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A PHYSICIST WRITES . . .
If you have absorbed all I’ve written about my Toyota Corolla in this column over the years (which I don’t expect you to have done, of course), then you will know nearly as much about the car as I do. I confess that I have often referred to it, usually to illustrate some feature of vehicles that I was discussing. I’ve even mentioned its peculiarities just in order to fill a bit of space on the page. I acquired the Corolla nearly 11 years ago, at about the time I took an interest in advanced driving; I am sure its easy-to-drive qualities helped me through the advanced test!
Then last autumn I started to be aware of a low rumble from in front. The noise had curious properties: it was similar to a rattle, as if something fairly big was coming loose (the exhaust?). But it was only audible when my foot was down or partly down (the transmission?). I could hear it most clearly between 30 and 50 mph (a wheel bearing?). Yet the ‘note’ of it didn’t seem to correlate greatly with road speed (the engine?). Initially the sound was quite faint, so when I first consulted my friendly mechanics – two of them, running a single-bay workshop – I wasn’t very surprised that they couldn’t hear it while giving the car a road test.
But as the noise became steadily worse and, in particular, more audible at low speeds, I realized that the frequency of the ‘rattle’ was indeed proportional to the road speed. So at least the noise wasn’t coming from the engine. Because the location seemed to be central rather than to one side, I came to the conclusion that the problem lay in or near the gearbox.
So I went back to the workshop: only one of the mechanics happened to be in residence that day, and he invited me to stay in the car while he ramped it up to the ceiling (should I be reporting this?). With the engine running, and me putting the transmission alternately in and out of gear, he stood underneath, listened, and then confirmed that I had gearbox trouble: most likely a failing bearing.
Well ... was now the time to dispose of my Corolla and allow myself to be dragged into the 21st century, driving-wise? Or should I listen to my expert, who (having lowered me to the ground again) was saying that it wouldn’t be a difficult operation to extract the box for sending off to a specialist, who would then dismantle and throughly overhaul it. A new clutch-plate would be fitted too (as it would be absurd not to), but the cost should still work out at considerably less than for the similar job on Mrs S’s automatic Micra four years back.
As indeed it did! And I’m pleased to say that when my car returned it was running as quietly and as smoothly as ever. Well, almost: inevitably the new full-thickness clutch-plate tended to bite before my rising left foot expected it to – but I soon got used to that. Once again my Corolla makes me feel king of the road.
Recently I’ve had my first opportunity to study closely a new-style two-part driving licence. The first thing you notice is the instruction that “The photocard and paper counterpart should be kept together.” In which case, why weren’t they designed to be permanently attached to each other? As things are, the card soon unsticks itself from the sheet of paper, and then sticks (briefly) to anything that’s passing by.
Two more instructions are: “This document [the sheet] ... should be kept safely,” and: “Both [card and sheet] should be produced when required.” So, after a lifetime of driving, I still don’t know whether a licence should be stored away at home or carried around ready to show to people on demand.
The next thing that stands out is the heading Provisional Entitlement (on the sheet). This suggests that your new licence is merely an interim document while DVLA works out exactly what categories of vehicle you are qualified to drive. Actually I suspect the letters under the heading are categories one could learn to drive under, without having to make a special application.
As for the groups that you are permitted to drive on your own already, it’s only when the card is turned over that these (or two of them) become clear. At least, I assume that’s the meaning of the outlines of a car, and a car plus a trailer, printed on the back. Though I notice that the trailer isn’t attached to its car...
And here’s another oddity: I don’t know how Driver Numbers are generated for new drivers nowadays, but certainly the middle section of the number used to be based on the digits of your date of birth. The idea was, I recall, that the latter could be easily checked by an official, but would not be embarrassingly obvious, perhaps, to anyone else who happened to catch sight of your licence. Yet the front of the card-component of a two-part licence states your d-o-b undisguised! I suppose it’s the logical extension of having car-registration plates that clearly indicate the age of your car – and everyone seems happy with that.
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