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

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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!