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A PHYSICIST WRITES . . .
First I must satisfy your curiosity – that’s assuming you remember that at the end of last month’s column I was soon to hire a manual-gear car in S Ireland and was wondering how I would cope with it, after more than a year of driving an automatic.
What an absurd worry: I had no trouble at all. If you’ve been changing gear by hand (and foot) for nearly 50 years, you don’t easily lose the knack. Though maybe I wasn’t getting it quite right, because sometimes a green light appeared on the dashboard which (I eventually realized) was nudging me into changing up, in the interests of economy!
The car was an Opel Astra, and was distinctive mainly for two things: the layout of the door-pillar and mirror (on both sides) blocked my view from the driving seat alarmingly, and the handbrake lever travelled nearly 20 cm from off to fully on. Another tiny but extraordinary design fault was that when I lowered the lever, my finger often got trapped between the button and the gear-stick surround.
The engine was diesel-powered, which seemed to make for sluggish get-aways and hill-climbs – but this sort of thing does put you in the right mood for leisurely enjoyment of Irish roads (which, as I’ve said before, are often almost empty of traffic) and the magnificent scenery in much of the country.
Helpfully, the speed-limits in Eire are clearly shown at regular intervals on every out-of-town road – no need for trying to estimate the distance between street-lamps, or recalling what the national speed limit is on different roads, as over here. Also, at traffic-lights red is followed immediately by green: paradoxically perhaps, this seemed to generate (in my mind anyway) less of an urge to rush away, compared with the sight of red-and-amber!
Again following on from last month’s column, let me slip in a couple more silly-season stories (both dating from July): in W London the police advised owners of luxury cars to buy old-fashioned steering-wheel locks for attaching to their precious vehicles, because thieves have become adept at bypassing keyless security systems. Me, I’ve always applied a handbrake-to-gear-stick lock to my car at night, regardless of its level of luxury...
And further surprising advice: a university professor said that it’s not necessarily the best policy to install solar panels on south-facing roofs (which seems to be what most people have done), even though such a roof will certainly receive more solar energy than one looking in any other direction.
His argument was that east- and west-facing panels will generate more electricity early and late in the day which is when it is needed more, both by the panel-owners and by the national grid – whereas near the middle of the day, it’s not too easy for the grid to absorb all the surplus power from south-side panels across the country.
Well, now he tells us! It seems to me that the authorities ought to have foreseen this and offered a better financial deal to those who were able and willing to install their panels on east/west-facing surfaces (let’s not complicate the issue by considering SE or SW directions). Depending on your electricity tariff, this might even have been worth while without any extra incentive. Not that I pretend to be an expert on solar panels myself, I hasten to add...
Changing the subject (though the sun could again illuminate it), I recently came across some warnings on selecting the colour for a new car. “The rising cost of adding colour to your car,” said one headline; “Car paint: avoid getting ripped off,” said another.
The problem is that many models (in fact 50 out of 60 that were investigated for one report) are now supplied in only one or two basic ‘solid’ colours, most often white – at no extra charge, I mean. Anything else, especially metallic or pearlescent, will cost you from £175 for just a ‘special solid white’ (though what can possibly make it special?) on a small SEAT model, to £1400 for an ‘individual’ paint option on a BMW 3 Series!
This doesn't worry me too much, as I always buy second-hand, and that only once a decade or more. But since the 90s (when my previous Corolla came off the production line, in Lipstick Red) there has certainly been a big reduction in the range of colours that you don’t have to pay extra for.
Why so? I’ve seen several possible reasons mentioned: it could be that manufacturers are compensating themselves for having to include more equipment as standard. Also, I understand that a few years ago the EU decreed that all paints should be water-based rather than oil-based, and this may well have added to research and production costs.
But a spokesman for SEAT deflected the blame back on to the customers, saying that more of them were now choosing white, which made the other colour options more expensive to supply ... now, is this is simply a vicious circle, or do I detect a response (by car-buyers) to the threat of global warming? There’s no doubt that white and silver reflect more sunlight away than other colours, hence the car stays cooler, needs less air-conditioning and so will be more economical to run. Let’s watch this buying trend!
Meanwhile, here’s a puzzle: Halfords conducted a survey, published in the silly-season of 2012, in which evidence of bird droppings was found on 18% of red cars, but only 1% of green cars. The figures for blue, black, white and silver/grey were spread out between these. But surely birds can’t have colour-preferences (for vehicles) as strong as this observation suggests – yet what other sort of explanation can there be?
Lastly, I was most excited to find (belatedly) something else from 2012, a video-advert by Peugeot for their new Mood Paint: “A special psychochromatic coating, emitting light at varying wavelengths ... heat-reactive sensors in the steering-wheel read the driver’s body-temperature ... changing the colour of your car to reflect how you’re feeling.” Below is a link to the advert; try to close your eyes to the exact date of it (shown right at the beginning, just as the commentary is starting)!
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