CAR TALK

DEAR CAR TALK: I travel on a busy, dangerous, three-lane highway in our area. I like to drive in the right lane at 70 mph. People continually pass me, so it’s safe to assume they’re speeding.

If there’s an emergency vehicle on the shoulder, my state law dictates that I move to the middle lane. If the middle lane is clear, I move, but I continue to drive at 70 mph until it’s safe to return to my beloved right lane. But before I get back in the right lane, people will pass me on the left because I’m too slow for the middle lane.

If no one gives me the opportunity to move into the middle lane, the law says I’m supposed to slow down to 50 mph (“20 mph lower than posted limit”) and keep driving in the right lane. That’s really scary as I see drivers flying up behind me and acting angry.

I’m trying to follow the law, but it seems like it’s a free-for-all out there. Any suggestions?

Bonnie

DEAR READER: Continue to follow the law, Bonnie.

I know it’s intimidating when other drivers try to bully you into going faster than the speed limit. But you have the right to travel in the right lane at the posted speed. You’re being a good, courteous driver.

I do worry about you, though. There were studies done that concluded that speed differential causes wrecks. In other words, it’s not driving at 75 that necessarily causes people to crash, it’s when some people drive at 75 and others drive at 50. So, depending on your state law, my suggestion is to make good use of your hazard lights.

Hazard light laws are, frankly, a mess. Some states allow you to use them while driving. Some allow their use while driving if there’s a traffic hazard (which is your situation). And some states only allow hazard light use if your vehicle is stopped or disabled. So you’ll have to check your state law (try a local AAA office).

Either way, if you see an emergency vehicle on the shoulder, first try to pull into the center lane, if it’s safe to do so. And then let people pass you if they want to. Just ignore them if you’re going 70. If you can’t get into the center lane safely, then follow the law and slow down, and if state law allows, put on your emergency flashers while you’re traveling at 50 mph.

Those are easily visible — and eye-catching — to drivers behind you. They’ll indicate that there’s a hazard, and that you’re driving slowly for a good reason. They’ll also suggest to drivers behind you that it’s pointless to try to intimidate you into moving faster. Seeing your emergency flashers, I think drivers behind you who don’t know the law, or choose not to follow it, will move to the center lane and pass you without trying to intimidate you. Say good riddance, and keep driving safely, Bonnie.

DEAR CAR TALK: I have read and enjoyed your column for years and usually agree with or learn from it. However, your explanation of why there are no four-door convertibles is wrong or misleading (lack of a structural B-pillar).

Your reader is probably less than 40 years old or not into the old car hobby. As early as 1910 through the 2000s, there have been four-door convertibles, also referred to as phaeton and touring cars.

Most of these vehicles had the rear doors, known as “suicide doors,” attached to the C-pillar. In “modern” times, the most well-known four-door convertibles have been the 1961-1969 Lincoln Continentals. Oldsmobile built the 1910-1912 Limited touring cars with four doors and a manually operated top, as did others through the 1940s; Frazer built a 1951 four-door convertible, as did Mercedes-Benz in 2007.

The B-pillarless four-door sedan (hardtop) was introduced as the Holiday sedan in 1955 by Oldsmobile, followed by others through the 1970s. These vehicles had the rear doors attached, in a conventional style, to a reduced-height reinforced B-pillar, and this body style also had a reinforced frame.

Periodically you have referenced memory lapses in your column. I guess this response was one of those rare instances. Your readers deserve a correction.

Sherman

DEAR READER: Hmmm, that’s funny. I don’t remember referencing memory lapses in the column, Sherman.

Thanks for the history lesson. Obviously, you’re correct, and there have been four-door convertibles made. But our reader was asking why there are no four-door convertibles now. And the primary reason we gave is that they’re structurally deficient. And due to increased demand for better safety and handling, structural rigidity is more important today than ever.

When you think about building rigidity into a four-door car, the best way to do that is with three full-length pillars — A, B and C (front of the front doors, front of the back doors and rear of the back doors) — and a permanent, rigid roof that holds everything together. When you remove any one of those elements, you weaken the structure of the car and allow it to flex too much.

Imagine if you had a cardboard box. If you remove all of the top flaps, that’s like a car with no roof. The box will now bend and flex very easily. Now imagine you cut two of the side panels in half. That’s like making a four-door convertible. Sure. You can reinforce the other sides or the bottom or add half a pillar in the middle. And all that helps. But you’re still fighting basic physics, and you’re adding a ton of weight, which creates other problems.

It’s simply not easy to make a safe, rigid four-door convertible. Even when you “reinforce” the structure you have left. You don’t see four-door hardtops anymore for the same reason. Those cars, while structurally stronger than convertibles because they had roofs, became rattletraps over the years, as they flexed all their welds loose due to that missing half a B-pillar.

So it’s not that it can’t be done, Sherman. It’s that it is very hard, very expensive and often impractical to do. Even more so now that there’s a premium placed on safety and structural rigidity. In fact, that 2007 S-Class Mercedes four-door convertible you mention in your letter was only a concept car, for show only. It was never produced. Why? Too many engineering challenges. And probably too many rattles.

So until there’s a lightweight fix for the structural concerns, you’ll have to make do with your 1910 Oldsmobile, Sherman.

Ray Magliozzi dispenses advice about cars in Car Talk every Saturday. Email him by visiting cartalk.com