My dad was a mechanic. He did his apprenticeship back in the early 1950s at a gas station in Adelaide, Australia, back in the days when gas stations had real workshops and employed people who could change your oil or your transmission at the drop of a wrench. These days, if you want to fix anything more complex than your craving for a soda or a candy bar at a gas station, you're probably SOL.
The point is, there wasn't anything on wheels my dad couldn't tear down, rebuild, and make run better than new with little more than a handful of tools and an intuitive feel for how things worked. But I'm betting even he wouldn't be able to figure out how to check the oil level on the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid without reading the owner's manual.
I must have spent 10 minutes peering under the hood of the Cayenne the other day, looking for the dipstick. "It shouldn't be that hard to find," I muttered, looking for the splash of bright yellow plastic that marked the handle. But it wasn't there. Feeling slightly ashamed -- Can't find the bloody dipstick? What would dad think? -- I reached for the owner's manual. And there, on page 110, it told me how to check the oil level.
First thing I had to do was fire the Cayenne up and go for a drive. Dad taught me to always check the oil with the engine stone cold, but in the Porsche you need the engine at operating temperature. Then you park on a level surface, switch off, and wait two minutes. Then you access the multi-level display via the scroll button on the right hand spoke of the steering wheel, select "vehicle" from the main menu, and then "oil level." A graphic representation of a dipstick, color coded, shows you the oil level. Phew!
The computer power in today's cars is truly staggering, but it doesn't always make life easier. Having said that, all those gigabytes of data constantly swarming around the Cayenne's central nervous system do bring lots of functionality and ability I've come to like.
I love the blind-spot detection system, for example, where a light in the stem of the exterior mirrors flashes if there's a car running close either side. It's brilliant for the cut and thrust of fast-moving L.A. freeway traffic. The sat-nav is accurate, easy to read, and intuitive to use. Being able to check the tire pressures at the push of a button is terrific, and the car will even tell you precisely how much to fill each tire. The parking sensors, which show a schematic of the car and a patch that changes in size and color -- green to yellow to red -- as you approach an obstacle, and the rear-view camera make parking lots a breeze.
As we approach 10,000 miles together, the Cayenne's now telling me it's due for an oil change. And over the past couple of days it's also started to tell me the oil level is above maximum. Now I know that can't possibly be true; that the sensor must be misreading something or otherwise malfunctioning. Of course, if there was a good old-fashioned dipstick under the hood, I'd know for sure...
| Our Car |
| Months/Miles in service || 6/10,136 |
| Avg econ/CO2 || 18.8 mpg/1.03 lb/mi |
| Energy cons || 179 kW-hr/100 mi |
| Unresolved problems || None |
| Maintenance cost || $0 |
| Normal-wear cost || $0 |