How to stop a car that creeps on hills while parked

Dear Car Talk:

I have a new, manual-transmission 2016 Subaru Forester with 3,600 miles on it. When I park on a hill and put the car in first gear, it creeps downhill in increments, regardless whether it faces uphill or downhill. This also happens when I add the hand brake at a “reasonable” pull. To get it to not creep down the hill, I have to pull the brake handle almost vertical. This seems wrong, but the dealer where I bought the car says they can’t get it to lose position on a hill, and he tells me that engines these days have less compression. But my 2008 Subaru had even less compression than the Forester, and first gear held hills just fine, both forward and backward. Is this the new normal? I’ve been driving stick shifts for five decades, and this is my first experience with this issue in a new engine. – Poke

RAY: Do you live on Lombard Street, Poke?

Under normal conditions, if you put your transmission in first gear or reverse, there ought to be enough compression in a 2.5-liter engine to keep the car from rolling. Of course, if you’re on a steep hill, or you have 100 bowling balls in the back seat, the weight of the car can overcome the compression of the engine and cause the car to move.

That’s why we have – wait for it – the parking brake! And if pulling the parking-brake lever all the way up stops the car from rolling, that’s exactly what you should do. Now, the parking brake may need to be adjusted. You can ask your dealer to check it for you.

You also can chock the wheels by turning them toward the curb, which means the car would have to overcome both the inertia of the engine and the height of the curb to roll away. You also could try lassoing the car to a tree.

My other suggestion is to have the service manager come with you to where you park the car, and show him that it rolls. Even better, ask him to drive separately in another 2016 Forrester so that you can compare the two.

If another new 2016 Forrester stays put, then I suppose your compression could be bad or your clutch could be slipping. But I find either of those possibility unlikely because (1) the car is brand new and you’d notice poor performance if the compression were bad, and (2) you’ve been driving stick shifts for five decades, and presumably haven’t burned out the clutch in 3,600 miles.

On the other hand, if you’ve recently lent the car to your nephew, Leroy, a slipping clutch would be the first thing I’d check for.

But I’m guessing this has mostly to do with where you park. You can try using reverse instead of first, as it often has a slightly taller gear ratio. But I think you’ll find that the ultimate solution is to make regular and firm use of the parking brake, Poke.

Adaptive headlights got their inspiration from an oldie

Dear Car Talk:

I remember reading about the Tucker automobile that tried to come out around 1950. It had a headlight in the center of the grille that turned with the direction of the steering wheel. It sounds like a good idea to me. Why hasn’t that idea been incorporated in other cars? I would appreciate your comments. – Harry

RAY: The 1948 Tucker (called the Tucker 48) had a bunch of innovative safety features, including a perimeter frame for crash protection, a reinforced roof in case of rollovers, a padded dashboard and a shatterproof glass windshield – all stuff we take for granted today.

But most people remember that “third eyeball,” “Cyclops” headlight in the middle of the front grille that turned with the steering wheel.

It was a great idea, and guess what, Harry? You can now get it on an increasing number of new cars, often as optional equipment. Not the third, middle eye, but regular headlights that swivel with the direction of the car.

They’re called adaptive headlights, and they usually work with small electric motors that can adjust the aim of the headlights about 15 degrees in either direction.

Like everything else these days, they use computer power to figure out how fast the car is going (so your headlights aren’t flying back and forth every time you parallel park), the angle of the steering wheel and how quickly the car is turning.

Based on those inputs, the electric motors aim the lights to try to keep their illumination on the road ahead of you while you’re making a turn, rather than lighting up the trees at the side of the road.

Some cars also use a separate “side”-pointing light for very-low-speed turning, like when you’re turning off the road into a driveway. That can be helpful, too.

The adaptive headlights we’ve tested work really well. They’re absolutely a desirable safety feature. I suspect they’ll trickle down to more and more affordable cars over the next few years.

But even now, you can get them on certain (usually higher-end trim levels) cars as common as the VW Jetta, all new Minis, the Mazda 3 and 6, the 2017 Hyundai Elantra and the Subaru Outback.

So you can thank Preston Tucker when you get your next new car, Harry, and can suddenly see around the bend.

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