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by John Cadogan

Has the Earth rotated slightly off-axis lately, or is it just me? Here are four current automotive stories that pretty much make the case for rotational anomaly.

CRUZE CONTROL?

Can you imagine driving your new car – at speed – and tipping it into a bend in the road … only to have the steering wheel come off in your hand? What do you do next? (Besides pray the airbag and ESC modules were installed properly, and that the engineers who designed the crumple zones really were paying attention that day?) Advanced driving 101 comes up empty handed on what to do here.

It’s Keystone Cops stuff, but in the USA, there’s one driver today who doesn’t have to imagine it – because they’ve experienced it firsthand. As a consequence, GM is recalling 2100 of its popular Chevy Cruzes after tracing this particular fault, according to the Wall Street Journal. Apparently, the wrong wheel was fitted to the vehicle on the assembly line. The wheel was subsequently replaced in the quality-control process … but then not reattached properly, kind of making a mockery of that term/process.

Some kind of nutty problem, and bad timing for GM, with Cruze selling like hotcakes in the USA (50,205 units in March against Corolla with 76,821). This problem does not affect the locally manufactured Holden Cruze.

BROWN CAR TAX CRACKDOWN

Thinking of negotiating a new car with the boss? Set up a meeting today. Australia’s number-one car-hater, Greens leader Senator Bob Brown, has declared war on company cars – claiming the Federal Government could save around $1 billion over the next five years by taking the sword to fringe benefits tax concessions currently afforded to company cars. The move, which aims to introduce a flat tax break of 20 per cent, will disadvantage bona-fide high-kilometre drivers who use their cars for work. It will also make car ownership less attractive to companies and the self-employed.

Note to Mr Brown: “Dear Sir, thanks to their high turnover, company fleet cars – especially the high annual kilometer ones – are a major source of affordable, safe, used cars for middle Australia. They’re also fuel efficient, ie greener than the average Australian car out there on the road today. This is a ridiculous policy, so you probably won’t get a Christmas card from the FCAI – again. One last thing: Would you mind explaining how this is a ‘green’ initiative?”

Mr Brown was granted access to Treasury department resources to cost the policy and nudge the Gillard Government budget around under the deal he did last year to back Julia Gillard as PM and effectively write himself into history as de facto co-Prime Minister for 2011. (Above: Ms Gillard and Mr Brown in simpler times…)

HERTZ SO GOOD

This is the kind of fable you hear about only in pubs, well after the neck oil-induced ‘knowledge’ has set in: Houston lawyer Peter Pratt received a decrepit apartment block in Kansas as part of his settlement in a legal battle over improper oil drilling in Texas. He also got the contents of the apartment block and the garage, the latter of which he was assured was full of junk.

Garage-wise, the joint appeared to be (as advertised) jammed with 30-odd years’ worth of life’s detritus, at least until the top layers of flotsam were removed.

Somewhat unexpectedly at this point, staring the bin-men in the face was an uber-rare 1966 Shelby GT350 Mustang with original Hertz red-and-white custom paint.

The Mustang had 134,000km on the clock and last had its oil changed in 1976, according to the log book. It hadn’t seen sunlight for more than a quarter of a century, and was originally sold to the Hertz rental company as part of its 1960s ‘Rent-a-Racer’ programme. (Remember when car companies could get away with stuff like this? Could you imagine the politically correct outcry if FPV or HSV tried this today?)

Anyway, it’s one of only 50 like it ever made, and new fluids and a new battery brought the Mustang back to life. Official estimates are running between $100k and $220k for the car. As if some people needed another reason to hate lawyers…

RAT RACE HEALTH SCARE

It’s official – spending too much time stuck in traffic causes brain damage … at least in mice. Kooky Californian researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) haven’t actually been letting the mice loose in traffic (their tiny feet and short legs mean they can’t reach the pedals in any case), nor have they constructed Lilliputian freeways overloaded with diminutive cars engaged in small-scale gridlock. Instead, they merely concocted just the right (or is that ‘wrong’?) blend of exhaust-laden air and pumped it somewhat cruelly into a bespoke mouse house for several weeks, in the interests of science. (Animal liberationists: It’s not all that cruel – being something we routinely do to ourselves.)

Physiological result? Compelling evidence that being stuck in traffic too often causes not only brain damage but also heart problems, lung damage and … something else. (Can’t remember.)

Oh, yeah – that’s it – memory loss. It can cause that, too.

(Note to self: How do you measure memory loss in a mouse?) Anyway, those USC mouse poisoners are quick to point out that this is only what happens in mice, and won’t draw a direct, definitive, causal link to the same effects in humans. (How dumb are they? Did they forget to wear respirators during the test?)

The link between traffic and brain damage seems pretty clear. But then I live in Sydney, which has one of the world’s most aggressive driving cultures.

So, if you forget where your car is, especially if you happen to be sitting in it at the time, there’s your excuse. Traffic. It’s a gas. You’ve got EGiBfS, son. (Exhaust Gas-induced Brain-fade Syndrome.) The somewhat hazy light at the end of the tunnel that’s being illuminated by this research is, literally, that if you waste enough of your life stuck in traffic, you probably won’t be able to remember wasting it. In between coughing fits.




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