Category Archives: driving tips

Salt life: what is undercoating and why does it matter?

For those of us lucky enough to live in some saltier climes, rust is a fact of life.  Our cars and trucks succumb to this parasitic oxidation more often than not and there are only a few things we can do to slow the process down.  Chief among those is what is universally called undercoating, and we’re going to lay out some of the details here.

While the exact chemical make up of different undercoatings will vary, most are an oily substance designed to stick to the bare metal of your car or truck’s undercarriage and protect it from the elements.  Doing so will keep your vehicle from rusting and meeting an early demise due to the “car cancer”

Some swear that products are very easy to apply with some free time and a few spray bottles.  Others recommend a professional shop that specializes in undercoating.  Whichever route you choose, be sure to remove as much of the existing rust as possible, and apply a rust “reformer” spray to the stuff you can’t remove.  This will convert rust back into a strong/safe material and will allow you to coat or paint it without being concerned about it returning.

Professional shops will often charge upwards of $100 dollars for their service, but what they can do (that you might not be comfortable doing) is drill small holes in doors and other panels to apply the coating to the inside of those panels.  This means you are less likely to see bubbles coming through your paint and rotting your car from the inside out.

Suffice it to say, if you plan on keeping your vehicle for a long time, an undercoating is a safe way to protect your car for years to come.  A simple DIY job or a relatively inexpensive professional package will guarantee that your car doesn’t fall pray to rust and leave you wondering why you ever moved to New England.

Driving Instruction and Why It Needs to Change

As someone who learned to drive at a very young age on private property, parking lots, and various driveways, I feel very strongly about the benefits of getting familiar with how a car operates just as soon as you can touch the pedals.  There is no replacement for seat time and an experienced kid behind the wheel is much safer than one that doesn’t know how to handle a car.

Now the problem today is that most drivers (young and old alike) do not know how to handle a car in the worst case scenarios simply because they’ve never been put into those situations. Driver education focuses on preventing drivers from getting themselves into dangerous situations, and that’s important, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes things happen and when they do, no amount of preventative education will help.

It is under these conditions in which a driver would benefit from a training program that focuses on car control in extreme circumstances.  A program that allows a driver to experience a car skidding out and losing traction or the pulse of the brake pedal as the ABS kicks in should be a required class to get your license, to drive on the road in which you are responsible for your car, your safety and that of your passengers, and by extension, the lives of other drivers on the road.

We are letting new drivers off easy with the almost laughably lax requirements to get a learner’s permit/license.  30 hours of classroom instruction, 12 hours of behind the wheel instruction, and 6 hours of in-car observation (in MA) is all fine and dandy, but where is the instruction around how to avoid a snowbank when your brakes lock up and your car won’t turn?  Where is the instruction on what do to if the back end of the car starts sliding out on you?  The old adage of “hope for the best but prepare for the worst” has never rung truer.  We want young drivers on the road who are competent at handling potentially dangerous situations because they have experienced them before (in a controlled environment of course).

We need to start taking young driver education more seriously and prepare them for dangerous situations so that they can react appropriately and possibly keep themselves out of trouble.

AWD vs. FWD vs. RWD: A lesson in important acronyms

The above three letter acronyms will mean something to a few, but confuse others.  We’re here to explain the pros and cons of the three main different drive types for vehicles on the road today.  First, let’s just spell those out:

AWD = All Wheel Drive  :  FWD = Front Wheel Drive  :  RWD = Rear Wheel Drive

With that out of the way, let’s start out with one of the more useful drive types for here in New England, AWD.  All wheel drive means that all 4 wheels of the car are being powered by the engine, generally providing more grip in slippery situations.  Manufacturers known for their prowess in this particular drive type are Audi and Subaru, Audi in particular having really pioneered the movement through their early Quattro rally cars.  The benefits are numerous, more grip in the snow/rain/loose surfaces, extreme dry circumstances and generally even tire wear among others, but you do sacrifice gas mileage as there are more wheels that need to be powered by the engine.  Most would consider vehicles with AWD a great all-around vehicle for those needing one car to do it all through all 4 seasons, however, this drive type isn’t as common as the next one.

Front wheel drive is where the engine only powers the front two wheels.  This is generally considered to the most common type of drivetrain, accounting for a vast majority of vehicles on the road because of its low cost and simplicity, and is found in popular vehicles such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and others.  Front wheel drive vehicles can be more compact, and often have better legroom in the rear as they don’t require any mechanicals in the rear of the vehicle as in RWD or AWD.  Additionally, FWD is much easier to control in inclement conditions as you don’t have to worry about the rear end swinging out every time you touch the throttle  The downsides to FWD are few, but they generally have a greater turning radius as a result of having the driven wheels also do the turning, and they often exhibit what is called torque steer, which means in rapid acceleration the car will pull to the left or the right.  However, manufacturers are constantly coming up with ways to combat this issue and newer, sportier FWD cars are being praised for their handling similar to a RWD sports car.

If you were to take a poll amongst gearheads on which drivetrain they preferred, nine out of ten would probably answer RWD.  The simple, front engine, RWD layout is what those with oil running through their veins consider to be the purest expression of a sports car.  It allows the driver to get a little sideways when desired, and generally helps a vehicle keep close to the perfect 50/50 weight distribution.  This is probably the rarest of drive-trains and often limits the vehicle’s ability to perform well in anything but ideal conditions with anything less than a very experienced driver.  Porsche, BMW, Ferrari, and most sports cars have this layout (among others) and it will probably stay that way for the foreseeable future.  The benefits among those listed above are a higher MPG rating than AWD, lighter weight, and a generally simpler layout because of the two wheel drive instead of four.  However, as much fun as these cars are on a sunny day, when the weather turns they can be a bit tricky to handle as a slightly liberal use of the throttle can result in a spin.  RWD cars are generally found in garages as a second weekend vehicle, but there are those out there that will daily drive them as well (though they are few and far between in states that experience bad weather).  While RWD has traditionally been found in higher-end exotics, manufacturers such as Mazda, Subaru, Honda and Toyota are stepping up and making cheap, fun, and simple cars such as the long-lived Miata and the joint BRZ/FRS project by Subaru/Toyota.  This leaves enthusiasts that aren’t among the 1% to enjoy the thrills of a well-balanced vehicle without emptying their pockets.

While we didn’t cover the 4WD type of drivetrain in this article, it is very similar to AWD in that the number of driven wheels is the same, and the differences are minimal except for the fact that 4WD is generally associated with more off-road oriented vehicles and AWD is usually reserved for cars or light-duty cross-overs.  Whichever one you choose for your next vehicle, be sure to do your research before you decide so that you are happy with your purchase for years to come.

Tips for driving in the rain

With the heavy rain we have been experiencing here in Boston, we thought it best to put a quick reminder about things you should do differently when driving in heavy rain.

1)    TURN ON YOUR LIGHTS!  As hard as it can be to see a gray car in low sunlight, it is even harder when there is heavy rain involved so be sure that both your headlights and tail-lights are on.  It is now a law in the state of Massachusetts that you must use lights when you have your wipers on, so pay attention and help other drivers see you.

2)    Drive a little more cautiously, but NOT TOO SLOWLY!  Everyone treats driving in the rain differently, with some being a little too brave, and others going a different direction and going 40mph on the highway.  Do not be the latter as you are just as likely to get in (or cause) an accident as the speeder cutting people off.  Maintain an appropriate level of speed while traveling to reduce the risk of causing unnecessary braking and swerving of other drivers attempting to go around you.

3)    Watch for standing water on the shoulders and outside lanes.   The roads we drive on are designed to send water off to the side, but often the rain overcomes the drains and we run into pools of water on the edges of the outside lanes.  Be careful to avoid these, and if that proves dangerous, at least slow down before hitting the puddle to avoid hydroplaning, which is what occurs when your tires float on the surface of the water and lose grip.

4)    Overall, just pay closer attention to what is going on around you.  Drivers behave very differently when there are other factors affecting their habits and having serious rain puts most drivers on edge.   Watch the behavior of all drivers in your immediate area and keep your head on a swivel.