The 7 Most Humiliating Driving Mistakes

There’s no way to go through your entire driving life being perfect. But when the inevitable happens and you do royally bungle things, you can at least attempt to do so in the least humiliating way possible, right?

In an eye-opening report, the National Bureau of Completely False Statistics revealed that a staggering 72 percent of driving faux pas directly lead to beet-red embarrassment for those at the wheel. What’s more, 56 percent include hostile horn-honking from fellow motorists, and 34 percent feature delighted finger-pointing from witnesses at bus stops.

Needless to say, these imaginary stats are definitely too high. So to raise awareness, here’s our list of the top 7 driving blunders guaranteed to wreak havoc on your self-confidence.

Driving mistake 1: going the wrong way on a one-way street

The main plot point behind many nightmares, going the wrong way down a one-way, is a stupid driving mistake most of us fear.

What really makes your stomach drop is the fact that, unlike other driving situations, there’s no gray area here, no chance of going unnoticed. It’s the driving equivalent of toppling a pyramid of champagne glasses at Crate & Barrel — you know you messed up as soon as it happens … and so does everyone around you.

Driving mistake 2: forgetting to turn on your headlights

By contrast, here’s a mistake you can be hopelessly ignorant of for several minutes (if you’re on a well-lit road). Of course, this makes the humiliation that much worse when you finally do realize why everyone keeps honking at you and flashing their brights. There’s a singular type of shame that comes with making a fool of yourself and having no idea how long it’s being going on.

Driving mistake 3: stalling your car at intersections

As a stick-shift devotee, I can personally attest to the embarrassment and abject terror of this situation.

Just imagine: it’s rush hour and you’re waiting out a red light (a brutally long one, of course) as traffic builds behind you. When the red turns to green, you rush to accelerate. But you let off the clutch too fast, feel your car (and your heart) thud sickeningly, lurch forward, and peter to a sudden, lonely halt. If you’ve never had to pray your car restarts while hundreds of exhausted commuters hurl obscenities at you, well, good for you.

Driving mistake 4: forgetting where your gas tank is

There are numerous reasons you might forget which side of the car has the gas tank. Maybe you have a brand-new car. Maybe you’re the guy from Memento. But regardless of how you came to be standing there holding a gas pump and staring at nothing, it’s always humiliating. In fact, we recommend finding a new gas station immediately. Having to turn around and reposition while the dude delivering beef jerky laughs at you is a pain we wish upon no one.

Driving mistake 5: running out of gas while driving

It’s not the mistake itself that mortifies but, rather, imagining what it says about you. Because let’s face it, as they watch you trudge along the side of the freeway, plastic gas jug in hand, onlookers are likely thinking 1 of 3 things:

  • This person isn’t terribly familiar with the alphabet.
  • This daydreamer has no situational awareness whatsoever.
  • Seriously, you left the house in that shirt?

And they all sting.

Driving mistake 6: forgetting the parking brake on an incline

Is there anything that screams “Oh dear God no!” like the sight of someone chasing his or her own vehicle? The answer is no.

Driving mistake 7: missing (and continuing to miss) that parallel-parking spot

Even if you’ve nailed your last 99 attempts, when you hit that one tricky spot, it can get in your head. Parallel parking is a uniquely slow activity that gives onlookers too much time to stare and you too much time to think: “Why did that van park so far from the curb? … Why does my car have such a giant bumper? … And why won’t that lady and her dog move on already?!”

Before you know it, you’re a dozen failed attempts deep, hunched over your steering wheel sobbing, saying crazy things like “Who needs groceries anyway?”

From bad to worse … here are a few common ways to get pulled over (according to the cops).

Top 5 Hybrid Noises … in Theory

On January 7, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a proposal that would require new hybrid and electric cars to come equipped with sound recordings, making the cars easier for pedestrians, particularly the vision-impaired, to detect.

Now, it’s not often we ask anyone or anything to make more noise, but in this case, the NHTSA has a pretty compelling argument for a noisier world. In fact, they estimate that hybrid noises could prevent thousands of injuries per year.

The NHTSA proposal notes that the noise would trigger when the vehicle is traveling under 18 mph (since, above that speed, hybrid and electric cars make sufficient noise). It also requires that the sound be recognizable as one coming from a car. But the organization is allowing some room for variation:

Each automaker would have a significant range of choices about the sounds it chooses for its vehicles, but the characteristics of those sounds would need to meet certain minimum requirements. In addition, each vehicle of the same make and model would need to emit the same sound or set of sounds.

To be honest, that doesn’t sound like quite enough flexibility for me. What if, for instance, my hybrid could make several different noises, with each keyed to a particular need or moment?

Wouldn’t that be cool?

Of course, I don’t have a car. But if I were buying one, I know the 5 hybrid noises I’d love to hear.

1. Default hybrid noise: the whoosh Cylon centurions make

Hybrids are crazy futuristic, right? For my money, nothing screams “The Future!” like this synthetically creepy sound.

(Yeah, I’m a geek … yet not the first writer on our blog to mention Battlestar Galactica.)

2. The dramatic entrance: taiko drums

So dramatic! Though perhaps … aggravating for pedestrians?

3. The peacekeeper: Tibetan Buddhist monks performing a mantra

Because why not spread the peace? I can’t think of anything more likely to calm even the most committed road rager.

4. For pedestrian areas: random bits of interesting trivia

I mean, how interesting would it be to learn that the U.S. is 1 of only 3 countries that haven’t gone metric … from a car?

5. For the interstate: Starship Enterprise going to warp

Facebook fan Ed H. offered up this highly relevant (given our partnership with Star Trek Into Darkness) and supercool sound, which seems perfect for high-speed driving.

Besides, how cool-ish would it be to say “Engage” every time you accelerate to interstate speeds?

How about you?

What would you like your hybrid noise to be? Let us know!

Related link

Read up on the new NHTSA proposal.

Windshield Scams: Parking Lot Cons on the Rise

You’re in the grocery store parking lot loading the week’s milk, eggs, and bananas into your trunk when a man approaches.

He tells you he noticed a small, almost imperceptible chip in your windshield — a chip that could eventually lead to bigger problems — and offers to fix it for you completely free of charge.

You strain to see the chip in question until finally you think you can almost make it out … the tiny chip that you’re now convinced will lead to much larger problems if you don’t have it fixed immediately.

Amazingly, a windshield repairman just happens to be on hand to help you out. Lucky, no?

Unfortunately, no. This is a known insurance scam and one that seems to be on the rise in parking lots all over America.

Windshield scams on the rise

According to Joe Laurentino, vice president of material damage at Esurance, stories like this one have become increasingly prevalent in recent months.

“Because some states waive the deductible on windshield chip repair, we’ve seen a rash of unscrupulous ‘repairmen’ offer ‘free’ repair. But here’s the catch — sometimes, there’s no damage to begin with. Sometimes it’s only a surface pit that causes no safety risk. Even worse, sometimes these fraudsters cause the damage before pointing it out to you,” Joe said.

Plain and simple, it’s a pre-meditated con, designed to bilk your insurance company for hundreds of dollars. Charging insurance companies for unnecessary claims is, of course, considered insurance fraud. And if you think it only affects your insurance company, think again.

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud estimates that fraudulent insurance claims add up to $80 billion annually in the U.S. And this means insurance fraud costs the average family approximately $950 a year in increased premiums.

Having your windshield repaired

That’s not to say, however, you shouldn’t try to have that chip fixed sooner rather than later. According to Swansea Metropolitan University, 50 percent of chips crack within a year, 80 percent within 2 years, and 90 percent within 3 years.

Additionally, extreme temperature changes — like turning on your defroster or heat when the weather first turns cold, or turning on your A/C when the mercury starts to rise — create significant stress on your windshield, often causing small chips and cracks to spread.

If you have a chip, it’s important to have it inspected (by a trusted professional) to determine if your windshield needs to be repaired or replaced.

How to avoid windshield scams

If you were not already aware of the damage before someone pointed it out, it’s wise to contact your insurance company first. They’ll help you confirm the damage needs to be fixed and work with you to find a trusted glass vendor within their network to handle the repairs.

Because your windshield is a key part of your car’s structural integrity (providing up to 45 percent of the structural integrity of the vehicle’s cabin in a front collision and up to 60 percent in a rollover), you should never trust repairing or replacing your windshield to just anyone.

How to report insurance fraud

If you suspect a windshield scam or other insurance fraud, contact The National Insurance Crime Bureau by calling 800-TEL-NICB or texting the keyword “FRAUD” and your complaint to TIP411 (847411).

Related link

Learn more about car insurance fraud

The Science of Skidding (and How to Avoid It)

Winter can be a difficult time to drive. Visibility is bad, windshields get frosty, and depending on where you live, roads become slick and icy. But even if you live in a land of perpetual sunshine, it’s important to know how to get control of your car when those tires start skidding.

Plus, you never know when you’ll end up behind the wheel in a New England blizzard, driving your girlfriend’s dad to the airport. (I don’t want to talk about it.)

The physics of fishtailing

As far as the technical stuff goes, loss of traction is actually the result of too much friction. Weird, right? Traction refers to the maximum amount of friction your tires can handle before sliding. If they’re subjected to high levels of frictional force — or if the surface they’re driving on has a lower threshold (like slick ice) — they’re more likely to lose traction.

Simply put, fishtailing happens when your car’s rear tires lose traction and spin freely. At that point, the tires can no longer control the angular momentum of your car, and the vehicle will continue to move in whatever direction that momentum takes it.

The best tires for traction control

If you’re not particularly interested in the scientific complexities of skidding, there’s an easy rating system to help you figure out which tire is the best for you and your driving conditions. Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG) rates a tire’s “coefficient of friction” — the ratio of frictional force between the tire and ground, and the force pushing them together. Translation: UTQG measures a tire’s ability to maintain traction.

The best UTQG grade a tire can get is AA and the worst is C. If you want to find out what grade your tires are, just take a look. It will say something like “Traction AA” along the sidewall of the tire right under the tread.

What to do if your car starts skidding

When you’re losing control of your vehicle, the natural reaction is to steer in the opposite direction your vehicle’s headed. But it’s very easy to oversteer and end up spinning the other way. If you continue to oversteer, the car will whip back and forth (hence the term “fishtailing”) until it spins out.

Here’s what you can do to avoid fishtailing:

1. Stay calm
As with any emergency situation, remaining calm allows you to accurately process the situation and remember what to do. Losing control of your vehicle is not an everyday occurrence, so when it happens, there’s likely to be a moment of panic. Don’t let that moment last.

2. Ease off the gas
Without traction, hitting the brakes is fruitless. Instead, you want to let off the gas, which allows the spinning wheels to do their thing and regain traction on their own.

(Note: when the wheels regain their connection with the pavement, you can brake.)

3. Aim where you’re going
To avoid oversteering, try to aim your car in the direction it’s already going. Your tires have to regain traction, and the best way to do that is to embrace the existing inertia.

Remember, friction is your friend.

Related links

How to Drive in the Rain

7 Cool Cars with a Manual Transmission

Manual transmissions seem to be going the way of the dodo (a sad fact I lamented not long ago). That begs the question: If fewer manuals are being sold today, how in the world do we lonely stick-shift lovers find a decent set of wheels?

Are we relegated to ghostly used-car lots? Do we have a grim future of scanning classifieds? Are we going to fade into the margins of the marketplace, waiting with twitchy ankles for the rusted hand-me-downs our elders drove during the Reagan administration?

Well, no. Because it turns out automakers do still care about stick drivers — and they make some of their coolest cars with us in mind. Here are 7 new, modern, and manual cars to prove it.

2013 Buick Regal

Might as well come out with a bang — the first Buick available with a manual transmission since the 1989 Skyhawk! And for even more proof that this is one awesomely rare ride, it’s also a turbo with 220 horsepower. Giddy up.

Base price: $31,530

Most likely reason you’re buying it: to fool people into thinking you’re a kindly, retired orthodontist so they wave you ahead when exiting parking lots.

2013 Mazda Miata

The Miata has come in manual for over 20 years now and with good reason. As one of the lightest cars on the road (with a chassis that’s just over 2,000 pounds) and the most playful (can its top even go up?), the Miata has a definite carefree, sports-car vibe that can only be perfected with its famously easy-to-use shifter. And it appears, for now, that this formula ain’t going anywhere.

Base price: $23,720

Most likely reason you’re buying it: your current car AND blow-dryer both broke, so, hey, kill 2 birds….

2013 Audi TT RS

This ride should hold a special place in the hearts of stick drivers because not only is it a coveted, new vehicle available to us — it’s available only to us. Yes, in a world where many high-performance carmakers avoid manual transmissions for fear of losing customers, Audi has done the opposite: made a stick-only sports car to specifically attract (and thank) their hands-on, gear-loving fans. And with a stunning 0-60 time of just 4.1 seconds, the TT RS clearly isn’t a consolation prize.

Base Price: $58,095

Most likely reason you’re buying it: you want a nice car … and you want to ensure your newly licensed 16-year-old has no idea how to use it.

2013 Mazda5 Sport

There are many reasons you might drive a van. Maybe you happen to love them. Maybe it’s the only thing that can fit your family. Maybe you’re on the A-Team. Who knows. Point is, having a van doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your love for the manual transmission. As the Mazda5 minivan proves, stick shifts can appear in the least likely of places — and in this case, can cost roughly a grand less than an automatic.

Base price: $19,940

Most likely reason you’re buying it: you’re a member of the A-Team with a giant dog and a strong passion for drivable minivans.

2013 Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4

What’s that you say? Why tease when you (like most people) have no shot at affording such a beautiful, exotic treasure? Fair enough. But by golly, if Popular Mechanics is predicting this V-10, 560-horsepower bolt of sweet lightning will be the last manual Lamborghini ever makes, then it’s going on the list!

Base price: $202,000

Most likely reason you’re buying it: the Prince of Monaco’s birthday is coming up and you hear he’s a total car nerd.

2014 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

A feisty throwback to the muscle-car era — from the racing stripe along the center to the white ball atop the shifter — this Shelby can make waves with more than just its looks. It boasts 650 horsepower, can reach over 200 mph, and comes standard with a 6-speed transmission.

Base price: $54,650

Most likely reason you’re buying it: you’re shooting a modern-day remake of Grease.

2013 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

When you’ve mastered the stick shift, you want a vehicle that lets you prove it. Go off-roading in this 4×4 (with a long, herky-jerky shifter that you just don’t find on sedans and sports cars) and you’re sure to turn your passengers into awestruck putty. This is one of the last 4x4s with a manual transmission, so make sure to cherish it.

Base price: $30,595

Most likely reason you’re buying it: to show your old drivers ed teacher how far you’ve come.

So take heart, stick-shift diehards. As you can see there are still plenty of cool manual transmission cars on the market … and in any price range.