I am very interested in electric vehicles, but I am concerned about their range. Why can't there be a charging system on board that continuously charges the battery? All that would be needed is a small gas-powered motor to operate an alternator.
I understand that the Chevrolet Volt comes close to this kind of system, but at a certain speed there is a gas-powered motor that will also send power to the wheels. So the Volt is not 100 percent electric but a form of a hybrid.
The Volt is pretty close to what you're talking about. And it works wonderfully. The car gets 50-plus miles on electricity alone. That's enough to cover the daily driving for a huge percentage of our population. And if you need to go farther than that before recharging, the gasoline engine comes on and makes more electricity.
You're right that the gasoline engine can also contribute to propulsion when needed (like when climbing a hill or passing), but we don't see that as a downside.
However, if you want the exact system you describe (called a "series-hybrid"), then you want a BMW i3 with what they call a Range Extender. The Range Extender is a two cylinder gasoline engine that kicks in when you run out of battery power, and provides electricity to get you another 65 miles or so.
Personally, I'd take the Volt. The total range of the BMW i3, even with the extender, is only 180 miles. The Volt can go 420 miles with both its battery and gas tank full.
Of course, the hope (and we're starting to see the reality already) is that electric cars will eventually have the range of our current gasoline cars. We're already seeing electric car ranges of over 200 miles (Tesla, Chevy Bolt, Jaguar I-PACE). And as batteries improve and recharging gets faster, that range should get even longer, and you won't need no stinkin' gasoline engine at all.
But in the meantime, if you want to be a series-hybrid purist, buy an i3. If you want to worry less about range and save $5K-$15K on the purchase price, buy a Volt.
We're having a problem with our 2008 Honda Fit. The car runs OK, but there is a sloshing noise when we drive. It sounds like some liquid is moving back and forth up front somewhere. Any ideas?
Yes. I think there's some liquid moving back and forth up front somewhere.
OK, I'll try to be a little more helpful than that. There's water moving around in the air conditioner's evaporator housing. When you run the air conditioner, moisture is removed from the air. That's one of the ways the AC makes you feel cooler, by decreasing the humidity.
So your car's AC runs your moist air through this thing called an evaporator. And just like on the outside of a lemonade glass in the summertime, when the hot air from inside your car hits the cold evaporator, the water falls out of it. And then, that water is supposed to drain out under your car.
But yours isn't draining — or it's draining very slowly. So that water just sits in the evaporator housing, and sloshes around when you drive.
If you accumulate a lot of water in there, it'll eventually spill out on your feet when you make a sharp turn and soak your $300 Ferragamo loafers.
But don't worry; this problem is very easy to fix. Just have your mechanic clean out the evaporator drain under the car. It's probably gunked up with the dirt, leaves and dead rodent parts that you've been driving over since 2008. We just use our compressed air hose and blow it out. It takes a couple of minutes.
If you want to confirm our diagnosis, on the next warm day, turn on your air conditioner, let the car run in your driveway for 10 minutes, and then have a look underneath. If you don't see a puddle of water, the drain is plugged. If you DO see some water, it's possible that it's not draining quickly enough, so you still might want to have it blown out.
The alternative explanation is that your sunroof drains are plugged up (if you even have a sunroof). But you'd be more likely to hear that over your head than toward the front of the car, so I'm pretty sure it's your evaporator drain.
Fix it. It's cheap.
Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.