Car Wars: Who Can You Trust?
It’s tough rating new vehicles without becoming a mouthpiece for the auto industry. That's why you can't trust most car columnists, and ...
It’s tough rating new vehicles without becoming a mouthpiece for the auto industry. That's why you can't trust most car columnists, and be very leery of any car named Car of the Yea r. Good auto journalists see the 'suits' coming a mile away. It all begins when the smooth-talking auto maker reps invite you to lunch and tell you how much they admire your work, but how much better it would be with more “balance”.
They then invite you on free trips to Asia and Europe, where you are coddled in five-star hotels, loaned specially prepared vehicles to “test-drive,” and get interviews with the top brass. Inevitably, the top guys— and I do mean guys— have very little to say. So, the PR flacks concoct writing prizes for the “best” reports— the ones that repeat the industry’s mantras.
No one reports on the companies’ “secret” car warranties, fuel economy misrepresentation, or poor crash worthiness scores. Or, if one wants to get really personal, you could mention Hyundai’s pirating of Toyota’s quality-control staffers, GM’s cover up of a decade of engine intake manifold failures, Daewoo, Mitsubishi, and Hyundai CEOs being charged with criminal activity or VW’s whore-mongering for its top executives and union leaders 'periods of relaxation' during off-site negotiations.
The old heave ho. When I go to auto shows, I mention these things to the press, even though I risk being thrown out. Fortunately, this has only happened twice: First, at Montreal’s International Auto Show in the early ’70s, and then, a few years later, when Ford’s goons threw me out of the Toronto Auto Show.
This second occasion had a happy ending. Ford's president later apologized for the “over-zealous” action and subsequently met with me to settle the Rusty Ford Owners Association’s $2.8 million in compensation claims.
My latest auto show confrontation occurred at the 2004 Edmonton Auto Show, where I gave a few interviews to CBC TV regarding Mercedes’ poor quality and the downside of Smart mini-cars.
I was left alone, but my publisher representative was shown the door. I tagged along, debating in my mind whether or not to sit down in the middle of the convention center floor to sing “We Shall Overcome.”
Complaints and service bulletins. Good auto journalists know that cars should be rated only after a driving test and an owners’ survey of past models (Consumer Reports and Lemon-Aid do this). This data should be cross-referenced, through The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) safety complaint files and service bulletins (www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/), information pertinent to all countries, including Panama. Rankings should be predicated upon important characteristics measured over a significant period of time, unlike “Car of the Year” contests.
Don't trust self-administered fuel economy ratings sent to the government by auto maker labs. They are often off by 15 percent. Automotive News (AN) recently added its name to the skeptics when it found that Honda and Toyota hybrids get 20–40 percent less real-world gas mileage than advertised. Drivers can get excellent fuel mileage by sticking with the fuel-efficient small cars that we have known for years. Panamanian drivers have known this for years. Just look at the large number of small cars on our roads.
Higher tag fees. That's what Panama City's new stand in Mayor, Roxana Mendez, promises us. Panama needs money badly and she says higher fees will be calculated according to the model of vehicle driven. This is a terrible idea.
There are hundreds of car models that come in all prices, shapes and sizes. The weight of the vehicle would be a fairer criterion (higher emissions and greater infrastructure wear).
Better yet, why not hire parking enforcement officers and make millions of dollars ticketing lawbreakers? Or, charge $2 per car, per day, for parking at the Cinta Costera (for the Mayor and parking lot security).
911 on hold.
Telethons collected $2.3 million to buy 23 ambulances, but there is no money in the budget for gas.
Here's the good news: 90 percent of the 911 calls are pranks, so, fewer real emergencies go unanswered.
Hmm? can you run that by me, again? HOLA? HELLO? CLICK?
Next week: ABS brakes that break