Car gives driving scores to train drivers to be less aggressive

Dear Car Talk:

We recently bought a 2016 Prius. In general, we love it. We're averaging mileage in the mid-50s. But I have one complaint: After each ride, it gives you a driving score from 1 to 100; if it thinks your score is too low, you get "helpful" driving hints. What the heck does it know about driving? It gets driven, but it has never driven anywhere on its own – it's not a self-driving car. I've been driving for decades before it was even born! If I slam on the brakes to avoid some moron who has just swerved in front of me, it most likely will advise me to decelerate more smoothly. But the most aggravating feature is that it consistently gives my wife higher scores than mine. I generally get scores in the mid-60s or 70s (along with helpful driving hints), whereas she consistently gets scores in the 80s and even sometimes in the 90s. I think it's prejudiced against men. So, my question: Is there any way to disable this annoying feature without having to spend thousands of dollars? – Mike

RAY: It's measuring aggressiveness, Mike. And judging from the tone of your letter, it looks like it might be on to something!

If you want better mileage – and if you want your car to last longer – driving gently is among the best things you can do. This annoying “score” is measuring how gently you accelerate, how steadily you cruise and how infrequently and gently you brake. And it’s telling you something I’m sure you already know: that you’re an animal, Mike, and your wife is not. I’m sure your wife anticipated this problem when she talked you into trading in your Dodge Charger for this Prius.

Psychologists know that if you want to change behavior, you have to measure it. So, by giving you a score, and tacitly encouraging you to beat your score, the car is trying to train you to do the things that improve your mileage. Pavlovian games like this work on most people – we’re a lot more like lab rats than we like to admit.

I suppose, Mike, you could try to spite it and play a game to see how low a score you could get. Then you can try to convince your wife that it’s like blood pressure – the lower, the better. But I don’t think she’s going to buy it.

And unfortunately, there is no way to turn off or disable the scoring. You may be able to choose a different information screen (like the messages screen), but then you’ll lose all the other useful information that the mileage screen provides.

So I’d make peace with it, Mike, and try following its suggestions. Or, if that fails, try sabotaging your wife’s braking score by yelling “Watch out!” every few minutes.

There’s really no shortcut on a transmission rebuild

Dear Car Talk:

My father left his grandson his '56 Ford Thunderbird. My nephew and a friend were restoring the car, but when they had the engine rebuilt, they didn't bother rebuilding the transmission. Now the transmission is going out, and our mechanic, who takes care of his T-bird, gave him the name of his transmission specialist. My nephew was told that this person can rebuild the transmission without taking it out of the car. I would really like a second opinion. Is this possible – completely rebuilding a transmission without dropping it out of the car? Thanks. – James

RAY: If your nephew's main concern is not spending much money, he can let this guy give it a try.

It’s possible that this guy will get the transmission to function again, but it’ll be an incomplete job. Without removing the transmission, you can’t replace the front seal, which, if it’s not leaking now, may leak later. And you can’t replace the torque converter, which is a crucial transmission component.

What he’s probably going to do is remove and clean up the valve body, adjust the bands and change the filter and fluid. If you’re lucky, that could get the transmission working again, and your nephew will be set for a while.

But if the transmission’s clutches are cooked, the gears are chewed up or the torque converter is failing, he won’t be able to fix that stuff with the transmission still in the car. That would require removing the transmission and rebuilding it – if you can find the parts.

So before your nephew spends anything, I would suggest that he track down his local T-Bird club. There undoubtedly are a bunch of guys around who either love old T-Birds, or who prefer tinkering with old T-Birds to cleaning their gutters. See if you can find them.

If there’s no T-Bird-specific club in your area, any “classic car” club probably will do (or find the national club online). Then ask those guys how they approached this problem with their T-Birds. If there are 15 guys in the club, you’ll get the benefit of at least 15 experiences fixing T-Bird transmissions.

If you can get the thing totally rebuilt, I’d suggest that you do that. Obviously, that’ll cost more, but this car is not just any old heap, James – it’s a family heirloom old heap. And presumably, your nephew plans to keep it for a long time.

And if you run into a dead end, tell your nephew to sign up for one of those cultural exchange tours to Cuba. And see if bringing back a 1955 Ford transmission will count as a “cultural exchange.”

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