This car is a star

Rolls Royce Wraith Black Badge
Courtesy of Mike Hagerty
The Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge’s Starlight Headliner interior lights the inside of the vehicle with shooting stars.

The plan seemed foolproof. I had a 2020 Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge for a weekend, a car that – at extra cost – features a headliner with shooting stars (more on that later).

When engine won’t turn over, don’t always jump(-start) to conclusions

I recently wrote about inside air filtration and what might happen to a car that sits too long without being driven. Usually, such problems are a simple fix once you’ve unraveled the root cause, but not this time.

What will Los Altos’ infrastructure look like in the years to come?

Loyola Corners Crosswalk
Courtesy of Chris Hoeber
The pedestrian crosswalk at Loyola Corners is a dangerous one, according to cyclist Chris Hoeber.

Last month I addressed the need for safe pedestrian and cycling routes through Los Altos that ensure connectivity between where people live and where people want to go. I ran out of space and promised to address north Los Altos and the portion of Los Altos on the hill side of Foothill Expressway this month.

Dodge’s new Scat Pak packs plenty of punch

By Mike Hagerty

More than 50 years ago, Dodge made one heck of a racket in the performance car world with what it called the “Scat Pack.” For those of you who have only heard the term on nature walks, “scat” has other meanings, including a form of jazz singing, and the slang usage that applies here means “to go quickly.”

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Mike Hagerty/Special to the Town Crier
The Dodge Charger comes in bold colors and with a 485-horsepower engine that can take the car from 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. The base price is nearly $40,000.

That is the entire reason for the 2020 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack Plus to exist – to go quickly. That engine? It’s a 6.4-liter Hemi V8. 485 horsepower, 475 pounds per foot of torque. So how fast does it go from 0 to 60 mph? The staff at Car and Driver magazine clocked it at 4.1 seconds. I’ll trust them on that, because putting your foot to the floor in one of these is like waving red meat under the nose of a sleeping lion. All of a sudden, there’s a monstrous roar and the rest is a blur.

Muscle-car throwback

This car is really nothing short of a miracle. The 1969-70 Scat Pack was supposed to be the end of an era. Insurance surcharges, emission controls and the rising cost of fossil fuel all conspired to kill the muscle car by the early-mid-’70s. And yet, here it is. Admittedly, performance cars of all types and brands have blossomed in the past 20 years. But it’s been Dodge that has managed to take one of the last remaining old-school four-door sedans and turn it into a fire-breathing monster.

The “392 HEMI” badge on the fender is a throwback of its own – to the days when engines were measured in cubic inches instead of liters. And it’s also an example of how far we’ve come. In Scat Pack One, the Hemi was 426 cubic inches. It made only 425 horsepower.

The closest engine in terms of size back then was the 383. And that was only good for 330 horsepower. Both those are gross horsepower figures – net wasn’t imposed until later, so lop another 75-80 horsepower off the 426 and 383 – maybe 350 and 265. That makes a real-deal 485 horsepower out of 392 cubic inches a very big thing.

It also makes the 2020 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack Plus a full second quicker to 60 mph than the legendary 1970 Hemi, even though the 2020 is heavier. And thanks in part to an eight-speed automatic transmission with four drive modes – Automatic, Custom, Sport and Track – the Charger gets an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated 15 mpg city, 24 highway.

The 1970 Charger Hemi? It gets 9 mpg, maybe 8 – 10 with a tailwind.

Plus, the Charger, as most other muscle cars from 50 years ago, was good for pretty much one thing – speed in a straight line. The 2020 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack Plus handles. It stops. It’s not my favorite machine for carving up twisty roads in the Sierra foothills, but that’s more about having too much power on tap and too little space in which to indulge. The suspension and steering bits are spot on.

The other remarkable thing is price. It starts at $39,995. Load it up with goodies, like our tester had – the Widebody package that enables fatter tires, upgrades the brakes and further tightens up the suspension is $6,000 – and add a $1,495 destination charge for the bottom-line sticker price of $51,570. There are supercars roaming El Camino Real right now that cost multiples of that.

Ultimately, the 2020 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack Widebody is all about outrageousness. And if that’s your thing, then, as the ads said back in the days of Scat Pack One, put a Dodge in your garage.

Mike Hagerty, vice president of membership for Western Automotive Journalists (, has been writing about cars since 1997. Read more of his reviews on his website (mike and follow him on Twitter ( and Facebook (

Observations from walking and cycling in Los Altos

By Chris Hoeber

I first saw Los Altos in 1961 – moving with my family from Illinois – and I fell in love with the laid-back environment and smell of dried apricots in the summer. If I had fallen asleep and came back today as Rip Van Winkle, I would still recognize the downtown area and many of the streets – but not the traffic.

To put it simply, the current roadway infrastructure is not adequate for today’s traffic volumes, and there are significant obstacles to pedestrians and cyclists getting to where they want to go. Ironically, even with the reduced traffic prompted by the pandemic, I see conflicts due to the increased pedestrian/cyclist volume in my neighborhood.

As background research for this column, I read the Los Altos Bicycle Transportation Plan (2012) and the Pedestrian Master Plan (2015). They are both beautiful, thoughtful documents, with many pretty pictures. They address how roads should be designed and local incremental improvements, but they don’t clearly address these needs:

• How do people safely get from home to where they are going within the city – to schools, stores, the library, etc. – without getting in their car and adding to traffic?

• How do people get in, out or through the city – to work, visit grandma, etc.?

Despite good intentions, little or no pedestrian or cycling progress has been made since these plans were written. I’ve spoken to people who have tried to address these issues, and they are frustrated. It will take a long time to tackle the problems, and the local political process does not seem to have that kind of staying power. I contrast this with Palo Alto, which is implementing its second crosstown bicycle boulevard (Louis Road will complement Bryant Street on the opposite side of Middlefield Road, with several cross-connections).

Solutions for Los Altos

Typical Los Altos streets have unmarked shoulders that double as parking spaces and have no sidewalks. If they do have sidewalks, they often start/stop arbitrarily on opposite sides of the street at random intervals. Even major thoroughfares through the city such as Fremont Road and Miramonte Avenue have no provisions for pedestrians and inconsistent provisions for cyclists. Getting into and out of commercial areas is problematic.

As an example, I have been walking to Loyola Corners recently and just discovered the crosswalk on Fremont that crosses the northbound Foothill Expressway exit. It is completely blind – people in the crosswalk cannot see oncoming cars, and drivers cannot see the crosswalk until it is directly in front of them after rounding a curve. To put it mildly, none of the routes across Foothill south of downtown is pedestrian- or child-friendly.

What is needed:

• One or more safe east-to-west pedestrian routes and cycling routes to complement Foothill (for example, Fremont Avenue, Cuesta Drive and Covington Road).

• One or more safe north-to-south pedestrian and cycling routes (for example, Grant Road, Miramonte Avenue and Springer Road).

• Safe pedestrian and cycling interconnections from these routes to all schools.

• Safe pedestrian and cycling interconnections to all commercial and government districts (for example, downtown, Rancho Shopping Center, Loyola Corners and the Los Altos Civic Center).

Although I used major street names above to illustrate the need, separate parallel pedestrian and cycling solutions certainly need to be considered.

I left out north Los Altos and the part of Los Altos on the southwest side of Foothill, including unincorporated Santa Clara County, due to space limitations.

Chris Hoeber is a local resident, avid cyclist and founderof a cycling club. Email questions and comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Like people, cars shouldn’t sit too long

By Matt Pataky

As the weeks pass during the pandemic, it has become clear to me that there are certain trends forming in the automotive world. This month, I explore the challenges and can hopefully help you navigate them or even stop them from happening.

The most obvious problem has been dead batteries. Even when a car is not operating, there is a small drain on the battery. Depending on the car, the drain or draw is usually between 60 milliamps (.06 amps) and 50 milliamps (.05 amps), though it can be much lower than that.

The lower the draw, the longer the battery will hold up. If a battery is less than three years old and is healthy, it should hold up – meaning it can start the car – for a month. If the car has a defective electrical component, it can cause a 1- to 2-amp draw capable of killing the battery in a matter of days. If you unintentionally leave the interior dome lights in the vehicle (a 3-amp draw), the battery will be dead the next day. Kids are often the biggest culprits; my 4-year-old turned on the lights in our minivan three times last month.

Getting proper sleep

Modern cars have so many control modules that it can sometimes take up to an hour before the car’s battery reaches its minimum draw – a process called “going to sleep.” It’s similar to what our computers and smartphones do.
It’s important that cars go to sleep correctly, however. If a control module has a problem, it can hold up the sleep process and drain the battery abnormally. If the battery is weak, it may not have the power to put the car to sleep or wake it up. While a mouse wakes up a computer, modern cars wake up when they are unlocked.

After about a month into the shelter-in-place, cars started coming into the shop with programming problems. We had two BMWs with batteries that were at least 6 years old. In both cases, we had to install new batteries and reset the camshaft variable valve programming. We aren’t sure what caused the program corruption – it could have been during the going-to-sleep or waking-up process – but the root cause was a weak battery.

Rodent relocation

We are also seeing something I have written about several times: the great rodent relocation. Because so many cars have been sitting in the same place for months, rodents have found the engine bay of your vehicle to be an upgrade from the ivy patch.

Make sure to at least open the hood to see if there’s any rodent activity. Rodents love to eat the hood insulation and then stuff it in the intake manifold to make a cozy bed. If you see rodent droppings, twigs, bottle caps, chewed wires, chewed hoses or trash, it is time to take action. The sooner you stop their activity, the better.

I have no iron-clad remedy for keeping the rodents out of the engine bay, but I suggest setting traps outside the car and looking for an environmentally safe rodent spray. After we repair the damaged wires or hoses, we install rat tape, which stops the rodent from ever eating the wires or hoses again.

Just because your car has not been driven much lately does not mean everything is OK. Open the hood and check for rodents and try to find out the age of your battery.

Matt Pataky owns Sunnyvale Foreign Car Service, 15 Pioneer Way, Mountain View. For more information, call 960-6988, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit

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