High Mountain Doings

From 8200 feet along one side of the Upper Arkansas River Valley in central Colorado, my blog is about many things: travel including river and bicycle trips, and other experiences as well. The focus is on photography, not lots of text.

Monday, January 30, 2006

More Prius Familiarization

My understanding is that some of you were unable to read the very first of these blog posts--the one posted on Saturday the 28th. But my sister discovered that by selecting and copying it, and then pasting it into some other program (e-mail, Wordpad, etc), it became readable again. I have no clue why this would work, but it did.

I wrote a blog post on Sunday but blogger.com crashed while I was working--and I had to start over. Now, I'm writing in Wordpad and I'll copy and paste it to the blog site.

Monday, January 30th....

I went to Buena Vista Monday morning to finalize my insurance coverage on the Prius. There, I happily discovered that it wasn't gonna cost me much (if any) more than my Subaru insurance has been costing. This was against my expectations, but very welcome. Makes me think that insurance costs may be driven by the liability end of things, rather than by coverage on your particular vehicle.

After breakfast out, I visited with Gary, my auto mechanic. He advised me to read my owner's manual carefully since items like oil change intervals may have no similarity with the same intervals on conventional cars. The Prius is a whole new ball game. Gary compared it to the cockpit of an F-16, relative to the computer control of things. The only thing about driving the Prius that's not computer controlled is the steering column!

Later on Monday, I drove to the top of Monarch Pass and back! The Prius fairly flew to the top, easily passing more than one gashog-type large pickup truck. I had to slow down only because of the speed limit, then more due to an icy road near the 11K+ foot summit. Gasoline engines lose a very large percent of their power at such altitudes: electric motors do not. Hence my advantage.

Speaking of electric motors, a possible explanation.... When entering my garage last night, the Prius didn't want to climb over a rather small ridge of ice near the doorway. Application of throttle didn't produce the digging and acceleration of a conventional car, and I wondered why. I had to back up and get a moving start--then I got into my garage.

Gary pointed out that electric motors that get stopped (for whatever reason) may burn up if more and more voltage is applied. Apparently the Prius, which has lots of power if already moving forward, doesn't have nearly as much torque if it isn't already moving. Moreover, the computer that controls such things probably didn't allow the application of more voltage then. It had felt as though nothing more was happening as I applied the throttle. This, then, may be another fundamental difference between the hybrid electric and the conventional gasoline vehicle.

When turning around in the parking lot atop Monarch Pass today, I had to move through some ridges of plowed snow while going gently uphill. The Prius didn't particularly like that, and sort of chattered slightly while I was doing it. There are simply some things the Prius isn't made to do, and I'm apparently discovering a few of them by driving it. It's not a snow vehicle, and it's not going to be a rough country vehicle. That's what my Toyota 4WD pickup is for!

Back down the hill, I bought 6.5 gallons of fuel in Poncha Springs and calculated only 38.8 mpg. This, I'm sure, was the price of my fast climb up Monarch Pass. I don't need to go up there fast again, but I'm glad to know the car will do it.

I like this car, and sometimes wish it were a new one. But I've got it now, rather than months from now. Over the next year or so, I'd expect the supply situation to improve and the price of a new one to drop, along with the introduction of additional makes and models. Until then, I'm very pleased with the one I've got. If I decide to replace it in a year or two, I should find a more favorable market in which to do so.

In another matter, the Library of Congress Control Number for Arkansas River Guide arrived today. Now I can plug that number in on my book's title page, and go on to the next step. I hope to have a book in just over a month, and I look forward to that.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Wind and Ice

Another good trip to Colorado Springs today--to get my Toyota truck which I had to leave there when I picked up my Prius on Saturday. My GF went with me today, and she brings a bright outlook on things.

We ate lunch at a restaurant we'd both been to but had nearly forgotten about, right near one of the famous old hotels that I see has become a Hilton. A couple of errands, and then we got my truck and headed back across the mountains toward home. This would involve a drive across South Park which is a large, relatively flat area surrounded by mountains. It's about 40 miles across, around 9000 feet high, and can be a real weather-magnet! Today it was very windy from the north, and that was causing snow to blow across the road.

When this happens, a little of the snow may accumulate on the road, where it gets pressed down into ice by cars on the highway. Also, each car runs over a few of the blowing flakes, adding to the growing sheet of ice. Before long, there can be areas of clear, extremely nasty ice on the road--plus a very strong crosswind. That was the case this afternoon, though morning had been fine. It was 21 degrees up there.

Anrahyah was ahead of me, driving my truck. I was following in my Prius. Neither of us had a problem. But particularly with the strong crosswind blowing toward the oncoming traffic, this was a genuinely scary situation.

More about the Prius: The fuel gauge is unlike I'd ever seen before. It's very non-linear. The fuel tank holds over 11 gallons. When the gauge reads half, only about two of those gallons are gone. When it reads about a third, another two gallons are gone. So, when the gauge says you have a third of a tank, you actually have nearly two thirds of a tank! I have not yet discovered why it works this way, but I noted it for future reference.

Enroute to the Prius' first fuel stop, it got 44.8 miles per gallon. Most of this was highway driving, and was about what I'd been told to expect.

There are a couple of noises characteristic of the Prius that are not heard in most other cars. One seems to come from the continuously variable transmission. Often, you hear it allowing the engine to accelerate--apparently to allow more torque to reach the wheels. Another is, of course, the feeling of silence when the car is stopped, say at a traffic light. The engine only starts after the car begins to accelerate. In a parking lot, the car may several tens of feet before the engine jumps into action. Silent in a parking lot--that may not be so good! I look out particularly well for pedestrians who may not hear me gliding along.

We still don't know how to use the GPS navigation system, but it's obviously quite amazing. There's a whole instruction book about it, but clear directions were still difficult to find. In several ways today, while playing with the Prius' computer, I really believe we discovered more questions than we did answers.

The Prius is not just a car--in which you learn to start, shift, and stop. This car is a moving computer console! Plus what you see, nearly every function the Prius performs must be computer controlled. And it works very well.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Modern Automotive Adventure

A new car is a new adventure. This one in particular. I drove down out of the mountains to Colorado Springs today and picked up a 2004 Toyota Prius from AAA Autosource, which is a service that finds and buys cars for AAA members. Red with 28,000 miles, the normal accessories, and the GPS navigation system.

I'd wanted a Prius for a while, whether it saves much money or not. After the cost of purchase, it won't for a while although I have lots of driving to do this year. But the technology of the thing is fascinating and I'm not one who steps back from change. The instrumentation inside the car is stupendous! I don't yet know how to use most of it.

There's a display screen in the upper middle of the dash, where one function graphically displays real time power usage. Consider the wheels--is power going to them, or coming from them? The electric motor acts as a generator during coasting or braking, and electricity therefrom is sent right back into the "power battery." Also, the electric motor operates in concert with a smallish gasoline engine, both in accordance with second
by second instructions from an onboard computer. The power battery is shown--sometimes with a good charge but sometimes quite low depending, in this part of Colorado, on the terrain

This flow of power from one device to another is what gets displayed on the screen. Lines with arrowheads on them appear, disappear, or reform in the other direction, depending on what's happening within Toyota's "Hybrid System" at the moment. It's all very fascinating to watch.

The steering of the Prius isn't quite as smooth and light of touch as the steering on my 1998 Subaru Impreza, which I just sold to my girlfriend. This is probably because of the Prius' front wheel drive. The power seemed to surge a little, but this was probably just my inexperience with the car. All in all, Prius is a fine vehicle. I'm glad I bought one.

More another day, about the Prius' amazing GPS navigation system. And there's much else to learn and report about this groundbreaking car.

On Sunday, my girlfriend and I will be driving over to Colorado Springs to bring my truck home. Hey, this is Sunday already! I'd better go get some sleep.