Q I recently returned to California after nearly five years living in Barcelona. I loved driving in Spain. The highways were fantastically smooth and extremely well-maintained.

But my favorite part was that drivers would signal their flashers/hazard lights to warn when traffic was suddenly stopped or slowed ahead. This works in a chain fashion, as each car approaching the incident puts on its flashers to warn the one behind. To me, this method works much better than brake lights alone and would reduce rear-end pileups on the highways. If I see flashing lights on cars far ahead, I know to be alert and to slow down fast.

Jennifer Lo Prete

Novato

A But now ...

Q Driving in the Bay Area is much more stressful than before we moved to Spain. I have a fear of being rear-ended. Out of my new habit, I now turn on my flashers to warn drivers behind me that I am stopped or traffic suddenly slows. A few days ago, while driving on Interstate 580 near Oakland, I signaled my flashers to alert a driver behind me, and for the first time the car behind me did the same!

Do you think I could start a hazard light warning system trend in California or was I just lucky to have a European driver behind me?

Jennifer Lo Prete


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A Both, perhaps, and to my surprise, Art-the-CHP-Man agrees with you:

"Anything to prevent collisions deserves to be heard and I'm glad that Ms. Lo Prete is willing to share her experiences from Spain. People in Mexico do the same thing, and it appears to be very effective in alerting people about slow traffic ahead.

"May I suggest looking far ahead in front of you and not directly in front of your vehicle while driving could prevent a lot of collisions as well, and of course keeping people less distracted while driving.

"Please have Ms. Lo Prete continue with that good practice. It couldn't hurt and may indeed help alert other motorists of hazards such as slow or stopped traffic ahead."

Q I have a Toyota Prius 2 with 20,000 miles. Over the last few months the mileage has dropped from a nice 52-plus mpg to a rather disappointing 45 mpg. I was offered several explanations, from reduced battery efficiency in cold weather to changes in winter/summer gasoline blend. We have now completed the winter/summer cycle without return to the original performance.

The dealer ran the standard diagnostics that indicated the car was operating properly. As a second check they took it on a road test and reported 45 mpg highway, 30 mpg city driving. The people at Toyota could offer neither an explanation nor resolution to this condition.

Have you had similar questions from other readers? Do you know what may be the cause? Have other hybrids exhibited similar degraded operation over time/mileage?

Mike Brooks

Los Gatos

A A few have, including my Prius, which slipped to as low as 43 mpg until the last two fill-ups, and now it's back at 48. Most hybrids get better mileage if they are driven for more than 8-10 miles per trip, giving the battery time to charge up. Also, properly inflated tires are essential to reaching 50-mpg plus.

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