Discipline: training that perfects the mental faculties

Ten Skills Every Student Needs and You Probably Don’t Have Time to Teach
by National Hall of Fame Teacher Alan Haskvitz


After 40 years of teaching there comes a time when you want to just yell at the curriculum designers and textbook publishers that they have the cart before the horse. Teachers need to be allowed to spend more time teaching students how to learn and less on preparing for a test which measures nothing applicable in the real world.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I feel that every teacher would love to really teach students how to get ready for the challenges ahead of them and use the curriculum as a stepping stone to that goal. Over the years my students always were at the top in the State in terms of standardized testing. Indeed, some of them had perfect scores. The problem was I was teaching them how to take the test. Fortunately, I as able to shorten the material required for the course by removing those elements I though were essentially chaff so that I could teach them essential skills. Essentially, I started by teaching them how to discipline themselves. This worked so well that I still get letters from students, some decades after they were in my class, thanking me for teaching them for life. I have never gotten a letter thanking me for teaching them the Monroe Doctrine.

Here is the list and it far from complete, which are skills that need to be taught. Feel free to comment and add your own.

Learning how to Learn

Developing a love for learning is essential for any educator. It is the most important lesson a teacher can impart to a student and it is also the most difficult. A teacher may have to face a variety of hindrances from lack of parental care, nutritional and emotional problems, and even severe mental concerns. Regardless, there needs to be an effort and the best way is to become a facilitator by prodding, motivating, and providing a diverse array of learning materials to challenge the student to learn for themselves. Most often the textbook, frequently filled with data with little relevance to the student, is the main focus of instruction. And, perhaps, that is the way it must be if the goal is a test that measures improvement in the acquisition of this data. The teacher can feel confident as he or she has covered the material by sticking to the textbook. Motivational, hardly, but that is how teachers are frequently judged. There is another way to do this, but it is time consuming and requires a multitude of rubrics. Providing a variety of materials and having the students learn from them is an arduous task. However, once it is done a teacher can spend the rest of years modifying, adding, and individualizing lessons to meet the needs of the students. ReachEveryChild (cited below) provides a variety of sources for this free material and is an excellent place to start individualization.

The second part of learning how to learn based on whether the student is an auditory, visual or kinetic learner and how to use these to their advantage. It is impossible for a teacher to use all of these methods when presenting lessons, but a student can create their own lessons to help them acquire the knowledge. In my classes I have students create poems, songs, graphic organizers and the Cornell note taking system. In this way there is a variety of methods for them to learn. I insist they use my linking and three transfer method of learning as well. The linking method makes them link what they are learning to other things they have learned and create a “learning tree” of it that they add to throughout the year. The three transfer method is to have students read the material, take notes on it, and transfer that material to another mode such as notecards. I also recommend presenting the answer to a question and have them supply the question. This is an excellent test of finding out what they know. It can be used in all subjects.

What is Valid

If you have time, giving the student a variety of short articles to read and asking them to figure out what would be the best way to judge this material is very worthwhile. This process should also include a study of the various types of propaganda, how to evaluate a website for bias, and stereotyping. That is a lot to swallow and so it is best as part of a school-year long program. If you are teaching social studies an ideal unit could be the differences of opinion between the South and the North about slavery. Learning how to learn is not just about the acquisition of skills, but for the student to acquire the ability to judge the material. One of the best tools to get students to read is Sherlock Holmes and the Sign of Four. As the students read the article they keep track of the characters and reach various conclusions as the teacher hands them the next page. The lesson makes them detectives, but more importantly allows them to learn for life. Seldom are we giving all the answers, but we must make decisions by what we know and judge what is valid.

Speed Reading, not just reading.

It isn’t any secret that the first basic skill is reading. But not just reading, but speed reading. Close reading will follow much more quickly if students can learn how to read rapidly. Reading for facts and reading for pleasure can both be more enjoyable if a student acquires the ability to focus on several words at one time. I taught second graders how to read over a 1000 words per minute at their grade level. The usual improvement was always 200 to 400 words per minute more and this was for language arts and social studies materials. Interestingly the comprehension improves as the speed level doubles as the student concentrates on the material. It is a win-win, but it most be reinforced until it becomes a habit and it takes at least 30 days for it to become a habit. Be warned that some students are resistant to it and so online speed reading sites can help them challenge themselves at their own rate.

Write at Grade Level +

The first thing on teaching a student to write is to explain the types of writing based on the purpose. Taking notes while on the phone or writing a compare and contrast essay may be different in length, but the ingredients are the same. However, for longer works you need to teach the student to write at grade level. I have the students write a one page paper on their favorite vacation either real or imagined. Next, I have them underline all the one syllable words. After that they circle any word that they have not known since primary school. The Fry Formula is applied and the students record their writing scores. They is always silence as the students realize that they are writing at several grades below grade level. Now, that isn’t necessarily bad, but it does force them to expand their vocabulary and that is good. I always have a few Thesaurus books on hand and show them how to use them. The results are immediate and the students not only improve their writing, but improve their thinking and organizational skills as well as they strive to improve. My article (citation below) provides an in-depth look at this successful practice that has enabled my students to win numerous writing competitions.

Teach Them to be Journalist

This vital profession is based on training that every student needs. The ability to communicate, to judge facts, and to influence others with their work. There is no other profession that is so vital for students to learn from because it is essentially what they are going to do nearly every day of their life. A good journalist seeks out evidence and judges it. They write using the who, what, when, where, why, and how approach. They use the inverted triangle that helps them organize facts. Finally, it teaches them to be curious and ask questions and, very importantly, take good notes.

Teach Them to be Lawyers

Perhaps, oversimplifying, but lawyers earn them living by researching and providing evidence that their cause is correct. This requires an examination of evidence and organization. This is another valuable trait that can help students of all ages. For example, was George Washington was a good president? Can you prove it? Can you provide evidence that he was not so good? Some may call this critical thinking, but that type of thinking can not really be utilized until a student is able to have a variety of experiences that enable them to make a critical decision. Thus using the basic skills of an attorney in proving a point and providing evidence to that end are skills they are going to need to write essays persuasive and expository essays and in life.

Be Accountable

At the beginning of the school year I ask the students to look around the room and, without naming names, tell me how many other students they would hire to work for them based on the knowledge that they wanted good workers. After that I ask them to write that number down, fold the paper, and place it in a basket. I take out the numbers and place them on the board to come out with an average. In almost every case it is ten percent of the students or less. That means that the others already have a reputation of not being good workers. The reason for this is that many students simply do not hold themselves accountable. Immediate gratification, poor parenting, the need for quick teacher assessment with little assessment of the assessment, all help feed a “who cares” mentality. This results in large scale cheating with little fear of consequence. Research has overwhelming shown that rewards must be intrinsic to be a lasting value. If students are to be held accountable there must be a reward system that works and entices parent buy-in.
People Skills

We aren’t talking about cooperative learning, we are talking about the ability to get along with others regardless of differences. We are talking about good manners, social skills, negotiating skills, and the ability to work together to create a common goal. Skills as basic as how to talk to people on the phone, how to ask permission, or even showing remorse or concern are missing and yet vital for life.

Handling Emergencies
Handling emergencies is also seldom taught at school. Yes, fire drills are held, but what value are they to the student when a fire really occurs elsewhere? My students wrote and had published in the American Fire Journal the problems with school fire drills in the hopes of enlightening others. School administrators essentially ignored it because it wasn’t an area to be tested. Sad, because the issues the students brought up were important. For example, why does the fire extinguisher stay in the room during a fire drill? Why do the students stand up in rows when an explosion could knock them over? Who knows where the dangerous chemicals are? What do the various colored helmets that firemen wear mean? Needless to say, handling emergencies is a vital skill. Why doesn’t every student know CPR? How to stop bleeding? Or to identify a person having a “fit” and knowing how to act? Taking this a step further, how to teach students not to panic and to learn how to identify people should be taught. But, who has the time?

Skills for life

Setting realistic goals, identifying propaganda and bias, budgeting time, operating a computer and touch typing, triage work assignments, handling money and investments, observation skills, where to find information and measure its accuracy, and learning how to listen can all be incorporated in the curriculum. Each of these carry lifelong importance and all can and have been taught within the curriculum if there is time. There are free units of study on almost all of these areas available. The teacher needs to be given the time and flexibility to personalize them for their class.

Before I get off my high horse I must add one more thing and that is for the student to learn how to be happy. My friend Larry Martz, an editor with Newsweek, wrote in his book Making Schools Better, about the small bite principle. This is a simple plan where small strides can result in large gains. An educator who just takes one of these ideas to heart could make a huge difference knowing well that it is at least as significant as anything on a standardized test.

Why Students Cheat

Making Schools Better

Car Rating Site

Government fuel economy site

How to Improve Student Writing

Student speed reading lessons
There are others

Using the Inverted Triangle

Arbor Day

by Alan Haskvitz

National Teachers Hall of Fame


About Arbor Day: Arbor Day is America’s National Tree Holiday, founded by J. Sterling Morton in Nebraska in 1872 to commerate the important of trees to humanity. Imagine all the uses trees have and why, on this day, it is recommended that you plant a tree and educate others about their importance. In 1970 Arbor Day was proclained the last Friday in April.

Celebrating this day is a wonderful way to integrate lessons and meet Common Core objectives. You can combine science, math, literacy, and social studies in create meaningful lessons that can result in a life time appreciation of nature. The problem is where to find these lessons. I especially like the build your own greenhouse one (http://lessonplanspage.com/sciencessmars5buildgreenhouseworksheet-htm) that offers students to grow their own seeds. An unexpected lesson here is the one of delayed gratification and the uncertainty of nature. Having the students track the growth, but I like to have them write poem about what the plant feels and about what they feel.

Another good project is to have students research the many uses of wood and make a list that is kept in the room for the rest of the year so that students can add to it as they are awakened to a use. Having them put their name next to the new idea adds to the lesson.

One thing that I always do is read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to the students. It really gets their attention and helps them develop an appreciation for trees. Here is the slideshow http://www.slideshare.net/wicaksana/the-giving-tree-3293089

Next I show this video and tell them to compare the two stories, this one by Lynne called, The Great Kapok Tree. It makes for a great discussion and also can be used for a variety of activites.


You should check out when your state celebrates Arbor Day and also note the State tree. A good art lesson would have each student research and draw a tree for every state. http://www.apples4theteacher.com/holidays/arbor-day/when-is-arbor-day.html

Lessons by subject matter

An excellent selection and easy to use, but basic.


Here are some excellent lessons and videos

Mostly for K to 8


More lessons, crafts, and activities


A Pinterest site with lots of images of ideas

For younger students.


A lesson site that has good science ideas among others


Civics lessons

For older students


One of the Nation’s Most  Energy Efficient Homes


by  The Car Family


Tucked into a cul de sac in Alta Loma is a Spanish style, one story family home that is unique and yet common. For the secret of this 2400 square foot home is that despite its tract house appearance the owners have taken inexpensive steps to make it one of the most energy efficient homes in Southern California with a gas bill that seldom goes above $300 a year and an electric bill that is just a tad over $400 a year and that includes charging the Prius Plug-In nightly.




Let’s start with the facts. First, the house is essentially all electric except for the gas dryer, water heater, and furnace. The back of the house has a southern exposure and is largely glass with a fairly large roof overhang. There is an oversized three car garage attached and the roof has three distinct pitches providing the interior with very high ceilings. Into this mix add a normal sized family, two large dogs, and the usual array of appliances and you have a very typical ranch style residence.



Now comes the interesting part the average gas bill is about ten dollars a month. On extremely cold months this could rise to $35, but the dual pane windows let in an abundance of southern sunlight that heats the tile floor and helps keep the home comfortable long into the night. The addition of the newer windows and doors greatly helps in keeping energy costs down. Southern California Gas and Edison both offer rebates in some cases. During the warmer summer months the roof overhang keeps the sun from shinning into the house. Helping keep the stucco exterior cool is the placement of large bushes on the southside of the house. The large attic acts to “store” the rising heat from the living areas and together make running the air conditioner a rare event. Indeed, last year it was only on twice and this year three times.





The water bill was reduced by the use of drought tolerant plants which require little maintenance, very little care, and no fertilizer. A drip system was installed, but even in hot weather watering twice a week is all that is needed. A grant to remove the grass front yard was given by the area water agency. Although some people hire professional landscapers, the yard was designed by the homeowner to reflect their desire to have a colorful, happy yard. Citrus trees on the property and a garden add to the water cost, but the drought tolerant landscaping has partially offset this and resulted in substantial savings. In addition, the home has low water use toilets and washing machine. The showers have restrictive flow features and the dish washer is never started unless it is full.



The gas bill was dramatically reduced with the tankless water heater and a two-stage furnace. Helping reduce the need for heating are ceiling fans that bring down the warmer air from the high ceiling in the house. Changing the directions of the fans in summer also helps to increase evaporation and keeps the family cooler. Energy efficient fans only cost about three tenths of one cent per hour to operate.



Electricity rates were also kept low by taking advantage of Southern California Edison’s savings plans and the installation of an upgraded SEER air-conditioner. Energy Star appliances, the use of outlet strips that can be shut off ending parasitic losses to devises that are plugged into them, and having lighting systems that use less electricity all squeeze the energy costs. Another important saver is programing the dishwater and clothes dryer to run during late hours. Interestingly, the Prius Plug-in, has a timer that enables it to start charging during off-peak hours. The addition of the Prius has raised the monthly bill for electricity by a measly $4.



There are other things that can reduce energy use that may take more time. For example, having large bushes and trees keep the sun off the house is worthwhile. The west side of the Alta Loma house is shaded by a hedge and vine. Keeping your freezer and refrigerator full and keeping the coils clean helps save running costs and using small solar entry lights can keep your entry lighted for very little cost.



One final tip, on those cold nights when the thought of going to bed unless the home is 68 or higher degrees, is not appealing, use the microwave to prepare a couple of rice heating bags. They can be tucked under the covers a few minutes before bedtime and they can easily take the chill off the bedding and retain warmth for over an hour.



Setting the programmable thermostat at 62 at night and 68 in the day in winter and a maximum in summer of 78 or 80, taking advantage of utility offerings checking your usage with an Edison account are ways you can certainly save yourself some hard earned income as well as help to save the environment.

The bottom line is that this house does not use solar panels because it is so energy efficient it does not qualify. It just uses items that  are subsidized by many energy agencies and water districts.  The energy costs of this house would save a potential buyer thousands of dollars a year so those looking to purchase a home should definitely check the utility costs before making a decision.

For free teaching resources go to





Priusization of the Nation: How Toyota Changed the World

by The Car Family

for more car reviews go to


It started fairly innocuous with Toyota’s introduction of the Prius in 2000. It was ugly, underpowered and cramped, but the technology and fuel mileage were stunning for the price. The word was that Toyota was losing money on each sale and still many took one look and walked away from the nearly $20,000 pricing. After all gas was $1,40. The Prius was ignored by the major publications because it was slow, fairly plain looking and, let’s face it, Toyota wasn’t backing it with much advertising.   Since we test vehicles from a family viewpoint we immediately made it our car of the year and sent Toyota our award, the only automobile journalists that did so.

Unsure of the potential of the Prius, Toyota only ordered 1000 units per month for the first two years and this gave wings to the company’s planners and so  in 2004 they introduced the much sleeker, for  Prius. This second generation and model was again a sales success and today the Prius is the number one seller in the number one market in the United States, California. As Sam Butto of Toyota pointed out, ” I think the name Prius was, and is, perfect for the vehicle as Prius in Latin means to go forward, suggesting it is a predecessor of cars to come. And indeed it was a fortuitous choice.


Prius becomes a Household Name

 Today, nearly 15 years later, the term Prius and the idea of the Prius has enveloped the nation. Jokes such as the movement of the space shuttle Discovery through the streets of Los Angeles at Prius speeds are understood, something that was unheard of before Toyota took the bold leap to bring mass produced family hybrids to the world.

Ferdinand Porsche, yes that Porsche, developed the first gasoline-electric hybrid in the early 1900s and diesel electric hybrid locomotives have been around for generations, but it took Toyota to take the risk of bringing to market a vehicle that by all standards was a money loser and no one outside of the Sierra Club and Greenpeace were worried too much about the environment at the time.

Perhaps an even greater hurdle was the demise of General Motors’ all electric EV-1. It had a short driving range and a shorter lifespan. The Car Family thought the EV-1 was a stellar idea with regenerative braking, a quiet ride, and about 70 miles of power if you weren’t using the fast lane. The problem for the Prius was that people assumed future vehicles that used battery power were all plug-ins with a short range because of the EV1 legacy. This range worry was carried over to the Prius by the uniformed and thus Toyota’s product languished for a while. Honda sold a few of its sleek Insights, a two-seater hybrid, but despite their excellent fuel economy, the lack of storage and comfort rendered it ineffective in cultivating consumer interest.


In 2000, Toyota only sold around six thousand Prius sedans, but the word was getting out that the Prius was a money saver and kind to the environment. Slowly sales increased driven largely by word of mouth and gas prices increasing to over $3.50. The result was sales of over 100,000. Today, Toyota is selling that many in six months and the demand is staggering even, with steady price increases. You can still buy a standard liftback Prius for just over $22,000, but many buyers are moving upscale to the solar roof paneled 5 model and even to the fully loaded Advanced Plug-in that list for around $40,000. The hot selling base Plug-In with the optional white paint, is the most coveted of all bringing premium pricing and why not with real world gas mileage figures easily topping 65 mpg.

Other Manufacturers Motivated to Join

 What is even more dramatic is that this Priusization of the nation has yielded to the public a choice of over 60 hybrid vehicles now and they include everything from a Porsche SUV to a Honda sports coupe. Toyota is upping the ante with the possibility of making all of their vehicles available with a hybrid option. This is not only driven by consumer demand, but by pending corporate fuel economy standards that will force automobile companies to have cars averaging over 50 mpg in the near future. That reality is augmented by the fact the steady surge in demand has carved out a lucrative consumer  niche for hybrids that can’t be ignored.  That belief is cemented by the fact that over five million hybrids have been sold around the world with Toyota earned profits on four million of those. And Americans buy the most.



The Prius has also established itself as a vehicle to be owned by environmental leaders and this clout puts pressure on other manufactures to keep pace. It also helped  prompt the government to give federal tax breaks. Progressive states also  adopted this policy and even offer owners the privilege of driving in the high occupancy lanes.

The Priusization has brought energy patriotism into vogue by reducing the United State’s dependence on imported oil. In 2012, 12,778,885 vehicles were sold and the average fuel economy was around 23 mpg. If even about 25 percent of these were a Prius the total gas burned would be reduced by over 40 percent. Of course, that is unrealistic, but it does show the potential that Priusization offers. And, just as importantly, the pressure it puts on other manufactures to compete by producing more efficient engines. Indeed, almost very hybrid now offered uses some of the basic ideas that Toyota helped bring to the public.

Finally, the Prius has become a cult favorite for both movie stars and those that want to fly their We Care colors. And today that cult is expanding as more families are tempted to test drive these sedans and find there is plenty of room, good performance–thanks to the Power button, and the ability to take 450 mile journeys without refueling. It is when they refuel the the real magic occurs as the Prius only uses about nine gallons of gas to  travel 450 or more miles. This creates expectations for other manufacturers to meet. In 2010 there was only one non-diesel, non-hybrid car that could get over 40 mpg on the highway. Today there are seven non-hybrids, 21 hybrids, and three plug-in cars that better that mark and there is little doubt that the Prius pushed these manufacturers into spending the funds to meet the competition and even tickled the German companies to expand their diesel powered line-ups.

The Real Meaning of Prius

The world Prius has also entered the media with terms such as Prius Progressives, and Prius Politics gaining immediate understanding. As well, the idea of the Prius as an environmental statement has now been somewhat overwhelmed by its practicality and utility appeal. Driving a Prius is no longer just seen as being caring, but pragmatic as well. Cities, such as Rancho Cucamonga are placing electric plug-in outlets at parks and businesses are buying Prius in fleet quantities. The reason is simple, the government is allowing 55.5 cents per mile for business miles driven, When you consider that the Prius can cost well under ten cents a mile and has very high resale you have an exceptional, and legal, tax benefit. And if you own a plug-in and use your business to charge the batteries the energy used is a business expense, too. Makes one wonder how long it will take before the government makes a Prius regulation for tax allowances.

In America only a few words have gone from proper noun to noun or genericized trademarks. “Crescent wrench, Kleenex, Xerox, Q-tip, Coke, and Jello to name a few. In the automobile world,this list includes brands such as Cadillac for quality, Rolls Royce for wealth, Jeep for off-roadability, and Edsel for poor value are some.  Joining this list now is Prius, the only vehicle in the modern era that has not only created an image, but a car whose name has joined popular lexicon for frugality, environmental concern, and yes, even slow moving.

For a list of all manufacture websites go to


$100,000 Hybrids: Lexus vs. BMW

by The Car Family

for more reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/

 In an age when conspicuous consumption seems to be an art, along comes two gloriously expensive sedans that do their best to be inconspicuous. The Lexus LS 600hL and the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 Series and a strange brew of technology, luxury, and performance, with just a touch of frugality thrown in to attract the green set.

We drove them both and they are remarkable in every technological way, and fast, but they are pushing the limits of driver patience with an endless array of buttons and settings. You can forget the simple temperature control knob or push buttons to select a radio station. These hybrids are multi-tasking machines that not only talk to you, but scold you as well. Leaving your lane, they’ll let you know. If there is a car in your blind spot they’ll flash you a sign, and in the case of the BMW, they will even make sure the door is snug. My advise is not to leave the dealership without a tutorial.

The good news is that they are quiet, fast and the gas mileage isn’t that bad considering these are hefty sedans. We averaged around 22 mpg with both vehicles, but be warned it is down right difficult to avoid unleasing the combination gas-electric forces under the hood, ah, trunk, ah, whatever. Indeed, the BMW is one of the fastest cars on the planet once it gets moving, and we mean moving. If your kids won’t quiet down, just floor this sedan and the g forces should pretty much leave them breathless until the police pull you over and ask for your pilot’s license. This BMW can reach 60 mph in well under five seconds and it probably won’t take much longer to reach orbit. The Lexus is slower, but not by much.

 We didn’t have a favorite. The BMW was the most fun, no doubt. But the complicated electronics kept us from enjoying its exemplary handling, stopping, and acceleration traits. The Lexus was smooth, quiet, and, well, a bit boring. In either case, the 22 gallon fuel tanks made 400 mile trips a possibility and with all the electronics to play with it is always entertaining.

 Mom’s view: I love the BMW 3 Series. Quick, responsive, and fuel efficent. The Seven Series hybrid has some of the same DNQ with excellent stopping power and handling, but that’s it outside of the look of the grill. The ActiveHybrid It is much smother and just as fast as the sexier looking supercharged Jaguar and, surprisingly, the interior is as nice as the British sedan. The Lexus has the better look for me, as the fit and finish were exceptional. It isn’t any secret that Lexus frequently finishes at the top of the consumer quality reports.

 Cost wise, they both are around $105,000. For that BMW gives you a combination of lithium ion batteries, turbocharging, and a 4.4-liter engine that yield 455 horsepower. The Lexus uses its hybrid with a larger, non-turbocharged, 5-liter V8 engine in combination and two electric motors to provide 430 horsepower.

 Driving the Lexus is easier. Both have engines that shut down when the car is stopped, but the Lexus is much more seamless when it comes time to starting. The cars have fairly good views in all directions and the seats are so adjustable that finding a fanny friendly position isn’t difficult. Of course these expensive sedans have steering wheels that power adjustments for those of us with short torsos and shorter arms and have to share with longer-legged relatives. The trunk space on the BMW does not give up as much room for the extra batteries that drive the hybrid as the Lexus. I liked the Lexus better. It was less fussy and plenty fast. Besides, for the MSRP I want to be coddled.

 Dad’s view: The BMW has an eight speed automatic transmission while the Lexus as a continuous variable unit that makes constant adjustments to maximize performance and efficiency. The Lexus is smoother. The BMW does offer a sportier suspension and that includes a self-leveling rear suspension and all sorts of safety equipment such as Driving Dynamics Control, Dynamic Stability Control, and Servotronic steering assist. Overall, I just liked driving the BMW better. The Lexus was more comfortable, easier to master, and to park. But it had no spark. The bottom line is that this a lot of money to be green.

Young working woman’s view: These are very big sedans. The turning radius for the BMW is over 42 feet, and the Lexus does it in 40. In other words, if you are looking for a parking space in a crowded mall prepare to spend time docking. Rear and front seat head and leg room is spacious in both cars, but the Lexus only has ten cubic feet of trunk space as the hybrid batteries take up a lot of room. The BMW has 14 cu.ft.

The Lexus dash is easier to navigate and the instrument panel continues to be exemplary. The cars have readouts for everything from tire pressure to gas mileage for the last few minutes. I really liked the extra cost feature that tells you when there is a slow traffic ahead and how many miles it lasts. The BMW has its owners manual located in the hard drive so you can read it using the car’s monitor. This is an interesting development. Not to be outdone, the Hyundai Equus goes one better by placing an iPad 2 in the glove compartment with the information on a file. The Lexus uses the old fashioned Lexus Library type of owner’s manual with several hundred pages of information. Somehow, I prefer this and I am supposed to be technological inclined.

Both vehicles are technological showcases with LED projector headlights, keyless ignition and entry, power door closers, parking assist with a back-up camera, a hard-drive-based navigation system, high-output stereo systems, and the Lexus will even park itself. Be warned that you are going to have to get out of that parking place on your own. The BMW is a tad longer, but weighs less. They both have whopping gas tanks that hold about 22 gallons of fuel. In other words, 400 mile trips are non-stoppers if you want to challenge your kidneys. I don’t have a choice between these two. Neither appealed to my sense of treading softly on the Earth and both were too big and too conspicuous. I would much prefer the Lexus RX hybrid, which we have tested, or the frisky BMW 3 Series to place under my covered parking space.

Family conference: The choice between these two is essentially based on how you drive. If you are into performance go with the BMW, if you want luxury and quiet pay the Lexus dealer. If you have children the BMW’s larger trunk will be of significant value.

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

Two Sedans to Charge Your Drive

by The Car Family

for more reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/

Even after spending weeks in these two vehicles it isn’t easy to tell you which one is best because there isn’t a best. It just depends. If you travel 50 miles or less on a regular basis the Volt is the one to own. It is a great drive and comfortable at speed. If you travel 12 miles of less the Prius is the one to own. The difference is what happens after you travel your electric-only distance in each car. At that time the Chevrolet Volt’s engine returns 34 mpg while the Prius tops 50 with ease. As for cost, the Volt is priced around $40,000 and Toyota has yet to price its plug-in version of the Prius. Regardless, it will come in under the Chevrolet due to the fact that uses many of the same parts as the existing Prius while Chevrolet’s Volt is new and uses far more expensive batteries to achieve its longer electric-only mileage.

Just in, the plug in version will be priced from $32,000 to nearly $40, depending on the amount of electronic goodies you want. Look for better range for the added battery pack and the government has an incentive that could take off a couple of grand from the total.  Meanwhile. Chevrolet has lowered the price of the Volt.

In our case, the Prius is the better fit and with the new models said to have the ability to control when that 13 miles of electric only extra battery pack will come into use it makes it even more desirable. Why? Because when you are at freeway speeds that Prius gives you 50 miles per gallon and when you hit traffic you simple hit the electric power only button and you aren’t going to use any fuel for over ten miles. Indeed, on our recent 200 mile venture the Prius gave us 62.3 mpg. The Volt does not have that feature, but does offer superior interior design and better highway ride.

Driving each vehicle is easy and hassle free. At night, when electric rates go down, you plug them into a 110 outlet. It takes three hours for the Prius and about eight or nine for the Volt as it has a far larger battery pack. Both cars have the ability to charge more quickly with a special 220/240 volt outlet connection.

If you like to drive fast the Volt is very responsive and highly underrated as a handling car. The weight of the large battery pack that sits low in the frame makes cornering a breeze. The Prius has its extra battery pack in the area below the rear hatch. This location means that the car does not have a spare tire. We would buy a space saver and sacrifice the trunk space if we were traveling away from services. The Prius and Volt both brake well and you hardly notice when the gas engines turn start. The Volt is the better performer overall. However, when you hit the power button on the Prius you are going to find yourself pleased with the added acceleration. It can become addicting.

There is one variable here that needs to be addressed and that is whether or not the extra cost of the additional battery pack in the Prius is going to be worth the few extra miles per gallon over the standard Prius. After all, the plug in version only gets you a few extra miles of electric only travel and it may costs several thousand dollars more. In our case it would be worth the extra. If we remembered to plug it in after six when the electric rates were lower and unplug it three hours later we would not have to buy any gas for months. This did not prove a problem for us.  We also didn’t have to worry about range anxiety in either of thee vehicles because if you want to take a longer trip the gas engines fire up. Finally, there is another consideration and that is the fact the Volt is made in America and the Prius in Japan. We are not being xenophobic here, but with the recent nuclear power plant problems in Japan and its impact on both parts and vehicles one might consider availability for granted. On the other hand, we have noted a few Chevrolet dealers were asking a premium price for the Volt.

Mom’s view: The Volt is a better family sedan. It is easier to get in and out of and has the features that we have been accustomed to over the years such as more passing power and passenger comfort. That being said, I like the maneuverability of the Prius more, although it takes a longer time to get used to its handling and braking characteristics whereas the Volt felt more handy. I would note here, that if you drive more than 50 miles a day and take frequent long trips the Chevrolet Cruze may be a better choice. It is a refined sedan with a huge trunk, priced at half of the Volt’s cost, and gets 40 miles per gallon on the highway. I found the Cruze the best compact car Chevrolet has ever built and well worth a test drive.

Chevrolet's new Cruze

In terms of design, the Volt is a winner, Everything is very well thought out with easy to read gauges and comfortable seating. The Prius is more basic. The rear seats offer less room and there is less useful cargo space. The dash layouts on both are simple, but the Prius offers more information once you learn to manipulate the screen buttons. Neither car has a good GPS with the Toyota locking you out when the car is in motion and the Volt’s being difficult to navigate. The Volt also has a center stack that is difficult to read and requires a longer learning curve.

Safety wise the Prius has driver and front passenger Advanced Airbag System, driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, driver knee airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags. Toyota’s Star Safety System features Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Anti-lock Brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist. Crash tests for the regular model have been good. Since we were testing a prototype we can only surmise that the same scores would apply to the 2012 version. We always recommend ordering all the extra safety equipment which includes a Pre-collision System and Lane Keep Assist. The Volt gets nearly identical crash scores and such features as a StabiliTrak electronic stability control system, front, side, and knee air bags in addition to a roof-mounted head-curtain air bags. Our test Volt had the optional rearview camera and it worked well. Overall, I liked the Volt best except for the center stack and visibility concerns.

Dad’s view: So alike and yet so different, these two plug-in sedans are the future for those who can abide by their restrictions. For example, batteries don’t do well in extreme cold weather and there isn’t a lot of cargo room in these two. But for the majority of people, they are a perfect fit. Research has shown that the average commute is 16 miles. Now that means that half of the people travel less, which would make the Prius an excellent fit. And for the other half, the Volt would be ideal. Add to that the fact that many commutes are in heavy traffic. In that case, both are ideal because the engines shut down when traffic is stopped.

Engine wise, the Prius has a 1.8 liter engine that easily produces 98 horsepower and with the regular battery pack you can expect even more power, especially since the electric motors offer immediate torque. The Chevrolet Volt has a smaller engine with is its 1.4 liter seeking premium fuel, and with help from the battery powered motors provides a similar thrust, but with less engine noise. The Volt feels faster and reacts quicker to inputs. Advantage here to the Volt. As for my choice, I would go with Prius for two reasons. It is well proven and will undoubtably cost less.

Young working woman’s view: Of note is the recharge time for these two. Since the Volt has a larger battery pack it uses more household electricity. You do go further with that charge, but it takes longer. Special fast charging stations that use a 220/240-volt set-up are going to cost you a reported $2000 more. To me that isn’t worth it. However, if I had such a devise at work and could plug in my hybrid there it would be a real plus. The battery packs are said to last for at least a decade, but that really does not seem to be an issue as many Prius models have never had a battery failure in hundreds of thousands of miles.

For appeal it is all Volt. It comes standard with a lot of features such as 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, remote ignition, cruise control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth, a limited free OnStar subscription, a touchscreen navigation system, voice controls and a six-speaker Bose stereo with CD/DVD player, audio jack, iPod/USB interface and more. There is also a Premium Trim package and The Rear Camera and Park Assist package adds a rearview camera and front and rear parking sensors. I recommend the latter as the visibility outside the Volt is more restricted than the Prius. So Volt is the winner for me even though I much prefer the maneuverability of the Prius. It is just more trendy and up to date.

Young working male’s view: The Prius PHV is interesting in that you need to control your demand for forward thrust or else the gasoline engine fires up. I learned to feather the throttle is for no other reason than to avoid listening to the groan of the 1.8 engine. The Volt also has an exhaust note that isn’t very pleasing, but you don’t have to be so gentle with the accelerator pedal. The reason that some people complain about getting gas mileage in the 40s with the Prius is that they drive it like a gasoline or diesel only powered vehicle. These vehicles require a different driving style. Momentum is everything and taking advantage of there high mileage tires and the vehicles low rolling resistance is a must. You can easily pick-up speed going down the smallest incline in these sedans without having to use an throttle input. In mountain driving both cars have a lower gear to use to help slow the vehicle as they can pick up speed quickly on steep grades.

I had a difficult time trying to tell the Prius PHV from the its trimmer, unplugged sister. The only clue was the cutout in the left front fender that houses the electric input adapter. There were extensive decals annoucning that this was the new plug in, but basically that was it. I was somewhat concerned that the small door that covers the Toyota’s plug in connection does not lock with the central locking system. The Volt’s does. The Prius and the Volt both come with a kit that enables you to plug it into any 110 outlet. Toyota provides 22 feet of cord and be well warned that you must not use any other extension. The same goes for the Volt. I felt that Toyota should have followed the Volt in having the Prius receptacle lighted for night use. I also thought that the Volt had a better system of tracking the time left for a complete charge. It should be noted that we were in a prototype and that Toyota retail version will surely have many tweaks that will make it more user friendly.

The PHV’s cargo floor is a bit higher than in the regular Prius to allow for the added battery pack. The Prius PHV battery pack is a potent lithium-ion pack. Since I work making open software computers and servers at http://www.eracks.com I am familiar with these and find them reliable. The Prius uses a parallel-hybrid powertrain that is seamless and when you use the power button, almost frisky. I did say , almost. The 15-inch wheels are not nearly as nice as the Volt’s and the brakes and steering are vague and unfeeling. For my use the Volt would be the choice. Sexier and not so bland.

Family conference: No clear winner, but the one the fits our needs best is the Prius. The plug in model should be ready by 2012 and we have placed our name on the waiting list. Why? Simple, it is going to have a proven track record of reliability, high resale, and fits our driving needs. We dearly loved the Volt, but the pricing and fuel mileage once the batteries are depleted are a concern. If your daily driving needs are more aligned with the Volt it is worth the price, but if you drive further the Chevrolet Cruze is a strong consideration. The Cruze is our pick for the best of the compact gasoline powered vehicles at this time.

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Toyota will reveal its new electric vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show next week, the RAV4 EV Concept.The concept marks further progress towards RAV4 EV being brought to market in the USA in 2012. The new concept combines the current RAV4 compact SUV with an electric powertrain from Tesla Motors. In May, Toyota announced it would co-operate with the American company in the development of electric vehicles and parts, and in EV production systems and engineering. By working together, Toyota states that it aims to learn from Tesla’s EV technology capabilities. RAV4 EV is an effort by Toyota  to reduce the use of fossil fuels and cut CO2 emissions by developing more efficient and alternative powertrain technologies, they said.

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