’s a fresh water one. Any using recycled water will just be pumping salt solutions back up into and onto your car.

If you’re worried about your doors icing shut, use this tip: buy a silicone spray and bomb the weather-stripping with it. It won’t dry out the rubber and will prevent freezing.

Good, fitted rubber mats are another must. Clean them regularly and vacuum any salt solutions out of the carpet. Moisture can be trapped beneath mats, down into the car’s carpeting and against metal. Another hotspot for corrosion that you can’t see. Use a shop vac if things get soggy, or have a detailer do it for you. It’s a tough time of year to dry out carpets, best done with the windows down which is tough to do outside. If you notice a musty smell in your car or a lot of condensation, consider wet carpeting as a possible culprit.

Never place winter mats on top of existing mats. This can lead to dangerous repositioning under the pedals, causing unintended acceleration or interrupted braking. If you’re in doubt, research what mats best fit your car, or invest in custom ones that are designed for your make and model. These can be pricey, but will last the life of your car.

Posted in Drive She Said | 1 Comment

The numbers are in: Canadians really like our SUVs and trucks

Sport utes and pickups have made up around 70 per cent of total sales in Canada in 2017

Canada has a population of just over 36 million people; by the close of this year, current annual sales of new cars will be about 2 million. Estimates put used car sales at about three million for the same time period.

We buy a lot of cars.

Light trucks, actually. For all the jabber after the last economic crash a decade ago, the one that took the leasing industry with it, we’ve left behind the promise of subcompact vehicles, become bored with sedans and continue to shun the hybrid and electrics that dominate headlines but little else.

“Sixty-eight to sixty-nine per cent of the market this year is light trucks,” says Dennis DesRosiers, of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants. “In fact, for four of the past 12 months, it’s been over 70 per cent, and this will stay positive for another year, at least.” DesRosiers crunches numbers and breaks down stats; he cares little about what ad campaigns and headlines say we should be buying, and instead reports on what we actually are.

“The used car numbers are actually the most revealing,” says DesRosiers. “In 1990, there were 600,000 vehicles on the road that were over ten years old. Today, there are 11 million, and over the next two years that will grow to 12 million.” Used car sales were two million in 1990; over the next couple of years, DesRosiers predicts that will leap to 3.5 million. It’s the fastest growing part of the market, and all for one reason.

“Quality, quality, quality,” he remarks. Even with the resurgence of the leasing game, which reached a high of about 40 per cent of sales before the 2008 meltdown, and now has rebounded back to about 30 per cent, about half of current lessees are choosing to buy out their vehicles at the end of the lease. So why is a group that traditionally leased to make sure they could have a continuing loop of that new car smell now keeping the old one?

“A lot of people lease to lower an initial monthly payment,” says DesRosiers. “At the end of that three- or four-year term, they like their cars, they trust their cars, and the refinance amount is still very manageable.”

When I offer that I think extended term vehicle loans, for seven, eight or even nine years are dangerous, DesRosiers shoots me down. “Consumers were just doing that anyway, when they leased while intending to buy. Keeping their monthly payment where they wanted it, then refinancing down the road. It makes no difference for people keeping their cars,” he argues. It’s true we’re keeping our cars longer, and our cars have longer lives even after we release them into the wild; DesRosiers suggests the life cycle of a new car today is close to thirty years before it will finally leave the road.

John Raymond, a consultant with the Automobile Protection Association (APA) hesitates over that figure. “Twenty years plus with regular maintenance and some level of corrosion treatment. The cost of repair generally drives the scrap-age rate,” he explains.

There is also the lure of a rapidly changing technological landscape that pushes a significant number of buyers to chase after the newest, shiniest thing.

“I call it the new-car erection,” DesRosiers laughs. There will always be a segment of the car buying public who have to have the latest upgrades, much like the phone you’re reading this on, or that is at least not far away. The extended lifespans of today’s cars is also complicated by another factor: fuel economy.

“Vehicles are getting at least 2 per cent more efficient each year; that means today’s model will be 20 or 25 per cent more fuel efficient than the same one from a decade ago,” says DesRosiers. My ten-year-old paid-for car is running like a top, but a new one would provide much greater fuel economy and better environmental factors. Which naturally leads the discussion in an electrifying direction, or doesn’t.

“Electrics are up, but they comprise a blip in the sales numbers. Hybrid sales are down for the fifth year in a row,” he says. “When sales of electrics comprise just 5,000 vehicles out of that two million, the OEMs have a headache.”

He’s right. And that 5,000 was almost entirely triggered by rich rebates in three provinces – Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia – and if those enticements disappeared (as some say they should), even those gains would disappear in a blink. Raymond lists three barriers to electric sales taking off. “The cost of entry, despite heavy subsidization, is still high. Range anxiety is still very relevant, and thirdly, the ability to consistently charge the vehicle remains an obstacle. Not everybody lives in a house,” he says.

So if the statistical reality is that hybrids and electrics are more like the last mosquito in the room at night instead of the elephant, why is that all we hear about? “I blame you guys,” laughs DesRosiers. “The media play it hard and the OEMs are taking a huge risk on technology that, look at the numbers, nobody wants.” Those internal combustion engines are doing more with less, doing it better, and doing it for longer. Electrics seem to be the answer to a question nobody asked, at least in the passenger and light truck vehicle segment.

As another record sales year closes, the industry is happy to shovel SUVs after CUVs after pickups to a public who can’t seem to get enough. I ask DesRosiers if we’re starting to mimic American buyers, with the numbers and the flash. He laughs again.

“Canada is pretty boring,” he says. “We buy the least amount of vehicle we need; Americans buy the most.”

And everybody wonders why Canada loves hatchbacks so much.

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Missing those bonding times with dad and the car

Vehicles were a way for a quiet, stoic father to open up with his family

I check into a website once in a while that allows people to send postcards – anonymously – with their secrets. Some are dark, some are deep, some are weird, some are silly. But one I saw recently just made me smile: “Secretly, I don’t mind when my car breaks down, because I get to spend time with my Dad fixing it!”

As I write this, my Dad will have been gone 21 years. That’s 21 years of not being asked when I last had my oil changed. My Dad was no mechanic, but that didn’t stop him from fencing off this part of our lives and offering assistance, forming opinions, and shaking his head at how much money we wasted every time we bought a car. He left the home economics areas to our Mom: the food, the child rearing, the decorating and the sticky relationship questions. Nope. Dad didn’t care if you bought a new couch, he wanted to know why you hadn’t got your goddamned snow tires on yet.

My affinity for my late father has never been a secret. He was rough and gruff and almost incapable of affection; you often parent the way you were parented, and he had a pretty appalling childhood. That we knew how much he loved us was a triumph, but if we’d waited around for the words we would have been waiting forever. The apex of his demonstrativeness was simply, “you done good, kid.” I lived for those words.

Instead, like many of his era, and no doubt many others, his actions spoke louder than his words. I read that secret and smiled because I could picture that father. Give him something tangible to repair and he could happily spend hours demonstrating his love. Whoever sent in that secret had found the key to letting Dad speak in the language he was most fluent in.

I couldn’t tell my father if a boy had broken my heart, because he would have wanted to kill that boy. Instead I’d tell him my brakes felt funny, and we’d drive around while he sped up and slowed down, trying to decide if they did or not. He might take a tire off to take a look, though we both knew he wasn’t going to actually fix the brakes. He knew his limits, but the longer it took to decide what I was going to do next, the more time we could hang out without actually talking about the boy.

I actually dated a mechanic for a while, but that meant I became on onlooker in territory that was supposed to be mine. I watched them bond over carburetor adjustments and just felt left out. Eventually the mechanic moved on, and as much as my father hated losing a free mechanic, I think he was secretly happy to have our time back.

When I was little, I’d follow him around like his tiny blonde shadow. I never cared how dirty I got, much to mother’s chagrin, and I never flinched from anything he asked me to do. I’d spear worms onto hooks and I’d pick through bins of greasy nuts and bolts hunting for the size he needed, because only crazy people went and bought things like nuts and bolts from the store. Like most with helpful shadows, he knew to give me enough make-work projects so he could carry on with the actual work, knowing that to discourage a child is to lose them forever.

He’d grunt and grumble from under whichever station wagon we had as he changed the oil. I’d squat beside his legs, the only thing visible, waiting to be asked to hand him a tool or fetch him a beer. He had a problem with beer, my Dad, but when I was still squatting beside him as he changed the oil on our station wagon I didn’t know that yet. That would be something I would absorb later, when he’d ask me about my oil changes one day, and then ask me again the next. All that tiny girl knew then, was that this was where her Daddy talked to her with all the patience in the world.

There would come a time when I knew more than my Dad about the cars I was driving, and even about the ones he owned. As his health faltered, he cared less about the cars anyway, but I missed the easy connection, the default, to talking about something where he could take the lead.

I miss secretly liking when my car broke down so my Dad could help me fix it.

Posted in Drive She Said | 2 Comments

Think you’re paying too much for insurance? Blame your neighbours

If you’re a good driver but not happy with your insurance rates, blame your neighbours and shop around

If you live in Ontario and think you pay too much for auto insurance, what if I told you your biggest problem might be your neighbours?

Kanetix is an online insurance comparison marketplace, and a recently released study shows who is getting dinged the most for car insurance. We all know the factors that go into determining how much you’re going to have to pay: The make and model of car you drive, your driving record, and your prior insurance history. What you may not realize is how much another factor comes into play: Geography.

While Ontario drivers pay an average annual premium of $1,316 (that’s the highest in Canada), for some residents that would be a bargain. Brampton tops out as the most expensive city in Ontario, and therefore Canada, at $2,268. Rounding out the top ten are Vaughan ($1,825), Mississauga ($1,788), Markham ($1,785), Toronto ($1,743), Richmond Hill ($1,709), Ajax ($1,519), Hamilton ($1,497), Pickering ($1,450) and Whitby ($1,399).

Insurance companies use statistics; pure numbers. You can whine and complain all you like, but if you’re driving a car that is involved in a significant number of claims, even if they’re not yours, you’ll pay more. Sometimes it’s due to something like the lack of a good security system – older pickups are notoriously overly represented in the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s top ten most stolen lists because they’re easier to steal. That weighs against you when you go to insure one. Sometimes, it’s that same numbers game just working against you, like with the Chevrolet Cruze: There are so many of them on the road, they’re involved in more payouts.

If you live in a city, or a neighbourhood, that takes more from the system than another one, you will pay. If you live in an area that sports more collisions than average, or is more heavily ticketed, you will pay. Janine White is the vice president of Kanetix, and cautions against making sweeping generalizations against entire cities, however.

“The industry breaks it down even more, by postal code. Parts of Toronto are actually even more expensive than Brampton,” she notes. Some are paying more than Brampton. If your postal code begins with M1S (Agincourt North), you’re paying an average of $2,384 per year. M1V (Milliken), $2,384; M1W (L’Amoreaux), $2384; M1B (Malvern), $2,313; M1X (Rouge), $2,313. You can look at postal code census readings and see how many households (M1B, about 20,000) or how few (M1X, about 3,000) can impact your rates.

To the consternation and frustration of many of those who live in these high zones, it can seem like big savings are only minutes away. The cheapest rates in Toronto? At an estimated $1,437 per year, look to postal codes beginning with M4K (Playter Estates – Danforth), M4P (Mount Pleasant East), M4T, M4W (Rosedale – Moore Park), M4Y, M5B (Church – Yonge Corridor), M5G, M5H, M5K (Bay Street Corridor), and M4G (Leaside – Bennington).

White makes an interesting point about emerging data. Many jurisdictions have been adopting the Vision Zero Safety Plan across Canada and the U.S. The goal is to make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and involves more closely monitoring the interaction between all road users. In many cases, it means dropping speed limits. If a corresponding drop in injuries follows suit, there should be some statistical correlation down the road – and subsequent savings.

She further notes that large discrepancy in annual estimated costs between those Toronto neighbourhoods is often reflected in the amount of time that drivers spend in their cars. Areas that have good access to transit and feature more walkable environments translates into reduced insurance costs.

“In higher cost areas, we have drivers using their vehicle 65 – 75 per cent of the time. In these transit corridors, it’s more like 30-35 per cent.”

So less driving equalling lower rates is great if you can up stakes and move to a cheaper zone, in theory. But what can you do if that isn’t an option?

“People tend to not spend too much time comparison shopping their rates,” explains White. “If you contact 15 different insurance companies, you’ll get 15 different prices.” Rates have to be regulated by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, but each company will tweak your information by their own set of standards. You might find hundreds of dollars in savings simply by asking around.

White suggests you start with your existing company come renewal, and make sure you’re asking all the right questions before you make a move. If you’re happy with the service but not the price, find out if you have every discount available. Consider installing a black box (telematics, or as I call it, a squeal box) to track your actual usage, make sure you have on winter tires for an additional discount, consider if you can stomach higher deductibles, and see if any organizations you’re part of (work, alma maters) have a group discount.

One word of caution: If you have recent tickets on your abstract, don’t call a new company. Your existing one can pull your driving record at any time (and they do random checks at the very least) but a new company will definitely pull your file – and see what you’ve been up to. Sometimes, silence is more golden than squawking.

Posted in Drive She Said | 1 Comment

Knowledge is power when it comes to car child seats

Recent study shows most parents are confused and uninformed when it comes to buying and installing child seats

A couple of years ago, I did a story on child seat installation and was told by the specialist that eighty to ninety per cent of the seats they see are installed incorrectly. When my son was in preschool, I attended a child seat installation clinic put on by our local fire station. I was told about ninety per cent of the seats they saw had been installed incorrectly, including mine. That son is now 25.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That seat I was trying to install a quarter century ago barely resembles the NASA-inspired cradles currently on the market to protect the next generation. The equipment has changed; parents, it seems, have not.

I feel for those parents. Installing a child is time consuming and detail-heavy. You need to read both your car owner’s manual and the seat manufacturer’s manual. Every seat-to-car equation is different. Canada has some of the most stringent safety standards in the world when it comes to protecting the littlest Canadians, and the Transport Canada website is a trove of up-to-date information – including product recalls – that is as labyrinthian as it is necessary.

A recent study by Graco, which manufactures car and booster seats, reveals parents across Canada experience doubt about the subject, and confusion about the equation of which kid/which seat/which position. Quebecers felt least informed, with only 45 per cent feeling knowledgeable, compared with 88 per cent of British Columbians. Parents in Manitoba and Saskatchewan have a good grasp (89 per cent) on the fact a growing child requires seats to be replaced.

One of the more interesting things unearthed in the Graco survey, however, pertains to our perception of safety regarding child seats. “Almost half of those surveyed (49 per cent) think there are safer car seats on the market than the one they currently use.” Perhaps it’s the fact the vehicles we drive are now laden with exceptional safety features that we now turning a keener eye to the vessels we park our youngsters in. Those surveyed are correct, however, and right to even be confused.

Car seats have an expiry date, and those made for the Canadian market have a Canadian stamp on them. You shouldn’t use a seat purchased in the U.S. or online; Canadian laws are more stringent. Make sure you register your purchase so you’ll be informed of safety notices or recalls. If you’re unsure, go to Transport Canada’s website and check. No seat manufactured before January 2012 can be given, sold or advertised in Canada. That means you probably shouldn’t be using it, either.

If you’ve ever faced the wall of child seats available for sale, you’ve probably defaulted to the “confused” side of those surveyed. Rear facing, forward facing, weight limits, dimensions, colours, styles, padding … the list goes on. It is now recommended that children be in some form of car seat or booster until the car’s seatbelt in the car properly fits them. For preteens itching to be grown up, this can mean battles ensue. Stick to your guns.

Car seats can be pricey, and you should factor in this cost as a major one when you’re having a child. There are a few models now on the market that can take your child all the way from newborn to leaving the booster; Graco has one and, while they’re pricier than others, they could defer purchasing more than one seat. My only concern? The same one those parents expressed about whether the seat they’re currently using is the safest one possible. Technology changes so rapidly, five years from now you might be eyeing that latest and greatest and changing it out anyway.

There can be hidden damage in car seats, especially ones when you don’t know their provenance. Ultraviolet rays break down plastic. Any seat in a vehicle that’s been involved in a collision needs to be replaced, even if no child was in the seat at the time. Your insurance company should honour the claim for a new seat; if they don’t, fight. Don’t use a seat with an unknown history. Any seat you use should have Transport Canada’s seal on it, all the instructions and tags, tethers, straps and buckles, and not be expired.

Canadians are still leery; “41 per cent of those surveyed feel like current car seats do not provide enough side impact protection for their child. Respondents in Atlantic Canada and Alberta were most likely to think current car seats do not provide enough protection (78 and 74 per cent respectively).”

Current car seats are safer than ever before. Just don’t forget as a parent, you have two main jobs. The first is properly installing the seat into the car, and the second is properly installing your child into the seat. Do your research in advance, set aside a few hours for the actual installation, visit a clinic in your community for tips and assistance and check in with Transport Canada for up-to-date information.

The Graco survey reveals a lot of confusion around a complicated subject, but one that is vital to protecting the most vulnerable passengers in your car.

Posted in Drive She Said | 2 Comments

Highway chargers won’t be needed if you’re going to the cottage

Instead of updating current infrastructure, electric vehicles open up different options

In the last couple of Motor Mouth columns here, David Booth has raised some great points on the future of electric vehicles, alongside the hair-raising costs they will entail. I’m not going to question his math (hell, I don’t even question his hairstyle) but I want to toss a little wrench his way, a few what-ifs. We all know if there are ten factors to an equation, tweaking even one ever so slightly can drastically change the outcome. There are far more than ten factors to this subject, so you can imagine the combinations and permutations that could exist. Remember, it was only a couple years ago that diesel was the answer. Diesel who? Things move pretty fast.

I happen to think Booth’s suggestion of extended-range electric vehicles is sort of brilliant; don’t tell him I said so. Canada is a unique place with regards to geography and climate, and one size does not fit all. We are also the last country to the table when it comes to choice in our vehicles; for the most part, we get what everybody else has decided they want.

Just a few years ago, we were being offered hybrid vehicles that had electric ranges of about 30 kilometres. We laughed. I know they had to start somewhere, but that hybrid was basically like wearing a pair of five-inch stilettoes but bringing a pair of flats with you; we all know you can only last so long in the heels. But the development of electric technology has set a blistering pace in regards to battery range, with Tesla and even General Motors nudging up nearer to the current capacity of many gas-powered cars. One of everybody’s biggest concerns? Boom. Gone.

And I believe it soon will be gone with every electric offering. And here is where I offer up a slightly different scenario to Mr. Booth, to augment the one where he is envisioning long lines of traffic clogging up those gas-and-pee stops along the TransCanada Highway. My cottage is 275 kilometres from my home. I used to laugh at the thought of owning an electric vehicle, except now? Well, now with electric engine offerings coming in family friendly sized vehicles (no offence, Smart), and a range well within reach of my own private splinters-and-mouse turd paradise, why not?

In Booth’s scenario, I won’t do it because I’ll never make it home; I’ll be stuck in some charging nightmare at an ONroute station. Except …

Except, I’ll have charged up at the cottage. Just like I’d have charged up at home. I never could have gassed up at the cottage, but I could certainly charge up, and drive back home bypassing the highway hell. The technology is changing, but so will people’s patterns.

I’m not suggesting that there will be a stampede to the EV sector, but there will be a shift. There are outliers who drive far longer distances to a weekend cabin or other destination and for whom EVs don’t make sense, but for the most part, cottage zones tend to be within two to three hours of major centres and people’s homes. Unlike Booth’s engineering math, mine is less scientific: how long can I stand to be trapped in a metal box with a handful of whining kids, a screeching cat and a migraine? It takes two and a half hours to get to our cottage.

We’ve been suggesting electrics will work for urban dwellers because they can charge at home, and then again at work places that are adapting with each new build and ongoing retrofits. That end trip either has to have a charging station, or the charge has to last long enough for a return trek. We’ve never questioned those consumers entertaining purchasing an electric vehicle will have to kit out their homes with a station; I’m saying those same consumers would consider doing the same at a vacation home.

Booth is right that the infrastructure equation sports too many zeros if we treat it like we do existing driving patterns. I’m proposing that vehicles with long-range capabilities will cause a shift in driver behaviour away from the traditional filling stations. That won’t solve all the problems, but it’s the beginning of those tweaks I mentioned up top. Make enough tweaks, and things that were once impossible can start to shift. Electric cars have so many variables at play.

I almost always stop for fuel on my way home from the cottage, but only because I don’t leave the cottage with a full tank.

Posted in Drive She Said | 1 Comment

Government finally shining a light on dimmed tail lights

Rear illumination will be added to new cars’ daytime running lights, according to memo, but we can do better

Ask and ye shall receive. Finally.

If there is one topic (other than left-lane hogs) that consumes the comment sections of drive sections it is cars travelling with darkened rear lights due to drivers blithely unaware their fully lit dash and daytime running lights do not automatically activate their rear ends. The federal government, according to a memo obtained by the CBC under the Access to Information Act, is about to finally correct something they should have done nearly thirty years ago. Better late than never?

Daytime running lights (DRLs) became mandatory in this country in new cars sold from December 1, 1989. This means all cars have those smaller headlamps at the front that remain lit at all times. Unfortunately, many manufacturers decided to light up their dashboards at the same time, while forgetting one more system: the tail lights. Because those DRLs supply some front lighting, there are folks who didn’t realize their full lighting harness was not engaged. A lit dashboard took away the only clue that drivers of yore could always count on as a reminder. And it’s downright deadly to come upon a car whisking down the highway at top speed, invisible – especially at dusk or into the night – until you are almost on top of it.

If a car has an “auto” setting on the lighting stalk, the problem is taken care of, provided it remains in that setting. Many – including me – advocate pulling on your full lighting system every time you get in the car. It’s a good habit to have. The auto setting is a close second, but too often, people could be driving an unfamiliar car, be getting into their own after someone else has fussed with the settings, or even had it into the shop or a detailer and had the settings altered. It’s not foolproof, and some cars don’t have an auto setting at all though they do have DRLs. Confused yet?

The CBC report shows that Transport Minister Marc Garneau proposed auto manufacturers address the problem in February of 2016, but they could reach no consensus. Surprise. Now the government has stepped in with regulatory standards to be set this fall and mandatory adoption of the new lighting systems by September of 2020.

I propose the Minister go one step farther; many of those cars on the road today, and many of those that will remain on the road long after the 2020 introduction, can be fixed with a software tweak that can rectify the problem. Most lighting systems go through the electronic control module (ECM). For many of the affected cars that will predate the fix, a technician would need about a half hour to update the software if the manufacturer would unlock it. Rear lights engaged when DRLs are and dash is lit. Voila.

This is not all cars, but it is many of them. Some brands, like Mercedes and Saab, have always engineered their vehicles to be properly lit. Across the spectrum it’s a dog’s breakfast of makes, models and years, with some delivering the safest lighting system and too many others failing.

The go-to for some observers is to accuse drivers of being too stupid to drive if they’re unaware their full lighting isn’t on. I reject that argument because manufacturers have created this problem where one shouldn’t exist. Education is always better than derision, and chances are very good that someone you care about – and yes, probably you – has fallen down the DRL rabbit hole. There are simply too many ways to fail the test, and if the goal is to keep our roads safer (and it should be), it makes more sense to nip the problem in the bud, at its point of inception, then to slap on Band-Aid solutions or blame drivers who may not know, or who are making a one-time error.

Good on Transport Canada for finally creating legislation to the auto manufacturers that has been long overdue. But go one better and mandate this vital safety fix in as many cars as possible while you’re at it.

Posted in Drive She Said | 2 Comments

Commercial drivers finally coming under stiff scrutiny for impairment

New Ontario laws address those drivers in control of larger vehicles – but do they go far enough?

Talk about burying the lead.

Queen’s Park has proposed new rules and regulations for Ontario surrounding the impending Canadian legalization of pot. Stiffer fines, better detection (look for drugalylzers, tested last year in several parts of Canada and used in many other countries) and more licence suspensions. All good; getting impaired drivers, regardless of what that impairment is from, is the right step.

But buried beneath that headline, several paragraphs in, is something more interesting, at least to me:

Commercial Drivers Creating a zero tolerance approach prohibiting commercial drivers from having the presence of either alcohol and/or drugs in their system, as detected by a federally approved screening device.

Wait. Wasn’t there always some kind of law on the books that commercial drivers had to be stone sober? Nope. They currently just have to be regular sober. Like the rest of us who aren’t driving with a G1, G2, M1, M2, or are 21 years of age or under. Who knew?

The headlines are trumpeting the coming changes relating to marijuana use, and how police will be detecting and charging those who drive under the influence. Forget all the sky-is-falling alarmists; people have been using dope and driving as long as they’ve been using alcohol and hitting the road. Cops know it, and have been looking for all manner of impairment, always. They didn’t always have the tools they needed to push charges, and this proposed legislation will help that.

But the proposed changes regarding commercial drivers is sliding under the radar. This is huge. But I’d go one step farther: it should apply to all drivers driving for a commercial purpose, too. Like cabbies and Uber drivers and pizza delivery people. I asked Ministry of Transportation spokesman Bob Nichols what the proposed changes were actually targeting.

“The proposed zero tolerance requirement for the presence of a drug or alcohol in the body of commercial drivers is not expected to apply to Uber drivers, as they operate vehicles that are not considered by the Highway Traffic Act to be commercial vehicles similar to large trucks, school buses and transit vehicles.”

How is it not already law that school bus drivers can’t have any alcohol in their system, or any other drug? Hearing about a drunk school bus driver is not an everyday occurrence, but it happens, like here, and here and here. Come to think of it, once is too often.

The new legislation would affect those commercial drivers of large vehicles, but most commercial hauling companies have an in-house statute already regarding blood alcohol levels. It varies in different places, but in most western countries, it’s a variation of the requirements faced by airline pilots. Some states institute their own BAC level for rig drivers beginning at .02, for instance, instead of .05 for the general population. Many restrict alcohol consumption within 24 hours of a shift. The trucking industry takes it seriously, but it was news to me that government legislation is only now looking at formalizing this in Ontario for these operators.

A commercial driver’s licence (CDL) covers vehicles such as heavy rigs, school buses and dump trucks; taxis, Ubers and pizza delivery drivers can get along fine with just a G licence. But once you cross into the realm driving for any commercial purpose, rules should be more stringent. Anyone driving for a designated commercial purpose, whether they’re hauling goods or schoolchildren or drunk partygoers, should be legally required to have a zero alcohol and drug level in their system.

The proposed legislation is a start.

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Beware of hurricane-affected cars flooding the used market

Dredged from flood waters, vehicles that should be sent to the scrap heap are often sold on to unsuspecting buyers

Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S., but they have the second highest car ownership numbers: 1.8 per household. They trail only Dallas. When Hurricane Harvey delivered its deadly blow recently, many of those cars – estimates go as high as a million – were destroyed along with tens of thousands of homes. It may be difficult to tally the ongoing human costs of such destruction, but every part of the recovery is dependent on replacing many of those vehicles.

If you see pictures during the storm, it’s stunning: cars submerged, cars floating, cars stranded on highways now turned into thundering rivers. And yet just a few days later, with the flood waters subsided, it’s hard to believe the water was once up to the eaves of suburban homes. Like many of those homes, those cars may look okay from the outside, but they are write-offs. And just like after Hurricane Katrina and Sandy and others in years past, those flood cars will show up by the tens of thousands across the U.S. and even in Canada, sold to unwitting buyers.

Buyers who should know better. Those flooded cars will have electrical systems so compromised they will be dangerous, if they can even be rehabbed enough to start. That’s before you get to the corrosion that will be setting in and destroying the bodies and frames. Once you get them across state – and country – borders, title washing increases.

Insurers are handling claims hand over fist; Houston is not a city known for its transit and to live there is to drive there. Rental companies and car lots were both funneling tens of thousands of cars to the city, the demand through the roof after the disaster of the hurricane. For those with a cheque in hand, replacing their vehicle will be about the supply of new or nearly new vehicles. But for a significant number of those impacted by the storm, the situation is not so rosy. From Wired: “Roughly 15 per cent of Texas vehicle owners don’t have any kind of car insurance, despite laws saying they must, according to Hanna, at the Insurance Council of Texas. Of the remaining 85 per cent, just three-quarters have comprehensive insurance policies that are sure to cover flood damage.”

Those flooded vehicles are totalled, but unscrupulous salvagers will dry them out and sell them to those who have few options. They’ll also sell them to those who can’t pass up a deal too good to be true. As a buyer, how do you protect yourself?

The Automobile Protection Association (APA) rarely endorses buying a car from the U.S., unless it is a collector or rare find; at the very least, they recommend doing extensive homework on the purchase. When you can find the same make and model here in Canada, you will be buying it with the consumer protections of this country, and it will adhere to our standards.

Flooded cars will have telltale signs that even with a cursory view will tell a story. Jeremy Young, operations manager at Krown Rust Control, says that rust forms immediately. “Look at the bottom edges of body panels,” he says. “There are drain holes and the paint will become discoloured where rust is leaking out. If salt water is the culprit, even if it’s been sprayed off or vacuumed from carpeting, it will return fast. Salt forms a chemical bond.”

He acknowledges the number one place for damage is in the electrical system. “Disconnect the back of the headlight; right at the connection, there’s two wires and a clip. Undo that, and take a look. You’ll see corrosion.” Check for things other than water; flooding often brings soil and debris with the water, so look for odd things in weird places. Pull out the spare tire, where the depression it sits in often accumulates water and is frequently overlooked by those tarting up a car for quick sale. Headlights and even dashboards may be foggy or have condensation in them. Carpets are hard to dry out, and moisture can remain trapped for weeks beneath them. Feel them; smell for mold with the windows up. Check out every single electric system, something you should do with any used car, not just a suspect one.

The best advice about buying a used car is always the same: get an independent mechanic to get it up on a hoist. He or she will know why this hot car is such a great deal – and steer you away from it.

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Back to school means sharing the road safely

Speeding and distracted driving can kill, but even pedestrians need to follow the rules to stay safe

Head’s up, folks. The kids are back in school.

While the overall Transport Canada figures for 2015 (latest available) suggest a slight downward trend in pedestrian fatalities, some places, like Ontario, are posting sobering numbers. “Pedestrian fatalities in OPP jurisdiction increased significantly in 2016, with 38 deaths last year, compared to 25 in 2015.” (opp.ca.) While it stands to reason that urban centres will produce more pedestrians and cyclists making contact with vehicles, there are still things that all involved can do to push these numbers down.

Most of those pedestrians who die are in the senior (65+) age category. A Toronto Public Health study released last year showed that 67 per cent of those pedestrians involved in a collision with a car had the right-of-way; drivers are usually at fault. Seniors are overrepresented for several reasons, though leading the pack is the difficulty in recovering from injuries as we age.

Little ones don’t fare well, either. While traffic planners drop speed limits and introduce traffic calming measures, drivers are still speeding and still interacting with their phones and onboard systems. Front collision avoidance systems on many new cars – those that automatically apply the brakes – will save pedestrian lives. But what is needed far more than every safety feature manufacturers can dream up is a competent, engaged driver. Do one thing behind the wheel: drive.

Remember too, when your children are your passengers, they’re learning from you. Driving lessons don’t begin when they’re 16; they start from the moment they’re in the car, observing how you handle the ever-changing streetscape as well as the in-car distractions. Don’t get drawn into squabbles and sulks, and don’t take your eyes from the road.

You’ve been driving through school zones all summer without having to slow down. Take this into consideration on your route, and accept that it’s going to take you some extra time to get where you’re going. Anticipate increased speed monitoring in these areas, and not just during back-to-school week. Constable Clint Stibbe with Toronto Police Services told me of busting a woman doing double the posted limit one morning last year in a school zone, then busting the same woman the very next day – going the same speed. Sometimes, laws are not enough.

Pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, motorcyclists and those on scooters are all on the dangerous end of the equation upon meeting with a vehicle. All road users have a responsibility to know the law and obey it, and stay focused on what they’re doing.

Drivers:

  • Slow all the way down in school zones. Always
  • Follow the laws for school buses
  • Obey crossing guards. Those guards know things about the kids they’re protecting, and hold their signs up until every kid is clear for a reason. They know that little ones may drop something and dart back onto the road. They’re watching for things you can’t see
  • If you drive your child to school, drop them a block or two away. Reduce congestion in front of schools
  • Kids do dumb things. You did dumb things. Be ready for dumb. Hitting a child isn’t something you want to live with, even if it wasn’t your fault
  • Don’t honk unless someone is in imminent danger

Parents:

  • Set a good example, and take routes you want your child to take when they’re not with you. Don’t jaywalk.
  • Teach your child to make eye contact with a driver before they step off a curb
  • Tell them not to cross a street while they’re texting, or even talking on their cell phone. Distracted is distracted, even for pedestrians
  • Obey the crossing guard
  • Rules of the road begin now, long before they learn to drive. Explain that drivers may be making right turns on red lights, and that drivers may be distracted. If your child is on a bicycle, teach them they are subject to the law, just like drivers
  • Please put some reflective tape on backpacks and jackets, and have working lights on the front and back of bicycles. As we head into winter, your child might be invisible by 5pm.

Our cities are going to see more pedestrians and cyclists, not fewer. Share the road.

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