Maximum power vs. maximum life
Friday, May 9, 2003
Dear Tom and Ray: I hope you can help settle an issue between me and my psychoanalyst husband. It's about how to drive my 1993 Saturn SL2. My hubby went out and bought a BMW motorcycle this past spring. Since then, he's announced that we've been driving the Saturn wrong for the past 10 years. He thinks we should wait until the engine reaches at least 4,000 rpm to shift into the next higher gear. ("The red zone isn't until 6,500 rpm!") He supports this assertion with talk of driving with the power curve, so that he can have optimal acceleration, or something like that. When I point out that the panel shows the orange arrow suggesting that he shift up at about 2,000 rpm, he calls it an "idiot light." I want this engine to last at least another five years. I'm afraid, though, that he might kill the engine or transmission. Or, from the way the engine sounds when he drives, that he might take off and fly into space -- and since we live near Washington, D.C., he might be shot down as a potential terrorist. Help!
Ray: Well, if you really want this engine to last another five years, you need to go to the Saturn dealer and have him change the ignition key. And then don't give your husband a copy of the new one.
Tom: Yeah. I'm kind of surprised that, as a psychoanalyst, he doesn't recognize that he's going through some sort of midlife crisis. I mean, the BMW motorcycle, the power curves ... it can't get much more obvious, Sallie. I'd keep my eye out for hidden copies of Naked Coed Adventure Travel magazine if I were you.
Ray: Here's the problem. Your husband is not wrong. He's just nuts. You two clearly want different things out of your vehicles. He wants to get as much power as possible out of the engine (ask the analyst why he feels he's lacking in power, Sallie). And if he wants maximum power out of his engine, he's right; you shift near the top of the power curve, which is probably around 4,000 rpm in this car.
Tom: But if you want the best fuel economy, the greatest longevity from an engine or the fewest dirty looks from friends, neighbors and other drivers, you drive it gently and shift much earlier, like you do, Sallie.
Ray: So until this crisis of his passes, let him take out his power-curve aggressions on his motorcycle (provided you have good life insurance for him). But when the two of you take your car, you drive, and let him sit in the passenger seat and go "vroom, vroom."