Stop-Start Shuffle

In the 1970s, cars would sometimes stall out in traffic but not on purpose. You’d push on the gas, but the car wouldn’t go. Horn honking frustration would ensue as the driver of the conked out car tried to get it going again.

Today, undoing decades of refinement, cars conk out on purpose at every red light and even in traffic. The moment they stop moving, the engine stops running. And it’s not just the engine that cuts off. Engine-driven accessories such as the air conditioning also cut off. Not a defect, but touted as a feature.

It’s becoming de facto standard equipment in new cars and not an option you can skip.

The feature is something called automatic engine stop/start, which can be handily acronymized as ASS. Its stated purpose is to “save gas” (and reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide) by killing the engine whenever the car isn’t actually moving along with every engine-driven accessory, like AC.

When the driver takes his foot off the brake, the engine automatically chuffs back to life with a noticeable “paint shaker” effect, but at least the AC comes back on.

This on-off cycling can happen a dozen or more times during each drive—as many times as the car stops, so does the engine unless the driver turns the ASS off. In most cars, the ASS is default on meaning the driver has to remember to turn it off each time he goes for a drive.

If he or she forgets, ASS is on, and the engine will turn itself off.

The aggravation is compounded when the driver stops on purpose to park. Rolling into a spot, the car’s engine will automatically cut off, and the driver reflexively pushes the engine stop/start button (most new cars no longer have keyed ignition switches) to kill the engine, which is already off because of ASS.

And the engine comes back on.

Or, more dangerously, the driver forgets to push the stop/start button because ASS killed the engine. In a rush or just not paying close attention, the driver leaves the parked car with the ignition on. After a while, ASS automatically restarts the engine and fills the garage (and house) with carbon monoxide, permanently turning off people.

At least two dozen deaths associated with push-button ignition and ASS have been reported.

Unreported is why—ASS.

ASS is not something most buyers would willingly opt and pay extra for. The fuel “savings” are slight—on average less than 1 MPG overall vs. a car without ASS—and the costs go beyond mere annoyance. The “paint shaker” effect of all that stopping and restarting adds stress and distraction while the slight but perceptible delay moment it takes for the engine to restart when the light goes green, or traffic starts moving adds delay.

Plus, the aggravation of having to remember to turn the ASS off every time you go for a drive to avoid all of that.

There is also the cost of reduced battery life. And more expensive, higher-capacity batteries.

Even though it’s 2020, most cars still use the same basic 12-volt lead-acid batteries used to start cars back in the ’60s. These batteries weren’t designed to restart an engine a dozen or more times in one day. This subjects the battery to repetitive discharge/charge cycling, which is the key factor determining how long any battery will last before it begins to lose its ability to accept and retain a charge—the same problem electric car batteries have.

A standard 12V car battery that would typically last six years wears out in five because of ASS. The replacement battery cost, about $100 on average, eats up most of the “savings” achieved by ASS. ASS also involves a high-speed/heavy-duty starter motor and the higher-output alternator necessary to keep the battery charged so it can keep restarting the engine—may wear out sooner too due to overuse.

To avoid this or rather perhaps hide this, some ASS-equipped cars are equipped from the factory with higher-performance batteries. These are “mild hybrid” set-ups in which the battery doesn’t propel the car but can keep accessories running when the engine isn’t and to restart the engine repetitively.

You pay extra for that, too when you buy the car and when the higher-performance, higher-cost battery dies. Which it will, as happens to every battery ever made.

And for what?

An average new car has a 12-gallon tank; if the car averages 30 miles-per-gallon, it can go about 360 miles on a full tank. If ASS increases the car’s mileage by 1 MPG – to 31 MPG – it can travel 372 miles on a tankful.

The difference is 12 miles, which works out to a savings of about 55 cents per tankful (about a third of the cost of one gallon of regular unleaded at the current national average of about $1.70 per gallon).

Doesn’t count the costs of potential asphyxiation.

So, why?

Because it helps improve a car manufacturer’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) numbers. CAFE is another bureaucratic acronym, this time standing for the mandatory MPG minimums imposed on new cars by the federal government. Failure to “achieve compliance” with the “fleet average” minimums, currently about 36 MPG on deck to rise to 38 by 2025, triggers “gas guzzler” taxes, which are passed on to car buyers.

Instead, the costs of ASS are passed on to buyers.

A one MPG or so improvement is almost meaningless on a per-car basis to the car’s owner. Still, it means a lot more to the car’s manufacturer when factored over tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of new cars built, which is how the CAFE “math” is calculated.

ASS is sold as a feature, but it’s just another cost of regulatory compliance.

There is another aspect of ASS to consider—a more sinister one.

ASS is another of the several slow-motion chokeholds currently applied under the pretext of regulatory compliance that is actually meant to kill all cars that are not electric. Things like ASS make cars with engines rather than motors less and less pleasant to drive and more and more expensive to buy and own, the latter intended to push non-electric cars toward price-parity with EVs; the former meant to make EVs seem more pleasant to drive than ASS-hobbled non-EVs.

There is, of course, no paint shaker effect in a car without an engine and a motor that’s always on whenever the car is.

ASS is ludicrous when gas costs less than it did in 1965, which is what it costs right now.

ASS is all about “saving” another gas, C02, and there’s no end to saving that. This is how the feds will end cars that run on gas.


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One Response to “Stop-Start Shuffle”

  1. David Holzman says:

    One of a handful of reasons I’m hoping to keep my current car going as long as I continue to drive (possibly several decades).