A 7 year old asks, "Why do speedometers go up to 120 mph?"

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 2008

Dear Tom and Ray:

My name is Daniel. I drive a 2005 Escalade (OK, it's a toy car). I am 7 years old. Here is my question: Why do the speedometers in cars go up to 120 mph, when you are only allowed to go 65 mph?

-- Daniel

RAY: Great question, Daniel. To answer it, we have to give you a lesson in advertising.

TOM: A lot of advertising is done by implication. That means they may not be able to actually SAY something, because it isn't true. But they can SUGGEST it.

RAY: A carmaker may not be able to SAY that a car goes 120 mph, because it doesn't. But it can put a speedometer in the car that goes up to 120 mph. That IMPLIES that the car can go that fast.

TOM: And that's supposed to make you say: "Wow, this car can go 120 mph. It must be good!"

RAY: But smart people -- like you, Daniel -- will say to yourself: "I live in civilization. Where could I ever drive 120 mph? I can't! So, why do I need a car that can go that fast?" Then you'll look past the advertising to things that really matter -- like whether it's well-built, gets good gas mileage, is the right size for you and is safe.

TOM: To give you another example of implied advertising, take a look at the box that your morning breakfast cereal comes in. What's on the box? An athlete?

RAY: The implied message is, "If you eat this cereal, you'll be able to play baseball or football just like this athlete." Of course that's not true, because you'll be too fat from eating candy disguised as breakfast cereal every morning. So they don't SAY it, they just IMPLY it.

TOM: So, you're a very wise young man to notice that, Daniel. And if you want to learn more about tricks like these, send me $25, and I'll send you our pamphlet, which will instantly make you as smart as two guys who write a car column in the newspaper.

RAY: That was a test, Daniel. (1) There is no such pamphlet, and (2) you're already smarter than we are.

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