Posts for category ‘car’

When Rats Ate My Engine
| December 6, 2008 | 4:58 am

My car has been acting a little funny lately. At low speeds was jump and was real shaky until I got moving at a steady clip. The alarm stopped working and I could never seem to keep any water in the windshield wiper reservoir. I don’t really know much about cars, so for a while I blamed it on the rain. Or maybe, I thought, I needed to change the oil. Just in case it was something serious, I decided to send it over to the Hyundai dealer to see if he could sort out the problems.

Yesterday morning I got a call.

“Hello, Sir?”
“You have rats in your engine.”
“Rats? Are you sure?
“Yes, many rats. They have eaten most of the wiring? There are droppings everywhere.”
“Can’t you think of a better excuse to void my warranty, what’s the proof?”
“I’ll send you a picture, hold on.”

Five minutes later he takes a picture of my spark plug caps and e-mails it to me. Yes, those are teeth marks. Some time in the last couple months the giant raccoon-sized rats that feed on temple scraps downstairs (this is a real problem, there are festivals every other day sponsored by the temple in my building and they leave lots and lots of food (aka rat food)in my parking lot overnight…but I digress) climbed into my car’s engine and snacked on the tasty plastic bits.

Or, as this New York Times article on the engine rat problem in New York suggests ““They hang out, and during the night they must get bored, and they eat the wires.” Indeed, a rat expert Paul D. Curtis, an associate professor at Cornell University who specializes in wildlife management, said rodents in general tend to be attracted to plastic tubing and wires. “They do need to chew constantly to wear down their incisors,” he said, “and there’s something about the texture of the plastic that they really like.”

So the question on the table now is does anyone know of a substance that I can sprinkle on my engine to make it taste bad.

Could a Nano-Size Pricetag Mean Chaos?
| June 23, 2008 | 10:31 pm

The Tata Nano isn’t just one more small car ready to enter the world’s stream of endless transportation options; it’s a revolution. Costing just a little over $2,500, it’s half the price of the next cheapest car on the road today which means just about anyone with a mid-sized call center paycheck can pick one up. For this month’s issue, WIRED sent me out to explore how the Nano will change the Indian economy. I tracked down powerful city planners and iconic environmentalists in Bangalore and sat inside a Nano prototype in the Tata factory in Pune. After criss crossing the country on the Nano-trail I think I have a good idea about what to expect when the car finally hits the roads. It’s not a pretty picture.

On its own, the Nano is a great automobile. The engine is small and fuel efficient, it meets most environmental standards, and it is a whole lot safer than a motorcycle or scooter. But with 350,000 set to be produced in the first year, and untold millions in the years after that, the Nano portends a massive strain on India’s already stressed infrastructure. The crux of the problem is that developing world governments aren’t able to keep pace with private industry. There are already too many cars on the road and there don’t seem to be plans to adapt to the coming influx.

We can’t blame the Nano for being a cool car that a lot of people will want to buy–it is much nicer than the Maruti 800 which sells for $5000, and I’m beginning to think that it even puts my own Hyundai Santro to the test–but at the state level, there don’t seem to be solutions in the works. At one level it is just a problem of geometry, as more people drift from two-wheelers to four wheelers, there will be less overall space for vehicles to navigate. At the same time, a lot fewer people are taking buses (who would want to when they are so cramped?). As citizens depend increasingly on private transportation the whole system tends towards gridlock.

And now that automakers know that it is possible to produce cars in the nano price range engineers from Germany to Japan are making plans to mass-assemble their own versions.

At $2,500 people who were never able to afford cars before suddenly can. According to figures I culled from World Bank data, the global pool of potential car owners could increase by as much as 800 million once ultra-compact cars are available world-wide.

This means big problems for administrators who are trying to keep developing world cities moving. Streets that are already clogged will get worse. Fuel prices that are already high will go higher.

Check out the story in this month’s issue of WIRED. Or just click this link.


In other news, I wasn’t able to go to this year’s SAJA awards in New York. That’s a real shame because I was the finalist for the Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding Story about South Asia: the conference’s top award.

A New Car for $2000?
| April 25, 2007 | 12:59 am

There are some obvious advantages to having a car in India rather than just a motorcycle. Cars offer protection from the smog, have the potential for AC, and can transport your friends in a sealed compartment. Not to mention that with a car you don’t have to live in constant fear of being smushed by your neighbors on the road. I’ve been thinking about buying a car for a while, but have always been gagged by the price. If I’m only going to be in India for a few years then why invest the cash? Well today on there was an article about a new collaboration between Nissan and Renault for a $2000 car. That’s right. 1 lakh for an automobile.

A new car would cost roughly the same as the new Royal Enfield that I’m driving right now. It will have four doors and is projected to even pass a crash test. What’s not to like? The plans are to begin releasing the cars in April of next year. I might just have to bite the bullet and get one if I can wait that long. And from the pictures, they sort of look like the new Maruti Swifts. Cool, huh?