Friday, December 9, 2011

BMW makes Ward's 10 Best Engines List - with a four-cylinder engine.

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone out there that BMW knows how to make an engine, nor should it be a surprise that they're on the Ward's 10 Best Engines list again this year with their TwinPower turbo I-6. That's hardly even news worth writing about. 

What's more interesting - and encouraging, as a resident of the United States who enjoys driving BMWs, is that their "downsized" four-cylinder turbo has made the list this year, too.

BMW hasn't sold a four-cylinder car in the United States since the demise of the 318i in 1998, an event that we can't say we're terribly upset about. While the M44 engine is a relatively smooth, easy-revving motor, it just doesn't have the torque of an I-6. (And we need power- this is America.)

But this is all changing in early 2012.

"BMW's all-new 4 cylinder proves once and for all that we have nothing to fear with the latest downsizing trend," says Tom Murphy, executive editor of WardsAuto World magazine. 

Early next year, the 2012 328i sedan will join its bigger brother, the 528i, and the Z4 "sDrive28i" (smooth name, right?) as the next model to use what BMW calls the "TwinPower Turbo" 4-cylinder,  2.0 liter engine. Preliminary EPA fuel economy estimates indicate 24mpg in the city and a whopping 36mpg on the highway, no doubt partially due to to the 8-speed auto transmission.

There's no indication that performance was sacrificed for economy. In their press release, BMW touts that "the 2012 328i is one full second quicker than the previous-generation 328i Sedan," all while being the most fuel-efficient Bimmer ever to be sold stateside. 

The 2012 328i has a 0-60 time of 5.9 seconds.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Yes, I'm Writing about Politics. The "Grey Market" Petition

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank the United States Department of Transportation ("DOT," as we have come to know them). As motoring enthusiasts, there's no government agency we love more. They mandate such innovative design features and pollution standards that get more and more exciting as the years go on. I can't wait to see what they come up with next, and I know you can't, either.

Just kidding.

Remember the 1980s, when Mercedes-Benz brought the S-Class to the United States? Well, not every S-Class. We only got the painfully slow six-cylinder model. The V-8 500SEL was not brought stateside, thanks to pollution and safety standards. Rich people, who tend to be some of the more prolific Mercedes customers, decided that this wasn't cool, so they imported their own 500SEL's.

A European-model Mercedes S-Class. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Vehicles brought to the States this way are known as "grey market cars," and the 80s were full of them. Range Rovers were quite popular with the wealthy, being imported as grey market cars well before their official 1987 introduction to the land of the free. Other cool grey market cars you might recognize include the Lamborghini Countach and Mercedes G-Wagen- both of which were imported legitimately after a few years of waiting, but not without modifications.

And if you've ever perused AutoTrader or eBay Motors' selection of late 1970s or early 1980s imports, you'll notice a fair share with funny VINs and cloth seats.

But you won't find a grey market car made after 1988 in the United States- not unless it's an illegal import, or the owner was extremely rich- because in 1988, the Motor Vehicle Safety Compliance Act was passed, thanks to your friendly national politicians and some lobbyists that Mercedes-Benz threw a couple dollars to.

This "Compliance Act" was great for foreign car manufacturers, because you couldn't buy a car from anyone except their US dealers. But it's not so good for car enthusiasts. Since 1988, it has been effectively impossible to import a non-DOT-standard car into this country (unless it is over 25 years old, an exception added in 1998).  That means that we can't bring over awesome cars like the Land Rover Defender, which was killed in the US circa 1997 but is still being sold as a brand new model in Europe to this very day. You can't import a Nissan Skyline, either- and for some reason, people think those are pretty cool.

Are cars designed for Europe really so deadly that we can't drive them here?

Something you won't see over here: a 2007 Land Rover Defender.

Some smart people have created a petition on the White House website to stop this nonsense. Political messages aren't particularly within the scope of this blog, but this is one worth dedicating a post to. Sign the petition here- it only takes a few minutes to get an account.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Top of the Class" - Limited Edition Malibu

This week's "Top of the Class" feature is a Chevy Malibu. I'm not really sure what year it is, but it's something within the last 10 or 12 years.

We all know how great the reliability record of the 2000s Malibu line is: does Dexcool corrosion or 40,000 mile wheel bearing life ring a bell to anyone out there?

But I think I could put up with the crappy reliability if my Malibu looked like this. Obviously GM put a lot of effort into the three-tone paint scheme featured here.

Seriously though, the roof and rear is blue- probably/hopefully the car's original color, while the door is green, and the entire front clip is gold! I would suspect this was hit in the driver front corner- and it was hit hard enough to necessitate replacing the entire front clip. This, my friends, is why Carfax/AutoCheck isn't a bad idea for a used car purchase, and neither is a paint gauge- just to verify the seller's story about a "minor hit in the front."

Thanks to Carlo from Columbus, OH for submitting this photo.

Do you have a photo of a super classy car repair (or modification/upgrade)? If so, send it to me! upshiftblog at gmail dot com. (E-mail formatted this way to avoid spam). Please, only send photos that you own. If you wish to be credited, please let me know in your e-mail, and include your city/state/country! I say "country" because this blog is now being read from many locations in Europe, which is pretty sweet!

If your photo is chosen, you'll get a cool prize!

Friday, September 30, 2011

"It's a commodity, stupid!"

The following is a post from Cliff. Cliff has been employed in the automotive industry in the past and enjoys writing in his spare time, much like I do. Expect to see his thoughts and commentary posted here more in the near future. As always, your comments are welcomed and encouraged!

Is that truck full of gas for BP? Marathon? Shell? Trick Question!

How many times have you heard some self-professed “car expert” proclaim that they would never buy such and such brand of gasoline, usually followed by some personal horror story with one brand or another?

Well, I hate to be the one to burst their bubble, but gasoline is a commodity . . . stupid. It is listed on the exchanges and sold as a commodity world-wide. That means, you have no idea who made the gasoline in your tank, even if the sign out front says “BP”, “Shell”, “Marathon”, “Exxon” etc.

The major players in the retail gasoline market spend billions of dollars trying to convince you that their brand with additive XYG74XZ24, will clean your engine, reduce sludge (whatever the hell that is), make the world a safer place to live, and improve your sex life. While it is true, various brands do put additives into their formulation of gasoline, you as a consumer have no clue what type of additive you just got in your last fill up.

The gasoline you get has a lot more to do with your geographic location to the nearest refinery, and proximity to transportation routes; i.e. pipeline, ship, truck etc.

And while we are at it, can we finally slay the old “water in the gasoline” fairytale? If this was in fact true, do you think your car would be the only one impacted? No, there would be many cars stalled within walking distance of a station selling gas with water in it. And probably with one severely beaten attendant behind the cash register.

So, what is consumer to do? Buy the cheapest damned gasoline you can find, this time and every single time you fill up. You are getting as good of a product as anyone else selling gasoline nearby. In fact, probably EXACTLY the same product being sold at the nearby station.

Save Money. Drive safe.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hey Chrysler, We Get It. You're "Imported from Detroit." Well, kinda sorta.

Chances are you're familiar with Chrysler's Imported from Detroit campaign, which made its debut during the Super Bowl in a well-received commercial featuring Eminem. No doubt, it's a cool commercial, arguably promoting the city of Detroit even more than the Chrysler 200 it was intended to showcase. Which might be a good thing: the 200 is a decent-looking car, albeit a cosmetic revision of the Sebring, which has been renowned colloquially as "America's #1 Piece-of-Shit-Rental-Fleet-Car" since its introduction in 1995.

The commercial was so good that it won an Emmy award and the video has had nearly thirteen million views on YouTube. Chrysler actually managed to scrounge up a profit for the first quarter of the year; a feat which must be credited to the marketing department. (Let's be honest here, we all know it wasn't because of the cars....)

"Imported from Detroit" is perhaps to Chrysler as "The Ultimate Driving Machine" was to BMW, with one major exception: It's grossly overused.

During the thirty-one years that BMW was "The Ultimate Driving Machine," I honestly believe they used the tagline less than Chrysler has already shoved "Imported from Detroit" down our poor consumer throats. Just look at this page. How many places can you find "Imported from Detroit?" I counted fifteen. On one page. You can buy shirts, hats, even cufflinks featuring their new slogan. Maybe Chrysler will become a clothing and accessories company instead of a car company. Would anyone notice the difference?

Click after the jump to continue reading this article

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Test Drive: 2012 Range Rover Evoque Dynamic Review

It was 1970 when Land Rover released a new model that was unique in almost every way. Off-road, it was as capable as the heavy-duty, leaf-sprung Series vehicles from the years before, yet it had the driving manners and comfort of a normal car. It wasn't a bouncy, noisy oxcart with an engine; it actually had some comfort that the English farmer's wife could stand to ride to town in. Yes, Land Rover had essentially invented what we now know today as the SUV.                                                     

Back then, the Range Rover didn't really have any competition. It was, quite literally, in a class of its own.

This time, the story is quite different. The new “baby Range Rover” is born into a class which has quite a bit of competition: namely, the Acura RDX, ZDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Lexus RX, and Mercedes GLK. Arguably, the Evoque might even compete with Land Rover's own LR2. And if you want to get really broad in your thinking, you could consider it a competitor to the Ford Explorer- which, interestingly enough, the Evoque shares a few small parts and pieces with. You know, minor stuff like the engine block.

In the press kit, Land Rover touts that that the brand-new Range Rover Evoque “remains true to the values of premium luxury and performance which have made Range Rover such an enduring success story over the past 40 years.” Hold on just a sec. Are we talking about the off-road machinery and overbuilt mechanicals that die-hard fans love, or the soft leather seats and electronic gadgets aimed toward bon-bon eating women who own miniature dogs that fit into their purses?

Can a four-cylinder crossover vehicle really feel at home as a Range Rover? I first encountered this dilemma in 2005, when I saw the LRX concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. I thought that it was an appealing concept car, but assumed that it was solely used as an avenue for Land Rover to introduce new design cues, as concept cars often are. But I was wrong: Land Rover put it into production. Six years after I first saw the LRX concept, I received an invitation to test drive the new Evoque several weeks before retail shipments of the cars began. Naturally, I had to go take a look. You know, strictly for “scientific purposes.”

Click after the jump to continue reading this article

[Ad opens in new window]

Friday, September 9, 2011

Factory OEM parts sometimes can be well worth the cost (and wait)

I'm cheap. I just can't lie. I'm that guy that uses the coupons for free coffee and searches Google for coupon codes before I order anything online.

Don't get the wrong idea, though: I'm not so cheap that I'll compromise on quality. Cheap, junky stuff is on my hate list right next to stuff that's overpriced. If I can see that something is cheaper because it sucks, I'll spend the extra money to get something that actually works.

The crankshaft position sensor on my 1991 BMW 318i is a perfect example of this quandary in action.

Long story short, I happened upon a 1991 318i (yes, that's an e30) on Craigslist one day that was advertised as a "mechanic special." It was in great shape, all service records from new, and no rust. But it had an odd problem: when started cold, it would idle great, but would not rev. It just bogged and bounced almost like it had a rev limiter at 1000rpm. Once thoroughly warm, it ran like new. Naturally, I took it in as my own and got to work sorting it out.

"How could I not take it upon myself to fix this car? Nice e30s are rare... I couldn't just leave it there to die, could I?"

I tried everything I could think of: temp sensors, vacuum leaks: I replaced every vacuum hose and both intake manifold gaskets, I removed and tested each fuel injector, tested the fuel pressure under every conceivable situation, checked the cam timing- even went so far as to test the ECU pinouts at the end of the harness! The camshaft position sensor tested out okay, and the crankshaft position sensor tested out of spec, but was new- I replaced it twice! I had probably spent 15 hours on the darned thing, and was ready to part it out.

Three weeks after buying the car, I'd had enough.

"I'm getting this car to run today," I told myself. The out-of-spec crankshaft position sensor was centered in my crosshairs. Both brand new sensors that I tried were aftermarket parts: I just couldn't justify the expense of a genuine BMW sensor. But a third generic sensor that I tested at the counter of the foreign parts store tested bad, too.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

How to: Change Your Oil Like a Pro / Oil FAQ / "Everything you need to know about Oil" Crash Course

Changing your oil with quality products is an easy, cheap way to extend your engine's life exponentially.

Fast Facts
  • Time Involved: First timers might take up to an hour, but you'll get it down to 30 minutes after a couple tries!
  • Required Tools: Oil drain pan and a wrench or socket that will fit your drain plug. Unless you're working on an SUV or a car with high ground clearance, it's helpful if you have a jack and a jack stand, but you don't need anything fancy just to get started. Optional but recommended: oil filter wrench, gloves.
  • Parts Needed: Engine oil, oil filter. You might need an air filter, too. Most chain auto parts stores (like O'Reilly, NAPA, Advance) have a monthly oil change special where you can get the oil and filter for one low price. You can see Advance's monthly special here, and even buy online and pick it up in the store to minimize the chance of confusion.
  • Shop Supplies: A can of engine degreaser and some rags or paper towels. Perhaps a bag of kitty litter if you're messy like me.

Are you tired of paying the car dealership outrageous amounts of money to change the engine oil in your car? Or perhaps it's the quick lube's incompetency and inattention to detail that's got you interested in doing it yourself. Even large, "reputable" chains use generic, bottom-of-the-barrel 5w30, which protects their profit margins, but usually not your engine.

I believe that anyone with even a hint of mechanical ability can learn to change their own oil. With just a few tools, you'll be able to change your oil at home. Not only will it take less time than dragging your car down to a shop, you'll know that the job was done, and that it was done right. And you'll have the satisfaction of doing it yourself!

First, here's a comprehensive list of "Oil FAQ's." The step-by-step directions are after the FAQ. You'll probably find that the actual task of changing the oil is easier than figuring out what to buy!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why You Should Check Your Serpentine Belt for Wear

I'm pretty fanatical about caring for my cars, in case you haven't noticed yet. The Range Rover recently was put back in service after a complete brake overhaul. Before driving it again,  I gave it a fairly thorough inspection because it has sat nearly all summer. Everything was passing with flying colors. 

And then, I found this.

That's an "epic fail" in the Belts and Hoses department.

I guess I just hadn't taken the time to examine my serpentine belt lately, despite being obsessive about doing 3,000 mile synthetic oil changes, flushing the coolant, and all that other fancy stuff. So it's fortunate that I noticed this before the belt snapped and beat up the rest of the engine compartment.

Serpentine belts are precisely designed to fit your vehicle. Yeah, Some Japanese or German dude spent six years bent over a desk, trying to figure out if a 700mm belt was better than a 700.05mm belt.

And they are indeed critical, seeing as they operate a large number of accessories that usually include power steering, the water pump,  the air conditioning compressor, and on some older cars, the cooling fan. Basically, if this belt breaks, you're totally screwed. Yes, you'll have to give up your pride and call the number on that AAA card your grandma bought for you last Christmas.

Here's how to inspect a serpentine belt for wear. It's not rocket science, but it's important!:

Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Top of the Class" - Custom Paint Job & Suspension Mods

Brought to you by the Ghetto. Sorry for the low-res photo, I was too busy trying not to get shot.

This week's "Top of the Class" feature is a Chevrolet Caprice. Based on the side of the car, I'd wager that it belongs to a guy named Tee, and I can also tell you the car must not be too reliable, since he calls it Shit.

This technically isn't a repair, but it's classy enough that I decided to break the rules and throw it up for Top of the Class. Seriously, who puts "TEEZ SHIT" down both sides of their CAR? Really? Enough said.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How To: Ford Crown Victoria Tune Up / Check Engine Light (Coil Boots and Spark Plugs)

Yes, it's dirty. It's a police car.

Fast Facts
    Take $10 off $30, $20 off $50 and $30 off $100 orders at with code A123 (exp. 2/29/12) - Link will open in new window! Promo code is valid on "Pick up in store" orders!

      If you use these directions, please comment back with your experience!

      If you've been with me since the beginning of this blog, you might remember my first experience with buying a Police Interceptor. In that post, I mentioned a Check Engine light and a nasty misfire, but I glossed over the actual repair procedure. Well, I recently got another P71, and it too had its Check Engine light (also referred to as a CEL or MIL) illuminated. Due to popular demand, I'm going to explain how I fixed it- and how you can fix yours, too.

      This procedure applies to the most common cause of rough running / check engine light on Crown Vics: misfires caused by bad coil boots. In extreme cases, the light will actually flash, meaning that you will damage your catalytic converters if you continue to drive. Another symptom includes P0300 codes (misfires) like P0301, P0302, P0303, and so on.

      *Even if your check engine light isn't on, this is the procedure to follow when your Crown Vic needs  a "tune up," something that should be done when your car runs rough, or every 70,000 - 100,000 miles.*

      Thursday, June 23, 2011

      "Top of the Class" - Minivan Window Repair

      We've all seen them: automotive repairs that just outclass all the rest. Whether it's on the exterior or under the hood, it belongs in the latest addition to UpShift, derisively entitled "Top of the Class."

      I'll start with this rear window from a Chevy Venture minivan. I'm going to go out on a limb and say he bought this as an "OEM Equivalent" repair kit. It sure does look close to the original window, right?

      Tuesday, June 21, 2011

      1985 Volvo 740 Turbodiesel (Volkswagen D24T diesel engine)

      Check out that stylish and modern pinstriping!

      Most European car enthusiasts who watch TV will remember the BMW "Advanced Diesel" commercial that's been aired recently - the one that depicts a Benz diesel shaking like a bobblehead, followed by a Volvo wagon, presumably diesel, chugging up a hill and spewing black soot all over the road behind it.

      They've got a point. In the 1980s, when gas prices hit the equivalent of close to $5 per gallon, automakers realized that there was a huge market for "alternative fuels." This should sound familiar, but in the 80s, the craze wasn't hybrid technology: it was diesel. Some of the most memorable creations of the time period include the GM diesels developed by Oldsmobile (epic fail), the Mercedes-Benz OM603 diesels (most of which seem to still be driving down the road today!), and, of course, Volkswagen diesels, which have always been fairly popular in the US.

      Volvo, however, took a somewhat easier route and built their cars with Volkswagen diesel powerplants for those who insisted on buying an "oilburner." From 1983 to 1986, they offered the 740 and 760 with a turbodiesel straight six, and the 240 with a non-turbo diesel straight six. 

      Thursday, January 20, 2011

      The End of an Era? 2011 Cadillac DTS Goes Home for a Day

      Photo courtesy General Motors Company

      This week, I rented a car to drive to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). When I found out that my Hertz rental car reservation was going to be fulfilled with a 2011 Cadillac DTS, I wasn't really sure what to think.

      Sure, I had thoughts of retirement homes, golf courses, and drug dealers... but I realized that I hadn't really ever taken the time to consider Cadillac's top-selling, once flagship model for the vehicle that it is. Why?  Because nobody seems to know exactly what type of car the DTS is, or which competitive class it fits into.

      Take, for example, a 2001 Car and Driver article entitled "Cadillac DTS vs. Jaguar S-type 4.0, M-B E430, Infiniti Q45, Lexus GS430, Audi A6 4.2 Quattro, BMW 540i." I stumbled upon this article during my intial research of the DTS, and started scratching my head as soon as I finished reading the title.  The outcome of C/D's test is inevitable: the DTS places dead last, and the 540i takes #1.

      Now, I don't disagree with C/D's assessment at all; anyone who spends more than five minutes on this blog will realize that I'm a huge fan of BMW. If you told me to buy one of those seven vehicles, I'd buy the 540i without a moment's hesitation. But there's much more to consider here, so read on.

      Sunday, January 16, 2011

      2011 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) Superlatives

      From the overhyped electric toys (Chevy Volt) to the more exciting real vehicles like the Range Rover Evoque or BMW 1-series M coupe, this year's North American International Auto Show is an exciting one to attend.  I wandered around the show on Sunday and there was no shortage of innovative and exciting cars.

      While I will be writing more detailed individual blog posts about individual cars from the show later on, I'll award my "NAIAS Superlatives" today...

      My apologies for the single photo. I was avoiding the side angle of the Panamera for obvious reasons.

      Most Surprising: Porsche Panamera

      NAIAS Premiere: 2012 BMW 1-series M Coupe

      It's no secret that I am a huge fan of BMW.  I'm actually quite disappointed that they aren't using The Ultimate Driving Machine slogan as heavily, because that phrase is what most accurately describes their cars. As the owner of a 1976 2002, I was extremely excited when BMW released the 1-series... but something was missing. "Where's the M model?" I asked.

      Apparently I wasn't the only one wondering, because BMW answered the call for 2012.

      Wednesday, January 5, 2011

      DIY: Clean the fuel sending unit on an e32 BMW

      Fast Facts
      • Time Involved: one hour
      • Approximate Cost excluding tools: $5 if you don't have electrical cleaner already
      • Required Tools: Phillips screwdriver, flat screwdriver, 10mm socket & ratchet.
      • Parts Needed: None, unless your sending unit is damaged.
      • Shop Supplies: Electrical contact cleaner.

      Edit: This article has become much more popular than I had expected... I've since discovered that this procedure applies to essentially any BMW with an in-tank fuel pump that has a trunk access door (e32, e34, e36, e38, e39, etc. - and the e30, which is essentially the same, but the pump access door is underneath the back seat.)

      Earlier this week, I pulled into the gas station and filled up the 750iL - obviously a habit that's difficult to avoid with a V12-powered car.

      Everything went as planned; it seemed like the gas tank got heavier and my wallet got a little lighter... Until I started the car and the gauge remained stuck at 1/4! I panicked, wondering if maybe the gas station pump malfunctioned and didn't actually dispense any fuel. But my wishful thinking was flawed- the gas gauge in my e32 was hopelessly stuck.

      Quick research reveals that this is a common problem with e32's, and perhaps e34 models as well because they use a very similar sending unit. Here's what to do if your gas gauge sticks:

      Another edit: Several months after writing this, the fuel gauge on my 1988 Saab exhibited similar symptoms. I didn't have time was too lazy to take it apart, so I did a little experiment and poured a bottle of Techron just before filling with fresh 93-octane gas. After just a few miles of driving, the gauge fixed itself, and it's worked ever since. It's definitely worth a try. Even if it doesn't fix your gauge, it'll still clean the rest of your fuel system, which is never a bad idea.

      If Techron doesn't fix the gauge:

      Open the trunk and empty all your stuff out. Pull up the carpet and the foam padding below. (neither is fastened down at all) Set them aside so they don't get soaked in fuel. You'll see this plate:

       Remove the seven screws (power tools make this quick) and pull the plate up.

      Saturday, January 1, 2011

      Project/Flip: 1988 BMW 750iL

      I've had a fascination with the BMW 7-series for as long as I could comprehend what a BMW was. My parents' realtor had a 740iL with the Nikasil V8 engine. Even though the car had a boatload of mileage and wasn't within warranty, BMW replaced the engine with a brand new Alusil block. The car was awesome, even with 200,000 miles. "I'd take that old BMW over a new Honda any day," I remember thinking. (Speaking of all this, I should get back in contact with that realtor!)

      The 7-series is definitely the epitome of a "land yacht," with features that some people don't even realize are available in a car like heated rear seats, power sunshades.... and the rare but legendary 750iL, which featured a 5 liter V12 engine that produced 300hp and nearly 400 lb-ft of torque that could push the boat to 185mph, if you removed the 155mph electronic limiter.

      In the back of my mind, I had always planned on buying a 7 someday. I've bid on a few at auctions and test drove a cosmetically challenged 740iL, but never imagined that a 750iL would come my way.

      I was wrong.