The Truth About Cars » conversion The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Jul 2014 16:00:14 +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 » conversion Jeep Grand Comanche Episode 2: We Jack ‘Em Up In The Yard Thu, 07 Nov 2013 23:24:21 +0000 2000 Jeep Grand Comance Project Car

If you haven’t heard by now, there’s a new project car in TTAC’s “garage,” a 2000 Grand Cherokee Limited. I of course use the term garage simply because “gravel driveway” fails to have the same ring. Why a car guy doesn’t have a garage is a story for a different time. All I will say on the matter is that I was promised a garage with a 2-post lift and I am still waiting…  Back to the car. Before we chop the lid off the WJ Grand Cherokee to convert it into a two door, two seat Grand Comanche we needed to tackle a few projects. We need a lift kit, off-road rubber, then we need to ditch the interior and take care of some general housekeeping items.

Iron Rock Off Road 3-inch lift kit

The whole point of this project car is for the Jeep to act as a farm utility vehicle. Since this 2000 Limited model was equipped with the “Up Country” suspension package it had a factory lift of one inch to 10.3 inches of ground clearance. If that sounds better than a John Deere Gator’s 8.5 inches, remember that the farm utility vehicle has a really short wheelbase. Translating that up to the project car meant adding three inches. (Keep in mind that since our Jeep had the factory one inch lift, the three-inch lift kits increase the height by only two inches since their base number uses the stock 4×4 ground clearance. )

After a an intense Googling session, I settled on the $499 Iron Rock Off Road lift kit. My logic was simple: it was the cheapest three-inch lift kit I could find. Why not four? According to the Jeep experts I asked, a four-inch lift would have required more complicated modifications including lowering the transfer case. I fell for the suggestion to toss in a $70 shock upgrade and my out-the-door was $633.98 after shipping.

Lift Kit In Progress

The kit arrived on time and in two large and heavy boxes. Everything was well packaged but the instructions could have been a bit better. While I pride myself as an above average DIY-wrencher, I would have liked some more detailed instructions simply as a safety margin. If you’re not comfortable disassembling your suspension, you’ll be paying hundred for the installation.

Because I’m a moron with a desire to live, when one of my spring compressors gave up on me, I decided instead of compressing the spring on side (and making it look like a big banana) I would just unbolt the suspension from the body so it would be low enough to install the springs without the compressor. This meant jacking the Jeep up one side at a time (two jacks would cost money and I’m cheap), placing a large concrete paver on the gravel to support a jack stand and then raising the other side in the same way. Right about the time I was breaking suspension bolts loose with a 24-inch breaker bar and making the Jeep sway on my dollar-store jack stands I realized this was stupid. Yet I continued.

With the lift kit installed after about 6 hours total I was able to bolt on the next item.

ProCom 16 inch steel wheels

Pro Comp 16-inch steel wheels

No project Jeep would ever be complete without steel rims. Black steel rims. Since I didn’t want to go crazy big and I wanted a large aspect ratio tire, I stick with a 16-inch wheel diameter and jumped up to an 8-inch wide wheel. Cost: $377.88 delivered. Yeehaw.

Pro Comp Xtreme MT2

Pro Comp Xtreme MT2 265/75R16

When it came to the tires my choice was limited. Because I opted for just a three inch body lift, I knew I couldn’t go too crazy on the rubber. I trolled all the Jeep forums I could find and my 30 second research indicated that a 265/75R16 would be the biggest thing I could stuff in there without pushing the wheel outside the body or sawzalling the body to pieces. After 30 seconds of online comparison I found a deal on Pro Comp Xtreme MT2 tires in just the right size for a grant total of $1,007 at my door. In hind sight a 4-inch lift kit would have helped me out here and something around 6 inches would have allowed me to get more serious 33-inch tires, but I was committed at this point.

Because I have a few connections in the fleet world, I was able to snag some time in the mechanic’s bay of a local company with a service vehicle fleet. Being the cheap bastard I am, I mounted and balanced the tires myself for free. This is also why one wheel has about 7 wheel weights on it, although I seem to have balanced them fairly well as there isn’t even a faint vibration on the highway. Score one for the cheap dudes.

Although there are more aggressive tires out there, I decided that it would be handy to be able to drive the Grand Comanche to the feed store directly. The alternative would be to drive something else to the feed store, pick up hay, straw, feed, etc, then swap it into the cut-up-hoopty for delivery. Even so the on-road toll is obvious with the tires being significantly louder than all terrains.

Jeep on alignment rack


This brings our total to $2,018.86 in parts followed by a $79 four-wheel alignment which is required after you disassemble this much of any car.  Since the car was gifted to the project, I considered this good value thus far. Then I decided to cross the creek and drive through the woods. More on that later.


This project is obviously for entertainment value only. My entertainment value primarily, but if you find it interesting to watch then we’re on to something. This means that comments like “why don’t you sell it and buy a X instead?” are pointless. Also obvious is the fact that I’ve never done anything like this before so it is incredibly likely that I’ll be doing stupid things, getting things wrong and generally making an ass of myself. That’s just par for this course. While I may mention specific products, I’m not endorsing anything and no person or company has given this project any free stuff. (This makes me very sad.) Lastly, if you have any suggestions, know of any sources for parts, or are in the area and want to check the disaster out, let us know.

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The Jeep Grand Cherokamino aka The Jeep Grand Comanche Fri, 01 Nov 2013 22:09:49 +0000 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited

TTAC has a new project car and it’s a beauty. Thanks to my dad who volunteered to drive from Austin to San Jose, I’m now the proud second owner of a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited with 151,500 miles on the clock. If you’ve been following us on Facebook, then you might have guessed this project would involve a Jeep, but up till now I have kept the depth of the planned Jeep perversion secret. What I’ll be attempting over the next few months might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever done: converting a perfectly good unibody SUV into a “pickup.” Say what?

2000 Jeep Grand Comanche "30 Second Photoshop"

2000 Jeep Grand Comanche “30 Second Photoshop”

This isn’t the first time I have floated this kind of idea before. My last inspired vision was the Comanche reborn out of a Jeep Patriot. Sadly Patriots are holding their resale value too well and after months of searching I was unable to find something worth cutting up. Undeterred by my setbacks I saw an ad for a high mile 2007 Patriot while I was visiting my folks near Austin, TX. Although the lead turned out to be a bust, my crazy parents decided to buy themselves a snazzy new 2014 Grand Cherokee because “we’re already at the dealer.” Gotta love the logic. After hours of bickering, the dealer offered $1800 for their immaculate daily driver and my brain shifted gears. I offered the same price and my dad, in a moment of uncharacteristic generosity, said “why don’t I just give it to you son.” My new plan was put into action.

It is now time for some disclosures and important statements. This project is obviously for entertainment value only. My entertainment value primarily, but if you find it interesting to watch then we’re on to something. This means that comments like “why don’t you sell it and buy a X instead?” are pointless. Also obvious is the fact that I’ve never done anything like this before so it is incredibly likely that I’ll be doing stupid things, getting things wrong and generally making an ass of myself. That’s just par for this course. While I may mention specific products, I’m not endorsing anything and no person or company has given this project any free stuff. (This makes me very sad.) Lastly, if you have any suggestions, know of any sources for parts, or are in the area and want to check the disaster out, let us know.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Why on earth are you trying this?

Aside from the obvious perverse pleasure gained from sawing the roof off a perfectly good car, I need a vehicle that I can use around the house for moving manure, feed, hay/straw and possibly the odd animal or two. I have 9 acres of heavily wooded mountain property, so 4WD and knobby off-road rubber are a must. Logically something like a John Deere Gator would have been a good idea, but they are expensive, boring, and use a crappy rubber-belt CVT and a carburetor that has to be adjusted every hour to work properly.

John Deere Gator

Why a 2000 Grand Cherokee?

Well, it was free. It’s also easy to find parts for, fairly inexpensive to replace and there are a host of aftermarket off-road accessories that should make my conversion easier. Also, the unibody design on the Grand Cherokee is fairly stout for its age and it has “beefier” “frame rails” than most unibody SUV/CUV designs of the time. This additional floor strength should allow me to cut the roof off without too much issue.

It’ll fold like a taco!

Maybe. And if it does it should be incredibly funny. Hopefully it will also get caught on video.

What’s the condition of the donor car?

Near perfect for a 2000 with 151,000 miles on it. Since the Jeep was driven by a little old lady from Texas (my mom is 72 and 5’2″), everything is original, it has always been dealer serviced, has a recorded service history three miles long and everything except the CD changer works. The engine had some valve troubled at 140,000 miles and had a partial rebuild to address the problem, it has never towed and never been taken seriously off-road.

As soon as it arrived, the first thing I did was swap in a 3-inch lift kit with new springs, dampers, tie rods and a new track bar up front. Once the lift was complete I slapped on the 16-inch black steel rims shod with 265/75R16 rubber and that’s what you see before your eyes. What’s next? The removal of the interior.


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Potential TTAC Project Car: Jeep Patriotamino Fri, 12 Jul 2013 18:31:47 +0000 Jeep Patriot Pickup Truck

You may have gathered from my posts and reviews that I live in a mountainous and rural area. I have 9 acres of moderately steep to rolling hillside on which I have more chickens than I can count, some crops that need tending and soon a few sheep will be tossed into the mix. Up till now we’ve been schlepping anything that needed to be relocated by hand and that’s just getting old fast. My folks in Texas have tried to convince me to buy a John Deere Gator, but they aren’t exactly cheap or reliable. What’s a car nut to do? How about a backyard red-neck conversion? Before I dive headfirst, let’s run this by the best and brightest for some input.

The need

I need something that has AWD, can accept an aggressive off-road maximum traction tire and is light-weight. Not only is weight an enemy off road but I don’t want to compact the soil any more than is necessary. I want something that’s cheap to buy, fairly inexpensive to repair and easy on the gas.

The Patriot

The Patriot with the CVT and the lower final drive ratio made a positive impression when I had one last year. 19:1 isn’t exactly stump-pulling, but it is lower than most vehicle’s effective first gear ratio. 35 feet is a fairly small turning circle, the wheelbase is short and approach/departure angles are appropriate for my terrain. Most important however is the weight. At 3,300lbs soaking wet the Patriot is light to start with and my plan involves weight reduction.

The Plan

The hair-brained scheme is as follows:

  • Find a 2007ish patriot with cosmetic damage, or possibly a salvage tittle depending on the level of damage.
  • Strip the interior, and I mean everything. Remove the rear seats, headliner, interior plastics, carpet, airbags, dash, etc.
  • Remove the entire rear portion of the body starting after the B pillar. Just sawzall that puppy right off till you have a flat-bed Patriot with a cab.
  • Modify the rear hatch and weld it to the gaping hole I’ve just created after the B-pillars. (This would be to keep the critters out of the cab.)
  • Remove all extraneous weight like the hood, quarter-panels, bumper covers, A/C compressor, headlights, tail lights, HVAC system, heater cores, etc.
  • Re-route the exhaust so it doesn’t go under the Patriot but perhaps up and behind the cab somehow. (We don’t want to cause a grass fire.)
  • Sell all the parts I’ve removed to recoup some of the cost.
  • Swap steel wheels with off-road rubber in.
  • Toss on a 2″ Patriot lift kit.

I suspect that when I’m done I will have an AWD flatbed contraption weighing in between 2,100-2,400lbs depending on how aggressive the weight reduction plan ends up being.


I know the plan is insane. I know the plan is likely to be more expensive than a Gator, but what the heck, it’s has to be more fun. What input do our readers have on this, and most importantly, would it be entertaining to read regular updates and editorials on this insanity? Any other vehicles I should consider for the chop?

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Super Piston Slap: New Tricks For an Old Car Phone? (Part II) Tue, 25 Jun 2013 12:00:33 +0000

Sajeev writes:

I wasn’t expecting a “Part II” for this story: converting an analog phone to digital sounds comically nonsensical these days.  But did you know that people once spent big money, back in the day big dawg money, so a (car) phone they’ve trusted for years lived to see another day…in the digital age?

Such a story landed in my Inbox. You know you wanna click ‘dat link to learn more!

Steve writes:


How this article brought back memories. I once worked for a wireless carrier, who shall remain nameless, during the turn of the digital wireless age. I was a “Wireless Device Technician” AKA the guy that fixed crap. As technicians we were responsible for many things, including but not limited to installing hands free kits into patron’s vehicles.

Now at this particular juncture in the wireless world, you had those who refused to convert and so the games begin.

We were first and foremost responsible with attempting to make those individuals change over to a new wireless plan, including a new device such as a Motorola Startac, which had an exceptional hands free kit we could install to your late-model vehicle.


Long story short, it was likely that if a person owned a vehicle that already had a phone in it, they weren’t going to buy another one.

The conversion wars began. Patrons would pay for new digital boxes and conversion kits, plus install labor just to use the old device. Several hundred dollars later, you had a satisfied wireless device user who probably was only on their phone for 20 mins a month. But, nonetheless, they had service.

At least it wasn’t as bad as the one day a guy brought in one of these bad boys, asking if it can be repaired and used still.

BAG Phone: the true wireless device.



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Piston Slap: And Hybrids For All? Wed, 19 Dec 2012 12:13:42 +0000 TTAC Commentator kurtamaxxguy writes:

Hello, Sajeev.
I drive an ’09 Subaru Forester XT. The general design is good, but Subaru’s are not particularly economical and the XT requires premium fuel to avoid engine overheating.

It would be great if an “e-assist” capability could be added to this car, so that at least when I am decelerating, engine braking via a motor-alternator / battery storage system could store some energy, and use it to assist the vehicle during acceleration.

Are there actually any companies you know of attempting this? Or is that sort of thing simply too complex to add to an existing vehicle?

Unfortunately, Subaru is driving very slowly to the fuel efficiency party, and, sadly, the other small CUV’s I’ve looked at don’t offer any hybrid or e-assist capability with AWD, a necessity up here in the NorthWest.

Sajeev answers:

As someone who promotes creativity/entrepreneurship outside of his gig at TTAC, I’ll try to not be a cynic: someone’s actually made a business out of what you propose. And not to (intentionally) turf for the guy, but he posted elsewhere that he’s trying to sell this kit for $1000. Ish.

So after you spend that $1000, this will be labor intensive retrofit: it simply must be a universal system that will need tweaks to implement on your Subie. If you can’t DIY, expect someone with an hourly rate to experiment for a long time to make it work.  Or a sympathetic friend that’ll take their sweet-ass time.  And the cost/downtime/stress associated is not worth it for the average person.  Questions to ask yourself:

  • How much will it cost to install on your Subie?
  • When exactly do you reach the break even point?
  • Should you assume gas prices remain constant?
  • Will it work as promised on your vehicle?
  • Is it worth your time and money?

Especially considering you can buy a Ford Escape 4WD Hybrid, according to this reputable source. And it won’t take premium.  If that’s what you really want.

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


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Review: Citroen C1 ev’ie Mon, 07 Dec 2009 16:16:02 +0000 evie5

The Toyota Aygo, which is the (in-all-but-styling) identical twin of the Citroen C1, is a fine little car, and when I tested it in 2007, I found most everything about it likeable. Packaging, finish, styling, handling, pleasure of driving: the Aygo/C1 turned out to be a thoroughly modern and enjoyable car for a bare-bones price. Only the ride struck me as a bit harsh. I certainly didn’t complain about the revvy, pleasant-sounding and parsimonious engine either, so you might be surprised to hear that I like the electrified version of the C1 just as well. Or, with qualifications, even more. What the heck do I mean? Please bear with me, and I’ll tell you.

evie1The U.K. – based Electric Car Company (ECC) was founded by a guy who made his fortune with electronic traffic management systems. Intrigued with the idea of a zero-emission car, he tried some out, and thought he could easily do a whole lot better. The ev’ie, thus, does not look like something some blokes in a garage screw together in their spare evenings. What ECC does is buy C1s, remove the engine and gas tank, and add batteries, motor, heater, and an engine-management system. Open the hood and you see batteries and various electronic gizmos mostly bedecked by plastic casing. It looks clean and assembly-line standard, and not at all improvised. A second set of Lithium batteries is where the gas tank used to be. The trunk, in contrast to the sodium-batteried E-Twingo, is undiminished. So the ev’ie is what the stock C1 is what the Aygo is what the Peugeot 107 is: a lightweight, almost Smart-short car that can transport four and a tiny bit of luggage. (Don’t get me wrong: this is no limo, but it certainly beats an original VW Beetle for space. And the room in front is perfectly adequate in all dimensions unless you’re a widebody).

Incidentally, the ev’ie’s interior has optional plastichrome highlights I have never seen on a C1 outside of the U.K. I don’t like it, but that may just be a German complaining about British taste.

So what’s it like to drive? Well, you buckle up, turn the key, watch the battery indicator lights (where the tachometer is on regular C1s) fire up, and put the car in “forward” gear (there’s also a neutral and rear gear, but no clutch). When you disengage the hand brake and press on the gas pedal, you hear a soft zingy electric sound well-known to those who travel on streetcars or high-speed trains. As you start moving, the zingy sound disappears and then… nothing. Basically no motor sound at all. It’s eerie and somewhat different from other EVs I have driven. evie11

I drove the ev’ie through London in Kensington and Westminster, and with the help of ECC’s Richard Turnbull who knows where traffic cameras are located, was able to take it up to semi-highway speed. Here’s my verdict. Not fast, but acceptable acceleration, and zero drama: overall very pleasant.

Don’t discount the zero drama thing. Within minutes, you stop missing the vibration, the non-linear acceleration, the various noise levels, of internal-combustion driving. You do suffer from a kind of disorientation from a while, not quite knowing how fast you’re going, which in combination with left-hand-side driving (I don’t often drive in the U.K), forced me to concentrate. But the overall effect is relaxing. No wonder: a linear speed-to-noise relationship is something we know from all kinds of propulsion, except airflight and ICE motoring.

As in the stock C1, the steering is fine, with the right level of directness and assistance. If I had to qualify a difference, I’d say the ev’ie feels more solid. The regenerative braking system, which charges the batteries when you lift off the gas pedal or brake, is smooth and capable.

So all is well on the electric front? Not quite. With a top speed of 60 mph and a reported distinct wheeziness on higher-speed hills, this is no more than an urban/suburban car. The electric-utility boss in Zurich I wrote about: he’d be less than satisfied with 41HP pushing 890KG, which is a power-to-weight ratio of a 1960s Beetle. (You do have all the torque the motor can muster – 112lb ft– from standstill, though). And the range is only 60 miles, so forget vacationing with ev’ie.

evie3But nevertheless: it’s the only really good-to-drive, affordable, crashworthy, zero-emission car on the market today. Which is sure saying something! But does it make any financial sense at all? Electric cars are famously expensive. Well, prime your inner nerd and allow me to do the data thing, please.

The ev’ie costs about £18,500, which is a whopping £8,000 more than a stock C1. A utility charges 90 pence for around 60 miles worth of electricity. Assuming a yearly mileage of 10,000 miles per year based on 50 miles/day and 200 commuting days, the ev’ie would thus require electricity costing around £144 per year. Fuel costs, in contrast, would amount to £1,144, if one assumed a cost of £1.1 per liter and a fuel consumption of 6.5L/100km (equivalent to 36.2 MPG US). The difference, according to this calculation, would be one thousand Pounds ($1,645) per year. At current prices, therefore, a commuter would need over seven years to amortize the cost of the ev’ie in comparison to a stock C1. Even at these formidable European fuel price levels. Bummer!

But wait. In the U.K., an electric car costs less in insurance, and zero in road tax too. Both can easily add up to £200 per year. But that’s only the beginning. In London, and soon in many other U.K. towns, there is a congestion charge for gasoline cars – but none for electrics. Which saves you £1,600 based on a commute to London 200 days a year. And parking, depending on which community you stay in, is much cheaper for an EV. In Westminster, for example, it’s £200 per year for the ev’ie, as opposed to £4,000 for a normal car. Not enough? The U.K government plans a £5k purchasing incentive for electric cars starting in 2011. But even at the present time, incentives in an electric-evie4friendly place like the U.K easily add up to a cost advantage of £2k to £7k per year, so you can recoup the cost of this car within 2-3 years. At which point it becomes almost compelling, even without thinking about global warming, emissions, terrorists and foreign oil despots, or rising fuel costs. Or without looking at the trend lines: that petroleum-based transport is fated to become more expensive year by year, while the cost of batteries is set to sink.

Of course, the ev’ie only makes sense because the U.K. government has determined that the negative externalities (the “costs to society”) of electric cars are much lower than those of a petroleum-engined one, and has changed its charge regime accordingly. Other governments are following suit, like it or not.

Bottom line: the first reasonable electric car is a Citroen that some fellows in Hertfordshire convert to a feasible proposition, to a pleasant and safely-driving vehicle, in 24 man-hours. This sure isn’t a car for everybody; its range and speed limitations means it excels as a commuter but not as anything else. But it does throws mud in the face of most of the major car makers. evie5 evie1 evie3 evie4 evie6 evie11 evie9 evie5-thumb Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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