Road Trip

Recently, we had a couple of days where Mr. and Mrs. Family Trivium took turns taking a day off from work to spend with the kids before the start of another school year. It seems that we’ve all been yearning for a road trip – due to various factors, we haven’t had a real one for a couple of years.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “road trip,” coined in 1953, as “a long trip in a car, truck, etc.”

Our most recent road trip was a week-long-plus journey to, through, and from Yellowstone National Park. So far, hands-down, it has been our best family vacation. If magic is real, it certainly exists in Yellowstone. Perhaps it was this wonderful experience that has us wanting to hop in the family car and head for the mountains.

Not only can a trip through a place like Yellowstone be soul stirring, it can also be quite a learning experience as the Family Trivium kids found while completing the Junior Ranger program. This trip changed us in ways that can’t be put into words. To know it, it must be experienced.

Since Yellowstone, we’ve certainly had other, shorter drives of a few hours to visit family and to accomplish tasks not possible to do at home, but none of these were particularly life-changing (no offense Aunt Jane). We’ve had our share of out-of-town weddings where our budget ruled out four plane tickets, so we packed up the family car and took an extra day or two to take in diversions while on the road. Watching good friends take the vows and celebrate,  these trips ended up being quite fun, but a vacation with firm appointments and formal clothes is no where near as relaxing as one spent taking in the beauty of nature at your own pace in a fleece, wool socks and hiking boots or, perhaps later the same day, shorts and sandals.

On our recent days off, we had no grand adventures, but we did get out to local parks and nature preserves to take in some beautiful weather, reconnect with nature, and learn a thing or two.

Please let us know about your favorite road trip in the comments.



Our last post, about the transmission, considered the first component after the engine in a vehicle’s drive system. In this post, we will look at the differential, which, depending on the type of drive system, may be the next component. With front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, a differential is likely the next component after the transmission – with these systems, it is actually, generally, part of the transmission (or transaxle – more on this later).

In the context of machinery, defines a differential as “an epicyclic train of gears designed to permit two or more shafts to rotate at different speeds, as a set of gears in an automobile permitting the rear wheels to be driven at different speeds when the car is turning.” Not specifically referring to its usage as part of an automobile, the word came into usage between 1640 and 1650, from Medieval Latin “differentiālis.”

As noted in the definition, the differential is important when a vehicle is turning. If a vehicle was not able to have the inner and outer tire rotate at different speeds when turning, the inside wheel would need to slip. Generally, we don’t want our tires to slip – we want them to maintain traction.

In a front-wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive vehicle, the differential goes between the two drive wheels, allowing the the outside wheel to rotate at a greater speed than the inside wheel while cornering. The other two wheels (we’ll assume that we’re talking about 4-wheeled vehicles) are “just along for the ride.”

In an all-wheel drive vehicle, there is a differential between each pair of drive wheels, the front pair and the rear pair. Traditionally, there is also a differential between the two pairs of drive wheels. That is a front-to-back differential that allows the front wheels to rotate at a different speed than the rear wheels. This can be useful as the vehicle navigates a road where traction conditions change linearly, such as might be found in wet or winter driving.

In a four-wheel drive vehicle, there isn’t usually a center differential, so the front and rear pairs of drive wheels are somewhat forced to rotate at the same speed. Rather, than a center differential, a four-wheel drive vehicle will have a transfer case, which we’ll examine more closely in a future post. There are some transfer cases with an all-wheel drive mode which does introduce a center differential – it is likely to also have a traditional 4WD mode which would lock the drive wheel pairs into rotating at the same speed.

Our family Subaru has AWD with three differentials: one between the front wheels, one between the rear wheels, and one between the two pairs. Our Toyota has 4WD with two differentials: one in the front and one in the back, and a transfer case in the middle. When not in 4WD, it is, functionally, a rear-wheel drive vehicle, with all of the power being sent through the transmission, through the transfer case, through a drive shaft, to the rear differential before being distributed to the two rear wheels.

With transmissions, we’ve developed a solid preference for automatics. When it comes to AWD versus 4WD, we don’t have a clear preference. AWD takes no human intervention to activate, but 4WD gives the feeling of control. Either way we’re certainly glad to have a differential, or two or three, for routine driving conditions.


Lately, we’ve looked at the SUV, AWD, and 4WD – the conveyances we use to take us on our weekend adventures as well as through daily life. Earlier this year, we looked at the engine, but between that and the road are a few other components that are part of automobiles, whether they are AWD SUVs or front-wheel drive coupes.

The first component after the engine is the transmission. In the context of machinery, such as an automobile, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the transmission as “an assembly of parts including the speed-changing gears and the propeller shaft by which the power is transmitted from an engine to a live axle.” As part of a motorized vehicle, the Online Etymology Dictionary dates the use of the word to 1894.

One particular thing of which to be aware, with respect to transmissions, is that there are two basic types: manual and automatic.

With a manual transmission, the vehicle driver must change the gears. In this process the driver will typically manipulate the clutch using a foot pedal to modulate the input of power from the engine into the transmission. Using their hand, the driver will move a shift lever to select which gear is being used. It may seem like an involved process, but it really only requires basic hand-eye coordination (actually hand and foot coordination – your eyes should be on the road) and it can be fun.

An automatic transmission takes care of the gear shifting for the driver. It used to be that the compromise that came with the convenience of an automatic transmission was that a vehicle would achieve lower fuel economy. With modern automatic transmissions, this compromise no longer exists; in many cases, a given vehicle with an automatic transmission is now achieving a higher fuel economy rating than the same model equipped with a manual transmission.

It has been quite a while since we have had a vehicle with a manual transmission in the Family Trivium household. They are increasingly difficult to find, and, as noted earlier, can no longer give a good argument with respect to fuel economy. While Mr. Family Trivium used to be a serious manual transmission devotee, he has slowly been pulled over to the Mrs. Family Trivium’s side of the automatic. If you have a preference, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.


Our family recently replaced an older car with a new sport-utility vehicle, or SUV. Our other automobile is also an SUV. In this post we’ll look at this vehicle type, of which we have grown so fond.

Looking for definitions and etymology for this word, we found quite a variety:

a rugged automotive vehicle similar to a station wagon but built on a light-truck chassis
Merrian-Webster Dictionary

 a rugged vehicle with a trucklike chassis and four-wheel drive, designed for occasional off-road use.

Merriam Webster indicates that the phrase was coined in 1978, while the Online Etymology Dictionary, not necessarily disagreeing says that the abbreviation, “SUV,” was in use “by 1988.” puts the phrase’s origin between 1990 and 1995.

What we take from all of this is that the phrase generally refers to a rugged automobile built on a truck (or “trucklike”) chassis. It is likely to have a body similar to a station wagon and be equipped with four-wheel drive. The phrase, and its abbreviation, was likely coined between the 1970s and 1990s.

By this definition, it turns out that only one of our family vehicles is actually an SUV. Our Toyota has four-wheel drive, is built with a station wagon-like body bolted to a separate truck-like frame. On the other hand, our new Subaru has all-wheel drive, and though it has a station wagon-like body, it is based on a car chassis. While our Subaru seems more rugged than the Focus it replaced, it’s difficult to argue that it is as rugged as our Toyota.

In his article, SUV – Sport-Utility Vehicle at, Jason Fogelson notes that modern SUVs are sometimes based on a car platform referred to as a unibody chassis – this is were there is no separate frame and body. In some circles these vehicles may be differentiated by calling them crossovers, crossover-utility vehicles, or CUVs.

Whatever they’re called, we’re found of our rugged, station wagon-like 4WD/AWD vehicles. Relatively new, both provide satisfyingly good fuel economy. The Subaru even does better than the old Focus that it replaced. The thing that we like the most is how well they facilitate our frequent outdoor endeavors camping, hiking, cycling, and more.


Yesterday, we discussed all-wheel drive (AWD). Our family recently acquired a vehicle with this feature for Mrs. Family Trivium, while her old four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle was handed down to Mr. Family Trivium.

Turning again to, we find four-wheel drive to be defined as “a drive system in which engine power is transmitted to all four wheels for improved traction,” with the term first known to have been used between 1925 and 1930.

We look back to our post on AWD, and’s definition: “a system used in motor vehicles in which all four (or more) wheels are permanently connected to the source of power, in such a way that each wheel is able to rotate at a different speed.” We see that the difference is that AWD is permanent and allows each wheel to rotate at different speeds.

In the case of our two vehicles, the one with 4WD has a shifter for placing it into 4WD mode (there are actually 2 4WD modes, but that is the topic of another post). When it is not in 4WD, the vehicle is rear-wheel drive (RWD). This alone would have helped with the low-traction situation at camp as the 3 growing campers and gear would have been over the drive wheels. Even in the winter, in RWD mode, this vehicle was able to get around better than Mr. Family Trivium’s outgoing FWD vehicle. Mrs. Family Trivium really only needed to put it into 4WD a few times to gain traction in winter driving, like when driving in unplowed snow over 6 inched deep. With her new vehicle, there is no need to worry about engaging a different mode as the AWD system automatically sends power to the wheels with traction.

Why would a person want a vehicle with 4WD or AWD? Our family acquired our first AWD vehicle when Mrs. Family Trivium had a job where she was expected to report for work even if there was two feet of snow on the ground – she did indeed commute through this amount snow very shortly after the purchase was made. Meanwhile, Mr. Family Trivium was home bound, but had a more flexible work schedule at that time. While Mrs. Family Trivium has since moved to a different job, she is still expected to report under all weather conditions, as is Mr. Family Trivium, who is also essentially on call 24/7-365. Working on two different ends of town, two different directions from home, carpooling is inconvenient – we’ve done it.

So 4WD and AWD can hep power through deep snow, but does it have any other uses. It certainly could have helped on the steep, muddy road into camp last month. Yes, 4WD and AWD helps us get to the places where we so enjoy recreating. Mr. Family Trivium and kids are looking forward to getting to those sometimes difficult to reach trailheads during winter break this coming school year.

All-Wheel Drive

After a seemingly torturous drive to and from camp last month, Mr. Family Trivium was finally convinced that the time had come to get a new car. His Ford Focus is a lightweight, front-wheel drive (FWD) vehicle, with a lightweight engine and transmission over the drive wheels, and no traction control. Even with new tires, it is a challenge to drive in the snow and performed at least as badly on the dirt (mud at the time) road in and out of camp. A feature that would mitigate these conditions is all-wheel drive (AWD).

According to, all-wheel drive is defined as “a system used in motor vehicles in which all four (or more) wheels are permanently connected to the source of power, in such a way that each wheel is able to rotate at a different speed.” In other words, an all-wheel drive system should be capable of sending power to the wheel(s) with traction.

In the front-wheel drive Focus, with camping gear in the trunk and 3 growing children in the back seat, the weight, thus the traction, was in the back rather than the front where power was being sent. Fortunately the road was dry enough to make an escape on the last day of camp. It helped that we were also loaded down with one less camper.

So, did Mr. Family Trivium trade in his Focus for a new car? Kinda. He did trade in his Focus and Mrs. Family Trivium is driving a new car – this is the way of life. Mrs. Family Trivium is happily driving a new AWD vehicle while Mr. Family Trivium is happily driving a 4-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicle handed down from Mrs. Family Trivium.

We’ll cover 4WD in another post, but rest assured that it, and AWD, can both help get us to the trailheads deeper into the wilderness, where we love to explore and learn as a family. Indeed, some of our favorite not-so-wild local trailheads were inaccessible in the Focus on many winter days. By way of AWD, 4WD, FWD, RWD, however you get there, we hope you’ll find an opportunity to get out and enjoy nature sometime soon.