Husband has a habit of popping the hood

Dear Car Talk:

Please settle a contentious issue between my husband and me.

He is an electrical engineer who is never wrong, and I am a housewife who values her pride and is tired of being embarrassed in public. We have agreed to abide by your decision, although I think my husband may renege on this agreement if you decide in my favor!

We have a 2017 Volkswagen Golf, a 2016 Toyota Tundra and a 2019 Subaru Legacy. The contentious issue is my husband’s belief that driving these vehicles during the hot summer months for more than 10 miles necessitates raising the hood after parking the vehicle, essentially to “let the heat out.”

If we go to the grocery store, he raises the hood in the parking lot. If we drive out of town, he will raise the hood at the rest stop and again at our destination. If we drive 15 minutes to go out to eat, he pops the hood at the restaurant. I am tired of nice, concerned strangers approaching us to see if we “need any help.”

Surely in this day and age, cars and trucks have fans or refrigerants that will automatically help cool the engine when a vehicle is stopped!

If you say this practice is good for the car or truck, I will swallow my pride and try to accept the fact that we are the only ones EVER to do this, wherever we go!

Love your advice and your newspaper column. Thanks for your thoughts. – Becky

RAY: Oh, Becky. We feel for you, sister.

You’re absolutely right. The fact that nobody else on the planet except Hood-Up-Henry does this (and no manufacturer recommends it) is a pretty good clue that it’s 100% unnecessary.

Car engines are designed to run hot. They have robust cooling systems, and fans that are designed to come on even after the car is shut off, when necessary.

But unfortunately, you married an engineer. And engineers focus on the theoretical.

Even theoretically, the engine itself – the pistons, crankshaft and valves – is unaffected by how long it takes the heat to dissipate. But there are rubber belts, seals and hoses whose lives could be extended by (according to our detailed calculations) up to 11 minutes total over the life of the car if he dutifully raises the hood after each and every drive.

Is it worth it? No. I would say just in marital strife, he’s already on the losing side of the ledger.

Then you factor in the wear and tear on the springs, hinges and pistons that hold up the hood, the hood latch and the hood latch cable, and the dry-cleaning bills from the grease he gets on his restaurant clothes, and I’d say he’ll never catch up, no matter how many minutes of life he adds to his belts and hoses.

But as you wisely – and probably correctly – predict in your letter, telling him he’s theoretically right but practically all wet is not going to get him to change his behavior. For that, you may have to resort to trickery.

Here’s what I’d do. Next time you two have restaurant reservations, pay some neighborhood kid to stop by while you’re eating and steal the battery. Your husband will acknowledge that his hood-up habit just cost him $90. But he’ll argue it’s a fluke, and that he’s still saving money in the long run. So, a month later, pay the kid to do it again. That ought to persuade him that there’s great benefit to keeping the hood latched closed in public places.

If not, we give up, Becky, and all we can offer you is our admiration and sympathy.

Car safety changes geared toward computers, not humans

Dear Car Talk:

Why don’t cars come with brake lights on the front end as well as the back end?

Seems like that could prevent a lot of accidents at four-way stops, at crosswalks and at streets with left turn lanes. – Mary

RAY: It's an interesting idea, Mary.

It would provide useful information at four-way stops. It would let pedestrians in crosswalks know that a driver sees you and is slowing down. And it would let an oncoming motorist know that a person making a left turn sees them coming and is waiting before crossing traffic.

There are two potential downsides I can think of. One is that if you put brake lights on the front of the car, at night, you wouldn’t know if a car was coming or going. And if you think drunk drivers are a menace now …

Imagine seeing headlights and brake lights at night and not knowing if it’s two cars or the same car. Now imagine that in the rain.

I suppose you could address that by using a unique signal – something other than a red light. But that leads to the second potential drawback: information overload.

Drivers are already processing a lot of information when they drive – assuming they’re paying attention. And right now, the signals from other cars are pretty straightforward. You’ve got headlights, which means the car is coming at you, taillights, which means the car is traveling in the same direction you are, brake lights for stopping, and turn signals. Add another light signal to read and it’s possible you could confuse people.

Maybe not. But rest assured that a change like this would not be made without years’ worth of study and research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation. They’re loathe to make changes like this unless they have proven, real-world value. And no negative effects on safety.

The other factor is that, increasingly, we’re giving up on humans and turning over the decision-making to computers. The emphasis right now, rather than adding information for humans to process, is to take human brains out of the equation.

That’s why there are now safety systems that detect pedestrians and stop the car if the driver doesn’t. And systems that stop the car if you pull out from a four-way stop and are heading toward another vehicle.

In the not too distant future, cars will communicate directly with each other, letting a nearby car know its proximity, direction and speed. And automatically transmitting an obscene gesture on your behalf when another car’s computer cuts off your car’s computer. Isn’t life grand?

About the Author