A lot of you youngsters these days seem to have quite nice cars. Fairly new ones. But it wasn’t like that when I was a lad. We drove old shit, and it often didn’t work.
If a car is running, then that, according to something deeply ingrained in my driving conscience, is a bonus. It follows, therefore, that when it stops running at a set of traffic lights, it’s broken. That’s how it was for so many years.
Look; stop-start is a perfectly reasonable idea. As I’ve said before on this tribe, the internal combustion engine has to idle before it can do anything useful, unlike an electric motor or a steam engine. But it need only start idling in the instant before you call on it. If you’re stationary, it can be turned off.
It’s not even a new idea. Twenty five years ago, long before electronic systems took over the job, I noticed that the taxi drivers of Calcutta would turn their engines off at traffic lights. Made sense; it saved a bit of fuel, and the Hindustan Ambassador was designed by Richard Trevithick, and made a bit of a stink. But it did seem a bit ill-advised to a man still traumatised by a 130,000-mile and unserviced Vauxhall.
Even now I sense a tiny kernel of panic forming in my bowels whenever the car turns itself off at a junction. It’s like a very mild form of shell shock; a trigger for the memory of some horror in a previous life. Who’s to say it will start again, when for so many decades it almost certainly wouldn’t?
But there’s something else. I was driving a Land Rover Discovery, with the stop-start turned on. It stopped when I pulled up at a pedestrian crossing, and because I was unconsciously applying a tiny force to the steering wheel, I felt the power steering fade away and the wheel become inert. I felt a car die. It was like a beloved pet expiring in my arms, and it was horrible, and I hated it.
That’s why every car I’ve ever driven with stop-start has a button that allows you to switch the system out. There’s no reason to have this that I can think of, except that it’s there for my generation. But it will pass away, like the idea of alms houses. And then we will be at peace.