Predictably enough, readers and people I meet often ask me car questions. Usually these are specific inquiries related to their vehicles. But there are also frequently asked questions of more general interest.
Let’s look at some of these FAQs:
Question: What car should we get our teenager?
Answer: I used to suggest that they get them a “tank,” a big old Detroit sedan that would surround them with a lot of protective steel in the event that they played bumper cars.
The problem with that, of course, is that the kids don’t generally like to drive tanks. Also, thanks to clever engineering like “crumple zones” up front that absorb crash energy and the increased use of high-strength steel in crucial structural elements, smaller cars have gotten a lot safer.
So if that smaller, more desirable car gets good crash safety grades from the government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, you are probably OK.
Q: What car should I buy for myself?
A: People ask me this all the time. After divining what kind of vehicle they want and how much they have to spend, I try to suggest several candidates.
As many of my colleagues agree, what’s often disconcerting about this process is the gathering feeling that these people didn’t really want your advice. They just wanted you to validate a choice they had already made.
Q: Should I use synthetic oil?
A: I think synthetic oil is superior to conventional motor oil. It lasts longer and increases engine longevity. It’s also more expensive.
So if you are leasing or buying a car you will keep for two or three years, it’s probably not necessary. But if you’re in it for the long haul, the extra engine life may make it worthwhile.
My wife and I just bought her a new car, which she plans to drive “until someone takes my keys away.” So, I intend to use synthetic oil in that vehicle.
(I used synthetic in my old Mercedes-Benz C280. When I got rid of it, it had 175,000 miles on it, still ran like a Rolex, and didn’t burn any oil.)
Q: What is turbo lag?
A: Turbo lag is the power pause that occurs at low RPMs when the exhaust gas pressure isn’t sufficient to spin the turbocharger fast enough to develop significant boost. After about 2,500 RPMs, the boost comes on and you can feel it.
For the performance-minded, there are ways to negate that lag, and the all-new Volvo XC60 is a case in point.
The base XC60, the T5, is fitted with a turbo that develops 250 horsepower and gets it from zero to 60 mph in a presentable 6.4 seconds. The T6 model tacks a supercharger to the already turbocharged XC60 engine. Since a supercharger is belt-driven and spins its rotor blade faster than the turbo, it delivers its boost earlier and thus negates the turbo lag. The net result is a 316-horse engine that takes the T6 from zero to 60 in a zippy 5.6 seconds.
The T8 hybrid is the most elegant lag solution of all. It combines the turbocharged and supercharged T6 engine with a powerful electric motor, which instantly develops virtually all of its torque, or pulling power. The bottom line here is a torque-rich, 400-horse fire breather that gets to 60 in less than five seconds.
Q: Should I use premium fuel?
A: Only if your car’s manual recommends it. Using premium gas in an engine designed to run on regular is just a waste of money.
(Modern engine electronics allow the use of lower-octane fuel in those designed for premium, but it diminishes performance and fuel economy.)