6 car questions with surprisingly profound answers

We love cars, but there’s a lot we don’t understand about them. And unless you were born with a spanner in your hand and have been wearing grease-stained overalls since you were in diapers, we’re betting that there’s plenty you don’t understand either.

If you’re anything like us, it’s also pretty likely that you’re too afraid to ask a lot of the questions you do have. And don’t kid yourself, surrounding yourself with friends who are equally car mad is only likely to make things worse. “What do you mean you’ve never quite understood how the tranverse cylinder head on camshaft works?” they’ll scoff as they dress the latest wound from fixing whatever vintage wreck they’ve dragged into their garage this month.

Fortunately for all of us, the internet is a space where people feel free to ask difficult questions. Even more fortunately, a lot of those questions have nothing to do with the actual car mechanics.

We’ve scoured through online question and answer network Quora to in search of some seemingly innocuous motoring questions, with some incredibly profound answers. While many of the questions apply specifically to US scenarios, they are interesting nonetheless.

1. With which cars can you win a chase with a police car?

You’ve got to wonder why the person who posted this question chose to do so. Did they have a dying friend who’s last wish was to be in an epic car chase? Were they hoping to pull off the world’s greatest heist? Alas, we will never know. We do however have a pretty detailed answer.

Top answer: Tim Dees, Retired cop and criminal justice professor, Reno Police Department, Reno Municipal Court, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal Police Department

The top speed of the 2013 class of police pursuit vehicles varies between 131 mph (Ford Police Interceptor/Taurus) to 154 mph (Chevy Caprice PPV). That is for a new car–they probably won’t go that fast as they age. There are lots of stock vehicles on the road with top speeds in excess of this.

However, any viewer of programs like “Wildest Police Chases” (or whatever it’s called) can see that most pursuits conclude with the fleeing driver either abandoning a disabled vehicle or in some spectacular collision or rollover. Most Americans believe they are above-average drivers who can handle a car moving at 100+ mph. Most of them are wrong. There is considerable skill involved here, and few people have the opportunity to learn it experientially. Emergency vehicle operations training includes several counter-intuitive aspects, such as staying off of the brake when an obstacle appears directly and immediately in your path (you’re usually better off to try and steer around it).

There is also something to be said for the way the vehicle is configured. Many pickup trucks will exceed 100 mph on the highway if pushed, but they have a high center of gravity and are prone to rollovers on tight, high-speed turns. A car that is in poor repair may suffer a critical failure of a suspension component that won’t be apparent until you need it most.

Then there are hazards that have nothing to do with your driving skill and vehicle capabilities, such as overhead tracking by air support, the use of tire-deflating devices, and the good old police radio. Even if you are able to monitor police frequencies, you may not be able to avoid the other measures that will get you caught. Just having a speedy car isn’t going to allow you to elude the police. The deck is stacked against you here, and that’s the way it should be.

2. What are some astonishing facts about Formula One cars?

Anyone who’s seen an F1 car operating in real life knows that they’re pretty damn astonishing. For the most part though, we tend to watch the sport without thinking too heavily about the engineering that goes into it. That’s probably a mistake, especially given what we know now.

Top answer: Will Campbell, motorracing fan for as long as I could walk and talk

  1. The brakes can dissipate as much as 2200bhp, making them the most powerful system on the car.
  2. The roll hoop can withstand a static load of 9 tonnes vertically, 6 tonnes longitudinally, 5 tonnes laterally.
  3. At 300kph (~185 mph), the aerodynamic drag is able to slow the car as much as the brakes would on an ordinary road car.
  4. The gearbox can be cycled from 1st to 7th gear and back to 1st again in 1/5th of a second.
  5. When cornering at 150mph and 3.5g lateral acceleration about 200bhp is required to overcome the power lost scrubbing the tires across the road.

Most of these nuggets come from ex-Lotus engineer Peter Wright’s excellent book “Formula 1 Technology”

3. Will Tesla Motors be around long-term?

Right now, Tesla is the car company that most ordinary people — and Matthew Ihman of The Oatmeal — are most excited about. But is it just an early pioneer in the electric car space, a short term disruptor, or will it be around decades from now?

Top answer: Patrick Donohue, Jack of all, master of none. I love research. When there was no Internet I lived in the “stacks”. Of my favorites, The Lane @ S and Gardner stacks at Doe Moffit/Cal. Favorite job, is not a job, being dad.

Tesla Motors is the most interesting company I have ever studied. Not only are its products well designed, but so is the company.

The executive team all have one thing very interesting in common. They have all been with start ups that have grown blazingly fast and have personally thrived in those conditions along with the company. It cannot be coincidental that they all share that similar kind of experience. Obviously, having senior executives with that in their background was a tactical decision.

Having the right people for the job is of utmost importance at the stage Tesla is in. That is why They stole, Arnnon Geshuri, Goole’s chief of HR, to fill that position at Tesla. Mr. Geshuri is world renown for his recruiting and hiring acumen. He joined the electric-vehicle company in November 2009, when the company’s head count was about 600. As of January 2014 and since they have grown to over 6000 having hired the very best people they could find. This is a distinct difference between Tesla and others, as only the best people will do.

On the engineering front, JB Strauble is Co-founder and CTO. He leads an excellent team of cross discipline engineers who work extremely hard to continuously improve current product and create the new.

If one looks at the company with the eye of Ben Graham, things may not look so good. For they do burn cash at a tremendous rate, as Tesla is putting everything into growth as fast as they possibly can. So the typical valuation model does not apply. Further, it is not like other autos. They do live on the financial edge and probably will for some time.

Having said that, Tesla has more going for it than meets the eye. Regarding finances, there are many extremely well-to-do people who are friends of Elon Musk and the company. When the company was on the edge earlier in its history Elon dumped his last nickel into it or as they say, he went ALL IN. His leadership encouraged his friends to come and join him and things have worked out. Further, those same people stand ready to help again if necessary.

Further, because of how well the team has executed in the company’s short life, they have won the respect and admiration of the industry and its critics. This has only helped to sharpen the resolve of Elon, the company and his friends. They know that Tesla can do what it must to become a leading manufacturer of automobiles. Which a question of when, not if.

If one compares Tesla’s history to that of Porche AG you will see parallels like, one model made extremely well for a number of years. Both sell the same thing, “The Experience” of the car versus the car itself. Both are fanatical about craftsmanship and quality and are also ardent practitioners of Kaizen. The two also like to be very close to the customer. Therefore, Porsche AG, more than any other manufacturer, is the company to compare with Tesla, for they have much in common.

But, the almost unanimous accolades of the automotive press came much sooner in Tesla’s history than Porche’s. Further, it wasn’t until recently that Porche achieved the milestone of manufacturing over 100,000 units per year. That was the year prior to the controversial merger with Volkswagon in 2012 when they reported making about 123,000 units, if memory serves me right. Consequently, it took Porsche 64 years to crack 100,000 units per year. Elon Musk has predicted that Tesla will produce more than 100,000 cars per year by the end of 2015. That’s 12 years after the company was founded.

Here is a recent (2014) quote from Musk about production capacity:

“…Conservatively 2,500 units a week. At a lower cost point. We should be able to do that in parrallel (Model S + Model X). Another really big upgrade is the Paint Shop. There are a few cases where advanced CapEx spending makes sense even though it’s gonna pay off in two to three years. But it’s such a big improvement that you kinda wanna do it, even at a high discount rate. ”

So, here we have a conservative prediction of : 2,500 X 52 = 130,000. Now we have a number to help us compare the histories of Porche AG with that of Tesla, over 100,000 units per year: Tesla, 12 years, Porsche, 64.

Then there is this, from owners of the car:

“I have a corvette (convertible) as well and after 1 1/2 yrs with my Model S, I am now selling the vette. Never thought that would happen.”


“Well, life was great, I had a 2014 Model S85 coming for my wife, I would drive it whenever we are together, just wonderful I thought.

I was loving my Corvette Grand Sport with 6 speed manual, and I was going to get the GREAT new C7 Stingray. Wow, I would have 2 wonderful cars, so happy.

So now … I do not enjoy driving the Vette anymore and the new Stingray is history. I will be ordering a a 2015 S85 to go with my wife’s S85, no more ICE for me.


I too call it a life-changer! My life changed 1 DEC 2013 when I test drove the P85. That is the day when I knew I was going to own a Tesla. That P85 blew me away! I got the MS60 after researching, and finding out that Tesla understates the performance figures on the 60. I also decided to set my budget at 80K. My previous car cost 40K, and I was a bit nervous about how much I should invest in a car. I’ve driven all 3 models, the S60, S85, and P85. Between 0-40mph, you can’t tell a difference. But after 40mph, the 85s pull harder. The MS60 is plenty quick, though. And more than enough for my needs. I consider it a “Great First Tesla” to own. I do foresee that in about 5 years, I’ll be getting an 85!

From a Harvard MBA who is a former management consultant at McKinsey & Co:
Tesla Model S Cost of Ownership vs. Honda Odyssey

Last but not least…
Free electricity?
Future Teslas Could Come “Energy Included” – TESLARATI.com

4. Should I buy a new Honda Accord 2015 or a used Ferrari, both the same price?

Within a degree or two of variation, this is a question that most of us have asked ourselves at one time or another. Should you be sensible and go for something reliable with modern safety features or should you go with your heart and get something that will blow your mind, albeit in the knowledge that it could fall apart at any moment. The top answer for this one, will please most petrolheads.

Top answer: Joshua Vicory

a Ferrari for a week has to be better than a Honda for a year.

Think of it like this: are you gonna tell your grandkids about the Honda you once had? Or would you rather tell them how once you blew all your money on a Ferrari and had a bitchin’ time and picked up 10 women (one day at a time) and wrapped that sucker around a pole with a nose full of snow and with a hooker in the passenger seat that was giving you a…

Sorry, I was getting a little carried away there. Buy the Honda

5. If a car runs at the speed of light, will the headlights work?

Okay, this one wins on both the question and answer front. It’s one of those things you intuitively feel you should’ve thought about, but never have. We would however suggest that it’s probably not something you should ask someone at a certain kind of festival.

Top answer: H. Li, Born in China, Phd candidate in US.

Excellent question!

You just come up with the same question that Einstein had when he was 16, Einstein’s Most Famous Thought Experiment. That question was the original motivation for him to develop the Special relativity.

The first problem is any object that has a “non-zero inertial mass” cannot travel as fast as the speed of light, only Massless particles can travel at the speed of light. However, this question is reasonable since you may not know Special relativity, actually no one knows that before 1905.

The short answer is, Yes! The headlights still work.

Because Special relativity states that in any Inertial frame of reference, the speed of light is the same, about 300000km/s. No matter where you measure the speed of light, in a space ship or somewhere in your house, you get the same result. (Strictly your house is not a good Inertial frame of reference because the Earth’s rotation).

So when you’re in a car that travels at the speed of light, the physics in your world is totally the same. The speed of light you see, is still around 300000km/s. More interesting, if one of your friend is standing by the road and watching you and your car, and he decides to measure the speed of light of the headlights too. He will definitely get the same answer, around 300000km/s.

Sounds weird?

When we add two velocities, we’re using Galilean Velocity-addition formula,
u = u’ + v
Say if you are running at 10m/s on a train that is travelling at 100m/s, an observer stand beside the railway would notice you are travelling at
u = 10m/s+100m/s=110m/s

Unfortunately, that’s actually WRONG! The correct way is to use Special relativity, also known as Lorentz transformation.
u = \frac{u’+v}{1+u’v/c^2}
where c = speed of light.
u = \frac{10m/s+100m/s}{1+\frac{10m/s*100m/s}{(300000000m/s)^2}} \approx \frac{110}{1.00000000000001} m/s

In everyday life, the speed of an object is much much much smaller than the speed of light, u’ and v <<< c, so those two transformations of velocities are almost the same, just check the value above, they are very close. But when dealing with objects moving at a speed comparable to that of light, Calilean theory fails and Special relativity is the right one. For example, in your question: the velocity is not u = c + c = 2c but u = \frac{c+c}{1+c*c/c^2}= \frac{2c}{2} = c

6. Why do people buy cars with manual transmission?

Right now, this is a question that applies mainly to the few markets where automatic cars are in the majority — think the US and South Korea. As gearboxes become more sophisticated however, it’s a question that could one day be of global importance.

Top answer: Chaz Yoon

It can be one or more of:

Performance: manual transmissions usually have better acceleration because of shorter gearing, less weight, and less power loss than the automatic transmission in the same car, though there are exceptions.

Double-clutch automatic and semi-automatic gearboxes such as those found in Porsches, BMW M3s and a few Volkswagens have shift times vastly superior to anything humans are capable of with no loss of power; however, the weight impact is still felt.

Engagement: drivers may feel more involved with the car when driving a manual transmission. Especially true for sports cars.
Cost: manual transmissions frequently cost less than automatic transmissions.

Fuel Efficiency: manual transmissions can get better fuel economy due to lower power loss and different gearing when drivers are actively optimizing for fuel efficiency instead of performance, but it also depends heavily on the car. Modern automatic transmissions are getting very long overdrive gears to improve highway mileage.



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