June 24, 2009
By Jim Kerr
My son now has his learner’s licence: beware!
Actually, he is doing a fine job of learning to drive, with only minor errors and nothing that has caused any damage. Riding along as his co-pilot, I am trying to give him as many different driving experiences as possible so that he will be better prepared when he ventures out on his own, and that includes driving all of our “fleet” of vehicles.
Between my pickup truck, my wife’s compact car and my antique cars, there is a variety of weights, sizes and driving performance. Because I drive hundreds of vehicles every year during test drives and at the shop, I have become used to quickly adapting to different vehicles. However my son, in his limited experience, quickly noticed what I often take for granted – different vehicles have different throttle response.
Throttle response can aid or hinder driving confidence. When you step on the gas pedal you expect the vehicle to accelerate, but as I said before, not all are created equal. Take my truck for example: as a mid-90’s V8 with automatic transmission it has more than enough power, but when you step on the throttle lightly it seems nothing is happening. Keep stepping a little more and suddenly there is a surge of power that, in my son’s case, is often followed by a spinning tire and then a quick release of the throttle as he becomes aware of what is happening. It doesn’t inspire smooth starts or confidence. Now this situation is easily overlooked on warm pavement but icy winter roads could be a problem. Hopefully he will have learned how to control the throttle better by then.
My wife’s compact car is another story. The throttle is very responsive right from the start. As soon as you feather the throttle, the car wants to surge ahead and it is easy to quickly exceed the speed limit. On the other hand, passing on the highway isn’t as quick as the pickup truck because the throttle is already open more at highway cruising speeds.