Category: Humour

Mastering the Technology of a New Car

Our fifteen-year-old clunker, a 2002 Nissan Sentra with only 118,000 kilometres on it, finally ran into the ground on the July long weekend. There was a terrible racket from underneath the car that turned out to be a heat shield dragging on the pavement. A minor repair maybe, but we had long ago agreed that we would not put another cent into it. I called the Kidney Foundation and a few days later, they towed it away, providing me with a $300 charitable donations receipt.

We mined Phil Edmonston’s Lemon-aid New and Used Cars and discovered a new class of vehicle which we did not know existed. It’s a CUV, a crossover utility vehicle, which is smaller than an SUV and apparently very popular. That the seats of the car are higher off the ground is a huge advantage for seniors with mobility issues, and apparently there are now all sorts of safety features that will prevent crashes. We considered only two vehicles: the Nissan Rogue and the Toyota RAV4. Ultimately, we settled on the Toyota because I wanted a hybrid.

I made an appointment on the internet to test drive a RAV4 hybrid first thing Tuesday morning. The local Toyota dealership was only a short distance away by streetcar. When we arrived, the young sales rep showed us the exact model we were interested in and, within an hour, we became owners of a new RAV4 hybrid he would deliver to our home two days later. On delivery, the sales rep spent an hour and a half explaining how the car worked, and then left us with the car and two thick manuals. Undoubtedly, this was the most expeditious car purchase we have ever made.

Buying is easy. Learning how to use it more difficult. Three and a half months later, the car is still a continuing revelation. Keyless, the car door opens when we approach, so long as we have the fancy fob (worth $800 if lost) in pocket or purse. It took me several days to realize that, locking it, requires two taps on the door handle that will activate a light on the mirror to tell me that the car is actually locked. And although it is clear that one has to depress the brake before pushing the ignition button, the car is so quiet that we have on occasion forgotten to turn it off. Once, several hours after we last used it, a neighbour knocked on our front door to tell us that our car parked on the street still seemed to be running. Even yesterday when I was outside the car, the lights were still on and the door would not lock, and I couldn’t figure out why. Only then did it come to me that I had forgotten to depress the ignition button.

Then there is the gear shift lever. Whenever we put it into reverse, the camera appears on the master console screen with yellow and red lines showing where our car is in relation to cars behind it. The yellow line is apparently the trajectory of our car. The red line is the point at which I would actually hit the car behind. Gauging how those lines reflect the reality of the space required for parallel parking has been a challenge. But I’m getting the hang of it, finally. It even beeps a warning if someone or something should cross my path behind.

The warning beeps, and the flashing lights, are marvellous. So long as the various safety features are turned on, the lights on the mirrors will flash when a car, or sometimes even a bicycle in a bicycle lane, is passing in my blind spot. Or when I am drifting out of my lane on the freeway. If the beeps or lights come on, I now know to pay attention. Something is wrong; my job is to figure out what.

For all the wonderful safety features of this new car, the Master Console Screen is terribly distracting. It will take us forever to understand all its features, but already we are learning. We have more or less mastered the Audio; endless radio choices, SiriusXM if we knew why we should subscribe to it, and my entire music collection accessible by merely inserting a computer stick into the USB port below. And, just to make sure that we are fully informed, the screen identifies each program and each piece of music we hear.

As for the Apps, the Navigation feature has already proven invaluable. Tap in an address and a map and a friendly voice will give directions. Maybe even several options, with times and distances, for how to get there. How we are to evaluate the routes, we doen’t yet know. But we’ve already learned several things:

  1. The system will not allow us to tap in a new destination when the car is moving. Apparently that is a safety feature to prevent distracting the driver.
  2. The directions for the downtown core must be taken with a grain of salt. Often we know better than the system how to get from our home to the Gardiner expressway, for example. To its credit, the system adjusts to the route we actually choose to go.
  3. On the highway, the directions are usually right and we second guess the system at our peril.
  4. I must become more tolerant when the voice mispronounces local street names. The fact that AI is not perfect, I should consider some consolation.

The Telephone App is a light-year improvement over the dashboard cradle which used to hold my iPhone in the Sentra. So long as the smart phone is in my purse, it apparently connects by Bluetooth to the console screen. Phone numbers magically appear on the screen. Those numbers we use regularly are now installed for instant access by touch. And I’ve discovered a button on the steering wheel which I can push to activate a personal assistant who will call someone else on my Contacts list or find coffee shops, gas stations and restaurants nearby. All I need to do is think up something for the assistant to do and, voilà, the call is made or the results appear on the screen. Talking so easily on the telephone in the car is a new treat for me and I love it. As for the computer searches for nearby restaurants, I have to steel myself not to look at the results while driving alone. That would be dangerous.

Learning not to be distracted by the Master Console Screen is a major challenge. At first, we were endlessly fascinated by the colourful image which shows the flow of power in our hybrid from the gas engine and the battery, and back again. Trying to figure out what conditions cause the operation to change, and how that affects gas mileage, was an initial preoccupation which we have given up. I now just rely on the gas gauge showing the mileage to the next fill-up. It appears somewhere in the second set of information windows behind the steering wheel itself. Those are controlled by a toggle on the steering wheel which has multiple functions that I am gradually learning how and when to use. I wish I could just read the manual and assimilate all its info, flat-out. Alas, that’s not my learning style.

Last week, my husband looked up how to turn on the heated steering wheel and the heated seats which were supposed to be in this car. In the past, he scoffed at such amenities. Not any more. He likes the heated seat, even in warm fall temperatures. He says the warmth reduces the pain in his back. And the heated steering wheel? All the better to assuage arthritis in aching fingers and wrists. Who would have guessed that our new car, as well as being a fabulous new computer (perhaps more properly a mirror for my computer), was also going to be a new mode for therapy?

This could be the last new car we ever buy. Just as well. Learning how to use all its features may well take us a decade.

 

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The Day I Hit the Bentley

Today when we renewed our ICBC government-owned car insurance on the two old cars we keep out west, I was reminded of the only claim I have ever made on my car insurance. The time I hit the Bentley.

It was a baby blue Bentley convertible which I had seen one bright sunny day being driven along Marine Drive in Ambleside. Probably one of the most distinctive and expensive cars I have ever seen in my whole life. I noticed it at the time and promptly forgot about it.

Many months later, I returned to Vancouver and was driving my 2000 teal blue four-door Toyota Corolla, with the stick shift which always takes me a while to get used to, over the Lions Gate Bridge. It was mid-afternoon. My companion and I waited patiently in one of the five or six lanes of vehicles inching forward, bumper to bumper, where the traffic notoriously converges down to the one lane where the signal would be green and we could cross southbound over the bridge.

It was a dark and dreary day but the rain wasn’t so heavy that I really noticed it. I’m not even sure that I had my windshield wipers on. I was talking with my companion in my usual style, and driving my usual moderate speed, when I reached the apex of the span. As I passed over the height of the bridge and started down the decline to the Stanley Park causeway, I was shocked to see a long line of cars stopped ahead of me, backed way up the bridge. They were stopped dead, with their tail-lights red, and no one moving. I hit my brakes and pumped them as hard as I could, but the surface of the bridge must have been damp and I slid forward into the back of the car ahead of me. It was the baby blue Bentley convertible.

There was nothing to do but to bring my car to a stop, turn off the ignition and talk with the tall, silver-haired driver of the Bentley who approached my window. I got out of my car and went with him to inspect the damage. There were no marks on the paint job but he said that the tail pipe seemed to be bent. I looked and had no idea what I was supposed to be seeing.

There was no time, however, to discuss it. Never having been in any kind of accident before, I had no idea what to do. He was not happy. More precisely, he was visibly embarrassed. Being involved in an accident on the Lions Gate Bridge at any time close to rush hour is a civic disaster which can tie up traffic for hours. We have a friend who happened to be in a taxi on Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver at precisely that hour. He later told me that there was a news bulletin over the radio in his taxi reporting a car accident on the Lions Gate Bridge. That would have been Mr. Silver Hair and me. Mr. Silver Hair thrust his card at me, told me to call him later, and hastened back to his car.

By now, the traffic was moving smoothly, and we followed the Bentley through the park, around Lost Lagoon, and up Denman Street going towards English Bay. My companion took a couple of photos of the rear of the Bentley on his smart phone, so at least we had a record of what we regarded as the minimal damage I caused.

That night, a friend recommended that whatever discussions I might have with Mr. Silver Hair, the best practice was to report the accident to ICBC. At least, I would be covered if he should make a claim. I called the number on the card he’d given me and a man identifying himself as his son told me that his father had left for a vacation and had asked him to “deal with it.” He also told me that their company had many cars and that “one of their mechanics” would look over the blue Bentley and he would get back to me with an estimate of the cost of repairing the tail pipe. I looked up on my computer the name on the card and discovered that Mr. Silver Hair was a well-known “motivation speaker.” There were several sample podcasts of his lectures on his webpage and, just to check him out, I watched one for a while, but soon fell asleep. Two weeks later, I finally heard from his son. He told me that the mechanic had confirmed that the tail pipe was indeed bent and that it would cost $2400 to fix it. If I paid him the $2400, that would be the end of it. I said I would call him back.

$2400! Forget it! That was much more than my car was worth. I phoned up ICBC and learned that if Mr. Silver Hair actually made a claim, I might have to pay an extra couple hundred dollars of insurance for a couple of years, but that would be it. If he didn’t make a claim, there would be no cost to me. I never called him back. I’m not sure that he ever made a claim.

I now always drive over the Lions Gate Bridge on the greatest possible alert. I am also mindful that Bentleys and other expensive cars are to be avoided at all costs. Better to follow a truck than a Bentley.

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