Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More Crazy Russian Dashcam Videos

Dashcams are becoming increasingly popular across the globe. Photo credit: Steven Symes

Anyone who is a big auto enthusiast knows Russians love their dashcams. There are a number of reasons why this is, including that they use it for evidence against the prevalent insurance fraud in the country, to help identifying would-be carjackers and for protection against unlawful actions by the police.

There are numerous dashcam videos of near misses between cars and pedestrians in Russia. Sometimes these near misses have been the result of drivers not stopping at crosswalks. Often the incident is a combination of icy roads and cars/drivers incapable of stopping in time. This video is a perfect example of that kind of near miss:

Another thing that's unique to these dashcam videos: Russians love to leave their cameras in their cars and running while the car is unattended. These videos have caught people running their cars into the parked vehicle as well as the actions of vandals and would-be thieves. Sometimes these Russian dashcam videos from parked cars capture other, non-car incidents like this:

Crazy stuff, I know.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Aston Martin Rapide Wagon

Before any of you start having a heart attack and go visit your local Aston Martin dealership to see this car in person, let me tell you that the car you see pictured above is a custom, one-off job ordered by an Aston Martin collector. The collector worked with Bertone, who is famous for modifying these exotic rides from England, turning a stock Rapide S into a high performance wagon.

For reasons that are really beyond me, Americans don't like wagons. I've read theories about how it was a push-back against the land yacht wagons of the 1970s, with minivans winning out as women didn't want to drive what their mother already had. That theory also helps explain the proliferation of crossovers -- those ridicuous wanna-be SUVs that would get stuck in about five minutes of off-road driving.

Personally, I think wagons are fantastic, but I've owned one and through said ownership learned the virtues of wagons. They handle tight, unlike SUVs, meaning you can take corners faster and negotiate the twisty canyons that are all around my home with ease. Wagons also hold an obscene amount of cargo. Once I had a bellhop exclaim his disbelief at how much luggage I squeezed into the back of our wagon.

In any case, back to this Aston Martin super wagon. It comes with the same V12 engine that comes in the current Rapide S, which puts out a thunderous 476 horsepower directed to the rear wheels. As you can imagine, this wagon can probably do one hell of a burnout in the right hands. Oh, the official name of the wagon is the Aston Martin Rapide Bertone Jet 2+2. Gotta love some of the boring names people pick.

Confession time: I know a lot of people really love Aston Martins, but I just don't find them all that lust-worthy. The James Bond movies were pretty much banned in my house when I was growing up, so I didn't spend my youth yearning to be like the British spy who so often drove Aston Martins. I know to some people this is the equivalent of automotive blasphemy, but this wagon looks pretty damn funky, like on the level of the Porsche Panamera. It has a bubble butt and kind of reminds me of an SUV that's been squished by a steamroller. That being said, I always though the Dodge Magnum was a funky-looking wagon, but thos did bring it when it came to high performance (especially the SRT-8 models). Frankly I would rather have a 2013 Audi RS6 Avant, which puts out over 550 horsepower and is much lighter. I know it's not as exclusive as the Aston Martin, but I care more about having fun in a car than making everyone think I'm loaded. Alas, Americans' hatred of wagons means Audi for now isn't bringing the RS6 Avant to the United States -- not like I could afford one at the present moment anyway.

So what do you all think of this Aston Martin wagon? 
2013 Audi RS6 Avant

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Irrelevance of "Buy American Only"

2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Photo courtesy General Motors

I remember when I was a kid there was a huge push in the United States against Japanese vehicles. My family formerly owned a big Ford LTD station wagon that was a hunk of junk, so there was little love for domestic cars in our household. In fact all but one car we owned were Japanese and were super reliable. I would watch the news at night and see videos of rallies at different domestic car dealerships across the country where people literally bashed in Toyota Camrys and Honda Civics with baseball bats and monster trucks as a way of taking out their frustration for what American automakers claimed was "unfair business practices." At the time I was puzzled about why people were so outraged.

In the end it has been proven that Japanese automakers weren't engaging in unscrupulous business practices and instead were doing some rather innovative things. Still, American automakers leaned heavily on people's patriotic sensibilities, saying that buying American-made automobiles was the patriotic thing to do.

A lot has changed since then, although some people haven't gotten the memo that the term "buy American" is pretty much irrelevant at this point. The fact is that many "foreign" cars are manufactured in America and there are even some "American" cars that are manufactured elsewhere.

2013 Honda Pilot. Photo courtesy American Honda Motor Co.

Case in point: the Honda Pilot and Ridgeline. Both are large vehicles made just for the North American market, and both are manufactured at Honda's factory located in Lincoln, Alabama. German automaker BMW has a plant in South Carolina while its rival Mercedes-Benz has a large plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I could go on, but hopefully you get the point. These factories are staffed by American workers on American soil. Some of the vehicles manufactured in them have been designed and engineered by Americans, which is a smart move considering Americans know pretty well what appeals to Americans.

Conversely, there are many examples of "American" cars that are made outside of this country. The Chevrolet Camaro is a prime example of this, with the current generation being manufactured in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. I should note that General Motors has announced the next generation of the pony car will be made in Michigan once more. Still, there are other "American" cars manufactured elsewhere (like the new Chevrolet SS, which will be made in Australia). 

So the next time someone tries to guilt you into "buying American" to show your patriotism, remember that they are just ill-informed about the current automotive manufacturing business.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is Buying a Smart Fortwo a Smart Idea?

2013 smart forjeremy, a winged version of the fortwo. Photo courtesy Daimler Group

I remember several years ago the huge fury of enthusiasm Daimler whipped up here in the United States just before introducing its smart fortwo mini-car. It's a subtle yet significant marketing strategy that Daimler does not capitalize the first letters in "smart" or "fortwo" as if to stress the diminutive nature of the car. Conversely, BMW insists on capitalizing all of the letters in "MINI" like it has some complex with building mini-cars, which would explain why MINIs have been steadily growing in size over the past several years.

But back to the smart car marketing push. I noticed so many people I knew who didn't normally care about cars start to become extremely excited about the fortwo. The smart fortwo was like the anti-car here in the United States, a tiny little thing that didn't boast power or performance prestige but instead a small price tag and huge fuel mileage promises. Funny enough, in my own anecdotal experience the hype has died down significantly since the fortwo launched in the U.S. for the 2008 model year. The novelty of the car seems to  have worn off.

I occasionally see a fortwo on the roads around here and my kids ask excitedly what the toy car next to us is. As I drive past the smart I wonder to myself how happy the person driving it is, particularly if he has owned the car for a while . Maybe it's just me, but the smart fortwo seems like a wonderfully impractical vehicle.

A long time ago I used to own a Honda CRX. It only had two seats, but the car was literally like driving a go-cart (no power steering included) and got incredible gas mileage. Unlike the smart fortwo, it had a big hatch with a large cargo area I could load up with all sorts of things. The fortwo has just seven cubic feet of storage space with the passenger seat upright. The interior is actually fairly spacious considering how small the car is, with even someone my size able to sit in it comfortably (I'm over six feet tall).

In this day-and-age I and many other car shoppers consider certain creature comforts as necessities in cars. In particular I wouldn't buy a car without air conditioning or a radio, but if you want to buy a base smart fortwo those are considered options you're going to have to shell out for. Not that there aren't other cars on the market that are the same way, mind you.

People buy a smart fortwo for economical reasons, and while it does achieve an EPA estimated 34 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway, it isn't like that's out of the range of competing vehicles. Fueling the fortwo does cost more since it takes premium fuel, something that negates some of the money you save from the increased fuel mileage.

If you think you'll get a smart fortwo for commuting on the highway, you should definitely reconsider your plan. There's a reason why the fortwo is called a city car, since its top speed is limited to just 90 mph. The car also struggles to get up to freeway speeds and is easily "pushed" to the side by semis and other large vehicles pushing the air as they pass the car.

In the city the fortwo does provide a surprisingly peppy ride, making you forget that it only has a 1-liter three-cylinder engine. Its incredibly tiny size means you can easily park next to the jerk who double-parks his BMW, making finding a parking spot a breeze. One huge drawback of the car is its transmission: a five-speed automated manual that sends power to the rear wheels. As  puts it, it is "one of the worst transmissions on the market today" since it is anything but smooth, giving both driver and passenger a herky-jerky ride at any speed.

2013 Chevrolet Sonic. Photo courtesy GM
If I were looking for a city car I would have to say the smart fortwo wouldn't make my list of potential purchases. Instead, I would be looking at the Scion IQ, which is every bit as small but without the negative issues of the fortwo. There's also the Fiat 500 for those who want some style in their ride as well as more engaging driving fun (especially with the Abarath version of the car). Other good options include the Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent and the Chevrolet Sonic (GM has finally learned how to build good small cars). All of these vehicles are going to provide the ability to commute on the highway, carry more cargo and a much smoother and refined ride.

2013 Ford Fiesta. Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Ten Most Annoying (And Dangerous) Driving Practices

Photo credit: Bud Adams, stock.xchng

Everyone who drives around a city for any period of time knows there are other drivers who do things that are damn annoying. I'm sure we can all list off our driving pet peeves, especially after a long rush hour commute. The problem is that some of these annoying habits are actually pretty dangerous, for the person doing them as well as any occupants in their car and in other cars around them. These are the ten most annoying driving habits (according to yours truly) that everyone should work hard to avoid.

10. Not using your turn signal. I know sometimes people forget to hit their signal, but all in all I've noticed some drivers habitually signal while others rarely or never do. Around where I live signaling is actually consciously avoided by many, even though it is a ticket-worthy traffic offense. I've asked people why they don't signal and  they have explained to me that signaling means others will close up a gap in an adjacent lane so they can't get over. I've had that happen to me, but not signaling can mean other cars think they're going to go for that gap, rushing into the gap at the same time as you. Also, I really can't stand when someone suddenly slams on their brakes and then makes a turn into a driveway or intersecting road. Signaling lets me know that person is going to be applying the brakes, allowing me to do the same before they make their turn.

9. Not allowing others to transition lanes or merge. This is a major habit around here and one that drives me absolutely nuts! When I drive in the South I'm always amazed how courteous everyone is when it comes to lane transitions and merging, sometimes even literally waving me in once I put my turn signal on. I've seen traffic study after traffic study that shows cutting others off, refusing to let  in cars from a lane that's ending, etc. actually makes traffic stack up. Stop being a jerk and let people in your lane so the traffic flows smoother for everyone! On the same note don't be that jerk who hops out of one lane that is clogged up, goes into the adjacent lane that's ending shortly up the road, and purposely drive all the way to the end so you can muscle your way further ahead in the line. It's called courtesy and respect, people; if you want to be treated with it you need to give it out.

8. Driving slow in passing lanes. I've noticed this seems to be more popular in rural areas or suburbs. The left lanes on a freeway or highway are generally for passing. This means if you aren't going faster than the traffic in the other lanes, move over and make way for those who are! I've heard some people explain that they travel slower in the left lane because they want to keep others from breaking the speed limit. That practice is incredibly self-righteous and misguided. The police are there to enforce the speed limits, not you. I've also heard from people that they were taught the left lanes are made for anyone who's going to be on the freeway for a long time, which is just plain ridiculous. Turtle drivers, move it to the right!

2012 Jaguar XKR-S. Photo courtesy Jaguar USA
7. Speeding around in the snow. I've already talked about this one before in another blog post, but it's worth bringing up again. I've noticed there are three types of vehicles I see speeding around during or after a huge snowstorm: 4x4s, all-wheel-drive vehicles and economy cars. I get that there are quite a few morons who think their four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive will help them not spin or slide out of control on a snowy road, but let me tell you that your tires are much bigger determining factors on whether you'll lose control on slick roads than how many wheels receive power from the transmission. I can also tell you from experience that all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive vehicles behave much better in snow if you go at a moderate speed. Why so many people in economy cars speed around in the snow baffles me. The only thing I can think of is economy cars are popular with younger drivers who haven't realized they're mortal and that driving with the accelerator constantly mashed to the floor is not the way to drive.

6. Not clearing snow, ice or frost from your car. After every snow storm I see morons driving around with a vehicle that looks like it is made entirely of snow, like they made a snowmanmobile or something ridiculous like that. In reality these people were too damn lazy to brush the snow off their car. I also regularly see people driving around with ice or frost covering their windows, except for a small clear patch at the bottom of the windshield. You can't really see where you're going like that, so scrape the stuff off your car before you drive off or wait for the defroster to clear up the windows. With snow, you need to brush off all you can from your vehicle before you start driving. Snow on your hood will fly up against the windshield, making it hard for you to see where you're going. Snow on your roof will fly onto the windshield of the car behind you. Stop being lazy, buy a little five dollar brush and scraper and clear off your car before you kill someone!

5. Driving in other cars' blind spots. This is the worst when you are driving a larger vehicle, like a van, SUV or truck. Every vehicle has blind spots -- anyone who doesn't think so needs to learn a thing or two about driving. As a general rule of thumb if you can see the the other driver's face in their side mirror then they can see you. Even better, just avoid driving near the back corners of vehicles in parallel lanes. Some newer cars from companies like Volvo and Mercedes-Benz come with a blind spot indicator system that lets drivers know if something is in the vehicle's blind spot, but it's best to just avoid blind spots and stay where you can easily be seen.

4. Cutting off large trucks. I've driven a wide variety of vehicles, and the hardest ones to drive are the big trucks. I haven't driven a semi truck, but I have driven the largest delivery-style trucks I can without getting a commercial drivers license. These trucks have massive blind spots, don't handle well at all and must be driven with extreme caution. One thing that I've noticed about quite a few other drivers on the road (especially ones in compact cars) is that they don't get these huge trucks can't stop on a dime. People seriously don't understand Newton's Laws because when a truck that's hauling around a few tons of equipment, merchandise, furniture or whatever tries to stop it takes that truck a long time to completely halt its forward progress. The worst is when you are approaching a red light and you start breaking extra early (as you should) and little cars take your slowing down as an invitation to pull in front of you. The problem is that you aren't planning on stopping a good ten or so feet sooner, and slamming on the brakes can cause you to lose control of the truck, meaning you might not be able to stop in time. It's a dangerous thing to cut off another vehicle, especially when that vehicle weighs at least a good ten times more than yours and has a solid steel front bumper. Treat large trucks with respect and give them plenty of space on the road.

3. Honking at a car after it honks at you. Everyone makes mistakes on the road -- we're all human. Sometimes you need to beep your horn if a car doesn't see yours and you are trying to avoid a crash. What I just hate is when I hit my horn not out of anger but to avoid an accident, and then the other driver lays on theirs because they're angry at me. What the hell do they have to be angry about? If you're just helping avoid a car accident they should be grateful, maybe embarrassed that they screwed up, but still grateful. Instead these people choose to honk back like that'll teach you to let them know you were there. I've seen these situations turn into a honking war and then a shouting match that can spiral out of control from there. If someone honks at you, analyze why they may be honking, make any needed corrections to your driving and move on. Swallow that pride and just don't honk back like a class-A jerk, even if you think the other driver is overreacting.

2. Tailgating cars in front of you. This is one of the most annoying driving habits. When I have a car driving behind me and I cannot see its headlights in my mirrors I know that person is driving way too close. I guess some people think hunkering up to the rear bumper on your car will make you drive as fast as they want, but I actually slow down to make a point. It's even more annoying when you have multiple lanes of traffic going in your direction and there are no other cars around, yet someone still comes up from behind and tailgates you. Perhaps these people think they have lightning fast reflexes and their car has monster brake calipers and rotors, but I would love for them to explain that theory to the cops and their insurance company after they eat another car's tailpipe.

Some brainless person invented a steering wheel mount for iPads!
1.Texting, talking and webbing. this ranks as my biggest pet peeve: other drivers who use their phone or tablet device while they are driving a vehicle! Studies have shown that texting while driving is just as dangerous as driving drunk, yet people who would never get behind the wheel after having a few drinks regularly type away while speeding down the road! I can't tell you how many times I've almost been hit by someone who suddenly swerves on the road or does some other erratic maneuver, only to see that person holding a phone or tablet. Enough is enough, people! If you can't be inconvenienced by actually driving your car, leave it at home and hop the train or bus, where you can text your social butterfly heart out until your fingers become bloody little stumps!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Koenigsegg is Teasing Something...

Swedish automaker Koenigsegg makes some of the most amazing production cars in the world, and now it's teasing something good (read: carbon fiber) for the Geneva Motor Show 2013. Automakers usually tease new vehicles either by showing a silhouette of the car or a closeup of one part. Koenigsegg has chosen to show a cryptic closeup. All we get for now is some exterior part of a car that shows off carbon fiber with a clear coat and yellow racing stripes. The company is inviting everyone to celebrate 0 - 100 -10 with it at the show. Let the speculation begin!

Koenigsegg is known for making high-output engines coupled with cars that make extensive use of light-weight carbon fiber. Since racing stripes generally go down the middle of a car, it's likely the photo is of a car's hood or roof. Last year at the Geneva Motor Show Koenigsegg showed off the second generation of the Agera R. It's possible the auto company will be showing off an example of the future supercar One:1 or the Agera R Hundra to outdo the 2013 Agera R from last year.

I guess we'll all have to stare lustily at the teaser image above and wait for the big reveal at the Geneva Motor Show, unless Koenigsegg feels inclined to give us more teaser images to lust after before the big reveal.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The 2014 BMW 3-Series Gran Turismo: An Economy Car Redesigned

BMW has been playing with a version of their sedans, what they're calling a "GT" or "Gran Turismo." First there was the 5-Series Gran Turismo, which looks and drives like a 5-Series with a bloated rear end. Honda copied the idea with its Crosstour (it used to be the Accord Crosstour, but that was changed).

Nobody was surprised when BMW revealed the 3-Series Gran Turismo, but one thing that's buzzing on car enthusiast sites is just how much it looks like the 2003 Hyundai Elantra GT. Critics are having a heyday with this, meanwhile many a BMW faithful is hiding his face with shame. I remember back in the 90s BMW had some of the best designs around, but for the past ten years or so they have been more hit-and-miss. I think the 6-Series lineup may be the only thing that's redeeming the Bavarian's designs at the moment.

Do you think there's a resemblance between the Hyundai and the Bimmer? 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The 1971 AMC AMX/3

It's surprising to me how many younger people have no idea there was an American car manufacturer called AMC or American Motor Corporation. It's history is quite interesting as AMC battled it out with the Big 3, including the period that Mitt Romney's father headed up the company. In the end it had a sad and painful demise, which seems to be the way most automakers end up perishing.

Back in the late 1960s the muscle war was heating up in the United States. AMC was losing badly to legendary cars like the Plymouth Barracuda and Chevrolet Corvette. AMC struck back with the Javelin and AMX, which had fairly good success. In the middle of this war AMC released one hell of a prototype super car: the 1971 AMX/3. Instead of making something to compete with Corvettes, AMC had produced something to compete with the likes of the Ford GT40.

The 1971 AMC AMX/3 came with a V-8 engine that produced about 340 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque. The car handled well for its time with a double wishbone suspension in both the front and rear as well as anti-roll bars and tubular shock absorbers, impressing journalists who were able to go for a ride in it. The AMX/3 would never see a production line as safety and emission standards in the US were raised. AMC abandoned the project to concentrate on updating its existing cars to keep up with the raised standards. Only six AMX/3s are in existence today, making them truly a rare bird.

Volkswagen Polo R WRC Just-the-Car Footage, 2013 Rally Sweden

Monday, February 11, 2013

PZEV: the Acronym That Means Nothing

Have you ever been driving along, stopped at a red light and noticed the car in front of you has a "PZEV" badge on its rear end? Quite a few people see the badge and at least casually wonder what it means. Is it the trim level for the car? A special feature? Maybe it's a super-secret type of turbo?

In reality PZEV is none of those things. It is an acronym, one that really doesn't mean much of anything (if you ask me).

PZEV stands for Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle. I know what a zero emissions vehicle is, like the Nissan Leaf or the Tesla Model S. Those cars don't emit anything out of their tailpipe (they don't even have one). That means the car itself produces zero air pollution. Does a PZEV car only produce a partial air pollution? It seems to me that a car either produces air pollution or emissions or it doesn't. I always learned in math that dividing zero by any number didn't result in a partial zero.

Of course the whole thing was created by politicians, who are experts are creating nonsense. Essentially a PZEV has beefed up emissions controls that are warrantied for 150,000 miles or 15 years. The idea is that the vehicles will pollute less. I haven't found any information that either confirms or debunks that they do indeed reduce pollution like hybrids or electric vehicles.

So why do automakers produce PZEV vehicles? The state of California gives any automaker that sells PZEVs ZEV credits. I'm not going to get into all the intricacies of the system, since again it was created by lawmakers and would consist of too many boring bedtime stories (in the middle of the day, because it's just so boring it would put even a room of college professors to sleep). If an automaker doesn't have ZEV credits it can't sell cars in California. There are other ways to earn these credits, and automakers with excess credits can sell them. But really the incentive is to produce PZEVs to continue selling cars in a huge car market. Any automaker that would allow themselves to get pushed out of California deserves to die.

So that's what a PZEV is: a partial zero or a mathematical impossibility (because everyone knows dividing  zero will result in tearing the space-time continuum).

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Stick Shift Nostalgia

Photo credit: Myles Davidson, stock.xchng

I have mixed feelings about what seems to be the inevitable demise of the stick shift. The first car I drove regularly was an automatic Honda Prelude. It ran and ran, but other than a sunroof there was absolutely nothing fun about the car. It wasn't until I bought my first car (you know, one with my name on the title) that I finally had a stick shift that provided much more driving fun. I had attempted to drive stick shift a few times before that, but in all honesty the people who were "helping" me were too busy shouting and acting like an ape that had been stung in the ass by a bee.

Once I bought my very first car with a stick shift I knew I needed to learn how to really drive it. I could drive stick fairly aggressively with no problem, revving the gears and popping the clutch hard. I also knew that driving my car that way all the time would be hell on the clutch and transmission. I needed to learn how to drive a stick smoothly. Instead of turning to the screechy teachers, I was determined to just teach myself. Fortunately I had a sloped driveway, so I pointed the nose of my car uphill and practiced driving it up the hill, popping the car into neutral and letting it roll back down the hill, and then driving it back up the hill again. I did this for hours until I could get the car going without the engine stalling or the tires chirping. Once I had starting from a standstill down, I drove around the city for hours to perfect my transitions between gears.

Sadly I haven't had a stick shift in a while. Most bigger, nicer cars don't seem to have them even as an option anymore, unless you're buying a sports car or GT. I have to admit that driving with kids would make a stick shift a little much. But I really miss the fun of determining when the car switches gears. My Saab had a function that allowed me to shift gears manually. At first I was skeptical, but over time I learned that it was the next best thing to having an actual stick shift. Still, I would have loved to have had the ability to pop the clutch in that car and spin the tires like crazy. Downshifting from third to second spooled the turbo to a fury, rocketing the car forward with a mighty burst of speed. I can only imagine with a stick the fun that could have been.

Since then I have test driven some stick shift cars, most notably a MINI Cooper. The guy at the BMW dealership where I drove the MINI was a little scared when we pulled out of the parking lot. I thought he was concerned I was cornering too fast (those cars really do hug the turns, which I loved). After driving a few blocks he made a comment, something like "Wow, I'm glad you can actually drive stick. Most people claim they can and then they either grind the gears like crazy or stall the engine out!"

Driving stick is definitely a dying art form. I have a notion to buy a small old car with a stick and restore it, just so I can keep up on my skills and so I can teach my children the joy of popping out the clutch while revving the engine just so. Plus learning to drive stick means a person can drive pretty much anything, which can be a huge advantage in a pinch.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What Automakers Can Learn From Harley Davidson

The 2013 Iron 883. Photo courtesy Harley Davidson.

The story of American motorcycle manufacturer Harley Davidson is a truly fascinating one. If you ever have the chance to read up on it or watch a quality documentary on the subject you will understand what I'm talking about. Like some automakers, Harley Davidson has been on the verge of utter collapse before, but in recent years it has enjoyed greater prosperity.

I would argue that automakers could learn much from Harley Davidson's example. One lesson to be learned is the value of offering some back-to-basics models. Like many cars, Harley Davidson motorcycles throughout the years have become more technologically advanced. I see nothing wrong with that per se (I remember when it was a crap shot whether a car would start on the first try during cold weather). The thing is, many vehicle manufacturers have decided their vehicles have to become huge hulks with tons of chrome (or other shiny materials). It's happened to the BMW M3, MINI Cooper quite a few other cars.

Harley has been offering some stripped-down, back-to-basics motorcycles that don't have all the flashy bling-bling garbage you find on some of their other bikes. They look tough, sleeker and more like the old school motorcycles that are legendary. These motorcycles cost less, weigh less and get better gas mileage. I remember the first time I saw the Cross Bones I thought it was one of the coolest new motorcycles I had seen in years. Harley has continued producing these basic throwback bikes, providing a no-nonsense ride, and people are responding. The 2013 Harley Davidson Iron 883 is one of the newest iterations of this philosophy, with a starting price of just below $8,000 U.S.

There are some automakers who are following this example. The Dodge Challenger employs wonderful technology (like a multilink rear suspension) while still delivering a cool retro experience and performance not weighted down by too much bulk, chrome and bling. What cars do you think are offering this same philosophy? Which ones do you think have lost their way in a bloated bling fest?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Top Gear Season 19, Episode 2

Car Myths Abound

Some cars, like my Saab 9-3, can go over 10,000 miles between oil changes.

We've all heard them, maybe even grew up believing them. Sadly some adults are still fully committed to them. I'm talking about car myths, of course. I've studied car culture on a collegiate level, and I have to say the myths about cars are some of the most fascinating things about car culture group dynamics. What really fascinates me is that there is such an abundance of information to refute these claims, but in some ways this proliferation of information has made people believe the myths even more (remember, don't trust the system!).

Here's a sampling of some of the most interesting and frustrating myths. I have to admit I have at one time or another believed a few of these, but then I saw the light. Enjoy.

1. Not changing your engine oil every 3,000 miles will cause engine damage. Oh as a new car owner I fell for this one hook, line and sinker! I also fell for all the additional oil treatments and other oil-related services places like Jiffy Lube threw at me. I wanted my beautiful car to run beautifully forever, like some sort of an immortal machine bathed in a the Fountain of Youth. The thing I didn't understand was I was wasting my money and lining the pockets of big oil companies. This point was especially driven home to me when I bought my Saab and read in the owner's manual that, using a specific brand of synthetic oil, the car could go well over 10,000 miles between oil changes! Read your car's owners manual thoroughly and follow the manufacturer's advice over the pushy "help" of an oil change place. Or better yet, ditch the oil change places and either do it yourself or hire a competent mechanic -- which leads me to my next point.

2. Oil change places (lube shops) are great for getting a quick oil change. I fell for this one as well, like I said above. The fact is that most of these places don't make much just off changing your oil. It's the add-on services these places push so hard that keep them in business. I am convinced that you are often made to wait longer than necessary for a quick oil change to wear you down so you'll agree to stupid servicing your car doesn't need. What really got me was once when I was at one of these places the guy had the balls to come out with a dirty stock air filter and tell me I needed a new one. The only problem was my car had an aftermarket high performance air filter you can wash and oil up again! The other problem with these quick lube stops: most of them do not have insurance. That means if Jimmy, the guy who makes minimum wage and has no mechanic training or certification, forgets to reinstall your car's oil plug or pan you're out of luck when the engine seizes. At a reputable mechanic shop your car is covered for such slip-ups by the shop's insurance policy, meaning you get a new engine free of charge.

3. Putting in a higher octane gas than your car needs gives it an extra boost. Putting in a lower octane gas than recommended will kill your car. The former of the two statements was never true. A car that needs 89 octane will not run faster or more efficiently on 93 octane. Save your money and go for the lower octane rating. As far as putting a lower octane than recommended in your car, it will likely affect the car's performance negatively. With computerized fuel injection, though, modern cars will adjust the air/fuel mix and spark to the octane rating of the gas, avoiding any engine problems. With older cars that don't have the benefits of a computerized fuel cocktail mixer, you need to always stick with the recommended octane rating.With newer cars that require premium gas, they likely will achieve poorer fuel economy with regular gasoline in the tank. That and they just won't go as fast, and where's the fun in that?

4. Four wheel drive/all wheel drive means you can drive like normal on slick roads. This one irks me each time it snows here! I have driven multiple four wheel drive and all wheel drive vehicles in snowy and icy conditions, as well as front wheel drive and rear wheel drive vehicles. When you're dumb enough to speed around in slick conditions, you can have all four wheels spinning at once but if your tires aren't getting traction it does you no good. The type of tires you have on your car determines traction more than how many wheels receive power, so invest in some aggressive treads, snow studs or chains. I will say that four wheel drive and all wheel drive help you keep from getting stuck in snow, if you know how to use it properly. That being said, I have driven a front wheel drive vehicle carefully through some horrible storms and passed many four wheel drive vehicles that have slid off the road or flipped over.

5. X Brand of vehicle is the most bestest brand in the whole world, amen thus saith the God of Cars! Another annoying one, but again it is utterly false. Sure, there are brands that have a better track record of reliability than others. The truth is that vehicles in general are improving greatly in reliability. I have known people who have purchased vehicles known for their reliability and had problem after problem. I have known people who have purchased vehicles known for poor reliability and had little to no issues. Reliability means different things to different people. Some people don't care if the turn signal stalk falls off the steering column as long as the engine runs, while other people will scream and throw fits over one cup holder that malfunctions. A huge factor that affects reliability is how you treat your car. I know people who just beat on cars like they're a stubborn mule, and they have problems no matter what they buy. If you buy a used car, beware that you are going to have to deal with how the car was treated before it came into your hands.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

January 2013 Holiday Party

  • Hosted by Vince & Becky Vierck at their home in Brush Prairie, WA on
  • Saturday, January 5, 2013, a great time was had by all.........