The Truth About Cars » Brakes The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +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 » Brakes Piston Slap: High Caliber Aftermarket Stoppers? Wed, 30 Apr 2014 12:13:51 +0000

John writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I’ve had a 2009 Dodge Caliber SRT4 for a few years and it’s coming up to its first all-around brake job at 50,000 miles / 80,000 km (I drive like a granny). I work at a dealership (different brand) but can get parts at a bit of a discount. Still, OEM brakes + pads on this thing are $980+tax Canadian. From what I’ve seen I can get aftermarket ones for a quarter of that. One of the mechanics here suggests I put on OEM pads and aftermarket discs.

What do you recommend? Any good aftermarket manufacturers who meet or exceed OEM standards? I know with this car you’ve got the weird fake differential that uses braking to adjust for wheel slip, would non-OEMs eff this up? When I private sale this next year, will having aftermarket brakes effect the resale value with the type of people who buy these cars?

The car has been surprisingly reliable, but I’m only doing 8,000km a year. Debating getting employee pricing on something more…Swedish.

Any advice would be appreciated!

Sajeev answers:

I’d be shocked if Chrysler makes the brake bits that rest in their branded boxes.  Brakes, like many other parts, are usually made to OEM specifications by a third party supplier. Which is great, except when it’s not. A few thoughts lifted directly from my experiences:

  • Brake pads: high quality ceramic street pads from any parts store (i.e. not the cheapest) stop, leave similar amounts of dust and be silent like an OEM pad.  Plus, if you know a bit more about materials, you can choose an aftermarket pad’s composition (organic, ceramic, semi-metallic, full metallic, etc) to tune the brakes to your particular needs.  I prefer carbon metallic pads, as I’m easy on the brakes (Houston is flat, and metallics heat up quickly here) and they do an amazing job when I do need them.  If not, maybe ceramics are more your speed, so to speak.
  • Brake Rotors:  Even though the dudes at the parts counter swear that the pricer USA-made rotors are better,  I’ve had amazingly good luck with the cheapest, Chinese-made stuff. Perhaps it’s partially because of a friend that tows for a living; he mentioned they are all the same, too.  IMO, the USA made stuff has nicer machining around the hub, but that’s about it.
  • Brake Rotors II: Avoid the ricey aftermarket slotted/drilled rotors (crack prone) and stick with the conventionally vented units.  High Performance cars may have factory drilled/slotted rotors, and if so, stick with OEM just to be safe.

With this in mind, let’s answer your questions:

 1) What do you recommend?

Your car’s rear brakes are like any other Caliber, so I’d recommend any high quality ceramic pad on a cheap replacement rotor. Since the fronts are lifted from the Chrysler LX cars, get a cheap LX rotor and your choice of pad.  Me personally?  Get semi-metallic (carbon metallic) pads all around, especially since a common upgrade for the SRT-4 appears to be the same semi-metallic pad used on the LX Cop Cars.

2) Any good aftermarket manufacturers who meet or exceed OEM standards?

I’m not interested in endorsing one big name pad manufacturer over another for pads. They are all good, and I have yet to regret owning cheap rotors.

3) I know with this car you’ve got the weird fake differential that uses braking to adjust for wheel slip, would non-OEMs eff this up?

I seriously doubt it. But that’s a question for the forums: do some homework, don’t listen to me.

4) When I private sale this next year, will having aftermarket brakes effect the resale value with the type of people who buy these cars?

I think saying that you upgraded to semi metallic pads like the LX Cop Car is a huge plus given the intended buyer.  So maybe you should listen to me.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: Crossing over into Minivan Tow Ratings? Thu, 19 Apr 2012 11:35:07 +0000


Mike writes:

Dear Sajeev,

I have been a fan of TTAC for a while now. I am motivated to write by the recent responses to towing with a 2005 Odyssey. Two years ago I bought a 2008 Toyota Sienna and a 21 foot (actual total length) travel trailer. The trailer has a GVWR of 3500 lb, which the Sienna is rated to tow with its towing package. I had an independent shop install a fluid-to-air ATF cooler, unfortunately, perhaps, choosing the smallest model as it was recommended for a 3500 lb tow. I was concerned about getting too much cooling in the winter. The van already had an ATF cooler in the radiator. I had them put in an ATF temperature gauge (before the radiator) at the same time. The towed weight of the trailer is several hundred pounds below the GVWR, but it has a front profile that is basically vertical. I have towed the trailer about 20,000 km (yes, I’m in Canada) and done what Toyota calls an ATF change three times. That’s actually a drain the pan and refill with 4 L of ATF, not really a change. Of course, I have no way of knowing how accurate the gauge is, but the highest it’s been on the highway is 220 F on a couple of grades in the BC mountains (Coquihalla highway). The temperature went down as soon as the grade did. It went up to 240 F or so for a few minutes while backing up a steep hill and around a bit of a corner into a storage yard. The van had 38,000 km on it when purchased and is now at 82,000 km.

Enough background. I am writing to ask why it is apparently okay to tow a larger trailer (5000 lb rating) with a Highlander but not a 3500 lb trailer with a Sienna. As far as I can tell, the engine, transmission and weight of the vehicles are basically the same. The internet is rife with posters who advise against towing with a minivan but seem to have no qualms about doing so with a SUV, except the very smallest.

What do you think?

Thanks very much for helping me out with this. I can find no answer to my question on the internet.

Sajeev answers:

Wow, you actually put an ATF temperature gauge (among other things) in a minivan?  This is why I love TTAC: our readers do some rather brilliant and enlightened things outside of their computer time.  Well, at least some of you.  I kid, I kid!

There are crucial elements that go into a tow rating: the vehicle’s weight, braking capacity and rear spring stiffness.  The 2012 Sienna is about 200lbs heavier than the 2012 Highlander, for starters.  Who knows, maybe the brakes aren’t good enough for a Highlander sized trailer and the Sienna body.  Ditto the rear springs.

I never had much faith in manufacturer tow ratings, until the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) came up with their Surface Vehicle Recommended Practice J2807: which supposedly standardizes these figures.  Is J2807 is be all, end all of towing standards?  Maybe so, but this terribly formatted article gives you more insight.  Definitely cut and paste this one into Word before reading.

While this many not fully answer your question, hopefully this will tow you (sorry) in the right direction.

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


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Piston Slap: The “Fat” Panther, The Self Aware Man Fri, 28 Oct 2011 13:02:46 +0000  

George writes:

Sajeev, I enjoy TTAC and your writing. Okay, I succumbed to the blandishments of you Panther lovers (and to fond memories of my father driving his Fords and Lincolns), and bought a 1996 Lincoln Town Car Cartier.  The car has about 143,000 miles on it, all in North Carolina.  The previous (2nd) owner was reportedly a little old lady, and because of the condition of the driver’s seat she could not have weighed much more than 90 or 95 pounds. It is well taken care of and straight.

The TC has a clean Carfax, and I purchased it for just under $3k. It appears to have every single option offered that year (including the phone) except a sunroof, and I’m not sure a sunroof was offered on the Cartier. (It was, so sorry! – SM)

My mechanic says it appears to have been well taken care of, and since I plan on keeping it for 5 to 7 years I am happy to put another $5k to $7k in the car, which means for under $10k I get to drive a true luxury car that gets almost 26 mpg on the highway.

After about $4.5k it has a bunch of new stuff including driver’s door hinges, all fluids and filters changed, suspension, window lifts,
headlamps, plugs and wires, Michelins, a real spare tire, a full (2-day) detail including steam cleaning the engine top and bottom, and adding iPod and aux-in ports in lieu of the 10-disk CD changer (which I’m leaving in the car).  One of my goals is to leave the car as stock as possible, while making it as safe and as reliable as possible.

I drive 10,000 to 14,000 miles per year, which may include a round trip to the Rockies every year or two. The car gets almost 17 mpg in town (16.8), and 25.5 mpg on the highway at 65 to 70 – this is a true slab cruiser and it seems to love cruising for hours.

My questions are:
- What kind of mods and specific parts/systems should be upgraded to
achieve my goal of making the car as safe and as reliable as possible?
- Should I keep the air suspension or go coils
- What systems do I need to be especially vigilant about?
- What kind of tire pressure is optimal so that instead of feeling
like I’m driving a very warm marshmallow it feels like a regular

This is a true luxo barge and it puts a smile on my face when I look at it and when I drive it.  It is also putting smiles on many other faces – I can’t stop myself waving and smiling at other drivers and pedestrians….

(I wrenched when younger but no more – my interests now are pretty much confined to running my business and making life miserable for my competitors, all of which I enjoy immensely. I tell my family and friends I have retired as I do what I want every day and hope I can keep doing it until I die.)

Sajeev answers:

And I also hope you can do just that till the end of your days, my good man.  I feel the same way about this Piston Slap gig, even if I don’t (technically) own a Panther of my own.  But it sounds like you have the perfect ride for your ideal life.  You lucky duck!

Question 1: new shocks are first on my list, preferably some upgraded units like Bilsteins.  Upgrading the swaybars is optional, but it might seriously defeat the purpose of owning a Cartier Town Car. Next up is a large, aftermarket transmission cooler.  From there, I’d get some 16” Cartier (1997-2002) chrome wheels to do the big brake swap from the later model. Depending on the condition of the transmission, doing a J-Mod will make the ride a lot more entertaining with less wear and tear. Lastly, getting an SCT reflash on the computer will speed up transmission shift logic and net you anywhere from 10-25 more ponies too. Oh, and if the plastic intake hasn’t been changed to the aluminum-plastic redesign, DO IT NOW!

Question 2: Air Suspension rocks, and Lincoln’s setup is disturbingly cheap and durable.  Ever priced a replacement system for a Lexus LS or anything European? The Lincoln’s bags (Ford parts, not the cheap remans) only last 10-12 years.  So replace the bags every 10 years and things will be just peachy. You can replace the three wear points (bags, air compressor) for probably $600 or so, and it’s quite easy to do in your own driveway, if you were so inclined.

Question 3: Vigilant? Are you serious? This is a frickin’ Panther chassis! The only things to be vigilant with a “Fat” Panther like your Cartier is to make sure your friends/family don’t cut-scuff-mar the soft touch materials: because these truly are land yachts that go toe-to-toe with other luxury cars from that era.

Question 4: Sounds like you need rebuild the suspension.  New shocks like I said before, maybe replaced the fatigued coil springs too.  This is a 15-year-old car with well over 100,000 miles, after all.  If you want a Panther that doesn’t fit the stereotypes of old American Iron, do this and forget about air pressure in your tires.

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

cartier-les-must 96LTCC_1 96LTCC_2 96LTCC_3 96LTCC_4 96LTCC_5

]]> 17 The Physics Of Flintstones-Style Braking Sat, 27 Aug 2011 16:45:33 +0000

This is the kind of video that might suffice as standalone weekend entertainment. After all, braking a truck with your feet is a pretty demonstrably bad idea. But the lovable nerds at Popular Science just had to take it a step further and work out the physics of trying to halt a truck ala Fred Flintstone, noting

Let’s estimate he can push down with a force about a quarter of his weight. If he weighs 200 pounds, this would result in a force of 50 pounds, or 225 N. We also know that the force of friction (F) between his feet and the asphalt depends on the force with which he pushes down (N) and the “coefficient of kinetic friction”(μ) between the soles of his shoes, which we will assume are made of rubber, and the pavement.

F = μN

The μ between rubber and asphalt varies between 0.5 and 0.8. Let’s assume a value of 0.7. Therefore, solving for stopping distance, we get:

D = ½(2100kg)(18m/s)2/(0.7)(225N) = 2160 meters, or over 1.3 miles!

The situation might be improved if he exerted his full 200 pounds, or 900 Newtons, of force against the ground. In that case:

D = 1/2(2100kg)(18m/s)2/(0.7)(900N) = 540 meters (about a third of a mile)

However, the amount of torque exerted on his ankles and knees might make that a problematic proposition.

Surf on over to PopSci for the entire breakdown (no pun intended).

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1965 Impala Hell Project Part 7: Disc Brakes In, Massive Slacker Couch-Surfing Expedition Enabled! Tue, 02 Aug 2011 23:30:50 +0000
IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 • Part 7 • Part 8

After installing a junkyard-centric, street-sign-based instrument panel and 20-pound “pullout sound system,” I hit the streets on my post-college-graduation job search. After all, with a newly-minted degree from the University of California in hand and the Bay Area from San Francisco to Concord, Santa Rosa to San Jose as my search area, I’d soon be raking in sufficient Benjamins to install a 6-71-blown 427 in my Chevy, right? Short answer, learned after several hundred increasingly grim job interviews: no. I really feel for today’s recent college grads, since I had it easy compared to what you poor 22-year-old, in-student-loan-debt-up-to-your-nodules bastids are facing… but still, with no income other than the occasional junkyard-wrenchin-fer-cash gig and death-to-soul office temping (more on that later) showing up for me, I felt the abyss (i.e. graduate school) looming ever closer. What to do? Hit the highway!

It was about this time that I became completely addicted to Peter Bagge’s brilliant Hate Comics, which seemed to capture the sense of diminished expectations and ironically-waiting-for-the-apocalypse mindset of my alleged generation a lot better than did Douglas Coupland with his much-hyped-by-mainstream-media novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (note: not that I have anything against Coupland; I’ve since become a serious fan of his work and recommend his novels without reservation). I suggest that you head over to Fantagraphics and buy everything published by Mr. Bagge immediately, pausing only to read his excellent editorial cartoons at Reason.

Just like the characters in Hate, my friends and I spent a lot of energy pretending that our educated poverty somehow made us cool, like we’d choose to live with 5 flatulent hipsters in a two-bedroom apartment in the Western Addition and drink Milwaukee’s Best-grade suds if we actually had, like, real jobs. My love of cars and junkyards bought me exactly zero coolness points in this crowd (some things never change), though my Impala was certainly well-suited to survival in the ghetto neighborhoods I found myself frequenting. While it did get broken into and searched for valuables every so often, and its complement of dents and dings appreciated rapidly, no meaningful damage was ever done to it during my travels about the bohemian Bay Area of the early 1990s.

It was a great real-world daily driver, but for one small detail: the brakes. Even after I’d replaced the shoes and adjusted everything with obsessive attention to detail, the Impala’s four-wheel drums were frighteningly inadequate for any speeds above about 20 MPH. Yes, yes, cranky old geezers, our forefathers did fine with drum brakes, but that’s because they didn’t know any goddamn better! I do know better, and after I came upon stalled traffic on the Nimitz Freeway and had my brakes fade to nothingness when attempting a looks-like-I-got-plenty-of-space stop from 60 (I nearly had to resort to scraping the guardrail to avoid hitting other cars), I decided to invest a few bucks in some junkyard upgrades. Full-sized Chevrolets from the 1965 through 1970 model years have full bolt-on interchangeability when it comes to front-suspension and brake parts, and the disc brake option became fairly common on the ’69 and ’70 models. In 1991, old Impalas and Caprices were just about as common in junkyards as are Tauruses today (as you can see from my extensive collection of early-70s Impala door emblems), so it was no problem to grab the master cylinder, lines, proportioning valve, rotors, calipers, spindles, and so on from a ’70 Caprice at Pick Your Part in Hayward. By waiting for Half Price Weekend (which used to take place every couple of months in those days), I scored all the parts for not much more than a C-note.

Once again, the inherent technological suckiness of the Allegedly Good Ol’ Days comes into play here; because I was documenting the project with 35mm film and not a digital camera, major milestones in the Impala Hell Project’s progress went undocumented. Such was the case with the brake upgrade, which was your usual weekend-long thrash and would have produced all manner of grainy, artsy-looking Plus-X black-and-white images… had I not spaced on shooting photos in the first place, or screwed up developing the film in the bathroom sink, or lost the negatives, or whatever the hell happened. In any case, the brakes from the ’70 big Chevy, which scaled in at 400-800 pounds more than the ’65 due to the inevitable process of Model Bloat, transformed my driving experience from terrified nostalgia to totally pleasant, just like that. One weekend of bolting on parts and my car stopped just as well as modern-day machinery. Hooray!

Naturally, a project of this magnitude never goes completely according to plan. While the complete everything-from-ball-joints-out assemblies from the ’70 bolted right into the ’65, the hub centers ended up being about 1-1/2″ lower relative to the suspension than they’d been with the drums. That jacked up the front of the car enough to reduce its mean-looking rake. I wasn’t about to hose my comfy ride by chopping the springs, so I decided to live with the change. At the same time, my 14″ wheels wouldn’t clear the disc brake calipers, so I had to grab some junkyard 15s immediately. Fortunately, I scored a set of Pontiac Rally wheels from El Pulpo at half off.

These wheels were once dirt-common at wrecking yards and they’ll bolt right onto a Chevy. To geeks who knew enough about old GM products to identify my wheels, I’d be committing a mild breach of some unwritten GM-fanatic code. To all my Generation X friends, however, I’d just upgraded my ride with the same wheels that came on Hot Wheels cars. Finally, a tiny vestige of hipster coolness for my car!

I was also lucky enough to score an HEI distributor at Pick Your Part around this time; this electronic distributor design was so many orders of magnitude superior to the original points ignition that came with my engine that it was like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when I stumbled upon a late-70s El Camino with this distributor on Half Price Weekend. Chevrolet HEIs would last about 17 minutes in a self-service junkyard before getting snatched in those days, and the going swap-meet rate was still something like a hundred bucks. Ever seen the sequence in Slacker in which the junkyard scroungers score an HEI and stuff it through a hole in the fence? Whatever that film’s numerous flaws may be, that part was dead-on accurate.

I also did some tweaking of the transmission kick-down linkage, since the linkage on my Quadrajet had been intended for a ’69 Eldorado and never quite worked right on my TH350. After much futzing with junkyard linkage bits from a wide assortment of GM machinery, I came up with this low-buck drill-some-holes-in-scrap-of-metal fix.

The 350 seemed to run a little hot in traffic with the clutchless stamped-steel fan and washtub-influenced fan shroud that The General probably spent $1.24 to manufacture back in 1964, so I obtained an electric “pusher” cooling fan from an early BMW 7 Series.

Some plumber’s tape, a few homemade brackets, and wiring to the Space Shuttle-style instrument panel and I could drop the coolant temperature 25 degrees with the touch of a finger. That BMW fan drew more amps than the rest of the accessories, headlights included, combined, but you can always count on German overengineering to more than get the job done.

You don’t really need a heater in coastal California, but it is nice to warm up on a gloomy 45-degree February day. After donating the air-conditioning hardware to my engine-swap assistant, the Impala had a gaping hole where the evaporator coil housing had once lived. Since air destined for the heater core had to pass through this housing, I wasn’t getting any heated air in the passenger compartment… until I tin-snipped and hammered a piece of sheet steel into this block-off plate. I’d been trying to find a non-AC-equipped car in the junkyard, so I could use the correct factory piece, but it appears that most California full-sized Chevy buyers preferred their cars with 150 pounds of Frigidaire gear in the engine compartment, even in the 1960s.

After a winter and spring of bouncing between the home of my long-suffering parents on the Island That Rust Forgot and various flaky living situations in Oakland and San Francisco, I decided that perhaps a trip back to the car’s home turf would be just the thing: time to get over to I-5 and head south.

I’d made a few bucks replacing the entire clutch hydraulic system on an acquaintance’s Mazda 626, after she’d poured transmission fluid in the clutch master cylinder and ruined all the seals throughout the system. Paying me to replace everything with Pick-N-Pull components was way cheaper than what the dealership wanted (which shocked nobody), but it put enough gas and food money in my pocket for a lengthy Los Angeles-Orange County-San Diego journey.

I’d been experiencing some culture shock in the San Francisco Bay Area, after five years in Southern California, so it felt comforting to be back beneath the white sky, inhaling deeply of the petroleum-enhanced air down south.

Nothing but an endless grid of freeways and mysterious adventures to be had. I’d been reading Mike Davis’s City of Quartz in obsessive detail, so it seemed that I was encountering revelatory experiences on all sides.

My first stop was in Santa Ana, where some friends rented a big decaying Art Deco house. My friends in Southern California were just as broke and underemployed as their counterparts up north, but rents were cheaper and the recession’s teeth less sharp behind the Orange Curtain. Santa Ana is the city in which Philip K. Dick was living at the time of his death, having fled there from Berkeley in order to live in the least freaky region of California that he could imagine. I felt like I had come to the right place when I saw this ’65 Impala coupe in the neighborhood.

The neighborhood was one of those formerly prosperous suburbs that had been drifting in a gentle downward spiral since about the end of World War II; decaying 1920s crypto-Mission-style houses with a few hints of splendor here and there, but gang graffiti and boarded-up windows also demanding attention. Southern California has many such neighborhoods. My car didn’t attract much attention.

I drove around, chowed down at the taquerias, and shot a lot of photographs. This was the summer of 1991; Ice-T’s O.G. Original Gangster and the Butthole Surfers’ Piouhgd had just come out, and I listened to both tapes non-stop on my all-junkyard, eight-speaker Impala stereo. I started hearing more and more about the upcoming Lollapalooza Festival, some sort of Jane’s Addiction farewell concert tour that would feature Ice-T, the Butthole Surfers, and a bunch of other bands I liked. I forget how, but a friend in San Diego scored a bunch of tickets for the San Francisco show…

…and it made perfect sense for the Orange County contingent to head 80 miles south to San Diego, pick up some folks there, and then cruise 500 miles north for the show. My Impala seemed like the perfect vehicle for such a slacker hegira.

Better still, my friend Jeff had a rich girlfriend, and her arms-trader dad was overseas making Stinger missile deals with Adnan Khashoggi. His brand-new Mercedes-Benz 560SEL was just sitting there, all lonely in the driveway of its guard-gated McMansion, and so it was decided that a caravan consisting of my hooptie and Papa Stinger’s Benz would make the trip north. Fortunately, I thought to load a point-and-shoot camera with Tri-X 400 and hand it to the W126′s occupants, in order to photograph my car in its highway glory.

By this time, I’d installed a nine-foot whip CB antenna on the trunk lid, which didn’t do much good when attempting to communicate with the hardwired car phone of the Mercedes but allowed me to hear garbled smokey reports from truckers on my 23-channel Sears CB.

The level of luxury was somewhat lower in my car, what with the lack of air conditioning in the triple-digit Central Valley heat coupled with the howl of the headers and cheap 275-width rear tires, but we compensated with enhanced American Road Trip authenticity.

Still, I must admit I felt a bit of envy for the occupants of that gleaming black German luxury machine. Would I have traded places? Hell no!

I knew that it wouldn’t be many years before The Man had me chained into a veal-fattening pen in his cubicle farm, and that I’d be remembering my aimless Impala road-tripping period fondly as I smelled the burned microwave popcorn of Office Despair and waited for Death’s comforting arms to release me from the nightmare of the American white-collar workplace (I’d figured out by that point that the idea I had of making a living as a performance artist wasn’t exactly going to pan out). So, with that cynical Generation X perspective in mind, I was determined to have as good a time as possible.

Feet out the window, Midnight on cassette, the Gulf War over with no apparent nuclear annihilation in sight, and a Benz and an Impala full of real-world-avoidin’ types on their way to some sort of Gen-X mecca.

Lollapalooza #1 went all right; while I was somewhat disappointed by the performance of the Butthole Surfers in a big venue, the Rollins Band and Nine Inch Nails were pretty decent live. Time to head back south!

A couple of world-roaming Brits I met at the concert decided they needed to ride to the Mexican border in my “authentic” American hot rod (I didn’t want to disappoint them by admitting my engine probably made barely 220 horsepower), and so they dropped a couple of C-notes in my glovebox to pay for the trip back down I-5. I crashed at a friend’s place in San Diego for a while. Then I fell into some sort of deal with an art gallery in a crack-saturated ghetto on the edge of Old Town San Diego, in which me and my scurvy artist friends would do a live performance “every hour on the half hour” in the gallery.

We were called “Nureochiba and the Lizards” and we were terrible. The less said about our shows the better, I think.

I recall needle-tracked arms snaking in between the gallery’s window bars, trying to steal our effects pedals, and thousands of empty tiny plastic bags and burned-out lighters in the alley behind the joint, and tackling some junkie who’d grabbed an amplifier and attempted to run out the door with it. Gunshots and screams in the neighborhood every night. Oh yes, the crack cocaine epidemic was in full fucking effect; clearly, the collapse of Western society that would follow the end of the Cold War was just beginning.

I was certainly driving the right car for the Mad Maxian world soon to be upon us; the Impala always started, managed a steady 17 MPG on the highway if I kept my foot out of it, and could be parallel-parked in a shockingly small space (its turning radius was much, much less than that of my old MGB-GT, which should tell you something about the depressing limitations under which British Leyland had to build its cars). Even the most desperate crackhead’s theft antennae indicated “move along, nothing to steal here” when encountering my parked car, and I could sleep in fairly low-compromise comfort in the back seat if it came to that.

Even on my extremely tight budget, I could afford a few luxury upgrades for my car. A can of white spray paint, a junkyard mercury tilt switch, and an old taillight socket and bulb gave me this handy automatic underhood light. Just the thing for late-night fan-belt adjustments and the like.

Around this time, Nirvana dropped their album “Nevermind” on the world, and— seemingly the same day— the Red Hot Chili Peppers released “Blood Sugar Sex Magik.” I had done my best to avoid damn near all vestiges of popular culture up to that point, sort of a combination of snobbery and just being too damn lazy to keep up, but these two cultural artifacts swept all those principles aside and immediately became the endless soundtrack of our no-doubt-wasted lives. Give It Away and Smells Like Teen Spirit emitted from every amplified device in the world, sort of like Wolfman Jack coming from all the AM radios in American Graffiti, only without the optimism of 1961 Modesto and with the sense that life would always be getting worse from this day forward. Yeah, that was Generation X in a nutshell. I decided that maybe graduate school wasn’t such a bad idea after all, and that I could avoid both the uranium-factory Reeducation Center of all my dystopic-future tirades and the far-more-likely ennui-in-office-cubicle-land by getting a master’s degree and becoming a teacher of writing in some backwoods junior college. Plus, I still sort of had a girlfriend up north (actually, I was mistaken about that, but such are one’s 20s), so I figured I’d put the car back on I-5, crank Cobain’s voice on the cassette, and go back to the Bay Area. Next up: More primer, more junkyards, more art, more trips.
1965 Chevrolet Impala Hell Project Roundup
Impala7-54 Impala7-01 Impala7-02 Impala7-03 Impala7-04 Impala7-05 Impala7-06 Impala7-07 Impala7-08 Impala7-09 Impala7-10 Impala7-11 Impala7-12 Impala7-13 Impala7-14 Impala7-15 Impala7-16 Impala7-17 Impala7-18 Impala7-19 Impala7-20 Impala7-21 Impala7-22 Impala7-23 Impala7-24 Impala7-25 Impala7-26 Impala7-27 Impala7-28 Impala7-29 Impala7-30 Impala7-31 Impala7-32 Impala7-33 Impala7-34 Impala7-35 Impala7-36 Impala7-37 Impala7-38 Impala7-39 Impala7-40 Impala7-41 Impala7-42 Impala7-43 Impala7-44 Impala7-45 Impala7-46 Impala7-47 Impala7-48 Impala7-49 Impala7-50 Impala7-51 Impala7-52 Impala7-53 Impala7-55 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Brake Work Birthday Gift: How Many Mistakes Can You Find Here? Mon, 31 Jan 2011 15:00:56 +0000
Since I’ve got ungodly quantities of top-shelf booze thanks to my other job, I figured I’d celebrate my 900th birthday by having a party and pouring said booze down my guests’ throats. A couple of them went overboard on the gift department, including one who made me a coupon for free brake work on my Dodge A100 Hell Project.

2010 Ununquadium Medal and Index of Effluency winner Rich has been haranguing me for endangering innocent lives— and my own— by driving a van with single-circuit, four-wheel-drum brakes, so here’s his very thoughtful birthday gift. Yes, he’ll help with the brake-line bending and flaring (two skills I’ve never been able to master, despite many expletive-filled attempts) when I upgrade to the nanny-state-approved dual-circuit master cylinder, and he’s even got me halfway convinced to do a disc-brake conversion as well.

Can you find all the mistakes?

That wasn’t the only great birthday surprise from an Ununquadium Medal winner. Cadillac Bob of Speed Holes Racing AMC Marlin fame handed me a gift box that turned out to be full of Brezhnev Era Soviet 1:43 diecast-car awesomeness. How about a USSRDM Fiat 125?

Bob spent a couple years of his childhood in Moscow, when his engineer father had a contract job there, and he brought back a bunch of toy cars made for glorious workers’ children. I was stunned by his generosity in giving up several of them, but he says he’s still got plenty more.

A Moskvich 412!

Would you believe the Soviets honoring the Renault 16? Fiat, sure, but Renault?

Believe it! These cars now have a place of honor in my office, right next to the diecast Leyland P76 and the diecast GAZ-13 Chaika I picked up on eBay.

Rooskie_Diecast-18 Rooskie_Diecast-01 Rooskie_Diecast-02 Rooskie_Diecast-03 Rooskie_Diecast-04 Rooskie_Diecast-05 Rooskie_Diecast-06 Rooskie_Diecast-07 Rooskie_Diecast-08 Rooskie_Diecast-09 Rooskie_Diecast-10 Rooskie_Diecast-11 Rooskie_Diecast-12 Rooskie_Diecast-13 Rooskie_Diecast-14 Rooskie_Diecast-15 Rooskie_Diecast-16 Rooskie_Diecast-17 Brake_Coupon-6 Brake_Coupon-1 Brake_Coupon-2 Brake_Coupon-3 Brake_Coupon-4 Brake_Coupon-5 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 24
Bumper Sticker of the Week! Thu, 13 Jan 2011 16:00:09 +0000
I spotted this sticker on a (disc brake-equipped) Nissan pickup in the parking lot of the San Jose North Pick-Your-Part during my last trip to California. While I do believe that drum brakes want to kill us all— I’m already hating the four-wheel/single-circuit drums on my ’66 Dodge A100 van— I still admire the cryptic sentiment expressed here.

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Between The Lines: Them’s The Brakes, Corvette ZR1 Tue, 04 Jan 2011 17:56:32 +0000
Though an objectively awesome car by any (non-environmental) metric (review forthcoming, I promise) some Corvette ZR1 owners are plagued with a strange brake vibration. Which, thanks to the Corvette Forum, is available for all and sundry to see. But let’s dig a little deeper: bearing in mind the customer involved is a personal friend, and his paraphrased comments are as follows.

I picked up my new ZR1 on Oct 29 and as soon as I got up to 75 the steering wheel began to vibrate…I then took the car straight to the only person on this earth I feel good about working on my corvette, Danny Popp at McKluskey Chev in Cincinatti OH. Pulled wheels and all balanced 0 on Hunter balancer.

In simple English, the diagnosis made it clear that the Michelin tires are not the problem. The next diagnosis goes one step further: Brembo rotors.

Unhappy, scratched head, went back to Danny. Pulled rotors and stuck them on balancer and they were out 1.5 oz!

An imbalance of that size, on a car with such little un-sprung weight at the (ceramic) rotors can be a significant problem. The solution?

We then balanced my carbon rotors by inserting bolts from the inside out and then threading on nuts from the outside with a set of long pliers. Put them back on car and took it out and OMG for the first time since owning the car the highway ride was dead smooth. So happy I want back and hugged Danny. Mystery solved. Now for the permanent fix which obviously should be new (balanced) rotors and should only be a phone call away for a new 120 k vibrating car. (Or even a vibrating cobalt for that matter)

But then again, that often leads to another problem: Customer Service, or lack thereof:

GMs first reply was that they know about the problem and the fix is to counterbalance the assembly by adding 1.5 to the wheels and indexing them so if removed they could be placed back in same location. Bull$&@#!

But wait, there’s more:

Danny had to work his way up the food chain until he got to talk to a brake engineer who basically admitted that they had run out of the supply of “Validated” i.e. balanced rotors and at some point had begun to put on non-validated rotors but that he would immediately send me out a set of validated and balanced rotors which he did.

Which, of course, gets a customer thinking:

I have mine and I am happy, but I hate to think about how many man hours are spent by customers like myself who are taking time off figuring this out and getting it fixed while GM knows about the issue and is still putting these S#%t rotors on their flagship car. I have lost serious loyalty and faith in GM on this one. They need to come clean now and do a recall on these.

Tru dat. A recall is the only way, even if the problem comes from Brembo, not GM. Read towards the end of the thread, and we find the real problem: the major flaw in GM’s customer service. The following is taken from the Corvette specialist who worked on the ZR1 in question:

I have gone through all of the GM protocol to fix this car properly and GM is interested in fixing his and all Corvette owners problems correctly. They are very aware of current situations more than you know…..they may even know about this particular thread (ask me how I know ;-) ).

If GM knows, why doesn’t the person associated with the Corvette brand post on the Forum on their behalf? Is silence really a smart PR move in the Internet age?

New in stock rotors have balance potential from Brembo and in speaking with GM they are deriving a procedure to check and balance rotors for cars that have this problem in the field. They are feverishly working on the protocol for this. This is obviously not a GM manufactured component; they have worked with the supplier to have this not happen from here in the future.

In fairness to GM, we must consider these are not commonplace GM parts. Who else had the stones to put these on a mass-produced vehicle as standard equipment? Then again, that isn’t our beef.

For those of you who have these problems and are frustrated, please contact your dealer and have them address your concerns and involve technical assistance. On that note all dealers are not created equally and every dealer my not have a Corvette only specialist that may be as involved as I.

So where you buy a six-figure Corvette ZR1 isn’t necessarily the same place it should receive service. And now would be a good time to make a significant donation to the Corvette Forum, ‘natch. Which doesn’t speak well of any Chevy dealer lacking a Corvette specialist, if we had a list of said dealers. And while I once disagreed with RF’s way-back-when comment about the Corvette’s relevance to Chevrolet

“At some point in the near future, as soon as we can, the Corvette will rejoin GM’s fleet as a Cadillac. It will be a different car, with the same goal: to give enthusiasts the world’s best and most thrilling sports car, bar none. An all-American product.”

…honestly, a low volume niche car like the Corvette ZR1 deserves a more worthy customer experience. Perhaps Cadillac dealers should be the only retail distributors of the Corvette brand, as we can assume superior service comes with The Penalty Of Leadership.

And with that thought, back to you, Best and Brightest.

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Washington Bans Copper Brakes Tue, 20 Apr 2010 19:24:52 +0000

When friends of the automobile think about environmental regulation, our minds tend to tend to leap towards emissions. Between energy independence, air quality and the specter of global warming, a number of political agendas focus auto regulations on the tailpipe and drivetrain, driving a number of changes in the industry. But, as the AP reports, engines aren’t the only automotive components that impact the environment. The state of Washington has voted to ban brake pads with more than five percent copper content by 2021, making it the first state in the union to address the accumulation of heavy metals in groundwater through automotive regulation.

Brake pads are typically made of metal and composite compounds which are selected for their ability to dissipate kinetic energy as heat. Copper replaced asbestos as a major brake pad component element in the early 90s (typically composing up to one quarter of the brake pad compound by volume), when the carcinogenic insulating material was banned as a health hazard. The problem with copper is that the friction caused by braking causes tiny shavings of copper to separate from the brake pad, scattering trace amounts of the heavy metal across the landscape. This, say scientists, causes copper to accumulate in rivers and streams, where it wreaks havoc with the ecosystem.

Biologists are especially concerned about two specific copper-related toxicity problems. First, even small amounts of copper can interfere with salmon’s ability to smell, a crucial tool for survival. When young salmon are exposed to even moderate amounts of copper pollution, their sense of smell can be permanently harmed, making them more vulnerable to predators. Given the important role salmon plays in the economy of the Pacific Northwest, this is a risk that scientists and the business community are equally concerned about. Furthermore, copper is known to be toxic to plankton, which form the base of the marine ecosystem. Were copper levels to climb to a point where plankton started dying off, the impact could easily ripple through the entire coastal ecosystem, and permanently damage West Coast fisheries.

But to what extent are auto brakes responsible for copper accumulation in waterways? After all, brakes only release tiny amounts of copper over long periods of time, while copper remains a common element in pipes, paint and numerous other construction materials. Washington’s lawmakers cite a study by the nonprofit organization Sustainable Conservation, which found that up to a third of all copper pollution in the San Francisco Bay could be traced to copper from automotive brakes. Washington officials figure that about the same proportion of the 70,000 to 318,000 pounds of copper released into Puget Sound each year comes from brakes, meaning the law could eliminate between 25,000 and 105,000 pounds of copper pollution each year.

Best of all, the industry isn’t fighting the new Washington law. Unlike CAFE increases or other environmental regulations, this new law hasn’t been accompanied by wailing and gnashing of teeth from auto OEMs or brake supplier firms. Instead, at least one industry source has made peace with the new law:

The industry believes it can produce a safe and reasonably priced brake pad without copper, said Terry Heffelfinger, director of product engineering for Affinia Global Brake & Chassis, a major brake maker. One alternative may be ceramic brake pads, which have grown in popularity in recent years.

Let’s just hope these new compounds don’t raise costs the way a set of ceramic stoppers can send a Porsche’s price soaring. A reasonable ramp-up of copper-content standards will help the industry adapt, as it has until 2021 to cut copper down to five percent of brake pad content, a standard that many cars already meet. The law is supposed to ban all but trace amounts of copper from brake pads by 2023, but only if the industry is able to prove that it’s possible.

Though some decry regulation in all forms, this example seems to prove that common-sense regulation of the automobile’s environmental impact is possible when goals are reasonable, analysis is well-grounded in hard science, and the approach is cooperative. And if this law hastens the day when ceramic brake pads are no longer a ten-grand-plus option on only a few high-end performance cars, it will have spurred industry innovation as well. Plus, salmon is delicious. Win-win is never easy, but this law gets close.

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Are The Prius And Fusion Hybrid Brake Issues Related? Thu, 04 Feb 2010 23:24:01 +0000

Ford says emphatically no, but the evidence (such as it is) indicates certain similarities. Let’s take a look…

Toyota’s updated press release on the Prius brake issue reads:

Some customers have complained of inconsistent brake feel during slow and steady application of brakes on rough or slick road surfaces when the anti-lock brake system (ABS) is activated in an effort to maintain tire traction.  The system, in normal operation, engages and disengages rapidly (many times per second) as the control system senses and reacts to tire slippage.  A running production change was introduced last month, improving the ABS system’s response time, as well as the system’s overall sensitivity to tire slippage.

From Toyota’s press conference:

When driving on an icy road, the shift from the electronic brake to the hydraulic brake sometimes takes longer than usual

Consumer Reports’ paraphrase of the Ford technical service bulletin (TSB-09-22-11) reads:

electronic interference might cause the electronic brake-by-wire module to switch itself off temporarily. If that happened, the braking system would revert to a backup conventional hydraulic mode that preserved braking capability, but the pedal will drop over an inch. When the engine is restarted, the electronic braking system would resume…. Ford engineering representatives explained that the software threshold for establishing a fault in the regenerative brake system was set too sensitively, causing the system to transition to conventional brakes when it was not necessary.

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Prius Brakes Fail In Japan and U.S.A. Wed, 03 Feb 2010 08:09:43 +0000

And the hits, they keep on coming. Now, brakes of the Prius flake out.

Japan’s transport ministry has received 14 complaints about problems with brakes on Toyota’s latest. The ministry has asked Toyota to investigate the complaints, says the Nikkei [sub.] “Those are purely reported cases, so we still need to investigate to find out where problems really exist,” said a ministry spokesman, who said that the number of complaint over such a short time-span “more than usual.” There is more in the U.S.A.

As of Tuesday evening, the NHTSA had received 102 complaints about the brakes of the new Prius hybrid, says the Nikkei [sub.] The complaints center around the brakes cutting out for about one second when driving on slippery roads. Toyota is “looking into the technical aspects,” said a spokesperson.

In the pedal-gate dept., Toyota will recall a combined 180,000 vehicles in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa due to faulty gas pedals, says the Nikkei [sub]. According to a Toyota spokesperson, the total number of vehicles to be recalled in all regions stands at 4.45m vehicles. That’s not including the ones that were carpet-bagged.

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Lawyers Ask Court To Stop Toyota From Fixing Cars Sun, 31 Jan 2010 19:30:33 +0000

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal wrote: “Hell, in modern imagination, is not a place of fiery lakes and acrid fumes. It’s a maze of deposition rooms you can’t escape, where nothing is what it seems. That’s where Toyota has landed.“

Welcome to hell.

The Parker Waichman Alonso law firm , of Great Neck, NY, teamed up with the Becnel Law Firm, in New Orleans, LA and put on Businesswire that they “filed suit on behalf of several consumers who purchased Toyota vehicles subject to various recalls issued in January 2010 for defects in the vehicles’ gas pedals. The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, seeks class action status.”

So what does the Esqs. from Long Island and New Orleans want? That Toyota is ordered to recall all affected vehicles? Isn’t Toyota already doing that? To the tune of some 8m (and mounting) cars worldwide?

Au contraire!

Their complaint “asks the Court to enjoin Toyota from implementing any fixes in the accelerator pedals of the subject vehicles without approval from the NHTSA.” To those who are not familiar with a strange language called Legalese, “enjoin” means “issue an injunction,” or, in even plainer English, “order someone to stop doing something.”

The lawyers ask the court to stop Toyota from fixing the recalled cars without approval from NHTSA. If the court grants this request, the cars will never get fixed.

The NHTSA never grants an approval. Toyota issued a press release that says “Regarding reports that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has “approved” a plan for our pedal recall; it is Toyota’s understanding that NHTSA does not officially approve recall remedies.”

The NHTSA can disapprove a recall plan. Approving one would mean taking responsibility. The NHTSA would never do that.

In case the judge wags his or her finger at the attorneys about that frivolous detail, they allege some more:

“The class action lawsuit filed by Parker Waichman Alonso LLP and the Becnel Law Firm, LLC alleges that, as a result of these recalls, Toyota owners lost the use of their vehicles, and sustained, among things, economic losses and severe emotional distress.”

TTAC is discussing with its legal team whether we should join the class action suit, and allege the loss of untold man-hours while covering the saga, along with losses incurred due to spikes in bandwidth and the cost of purchasing two accelerator pedals.

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Toyota Floormatgate: Autobox Burnouts Banned? Wed, 25 Nov 2009 15:44:35 +0000

Automotive News [sub] is reporting that Toyota will replace or reshape some 3.8m accelerator pedals to reduce the risk of them becoming lodged against floormats. Toyota will also be replacing some floormats as it battles a recent unintended acceleration scare. But far more interesting than the prosaic alterations to pedals and mats is Toyota’s decision to take modifications a step further on certain affected models. AN [sub] explains:

Toyota will install a brake override system on the involved Camry, Avalon, and Lexus ES 350, IS 350 and IS 250 models “as an extra measure of confidence.” The system will shut off engine power if drivers press the accelerator pedal and brake pedal simultaneously.

Oy. More proof that it only takes a few idiots thinking their car is possessed to ruin burnouts for everyone. Well, everyone who owns a slushbox Toyota or Lexus, anyway.

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