Saturday, June 30, 2012


MY DEAR BLOG READERS: I can't believe this, but it seems that I've gotten some blowback from my post re: manual transmissions. Some of you out there seem to disagree if learning to drive a stick makes you a better driver. I forget how people think they are such expert drivers to be insulted when their own skills seem to be indicted. I always try to be modest about myself when I warn people on the road that not everybody is such an exert driver like you (in general). Among the few these were the best. Read on:
DEAR SERGEANT AL: "With a stick you have to pay more attention to your driving and to conditions on the road, which in total makes you more alert, thus a better pilot on the road." Huh? Also you write: " . . .the automatic does not give you the full, complete driving experience, particularly if you are driving a proper sports car or a high performance luxury vehicle." What? C'mon I figured you better than this! Don't you have to see what you're doing while you're shifting? I would have figured that not keeping your eyes on the road while shifting would detract, not enhance the driving experience you take note of here . . . perhaps you're the one that needs a road test refresher?
DEAR SERGEANT AL: I take exception to your comments re: whether it is worth learning to drive a standard stick: DEAR SGT. AL: IS IT WORTH ME LEARNING HOW TO DRIVE A MANUAL TRANSMISSION?. I have been driving for 38 years and I have never received a ticket nor been involved in an accident. I drive and have been driving to the same job for the last 27 years at 200 miles a week. I do not know how to drive a standard transmission, and do not have any reason or desire to. Your assumption that just because a driver knows how to clutch a shifter makes him or her a better driver is flawed. I believe that eliminating the manual shifter makes a driver more attentive to road conditions. SInce you don't have to worry about shifting, you have more important things to worry about, like road hazards and other drivers. Yes, most race car drivers use a stick, but more often you find race drivers using automatic. Automatic transmissions are here to stay, and just because you don't need or want one does not necessarily preclude the fact that you are less a driver with one. --CLUTCH DISUSE ENCOURAGED NOT IN EVERY ROAD
DEAR CLUTCH DENIER: You sweet person, you. This statement obviously tells me a lot about you and your driving, that not only indicates you are a somewhat safe, careful, and mature driver, but you are obviously, innocently, and perhaps dangerously oblivious to what really lurks on the road. Firstly, let me clarify what it was that I stated. Never once did I write that I never needed or wanted an automatic transmission. In fact my current car that I purchased this Spring has one. I stated that automatic transmissions are a great invention and convenience. The point I was trying to make was more about the driver than it was about any kind of transmission. 

Secondly, let me compare (respectfully) your credentials and driving experience compared to mine. As I indicated in that article, I have been driving ever since I was 15 years old, and been driving a manual ever since I was 18. I have a class A CDL drivers license with most endorsements. I also have a tow truck, motorcycle, and chauffeurs endorsement on my license. I have also taken numerous tactical training courses for my police work, including high speed vehicle pursuit and protective dignitary driving. I graduated from one of the toughest police motorcycle schools in the country. I have been in the motorcades for three of the last five Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States and their various cabinet officers, presidential candidates, numerous heads of states and their various ministers, numerous state and local officials, members of the diplomatic corp, senior corporate executives, and even celebrities. In the heyday of my police career I logged anywhere up to 100 miles a day on any given tour on patrol. I've been driving for 32 years total.

Until you learn how to drive a manual transmission DENIER, with all due respect, you will never truly know what you are talking about. The statement that eliminating a shifter makes you more attentive to other things on the road, obviously makes you unaware of the fact that a shifter makes it more difficult to do other things behind the wheel like talk on a cell phone or text and drive. Cupholders in cars are more of an American phenomenon. German manufacturers could never understand (actually I don't think they want to understand) why Americans insist on putting them in their cars. If the Germans only realized how the auto tranny has made Americans lazy in their driving they would then understand why we want cupholders in cars. With a shifter, unless you're highway driving, you have even less opportunity to not only to handheld talk or text, but even to quench your thirst. This is why I say if we Americans all shifted our transmissions manually, we would have much safer roads. Some of us truly cannot walk and chew gum at the same time, and depending on the circumstances, that can be a good thing, not just for the walker, but also for everyone around him. America is so infected with non-drivers, that we are now contemplating not just banning texting and driving, but also texting and walking nationwide. Idle hands are the devil's workshop. Even with an automatic, America seems to have found a way behind the wheel to do other things than driving. Our hands aren't even supposed to be idle behind the wheel, that I often find people doing things like reading, texting, handheld talking, nail polishing, shaving, brewing coffee, skies the limit. I say let's give drivers legally and productively something more to do in a car to keep them out of trouble. Let's put a stick shift in their hands for the safety of us all . . .

I appreciate your sentiment, and rationale DENIER, but respectfully, it is YOUR logic that is actually flawed. I won't cite you, but since you seem so resistant to learn to stick shift (which I suspect you are probably resistant to learn, thus unable to do to failure), I do suggest you spend time with someone who shifts to see how the driving experience is different than what you are used to. Happy driving!

Friday, June 29, 2012


When you see lines like this pretend there is a wall that prohibits you from crossing over the lines

DEAR SERGEANT AL: A couple of months ago I was pulled over by the police for crossing and making a left turn over what looked like a change lane in the middle of the road. The officer let me go with a stern warning, but the problem the officer explained to me however, was that there were two double solid yellow lines on each side of the lane between traffic, and that creates a barrier he explained. I still don't get it. If there are two solid double yellow lines bordering a change lane, does that mean a car can't drive over them? CHANGING LANES AND DIRECTIONS INSIDE NO DRIVE RESTRICTED AREAS GEOGRAPHICALLY

DEAR CLAD IN DRAG: I was stopped and let go several weeks ago by the Inglewood Police for the same violation. As I was making a left over the two solid double yellows on Manchester Blvd. to go into (yes of all places) Randy's Donuts, they pulled me over into the parking lot. I wasn't paying attention I must admit. The cops were professional and really cool about it but warned me to watch out! Yes, the police are so correct in both  instances. 

A single yellow line on each side of the change lane establishes directions on each side of the roadway. You can make a left turn over the road to leave onto a private driveway, but you cannot pass. Yellow stripes are turn and passing zones. Tandem solid and stripe means you can either pass or turn depending on which side the solid or stripe line is on. Solid double yellows: pretend there is a wall that you can only proceed forward or make a right, and you can't do anything over the change lane PERIOD. Above all else, and not a solid rule so it depends on the jurisdiction: if there are signs posted the pavement markings are ENFORCEABLE. So CLAD IN DRAG, you and I both got off with a WARNING by the police I see: watch out for the lines between each side of traffic on the road that make up the change lane, to ensure that you can drive into the lane to either pass or turn into a private road lawfully. Drive carefully!

Suggested Reading:

What is a CARMAGEDDON and when will it happen? 
Am I allowed to walk on a highway?
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The definition of a “Concours” car and event
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Suggested Reading:
What is the new national terror alert warning?
Taking photographs at off-limits tourist landmarks .

Thursday, June 28, 2012


DEAR SERGEANT AL: I am planning on purchasing a new micro car that gets substantially better highway gas mileage with a manual transmission. I did some math and figured that I would save more money over the years in gas, especially if gas gets more expensive. The problem is that I don't know how to drive a stick. Is it easy to learn? I'm getting mixed reactions from friends and family. Is it worth learning to drive a manual? --OIL BLOCKER JUAN KILLING ENGINES NOT OXYGEN BY INTERVENTION
This gentleman is shifting his five speed manual gearbox from first gear to second. Make sure you fully depress the clutch when shifting gears, otherwise you'll strip the gears, causing that grinding sound.

DEAR OB JUAN KENOBI: This is an interesting question. Learning to drive a stick is a bit tricky if you are not coordinated. If you are coordinated driving-wise, then all that's required is some getting used to. After you've learned how to drive a stick, then you can drive anything on the road. I learned how to drive a manual at 18 after driving for almost three years and I have a class A CDL driver's license. I can definitely say that if it wasn't for learning my stick shift experience, it would have definitely been much more difficult for me to graduate from motorcycle school at the police academy. A lack of stick shift training also would have made it much more difficult to pass my road tests for both a tractor trailer and a bus. There is a reason why most race car drivers drive with a stick. If you cannot coordinate the actual driving experience of clutching, shifting, and steering, while paying attention to road conditions, a concept which some people cannot do together which is why they have no business driving PERIOD, then a stick shift is not for you. With this in mind, I believe that if ALL drivers were required to learn a stick like about 80% of the rest of the world does, besides the fact that this act alone would disqualify tons of non-driving people from driving, the world would be a much more safer place to drive, especially here in America. 
Mercedes Benz invented the automobile as we know it today with this car, the Patent Motorwagen in 1886, but they were not the first to incorporate automatic transmission technology into their cars.
It was GM's Oldsmobile and Buick divisions that introduced the world to automatic transmission, and cars since have never been the same for better or worse.
The automatic transmission is definitely an American thing. While the Germans (Mercedes Benz particularly) invented the automobile as we know it today, we Americans (particularly General Motors in the 1930's, the first being Buick and Olds) added the automatic, and we are the ones who mostly use it compared to the rest of the world. Mind you, it is a great invention and convenience that has allowed even more people to learn how to drive, but the automatic does not give you the full, complete driving experience, particularly if you are driving a proper sports car or a high performance luxury vehicle. If you plan on renting a car in most parts of the rest of the world frequently and want to save substantially on money doing so, if you ever want to learn how to drive a truck or a motorcycle, and if you ever want to improve your driving skills in the winter time, particularly in areas where there is a lot of snow or ice or off-road conditions, I strongly suggest you learn how to drive a stick. Not only will you be able to drive just about anything on the road, but you will become a better driver. With a stick you have to pay more attention to your driving and to conditions on the road, which in total makes you more alert, thus a better pilot on the road.

An automatic transmission has many parts and components which is why it requires specialized training to repair one, and thus very expensive to repair. If your car ever needs a replacement transmission, count on it being rebuilt with mostly used, rebuilt parts. Rare if ever is there such a thing as getting a brand new tranny in the literal sense.
If I had to bet the rest of my life's income to guess as to why these cars are laid to rest in this graveyard, I would say either insurance write-off from accident damage, or broken automatic transmissions or engine blocks. These are the three biggest costs as to why a car dies to be no longer of any use: it just costs too much compared to the value of the car to get it repaired.
Mechanically there are ups and downs to both manuals and automatics. Some cars come with automatics as standard equipment, some manufacturers charge extra for automatics, anywhere from $1000-4000 and depending on the engine ordered. As cars get more expensive and smaller, as engines become more fuel efficient and smaller, and as gas becomes more expensive, the cost of an automatic will definitely become more cost prohibitive, as it is in the rest of the world. If you keep your cars for long periods and your transmission breaks down, and this should happen anywhere after 150,000 miles for a well built car, plan on spending at least $4000 for a replacement rebuilt transmission at one of your transmission shops like Lee Myles or AAMCO, if you want a lifetime warranty. If the tranny is more sophisticated, like paddle shifting, a semi-auto, more than four gears, or has electronic components, plan on spending even more. Times may have changed, but I have never heard of a tranny being replaced with new original components. I have also never heard of a transmission being fully repaired and/or replaced by an original manufacturer's factory or parts supplier. Most if not all are rebuilt, due to the exorbitant costs. If you purchase a new car, and it should already have transmission problems, most likely the car dealer will outsource your tranny and send your car to a transmission shop like the ones I mentioned, and have them fix your car. All if not most of the parts will be rebuilt. The manufacturer will cover your new car warranty, but they most likely are not going to quickly reveal to you that it was a local transmission shop that fixed it. Transmission repair requires highly specialized training, which is why it is very expensive.

Manual transmissions are cheaper to fix, but easier to break. This is why most old trucks with hundreds of thousands of miles on them have sticks, and probably why a lot of older cars with sticks last a bit longer than auto equipped cars. A bad auto tranny is the #1 reason why most of my older cars wound up in the graveyard. The cost of replacement wasn't worth the value of the car. Of the two cars with sticks I've had, they both could have went a lot further if it wasn't for the rust on one, and a trade-in for the other. If you are not careful you can strip the gears by not pushing down on the clutch all the way. If you like to ride the clutch, which means constantly having your foot on the clutch even when you are not shifting, you can overheat the clutch and cause damage. The most common issues with a stick is clutch replacement, which usually costs a few hundred bucks and more, as opposed to gear replacement on an automatic, which can cost thousands of bucks and more. 

The law of diminishing returns dictates that eventually the cost benefit of stick shift driving will prevail, like it is in the rest of the world, where people pay at least twice as much for gas as we do. There is only so much you can do to make a auto tranny fuel efficient, especially when car and gas prices are skyrocketing.
Although automatics have become much more fuel efficient in recent years, rarely if ever do I see a car that gets better gas mileage with an automatic compared to a stick. Usually they are about the same nowadays, and more often seeing better mpg's by a few digits with a stick, so I see where you are saving money by doing the shifting yourself. At $5+ a gallon and higher, however, I'm sure sometime in the future, and beyond the ability of technology to compensate for this economic disparity with a high tech auto tranny, a stick will win out once again like it once did years ago, by saving you money on future prices of both cars and very expensive gas. But that perhaps is years from now as petroleum becomes a more precious resource. But if you buy a car with a stick now and plan on keeping it for years, I would consider this factor now.
If this is what your daily commute looks like behind the wheel, then there is a good chance that you and your stick shift may have a love/hate relationship.
Sticks are a pain in the ass to drive in heavy traffic, no doubt. If you are not careful, heavy traffic like in Los Angeles, New York, and Boston will force the habit of riding a clutch. Also, be careful of stopping on a steep hill with a stick. Places like San Francisco will get you into trouble if you don't know what you're doing with a stick on a steep grade. You can pop the clutch (let off too quickly), stall the engine, and roll backwards into the car behind you before you can stop. If you are not careful at applying the emergency brake when parked, your stick shifted car can run away. Stick shift cars are easier to start when the battery is weak or in a dead cold winter, as you can roll the car and engage the clutch to start it that way without the starter, at least in older cars. 

So Master OB JUAN, this is the run down on stick verses auto tranny: If you are a frequent leaser, don't keep cars for long, spend money with no object, have no interest in driving a truck, bus, motorcycle, off-road, bad weather, or an exotic auto, then stick to your auto tranny. If your transportation future is about you and electric cars, then there's a good chance that you won't need a stick because the technology for now seems incompatible (but that may change in the future as electric cars become more mechanically sophisticated). If life is as exciting for you as watching Lawrence Welk on PBS with your Buick Electra or Lincoln Town Car in your garage, then stick to auto. If enjoying life to its full potential, however, includes seeping into the cockpit of a Lamborghini or on a Harley Davidson, then have a friend teach you or even better, sign up at a driving school where they can teach you to drive a stick. A WARNING for you: once you learn how to drive a stick, the driving experience for better or worse will never be the same. But you'll be a better driver than a lot of licensed non-drivers because of it. Go get that car with a stick and drive carefully in good health.

Suggested Reading:

What is a CARMAGEDDON and when will it happen? 
Am I allowed to walk on a highway?
Suggested Reading:
The definition of a “Concours” car and event
Suggested Reading:
Suggested Reading:
What is the new national terror alert warning?
Taking photographs at off-limits tourist landmarks .

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


DEAR SERGEANT AL: What is the speed limit on a road when there are NO signs posted? --SPEED AT YOUR OWN RACE NOT AT RISK ALL-RIGHT?

DEAR SAYORNARA: Be careful here. I did some digging on the internet and found that just about every state has it's own law regarding speed limits, both maximums and minimums. On the maximum side it seems the states seem to be more consistent. Wikipedia has a great comprehensive run down on maximum speed limits and it seems the states like to do what its neighboring ones do and thus takes a regional approach to how fast you can go. With the exception of Maine (75 mph) the Northeast likes to stay around 65 mph. The South, Midwest, and California and Washington State like to stay at 70 mph (except Illinois, Oregon, Alaska, and Wisconsin at 65 mph) . Most of the Louisiana Purchase likes to go 75. The rogue ones on this issue seems to be Texas and Utah. Utah's max is 80 mph statewide. Texas believes this is such a states rights issue, that it has let its individual counties decide for themselves how fast they want people to go, but the fastest for some seems to be 80. Some states submit legislation that comes and go, so far Texas is deciding if the maximum uniform should be 80 on the Interstates. The last time the US had a uniformed limit was during the energy crisis during the Ford Administration at 55. It was lifted under Reagan.The 55 limit got such blowback I don't think Congress will ever pass such legislation ever again. 
This is a sign that is begging for trouble and if posted, is not there for just informational purposes.  Think about it, why not just round it off to 10 mph? This sign is made to MAKE you go slow, and is just begging for a cop to enforce it. Whenever you see unusual speed limits like this I would be VERY CAREFUL AND SLOW WAY WAY WAY DOWN!

I am not even going to touch the minimums. It seems just about every state has its own minimums and it seems so arbitrary that there doesn't seem to be a rhyme to any reason. The commonality I do find, however, is that most states, not all, have minimums for residential areas. But the range can go from 10-55 mph. So my suggestion is to check your state CAREFULLY because just about each one gives varying limits under certain conditions. This is what makes enforcement of these laws so enticing because unless you pay strict attention to the signage you can spell trouble for yourself.
Cops LOVE these kind of areas, it justifies their existence and makes you look REAL BAD in court, SO SLOW WAY WAY WAY DOWN when you see signs like this.
So, SAYORNARA, my suggestion? If you can't find signs, not sure how fast you can go,  and factor in officers' arrest speeds regardless of where you are in the country, if you go no more than 65 max on any highway in the US (that's about a mile a minute, and plenty fast if you think about it) and no  more than say 30-35 on a local road, that should keep you off any substantial police radar since there are plenty of other lead foots out there for the cops to catch. I would be more mindful of the limit if you come to a pedestrian or school zone, or see people walking about. In that case you should be going a bit slower. Dirt and gravel roads you should go even slower than that. Any kind of park or federal property, go WAY SLOW. That's my opinion, but don't hold me to it as every rule has an exception . . .

Good question SAYORNARA. You're off with a WARNING. Eyes should be WIDE OPEN and on the lookout if suddenly you don't see signage and not sure how fast or slow you should go.

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