May 9, 2007

Tachometers: Today's rumble seat


I noticed from a story in the paper the other day that car sales in America are down. The cause of that phenomenon is no mystery to me. I blame tachometers.

Many people believe revolutions per minute is a measure of political instability in Third World countries, as in, Mali has had 4,000 revolutions per minute over the past two years. Actually, this is not the case. Revolutions per minute have to do with your automobile.

You'll be surprised to learn there is a gauge on your dashboard that reflects how many revolutions per minute are going on under your hood.

That is called a tachometer, which most people thought had something to do with how fast Mexican food was being consumed. For example, some car owners have hypothesized that, when the needle on their tachometer was waving back and forth like a windshield wiper in a monsoon, it meant your engine was burning up gasoline at the equivalent rate of 6,000 tacos being eaten. When you stepped on your gas pedal by mistake when your car was in neutral, a lot of tacos were going down the hatch.

The truth is that a tachometer tells you how many revolutions per minute your engine is turning. If you look closely, as I did, you may be confused at exactly where all these revolutions are taking place. I had my wife rev up the engine one day while I stood there with the hood up, and I didn't see my engine revolve once. From that, I surmised that it isn't the engine that's revolving at all, but something much more subtle is going on in there. What that is, I have yet to observe.

Drivers today have little interest in revolutions per minute, either in Mali or in their cars. Yet, as Frank Sklenarik, a longtime observer of many interesting things around here correctly pointed out to me recently, Detroit continues to charge you a lot of money to keep you posted on that arcane statistic.

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