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Girl TORQUE: Choosing a car


There’s more to choosing a car than the engine, looks and fuel economy. There are all the little things that make it easier to live with, and ensure you’re a comfy, so safer driver.

Some things are doubly important if you’re not the average size, or fitness, as they’ll help the extra-short, extra-tall or those with ageing joints get comfy behind the wheel.

And before you rant at the price of new cars over-stuffed with gizmos, much of this stuff’s fitted to affordable second-hand fare these days.

Seatbelt cut across your neck – or sit too low? Check for seatbelt height adjust at the door pillar end; my short neighbour’s 10-year-old Subaru has it. She’d never noticed!

Some Ford Falcons even have pedal reach adjust, but otherwise most steering wheels have reach as well as tilt adjust to help you and your spouse get a comfy distance from the wheel and pedals. It’s no good one of you sitting within reach of the controls if the other can’t. Easy reach means efficient response in an emergency, so it’s important.

Make sure you don’t sit closer than 25cm from the airbag though – or it can’t properly do its job if you crash, and could even hurt you.

Ideally we’d all hold the wheel at the ten to two, or quarter to three position for best control. Putting both hands above that reduces control and again, obstructs the airbag. At least dropping them lower leaves the airbag free to move – and it’s easier on the shoulders, too.

Don’t like how close the ‘headrest’ sits? It isn’t a rest – it’s a safety device designed to prevent or reduce whiplash. That’s a common and painful injury at even round-town crashes. The head restraint can feel too close in modern cars, and there’s not much you can do about it without losing the benefit, so I concentrate on the things I can change!

What I do like is seat height adjust; finding the right driving possie’s a doddle, and it’s useful if you or a passenger have an arthritic hip or other mobility problem as a higher seat makes it easier to get in and out.

Some cars start out with a higher seat height; something like the modern Kia Soul or Suzuki SX4 lets you slide into and out of the cabin with no ungainly huffing and hauling. Many cars have wider doors, too, for better swinging your legs in.

Of course ,some fixes for simple problems aren’t standard to the car. Stiff shoulder – from a rugby injury or arthritis, the result’s the same – and having trouble reaching the seatbelt? Tie a ribbon round it (loosely enough not to crimp it). You can pull the belt forward with the ribbon, so you don’t have to reach back so far.

It’s easy to miss some of this stuff when you’re buying; heck, it’s easy to miss in your own car if you don’t know what to look for. But it’s worth checking. After all there’s a reason race drivers have tailor made seats – it’s to put them in the best possible position to control their car.

We don’t want to drive that fast, but we certainly want to be in control, and the right driving possie makes all the difference.

Read more Girl TORQUE columns here.

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