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Car Talk - Electronic 'nanny' possible method to keep tabs on young motorists' driving habits without prying

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I am teaching my nephew to drive. I have seen, over the years, that a number of teenagers have died from speeding in excess of 90 mph. I know that commercial trucks have speed inhibitors on them so they can't go over 65 mph. The companies also save on gas and speeding tickets, and get insurance breaks with these. For the life of me, I can't find something like that for my car (a Honda Civic). I don't want my nephew to drive in a car that can go over 65 mph. Where can I find such a device for my car?

Newer Fords have a feature called MyKey that allows the owner of the car to program a specific key. When that key is used, limits are set on the car's performance. So if you're in the market for a new car, that would be one solution. But unfortunately, kids can, and do, kill themselves going a lot slower than 65 mph.

An all-too-common tragedy involves a car full of kids, late at night, driving 50 mph on a curvy, dark road where the speed limit is 30, and there are sharp turns with speed limits of even less than that. Typically, the driver misjudges a turn at too high a speed and wraps the car around a tree. Then you have to watch weeping former classmates on TV the next day.

So instead, I think you need to get your nephew a nanny. Not a cute 17-year-old female nanny - an electronic nanny.

There are a number of devices on the market these days that plug into the on-board diagnostic (OBD II) port of pretty much any car. They read data from the car's computer and record vehicle speed, hard acceleration, panic braking and other parameters that indicate that your kid has been driving like a knucklehead.

Some require you to take the device inside and plug it into your computer. Others will send you an email report once a day or once a week. Some will even text you when a set speed limit is exceeded.

The idea is not to spy on the kid secretly, but to let him know upfront that you're keeping a close eye on how he drives. Unless he's a complete dummy, if he knows that you'll find out if he goes 80 miles an hour or slams on the gas from a stoplight, he should be less likely to do those things.

If you search online for "teen driving monitors," you'll find a bunch of products, including those by MOTOsafety, CarCheckup, InTouch MVC and others.

But check with your car-insurance company first. Several insurers, including Travelers and Progressive, offer such devices, and they even offer discounts for people who use them.

And the fact that the insurance companies - which we know hate to part with a penny - will pay people to use these things is the best argument that they probably are effective. Good luck.

I have a 2003 Chevy S-10 V-6. I go out on my lunch break, and the truck starts, no problem. I get some food and go to restart the truck, and I can't get it to start. I call my boss, and he heads over to give me a jump. In the meantime, a couple of old-timers wander by, and they want to solve the puzzle. I pop the hood, and they start diagnosing. We determine that it has gas, the battery is not corroded and the battery connections are fine. My boss shows up. Further diagnosis ensues. I have spark, they decide. They trade out some fuses and determine that the fuel pump fuse is good. So now there are four of us crawling all over my car: me, my boss, old-timer No. 1 and old-timer No. 2. Then a random mechanic walks by, and we ask him. He tells us to hit the gas tank with a hammer. "Very funny," we say. "No," he says, "I'm serious." He says to hit the tank with a hammer while someone tries to start the car. There's no hammer around, but there is a rock, and my boss hits fuel tank with the rock while I turn the key, and the engine starts! Have you heard of this before? Do I need to replace my fuel pump?

Yes and yes. I have heard of it, and you need a fuel pump.

When electric motors die, they can sometimes be coaxed back to life temporarily with a whack upside the head (and yes, that's the technical term).

In fact, we often whack them as a quick test. If we suspect that an electric motor has failed - whether it's a fuel pump or a power-window motor - the first thing we'll try is banging the motor, or the thing that houses the motor, while operating the switch. If we can get it to work that way, that tells us there's a 99 percent chance that the motor needs to be replaced.

The reason this works is that, eventually, when an electric motor gets old, the armature stops rotating. And banging the motor will often jar the armature just loose enough to get it going again - for a while.

But sooner or later (probably sooner), your fuel pump will fail again, because it's in the process of dying. And you may be lucky enough to get it started with the help of a rock and a random old-timer. But eventually, banging it won't work anymore. Or you'll use too sharp a rock and pierce the gas tank and set the truck on fire.

Then, at least, you won't need a fuel pump. Good luck.

Got a question about cars? Write to Car Talk in care of this newspaper, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at

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