Slow and steady wins the Prius race

Dear Car Talk:

Do Prius owners really think they need to set the (slow) pace for everyone else?

Very often, at the head of a line of slow-moving vehicles is a Prius, or one will pull out in front of another car and slow down every car behind it. Is it because the car cannot accelerate, or is it because the owners of that particular car feel the need to control others? – Susan

RAY: I don't think it's either one, Susan.

We know a famous researcher named Dr. David Giovannoni. We call him Dr. Joe Baloney. He once explained to us that humans (and organizations) achieve what they measure.

So, for instance, if you want to lose weight, what would you do? Well, you might cut out sweets, drink water instead of soda and maybe start to exercise (Note: we’re talking about you, not me).

Then you’d get on a scale. And if the number on the scale was lower than it was the week before, you’d keep doing those things, because you’d know they’re working.

You achieve what you measure.

Now, who buys a Toyota Prius? Someone who wants to get better gas mileage than the rest of us mortals. And guess what a big screen on the dashboard of the Prius does? It measures mileage. Constantly. By watching the numbers change on that screen, Prius drivers learn very quickly that by accelerating very gently, they can coax their mileage up from 53.8 mpg to 54.1 mpg.

That makes them feel good. So they learn to feather that gas pedal and take 25 seconds to get from 0-60 while you’re cursing at them through your windshield.

It’s not that the Prius can’t accelerate. It will accelerate like pretty much any other car if you put your foot down.

And it’s not that they feel a need to be controlling. They’re just pursuing their personal goal of maximizing their mileage – because they care about it, and they’re constantly measuring it.

Likewise, if you measured your blood pressure, Susan, you’d probably find that it goes up when you’re stuck behind a Prius.

If you took a few deep breaths and said to yourself, “How nice, there’s a person who cares about the planet and is making the world a better place by wasting less fuel,” you’d see your blood pressure go down.

Then you’d throw the blood pressure monitor out the window and pass the Prius with a few choice hand gestures.

Cadillac’s power steering goes from bad to worse

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 1997 Cadillac Seville. The power steering was making noises, so I took it to the old Cadillac dealer (which is now a Chevy dealer). This led to an expensive succession of repairs.

They said the fluid was leaking from the pressure hose, the pump, and the steering rack and pinion. They replaced all three for $2,200.

The remanufactured pump they put in made a grinding noise, so they replaced that with another one.

After that, the car was harder to steer, so I took it back again. They did a pressure test on the second remanufactured power steering pump, and found that it was producing 800 psi, below the minimum acceptable 1,700 psi. So they put in a third one.

The SLS was still hard to steer, so I went back again. They confirmed that it’s harder to steer than it should be but said the third pump is “operating as designed.”

Now the car drives like it barely has power steering at all. What do I do now? – John

RAY: I'm guessing you've already tried crying, John. If not, we're shipping you a full box of our patented, extra-soft Car Talk tissues. Have at it.

It could be a seized universal joint in the steering column, but if they missed that coupling when they changed the rack and pinion, shame on them.

They’re using remanufactured power steering pumps because new ones probably aren’t made anymore for this car. And they’re obviously not of great quality since at least two out of three of them failed – and the jury’s still out on the third one.

It’s possible that your current pump is sub-par, too. You could ask them to take one more shot at it, especially since they agree the car is supposed to be easier to steer.

If it’s harder to steer primarily when the car is cold, or primarily in one direction rather than both directions, then they might have given you a defective rack and pinion.

I would think they’d have put a new one in, but who knows?

And as you now know, power steering racks are very expensive to replace. It’s not a cheap part, and there’s a lot of labor involved. So they’re going to whine if you push them for another new one. But they owe it to you to solve this problem after all the money you spent. And if they replace the rack and pinion again, ask them to find you a new one.

But really, the pump, the rack and pinion, the hoses and the universal joint represent pretty much the whole system, so there’s not much else it can be.

If you’re not willing to fight with them, John, you could accept the steering as is, and join your local YMCA instead. There you’ll be able to bulk up your arms, which will make the steering seem easier. It’ll help with jar-opening at home, too.

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