book reviews

Automobile and Traffic Books

Name and address

Principles of Highway Engineering and Traffic Analysis, 4th ed.

by Mannering, Washburn, and Kilareski


A great book to read while you're driving down the highway ignoring the traffic regulations is Principles of Highway Engineering and Traffic Analysis. It's a basic introduction to what may be the most underappreciated branch of civil engineering: highway design. Calculating things like free-flow speed and maximum delay per vehicle is also an ideal way to pass the time when you get tired of talking on your cell phone and swearing at the guy in front of you.

It might come as a shock to many people, especially in the eastern United States, to discover that highways are designed. Yet it's true. Somebody actually thought it would be a good idea to eliminate the breakdown lane and fence in a 10-mile stretch of highway with car-scraping Jersey barriers, as was done in one highway, and to build a road that suddenly dives underneath another one like a roller coaster and comes back up just as suddenly--right before a stop light, as was done on another. To modern drivers, the photos of highways with only two or three cars in sight look like something out of the 1950s. (I could swear the car on the left on page 178 is a Studebaker.)

After a brief discussion of vehicle performance and braking, the book discusses the physical and geometric design of highways. For instance, there are formulas for line-of-sight distance vs. curvature and for how thick a pavement has to be to handle a certain traffic load. Next is queuing theory. Queuing theory is useful in explaining why, if a toll booth takes 15 seconds per vehicle, the average wait can be ten minutes or more. It's also useful in estimating how long you'll be stuck in a K-Mart when one cash register is doing a price check and the other 23 registers are closed due to a sudden massive six-hour coffee break. There are formulas for calculating yellow light times and optimal signal phasing. The book doesn't cover drainage, lighting, bridges, tunnels, or the effects of rain, darkness, or speed cameras, or how to site, build or maintain highways.

Chapter 6 discusses highway capacity, where queuing theory meets something called "level of service analysis." Readers will be most familiar with highways that this book would classify as "Level of Service F," which means exactly what it sounds like. On such roads, and I'm not exaggerating here, the average speed during "rush hour" is around 5 mph in clear weather, and 0.5 mph when it's raining or snowing. Unfortunately, the equations in the book don't apply to these traffic abominations, and this category is omitted from the tables, which consider 40 mph in a two-lane highway to be "congested." Snort!

There are many tables and meticulously explained worked examples throughout the book. The examples are US-centric, using English units. Most of the example problems and the problems at the end of each chapter are repeated in an appendix with metric units. Some calculus is used.

Jan 28, 2011

Drive to Survive!

by Curt Rich


T his short book contains sound advice to help you avoid being the victim of all the other jerks on the road. Your biggest enemies, besides incompetent and obnoxious drivers, are road rage-filled maniacs and criminals such as carjackers. Rich learned back in The Nam that you must pay attention to what's happening in the jungle around you at all times. A twig snapping, an unusual bird call, or a Ford F-150 falling out of the sky are all clues to possible danger ahead. You must prepare in advance. But you should never engage the enemy. Let the other driver cut you off if he wants to. Your mission objective is not to win battles, but to avoid becoming a casualty. Rich also describes some rudimentary evasive driving maneuvers, such as the bootlegger hairpin turn, but they're described in a half-hearted way. The idea is that the reader can't learn these stunts from a book, but needs to take an advanced driving course.

Apr 29, 2012

Popular Mechanics Complete Car Care Manual

2005 Updated and Expanded Edition


T his popular book is a collection of articles describing simple automotive tasks for people who can't tell the difference between a brake pad and a Maxi-Pad. like cleaning bugs off your radiator and changing your wiper blades. Gradually it works up to things that the beginner probably shouldn't touch, like fixing brakes and adjusting the steering. Each article starts with a "cute" paragraph in which the writers talk down to the readers, as if they need extensive hand-holding and cajoling to keep them from losing interest in such a difficult and uninteresting task. Is this book really "complete" as the title suggests? Not hardly. There's barely enough in this book to make you dangerous. But if this book gets car owners to learn about their cars, it's worthwhile, and serves an important unmet need. Contains many 2- and 3-color drawings but no photographs.

May 05, 2012

Automotive Technology: A Systems Approach, 5th ed.

by Jack Erjavec


I f you really want to fix your car, there's no substitute for knowing stuff. There's a lot to know. By studying each system one at a time, this book makes learning it relatively painless and interesting. Unlike its competitors such as Bosch's Automotive Handbook, this book is not aimed at engineers, but at auto technicians studying for their ASE certification. Each chapter ends with a series of questions. The 53 chapters and 1,648 pages may sound overwhelming, but the writing is simple and direct, and the concepts are illustrated with color photos and multi-colored diagrams. There are no tables, graphs, equations, or citations to the engineering literature, just clear descriptions of how each system in a car works and how to test it, take it apart, and repair it. It's like a long How It's Made marathon. Of course, even if you learned everything in this book, you would still need a manual specific for the vehicle you plan to service. Some of the author's "case studies" illustrate the scary results caused by mechanics who neglected to do this. This book won't make you into an automotive engineer, but if you own a car, knowing the stuff in this book can save yer butt.

Jun 16, 2012