Monday, January 28, 2013

Cars and their tolerance of extremes.

Last summer I would drive home from work in the afternoon and regularly see temperatures in the 39°C to 41°C range. A couple of weeks ago, I drove to work in the morning and it was -15°C. I live in a moderately temperate part of the world but even so, a seasonal temperature swing of 56°C is a torture test for cars. To put it another way, if you shifted that temperature so the bottom end was zero celcius and filled a bath with water at that temperature, you'd freeze to death in a matter of minutes. If you replaced it with water at 56°C, you'd scald or burn within seconds. And yet we drive cars that we expect to deal with the same temperature swings. Ok it's not cold enough here to need to light a fire under the car to keep all the liquids from freezing and gelling - that's northern Alaska territory - but even so - 56°C temperature swing. Think about it. We expect the paint and finish on the outside of the car to tolerate that temperature difference. We expect the engine to start every morning and for the brakes, steering and suspension to work. We expect to be comfortable inside with the air either warmed or cooled from ambient outside temperatures to something like 18°C in the cabin. We expect windows to defrost, wipers to work, and electrical systems to function. We expect to be able to sit in long traffic jams on the hottest days without the engine overheating, and to warm up quickly on the coldest days so as to be usable in a hurry. And for the most part, every modern car can deal with these extremes (and more) without any hesitation. So take a minute next time you're driving in absurd weather, to thank the designers of your vehicle for providing you with a mode of transportation that is convenient, comfortable and reliable. Compared to the 'good old days' modern drivers have never had it quite so good.