Q Oh great infinitely wise monitor of the Bay Area motoring scene, uh, I mean, Dear Gary:
In my travels lately, I have noticed yet another disturbing trend: drivers flicking cigarette ashes out their windows. With the dry conditions and lack of water, it's a disaster waiting to happen. Smokers, use your ashtrays. If you are not into messing your car up with the ash, perhaps you should quit because the world is not your ashtray.
A And ...
Q I'm sad to keep seeing drivers throw lit cigarettes from their windows. Now that it's high fire season, don't these folks have any common sense?
A This is far more than a nuisance or an eyesore, as cigarettes are among the most littered items in America and can have a sizable effect on the environment. Filters are made of cellulose acetate and numerous other chemicals that can take years to degrade. Discarded butts can harm sea life when they go down storm drains and reach the ocean or bay. And that's without even mentioning the risk of starting a fire in the very dry conditions we're experiencing now.
Q I read the comment from the reader about how he got a warning for coasting down Summit Road in neutral as a way to save gas. In addition to safety, the other reason not to coast in neutral is that you will use more gas than coasting in gear. In modern computerized automobiles, the engine can cut off fuel if there is low load or no load on the engine.
If you stay in gear and let off the gas pedal while the engine speed is above idle, as would typically be the case on a long downhill, the engine will cut off fuel to combustion chambers so that you are using no gas. Because you are in gear, the wheels will keep turning the engine so that it doesn't stall.
If you are in neutral, the wheels will not turn the engine, so the engine has to send fuel to the combustion chambers to maintain idle RPM so that the engine doesn't stall.
You can see this phenomenon in action if your car has a trip computer with an instantaneous MPG reading. When you are in gear and not pressing the gas pedal on a downhill stretch, the instantaneous MPG will trend toward infinity or whatever the maximum reading is.
A I'm surprised by how many drivers tell me they go into neutral when driving down a hill -- which is illegal -- so I dialed my auto experts. They all say that is not a good idea. Here's why:
Safety: If the driver has to accelerate or quickly change lanes to avoid unsafe road conditions, the last thing the driver will think of is whether the vehicle is in gear. With the car out of gear, drivers and passengers are more at risk when it comes to reacting quickly.
Computer-controlled vehicles: The level of sophistication in today's vehicles goes beyond the driver being able to outsmart the systems. The computer is always going to maximize fuel consumption and emission levels.
Mechanical: Drivers run the risk of having mechanical issues if they shift incorrectly or over-rev the engine. What if the vehicle stalls? Will the driver find the right gear or put it in reverse? These are all risks.
Look for Gary Richards at Facebook.com/mr.roadshow.