The Truth About Cars » Aftermarket The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 25 Jul 2014 10:00:11 +0000 en-US hourly 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 (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 » Aftermarket Altezza Lights: A Retrospective Thu, 28 Feb 2013 14:00:02 +0000

There are some automotive fads that we can liken to the leather jacket; a contemporary piece of clothing that has endured the test of time to become a staple of one’s wardrobe. The Hoffmeister kink may be the best example of an aesthetic detail that’s achieved this sort of ubiquity and acceptance. On the other hand, certain things, like denim shirts for men and a certain style of empire waist tops that were once labeled “tit curtains” by an old lady friend of mine ( due to their unflattering drape on her trim figure) have faded away after a few seasons in the department stores. The automotive equivalent of these unfortunate footnotes may be the “Altezza” or clear lens tail lights that were all the rage a decade ago.

The Altezza tail lights originated on the Toyota Altezza, also known as the Lexus IS in markets outside of Japan. Despite being sold as a Lexus, the Altezza was designed in part by members of the hachi-roku’s development team – the original, Corolla AE86, that is. Numerous boy-racer touches, like the chronograph style gauge cluster, the drilled aluminum pedals and the oversized wheels lent the IS a youthful sensibility that may have explained why the car never really did well. As a pubescent boy with a subscription to Super Street magazine, I thought it was the coolest luxury car money could buy and promptly bugged my father to buy one. All it took was one trip to the Lexus dealer, with him in the front seat and me in the back directly behind him, to convince me that I didn’t want to spend a second longer than necessary in the unbearably cramped rear seat.

Of course, none of that stopped the aftermarket from cranking out Altezza lights by the trawler-load. All of a sudden, everything from the usual Honda Civics to dubbed-out SUVs to the awful GM J-Bodies with egregiously oxidized rear quarter panels sported these dreadful contraptions in place of the stock lamps. Even though my idea of a chick magnet was an old Nissan 240SX spray painted rattle can black with a fartcan muffler and a whistling blow-off valve, I knew that Altezza lights were a step too far, an undeniable sign of poor breeding and limited economic prospects. If only I knew that the most nubile women in my cohort were attracted to precisely that kind of guy, and not somebody who read Tom Wolfe and still bought their clothes at Old Navy.

It wasn’t long before Altezza lights began to appear on other cars. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution’s first U.S. bound iteration was the first to feature clear tail lights, and even Mazda’s timeless MX-5 roadster succumbed to this awful trend, a problem which was mercifully rectified during the mid-cycle refresh of 2009. By that time, the whole “Import 2NR” crowd had died off thanks to the recession, the “Fast & Furious” movies morphed into generic action/car-chase flicks and the Lexus IS had become a rather staid option in the sports sedan segment.

As of now, only one car comes to mind when clear tail lights are mentioned; the Scion FR-S. Despite my complaints about certain aspects of the car, I love the way it looks – save for those damn clear lights. Though I suppose, given the car’s lineage, it is a rather appropriate choice.

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Piston Slap: Putting yourself first via Remote Start? Wed, 22 Aug 2012 11:11:53 +0000


Jonathan writes:


I live in Chicago (actually a northern suburb) and own two cars: 05 Scion xB and an 03 Accord (4 cyl Auto). Due to logistics, day care, scheduling, and the like, both cars are used every day for the 1.5 mile drive to different train stations. And as you can imagine, we have some mighty frigid days here in the Windy City, and getting into a frozen car is not a whole lot of fun.

So I was thinking about installing an after-market remote starter in one or both of the cars. My questions are: Is this EVER a good idea? And if so, which types/brands should I look for and what professional installation gotcha’s should I beware of? And will the installation possibly reduce the future reliability of my car’s electrical/starter systems with the installation of such a device.

Thank you,


Sajeev answers:

Assuming a quality aftermarket installation, my question to you is: when is this ever NOT a good idea?

I only have one reason against this upgrade. There’s a (valid) school of thought that you should not let a cold motor idle around with cold oil: taking forever to warm up with no engine load, adding a ton of friction to the system for no good reason.  But OTOH, who gives a crap?

The extra engine wear could be minimized with a switch to fully synthetic oil.  And sometimes it gets so frickin’ cold outside that the motor needs to idle a bit just to safely drive the car on nearly frozen fluid.  And most people don’t keep cars long enough for this type of engine wear to matter.  And replacement motors from the junkyard are cheap…

I think you see my point. Find a reputable automotive aftermarket trim installer in your area (, ask local car dealerships, etc) and buy a kit they recommend to make this as easy as possible. With those two hurdles cleared, you shouldn’t have any problems for years to come. Especially on the somewhat simplistic  electrical systems of late model Hondas and Toyotas, as opposed to something BMW-like. Fingers crossed on that!

Question is, does anyone north of my hot H-town homeland disagree with this assessment?

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Vellum Venom Vignette: In God We Trust? Sun, 17 Jun 2012 02:28:43 +0000 It’s funny how a college professor goes from cool to angry in a split second.  Case in point: my first transportation design class at CCS.  People showed off their designs as per usual, but one day I opened my big mouth. I mentioned that a classmate’s rendering sported wheels that looked like the Star of David. He seemed completely clueless about what he did. But I just had to “keep it real.” Oh boy, was that ever a mistake!

A design school that caters to the big automakers, staffed with adjunct professors who work in the business…well, they know better than some punk design student.  My wrist was (kinda) slapped, and everyone was warned to not include religious symbolism in their products.  Because everyone in this business wants to sell their product to anyone with green money.  Nobody gives a crap as long as you can “splash the cash.”

Stop reading if you believe TTAC has no business discussing religion.

So anyway, I didn’t much care for the exposed holes in my 2011 Ranger’s bed, and I wanted some tie downs to take advantage of my “Truxedo” tonneau cover when carrying bags full of recycling. With four bedside hooks, I could strap down oversized cargo with two belts, and the big flappy hunk of Truxedo vinyl would keep the recycling from flying away.

So I bought these Bull Rings.  Plus, from the photos I saw on the Internet, they look pretty awesome. A great piece of Industrial Design, worthy of kudos from any CCS professor. And worthy of a little positive Venom from this series.


I once read something in a Hindu temple suggesting that Universalism between religions exists. It was in stark contrast to the kids in grade school who told me I was going to hell for my beliefs. One person later gave me a half-hearted apology for that, but it proved a point. And I learned to get over it: that’s the beauty of growing older, I guess. Probably.

So when I installed these (easy to use, rather awesome) bits on my Ranger, I was surprisingly upset when I saw the fish icon under the ring.  I didn’t pay for this, and I assume the BullRings sold by FoMoCo don’t have Christian symbolism hidden under the ring. Even worse, it’s been over a week and these things still upset me.

My truck.  My money.  I did not pay for the fish, and it was not advertised as such.

I never gave much thought to it, but my CCS professor was right to make a big deal about car design and religion. Religion has a very important place in our society, and I respect that. But when I pay for a piece of Industrial Design, I don’t expect a hidden religious message to go with.

If you want to share your message, do it like the kids did in grade school: shock me by calling me “Gandhi” or “Maharaja” (neither of which are insults) and make fun of my religion because it isn’t Christianity.  I’ve always respected Christianity and have many friends in this faith who’d vouch for me, but these bits on my truck shall meet the grinding end of my Dremel tool.  Sorry peeps: not on my truck, not with my money.

This isn’t what I signed up for, son. Once again: my truck and my money.  I did not pay for the fish, and it was not advertised as such.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.

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Piston Slap: Being On The Level With One’s Self Wed, 09 Nov 2011 15:41:54 +0000


TTAC commenter jems86 writes:

Dear Sajeev,

I need your help again. I live in Colombia and, as you already know, I am the owner of a 2000 Subaru Forester (the 2.0 EDM model). This particular model has rear self leveling struts and recently they went bust. My dealership is asking 4 million pesos (about 2235 USD) for the replacements. I really think it’s a little bit steep so I’ve been searching online but haven’t been able to find the OEM parts. I read on a forum ( that you can put the non-self leveling struts. Is this a good idea? How much would the driving characteristics of my car change? If I go this way, what other components of the suspension should I replace? Thanks in advance for your help.

Sajeev Answers:

Oh yes! This is the age-old query of removing a factory self-leveling system for something more mundane, quite affordable and probably adequate for anyone’s needs. In theory, these systems are entirely interchangeable with a conventional damper, as the self-leveling feature only comes into play when the rear of the vehicle is loaded down. In practice, there might be a different spring to go with the unique strut.

That said, don’t always trust what you read on the Internet. Look up the part numbers to make sure there aren’t two different springs for the Forester. Once that’s cleared up, go ahead and eliminate the self-leveling feature: while a great idea when new, it loses a lot of luster once the miles rack up, the complicated bits wear out and the vehicle depreciates to the point where spending thousands on a repair simply makes no sense.
And this isn’t a unique situation: people have eliminated air suspension systems for decades on depreciated iron. Switch using OEM Subaru parts and you will be just fine. Or maybe the correct Subaru spring with a new set of four aftermarket dampers from a sportier vendor like Bilstein, Koni, etc. Unless your roads are pretty rough, then stick with the stock shocks for minimum abuse over potholes.

And your wallet will appreciate it, with little to no detriment to the Forester’s performance. Perhaps the ride will gain a little harshness, but I have my doubts: fully-air suspended cars are more susceptible to this.  I would have no concerns whatsoever with this swap.

Unless you are a chronic “overloader” of rear storage compartments…then you might want to buy the self-leveling bits online and find a local mechanic to install them for you.

So now you know, good luck with your decision.

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Ford, Aftermarket Tangle Over Collision Replacement Parts Tue, 16 Aug 2011 19:03:28 +0000

For some time now, there’s been something of a low-scale war going on between OEMs and aftermarket parts suppliers just below the national media radar. The issue: whether or not aftermarket structural parts are as good as OEM parts. Ford has been a major proponent of the OEM-only approach, making the video you see above in hopes of proving that aftermarket parts aren’t up to the job. But the aftermarket is firing back, and they’ve made their own video in direct response to this one, which you can view after the jump.

The video above, made by the Automotive Body Parts Association, directly challenges the findings of Ford’s video experiments, arguing that they prove only that “motorists should avoid slowly driving into madmen wielding reciprocating saws.” In a press release, Co-Chair of the ABPA Legislation and Regulation Committee Eileen A. Sottile lays out her industry’s position

Time and again the aftermarket industry has demonstrated the safety and quality of its products, yet some car companies seem determined to counter scientific facts with fear-mongering. OEs cannot credibly argue that only their branded parts can provide safety, especially when it comes to components that play a very small role in crash energy management. If car company safety systems cannot handle a wide range of real world crash conditions and material differences in minor replacement parts then they are not robustly engineered and as such are a significant threat to the consumers.

You can read a compilation of material on the debate over at if you want to dive deeper into the argument, but it seems to me that the aftermarket is always going to face a single challenge again and again: branding. Whereas the OEMs can put their brands on their products, consumers will always be wary of parts made by different companies. Some consumers will always buy off-brand in hopes of a deal, but when safety is at stake, trust is of the utmost importance. Buyers trust brands, whereas the aftermarket’s myriad companies can’t all have the prominence of, say, a Ford… and they can’t all guarantee the exact same quality either. Still, that doesn’t mean the OEMs aren’t unnecessarily fearmongering…

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New or Used: Buffalo Butts Need Not Apply… Fri, 05 Aug 2011 23:31:45 +0000  


S.M. writes:

Dear Steve and that other Dude,

As you well know, I am a little hooked on old-school American iron, preferably of the V8, high performance wannabe-GT cum Land Yacht variety. Problem is, they are letting me down in terms of basic transportation to work. Not that my Cougar and Mark VIII are complete turds, that guy with that Piston Slap column would have my ass if it came to that. But the occasional part needs replacement, and every recent modification (defective hi-flow fuel pumps, limited slip differentials assembled rather poorly) left me stranded and car-less for many days…and, well, you see my point.

I have a working budget of anywhere from 20-40k for a vehicle that’s new or lightly used. The ideal vehicle should be well proportioned with good visibility (no buffalo butts, I didn’t go to Industrial Design school for that crap), be RWD and not be a stereotypical European money pit that’s nearly impossible to repair in my garage. The ability to tune/tweak would be a plus and being more practical than my two coupes wouldn’t hurt, either. Not that I want another tuner car that’ll leave me stranded for one reason or another. Oh, and a stick would be nice.


PS: I am not interested in Panther Love. I wish you people would stop pushing these damn things on your readers. The only ones I’d consider are the “fat panthers” from the mid-90s with all the good stuff inside. I am not interested in taking a new, reliable “skinny” one and making it fat with parts from the junkyard. Been there, done that and already won the Fox Body trophies.

Steve answers:

Well Saj…I mean, anonymous dude.

You have a lot of nice wiggle room if you’re looking at the 20k to 40k range. If price is truly no object up to forty grand I would look directly at the the Hyundai Genesis sedan. It has plenty of power, Lexus levels of luxury, and an overall fit and finish that would make the Clinton era Panthers envious.

The 3.8L Genesis coupe with a six-speed would also be a great fit too since you may want something that is more akin to a touring sedan. Other non-Teutonic alternatives I would look at include the Ford Mustang, Chrysler 300, Infiniti G37, and my personal middle-aged favorite…a 2010 Corvette LS3 with a Targa top.

But I must ask… will at least one of your cars be running by the end of the month? Your predicament is why I avoid considering most aftermarket mods. Yeah, they may look good on the surface. But after years of looking at over 10,000+ repos a year as a remarketing rep, I got sick and tired of shiny plastic wheels and ‘upgrades’ that were like made out of recycled Chinese beer cans.

Keep your next ride stock. Only upgrade the obvious and chances are you may indeed forget that misguided chapter of your life called ‘Panther Love’.

Sajeev answers:

Damn son, you got mad issues.

I mean, choosing a car based on the height of its backside is more than a little disturbing. And not picking a “skinny” Panther completely goes against your grain. That said, Steve did a good job laying the truth on you: any Genesis, fat-ass Mustang or C6 ‘vette is what you need. Or maybe an Infiniti G37 coupe, it’s super classy just like that Mark VIII of yours. Good luck trying to keep any of these choices stock, however. You won’t last a month.

My advice to you is to grow the heck up. Stop looking at interesting, fast or inherently cool cars. You aren’t selling your hoopties and you don’t need anything remotely similar to them. It’s time to broaden your horizons and wake up to your future!

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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Merchants of Speed: The Men Who Built America’s Performance Industry, by Paul D. Smith Fri, 24 Dec 2010 23:00:38 +0000
I’ve got this intimidating stack-o-car books to review— it’s been five months since the last one— and so I figured I’d skim them all and pick out a few winners. I cracked this one open, got hooked right away, and read the whole thing while ignoring the rest of the pile.

This 1938 shot of Ed Iskendarian and his Model T (note the valve covers— cast in Iskendarian’s high-school shop class— on the Ford’s Maxi F-heads) pretty much sums up the book; it’s a collection of short, well-illustrated biographies of 26 men who created the aftermarket performance industry during the immediate postwar era.

I’m already obsessed with Southern California memoirs and biographies (Richard Nixon, James Ellroy, Sister Aimee, Mickey Cohen, and Art Pepper, to name a handful; this one just dragged my head back to SoCal), so even without the rat-rodders-wish-they-looked-this-cool vintage car porn I’d be digging this book in a big way. With the notable exception of Harvey Crane (Crane Cams), just about every one of the 26 “merchants of speed” set up shop in the Los Angeles area, epicenter of the post-World-War-II racing and hot-rodding boom.

The stories of Hilborn, Edelbrock, Offenhauser, Weiand, and plenty of other familiar names may be found in this book’s pages. We also get the stories of big-in-their-time outfits such as Chevy six-cylinder kings Wayne Manufacturing. The ups, the downs, the ripoffs (according to Lou Senter of Ansen Automotive, the design of the Ansen Posi-Shift Floor Shifter was lifted by a person “who became quite a famous floorshift manufacturer” due to a legal gray area in a patent description), and the “where are they now” answers will allow the reader to geek out on engineering and hot-rod-golden-age tales to his or her heart’s content.

Speaking of Lou Senter, check out this blown Packard V8-powered monster! Yes, the first car to break 150 MPH in the quarter-mile on gasoline was Packard powered!

I’m giving “>Merchants of Speed a four-rod rating (out of a possible Mercedes-Benz-OM615-inspired five). Murilee says check it out!


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