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Teaching a new class

Today, Gretel, my Ford Fiesta, went in for her first oil change. While we were there, I wanted the Ford dealer to look at Gretel’s transmission. Of course, when she started making rough shifts in parking lots while I was looking for a spot, I got nervous. Ford doesn’t have a stellar great good reputation for building solid transmissions that last as long as they should.

I actually did a little research before I took Gretel in, and what I discovered is that she doesn’t truly have an automatic transmission. I don’t have to manually shift by pushing in a clutch and shifting, but Gretel essentially has two 3 speed transmissions that are electronically shifted by two clutches. I’m still not 100% sure what that means other than the fact that when I said Gretel was acting like she had a manual transmission with a very bad driver attempting to get from second to first gear, I wasn’t completely crazy.

I also found during my research that Ford issued a service bulletin that called for resetting the transmission to help fix shifting problems. Service bulletins are not like recalls, so consumers don’t know about them unless they are stellar at google searches or have an attentive dealership. I didn’t know whether I should print out some of these web pages to deliver to the dealership in case they gave me the you’re-just-a-blonde-idiot-woman look or if I should just casually mention my knowledge and leave the folder at home, so as not to risk the ire of a mechanic who perceived the folder as being bossed around by a blonde woman. I left the folder at home and just mentioned the knowledge, which did gain me an undiagnosable look from the service manager. I thought in my mind, “Oh yeah, I did my research. Fix my transmission.”

So, Gretel’s transmission was reset today. Apparently, the transmission learns its owner’s driving habits in the first 1,000 – 2,000 miles of driving. It makes sense that it would have to be reset. I bought the car used with 5,000 miles on it, so that means the previous driver had trained the transmission to fit his driving style. Maybe he drove like an old granny, so Gretel resists my more daring maneuvers. As I was thinking about the whole issue today, I remember my mom saying that she feels weird driving my dad’s Toyota Corolla because, while not the same type of transmission, it is a transmission that adapts to the driver. She and my dad have different driving styles, so the car doesn’t react well to her. It seems then that dealers should automatically reset the transmissions when they sell these types of cars, does it not? It’s not like it was a complicated procedure.

Right now, Gretel’s transmission is learning how to shift from me. I read online about people who really babied the car during this time, accelerating slowly, etc. So, I warned the mechanic that I don’t drive like “normal” people and asked if I should adapt for the next 1,000 miles. He said just to drive the way I drive so the car learns about me. I suppose I might be training Gretel for rather poorer gas mileage than she is capable of, but if she’s optimizing the transmission to shift smoothly, I should drive “normal” because I highly doubt 1,000 miles will be enough distance to reform my driving.

What is normal for me? Well, my parents were sub-contractors for the Baltimore Sun newspaper’s delivery division when I was a teenager, so I essentially learned to drive from newspaper carriers, and I then started delivering a route myself while my own driving habits were tender and impressionable. I’m was the master of rolling stops (I’ve mostly broken that habit). I’m constantly making turns from the middle of the road instead of staying on my side and  waiting, and I can pull off a turn around in a driveway in world record time. Also, I’m particularly good at rapid acceleration between two fixed points at a close distance. (ie. I wanted to get home and get in bed, so I’d tear away from one mailbox at 15 mph and then mash on my brakes at the next mailbox 20 yards away). At a matter of fact, my friend was driving with me once, and with her hands braced on the dashboard she said something to the effect of, “Your driving style is unique. You are quite possibly the only person I know who hits the gas one more time as you are approaching a red light.”

So, we’ll see how Gretel does. I know there are plenty of people ready to say, “I told you so” about my car buying decision. But, I am hopeful; I do get great gas mileage, which is a direct result of this type of transmission, and the online forums seem to indicate that many owners have had smoother shifting after having the transmission reset (and better gas mileage but they were probably better drivers).

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