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Why do speedometers go so high?JENNIFER ROBERTS

This week, we yield to the call of the open road. So let's hop into Collected Wisdom's infamous 1978 AMC Gremlin and see how fast this baby can go.

THE QUESTION: Why do ordinary cars have speedometers that go to twice the legal maximum speed limit? Mark Mietkiewicz of Thornhill, Ont., wants to know.

THE ANSWER: Different jurisdictions have different highway speed limits, writes Peter Viney, manager of public relations at Volkswagen Canada in Ajax, Ont. He says both France and Italy have maximum speed limits of 130 kilometres an hour, while Germany maintains stretches on some of its autobahns without any speed limit. So a vehicle sold in markets with different speed limits would most probably feature the same speedometer to reduce manufacturing complexity.

For instance, he writes, "the speedometer on a 2010 Volkswagen Golf sold in Canada ranges from 0 to 240 km/h, and is identical to that of the one sold in Germany." He adds that the top speed of most vehicles sold in Canada is electronically limited, meaning the engine's control system will cap the flow of fuel at a certain point to limit the maximum speed. "This is [usually]due to the speed rating of the original tires supplied with the vehicle when it is new."

The maximum speed of the 2010 Golf sold in Canada, for instance, is electronically limited to 209 km/h, although you can't go that fast on any public road. "However … racing and rallying enthusiasts do take their vehicles to private raceways and tracks under strictly controlled conditions" that allow them to travel at greater speeds than those posted as limits on public highways.

Patrick Girard of Ottawa notes that if the speedometer indicates a top speed (say, 200 km/h) twice as fast as the legal limit, it puts the legal limit in the middle of the dial, where it is easy to read. There is also a marketing angle, he says. "Many people, either consciously or unconsciously, believe that a car with a very high maximum speed on the speedometer is a more powerful, attractive car than one with a lower speed."

FURTHER NOTICE

In response to last week's item on why many old farmhouses are located so far from the road, Pamela Leco of Kelowna, B.C., writes: "In areas where waterways were the main transport, like Manitoba, farmland was allotted in long strips so that every farm had river access." The placement of wells was also a factor. The buildings would therefore be closer to the waterway and further away from the roads.

HELP WANTED

Why do new tires have all those little hairs on them? asks Henry Ko of Montreal.

Shelley Nickerson-Allen of Lincoln, N.B., says that if she steps on an ant at the family cottage and doesn't dispose of it right away, another ant soon comes along, picks the dead one up and carries it away. "How do they know it's there?" she asks. "What do they do with the body?"

Why, when tearing an article out of The Globe and Mail, is it possible to tear easily and virtually straight along the vertical edge, but impossible to do so horizontally? Louise Murgatroyd of Vancouver wants to know.

Send answers and questions to wisdom@globeandmail.com. Please include your name, location and a daytime phone number.