Your car is rarely worth the sum of all its parts

Before you hit the showroom, make sure you’ve researched a car’s true cost of ownership

Originally published September 19, 2016

Your economically priced new car is definitely hiding something. Several somethings.

If you’ve ever suffered even a parking lot ding or a minor fender bender, you already know the cost of a car is rarely as expensive as the sum of its parts. It’s true that vehicles have never been safer, but it’s also true they’ve never been more complicated (and expensive) to fix – especially from the outside looking in.

Headlights are a notorious sore spot; the entire component often has to be replaced and even on a mainstream, relatively inexpensive car that can average $800 to $900. Can’t you just replace a bulb? Maybe, but don’t count on it. And whereas in bygone days headlights were round or square, they are now increasingly part of the car’s structure and crush zone, as well as contributing to the aerodynamics.

“The other thing to consider is that for the first five years or so on many vehicles, you have to use original equipment parts; there is no secondary source available,” says APA consultant John Raymond. “Your ability to go a cheaper route is compromised in that initial stage.” He notes that even when those secondary sources come to market, both they – and recyclers – will still charge 50 to 75 per cent of the OEM price.

“Ask ahead of time about something as basic as oil requirements,” suggests mechanic Chris Muir. “GM is all synthetic dexos, Nissan is ester oil and Dodge diesels are over $100 per oil change. Basic maintenance items on a new car can be frightening.” His point? Things that used to be the territory of the upper echelons have now filtered down to the regular folks. It makes sense; we also get a lot of those bells and whistles and spectacular technology, but that doesn’t mean we are always prepared for the costs that go along with maintaining it.

When you’re doing your research, make sure you’re reading the manufacturer’s fine print on fuel economy. Some are now basing their published numbers on using high-octane fuel, but you won’t see that high-octane fuel being a requirement – only a choice. I’m aware everyone is looking for an edge, but not putting a “high-octane fuel recommended” sticker inside the gas door but basing your loud and proud fuel numbers on it is misleading.

Rain-sensitive wipers are also working their way down the food chain, but if you’re used to getting your windshield replaced for a couple of hundred bucks, guess again. Those wipers work in conjunction with the actual windshield and that makes it original equipment at a significantly higher cost. I had one reader who believed the function itself was broken only to discover it was the replacement windshield that was to blame.

“Low-profile tires look great in the dealer showroom,” says mechanic Eli Melnick. “But replacement cost – particularly for larger wheels – is much higher. Also, high-performance tires don’t last. Replacing OEM large-diameter alloy wheels is very pricey; they’re easily damaged by potholes. Run-flat tires can be a serious pain in the wallet and not every shop has the proper equipment to replace them.”

The APA’s Raymond echoes Melnick’s tire concerns, and adds this reminder: “With the weak Canadian dollar, tire prices are definitely taking a hit. Consumers need to consider how much replacing those tires and investing in winters will cost in today’s economic climate.”

Perhaps the most sobering reminder of all that your car is rarely worth the sum of its parts comes from insurance broker Debbie Arnold of Sound Insurance. “If the repairs are going to cost more than the vehicle is worth, it’s written off. Typically, when airbags go off it’s an indication of the severity of the crash and the likelihood of severe internal damage.” In entry-priced vehicles, and even some midrange ones, the costs of airbags simply makes it too costly to bother fixing. They don’t repair piñatas for a reason.

If you’re not happy with an insurance company’s decision, some will allow a client to purchase back a salvaged vehicle but as Arnold warns, it can be very costly to rebuild and many insurers will not insure a rebuild, which will show on the ownership.

You have a lot of research to do before you hit a showroom. Make sure the true cost of ownership lands on that list, and ask some good questions at the back of the house as well as up front.

Posted in Drive She Said | 1 Comment

Buying an EV doesn’t entitle you to break the rules

A Toronto man expects a parking bylaw to be changed because he bought an electric car with nowhere to park it while charging. Wait, what?

Originally published September 12, 2016

Apparently, even if you don’t build it, they will come.

A Toronto man, Todd Anderson, bought a Chevy Volt even though he has nowhere to park it and no way to legally charge it. Oh, he had a charging station installed on his front lawn, but limited and prohibited parking means he has to run the extension cord across the sidewalk. He is doing the only thing that makes any sense, telling the city to: a) change the bylaws so he can legally park right in front of his house (because nobody else in the crowded city wants that, right?); and b) let him run his extension cord beneath the sidewalk (he’ll pay).

What?

Anderson’s local ward councillor, Paula Fletcher, is siding with her constituent, and doesn’t think the city is moving fast enough providing infrastructure for electrics. While I can sympathize with a city budget that can’t begin to give all the people all the things all the time, I have to scratch my head at a car owner who is so itchy to use his provincial rebate of $12,500 buying a new car that he fails to factor in the most obvious problem with that acquisition: He’s got nowhere to put it.

I’ve seen people buy massive pickups that don’t fit in their tiny driveways and squawk when they get ticketed for blocking the sidewalk. I’ve seen people acquire more cars than they have allotted parking for and then squawk when they get ticketed for parking in designated visitor’s parking areas. They’re all stupid; a change in your circumstances doesn’t warrant a change in bylaws that serve the majority. If you want to park on your lawn, go somewhere that nobody can see your lawn.

I must admit, when I initially read of Anderson’s parking-less dilemma, I presumed he’d purchased the Chevy and would be charging it at work each day. It’s a little back-assed, but workable. As long as you’re charging on one end or the other, you should be able to make it work for a city car. But instead to learn his solution, right out of the gate, was to street park his car (legally or otherwise) and haul an extension cord across the sidewalk gave me pause. You don’t get to obstruct public sidewalks; you don’t get to place tripping hazards out for your neighbours because you made a purchase you didn’t think through. I don’t even like having an extension cord to a charging car running down my driveway, and the only people who would sue me for endangering them would conceivably be family or friends.

You also don’t get to whine that your government isn’t doing enough to help you. I’d say the fact all those neighbours (and me) provided that $12,500 towards that new car should be evidence you’ve already received more than any other car buyer or transit user. Anyone buying a car is required to factor in all the costs and requirements of car ownership; somebody with no capacity to legally or adequately charge an electric vehicle but buying one anyway is like someone with chronic diarrhea buying a box of bran flakes just because he has a coupon.

In California, where sales of electrics are surging, there are wars breaking over charging stations. People unplug others’ vehicles, feuds rage over entitlement issues and a lot of people take a break from hugging trees to punch each other over an outlet. A deficit of public charging stations highlights that government “green” projects are themselves pretty green.

Infrastructure is sadly lacking in most places when it comes to things like charging stations. Governments, not just ours, are tasked with doing the best for the most with ever-tighter margins. New builds are accommodating a change in the automotive landscape, but quite frankly, that landscape is changing at warp speed. Nobody will be able to keep up, not just local governments. The industry itself is spinning like a top; we used to report on changes rolled out with a new model year, now they’re happening almost daily.

If you’ve lived in an urban core, you know that on-street parking is an ongoing war. Residents perfect the time shuffle, renew permits, put up with tickets and jockey hard for something near their postal code when the weather turns. While there is (and should be) built-in exceptions to parking for those who require designated handicapped spaces, I’ve seen neighbours go to battle over even that situation being abused. Make me understand how I’m going to be okay with the guy we just ponied up $12,500 to now receiving red-carpet treatment because he’s “saving the environment.” I’d argue his car-free neighbours who walk or cycle over that extension cord are doing more.

We need more public charging stations – no doubt about it. But the calibre of cars being produced today makes it nearly impossible to not be able to find the perfect vehicle for your circumstances. Mr. Anderson’s hybrid electric has the backup capability of a gas engine, but it seems he has no practical way to implement its main power source. If he truly had no place to park and charge this car, he could have purchased one of dozens of highly fuel-efficient cars in this size segment.

Oh, wait. No thousands and thousands in rebates going that route. Never mind.

Posted in Drive She Said | 3 Comments

When automakers buy the best parking spots: a tipping point?

We all want to feel special, but when one automaker can buy the best spots in the parkade, are we unleashing a car class war?

Originally published September 5, 2016

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” – Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire. And also Lexus Canada at the Edmonton International Airport.

Can you take branding too far? Lexus recently cut a deal until March 2017 with Edmonton International Airport (EIA) which will see 30 parking spots in choice locations reserved for those who own a Lexus. While they will in no way move or replace any existing accessible parking spots mandated by law, the Lexus spots are close to elevators and walkways – prime real estate. Part of the campaign also features an office tower wrapped in the Lexus signage; it looks quite nice.

But those parking spots? It might be one of the few advertising campaigns I’ve seen that relies on people to be Canadian; it needs us to be polite and laidback and, while maybe banging the steering wheel when we can’t find a parking spot, still just cruise on by. Will people do it? The airport is banking on it.

Like many facilities – think hospitals – parking generates a lot of much needed cash. The more scarce the real estate, the more you’ll pay for parking. High hospital fees stick in most people’s craw because it’s not like you head to a hospital for recreation or entertainment. Airport parking rates approach usurious levels in some cities, but it’s hard to grumble at the same pitch reserved for hospitals. Those tasked with raising revenue for these facilities know they’re shooting fish in a barrel when they raise rates, so while I’ll give the EIA points for at least being creative, I’ll still question the message it sends.

Those spots you see reserved for pregnant women and people with children are just courtesy spots. Park in a handicapped spot without a valid permit, and you’ll get ticketed and towed (hopefully). Park in front of one of those little pink signs, and nothing will happen. I’ve gotten into arguments with readers in the past about this, but forgive me: Being pregnant is not a handicap. If your pregnancy impairs your ability to get around, your doctor can issue you a temporary permit to use the accessible parking spots. Having toddlers is a pain in the butt, but that, too, is not a handicap. Why let the most able-bodied – little kids – come to believe they shouldn’t have to hoof it in fair weather or foul from the minivan to the mall?

The law surrounding the Lexus spots is similar: There isn’t one. The airport has said they won’t be enforcing it, and while bylaws vary in jurisdictions, all will enforce those who park illegally in accessible parking spots even on private property – parking lots. So while Lexus has paid a bunch to be able to tell their customers they can avail themselves of this specialty treatment, there really is no guarantee. You might get there and find a row of Ladas instead of Lexuses. My dark heart hopes you do.

Why? Because we acquiesce too easily. The Edmonton Airport has said it is open to entering into similar arrangements with other car brands. It’s hard enough cruising through concrete bunkers looking for a parking spot when you’re anticipating the humiliation that is air travel today, without having to scoot down aisles looking for your brand. And do we need a further winnowing of the car crowd? Will Lexus have to cede to Ferrari? Will my Hyundai be tossed to the hinterlands?

A similar sorting of the great unwashed has been at work inside airports for years now. We all need to be special, it seems, to have some kind of reward. You’ll hear boarding calls for elite travellers, for high milers, for propriety people, for those with this card and those with that one, for those with kids, those who need assistance and those who made their reservations while wearing a pink bowtie.

On a recent flight to Austria, I watched the gate swell with so many children I thought I’d stumbled into Romper Room. After a half-hour delay, I considered asking if I could borrow a kid. Next up was a double row of wheelchairs that resembled the starting gate at the Sunny Acres Retirement Indy. I’d seen at least two of those now requiring assistance strolling through the airport earlier, but we’ll do anything for an edge, it seems. I don’t begrudge anyone the help they need, but by the time your kid is 12 or you need that wheelchair just for the final 10 metres, I push up an eyebrow.

As the delay yawned on and on, a red-faced guy started waving his boarding pass around, yelling that he was super elite and demanded to be let on the plane. I wanted to tell him that all of us were super elite through the kaleidoscope of an upside down world, where you have to wonder: If everyone is special, is anyone?

Posted in Drive She Said | 4 Comments

Keys need a safe storage place – where you can find them

Anyone who’s misplaced a set of car keys knows the great struggle to keep them handy, but not where thieves can find them

Originally published August 29, 2016

can’t find my keys. My house has many drivers; if that were not so, I wouldn’t constantly be trying to prepare a place to keep our keys. We have to share and my kids are generally responsible, but stuff happens.

There was a time, long before a renovation (trim work still not complete) that I had a small shelf with magnetized edges. It was great; you simply lobbed your keys in the general direction of the thing, and they stuck there like glue. I insisted visitors used it, too, after a friend’s toddler once lifted my keys from my purse and hid them under a TV stand while I was visiting her. They actually weren’t located until the following day (the keys, not the toddler) and I needed a late night rescue call from a spouse with a spare set of keys. Believing nothing is truly safe in a home with toddlers, I got in the habit of doing this adult equivalent of a keymaster at a frat party.

I now have a bin by the door and beg the kids to keep the keys there. When you live in a municipality where the bylaw enforcement is more predictable than a sitcom laugh track, you follow the rules. And when you work shifts and live in a house where cars are being stacked in the driveway, you leave your keys where we can find them or we will awaken you from your leaden slumber.

The bin, of course, is simply an idea that rarely makes it into practice. I find keys on the kitchen counter, beside computers, in the bathroom and in coat pockets. A friend has a locator on his keychain that lets him call it from his phone; I love that idea, but we spend nearly as much time looking for phones as we do for keys.

Several years ago, police started warning people not to leave their car keys near the front door. Insurance Bureau of Canada statistics indicate that 60 per cent of cars are stolen with their keys in them. This covers keys that were easily locatable, as well as keys left dangling in the ignition. Your car is worth far more to thieves if the key is intact, even if it’s being sent overseas before you notice it’s gone. Modern immobilizer technology makes that key fob far more important than any key ever was.

Locking your car in your driveway, it seems, isn’t enough anymore. Human behaviour dictates that there is a high likelihood those keys are just inside the front door: sitting in a bin, or dangling from a hook. So I’m told not to do the thing I can’t make anyone do anyway.

I read a recent “tip” that told me I should take my keys to bed with me. That way I could set off the car alarm in case I was being murdered. I couldn’t think of the upside to this, quite frankly. I could be upstairs being burgled while my neighbours all stood around my blaring car calling me names, or, more likely, ignoring it altogether. Since the advent of aftermarket car alarms several decades ago, I’ve yet to see anyone respond to the frantic combo of lights and horn. Car alarms are the boy who cried wolf.

I bought a new car recently, and traded in my old one. “Sign here, sign here, sign here, and you’ll bring in the second key fob?” I was asked. Of course I would. I’d be back in an hour.

“I need the spare key,” I told my son when I got home.

“I told you Pammy lost it last year,” he replied.

“You did not, nor did she, and how can you lose a whole key fob?” I turned the place upside down, all while knowing in my head if I can rarely find the first key, my hopes of finding the second one were dim. I couldn’t find it. Back at the dealer we quietly negotiated the cost of living in a house with a lax keymaster.

When I was a teenager commuting to university, I used to lock the keys in the car. I had CAA who would come and bail me out, and my Dad finally got another key cut for me to keep in my wallet. This worked some of the time (if my purse wasn’t in the car) but I remember his stern look at this foolish waste of resources. He didn’t live long enough to learn how expensive replacing a key is these days, and I’m sure he would have used bad language and worse behaviour had he lived to find out.

You’ve read this far and I still don’t have the answer. So, to my multi-driver, multi-key readers, how do you do it?

Posted in Drive She Said | 3 Comments

Now Uber’s own drivers are steamrolled by tech giant

With autonomous cars in Pittsburgh, Uber is on its way to getting rid of people behind the wheel

Originally published August 22, 2016

Hey, Uber driver. Your overlord hasn’t just spent years breaking laws, leaving you unprotected and endangering your passengers. They’ve now made good on their early promise once they reached their always-declared real goal: to ditch you altogether.

The company is now rolling out a pilot program where specially crafted Volvo SUVs and Ford Fusions will arrive, randomly, to deliver people to their destinations in fully automated mode. Pittsburgh is the test site; there will be a person behind the wheel, but the car will be making full use of all the sensor-wrapped technology available to navigate a streetscape that has been studied and defined down to potholes. The city is home to Carnegie Mellon University and its famed robotics department, the equivalent of having CAA right there if you need it.

Don’t think of me as that party pooper, the oldster who refuses to wrap her head around autonomous cars, for failing to grasp the future is here and that resistance is futile. I am none of those things. I am just still clinging, uselessly it feels, to the notion that somehow people – you, me, everyone – have more value and worth than the future we are hurtling towards allows.

I’ve battled Uber policy relentlessly, because they treat their drivers like crap. They’ve barged into cities around the world with zero regard for local laws or consumer protection. They’ve recruited drivers who blindly sign waivers forfeiting their insurance coverage and who end up working for far less than they thought, in most cases; they’ve put passengers in danger from unvetted drivers; and they’ve acted like outlaws in the cities they’ve invaded. “Giving the people what they want,” is their battle cry. Far be it from me to argue, I guess, except I do. Just because everybody wants something does not make it right, or good.

This sharing economy is a blasted, reeking bog of bulls**t. Everybody rushing to run their worlds from an app, to save money booking cars or rides or accommodations, everybody loving it until they realize the consumer protection – the checks and balances – behind most of these entities is as flaky and useless as the propped up storefronts in a spaghetti western.

Do I care that Ford – with its drumroll announcement of fully automated cars ready for the masses by 2021 – will push us faster in a direction that was inevitable? Not really. Somebody has to be first, and I still say the legal wrangling, insurance issues and the basic fact of human behaviour will all play a far larger role outside the lab than those inside seem to be considering. We were all supposed to be in electric cars by now, so forgive my lack of faith in the industry’s understanding of the tarot of the Average Consumer.

Nope, I get that the sooner we remove the driver from the driving equation, the safer we’ll be. But I also get that when I was in a McDonald’s recently, I was given the choice of ordering off a tablet. Well, isn’t that handy, I thought, for a microsecond. Then I glanced at the people behind the counter also ready to take orders and thought, you won’t be there for much longer.

And where will they go? It’s not like they can now go drive for Uber, that last bastion of employment security, if their ads are to be believed. I wonder, actually, if Uber will pull those recruitment ads now that they’ve launched their pilot program in Pittsburgh. The technology on the cars is spectacular and it’s hard not to get all science fiction-y, if not romantic, about the implications. But what about the people? Does nobody give a damn until they come for your job?

I’m reading stories of Uber drivers in that city, and others, in shock that the end came so soon. Why are you surprised, Uber Driver? They promised this all along. The goal was never to line your pockets, it was to turn them inside out while they lined their own. Grow up, wise up, and kiss your job goodbye. This launch is a simultaneously bold yet cautious one: Oh my God, automated cars right out there in public! Yet each car will still have a driver. They’re in the ultimate information-gathering phase of the operation, and in case of disaster, there will still be “light” hands on the wheel. Perhaps, Uber Driver, you think this will be the gentle phase-out, you will be able to get in some hours as an autopilot while you look for other work. Think again: That autopilot is actually a highly trained engineer. You really have been cast aside, and in a hurry. If you’re not sure how to cope, call up a taxi driver in your city.

There used to be a rule of thumb that to keep a certain congeniality in polite conversation, you never discussed religion, politics, money or sex. I won’t discuss Uber, if I’m being entrusted to keep some decorum. The line in the sand is broad, and impenetrable. Those who use the service are more entrenched than a Trump supporter at a pro-life rally.

Uber teamed up last year with Otto, a company that has itself developed an automated highway truck system. The world of robotics engineering is a clandestine, high stakes one, with highly coveted thoroughbreds being lured from high-profile company to high-profile company in the rush to capitalize on the coming gold rush of throwing away the drivers. Getting tired truckers off the road is a good thing, right? Sure. Until we get to the final phase where there is no driver at all. Who’s gonna be able to buy all that junk being hauled around in all those trailers? Uber has enthusiastically announced that when it gets the final flourishes on its Pittsburgh experiment, when it’s worked out the glitches (its sensors struggle with bridges, so if there’s a bridge between you and your destination, be careful) they anticipate they’ll be able to make using one of their cars cheaper than driving yourself. And we all know money is the only currency that matters, right?

Uber Driver, we hardly knew ye.

Posted in Drive She Said | 8 Comments

Kindness makes road trip mishaps a minor bump in road

When filling a tire with air resulted in an injury and a frustrating quest for a loonie, the politeness of bystanders outweighed the annoyances

Originally published August 15, 2016

I have a good-sized gouge out of my left foot and blood is streaming down it. I don’t think for a second about wiping it up, however, because I have no idea how much longer my loonie will be purchasing me air to blast into a low tire.

It was a quintessential Canadian event. Returning from my rather rustic cottage, a tire pressure warning went off. Part of the fun of travelling in cottage country is trying to remember which gas stations remain open from year to year. Most are tucked behind walls of trees and rocks, and you have to trust long-weathered billboards that hang around like garage sale notices a week after the event.

A new multi-use setup has bloomed in the middle of nowhere, and was doing a bustling business on this Sunday morning. It appears we congregate and worship at gas bars with Tim Hortons attached. I pulled up next to the air pump, the spot spelling out in paint that only those using the air pump may park there. No problem, I thought to myself, I’m only here to get air.

I needed a loonie to get air – said so, right on the thing. I wonder what visitors must think, seeing that. Of course I didn’t have a loonie, and I also silently cussed under my breath that I even had to pay for air. Air is not gas nor coffee; air is air. Nobody is getting air for kicks, they’re getting air for a real reason. I guess you could argue that we should pay for air because it’s not like air just grows on trees, except, wait, YES IT DOES.

Feeling a little Canadian guilt at leaving my car in the “air only” space while I extended my purpose to locating a loonie, I trundled into the Tim Hortons – the Tim Hortons that sported a lineup of about 50 people, when all I wanted to do was buy a coffee I wouldn’t drink to get a loonie to pay for air that should be free.

We all waited patiently as the line inched forward, until one old dude decided patience was for the rest of us and rushed the counter. While his actions were decidedly not very Canadian, ours were; we shrugged and sighed, and as I lamented to the woman beside me that I was only there to get a loonie for air, she instantly reached into her bag to find me one. Now, that is Canadian. I apologized profusely and refused, telling her I actually really wanted a coffee. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Tom Thompson had walked in.

At long last, loonie in one hand and the tiniest coffee I could buy in the other, I went back out to my once again legally parked car. Because this is a new plaza, the parking lot sports high white curbs and dividers filled with regionally appropriate décor: rocks. Like Muskoka throw pillows, they have been liberally arranged in a way that is both pleasing to the eye and reminds you that everything around you has been torn from the Canadian Shield in a breech birth requiring swearing and dynamite. The rocks retain their razor-sharp edges as a constant reminder they were not happy with the interference.

Hose in hand and loonie slotted, I finally got down to the tire, one foot on the curb and the other next to the car. I went to set the tire pressure, only to find that it was broken. I could get air, alright, but I was not allowed to know how much. I usually carry a tire gauge, but this wasn’t my car and I was at the mercy of an idiot light. I did the only thing I could: I plugged in some air and went back into the car to check the built-in gauge. Three times. On the third attempt, my foot slipped; one of the rocks got even and took a nice chunk of skin as payment. If you have to pay for air, I guess it makes sense there must be some kind of compensation required for standing around. My Shakespearean rock took its pound of flesh.

A rock scrape burns like no other wound. I’m sure my lip was quivering as I tried to tidy up the hose and hang it up. Perhaps some salty tears would cleanse the wound, I thought, which I would be mopping up with a Tim Hortons napkin. As I reached for the door handle, I heard a noise. An older lady was handing me a Band-Aid.

I love Canada.

Posted in Drive She Said | 2 Comments

Young drivers need to know they can rely on you

Teaching good driving habits and being there when they need you will help keep them safe

Originally published August 8, 2016

“Did you know that almost 20 per cent of reported collisions in Canada happen during July and August?” – Insurancehotline.com

If you think about it, it’s not really surprising. In winter months, we tend to be more cautious, at least aware that conditions are playing a large role in how we pilot a vehicle. But in summer months, many of us are in holiday mode. The most recent available Canadian statistics indicate that August is actually host to the largest number of collisions. There’s a reason that police forces across the country roll out aggressive campaigns around each long weekend; they often target different things (impaired, distracted, truck safety) but the summer months also present them with a problem we should have solved by now: seatbelt usage.

A 2013 Canadian study in Accident Analysis and Prevention found a link between traditional vacation times and a more casual attitude towards buckling up. With traffic fatalities plunging due to spectacular advances in safety technology, it is stunning that we are still finding ways to get ourselves hurt.

That technology, however, is leading me to a different observation. With cars taking over more and more of the driving duties with warnings and sensors and nanny systems, drivers’ skills seem to be softening, replaced with complacency and outright laziness. Why shoulder check when the little alarms will beep? Why do a walk around when you have a back-up camera? With technology replacing eroding abilities for some of us, it is also taking the place of skills and awareness that some drivers never had.

Fiat Chrysler recently did a recall on hundreds of thousands of power steering systems that could fail. But before they did, their initial response to the problem surprised me. They said they needn’t do a recall because if the power steering in an affected vehicle failed, drivers would be able to safely steer the car off the road.

Sure. Because everybody is familiar with what we used to call Armstrong steering. Power steering has been in pretty much everything on the road for decades. To expect drivers who have never not had it to be able to 1) identify the problem in a fraction of a second, at speed and 2) to automatically default to a skill that is at best rusty and at worst, not there, is dangerous. It’s the same with power brakes. If I’m requiring drivers to have a reliable set of skills when they drive, manufacturers have to acknowledge what those skills truly are.

If you have young drivers in your family, you can be an invaluable trove of wisdom. They’re going to ignore you about a lot things; we did the same to our parents. But looking at those summer road statistics, there are things you can do that can make a difference.

Let them tell you the truth. If your kid does something stupid, and finds him or herself stranded somewhere (too many beers, not where they said they’d be), please let them call you anyway. Help them. Go and get them, no questions asked. You can have a talk at a later time, but even then, don’t punish them for telling you the truth. My father insisted on a curfew come hell or high water, and looking back, it was the most dangerous thing he could have done. I was a good kid; there were still times I should have stayed where I was, or called for help.

Teach them what the car can’t do. Driving today is ridiculously easy – point and shoot. While I’d love to have all new drivers learn on a manual transmission, that’s not going to happen. So, make sure they know what it feels like to bring that car to a dead stop in an emergency. Get it up to 50 km/h and tell them to stand on the brakes. They need to know what it feels like, and how the car will actually react. Make them get out and show them the actual distance it took the car to stop. I hope they never have a child or animal run in front of them, but they need to know what to do, and how it’s going to feel, in case it happens.

Teach them some tips on distance perception. Ask how long they think the broken line segments are on a highway; when you’re going 100 km/h, they seem to be as long as your arm. Show them they’re closer to a couple of metres in length, and you need a cushion ahead of you if you have to stop. While you’re driving, tell them to send a text and see how long their eyes were off the road. Now throw the phone in the trunk.

Tell them to speak up, and to stand up. Everybody has been in a car with someone who shouldn’t be driving. Sometimes you realize too late, sometimes it’s a change of plans you weren’t prepared for. Teach your son or daughter to suggest an alternative, or to at least get out and call you. Back them up for having the courage to do it.

Tell them they can always follow a bad decision with a good one. This is probably the most important thing kids need to know. We all screw up and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I could have easily been dead for some of the dumb stuff I did way back when. I don’t want inexperienced drivers dying because they make a mistake. They can halt a string of bad decisions at any point along the chain if they know you would rather have them alive, even if it seems like there is no way out. Your life experience has taught you there is always a way out, even if it’s painful.

There are no accidents on our roadways, not even in these disproportionately represented summer months. Drivers make mistakes and sometimes the cost is deadly. Hire professionals to teach your kids, take a refresher course yourself, remind them that driving is a serious task we take for granted, and let them know that phone they all have at their disposal can always be used to call you for help.

Posted in Drive She Said | 2 Comments

The Lamborghini Aventador draws a crowd via social media

Lorraine Sommerfeld took to Twitter to recruit a few eager passengers, and made some special connections along the way

Originally published August 2, 2016 (with video)

2016 Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4. It’s a mouthful as well as an eyeful; slung as low as a stalking panther, all sharp edges and bevelled glass, a carbon fibre rocket wrapped around a leather cockpit.

It’s also Batman’s car of choice, which means the car resonates through generations and demographics for several reasons. Sure, it screams “I am rich,” with a price tag ticking in at over $563,000, but it also fires up imaginations as surely as those 12 cylinders fire up those 700 horses. And it was those imaginations I was after, rather than those who could afford to safely tuck one in their garage at night.

I’ve said before that social media is only good if it is truly social; propping up a myth with no message is about collecting people, not interacting with them. With that in mind, I told Twitter followers, both on my account and Driving’s, that I’d be flinging those mighty bat wings up and taking people for rides. A jam-packed weekend in soaring temperatures ensued, and I was reminded that sometimes a car like this is a wonderful catalyst for connecting.

Lamborghini and I had been keeping a close eye on the weather because this roadster needs the top down (or rather, off) for full effect. Two carbon panels, each weighing just six kilograms, come off with the release of a lever and then snap into precisely allotted grooves in the tiny forward trunk. You can’t play mix and match with the pieces and change the order, and a piece of advice I’d been given upon pick up (“you’d always cover your passenger’s head first to be polite”) stayed with me for the four days I had the car.

Up went the bat signal on Twitter, and out came the people. In Toronto, Dan Plishka spent a full hour with the car; mostly he stared, and we finally coaxed him to sit in it. Turns out he’s a Festiva man, belonging to a club of other Festiva connoisseurs. “Well, it’s not like my Festiva,” he announced, gazing at the Aventador. His Festiva is what my son terms a Frankenfest, assembled from parts of every other kind of car you can imagine. Dan is a car man and was happy to talk about his Festiva for an hour.

Lucas’s parents brought him as a surprise; Mike posted a pic on Twitter of the Lamborghini poster he’d had in his room as a teen – he’d brought his own son out to see the new incarnation. I had husbands and wives pondering who looked better behind the wheel; Sandy saw neighbours she’d never met before; Adrian asked his Dad if he was ever going to get out so he could have a turn; Sophia drove nearly an hour for a five-minute drive and declared it worthwhile; Spencer asked to park his own pride and joy – a new Mustang GT – beside it for a wonderful photo op.

The Twitter component of this weekend circled back in a near-magical way. I heard from a reader who asked if I could surprise her neighbour with a visit with the car. She gave me his name, and said, “by the way, he has nearly 10,000 followers.” Now, that is a healthy number, in fact nearly eclipsing the combined total of my account and the official Driving one. I took a peek at Jim Yarrow’s account: he’d never posted a single entry or even header photo, yet had this host of followers. I presumed he was too famous to tweet because he sure wasn’t getting followers by posting selfies he’d taken in his bathroom mirror.

It turns out back in 2001, he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 47. “It was by chance it was even found in a PSA test. I did that typical guy thing, getting my annual physical every five to ten years,” he chuckled. He had surgery but the cancer ultimately spread, and while he looks hale and healthy, he is also living with a diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer. The Twitter account? A couple of years ago, Prostate Cancer Canada asked him to pen an article on the importance of PSA testing. When the article connected well on Facebook and the PCC site, he set up a Twitter account intending to use it as a vehicle for awareness. Time slipped by, as it does.

And then a Lamborghini showed up in his driveway. Out came the cameras, and a picture of Jim and his wife Bonnie is now at the top of his Twitter account. His first tweet was a shout out to Lamborghini and Driving for making this possible.

dream-ride-lambo

A friend’s son climbed up a ladder and took a spectacular shot of Jim behind the wheel. It seemed the whole neighbourhood was in the driveway that afternoon, the car the focal point for so many stories. I told Jim he had a very powerful platform at his disposal, that army of followers he could speak to.

I spoke to him a couple of days later. “I’m going to do what I always intended,” he told me. “This has given me the nudge to get back on track and get the message out. I was only 47 when I was diagnosed; my article was called Not on My Radar.” He thanked me. He needn’t have.

It’s always about the car, but it’s never about the car.

Posted in Drive She Said | 1 Comment

Expanded Uber insurance is good news, but still not perfect

‘There are going to be gaps in coverage … because there are loopholes,’ says one insurance broker – and there are larger issues to consider

Originally published July 25, 2016

Uber may have been a breech birth – all feet first, head last – but it is most definitely moving mainstream and finally bending to all those silly laws it was so intent on breaking.

Make no mistake; many of those laws have had to do some gymnastics to acknowledge that people – rideshare users, not just the providers – were going to do it anyway. Many will call it an uprising or revolution, I still call it a company that broke rules and endangered customers and drivers alike, and I’ll still never use them. I can be stubborn, too.

Two things happened almost simultaneously: I started noticing advertising for Uber drivers on TV, and then it was announced that, finally, all people using Uber in Ontario and Alberta would be covered by insurance the moment they stepped into an Uber car. More on that development in a moment.

First, the ads. I heard a wistful man’s voice listing off the reasons for using an unnamed product. I thought it was for some erectile dysfunction meds, because they always start out wistful and end up thankful, too. Then at the end they tell you to be an Uber driver to make all your economic dreams come true. Uber also said way back in 2014 that their intention was always to replace all their drivers with automated cars, so I think they’ve left a critical line out of their warm and fuzzy message: Come work for us until we don’t need you anymore, and that will be as soon as we can make it happen.

In April, Arianna Huffington, of the Huffington Post, joined their board. She’s good at this; she doesn’t pay her writers, so I found the irony a bit rich that she’ll be helping a company that ultimately would like to not have to pay its drivers. Uber is that idiot your daughter married, finally putting on long pants and getting a real job, but underneath you should always questions its motives. You can put in your “scorpion giving a frog a piggyback ride” story right about here.

Uber started out flouting laws. It ran roughshod over the cab industry in every city it entered by undercutting fares and flooding the market with “drivers.” That’s in quotes because drivers only had to prove they had a newish car and were willing to work stupid hours (called “flexible”) to run around picking up fares. The appeal to users was simple: a handy phone app brought a ride to you fast, and in most instances cheaper than a normal taxi. Throw in Uber drivers (who needs background checks?) who embraced the concept and became chauffeurs with elegant manners and free water bottles, and riders were smitten.

The truth was crappier; Uber’s promised average wages were not borne out by many of its drivers, and message boards are flooded with drivers who once in, started experiencing death by a thousand cuts. Needing to preserve a perfect five-star rating (users report their experience) is a noble aim, but one person’s friendly banter is another’s intrusive chatter. You can go broke betting on people’s moods, as Uber drivers found out. The company’s goal to please its users came at a cost to its drivers.

While taxi drivers and companies staged strikes in many centres against the Uber “invasion,” I never saw the battle that way. The cab industry has long needed cleaning up; laws surrounding it are antiquated and, indeed, struggled to cope with the surge of new technology that made Uber so popular.

I have no stink with the business model, only the way it was introduced. Don’t get me started on the fact Uber is aware that you can’t use a leased private vehicle to do this work, either.

The biggest issue has always been insurance. It wasn’t until two months ago that an insurance product actually existed in Canada – with Aviva – that could provide Uber drivers with the coverage they need to be using their cars to earn income. Previously, standard policies did not stretch to become commercial ones without an appreciable bump in rates – many times normal annual fees. Drivers simply skirted the issue by failing to inform their insurance provider that they were now acting as a livery service, which basically voided their policies. Uber did that whistling and looking sideways thing because hey, they’d dotted their “I”s and crossed their “t”s in their fine print, and used better sleight of hand than David Copperfield to pretend their own insurance covered their drivers. It didn’t. Cowards.

Until now. Uber has finally, in Alberta and Ontario, secured a policy with Intact Financial Corporation (IFC) that protects riders and drivers from the moment a ride is arranged until it is completed. Awesome, right? Hold up. For those Uber drivers who trotted over to Aviva a couple of months ago to be insured and legal, do they have to trot back? In theory, no, while drivers still do have to notify their personal car insurance companies that they are driving for Uber, the work portion of their car usage is now covered under the Uber/Intact policy. The bitch, of course, is in the details.

From Sound Insurance broker, Debbie Arnold: “The edict from Intact is that if the client is insured outside of the Intact family (Belair, Novex, Jevco), they must advise their personal automobile insurer that the vehicle is used for Uber, and Intact is picking up the usage as soon as the driver accesses the Uber app. The problem is that this is new to the industry and we don’t know how the courts will react in the event of a serious claim. However, Intact says that the liability limit is $2,000,000 once the passenger is picked up, the deductible is $1,000 (if they purchased physical damage coverage on their personal policy, and if on that personal policy the deductible is $500, the driver is on the hook for the $500 deductible difference), but they are only providing standard accident benefit coverage (so if the driver purchased maximum buy-ups for med/rehab and attendant care, that additional coverage will only apply when the vehicle is used for personal purposes, not while driving for Uber). There are going to be gaps in coverage here even when the driver informs their personal carrier because there are loopholes.”

As municipalities struggled with a service their voters loved but their entrenched businesses despised, Uber trounced around not caring. Drivers raced to make some money free of all those silly things like regulations and insurance and taxes and oversight – gawd, how annoying is legislation, right? Insurance companies knew two things: They were getting an increasing number of drivers and passengers who weren’t covered, and they were missing out on a chance to make money.

The short takeaway? This is great news for consumers. It’s good for drivers who understand the limitations of the improvement — kudos to the insurance industry for working with local governments to find a way to keep their citizens protected — but the cost of this will come from somewhere, and I’m guessing it’s not Uber’s cashmere-lined pockets or those riders they want to keep bribing with undercut pricing.

Yup. It’s the drivers who will bear this. Until, of course, there are no drivers at all.

Posted in Drive She Said | 1 Comment

Driving while Pokémon is now a thing, and it’s dangerous

New game craze isn’t meant for the car, and it’s just as bad as texting or being drunk

Originally published July 18, 2016

The headlines about the crashes started within hours of the game being released. Actually, it hadn’t even been released in Canada yet, but like anything that flies through the air, boundaries are a mere stutter to those with the technological savvy to find a way. And in the case of Pokémon Go, a new version of an old fad, this is precisely the desirable demographic.

First, a little origin of species. Pokémon was a video game first released in 1996. They quickly followed it up with collectibles, not unlike the baseball cards of yore. My sons are now 24 and 21, but Pokémon was a staple around our house, with piles of kids on the front step playing got ’em, got ’em, need ’em endlessly. Instead of a real life pro team, the Pokémon cards had their backstory in a video game and cartoon.

Flash forward two decades, and Game Freak (owned by Nintendo) in conjunction with Niantic has done the near-impossible: they’ve fired up the imaginations of those now-grown original Pikachu chasers and set their sights on an even bigger demographic. I know what you’re thinking; morons, idiots, you gotta be kidding me. But think for a second. As soon as my son explained to me the new concept of Pokémon Go (the new improved version) I started laughing and shaking my head in admiration.

An Arizona Dept. of Transportation (ADOT) freeway sign along westbound Interstate 10 discourages playing “Pokemon Go” in Phoenix. ADOT said the warnings will be posted on overhead highway signs around the state for the next week.
An Arizona Dept. of Transportation (ADOT) freeway sign along westbound Interstate 10 discourages playing “Pokemon Go” in Phoenix. ADOT said the warnings will be posted on overhead highway signs around the state for the next week.

Setting: Nintendo Head Office, Conference Room for Important Meetings
Challenge: Introduce a new game with a built in base to help ensure success while we build a new target demographic
Problem: People are trying to get their kids away from their screens and off their butts. Kids don’t go outside anymore, haven’t you heard?
Solution: How about a game based on a GPS that forces them to go outside to collect their valuable points?
Result: Someone just got a promotion

You need a phone, and you need a data plan or WiFi on that phone. I’d say nearly all of those original Pokémoners have these two things. The characters they grew up with pop up on their phone, in their neighbourhood; all they have to do is go outside and walk around and catch them. It’s called augmented reality, which is just another name for the world we now raise our kids in. The game is calibrated to be played at a walking pace. The second day my son had it, he and his friend walked 24 kilometres. The next day, they walked 18. They met up with groups of other friends. Both boys have summer jobs; both attend school. I open my mouth to bitch, but seriously, the kids are outside hanging out, getting some serious exercise and loving it. I shut my mouth.

But of course people had to go and wreck it, of course, because people are lazy. Within minutes of thousands and thousands of youth taking to their feet to chase imaginary creatures (hey, don’t knock it; I see a ton of people sporting things that count their steps and the only reward is a number and they are obsessed with the damned things), still others decided to take to their cars. You can catch all the things in a car, right?

Not really. Remember that “calibrated to a walking pace” thing? No problem. Drivers are driving at walking pace. Within hours they were causing collisions. A player down in New York crashed into a tree. There were no serious injuries, because this is the opposite of a high speed collision. In Quebec, a Pokémoron (my name for those who Pokémon Go and drive) backed into a police cruiser. With cops in it. Oops. In Baltimore, this happened:

Police around the world are warning against driving or cycling while playing. Because the target cartoons pop up on a phone screen, you have to move towards them. They can be in backyards, parks, kitchens, anywhere. But they move around and once you get it in your sites, you have to lob Pokéballs at it – essentially little pokébullets. Once captured, you move on. If you’re not already, you will soon see packs of people (all ages; not just those teenagers) or lone warriors wandering around intensely chasing imaginary things. They will stop while they take aim. Then they will continue.

If you think people addicted to texting was bad, get ready for the next wave of worse. Distracted walkers on phones has been a problem for years; distracted drivers texting is near drunk driving danger levels. Pokémon Go is in fewer hands but growing, is slower paced but is more addictive.

If you know anyone who has spent years in front of a computer playing World of Warcraft or anything similar, the entire idea of a game that pushes them outside and makes them walk around is brilliant. That is about to be co-opted into something dangerous is inevitable. Too bad, that.

Posted in Drive She Said | 2 Comments