Car alarms don’t work
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Car alarms don’t work

As I was listening to a car alarm go off last night (and again this morning), I wondered whether as a security measure they are effective at all. My guess was that the massive number of false positives insures that they go completely ignored when they go off. I was right. Transportation Alternatives has the numbers. Don’t go around thinking The Club is a better choice, either. Professional thieves target cars with The Club so that they can avoid walking around with a pry bar.

Running the numbers on Toyota safety
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Running the numbers on Toyota safety

Robert Wright breaks down the numbers on Toyota’s safety record given all of the recent reports of uncontrolled acceleration:

My back-of-the-envelope calculations (explained in a footnote below) suggest that if you drive one of the Toyotas recalled for acceleration problems and don’t bother to comply with the recall, your chances of being involved in a fatal accident over the next two years because of the unfixed problem are a bit worse than one in a million — 2.8 in a million, to be more exact. Meanwhile, your chances of being killed in a car accident during the next two years just by virtue of being an American are one in 5,244.

This is the article I’ve been looking for since the mass hysteria about acceleration problems began. It strikes me as undoubtable that a Toyota purchased today is significantly safer than most of the cars I’ve driven over the course of my life. I used to own a 1977 Ford pickup truck that caught on fire under the hood more than once.

Update: It’s also worth mentioning that if the accelerator sticks on your cars, there are several ways to stop.

Cell phones make you more likely to crash, but …
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Cell phones make you more likely to crash, but …

Efforts to stop people from using their mobile phones while they’re driving are stepping up lately, thanks in part to Oprah Winfrey’s efforts to warn people of how dangerous it is. She did an episode on the topic last week, and it’s up for free online. Today, she asked people to celebrate her birthday by taking her No Phone Zone pledge.

The science would appear to be on Oprah’s side. Researchers have found that people talking on the phone are four times more likely to crash their car than they would be otherwise, but neither the increasing use of cell phones nor subsequent bans have had any measurable effect on overall crash numbers.

Having used my phone to talk and check email in the car, I’m completely convinced that I don’t drive as safely when I do it, and I’m trying to cut it out. Even so, I’m fascinated by the discrepancy in the numbers.

Volkswagen takes over Porsche
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Volkswagen takes over Porsche

Last year I was fascinated by a financial story that involved Porsche secretly buying Volkswagen stock for three years, disclosing that it owned 75% of the company, and reaping as much as 40 billion euros from distressed short sellers.

Now Volkswagen is taking over Porsche. Porsche’s CFO, Holger Härter, who engineered the short squeeze, is out of a job, as is Porsche’s CEO, as is Porsche’s CEO Wendelin Wiedeking.

Porsche still owns more than 50% of Volkswagen, but apparently it cannot continue to operate under its current debt load, creating an opening for VW:

Though its operative business responded flexibly to the sharp drop-off in auto sales, a €9 billion debt load proved unbearable. Ferdinand Piëch, a member of the Porsche founding family, a board member and chairman of Volkswagen, pounced on the opportunity.

Mr. Piëch ratcheted up a public and private campaign to reverse the terms of Porsche’s audacious bid, suggesting that Volkswagen, sitting on an enormous cash pile of its own, could buy Porsche. But he insisted that Mr. Wiedeking would have to go and that Porsche would have to bring in some cash on its own.

One interesting sentence
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One interesting sentence

To borrow an idea from Tyler Cowen, here’s a really interesting sentence:

After crunching the numbers, he calculates that on a weekday, the average car driven into Manhattan south of 60th Street causes a total of 3.26 hours of delays to everybody else.

That’s from a Felix Salmon blog post on Charles Komanoff’s study of the externalities associated with driving in New York. Since my spell checker doesn’t know the word “externalities,” I’ll link to its definition as well.

Links from June 12th
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Links from June 12th

Links from June 3rd
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Links from June 3rd

Loving what you have
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Loving what you have

Anil Dash and Mike Monteiro have launched a web site evangelizing the idea of appreciating what you have. The idea is simple and may be particularly compelling during a recession, but should probably be in the backs of our minds all the time.

I’ll share a little story along those lines. I drive an old car. It gets bad gas mileage and has uncomfortable seats. I would love to drive a new car. But the truth is I don’t drive an awful lot and the car runs really well. A couple of years ago I mentioned to my mechanic that I was considering getting rid of it, and he told me that if I did, to let him know, because he would be interested in buying it. At that point, I looked at the car with fresh eyes. If your mechanic wants to buy your car, it’s not time to sell it.

Just recently I’ve gotten a problem with the driver’s seat fixed, replaced the tires with nicer ones than I probably would have ordinarily, and resolved myself to sticking with it for another couple of years. I bought this car because I loved it, and as it turns out, I still love it.

This mentality is why car manufacturers around the world are in so much trouble, and why the government is pursuing fiscal stimulus, but for an individual, I think it’s the most rational approach.