Having heard so much good about petrol cars, we decided to test drive one. They are said to combine cheap price with long range and fast "charging". A winning formula on paper – but how are they in real life?
We sat us in the loaner car at the car salesman’s office. Automakers do not sell the cars themselves, only through independent car repair shops as middlemen. It may sound like a bad omen to buy the car from a car repair shop that you want to visit as seldom as possible. But you apparently can’t buy the car directly from the manufacturer but must go through such intermediaries. The seller was very “pushy” and tried to convince us to buy the car very forcibly, but the experience is perhaps better elsewhere.
So we sat in the car and pressed the START button. The car’s gasoline engine coughed to life and started to operate. One could hear the engine’s sound and the car’s whole body vibrated as if something was broken, but the seller assured us that everything was as it should. The car actually has an electric motor and a microscopically small battery, but they are only used to start the petrol engine – the electric motor does not drive the wheels. The petrol engine then uses a tank full of gasoline, a fossil liquid, to propel the car by exploding small drops of it. It is apparently the small explosions that you hear and feel when the engine is running.
The petrol engine consists of literally hundreds of moving parts that must have tolerance of hundredths of a millimeter to function. We begun to understand why it is car repair shops that sell the cars – they might hope for something to break in the car that they can mend?
We put in a gear and drove away with a jerk. The jerk came not from any extreme acceleration, but gasoline engines apparently cannot be driven as smoothly as electric motors. The acceleration did not occur at all, because we could not get the car to go faster than 40 km/h! By then the petrol engine literally howled and the whole car shook violently. Convinced that something must have broken we stopped the car. The seller then explained that with petrol engines you need to “change gears” on a regular basis. Between the engine and the wheels are not a fixed ratio gear, but a variable one. The petrol engine can produce power only in a limited speed range, and must therefore be geared with different ratios in order to continue to accelerate. There are 5 different gears we can select with increasing speed as result. It is -as we learned quickly- very important that each time select a suitable gear otherwise the engine will either stop or get seriously damaged! You need a lot of training to learn to select the right gear at the right time – though there are also models with automatic transmissions that can do this themselves. In the manual transmission car, we needed to constantly guard the engine from damaging it. Very stressful.
We asked if the constant sound of the engine -that frankly disturbed us from being able to listen to the radio- could be turned off. But it couldn’t. Very distracting.
After getting the car up to speed through intricate changing of gears we approached a traffic light. Releasing the accelerator pedal resulted in no significant braking, we had to use the brake pedal very much to slow down the car. We were surprised to hear the brakes are completely mechanical! The only thing they generate is heat – braking gives no regeneration of gasoline back into the tank! Sounds like a huge waste, but it would soon get even worse.
When we came to a stop the engine continued to run and the car vibrate – even though the car was standing still! The engine continued to burn gasoline without moving the car forward. Can it really be true? Yes, the seller explained, it is so with gasoline cars: the engine is always running and burning gasoline – even when the car is stationary. Some models however switches off the engine at a red light, he explained. Well that certainly makes more sense.
After a while we came to a gas station where we could "charge" the car. The car claimed that it still had half a tank left, but we wanted to try the famous super-fast charging of petrol cars!
So we drove to the gas station and opened the fuel cap. The filling nozzle is very similar to a charging connector, but it is not electrons that come out of it but gasoline. Gasoline is a highly carcinogenic, smelly and flammable liquid derived from plants and animals extinct since millions of years ago. The gasoline is pumped to a tank in the car, which then drives around with about 50 liters of this hazardous liquid in it.