October 2010

Ford Transit: Love it or Load it

by The Car Family

for more reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/most-reliable-vehicles/

for a list of vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/index.html

By first reaction was one of dread. The huge front window made me fell like I was in a fish bowl. The interior was cheap, the radio impossible to master, the bare metal sidepanels got very hot, and the cupholders were awful. The seats were thinnly padded, the side mirrors way too small, the center console way too small, and there were no tie-downs in the large rear cargo area. So why do I love it? Well, it is an absolute joy to drive. It corners like a sports car, the engine loves to be pushed to its limit, the four speed automatic transmission has too few gears to matter, and you can find it in a parking lot.

I loved this vehicle so much I called Ford and wanted to buy it if it had a diesel version. The answer was no, they are going to keep that engine in Europe. What a shame. On the other hand, if Ford does bring out a smallish mini-van making the Transit too family friendly might cut into potential sales. That being said, I think that this is a great second family vehicle for those that don’t mind the interior noise and enjoy not having to stay in the fast lane.

Mom’s view: Not in my lifetime. It is very user friendly and the cargo bay is fun to fill, but there is something called image and the Transit isn’t it. Of course, it doesn’t matter because Ford is selling it to the handyman crowd, thankfully. There might be a few men out there who to would try and sneak this bad-boy into the garage under the guise of a dog hauler, or family recreational vehicle, or grocery getting. Don’t be fooled. The interior is stark and the radio so complicated it belongs in a German sedan. The seats have barely enough padding for long trips and it has a general unfinished feel, which it is as the owner is supposed to see it as a blank canvas. Safety wise there are antilock brakes and airbags.

Dad’s view: Great in black, some good interior quirks to share with the guys such as storage area above the front window, and the interior plastics aren’t bad. The rear storage area needs tie-downs as everything rolls around the barish floor. I found the seats comfortable enough with the side mirrors being too small as my only concern. The optional laptop Work Solutions system keeps track of your tools and other items, but the best part of the Connect is how remarkably fun this rig is. The 2.0L Duratec I-4 and four speed automatic transmission are out-dated, but they are willing to give their all when you need it, within reason. This is a small engine in a very unaerodynamic vehicle so passing at high speeds need some planning ahead. The 138 horsepower engine pushes the Transit to 60 mph in under 13 seconds, but it sure feels faster.

The Transit has a sturdy body-on-frame and unibody construction. The result is a low center of gravity and a low towing rate. We tested the family version with a second row of seats that makes it easy to haul four adults somewhat comfortably. The base Transit is quite basic. You get 15-inch steel wheels, gray air-conditioning, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel, loth upholstery and a simple stereo with an auxiliary audio jack. The Wagon XL adds a two-person bench seat and the XLT bumps up the Transit with heated mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, a 12-volt power point and a CD player. The Wagon XLT was the one we tested and it had a split-folding 60/40 three-passenger second-row bench seat. We recommend you avoid the base model because the keyless entry alone is worth the extra cost because of the strange key the Transit uses.. Major options include an in-dash computer, rear parking sensors, widerer opening rear doors, Bluetooth and remote ignition.

I loved it and only wish Ford would bring it to the US with a diesel, but I assume that passing smog regulations for such a limited production vehicle won’t make it a good money call. Too bad.

Young woman’s view: At first I was panicked. What would the neighbors say. Yes, it would be perfect for my three rescue dogs, and the optional rear doors opened widely and stayed in place. The

135 cubic feet of cargo space isn’t as large as it seems because you would have to pile items very high to use all the footage. You can even walk into the Transit should that be a selling point. The Transit Connect is available with a variety of models, but basically you get a van or a wagon, with the wagon having side glass, the does not roll down, a second row of seats, and dual sliding side doors.

Young working male’s view: If my company, http://www.eracks.com, that makes open sources servers and computers, ever buys a delivery vehicle this is the one I would want. The radio isn’t all that much, and the hood opener is strange, but the key is even stranger. Don’t lose this key because it is like no other and probably costly. The Transit is nimble and gets nearly 24 mpg if you stay within highway speed limits. The radio is also an in-dash computer that uses a Microsoft operating system, as well as a wireless mouse and keyboard, a navigation system and even available Internet access. Our model had the Work Solutions which tracks the vehicle’s location, and Tool Link, which tracks your tool inventory via radio frequency. It is very high tech for such a low tech truck/van/station wagon.

The ride over roughed up roads is a bit rough as the rear suspension is set up more to haul loads and not so much people. It actually rides better when full. The turning radius is about 39 feet and that makes parking very easy, but visibility is rather limited. The interior is noisy so it is worth considering some soundproofing. The huge windshield is cleared nicely by what has to be the world’s largest wipers. However, good luck finding replacement blades at your local auto store. I liked it, but only if there is enough left in the kitty to make it your own with some personal upgrades like a better stereo system, sound deadening materials, and a little more cushion for my tush.

Family conference: The Transit Connect has no competition. Its size makes it handy and fairly frugal. It also can be made family friendly, but we doubt many women would fall for that idea. It needs larger rear view mirrors for sure. A better interior lighting system is a must, and more tie downs, softer seats, and a more normal hood opening operation would be appreciated. In fact, Ford should abandon the Transit key as it snags on your pocket, purse, or anything else it can reach. If the Transit Connect had a diesel engine it would be a terrific second car. As it is this Ford is a terrific utility vehicle and we highly recommend you don’t judge it by appearances.

 Tall Station Wagons: Toyota versus Honda

by The Car Family.

For more reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/most-reliable-vehicles/

 Toyota, Honda, and to some extent BMW have created a new niche for consumers and that is the tall station wagon. In an effort to avoid shattering the stigma of driving a minivan or a SUV, these companies have repurposed their Camry and Accord sedans and created expensive, feature laden people movers.

 The Toyota Venza and the Honda Crosstour are really just a new generation of station wagons that provide that higher seating position and available all wheel drive that carve into gas mileage, but are talking points at dealerships. The price of the Accord Crosstour, available only with a V6, starts around $30K and a similarly equipped Toyota Venza not much less. So pricing is similar, although a vast array of options can drive prices up considerable. You can expect to pay $30,000 with a couple of options for either model and since we highly recommend order ever piece of safety equipment available on a new car that cost can top $35,000. You probably won’t get the money back for safety features when you resell, but one day in a hospital makes such equipment an insurance policy.              

Both of these vehicles are well loaded with features, but the key element is the size of the cargo bay. We loaded both of these and found the cubic feet measurement useless in real life packing. The Honda has a high liftover and the interior narrow. The Toyota was easier to load and had more usable room for some objects. In daily life we would go with the Toyota. If you haul longer items the Honda is the one to own. Most importantly, we like the Venza’s optional power rear hatch. Both vehicles have rear seats that have a 60/40 split and reasonably flat floors.

We took both of these vehicles on extended trips and quickly found that the Toyota was more family friendly and the Honda the most fun to drive. The Honda has a larger blind spot to the rear and side and the Toyota is more difficult to maneuver. The gas mileage was not as good as we expected with both the Sienna and Odyssey vans getting better figures. The EPA estimates for both models is in the high teens in town and about 27 on the road.

Mom’s view: Interior wise, both are adequate, but the Honda has many more little storage spaces and under the floor bins. Diving these it is obvious who their parents were as reflected by ride, performance and handling. I was won over by the Honda’s more connected suspension, but the gauges and many cockpit controls make it difficult to master. With time this won’t be a problem. The Toyota’s interior is interesting with its high-mounted shift lever, Lexus like elevated center console with storage with integrated electronic connections, and cupholders that are a bit too shallow for larger drinks. The Honda feels and looks much more upscale.

Both of our test vehicles had a V6. Toyota does offer a four-cylinder version, but it is a bit too weak when loaded with a family and traveling in mountains terrain. Both V6 engines make almost identical horsepower in the 270 range, but the Venza has six speed automatic transmission versus five for the Honda. The Toyota is quicker, but both cars get about 22 mpg in mixed driving and neither is going to cause you alarm when passing at legal speeds.

Safety wise both vehicles have multiple airbags, electronic stability control systems, and four-wheel antilock brakes. Both cars stop fairly quickly considering their bulk, but the Honda’s brake feel is better and the steering provides better feedback. Around town the Toyota is easier to park. We never recommend all wheel drive unless you live where inclement weather is a concern. The extra maintenance, insurance in some cases, and reduced fuel mileage make such an option questionable.

Overall, the Toyota is easily the most user friendly for a family, but it is so boring and pricy I just question why not get a nice Sienna minivan or RAV 4? The Honda was quite elegant and more enjoyable to drive. The GPS is easy to use except for the visibility problems is very easy to drive with a touch of fun. The larger rear cargo hold is a real plus thanks to the way Toyota has placed the rear struts very upright so you have a wider storage bay. The Honda’s struts and rear speakers take up too much room for wider loads to fit. The liftover height also makes it difficult for shorter people to load heavy objects.


Dad’s view: These two are quite different and I recommend you test drive them back-to-back in situations you are most likely to use them such as around town and highways. I like the Honda due to its handling and more attractive interior. The place usually occupied by a spare tire has been turned into a storage area and the tire resides in a compartment under the car. The Venza has a panoramic glass roof option that extends over the rear seats. It lets in some heat and is essentially limited in use to those who like to stare at the sky or skyscrapers for long periods of time.

I drove both of these on mixed circuits and both had acceptable, if not boring, road manners. Neither is a ball of fire even when compared to their sisters, the Accord and Camry. But that isn’t the point with these tall wagons. They provide enough room, enough acceleration, enough stopping power, and enough interior room for me to classify them as good enough.

Young working woman’s view: The Toyota looks old and feels dated. The Honda is sportier looking and much more fun to drive. The Venza has 20-inch rims and tires that create a fair amount of tire slap. We like the idea of larger tires, but they don’t appear to help the cornering so what’s the point? Both the Venza and Crosstour are easy to get into when wearing a dress and are ideal for older people who don’t like to step up to a SUV.

Young working male’s view: The Active Sound Control system is very interesting in the Honda. It is said that it utilizes the audio system to detect and quiet introducing noise frequencies. I worked because the interior is very quiet considering the large interior space. The GPS on the Honda lets you input data while the vehicle is moving and is a easier to use. However, the screen is difficult to read in bright sunlight. Working for http://www.eracks.com making low cost, open sourced servers and computers I am very familiar with the use of technology and these two vehicles are fairly up to date. The problem is that the pricing for these two would indicate that they have a much more sophisticated audio system. Outside of pricing the Toyota is best for family hauling and the Honda for just hauling.

Family conference: None of these can replace a minivan for utility, but if you must have a tall station wagon each of these models has its forte. The Toyota is well equipped, soft riding, and gets fairly good gas mileage. The Honda handles well and has good build quality and is more fun to drive. On the other hand, restricted visibility to the sides and a slender cargo bay reduce its value. Speaking of which, both of these are priced dear so look for deals. For the list of vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/index.html

  Wolf Mountain Sanctuary: The Saving Place

Note: Idaho has apparently joined Alaska in the use of aircraft to rundown wolves and shoot them from the air. There is also the possibility, according to the Defenders of Wildlife, of the pups being gassed in their dens. It is my hope that wolves shall be placed back on the Endangered Species list of Interior Secretuary Salazar. Meanwhile, I have cancelled my trip to Alaska this summer and refused to attend any conference in Idaho or Montana.

 by Alan Haskvitz

The door swung open and I stood looking into the enclosure of the legendary wolf. The antagonist of Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs and other works of fiction stood before me. I was entering the world of an animal that has created such fear in humans that they were hunted into extinction in the lower 48 states. Before me was a large wolf with vivid yellow eyes that followed my every move. I sat on a nearby picnic table and wondered what was going to happen next.

Licked by a Star

I caught a glimpse of the wolf as she moved towards me. Effortlessly she jumped on the table. I sat still, arms folded against my chest, breathing a bit fast, with my senses on high alert. What happened next was magic. The yellow-eyed giant started pushing against me, rubbing her nose in my hair, and…was that a kiss? No, it couldn’t be. Maybe a lick. Either way, this was the first time a movie star had ever, ah, kissed me. Yep, movie star. This was one of the wolves featured in the Twilight movies and several other films and television productions. .

During the rest of the visit with these great animals I was enthralled with their actions. They pushed against me, walked around me, and in general they were, well, good wolves. Little Red Riding Hood be damned. I left an hour later not only with a new appreciation for these endangered animals, but feeling that this was the best $35 I had ever spent. I wonder how the the Inland Empire Tourist people had missed promoting this gem.

Interacting with the Wolves

Wolf Mountain Sanctuary is located in Lucerne Valley, about an hour drive for 909 readers. This is truly a saving place dedicated to preserving the lives and legacy of this nation’s few remaining wolves and to educating the public about them in a way few have ever dared. Unlike nearly any facility in the world, Wolf Mountain Sanctuary provides visitors with the opportunity to directly interact with the wolves, look into their eyes, and perhaps develop a fresh perspective on an animal that continues to be hunted for sport.

Tonya Littlewolf, who is part Apache, developed this remarkable facility as an extension of her life’s calling. As a youngster she would hide in wolf dens to escape the adult world. Seeing this unique ability to be at ease with these ancestors of the domesticated dog, her grandparent told her that working with wolves was her summons in life and believed she had the the spirit of the wolf about her. A lifetime later that prediction has proven correct. Littlewolf established the sanctuary in 1986 and never looked back despite huge meat bills and the rising cost of veterinarian visits. She has nearly single handled carved out a safe place for the public to go meet these noble creatures and to learn the truth about an animal that is again being pushed into oblivion after being removed from the endangered species list by the Interior Secretary.

I am part of he wolves they are part of me toghter they are one, we walk together, spiritial. healers.

Adopt a Wolf

At present there are 14 wolves sheltered at the Sanctuary and two pups are scheduled to arrive later in the fall. She takes in wolves from Alaska and other states. Typical of them is the wolf adopted by Suzanne Middle School in Walnut, California as part of meeting the State curriculum. The students had stared a wildlife club in honor of Wolf 527 who was killed just outside Yellowstone. This famous wolf was featured in a documentary showing how the wolves helped restore balance to the national park. The wolf was killed as it wore a radio transmitting collar. The students saw the need to get involved and asked Ms.Littlewolf if there was a wolf that needed adopting. She described a young, clumsy one that needed some love. The students arranged to provide ten dollars a month to sponsor this wolf named Denali. Over the years the students have watched Denali grow into an older, mischievous, and still clumsy wolf. They love to hear about his escapades such as nearly flooding his enclosure by opening the water spout or falling off a ledge when he misjudged his jumping abilities. It was a win-win for the students as they learned about wolves and their fund raising helped off-set the food bills for this clownish wolf. Others wolves need adopting, too, and Ms. Littlewolf supplies adoption papers and a biography. 

Wolf Mountain sanctuary is a non-profit facility and all funds go to the care of the wolves and are tax deductible. Several groups have tried to help, but it is the general public that is needed most, said Ms. Littlewolf. For $35 a person, half of what it would cost for Disneyland, the visitors get an explanation of what wolves are like, an introduction into how they are cared for, and an opportunity to enter their world. No extra charge for kisses from the stars. 

For more information go to


For reservations and directions call 1-760-248-7818

Audi A4: Bigger and Better

By The Car Family

Audi’s best selling A4 offers owners a stunning interior, excellent fuel mileage, and superior safety scores while maintaining a pricing advantage over many of its rivals. This year the Audi is even a bigger bargain, literally, as the A4 has been enlarged to provide additional interior room and a more relaxed ride. Indeed, the additional cargo space in both the sedan and station wagon (Avant) versions makes this model even more attractive to young families while still providing sporty handling.


Audi has adopted an interesting pricing strategy for its best selling A4. It offers a well equipped base model for $33,000 to make it very competitive in the near luxury field, but offers a variety of unique option packages that can drive the price well over $40,000 especially with the popular all wheel drive or Quattro option.

We took our modestly equipped Audi to San Diego and were impressed by the quality interior and compliant ride. We had to remind ourselves that this wasn’t a BMW because the Audi’s precise handling certainly emulated this German competitor. The combination of front wheel drive, continuously variable transmission, and turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 enabled us to consistently push the 30 mpg figure at nearly legal speeds until we got to San Diego’s innards. Bogged down in harbor traffic and Little Italy’s moving parking lot we barely nudged 2 3 mpg. The slightly overboosted power steering made parking in the crowded downtown area easy, although vision to the rear is slightly restricted by the large rear pillar.

After finding some hidden gems, such as Just Desserts, which serves nothing but, ah, desserts, we took the Audi on a tour of the beach communities and never yearned for any options. However, Audi has made a plethora available starting with its Premium selection that offers a sunroof, power front seats with driver lumbar, leather upholstery, and cruise control as well as, a 10-speaker CD, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The Premium Plus package adds bi-xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lights and taillights, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth phone connectivity, heated front seats and an iPod jack. The Prestige package is more expensive and provides larger wheels, keyless ignition, a navigation system, a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system and more. There is also a Sport option that firms up the suspension.

Mom’s view: Safety wise the Audi has antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags and must have optional rear-seat-mounted side airbags. You can’t go wrong when ordering safety options. A blind-spot warning system was very handy for us on the wide open Interstate 15 where fast moving traffic can easily move into your blind spot in a split second. There is also an “Active Braking Guard” that alerts the driver to an imminent collision and primes the brakes. The brakes were excellent and crash scores were all exceptional as well.

The A4’s interior is busy, but elegant. There are a zillion buttons plus a central control knob and ancillary controls on the steering wheel. I would spend a day with the well organized owner’s manual before setting out in this Audi since something as simple as adjusting the fan speed is not a simple task. The trunk space is impressive with nearly 17 cubic feet of space and it is easy to load. Overall, I would recommend considering the Avant for families. I quite enjoyed the Audi and didn’t even want more power as the turbocharger provided plenty of poke for those long hill climbs on the 15.

Dad’s view: A competent, if not exciting, sedan that is business like in its handling and acceleration. With just one engine choice Audi has staked it future on the ubiquitous turbocharged 2 liter powerplant and opted for fuel mileage and cost savings over speed. The result is that a ride to Big Bear or Mt. Baldy is mild, not wild. The Audi A4 is a best seller and a viable alternative to more expensive near luxury sedans. With an interior filled with enough gauges to satisfy a 747 pilot, the availability of all wheel drive and a station wagon version, Audi represents a family oriented daily driver with a playful nature.

Young working woman’s view: The exterior styling is a bit bland, except for the front grill that appears an easy target for large SUVs in parking lots. I loved the interior, although the numerous control buttons that are illuminated by small red lights make night driving a bit of a challenge as they tend to blend together. My friends were impressed with the Audi and it certainly appeals to those who enjoy driving something outside the norm.

Young working male’s view: The optional sound system must be admired. It is excellent and worth the money. The row of LED bulbs located in the headlight area gets the attention of distracted drivers and the night interior lighting and optional xenon headlights are exceptional. Quite a nice car, but the speedometer is difficult to read at speed, and there is the need for better cupholders. That’s about it. Nice car, great driver, and utilitarian.

Family conference: Audi has chosen that path of bigger is better. In the A4’s case Audi has succeeded. For a list of vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com and click on business.

Election and Propaganda Lessons

This is a great time of year to use teachable moments in your curriculum. You can integrate election issues into current events, math, civics and social studies, history, life skills, and other areas. Here are some of the best resources I have found. Please feel free to send me your own by clicking on my name on http://www.reacheverychild.com/alan.html

Election Videos

A great collection on all aspects of voting and elections past and present.


Teachable moments







Prepare your students to vote


Voting sites


Get Ready to Vote


Presidential Links

Check out the mock voting sites. Excellent and involving. Also make sure you order materials from VoteSmart. Non-partisan, easy to read, and in many languages.







Contributions to candidates


Contributions by Zip Code




General Sites



New York Times Learning Network


The White House