Car Talk Letter Writer

The Car Talk website includes letters written to Tom and Ray. The current letter is from someone named Les. I don’t know if it’s OK to quote his whole letter, so I’ll summarize it instead. He said that his eighteen-year-old daughter drove to school after a heavy rainstorm, and the parking lot was covered in a deep puddle. She drove into it and her engine failed, possibly due to a cracked block. The part that I love is his question:

The response from Tom and Ray was of course that the daughter was responsible, but I was amazed that he assumed that either the manufacturer or the school had to be at fault. It wasn’t like either one put a gun to her head. And the daughter is eighteen, which should imply some level of maturity.

Yes, the school is responsible for having a puddle after a rainstorm, and Dodge is responsible for making a passenger car that can’t be driven through deep puddles. Whatta maroon.

If it hadn’t been her engine, it could have been her brakes that failed (happened to me once). Cars aren’t built for being submerged; I hope she knows that now, but I’m guessing that she doesn’t, since she probably learned from her father that she doesn’t need to actually think or anything.

The daughter has learned an important lesson.
It is very hard to determine the depth of a puddle by looking at its surface.
We have customers every so often that hydro lock engines and wanted it covered under warranty. Sorry. the car is not designed to used as a submarine.

Here he comes;
Here comes Speed Racer.
He’s a demon on wheels;
He’s a demon and he’s gonna be chasin’ after someone.

Go Speed Racer,
Go Speed Racer,
Go Speed Racer, GO!

It is possible that the letter writer was being facetious. Possibly.

Could it be Les’s attempt at humor? (Obviously a less than successful attempt, but still an attempt?)

Possible, but not bloody likely. I read this same letter in the newspaper and was floored at the question. Then wished like hell that T&R had torn this yutz a new asshole instead of their actual responses.


The link in my original post doesn’t go to the same column anymore. Use this one instead.

But I am glad to see I’m not the only one who thought the letter writer was wrong.

Well, if it * was * hydrolocking, then allow me to enter a vote for Dodge. It’s not like hydrolocking is a new phenomenon, and there’s no good reason for manufacturers to put the air intake down low enough for car to suck water. So that would just be bad design.

Manufacturers such as Subaru manage to make cars that can handle the errant puddle well enough. So even a cracked block doesn’t seem like an inevitable consequence of driving through a puddle.

I’d also toss a bit of blame at the driving instructor – you don’t learn not to drive through deep puddles by instinct. Someone should tell you it’s a bad idea (before you find out the hard way.) Especially when you’ve probably grown up watching Subaru and Jeep ads where cars regularly drive through streams.

She probably learned to drive from her dad, who is just as ill-informed as she is. And so the cycle of bad-driving continues…

(Please, anybody with kids starting to drive, get them into proper driving lessons. IT IS WORTH IT!!!)

Bad design? In your opinion, to what water depth should a Neon be submersible? I don’t know how deep that water was, but if her own father described it as being a “lake”, it was probably pretty damn deep. Dodge should not be liable for someone trying to drive one of their cars through a “lake”. If you abuse anything enough, you’re going to break it.

[Bolding mine]

You are kidding, right?

They may not be. You can’t even buy a toaster nowadays without the obligatory, “You should not stick your dick in this”, type warnings. It seems we’ve out evolved instinct. Human beings are so stupid that they need to be told the possible consequences for every action. Og forbid anyone should actually think for themselves. So as you can see BOTH the car manufacturer (for not putting ‘cannot be driven underwater’ stickers everywhere on the car; and her driving instructor (for not telling her that driving in huge puddles is bad) are CLEARLY to blame.

expect a multi million dollar lawsuit to ensue. I’m just thankful she didn’t aquaplane across the damn puddle and mow down half the school.

The existence of the stupid warnings doesn’t mean someone has done every single thing that’s being warned about. Sometimes that happens, but it’s also a case of the manufacturers played cover-your-ass because they don’t want to be sued for anything, because no matter how stupid the act is or how blameless they might seem, it’d still cost them money to deal with the lawsuits.

Well, if you don’t know how deep the water was, then how can you make any intelligent judgement? In what was very possibly the same rainstorm referenced in the Car Talk article, I drove through extremely flooded streets, based on Subaru’s claim that the Outback can handle fording small streams. Didn’t have any problems. And while the Outback rides a bit higher than a Dodge Neon, it’s more likely that Subaru just positioned the air intake more intelligently.
I’m not saying that driving into a flooded parking lot was a particularly intelligent move.
But when did you learn that driving a car into too deep water would actually permanently damage an engine? I learned about it a few years back when a friend emailed me that he had killed the engine in his minivan by driving through water in his minivan – said friend was in his mid-30’s and had been driving for years. I had to get on the internet and Google around to understand the mechanism by which hydrolock kills cars.

For that matter, most parking lots would probably manage only a couple of inches of puddle if that. You can’t tell there was a couple of feet, and if there was if you could tell by looking, or a couple of inches, but she drove too fast…

As long as we’re blaming everybody (and personally, I think this is more of an unfortunate accident that’s not really anybody’s fault, although the driver is mostly responsible for it), I’d like to point out that if the school routinely has deep enough water in its parking lot after a heavy rainstorm to hydro-lock the engines of cars that drive into it, it should get the parking lot regraded and resurfaced.

Consistently bad drainage causing a flooded lot is not just bad for cars and the lot itself, but is also a royal pain for the users of the parking lot who have to wade knee-deep to dry land when they get out of their cars.

Of course, if the school parking lot really does have a persistent problem in this regard, it’s probably because the school district can’t afford to maintain it properly, which is probably because the taxpayers are too stingy to provide the necessary funds and/or the school administration spends money inefficiently and wastefully, which gives us a whole bunch of other people to blame!! :slight_smile:

Yeah, where the hell are their priorities?! The nerve, throwing money away on extravagances like teachers’ salaries, books, and computers!! Let’s get that student parking lot up to snuff, first! :smiley:

Yeah, but Subaru is making vehicles specifically designed to have some off-road capability. The Dodge Neon is made to be cheap. There’s no reason to expect a Dodge compact to be able to do the same stuff as a Subaru Outback or a Jeep.

Just so you know, the first-gen Dodge Neon’s air intake is behind the engine block, above the exhaust manifold, in plain english, the air intake is on the TOP of the engine, there is a “snorkel” that goes from the airbox to the front of the engine to pull in cooler air, the snorkel lies over the valve covers, the stock Neon air intake is on the TOP of the engine

(i had a first-gen ('95-99) ''98 Neon for a while, so i know where the air intake is located)

the only way the Neon’s engine could have hydrolocked with the stock intake is if the puddle was over her hood, if she had a 3rd party “cold air intake” like the Iceman or the AEM, that relocates the snorkel to just above the drivers side axle (on a manual) or just below the battery bay (on a sludgebox), if her Neon had a CAI, it could hydrolock a lot easier than the stock intake

(CAI also voids manufacturer’s warranty)

either way, the driver is at fault, not Dodge or the school, obviously the meaning of “personal responsibility” is meaningless to this family