Slow driving can be as discourteous, dangerous as speeding

Dear Car Talk:

My wife and I have differing opinions on how fast to drive. I think driving 5-7 mph under a speed limit is not being discourteous to other drivers. I also like to drive slower when approaching a signal.

Your column is awesome; I look forward to reading it every week. — Richard

RAY: Buttering me up won’t help you today, Richard (but please do try it again in the future). I have to side with your wife.

If you’re able to drive at the speed limit and do so safely, that’s what you should do. I’d never criticize anyone for driving at the speed limit, even though many people drive faster than that. But I don’t recommend being the guy moseying along at 23 in a 30 zone. It is discourteous to drivers behind you, especially on a road where people can’t legally or easily pass you.

You may be in no hurry whatsoever. You may be retired. You may be enjoying the sounds of the birds singing and your wife complaining about your driving. But most people aren’t in that situation and get frustrated behind someone who appears to be slowing down traffic on a shared, public road for no reason.

While it would be nice to live in a world where everybody slows down and enjoys scenery more, in this world your driving behavior leads to tailgating, road rage and potentially dangerous behavior in other drivers, like trying to pass you while flipping you the bird at the same time.

There also are studies that show that speed differential leads to collisions on highways. So if you’re going 48 mph and someone else is driving 62, that’s a recipe for a crash, regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong.

Now, if you simply feel like you can’t drive safely when doing the speed limit, then it’s time to consider whether you should still be driving at all. And whether it’s time to enjoy the passenger seat and let your wife do the driving. I know that’s a tough pill to swallow, Richard, but it happens to everyone at some point. At least think about it honestly. You don’t want to get to the point where your wife is renting a car and meeting you at the supermarket.

Manufacturer changes and upgrades don’t follow a schedule

Dear Car Talk:

Love reading your column. I always learn something and appreciate your humor.

Years ago (back in the Dark Ages), my uncle told me to always buy a vehicle in the even-numbered years. He said that most changes were done in the odd-numbered years, and the even numbered years were when they worked out the bugs from the changes the year before.

Not sure if whoever told him that had all their fries in one basket or if that really was the truth then, or ... if it still applies. What do you think? — Christine

RAY: I’d file this under Old Husbands’ Tales, Christine, but I’m not sure an uncle qualifies. I may need to start a whole new category.

Car redesigns have never been on such a rigid schedule. In the old days that you’re probably referring to, the 1950s and ’60s, the manufacturers did make a big deal every fall about “next year’s new models.” But in reality, that often meant a tweak of a taillight or a new piece of trim. The real, mechanical guts of the car were not changed every year. Or every other year.

The truth is that the complete redesigns — new platform, new engines, new interiors — are all over the calendar. And while product life cycles are shorter today than they’ve ever been, the average vehicle is still only redesigned once every six to seven years. And there’s no general assumption you can make about when that will happen. You’d have to check each manufacturer’s product schedule.

Top-selling cars get more-frequent updates. Poorer-selling cars get ignored for years on end, because the costs of redesigning them may never pay off. And pickup trucks don’t get redesigned that often, because their buyers aren’t as eager for change. To make things more complicated, some manufacturers stagger different types of major improvements.

So a car may move to a new platform and yet carry over its old engines to avoid shaking out too much new stuff at once. Then, a couple of model-years later, the car may get new engine or transmission options.

Redesign plans also can be changed — and they are all the time. A recession can push back a planned redesign by a year or two, or more. Or a drop in sales due to a redesign of a popular car may lead to a sooner-than-expected “emergency” restyling. Or a supposed upgrade of a screen system will turn out to be hated by customers, resulting in bad owner satisfaction scores. So a manufacturer may make re-engineering it a top priority.

So, the idea of a two-year schedule wasn’t true back then, and it’s not true now, Christine.

What IS true is that — if you have the option — it’s not a bad idea to wait a year or two after a major redesign before buying, to let other folks be the lab rats. Despite the greatest engineering brains and quality-control systems known to Detroit-kind, screw-ups still happen. Ask Honda owners about their new capacitive-touch volume controls from a few years ago (which replaced volume knobs) if you want to hear some creative foul language.

Got a question about cars? Write to Car Talk write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at

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