I've been a school psychologist since 1978, and my assignment has changed somewhat during that time, so it has given me some experiences in several different school buildings. In my current assignment, half an hour before the end of the school day, parents begin parking in a row outside the front door of the school buildings and sit in their cars, with the engines running, until dismissal. I won't embarrass people in this district by reporting the name, but the ZIP code is 50548. I laughed at their poor judgment and wasted gas. If Wiki-answers is right about an average idling car using 0.8 gallons per hour, they are spending $256.96 over the course of 180 school days, at current gas prices. Then I came home and told my husband about it. He's retired and goes out for coffee three mornings a week. He told me that he drives to the coffee shop over an hour before it opens so he can sit in his favorite parking spot and listen to his favorite CDs on his truck's CD player. Those parents running their cars outside the school buildings look like wise decision-makers by comparison. Does idling a Toyota Tacoma for over an hour at a time hurt the engine?
RAY: I think the Wiki-answers estimate is high. I'd guess an idling car uses closer to a quarter of a gallon an hour. Maybe a third.
TOM: But that's still throwing away a dollar an hour just to sit there. Not to mention the five or 10 pounds of carbon dioxide you're adding to the environment during that time.
RAY: Unfortunately, we can't help you by claiming that it's bad for the car - the car really doesn't care. In fact, as long as the cooling system is functioning properly, idling is pretty easy on the car; the engine's not working hard, and the rest of the car is just sitting there.
TOM: So it's really an environmental and economic issue. If your husband is not motivated by either of those - or those issues are overridden for him by the pleasure he gets from his car stereo and alone time - you may be out of luck.
RAY: In terms of the school, though, you might want to suggest a "no idling" policy. Lots of states and municipalities have implemented such policies, and a school seems like a particularly good place to do it.
TOM: By sitting there idling for half an hour, not only are the parents contributing to global warming - a problem their kids will have to live with - but they're adding pollution to the immediate school environment, where, presumably, kids are playing and learning.
RAY: Or, playing and not learning, in the case of my kids.
TOM: So you might want to start a movement at your school, and see if they'll set a policy and put up some signs along the curb requiring parents to shut off their engines while they wait.
RAY: And let your husband know that you've heard there's a new invention that might interest him. It's called "indoors." And he might want to avail himself of it.
TOM: Although from his point of view, the great indoors has two serious disadvantages: It probably doesn't have as good a sound system as his truck. And, even worse, when you're indoors, you sometimes have to interact with other human beings. I'm guessing that's a deal-breaker for him.
My car has almost 80,000 miles on it. It's a 2005 VW Jetta 1.8T GLI. It's been a great, reliable car, but I've been having a lot of trouble with the front-end suspension: I get a horrible wobble in the front end. It transmits through the steering wheel and feels like the wheels are wobbling very quickly, but only under braking. It is much worse under heavy braking, but it still exists even under light braking. I've replaced my tie rods after finding a little play in them, and I've checked my CV joints and axles, and they all looked good. The ball joints seem OK. The struts and strut mounts were replaced, and the car has brand-new tires that were balanced and aligned. When I replaced the tie rod, the shaking went away temporarily, but it's back worse than ever now. I'm getting really frustrated with this, and the car feels dangerous to drive. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!
TOM: You've checked everything except the one thing that is most likely to be causing the problem.
RAY: Do you think he considers that good news or bad news? On the one hand, he's about to get the answer. But on the other hand, he's about to realize he just wasted several months and a bunch of money looking in all the wrong places.
TOM: I'm pretty sure he knows that already!
RAY: You almost certainly have warped brake discs. Your brake pads "grab" the disc from either side when you step on the brake. And if the disc is not perfectly smooth, the uneven spots will push back against the pads and make the brake pedal pulse, and/or make the steering wheel wobble.
TOM: And if we're right, it's not dangerous in the sense that a wheel is going to fall off soon. But it is dangerous in that it extends your stopping distance. And that can be serious, depending on the gross vehicle weight of the truck that's stopped in front of you.
RAY: So it should be fixed right away. And the other thing to check is your control-arm bushings. If you had a slightly warped disc and worn-out control-arm bushings, that slight pulsation you got from the disc could get magnified by a weak bushing and cause this kind of wobbling, too.
TOM: So now you know what to do: Replace the discs (I would not recommend trying to resurface them, in this case) and check those bushings.
RAY: And if that doesn't solve the problem, don't write back, because then we'll be out of ideas, too.
Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or email them by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.
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