Suburu paddles add some fun to driving — without a helmet

Dear Car Talk:

My wife discovered that she can easily downshift and upshift our four-cylinder 2014 Subaru Outback (with continuously variable transmission) using the paddles on the steering column. Ever since this discovery, she uses the paddles to slow down for stop signs and stoplights and when descending short hills.

It seems to me that the brakes should be used in these circumstances and downshifting reserved for long downhill grades. I am tired of hearing the engine rev as she downshifts before every stop.

Is it a good idea to use the downshift this way, or should she use the brakes instead? — Terry

RAY: Don’t be a party pooper, Terry. She’s having fun. And she’s not doing any harm. As long as she hasn’t started wearing a racing helmet yet, I think you’ll be OK.

If your Outback had a manual transmission, you could argue that she’s putting extra wear and tear on the clutch, and that brake pads are cheaper than clutches. I’d still probably tell you to leave her alone, in the interests of domestic bliss, but at least you’d have a theoretical case to make.

But with an automatic transmission (or a continuously variable automatic transmission like you have), there is no clutch. In fact, your car doesn’t even have any gears. A set of belts slides up and down a cone-shaped device to increase and decrease the gear ratios “variably” as needed. The paddles on the steering wheel just “mimic” gears by causing the transmission computer to jump to preset gear ratios. So the primary reason the paddles exist is so you can have fun and pretend you’re shifting gears. And that’s what your wife is doing.

I understand that the sound of the engine can be a little annoying, Terry. I’m guessing she’s just a little bored with your 2014 Outback and is trying to spice things up a bit. So if you want her to stop, try making more scintillating conversation when you’re in the car with her.

Value of 2011 Camry is greater than its price tag

Dear Car Talk:

I own a 2011 Toyota Camry. My husband keeps telling me to sell it and get a new car. But I love my 2011 Camry. It has 57,000 miles and I have only had to replace the tires and battery. No other problems. It has a great GPS system. And automatic heated seats. It has all kinds of storage areas in the front. The only thing it’s lacking is the blind spot monitors.

My husband keeps telling me that I will not get any value for it if I hold onto my Camry too long and try to sell it later. But I know if I get a new car my insurance will go up and I will be stupefied by all the new technology.

I am 75 years old, and I love my sweet vehicle. I only drive about 20-25 miles per week. What do you advise? — Toni

RAY: I’d advise you to cut down to 15 miles a week, Toni. Actually, start by forgetting all about resale value. That’s irrelevant. The only issues are your comfort and your safety.

A lot of times, we will recommend that older drivers get a new car, because there are lots of new, truly useful safety systems that cars didn’t have in 2011. There’s automatic emergency braking, which recognizes a stopped car or pedestrian in front of you, even if you don’t, and applies the brakes if you don’t. There’s blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert and even systems that recognize when you’re getting sleepy and need to pull over.

Those are all good reasons to get a new car, Toni. Especially for folks whose reflexes aren’t what they once were.

But your personal comfort in and familiarity with your 2011 Camry are good reasons to keep it. You’re right that some new technology can be confusing and hard to learn. A lot of the new stuff just operates in the background, in case you need it.

But more controls have moved from the dashboard to the touchscreen, and those can be confusing to the tech-averse. So if you have to call your granddaughter for instructions every time your iPhone beeps, the newest car may not be for you.

In addition, the fact that you only drive 20-25 miles a week reassures me. Especially if you’re doing mostly local driving at low to moderate speeds. If you drove 300 miles a week and were on crowded highways all the time, I’d want you to have all the latest and greatest safety equipment.

But I think feeling comfortable and confident behind the wheel is a safety feature as well. It means you’ll be relaxed when you drive and can pay attention to what’s happening around you. So I lean toward keeping your Camry for now.

At some point, it’ll need to be replaced, and you’ll have to make the leap. But by then, every control in the car will probably be operating by thought waves. You’ll just think, “Gee, my butt’s a little chilly,” and the seat heaters will come on. Drive safely, Toni.

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