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 [email protected] or visit

New VW Golf comes with a lot, including a reasonable price

By Mike Hagerty

If you could only buy one new car to do everything you do in your life, what would it be?

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Mike Hagerty/Special to the Town Crier
The new Volkswagen Golf seats five and has adequate cargo space. Equipped with a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Golf gets 28 mpg in the city and 36 on the highway.

A lot of people – Americans, especially – would default to the biggest, most capable all-weather machine they could afford and figure if it can handle that, it can handle the rest. In my mid-30s, that way of thinking possessed me to buy a Suburban with four-wheel drive. I owned it seven years. It never left two-wheel drive mode, I never had eight people in it at once, and I never filled the cargo area.

The truth is, the one car for most Americans is a German car that has simply been evolving over 45 years.

That car, of course, is the Volkswagen Golf: seating for five, better-than-average passenger and cargo room, reasonable acceleration and reasonable price.

Let’s do reasonable acceleration first. Zero to 60 mph happens in 7.7 seconds from the new 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It makes 147 horsepower – 23 fewer than the 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder engine it replaces – and yet the new Golf is one-tenth of a second quicker to 60 mph.

Equipped with a six-speed manual transmission as our tester was, the Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy estimates are 28 mpg city, 36 highway.

The rear hatch area holds 17.4 cubic feet of cargo with the rear seat up. It’s hard to find a bigger traditional trunk in a car these days. Fold the rear seat down and the cargo capacity leaps to 53.7 cubic feet.

With seats in place, all five aboard will find plentiful headroom because of the upright design of the Golf, adequate legroom – the front passenger seat in the above photo is all the way back – as well as comfort and support from truly well-designed seats.

Europe got the next-generation Golf a few months ago. The U.S. is most likely in its last year of this generation, so apart from the 228-horsepower GTI and the outrageous 292 horsepower Golf R, there is only one way to get a Golf this year.

There’s one trim level, TSI. The base price is $23,195, and you get a lot for your money. It includes anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, alloy wheels, halogen headlights, LED taillights, a power sunroof, cruise control, an audio system with Apple CarPlay, and a lot more.

Our tester had no extra-cost options. An eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with Sport mode is available for $800, and the rest of the option list is really dealer-installed stuff (mud flaps, cargo organizers, roof racks, etc.). So, with the $920 destination charge, the bottom line on the window sticker reads $24,115.

That, my friends, is a screaming deal – $14,000 below the average price of a new car in this country this year. For a car that is way above average, and that probably meets 90% of the needs of 90% of Americans about 90% of the time.

There’s a reason the Golf, in a form close to the 1975 original, lives on today.

Toyota 86 is a screaming bargain

By Mike Hagerty

There is a road in Japan called the Hakone Turnpike, a marvelous winding road with magnificent 360-degree views in some places and surrounded by the greens of nature. A road just made for a car like the 2020 Toyota 86.

Mike Hagerty/Special to the Town Crier
The Hakone Edition of the Toyota 86 has a metallic green exterior. The interior features leather and faux suede. The car goes from 0 to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds.

The Toyota 86 was, until a couple of years ago, the Scion FR-S and still is the Subaru BRZ. We’ve made no secret of our love for it from day one, calling it (and why stop now?) the true spiritual successor to the original Datsun 240Z.

Like the original Z, it’s not an overpowered pavement-ripper. It has just enough power in just a light enough body. In the case of the 86, that’s a 2-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine made by Subaru. With a manual transmission, it’s 205 horsepower. With an automatic, like our tester, it’s 200 horsepower. Zero to 60 mph happens in 7.6 seconds. The Environmental Protection Agency estimate is 24 mpg city/32 highway.

Now, where the 86 really shines is on your favorite winding road. The balance is superb, the response to inputs immediate and satisfying. This is the car that will have you taking the long way to everywhere you go.

The Hakone Edition is an appearance package – the Hakone Green paint resembles a metallic British Racing Green – with bronze wheels, a body-colored rear spoiler and a beautiful tan leather and black faux suede interior.
Base price is $30,590, which includes nice upholstery, a decent stereo, dual-zone climate control, heated seats and more of what we consider basics today that were unfathomable luxuries a half-century ago in the original 240Z.

It offers zero extra-cost options, which means that with $955 delivery processing and handling fee, the bottom-line price on the window sticker is $31,545.

That is an absolute screaming bargain for the fun you’ll have behind the wheel. If I were in the market, I’d find the 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition very hard to resist.

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 ( and follow him on Twitter ( and Facebook (

Foothill Expressway and riding on the sidewalk – both can be dangerous

Foothill Expressway cyclists
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Cyclists on Foothill Expressway in Los Altos pause at a light at the El Monte Road intersection, where widening construction is underway.

By Chris Hoeber

The construction project at the Foothill Expressway intersections at El Monte Avenue and San Antonio Road has been in the works for a long time; I guess we can count ourselves lucky that it’s being done during the shelter-in-place while traffic is minimal.

I first wrote about this project more than two years ago, when it became clear to those of us living near the intersections that they needed to be remodeled.

I am familiar with the intersections, both as a motorist and as a cyclist. For a motorist, El Monte has become a bottleneck in all directions, and I empathize with the people living off of El Monte near the intersection, who must feel trapped at home during rush hour. For a cyclist, that intersection is probably the most dangerous along Foothill/Junipero Serra between Cupertino and Menlo Park. It’s long, narrow and poorly marked, and the slightly uphill merge lane southbound on Foothill practically invites motorists wanting to turn right to cut cyclists off. Once the person in front of a line does that, those who follow have to make a snap judgment as to whether they are going to do the same.

The other intersection is not as dangerous from a bicycling perspective, but it is also a bottleneck and, at times, rather than two small bottlenecks, it becomes one large bottleneck.

When the project was proposed, I responded to the public invitation for comments and met with the staff liaison to the Los Altos Complete Streets Commission, who advises the city council on such matters. From the commission’s website: “Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are planned, designed and operated for safe mobility for all users including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit users of all ages and abilities.”

I met with the county project manager and researched the history of bicycles on county expressways and learned that though cycling on the shoulder is legal, the county’s Roads and Airports Department has a policy against any signage that might encourage a cyclist to use the expressway, regardless of whether it makes it safer. It seemed to me that it was a shame to waste this opportunity to make needed improvements to the signage and lane markings on behalf of the thousands of people who traverse these intersections by bike daily.

I found that the only way that something could be done to improve bicycle safety during this upgrade was if the city council requested the route be designated as a bike lane (most locals think it already is). I wrote to the Complete Streets Commission and the council, and publicly requested that the council do so. I was met by smiles and thank-yous but never received any feedback.

Since then, there has been a complete staff turnover and several new faces on the council, but I was disappointed to learn there was no response to my pleadings. I don’t know whether that is because the council disagreed or whether it was simply inertia and not a priority.

The plans for the project look like an improvement over the current situation to me, but it is hard to tell from the detailed engineering drawings what the reality will be like. I think, however, this represents a lost opportunity to implement safety improvements at virtually no cost.

Switching gears

Several readers have contacted me about the boy killed in March while riding his bike across El Camino Real from the California Avenue crosswalk in Palo Alto.

This is a tragedy, and I am not in a position to comment on whose fault it was, but it illustrates the danger of riding on the sidewalk. Everyone on a bike who has to use the sidewalk, whether it is technically legal or not, has an obligation to themselves and others to slow down, use extreme caution and proceed only when it is safe to do so.

While this may seem like an accident waiting to happen, if appropriate care had been taken by all, it was an avoidable accident.

Let’s pledge to take safety into our own hands and not allow this to happen again.

Chris Hoeber is a local resident, avid cyclist and founder of a cycling club. Email him at [email protected]

Explorer Hybrid’s performance, power come at a cost

By Mike Hagerty

I think most people when they hear the word “hybrid” have expectations of improved fuel economy and possibly sluggish performance.

Mike Hagerty/Special to the Town Crier
The Ford Explorer Hybrid comes with a 318-horsepower engine.

But not all manufacturers take that tack. Some calibrate that additional electric motor combined with the gasoline engine to boost performance rather than cut consumption. And that’s the story of the 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid.

The 2020 Explorer Hybrid takes a 3.3-liter V6, adds a modular electric modal system and comes up with 318 horsepower and 322 pounds per foot of torque.

What’s Ford’s motive? It’s not to create a hot-rod Explorer. It already has that in the 400-horsepower, twin-turbo 2020 Ford Explorer ST.

No, this is about maintaining towing-capacity expectations. The other engine available in the Explorer line is the 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder. At 300 horsepower and 310 pounds per foot of torque, it would be fine for towing. However, a lot of American SUV owners are still skeptical of a four-cylinder engine – even a powerful one.

Thus, the 3.3-liter V6 hybrid. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency says to expect 27 mpg city/29 highway from the 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid, but we didn’t see anything close to that. Admittedly, we weren’t able to put our usual couple hundred miles on the Explorer Hybrid, but 18 is a long way from 27 or 29 – especially when more than half of the miles driven were in electric mode.

The only trim level the Hybrid comes in is Limited – second only to Platinum in terms of luxury. The base-price model ($52,280) is so well equipped that the only extra-cost option on our test vehicle was a twin-panel moonroof for $1,795. So, with $1,195 destination fee, the bottom-line price reads $55,270.

That’s a pause-worthy number, especially having recently experienced the Kia Telluride (reviewed in February’s On the Road), which managed to keep its as-tested price on the sane side of 50 large.

The 2020 Ford Explorer Limited Hybrid is a nice automobile, but it’s also in a segment where families have budgets.

Swede emotion

Volvo XC90
Mike Hagerty/Special to the Town Crier
Volvo’s new XC90 SUV comes with a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine that is both turbocharged and supercharged.

By Mike Hagerty

There are those who say that other than puns based on the popular Aerosmith song, the words “Swede” and “Emotion” should never be placed next to each other – particularly when it comes to mechanical matters. That’s because Swedish manufacturer Volvo has a reputation for safety, precision and perfection that takes emotion out of the equation.

I can only assume those people have never driven a contemporary Volvo – and certainly not an R-Design Volvo. Case in point: the 2020 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design. The XC90 SUV has been the quiet choice for affluent families since its introduction in 2003. However, much has changed in those 17 years.

Under the hood, there’s a 2-liter four-cylinder engine that is both turbocharged and supercharged. The end result is 316 horsepower and 295 pounds per foot of torque. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and features all-wheel drive with instant traction; selectable drive modes are standard. Sixty mph happens from a standing start in 6.1 seconds, and fuel economy is a respectable Environmental Protection Agency-estimated 18 mpg city/26 highway.

Accommodations are, as expected, safe, sturdy and luxurious.

Base price for the 2020 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design is $56,300, and that brings with it a comprehensive list of standard features. They include 20-inch alloy wheels, navigation and a 600-watt, 14-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system.

Our tester also had some extra-cost options – $17,440 worth, to be exact – including R-Design seats and trim, LED headlamps with a pressure cleaning system, a 360-degree surround view camera, a head-up display, air suspension, parking assist, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel plus further upgrades to 22-inch wheels and a 1,400-watt Bowers and Wilkins audio system that accounts for $3,200 all by itself. With $995 destination charge, the bottom line on the window sticker reads $74,735.

That last number is more of a shock than it should be, because of the wide gap between it and the base price. But if Volvo simply went to a one-price option of $74,735 for a loaded XC90 T6 R-Design – call it “Ultra” or “Ultimate,” or something like that – it would be difficult for me to argue that it’s not worth it.

As shocking as it may be if you’ve been out of the SUV market for a while, 74 grand is not-quite-even-loaded Chevy Tahoe money these days, and the Volvo XC90 is a far more refined machine.

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 ( and follow him on Twitter ( and Facebook (

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