Outsider's Perspective: A Beater in Every Garage

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If I were to run for president of the United States, which is impossible for a number of reasons even before we get to the Constitution’s requirements for eligibility, my transport policies would be threefold: Increased speed limits on American highways, repeal of the infamous Mercedes law and crucially, every citizen acquiring their driver permits must spend the first six months of their driving days in a beater.

We complain a lot, us gearheads, about the appallingly poor standards at which seemingly everyone else on the road is driving. Or rather, doing anything else besides driving. Texting, putting on makeup, instagramming about the fact that they’re driving, all the things that are only punished when the offending driver actually crashes thanks to it. And you can’t actually teach focus at a driving school; so to counter this problem why not force them to drive beaters before getting a proper permit?
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Now when I say beatter I don’t mean “granny-driven 1999 Kia Sephia that was maintained religiously but the paint is peeling because of age” I mean pre-prepping LeMons style beaters. I want every new driver in a 1994 Grand Am that has seemingly never had a bushing replaced in its life running on four “Ditchfinder” tires (all from different no-name brands) all inflated at four different pressures. A suspicious knocking noise from under the hood may also be present. That way when Young Billy thinks it’s a good idea to check if someone has liked that picture he posted of that amazing sandwich while driving, he will be stopped by the fact that if he so much as thinks about taking his hands off the wheel the car will dart to the side of the road and likely make bits of him a permanent part of the landscape. And if Young Amy has heard the beep indicating her that Billy posted that sandwich picture he promised she won’t feel the need to answer it right away, because her assigned car has cooling problems and she’s too busy checking the road and the temperature gauge so she can pull over and top the radiator again lest she fries the damn thing.
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She won’t want to do that as her permit is entirely dependent on the beater surviving at least 2,000 miles of driving in her hands. Each beater would be assigned with a small pamphlet about basic maintenance. If Billy delivers the car back having found out that the reason it wanted to go sightseeing was because the tires it had were six years old and inflated at 20/25/19/35 PSI and he got a new set, he gets a tax break. The same if Amy replaces the split coolant hose on hers. It won’t make them shadetree mechanics by far but at least it’ll teach that cars need maintenance and don’t work by magical fuel-addicted pixies.
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Some inattentive drivers will slip through the cracks, I admit. They could loan the car to someone else or just take it to a pro mechanic the second that they get it so he fixes everything that’s wrong with it. But it would still mean that the number of attentive drivers that know to check the fluids and that driving a two-ton block of metal down the road is actually a big responsibility would increase. Maybe even some of them will embrace the ways of beaterdom and enjoy fixing things themselves. So we’d have more attentive drivers, a use for beaters besides gently decaying back into the earth and the number of people that saw cars as more than a necessary evil would stand a chance of increasing. I can see nothing wrong with that.
What’s that? The inevitable ones that will ignore the warning signs anyway and become casualties? Well I did tell you I couldn’t run for president.

18 Comments

  1. The idea that most drivers would notice the difference between Pilot Cups and various underinflated Ditchfinders is refreshingly optimistic, especially for a political candidate.
    I’ll vote for you in both primaries.

    1. Presumably for much the same reasons that a recent Mazda marketing survey found that most Mazda drivers don’t rev their engines above 4000 rpm, hence the low end optimised turbo four in the new CX9 replacing a V6.
      Not so much Zoom Zoom as Surge Surge?

      1. This is interesting – where do you have this from? Completely alines with the Mazda drivers I know.

        1. The press release at the launch of the CX9 included this tidbit of information.
          It ties in with my experience of passengers thinking I’m crazy when they see more revs than that in any of my cars.
          Why have a redline and not use it?

          1. I might have said that before, but I have been told my kids brag in kindergarten that I make our van “sound like a motorcycle”. Unfortunately, that results in empty stares from conservative kindergarten nannies and parents, who don’t understand that a 1.7 litre seven seater may unpack its inner motorcycle anytime without being a danger to pregnant women, kitties and road-crossing frogs.

          2. Yeah. I don’t understand it. These same people will use full throttle on a cold engine but are worried about engine damage from over-revving.
            And everything has a fuel or ignition cut-off now so you can’t over-rev.
            Not like the days when I was much younger and saw 7200 rpm in top gear on my first Rover 2000TC 5000km after I’d rebuilt the engine. That extra work balancing everything really paid off. 150+ mph in a 1960s carbed 2 litre 4 door was more than I expected. Yes, the road was slightly downhill. 🙂

          3. My Driver’s Ed instructor once yelled at me because she could hear the engine.

            She said it was bad/dangerous/killed fuel economy.

            I said it was fun.

            There was precious silence for the next few miles.

          4. Many don’t seem to realise that throttle position has a greater effect than RPM

  2. Mandating that all new drivers learn with a manual transmission would have much the same effect.

  3. I just drove 2100miles or so in NY, NJ, MD, WV, PN, KY, OH, and IN and didn’t notice any more idiots than in Finland, where a license costs a fortune and requires hours of driving lessons and theoretical tests. There were less left-lane campers for one. Honestly I preferred driving in the US.
    That being said I’d still back your proposition.

    1. In general, first year drivers here (Norway) are better in snow than beginners in more southern European countries, I see a direct connection to the lessons catalog. But for the rest I agree: Merging, overtaking and being overtaken, looking ahead – the same quality like other countries indeed, plus the fact that the people are not used to 2D traffic density (the latter is also valid in pedestrian areas, it’s impossible not to bump into people).
      The high prices only have the effect that first-child pregnant women* make the license in a hurry because they facing in a situation where having a car will be so much better, and the budget finally allows getting one. I’m sure this is the easiest time in life to learn, having a full time job and being busy with nesting, and to become a good driver quickly when chauffeuring a toddler to the vaccination appointment.
      *In my wider circle of acquaintances, I know of five mothers who got their license above age 25 when pregnant. I’m jumping to generalized conclusions, yes, but the phenomenon is there.

      1. I can actually second that observation. A driver’s license is no longer deemed essential by urban kids. But when urban living becomes to expensive, and kids are on their way, many have to fix that quickly. I’ve borrowed cars and helped friends get experience, my ’93 245 with the B230FX engine was the most suitable for the job: Start the engine in 1st without the clutch engaged and it will roll. Very forgiving.
        @DB, home yet? Did you get to see some of the people here IRL?

  4. Add planks to your platform about mandatory driver re-testing every (5? 7?) years & after an accident resulting in injury, and everyone having to work for at least a year between ages 16-21 as a waiter/waitress/other service industry personnel, and I’d vote Sanders/Solis 2016.

  5. I’m afraid this is not about “our” driving experience, but about mobility of our society. If you make it more difficult to obtain a license, fewer people will have one. “Good” one could say “fewer, ahem, non-enthusiasts on the road”, but the fewer members of this society are accepting car culture as part of their life, the worse will be the (financial) support of it. Chains of autonomous pods swooshing by us, who are stuck in the last non-autonomous lane behind all those drivers that are still sending sandwiches through FB and didn’t have the resources to switch to an iVehicle.

    1. The German term is “eingebaute Vorfahrt”, integrated right of way. Stems from the old cliché that Mercedes drivers behave like today’s Audi/BMW/whatever drivers do – allegedly. Only that a Mercedes driver in the 60ies and 70ies usually had social status and economic power.
      This started washing away when the envious masses were given 190s and A classes.

  6. i’ve seen that very DS! back when i lived in the East Village in New York. saw it on the street once or twice, and i know i have a damn photo but i just can’t seem to find it :c

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