The Truth About Cars » Maintenance http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 18 Apr 2014 22:58:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Maintenance http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/editorials/maintenance-editorials/ Toyota Recalls 870,000 Units Due To Arachnophobia http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/toyota-recalls-870000-units-due-to-arachnophobia/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/toyota-recalls-870000-units-due-to-arachnophobia/#comments Sat, 19 Oct 2013 16:07:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=627250 2012 Toyota Camry

One blah Monday morning, you’re commuting to the anonymous office park some 90 minutes away from the bedroom community you call a home in your equally anonymous Toyota Camry Hybrid, listening to yet another story about Congress kicking cans down roads and/or some wacky antics your favorite DJs had the past weekend while you take another swig of that mermaid-branded caffeinated goodness.

 

You’re not ready to deal with the myriad of reports you have to work on when you arrive at the office, and you’re certainly not ready for your colleague to rant about how his fantasy football team lost because one of his players sustained a career-ending injury on the first snap, but at least the piling traffic ahead of you seems to be delaying the inevitable, much to your mix of relief and chagrin.

Tired of being stuck behind the Dunkin’ Donuts truck (reminding you that you really need to hit the gym someday), you edge over to the (not really) faster moving lane on your left while wishing you could use the HOV lane at times like this when suddenly your airbag explodes, causing you to bash your alleged green machine into a Greyhound bus, kicking off a chain reaction that will take hours by the state police and first responders to sort out. You also make the news when the strangely chipper real-time traffic reporter chimes in about the wreck, which then leads to how Rockin’ Robin DeCradle “got totally wrecked” at the Waffle House of Blues this weekend.

Turns out the cause of your airbag going off was spiders, which you find out later that day when the local news reports that Toyota has issued a recall (again), affecting 870,000 vehicles including the one now residing in an insurance salvage yard that you, no doubt, are going to have a hard time collecting anything upon.

According to CNN Money, the 870,000 Toyotas are Camrys, Venzas and Avalons screwed together and sold for the 2012 and 2013 model years, hybrids included. The recall notice states that the webs spiders make within the confines of a drainage tube attached to the car’s AC unit could force water to drip onto the airbag’s control module, creating a short circuit followed by the airbag warning light (and the driver’s side airbag itself) going off. To make matters worse, the same issue can lead to loss of power steering, as well.

Toyota spokesperson Cindy Knight said that the company was aware of the spider issue, noting that 35 cases of the lights coming on and 3 airbag deployments have come to pass thus far, and the consistent cause of the problem were the eight-legged freaks who, for some reason, love making webs in AC drainage tubes.

The recall recommends owners take their cars in to their nearest dealer, who will then make the necessary repairs (and calls to the Orkin Man) to prevent water from causing unintended airbag deployments. The notice will be sent by mail, and the repairs will be on the house.

A similar issue affected Mazda back in 2011, when spiders set up shop in the vent lines of many a Mazda6′s gasoline tank, proving once again that nature is so fascinating.

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Total Recall Update: Rustectomy Successful But Change Is In The Wind http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/total-recall-update-rustectomy-successful-but-change-is-in-the-wind/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/total-recall-update-rustectomy-successful-but-change-is-in-the-wind/#comments Mon, 29 Jul 2013 13:56:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=497310 Freestar

Saturday was a day of reckoning for my Ford Freestar. As detailed in an article I wrote last week, my Freestar required a trip to the dealer to repair rust related issues that affected the rear wheel wells and the third row seat latches and the cost of the repairs were covered by Ford under a recall issued earlier this year. I promised then that, once the repair was completed, I would report back to you on how everything turned out.

As you may remember from that earlier article, the damage to the van was fairly advanced. The area around the seat mounts was encircled with corrosion and, in some places, had rusted to the point that there were actual holes between the wheel well and the interior of the vehicle. The affected area had been concealed under a plastic panel so I had not noticed the issue earlier, but I had noticed the van felt and smelled damp. How the whole piece had stayed in place I have no clue as it seemed to me at the time I could have pulled the seat mount out with my bare hands.

rust 1

As usual, my local Ford dealer was excellent and scheduled the repair as quickly as they could. They took it in after work on Friday night, completed the repair on a Saturday and I had the vehicle back in my garage that night. Once again, Ford deserves accolades for their customer service and I came away quite satisfied with the transaction.

On Sunday morning, I went out to the garage and took a good look at the work done. From the wheel well side I could see where a new piece of sheet metal had been grafted onto the inner fender well. The edges appear to have been carefully caulked and the whole thing covered over with rubberized undercoating. To my eye it looks to be a neat and efficient repair.

IMG_01

Inside the van, I once again removed the plastic panel to examine the backside of the repair. The most obvious thing the Ford techs have done is to totally cut out the rusted area. It appears as though they did the work with a pair of tin snips, nibbling away at the area one bite at a time and leaving a series of sharp metal teeth along the edge of their cut. Several sheet metal screws have been used to affix the panel and a large steel band has also been added to reinforce the seat mount. Besides the sloppy cut, which would have been neater and easier had they used a dremel or a sidewheel cutter, the repair seems to be a good one. Given that it was all done on the company dime and that all the sharp bits are hidden behind a thick plastic panel where they should never come into contact with soft human skin, I am satisfied with the work. Of course, since I am not a body and fender man, I’d be interested in everyone’s comments, too.

IMG_4716

To me, however, there is a larger issue brewing. This whole experience of finding massive quantities of hitherto unexpected rust has left me questioning whether or not hanging on to the Freestar for another year is really worth risk. I wonder now just what other parts of the vehicle are suffering similar issues and what the results may be if we have an accident. There are, I note, a few places around the body where rust bubbles are forming and I have over the past year assiduously attacked the red stuff wherever I have found it, in particular along the lower edges of the vehicle’s doors. With my eventual departure from Buffalo now less than a year away, I am thinking it may be time to replace the Gray Lady and I have a pretty good idea what we are going to end up with.

Am I wise to make a move or just worried rat trying to jump a holed ship that isn’t actually sinking? You tell me.

Photo courtesy of Netcarshow.com

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Nissan Gakuen: My Visit To Nissan’s Technical College http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/nissan-gakuen-my-visit-to-nissans-technical-college/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/nissan-gakuen-my-visit-to-nissans-technical-college/#comments Tue, 23 Jul 2013 19:09:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=496817 Z

A lifetime of World War 2 movies and an 11 year marriage has taught me one thing about the Japanese; they never do anything half way. Whether it is diving a Zero into an American ship or cutting yours truly down to size, if it is a job worth doing it is worth being fanatical about. The attention to detail the Japanese put into every tiny thing they do is awe-inspiring and so it makes sense that when a Japanese car company spends billions of yen to design and produce a vehicle, they back that up with a mechanics’ training program so thorough that an average graduate can completely tear down and rebuild one of their cars. And isn’t it convenient that one of Nissan’s main training centers was located just a kilometer from where I used to live?

The thing about living in a foreign country and being functionally illiterate in the language is that you can drive by a place a thousand times and never know what goes on there. So it was with a large complex of buildings located close my local train station in Uji Japan just south of the city of Kyoto. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this particular set of buildings was actually a Nissan factory, and then imagine my disappointment when I found out that it had just been closed down and all the workers transferred elsewhere. There was, however, in the corner of this sprawling factory one bright spot of continuing activity, and I discovered it when one of my students, a Mr. Yoshida, revealed to me that it was the Nissan Technical College and that he, incidentally, was one of the instructors. Would I like to come to their school festival?

Welcome to Nissan Gakkeun

Festivals in Japan usually mean high temperatures, green tea, girls in summer kimonos, surly greasy headed gangster wannabes and a busload full of riot cops parked discretely a block or two away “just-in-case.” They also mean food, games, karaoke contests and a lot of fun and in that way The Kyoto Nissan Vehicle College’s, called “Nissan Gakkuen” in Japanese festival met all my expectations. When I arrived at the factory gate at the appointed time, I was met by Mr. Yoshida who escorted me inside the factory and treated me as though I was a VIP.

The school was already a hive of activity. In one space two groups of advanced students were working feverishly over a matching set of cars in a race to see which group could tear down the top end.replace the head gaskets and completely reassemble their car first. Close by, other groups of students worked furiously with diagnostic equipment as they raced to troubleshoot a problem on two other matching cars. In a paint booth at the edge of the faciltiy, several students worked to prep and paint body parts and in still another space, students were interacting with their instructors who posed as customers asking about the various features top of the line Cima in case a mechanic was ever called upon to interact with a customer in a salesperson’s absence.

classes

There was also food, fun and fellowship. The school was obviously a pleasant place to be and the space itself was fastidiously clean, smelling of cleaning solvents and fresh paint. Various rooms branching off of the main room held a bevy of historic Nissans, each there to ensure that the mechanics who graduated from the school could work on any Nissan product no matter how old. Teachers moved around the school in immaculately clean and pressed coveralls worn atop their white shirts and ties, the seriousness of their endeavors plain on their face and their pride over their students’ obvious abilities shining in their eyes.

historics

To be sure, the young men and women attending Nissan Gakuen are not the same kind of people I found in my own high school auto shop class. Like most colleges in Japan, entry into the school is based on competitive testing and spots in the classes are highly subscribed. The people who graduate from these courses after four full years of study will be sent to main-line Nissan dealerships all around the country and will be well regarded experts in their field. They are not shade tree mechanics, but highly trained technicians who, like their samurai ancestors, will make whatever sacrifices need to be made to assure their company’s honor is upheld.

My brief visit to Nissan Gakuen left me deeply impressed with the company’s commitment to quality service. I have only ever owned a single Nissan product, the 200SX Turbo I have recalled so fondly on these pages previously, and I found it to be a highly engineered little machine that almost required special training to work on. I know now that if I had owned the car while I was in Japan, the graduates of Nissan Gakuen would have been up to the task. Should you ever get the chance to visit a Japanese technical school, my advice is, “do it.”

jukes

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Gettin’ Lubed: I Was A Minit Lube Minuteman http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/gettin-lubed-i-was-a-minit-lube-minuteman/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/gettin-lubed-i-was-a-minit-lube-minuteman/#comments Wed, 12 Jun 2013 22:06:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=491628 oil light

I still remember them. Tall and clear eyed, their square jaws clenched tightly as a sign of their strict discipline and inherent resolve, they dressed in perfectly pressed brown shirts and marched in straight, ordered ranks before the camera. For them there was only duty and their duty was their honor. Nothing would sway them from their purpose. As they marched they sang, and their song was a call to action. “We’re the Minit Lube Minutemen, trained to do the job and do it right.” God help us, we loved them for it.

They are gone now – so gone that not even their commercials exist anymore. Other companies purchased their shops and changed their names, but they helped start it all and, like some other things started by some resolute men in pressed brown shirts, the reality ended up being somewhat different than the idealized image that appeared on film. It was hot, sweaty and more than a little greasy. Still, I was proud to be among them, selected to be a leader and made a “Management Trainee” by the powers that be, and I was determined to lead from the front. Despite the fact that I had been hired primarily because of my sales experience, something that should have had me close to the register, working with customers and encouraging them to buy add-on services like air filters and optional fluid changes, I knew that as a leader I must earn their respect and so I too did my time in the trenches.

Anyone who has ever taken their car to a Quick Lube has a pretty good idea of what happens. Part of that is by design, the bays are open and the waiting areas are often simple alcoves where a customer can enjoy a cup of coffee while they watch the show. The techs call out their every movement to one another, partially because safety (no one wants to be under a car when oil gets spilled) and partially because the more activity and noise the generate the more it seems like something important is going on. It gives the customer confidence in the work being done and to also allows them to feel that they are getting value for their money. And, like it is for every business that sells a service, money is what this is really all about.

JL customer service

The experience always begins outside of the shop when the customer pulls up and a customer service representative rushes out to speak to them about the kind of service they want. The truth is many customers don’t really know what they want, so this person’s job is simply to help them along but suggesting products or services here is a part of the game and often a simple phrase like, “Would you like synthetic oil?” can add real dollars to the company’s bottom line.

Once the customer signs the consent form, the car goes into the bay and over the pit where the action begins in earnest. Since most cars look a lot alike from the bottom, the customer service rep will tell the pit man the type and year of the car as well as the kind of service requested. The pit man always repeats this back in a loud voice, looks-up and stages the oil filter and begins to drain the oil. While the oil is draining, he will move back along the car, checking the various gear boxes he has access to and putting small samples of their oils on a plate that he will eventually pass to the customer service rep. If needed, he will lube the chassis and once the oil has fully drained he will change the filter, being careful to wipe the engine plate to ensure the gasket comes off with the old filter and re-install the drain plug.

JL pit

The pit man’s job It is a simple job, really, but it is also one of the most important. It is hot, dirty and more than a little dangerous working around extremely hot exhaust parts. Also, out of sight of the supervisor, the pit man is the most independently working guy in the shop, his attention to detail is critical and any mistakes he make can get really expensive really quickly. Personally, I liked this job best, but bouncing from car to car kept me busy and the truth is that my mechanical skills were not as good as my selling skills. The manager knew this and left me down there long enough to get the hang of it, but pulled me up on top where I could help make the shop money.

Up on top the hood man will begin by checking the automatic transmission fluid before the driver shuts off the engine. Then he will then move around the car, checking lights asking for signals to be switched on and off etc and finally make a big show of working under the engine. For the most part, with the exception of windshield washer fluid, only tiny amounts of any fluid are actually required if the car doesn’t have some type of real mechanical problem. The hood man will also pull the air filter and, unless it is brand new, will pass it to the customer service rep who, by this time, has also gathered the sample plate from the pit man.

JL hood man

A smart customer service rep will pull a new air filter and have samples of clean fluids with him when he approaches a customer. He will find them in the waiting room and explain what the condition of the filter and fluids are and, hopefully, up-sell the customer on an additional part or service and add even more to the company’s bottom line. My own approach here, total honesty, actually worked well. There are always several customers waiting in the room and they are all watching as you make your sales pitch. If you tell a customer that his obviously clean looking fluids look fine, you have just made a dozen friends. When you come back later and tell others that their dirty fluids are “border line” or worse, you will get their buy-in almost every time.

Back out at the car, the customer service rep will tell the service techs what additional services, if any, are required and the service will start to approach completion. The hood man will verify verbally with the pit man that the oil plug is in and that it is OK to add oil. That completed, he will verify the engine oil is in and that it is OK to start the car. While he does so, the pit man will stand by to make sure there are no leaks on the bottom side. That done, the hood man will shut off the engine and go to the front of the car where he will physically get down on his knees and watch while the pit man verifies that every drain plug is tight with a pull of his wrench. The service is completed, the hood goes down and the customer settles up.

For the most part the technicians who work at Quick Lubes are young people at the beginning of their working lives. Most are not professional mechanics, but everyone I worked with went through a fairly rigorous in-house training program and all were skilled at what they did. Each of us, of course, had varying degrees of experience and ability but for the most part the way the shop was run, with a constant communication between the techs and actual cross checks prior to the completion of a car’s service ensured that the work was done to an acceptable standard.

It was the 80s and this was the kind of thing we worked on.

It was the 80s and this was the kind of thing we worked on.

I won’t lie and say we never had a problem. Sometimes things got broken under the hood and our company paid to have them fixed. One time a drain plug on a differential wasn’t tightened sufficiently and our company replaced it and agreed to handle any problems when the customer brought it to our attention. The vast majority of our customers, however, came in, received their service without any problems and went on happily with their lives. That’s a good thing.

Looking back today I can see that the work we were doing was not terribly difficult and despite the searing pain of burned hands and wrists, the constant grit and grime under our fingernails, our oil stained uniforms and the constant smell of Dexron that wafted about us, we had an enjoyable job. Today when I roll into a Quick Lube I spend as much time watching the people as I do watching their performance and for the most part they are like I was back then, young, hardworking people who are trying to get ahead. I hope they go on to as much success in life as I have.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He writes for any car website that will have him and enjoys public speaking. According to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Dark Days: Broken Hearts and Blown Gaskets http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/dark-days-broken-hearts-and-blown-gaskets/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/dark-days-broken-hearts-and-blown-gaskets/#comments Fri, 31 May 2013 14:41:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=489859 1988 Dodge Shadow

She done me wrong. I was beside myself with grief, anger and stress. Things had been going so well when, suddenly, a former lover waltzed back into her life and caused her to leave me in the lurch. Part of me wanted to win her back, to show her I was better than him. The other, darker part of me wanted to find that guy and kick his ass. It was a terrible time, and to make matters even worse, by faithful Dodge Shadow wasn’t running right.

By 1993 my little Turbo Shadow, purchased new in 1988, had almost 100.000 miles on the clock. It had traveled the length and breadth of the United States, making nonstop drives from Seattle to Los Angeles twice and a trip from Seattle to Washington DC, the return leg of which was done in just three days, without a single hiccup. It still looked great, not a single scratch marred its brilliant graphic red paint, but under the hood my heavy foot and childish antics had taken their toll and the car was losing water.

If it had been a leaking radiator or a shot hose, I could have easily understood what was happening. The problem was that the water was simply vanishing from the reservoir, I thought about the options and didn’t like where the logic lead me. I checked the tail pipe of course, but found no feather of steam in the exhaust. The radiator showed no sheen of oil and the dipstick showed no sudden increase in level, nor any emulsification either. Still, I reasoned, it must be a head gasket, bad but not yet critical.

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

It was a bad feeling. Everything in my young life was in turmoil, women troubles compounded by car troubles. My heart was empty and my outlook black, but like so many men in similar situations I struggled on and worked with I knew I could repair. Life would not get better on its own, I knew, and so I must make it better.

I went to the auto parts store and purchased a rebuild manual and a gasket set and rolled the little Dodge into the garage at my parents’ house. With a nonstop soundtrack of the heaviest of heavy metal soothing my wounded soul, I worked like a mad scientist, carefully plotting every movement while evil lurked in my heart. The valve cover came off, then the timing belt, the intake, turbo and finally the head itself.

I looked into the heart of the beast. Four pistons, three scored black but in generally good condition and one that was too clean and fresh. Next to that piston I found the trouble, a small breach in the all important head gasket, just enough to let the tiniest amount of water wick out with every piston stroke and into the chamber where it was burned with the gas and sent out the back.

My outlook brightened as I replaced the gasket and slowly began reassembly process. The head went back on, carefully torque to the specs listed in my rebuild manual. I matched the marks on the crank and camshafts and secured the timing belt. Bit by bit the engine went together and little by little I regained control over my life. At the end of the project I reattached the hoses and topped up the fluids and I was done. The dark clouds in my mind lifted as I swung the garage door open, and the sun shined brightly into my soul as I slipped into the driver’s seat and fired the engine. One crank, then two and suddenly, blessed music as the engine fired and ran.

The little car sat there at idle and spoke to me of all the things we had been through together. We were a team, this little car and I, with good times behind us and the promise of even more ahead. Women would come and go, I realized, but good friends look out for one another. When the car required my help I put aside my own problems and I had saved it. In doing so, I had saved myself. Together we would endure.

Photo Courtesy of cardomain.com

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He writes for any car website that will have him and enjoys public speaking. According to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Shakken Up: How A Little American Persistance And One Little, Old Japanese Man Beat The System http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/shakken-up-how-a-little-american-persistance-and-one-little-old-japanese-man-beat-the-system/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/shakken-up-how-a-little-american-persistance-and-one-little-old-japanese-man-beat-the-system/#comments Mon, 04 Mar 2013 10:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=479631

My 1986 JDM Twin Turbo Supra

Wherever I am in the world I will always be a typical American man. Despite a lot of the stereotypes that spring to mind when I say that, I learned a long time ago that it isn’t a bad thing. I was raised right and I have solid values. When seats are limited I will stand so my elders can sit. I always hold the door open for ladies, and I keep plugging away no matter how hopeless the situation might seem. There are a few things here and there that can cause problems once in a while, too. For example, I won’t be deliberately insulted, I need my personal space and, of course, I feel like I am loser if I don’t have my own set of wheels.

Don’t leave home without it

Owning a car in Japan is a bad idea for most people. To begin with, getting a driver’s license costs thousands of dollars and involves and extensive training program. Then there is the cost of the car, insurance, gasoline and tolls to consider. Also, unless you are fortunate to own a place to park, you will have to pay rent on a parking space and, of course, anywhere you go you will pay to park, too. Then there are the costs of oil, tires, repairs, even car washes to consider. Let’s not forget taxes and, of course, the great terror that is the vehicle inspection system known as the Shakken.

The Shakken system began in the post World War II era when the few cars remaining on the roads were generally old and unsafe. Shakken’s stated purpose has always been to ensure that all vehicles meet certain safety requirements, but it is also generally acknowledged that the policy has helped to ensure consistent sales of new vehicles as people seek to replace cars that they believe will fail the test. The guidelines are stringent, and without the correct inspection sticker affixed at the top of your windshield, where it is easily spotted, your car cannot be legally driven. There is little tolerance for lawbreakers.

Of course, when I purchased a 14 year old Toyota Supra, everyone thought I was nuts. In general, the Japanese do not buy used cars outside of a dealership, and person-to-person sales among strangers are almost unheard of. For the most part, the Japanese trade-in their cars when they purchase new ones or they sell them to companies like “Gulliver” that buy old cars for a pittance and then take them to auction. Cars that are worthy are bought by dealers, marked up considerably and then resold in-country. Cars that are unworthy are sold to exporters and eventually end up in places like Australia, Russia or parts of the third world. From my friends’ perspective, a car as old as my Supra was not worthy and should have been on its way to the southern hemisphere, preferably as scrap, instead of sitting in a Kyoto parking spot.

My 1986 JDM Twin Turbo Supra

The whole thing was quite a scandal and everyone, it seemed, had an opinion. Two buddies, Matsuda and Taka, were especially critical of my purchase. Self styled car guys, they began to speak ill of the Supra the moment it arrived. Never mind the fact that it was a Toyota that had less than 50,000 kilometers on the clock. In their minds, simply because of its age, the car was in grave condition. Unfortunately for them, they made the mistake of spouting off and insulting my intelligence in front of my girlfriend, who, in typical Japanese fashion, believed everything they said. I, of course, in typical American fashion, ended our friendship right there on the street. So much for fair weather friends.

It wasn’t like I had paid a lot anyway. I had purchased the car from the Japanese wife of a New Zealander for roughly $600. The car didn’t have a mark on it, the engine was spotless, it sounded good, drove flawlessly and it even had about 8 months of shakken left on it. I figured that even if it somehow failed the dreaded inspection, I would have a cool car at my disposal for the better part of a year at nominal cost, and so it really didn’t matter. But then, of course, I got attached to my little car, and as the dreaded day drew nigh, I decided to ask around.

The women at my office were worse than useless, they were misinformed. They told horrible tales about the inspection process, about what would happen if the car couldn’t pass, and how certified repair shops would use the process against me. No matter how small the trouble, the women told me, the mechanics would insist upon costly repairs before releasing the car. They told me that there was no way a car that old would ever pass, and that I had been a fool for buying it in the first place. They even told me that I would end up paying to recycle it. There was the air of plausibility about what they said, but even so, I wasn’t going to give up without a fight.

Another shot of my 1986 JDM Twin Turbo Supra

In addition to my workmates, I also solicited the opinions of my students, some of whom, it turns out, were much better informed. For the most part, I learned, the average Japanese man took his car back to where he bought it for the shakken. Upon buying a brand new car, another inspection is not needed for three years. After that, inspections are required every two years, and a typical dealer, I was told, pretty much rubber stamps the next two inspections so long as they have had a hand in maintaining the car. Therefore, most cars are about 7 years old the first time they really go under the microscope and, like most Americans, the average Japanese person is ready for a new car after 7 years whether they actually need one or not. The car is traded in, and the process starts anew.

Simply follow the easy instructions

Once in a while, there are people like myself who have purchased a car outside of the dealer network. People in my situation usually end up taking their car to an independent shop and, as the women at my school had said, most of these shops will go over the car with a fine tooth comb. The result is usually a pretty stiff bill and, as a foreigner, I was especially ripe for the picking. But then, one of my oldest students, a Mr. Hanaoka, a retired engineer in his 70s who spent most of his free time drinking heavily and studying English, told me about another little known option, the “user shakken.” Amazingly, in a land where there isn’t much DIY, there is a DIY inspection.

Following Hanaoka-san’s instructions, I went to the Kyoto DMV and collected the paperwork. While I was there, the helpful clerk sat me down in front of a video that explained the entire process. Then I was sent home to complete my own inspection. Although it was all in Japanese, the documents were well illustrated, and I was able to go through it at my own pace. Although there were some parts of the form I did not fully understand, the inspection was not complicated. I measured tire tread depth, checked all the lights, looked for leaks, etc and found that, as expected, the car was in generally good condition.

I did, however, uncover a leaky shock absorber and a burned out driving light. The light was an easy fix, but the shock was more problematic, there was no real way to fix it myself and unless I was damn clever they were going to see the dark stain of shock oil under the car at the inspection station. Fortunately I am damn clever.

The day I took the car to the inspection station it was raining like hell. I rolled up to the main office and took my paperwork, as complete as I could get it, inside. After waiting in line I approached the counter hoping for a little help to complete some of the informational blocks at the top of the form and was pleasantly surprised to find that for a fee of around $5 that the clerk would actually do everything. I paid my money and ten minutes later took my car around back to the inspection station.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The inspection station was set up like an assembly line and I was required to drive the car from station to station. There was a brake test where I put the car up onto a set of rollers followed by speedometer test on the same machine where I was required to run the car up to 45 kmh. There was an underside inspection station where I sat in the car while a guy underneath tapped about ten spots with a hammer and, thanks to the wet weather, failed to notice my dripping shock absorber. There was a headlight test where a set of robotic cameras examined the front of my car to make sure everything was working within proper specs, a horn test, a brake light and blinker test and an emissions test. It was all quite efficient and I don’t think the entire process took more than 30 minutes.

As I recall, the total cost was around $450. Some of that was for the inspection fee, some for vehicle taxes, and another large part of it was for some kind of insurance that would pay for any public property I might damage in an accident. The whole thing was quick and painless and after weeks of consternation and worry, I was highly satisfied when I was awarded a new two-year sticker without a single hitch. I drove home in triumph.

Wherever I am in the world I will always be a typical American man and, despite a lot of the stereotypes that spring to mind when I say that, I learned a long time ago that it isn’t a bad thing. I was raised right and I have solid values. I keep plugging away no matter how hopeless the situation might seem and sometimes that can pay big dividends. I remember the people who helped me, too. Today, many years later, when I have the opportunity to raise a glass, I often find myself thinking about those days and of Mr. Hanaoka. He was a man who knew how to get things done, and when the whole system is stacked against you, you need a guy like that on your side.

Mr. Hanaoka at one of our school parties. Even though he was older than every other student, he never missed a single party.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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How to Buy a Used Car – Pt. 3: Due Diligence (The Inspection) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/how-to-buy-a-used-car-pt-3-due-diligence-the-inspection/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/how-to-buy-a-used-car-pt-3-due-diligence-the-inspection/#comments Fri, 17 Aug 2012 13:59:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=457181

[Ed: Part one of Steve Lang's updated used car buying guide is here, part two is here.]

You can rigorously apply the tests described by previous installments of this series without encountering a single setback. However when it comes to buying a used car, it pays to assume one simple salient fact: you don’t know the complete truth.

At least not yet.

When it comes to pursuing the deeper truths about a used car an experienced mechanic will inevitably become your greatest ally and advocate. For most consumers finding a knowledgeable mechanic will be the most important step in the used car buying process.

Before we talk about that, I want to be perfectly clear on this point.

used car is guilty until proven innocent. Do not buy one without taking the car for a professional inspection.

If the seller doesn’t agree to let you do so you’re done. Period. No exceptions. Ever.

Now mechanics tend to divide into three categories: the shade-tree, the Nazi and the diligent professional.

Shade-tree mechanics are hobbyists on limited budgets. Due to the lack of equipment (or experience), they may not be familiar with the unique wear issues and maintenance needs for your vehicle. The shade-tree mechanic will look at the car’s basics, take it for a short test drive and call it good (or “not bad”).

The Nazi will attempt to perform every mechanical test known to wrenchkind. Submit the car to a standard of inspection that is rooted in la-la land. Then make you financially fearful of buying anything other than (cough! cough!) one of their vehicles.

Obviously the Nazi is a non-starter.

Often times these party members will work for dealerships (but not always), and are therefore pre-occupied with meeting their service department’s monthly quota of service hours and revenue.

Unless your next car has a prancing horse or bull at the front of it, you’re usually far better off with a diligent mechanic.

The diligent mechanic will work through a standard check list and then take the car for a test drive in a variety of operating conditions.

Diligent mechanics are experienced independent professionals with established roots in your community. To find one, I strongly recommend visiting the Mechan-X files at Cartalk.com.

I also can’t over-emphasize the importance of personal recommendations; especially from people who own the same model of car you’re considering buying. Many small to medium-sized repair shops will post testimonials on their “ego wall.”

Read them carefully.

Before the inspection takes place, write the list of the concerns you created during the test drive. When you deliver the car for inspection, go over them with the mechanic one-by-one. Make sure you both have a clear understanding of all your potential concerns.

This will provide a base line for the inspection to follow.

Some mechanics inspect used cars for a set fee. Others charge an hourly rate. In both cases, the post-list discussion should conclude with a confirmation of the probable inspection cost. Leave some leeway; you don’t want the mechanic to stop their investigations for the sake of a few bucks. (Leave your contact number for this possibility.)

The best way to build a healthy relationship with any mechanic is to simply try not to be one of “those” customers.

Just let them get on with their job. Don’t stare at the mechanic while they’re doing the inspection. In fact it’s best to leave the premises entirely. And don’t phone your mechanic two hours later and ask for a status report; wait for their call.

Once the inspection is completed, sit down for a one-on-one debrief with the mechanic who made the inspection (even if you have to come back on another day). I always prefer to speak with the actual mechanic or at least have them in attendance with the “service advisor.”

Let the mechanic speak without interruption. Some diligent mechanics will go on for quite some time; some will simply say “here’s my report.” Either way review the information and let him explain every issue and potential issue to you.

After they’re finished, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about” or “Is this a sign of normal wear or abuse?”

Make your own list of trouble spots from this conversation. Note down the potential cost to repair and whether or not the issue is urgent or eventual.

Once you’re finished the play-by-play, ask a few general questions. I always ask “Did the owner do a good job maintaining this vehicle?” and “Did the owner use good parts or cheap parts?” Either of these inquiries usually invites a deeper insight with the mechanic.

If the used car has survived the inspection process without revealing any critical issues to your diligent mechanic, it’s time for the final negotiation with the owner.

 

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Five Simple Technologies For The Long Haul http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/five-simple-technologies-for-the-long-haul/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/five-simple-technologies-for-the-long-haul/#comments Sat, 21 Jul 2012 19:10:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=453706

Just Imagine What I Can Do To Your Car!

Everybody wants a deal. But precious few people are willing to change their habits to make their deal last longer.

The casualties of the rough and reckless are expensive and almost always preventable. For every person who complains about an automatic transmission giving out, there are ten people who still insist on shifting from reverse to drive while the vehicle is in motion.

Moments like that make me feel like this behavior is just…

Click here to view the embedded video.

not economically viable.

I sometimes tell folks that doing that to a car is like walking backwards and having someone punch you in the square of the back. Enough hits in the back at that same place, and you’re going to need surgery.

Machines, like us limber humans,  shouldn’t have to deal with such stress issues.

Does the mpg’s stink? Sometimes it’s the fault of the manufacturer. But other times, more often than not, it’s because the owner abuses the vehicle with jackrabbit starts, hard braking, and outright neglect.

Steering and suspension components don’t last? Tell the screw behind the wheel to loosen up a bit, and watch the road ahead.

Waste costs money when it comes to cars. So what should we do if our father, cousin or former roommate are the automotive Kevorkians of the modern day?

Plan ahead… and hope that a few low-cost technologies become as common as these modern day Kevorkians.

1) The Shelf

 

You would think that I start this weekend’s column with some whiz bang technology that requires a computer and a circuit. Truth is a lot of folks eventually screw up the interiors because their stuff is all strewn about. They get used to having their transportation serve as a mobile romper room where anything can be chucked anywhere for any reason.

A well placed shelf in the rear of most hatchbacks has the effect of keeping everything in place and nearly doubling the available space you have to haul and store your cargo. This is important from an owner’s standard because the easier it is to keep things tidy, the more inclined we are to do it. An empty soda can in a clean room will usually be thrown away while the same can in a messy place will usually just blend in with the scenery.

A good shelf opens up a lot of space, and helps keep a car tidy.

2) Oil life monitoring systems.

This technology has been around for over 20 years and yet the overwhelming majority of cars still don’t have them.

The benefits of this are obvious… and yet as of 2010, only 40% of manufacturers use them in their cars.

If an automotive Kevorkian wants to ignore this technology, so be it. But putting this in cars would likely save a lot of folks hundreds of dollars and several unneeded oil changes. Multiply that by all the folks in need of it, and we could retire the debt of California… or at least Stockton.

3) MPG monitors: Instant and average

 

What can you do on a long, miserable commute home?

Daydream, listen to the radio, drive, talk on a hands free phone… and that’s about legally it.

Why not keep score?

Of course not all folks will do this. But offering a simple button or switch that makes this possible could alter the driving behaviors of at least a few errant drivers.

Besides, when you’re bored in stop and go traffic, frugality can be the only cheap fun out there.

4) Shift interlocks

I am stubborn on my belief that most CVT’s that will go south in the coming years can endure if their new owners learn how to shift properly.

Reverse, stop, shift. Drive, stop, park. Don’t shift in motion. Stop. STOP. STOP!!!

A shift lock mechanism that keeps the car from shifting while it’s in motion would help undo a learned behavior. That and the four figured premiums of replacing those transmissions.

5) Simple maintenance access

If an automaker wants to enshroud their engine in plastic, that’s fine. But no manufacturer should have the arrogance and gall to prevent access to the tranny fluid, claim that it is a ‘lifetime fluid’, and then whistle the tunes of warranties gone by once that transmission goes kaput.

Lifetime should mean lifetime. End of story. If a manufacturer wants to play the “What is a lifetime?” game, then at least give owners an easy means to replace the fluid.

 

Do you know of anything else that can be cheap or helpful? I have a few other ideas. But in the meantime, feel free to share any technologies or Kevorkians you have come across in your travels. As Judge Judy says, “You can’t stop stupid.” But perhaps a well-deigned shift interlock can slow it down.

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The Joy of Wrenching http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/the-joy-of-wrenching/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/the-joy-of-wrenching/#comments Thu, 10 May 2012 06:11:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=443710

Yesterday was my day off, and by “day off” I of course mean, “day in which I work my ass off sans remuneration”. No doubt this’ll strike a chord with those of you who also have older houses with plenty of, uh, character.

It was a day no thumbs would die by accidental hammer-blow: there was work to be done on the car, and they don’t call me “Spanner” McAleer just because I’m a bit of idiot. Actually, maybe they do – well anyway, to arms!

Nothing too complicated, you understand, merely a double down-pipe swap. On an automotive scale, compared to Murilee’s Impala Saga, this is about as difficult as putting on a hat.

BC’s emissions testing requirements – which have been just about to get cancelled for going on over a decade now – are a bit strict about not fiddling with your factory exhaust system. One does not simply drive into Mordor in a 300+ hp Subie and hope to renew one’s insurance. So, back to stock, and then back to not-stock.

To be honest, I’m a bit excited, and also slightly nervous. Perhaps you’ve met my co-worker, Mr. Frank Ulrich Bartholomew Arthur Richard Murphy? Whenever I get my toolbox out, he gets his toolbox out too, and sure enough one of the five 14mm bolts holding the bell-housing onto the turbo turns out to be a cast-iron bitch.

Therein lieth the challenge. Doubly so because this is not some project car that I can leave lying open on the operating table. We’re a single car family – hence the Swiss Army Knife of a WRX wagon – and the patient needs to have its intestines shoved back in, be sewn up and be back ready to ferry my wife to work upon the morrow. The clock is ticking, let’s go.

Like all would-be mechanics, I served an apprenticeship in my youth, starting with holding the trouble-light. Remember that? It was probably the first useful thing you could do for Dad, then followed by passing him wrenches and – in my case – any of a selection of hammers and mallets, the largest of which we referred to as Excalibur. As in, “It’s stuck. Hand me Excalibur.”

We did a lot of work together, Dad and I, and before you get too invested in some bucolic scene of father and son labouring side-by-side in near-telepathic harmony, I should point out that these were British cars. If ever there were experts at creating dissent between two Irishmen, it’d be the Brits.

“Will ye for f—’s sake hold the God-damned humpy hoor steady, ye spastic God-scoursed eejit!” “I am!” “No you’re God-damned not, ye great clatter of bollocks. Quit flapping yer hole and pay some f—ing attention!”

It was, I imagine, a lot like asking two R-rated Captain Haddocks try to co-operate at neurosurgery. Even today I can cram the equivalent of four Roddy Doyle novels of invective into a single sentence.

Under the Subaru, more cursing.

Why is it that even if you protectively shut your eyes while turning a bolt underneath a car, the small shower of rust only falls when you open them? And why must there always be one fastener that can’t be reached unless you lay your bare forearm directly on some sizzling portion of exhaust header? These are not problems that the average crossword enthusiast or jigsaw-puzzlist has to endure.

And yet, it wouldn’t be the same without them. It’s a whole different world underneath a car once you get the skid-plate off; who among us has not marvelled at the complexity while resting your arms after a half-hour struggle with some stubborn bolt? Particularly true if you’ve ever been underneath an ’80s turbocharged car: vacuum lines designed by M.C. Escher, fashioned by Gordias Knot, assembled by Biff Pinhole.

You don’t see much of this in a more modern car. Pop the hood on a Nissan Maxima, and the swathes of plastic cladding might as well be labelled, “Here be dragons. Hands off!”

There was a time when knowing the basics of mechanical repair was just a matter of course. When you could lift the hood and identify all the major components, diagnose, and repair them in your driveway.

That time is fading, near gone. Once, we all did our own oil-changes. Now, half the cars on the road have improperly inflated tires. As in every facet of our lives, we know less and less about more and more.

The complexity of the machines we rely on for transportation approaches Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. That which we do not understand, we cannot appreciate. That which we do not appreciate, we do not love.

And so, in the not-too-distant future, perhaps an end for this irrational fascination with what’s essentially an extremely dangerous appliance. To the fella that thinks a manifold is some kind of origami instruction, how do you explain attributing a soul to a three-thousand-pound amalgam of steel, glass and rubber?

For now though, the Subaru is back together, with a little more of myself invested in her – I’m speaking literally here: skinned most of my knuckles. Changed the oil too, while I was at it, and I’d swear she was running better. Happier even?

We’re lucky, you and I. We were born in the late Cretaceous period, but in a time when it’s still okay to love these wheeled leviathans. Even when the metaphorical asteroid hits, we’ll be able to keep a few pet dinosaurs on the road as projects, or classics, or memorabilia.

I come inside and place my ruined, dirty hands on my wife’s belly, and feel my unborn child kick. What will she – or he – know of cars? Will she share her father’s obsession?

One thing’s for sure: we probably won’t tell her mother about the cursing lessons.

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How Much Did You Spend On Your Car? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/how-much-did-you-spend-on-your-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/how-much-did-you-spend-on-your-car/#comments Tue, 03 Apr 2012 15:20:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=437843

Car owners have a warped view when it comes to their automobile’s cost.

When you ask someone the, “How much did you spend..”  question, their usual response is to take the price they paid and just let that be that.

“Oh, I got this Mercedes for $50k.” They then will usually go about telling you the options they chose, and other trivial realities related to the car.

But as we all know,  that’s not the question.

I’ve been thinking about this because after several years toiling all over Atlanta with my 1st gen Insight,  I am now spending a fair amount of time raiding the local press fleet cars. One car plus one review to write equals one less tank of gas… and a lot of other subtractions.

Less time obviously equals less wear on my primary driver. A 2001 Honda Insight which I bought three years ago for $4100. It had 145k back then.

Today? It has 187k. I do drive about 25k miles a week…. uh… make that a year.  But much of that is shuttling other cars to various mechanic and paint shops. The Insight also seats only two people. So when I head off to pick up cars at the auctions, I usually take a car fron the lot.But yes, that’s an expense. At least the IRS sees it that way.

However  for the sake of avoiding a calculation that resembles something from NASA, I will simply stick with the usual line items.

Purchase Price: $4100

Depreciation: 0

In Atlanta I could probably sell it for $5000. But I haven’t sold it yet, so I won’t make this a negative number.

Gas: $2300

42,000 / 55 mpg = 763. Gas has averaged about $3 a gallon in Atlanta. Keep up with the SWAG estimating, and you come to a nice round number.

Thank God I no longer drive old Lincolns.

Insurance:  $3165

This is where things are simple for most of you, but not me. The Insight is my work vehicle so my dealer insurance covers it as my primary ride. Since I would still need this insurance if I wasn’t shucking cars on the side, I’ll just let my actual insurance expense represent the Insight.

Maintenance: $87

That’s not a misprint. I bought another Inisght for it’s tranny and other related parts a bit over a year ago. Other than five oil changes (mostly free thanks to Bob is The Oil Guy), a tranny fluid change, and two air filters, I haven’t needed to do much of anything else… with maintenance that is.

Repairs: $595

The parts vehicle that I got for it’s tranny cost me $1850. Proceeds from it were $1485. $985 for the shell. $500 for the battery pack. The guy who bought the battery pack also managed to re-balance the battery on a Civic Hybrid which I later sold at auction for a $2500 gain. I won’t include that in the total. Or the good tires and other wear parts that I have for my ride.

We’ll keep it kosher. $1850 – $1485 = $365. Plus $230 for a botched repair (which was all my fault) and the total comes to about $595.

Total: $10,247

So my ride so far cost me about $3400 a year. Sounds good, but then again I’m also in the business.

But what if I wasn’t? What if I spent my days in a classroom? Or a research lab? Or a doctor’s office? What if I could trade in my dealer’s license and aluminum ride for a nice corner office with a Crown Vic parked as close to the nearest exit as possible?

If I lived close to work and remained a gearhead, that Crown Vic may not cost that much more than the Inisght.

What about you? How much has your primary driver cost you? Has it been worth it?

 

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The Tesla Roadster “Bricking” Story Deconstructed http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/the-tesla-roadster-bricking-story-details-deconstructed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/the-tesla-roadster-bricking-story-details-deconstructed/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2012 17:47:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=432441

I was originally hesitant to jump on the Tesla Roadster “bricked batteries” bandwagon, and my initial story was written with a sort of cautious neutrality. Further context will be provided by the details that have surfaced in the 24 hours since the story broke. Hope you’re ready to dive in to it all.

Original story here. A quick recap: Tesla Roadster owner Max Drucker contacted Tesla CEO Elon Musk regarding a dead battery in his car. Drucker’s car died after he left his Roadster parked, without leaving it plugged in for two months. The vehicle subsequently died. The car was towed to a Tesla service center and a technician determined that his battery would have to be replaced at a cost of $40,000. Drucker sent an angry letter to CEO Elon Musk admonishing him for poor customer service.

- The Tesla “bricking” story broke on the blog of Michael Degusta. Degusta and Drucker have a long history as business partners. This was not disclosed. I contacted Degusta, who said he would put me in touch with an owner who has had their car “bricked” (he did not say if it was Drucker or one of the other four affected owners) and refused to put me in touch with the Tesla service manager who claimed that, among other things, Tesla was tracking vehicles by GPS without the owner’s consent. I was reluctant to take those claims at face value – now they can’t be independently verified. On Degusta’s blog, he discusses an owner of Roadster #340, who parked his car in a temporary garage, sans charger, while his home is being renovated. This is consistent with Drucker’s emails to Tesla – but also consistent with Drucker at best not following the protocol outlined in various documents (obtained via Green Car Reports) and the Tesla Roadster’s manual, or at worst, being negligent. Drucker’s Roadster wouldn’t have the Tesla GSM connection that can alert Tesla to low battery charge conditions. Those were only installed after the first 500 Roadsters were produced. Degusta makes a big stink about the GPS tracking of the Roadsters, but is on record claiming that, and Degusta is unwilling to back that claim up beyond anecdotal evidence.

- A copy of the Tesla Roadster owner’s manual (covering the Tesla Roadster S and Roadster 2.5. Link is at the bottom of the page for you to peruse yourself), states in numerous places that owners are not to leave their vehicles uncharged for long periods of time, or to drain the battery down to zero. Doing so, the owners are told, will cause permanent damage to the battery, and such damage will not be covered under the Tesla Roadster’s warranty agreement. This is spelled out in numerous places in greater detail throughout the manual. Scans of these pages are available in the gallery below. In addition, there is an agreement which owners must sign at the time of purchase that has the owner acknowledge the responsibility of maintaining a proper battery charge, and that any damage that results from negligence in this area is not covered under warranty. Degusta’s complaints that the “Battery Reminder Card” handed out to owners during servicing don’t contain adequate warnings of the consequences are also misleading, as the consequences are spelled out in the aforementioned documents.

- The Tesla Roadster’s battery, unlike those in the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, is made up of 6831 “consumer commodity cells”, basically laptop or cellphone type cells that combine to make up the battery pack. These batteries use Cobalt Dioxide chemistry, which is the most energy dense, and prone to decaying with time as well as use. This is not the case in the Volt or Leaf, which use different chemistry. In addition, the “state of charge” used by the Tesla pack is different; when a Tesla range indicator displays “zero miles”, it could have 5 percent of the battery life left. If the car is then parked without charging, it may drain to zero, leaving the car “bricked”. A Volt, on the other hand, may actually have one half to one third of the battery pack’s life left upon displaying “zero miles”; it only uses 10.4 kW out of its 16kW battery. Exact figures for a Tesla battery weren’t available, but are said to be much higher.

-It’s theoretically possible to revive a “bricked” consumer cell via slow trickle charging, in the same way that a dead iPod or laptop can be brought back to life if left to charge for a very long time after months of not being used.

So, we know for sure that it’s possible for a Tesla to “brick”. Tesla has admitted it in a statement, but also seems to have provided ample warnings that it could happen and that it can easily be prevented. These measures, along with the structure of the warranty agreement, leads us to believe that a product liability lawsuit is highly unlikely (a former auto industry lawyer we spoke to agreed, though cautioned that California’s Lemon Laws were the most liberal of any of the 50 states).

Of course, Tesla could have replaced the battery pack in good faith (and maybe had Drucker and the others sign an NDA agreement that also absolves Tesla of any responsibility for the pack’s failure), but for some reason, they didn’t. In the gallery below, we have scans of the manual. You can read the manual for yourself here.

Tesla Owners Document. Photo courtesy GreenCarReports.com Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail OwnersAgreementBatteryDocument Page6DataRecording Page7FailureToFollowVoidsWarranty Page8Glossary Page33BatteryTOC Page34ChargeInstructions Page35 Page36 Page37 Page78zerowarnings Page88Towing Page89Towing ]]>
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The Fix Is In As GM Makes Changes To Volt After NHTSA Investigation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/the-fix-is-in-as-gm-makes-changes-to-volt-after-nhtsa-investigation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/the-fix-is-in-as-gm-makes-changes-to-volt-after-nhtsa-investigation/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2012 22:25:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=424566

General Motors announced changes to the Chevrolet Volt’s design after a NHTSA investigation into why a Volt caught fire following crash testing.

The changes will go into effect once production restarts at the Hamtramck, Michigan facility, but customer cars already sold will follow a different protocol.

Starting in February, GM will initiate a “voluntary customer satisfaction program” to make the necessary changes to the Volt. According to GM’s Rob Peterson said that  formal recalsl must be initiated by NHTSA, and their lack of movement prompted GM to enact a voluntary one instead.

The fix involves changes to the Volt’s battery pack housing, as well as a coolant temperature sensor and a special bracket to prevent overfilling. The previous system allowed the battery housing to be punctured, which then resulted in coolant overflowing onto a circuit board causing an electrical short. The short was determined to be the cause of the fire.

 

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Dodge A100 Hell Project: You Want Luxury? Here’s Luxury! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/03/dodge-a100-hell-project-you-want-luxury-heres-luxury/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/03/dodge-a100-hell-project-you-want-luxury-heres-luxury/#comments Fri, 18 Mar 2011 17:00:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=387714
These days, we’ve got endless choices in plush, comfy trucks. Back when my 1966 Dodge A100 project van was built, the top trim level of the A100 was the Sportsman Custom, and that was one of your few luxury-truck choices at the time. Naturally, I insisted on a Sportsman Custom when I went shopping for a vintage flat-nose van. With the Sportsman Custom, you got such creature comforts as ashtrays, an AM radio, and— best of all— a steel step that popped out when you opened the side doors. The one on my van wasn’t exactly working when I bought it, but some bashing with a sledgehammer careful adjustment and hosing down with Liquid Wrench judicious lubrication fixed it right up!

Check it out in action! I still need to scrounge up some nice minivan bench seats, or maybe four La-Z-Boy recliners, in order to haul my passengers in true 1966-grade truck luxury; I don’t want them to think that, say, an IHC Travelall would be more comfortable. Independent front suspension? Don’t need it! Sound-deadening insulation? Slows you down! Air conditioning? Plain ol’ windows were good enough for Grandpa, and they oughta be good enough for us!

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