Anti-Audi furor notwithstanding, automotive paint protection and women’s cosmetic products are a lot alike. But wanting your skin/sheetmetal looking good isn’t a crime, so let’s examine two of Turtle Wax’s premium offerings: the ICE clay bar and wax kit, and the Black Box treatment system. Because I hate reading product reviews that regurgitate the manufacturer’s instructions, I’ll assume you can read a box. More to the point, here’s why you should.
When I entered Copley Place, the last thing I ever expected to find was a TTAC review. My trip to New England already having yielded material, the trip was already a success on that front. Yet, as I roamed the halls, ignoring designer label after designer label, destiny was slowly creeping up on me. At 2:15 PM on May 29th, 2009, I flagged the Porsche Design store. More specifically, I smelled it. The combination of pistonhead intrigue and olfactory delight was too powerful, and I walked in.
Given half a chance, most car guys would spend big bucks pimping their wheels. Needless to say, their better half ain’t buying it. So neither are they. While aerodynamic addenda and wikkid wheels are [ultimately] a less costly ego enhancement than regular spa treatments, all car mods tend to appear fairly low on the list of financial priorities known as the family budget. But guys, it’s time to go to the mat. Literally.
Floor mats. Yes, I said floor mats. But not just ANY floor mats. I’m talking high quality rubber, deep-grooved floor mats specifically designed to keep the water and mud off the carpet of your mint 92’ Pontiac Sunfire. I know, I know; contain yourself. The best is yet to come!
If you’re looking for the sine qua non of rubber floor mats, it’s WeatherTech®. Their all-weather mats withstand sub-zero weather without curling, cracking or hardening, for at least ten years! That’s one decade, or seventy dog years (which is just as well if you let Fido in your car). Guaranteed.
Navigate to www.weathertech.com, input your car make and model, and voila! A set of black, tan or gray mats custom-contoured to your car’s curves for about $55, AND you can add matching rear mats for an additional $45 (must be trimmed).
Problem: WeatherTech® mats look a lot like the cheap rubber mats you get at the local auto parts store for ten bucks. Sure they work better. But we’re looking for maximum pimpification. Stand back folks; I’m going OEM!
Audi sells custom-fit floor mats for various models for about $100 to $130. They come in any color you like as long as it’s black, with a contrasting car name logo in white. Yes, that’s twice the freight of a WeatherTech® set, but you gain the fancy logo. So if you forget what car you’re driving, you can simply look down for a reminder (closed course, professional driver). My mats proudly and accurately proclaim allroad.
The mats include mounting holes that affix the rubber widgets into place on the carpeted floor. The design features WeatherTech®-tonic deep-ribbed channels PLUS a high surrounding lip designed to keep liquids from spilling onto the carpet. I tested this premise by removing the driver’s mat from the car and slowly pouring water into the mat until the liquid spilled out of the mat.
As I poured the water ever-so-slowly into the mat, I pondered the usefulness of this experiment. Liquids get to the car’s floor either from the outside via rain, car wash, garden hose, water balloons, etc., and from the inside from drinks, leaking ac, involuntary urination, exploding bottles, etc. Any liquid intrusion (save slow leaks from your shoes) would likely go all over the place– not just on the mat (regardless of the mat’s fluid holding capacity).
I was able to pour seven fluid ounces into the Audi mat before the liquid spilled over the mat’s edge. This is one-sixth the amount of soda in a McDonalds super-sized drink or if you prefer (God knows I do) a twelve-ounce Bud Light. With this low capture level, I concluded that drink spills of any real quantity are going to end-up on the carpet. Therefore, in truth, the mats can only really handle very small spills and minor drips from wet shoes.
Of course, that still leaves another claimed benefit for floor mats: mud and snow protection. However, all floor mats provide a similar service. At least with rubber mats you can easily remove the mud which would have otherwise clung to– and stained– a carpeted floor mat.
The rubber solution also offers psychological benefits. Even if you never go anywhere near mud, having Audi floor mats tells passengers you’re a hardy, adventurous spirit, unafraid to venture off the beaten path to someplace… muddy. Or snowy. Or both.
Well if floor protection is not a major benefit, how about durability?
I used a similar set of Audi mats in an Audi A4 for a period of eighteen months and 15k miles. No snow, mud or spills of any sort occurred on my watch (nor involuntary urination). After that time, the driver’s side mat was worn down where my feet rest. The mat had split along one of the deep ribbed channels, making those dreaded leaks a potentially ruinous problem. This quick wear was really no better than a quality carpeted mat that costs less than half the price.
Overall if you’re into rubber, like to express your ruggedness in your floorware and share my customization compulsion, you will want a set of stylish Original Equipment Manufacturer mats in your car. Yes, they’re basically useless. But your wife won’t mind if you do. Take your victories where you can find ‘em lads.
WeatherTech®, Audi OEM Floor Mats Review Product Review Rating
Overall Rating: 5/5 Stars
Three pedals for two feet. A wheel and a shift knob for two hands– that are supposed to be on the helm at all times. The manual transmission doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? Never mind. For its increasingly marginalized adherents, the manual transmission makes driving a pleasure. Unfortunately, carmakers are deleting the manual option from many U.S.-spec cars. As you’d expect from “ultimate driving machine” fabricators, BMW offers a manual in all of its vehicles save the 7-Series, including the once SMG-only M5s and M6s. These manual-equipped Bimmers sport ZF-sourced six-speed transmissions crowned by a leather shift knob.
In my experience, the BMW manual lever provides slightly long throws– which I believe is a conscience engineering decision to slow shifts down slightly to reduce stress on the clutch and the engine. However, for aggressive and experienced self shifters, the longer throws merely slow down the driving experience. One common solution: replace the factory set-up with a short shift kit. In terms of driver snicking satisfaction, it’s an extremely effective solution. But there ARE drawbacks.
The short shift kit replaces several parts of the shift system, including the shift lever and the selector rod. Installation can be difficult. On some cars, installation comes from under the car, not through the top, requiring a mechanical lift. As stated above, adding a short shifter can also stress a car’s transmission; potential warranty issues may arise. Therefore on a newer car, especially a leased vehicle, a short shift kit is not the best choice.
Another alternative: change the balance of the shift lever by increasing the mass of the shift knob. The BMW factory knob weighs in at six ounces and provides a comfortable, stylish touch. On M models, the shift knob is even illuminated with a weak reddish glow, lighting the shift pattern on the knob’s top surface.
To see if extra mass would improve shifting, I tested the Whalen Shift Machine, produced by a one product company. The Whalen came to my attention thanks to word of “word” in a variety of BMW related web sites, where users raved how great the knob was in actual use.
The Whalen Shift Machine weighs-in at eighteen ounces. For the math challenged, that’s three times the weight of the factory knob. The Whalen Knob also sits approximately one inch lower than the factory-fitted device, which slightly shortens the length of the shift lever.
Installation is a two step process. Step one: remove the old knob. Step two: install new knob. Not so easy, Mr. Bond. Removing the old BMW knob is a little tricky, as it requires substantial torque to pull the factory knob off the shift lever. At the risk of conforming to lawyerly stereotypes, I suggest recruiting that neighbor who lets his dog poop in your yard as a spotter. When the knob comes off, you can “accidentally” pop him in the face. (And then call my office.)
Once you [somehow] manage to remove the old knob, installing the Whalen knob is a breeze. Simply lift the collar under the knob and twist until the center spline of the shift lever lines up with the bar on the inside of the knob. Once lined up, release the collar and the Whalen knob clicks into place.
The Whalen knob is a round ball made of stainless steel. It’s available in three styles: brushed, polished or bead blasted. Whalen also offers custom engraving, allowing users to design their own knob top engraving. [Note: M car, skull’s head, no.] Discretion being the better part of street cred, I purchased the standard polished knob.
Driving with the Whalen knob installed on my M Roadster changed the shift dynamic dramatically. Shifts were much crisper; gear changes felt quicker and more direct. OK, it’s could be mostly psychological, but who cares? The feeling created was close to the feel of an actual short shift kit, with more precise and weightier throws.
After installing the Whalen, I noticed some rattling from the collar. I removed the knob and placed black electric tape on the lever where the collar meets the lever. Sorted.
The Whalen is not without its compromises. I found the knob’s shape, a round ball, less comfortable than the longer factory knob. Although my mitts are average-sized, ham-handed drivers may also find the knob too small. Finally, and this is no small matter for drivers from Miami or Maine, extreme weather will make the knob extremely cold or hot to the touch.
None of these drawbacks outweigh the sensual benefits of driving with a Whalen shift knob. At over 130 clams, the Whalen isn’t cheap, but for the BMW (or MINI) driver who understands the visceral appeal of a manual transmission, the Whalen is a terrific, no hassle upgrade.
Whalen Shift Machine Review Product Review Rating
Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
Now that you’ve attached that cherry faux sunroof you snagged on EBay onto your econobox, it’s time to spruce up the interior. No, I’m not talking about a pine-scented Magic Tree® air freshener (review to follow). Nothing says upwardly mobile motor like a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Now you could stunt down to your local auto parts store and pick-up one of those slide-on leather covers for about twenty bucks. But unless you have hands the size of Sasquatch, you may find this to be a sub-optimal solution. Thankfully, a slimmer, higher quality alternative is available. If properly installed, it adds a tasteful touch to any tiller.
Wheelskins has been flogging cow skin wheel covers for over thirty years. The Berkeley-based aftermarketeers currently offer three styles of single and two-tone skins to fit virtually any whip’s wheel. The covers come in fourteen colors– from black to jackass yellow– complete with a handy guide for monitor-challenged web surfers and color blind males (“Tan is the color of tobacco or a football.”). You can mix and match hues for a two-tone covering to complement your fly yellow AMC Pacer– or way-too-black Ferrari F430.
If you buy your cover directly from Wheelskins– which is more expensive than sourcing one of their retailers– you’re looking at an autosartorial investment of $44.95 for a single tone cover, $49.95 for two-tone and $54.95 for the BCBG perforated Euro model. If one of their six standard sizes doesn’t fit your Citroën DS or suchlike, Wheelskins will craft a custom covering for a small additional fee. And yes, they make covers in extra large sizes for your Peterbilt, Freightliner, Kenworth, etc. and dinky sizes for your golf cart and pedal car.
The Wheelskins ordering process starts with a steering wheel measurement. The website provides a chart to determine wheel size based on your vehicle’s year, make and model. Once you’ve determined the exact size required, you’ve got to choose between single or two-tone. I went for Tommy two-tone, opting for a suitably macho red and black combo.
Both versions can be had in EuroPerf– which has nothing to do with scantily-clad women posing behind plate glass windows in Amsterdam’s De Wallen. You can order your EuroPerf skin perforated at the top and bottom of a two tone model, on the sides of a two-tone model, or all around the cover of any model cover. You know; just in case you were wondering.
The Wheelskins box arrived containing the leather cover, a spool of thread, a large sharp needle and instructions. Obviously, very few people (you know whom I mean guys) have the sewing skills required to make a sock puppet– let alone sew a daily use item requiring one hundred plus stitches. And remember: this all must be done within the confines of your car. Although I can cook a mean Quiche and thread a needle with one eye closed, I never got the results I wanted. As the thread started to unravel, I gave up.
So I let an experienced seamstress go to work on the project. About halfway through, she complained that it would be easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a camel (or something like that) and gave up. Though I think Florida’s oppressive heat played a part in her surrender, you have been warned.
Another problem arose: the wide spokes of my test vehicle’s helm. If your steering wheel spokes are thin, the Wheelskins covering will not be greatly affected by lack of grip on the spokes. BUT if the spokes are very wide, the covering will stick out due to insufficient pull on the cover (dummy stitches indeed). A small piece of Velcro could have solved the problem, but Wheelskins [thoughtlessly] neglected to provide it.
After I finally completed the installation I found that the join of the two pieces of leather (at 10 and 2) was uncomfortable, forcing me to change my grip on the wheel. While I understand that one must suffer for one’s art, my thirty-year-old wheel helmsmanship habits proved too strong to change. I tried reversing the cover to place the larger swath of red leather on the bottom. To say the result looked awkward would be like saying a duck-billed Platypus is a rather odd sort of creature.
Overall, I liked the look and quality of the Wheelskins cover. But I can only recommend the product with two big ass caveats. First, measure twice, order once. Second, keep in mind that the end results depend entirely on the wheel being wrapped and the installer being warped (i.e. an indefatigable OCD seamstress). Try to attach the wrong Wheelskins cover to your wheel or screw-up the install [NB: don’t drink and stitch], and you’ll be ripping the cover off in a few days. Just like I did.
Should this be a TTAC-approved product?
Wheelskins Cover Review Product Review Rating
Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars