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Ranting about the US DOT

Started by wbrian63, 25 October 2008, 08:03 AM


I've been working with Tom Hanson on a few odd bits and pieces for my '76 6.9. I also own a '92 W140 300SE, and I've always lusted after a warning triangle for the trunk, so I asked him to find out what was available. His reply was that the mounting clip was available, and that there used to be a fold-up style triangle available (no longer), but that the original style was blocked for US import from all channels.

What follows is the text of an e-mail I composed early this morning and sent to Tom - just my musings on how the US DOT view us versus how German/European drivers are apparently viewed by their governing bodies:

I would love to get inside the head of the person / people that thought it was prudent to prevent this item from coming to the US.

So much of how cars and drivers are "treated" here leads one to believe that the regulation/law makers think the vast majority of us are nincompoops. Driving around on the freeways of Houston, most times I would tend to agree. However, there are so many things that were/are available on Euro-spec MB's that were blocked for US export that a real afficinado like me would love to have seen:

Composite headlamps - I've heard that the primary logic behind this was with sealed beam lights, if you took a stone chip, they would burn out just like a house lightbulb, and not dim out over time as the reflector got spoiled by moisture. However, years before the US DOT started allowing composite lamps, they allowed halogen sealed-beams, which are effectively the same thing - stone chips don't burn the lamp out, but the reflector dims out over time.

I had a '93 Lincoln Mark VIII. It came with composite headlamps, unfortunately, they were a smart styling design, but a poor engineering design - not near enough light output. Worse, the plastic used for the lenses, while impervious to flying stones, was subject to clouding up from UV exposure. In '95, the Mark VIII LSC was the first US made car to have HID lamps as an optional extra, which meant that I could (and did) find a set of NOS headlamp buckets with bulbs and ignitors and swap those onto my car. Part of the electronic wizardry that came standard on my '93 was a "command center-like" display in the dash that provided warning messages for things like low oil, engine overheat, etc. It also had a lamp sensor circuit that would tell you if you had a taillamp out, etc. When I installed the new lower-draw HID lamps, the lamp sensor thought that I had a lamp out, so I had to sever the sensor wire from the headlamp circuits to get the "headlamp out" message from popping up every time the lights came on. I always marvelled at the "stupidity" of that warning - if I turn the headlamps on and a bulb pops, I would think that any reasonable driver would notice... again, I guess most American drivers are a bit daft.

Adjustable aim lamps. These are beginning to show up on cars now, but were verbotten for years. I have a 03 Infiniti M45 that has a knob on the dash that allows me to dip the beams to compensate for extra riders in the back seat. Note this is the opposite of the MB approach, which allowed the driver to raise the beams for country driving. I had an 02 Lexus GS430 that had a system like this, but it was automatic. Curiously, it also had rear self-leveling suspension, so if the car always remained level, regardless of rear seat/trunk load, why did you need to have the headlamps self-level??? I can understand why DOT wouldn't allow driver-raiseable beams - people would raise 'em and never dip 'em. Now that headlamp aiming isn't part of a standard safety inspection, there are already enough cars on the road with headlamps all akilter.

Warning Triangles. I cannot fathom why they thought we shouldn't have this very handy and safe accessory. Besides, it just looks "cool".

Fire Extinguishers. With the exception of commercial-chassis, no US produced vehicle has ever been available with an in-cabin fire extinguisher. The only thing I can think of with this, and it does make sense, is that there are places all over the US where the external temps can rise to 115F on a regular basis. Interior temps in a car exposed to those type of values, especially a car with a dark interior, can be well over 150F. Possibly there's a risk of bursting. I've seen a few euro-spec extinguishers. They look more like spray-paint cans than our traditional US extinguishers. I would think that the $ paid out by the US insurance industry for cars that catch fire that possibly could have been saved from total loss if an extinguisher was handy would be far lower than the $ that might be paid out due to a few isolated instances of a cannister rupture. I can also see the liability involved should one of those puppies rupture in a crash, or vent off unexpectedly while driving - wouldn't be pretty. I think some of them were even Halon, which could be fatal to the driver if they were unable to vent the car quickly enough...

Headlamp washers. This also a feature that's showing up on more US cars. However, none are of the type that I think best - the mini-wiper version. Even MB has abandoned this method of lamp cleaning. While some of the new MB/Audi/Volvo "high-pressure" systems rate high on the gizmo scale (have you seen the MB ones that pop out of the bumper and hide themselves again?), the engineering behind this feature is dubious. Unless you're following a farm truck down a muddy dirt road at high speed, the grime that accumulates on headlamps isn't removable with just a spray of water, any more than I can "wash" my car by standing behind a garden hose, or a high-pressure wand at the local coin-op car wash. You gotta scrub with something. Again, maybe the European driving experience sees the average driver on more non-paved surfaces than a US driver would ever see. Most of the time, the headlamp washers were omitted here because the composite lamps were blocked, and the washers wouldn't work on the US replacement lamp assemblies.

Enough of a Saturday-morning rant. Some of the logic behind blocking items for US import is questionable. It seems to come down to how US vs German drivers are viewed. In general, German drivers are viewed as more "motor-minded", as compared to US drivers. I still wonder how many German drivers are on the road with their headlamps raised in town, using their highway horns (as opposed to city horns) to "toot" at pretty/handsome pedestrians...
W. Brian Fogarty

'12 S550 (W221)
'76 450SEL 6.9 Euro #521
'02 S55 AMG (W220) - sold
'76 450SEL 6.9 Euro #1164 - parted out

"Bond reflected that good Americans were fine people, and most of them seemed to come from Texas..." Casino Royale, Chapter V