The Truth About Cars » modifications http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 07 Nov 2014 20:20:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » modifications http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Taking The Plunge, A Modest Lowering of and Expectations http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/taking-plunge-modest-lowering-expectations/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/taking-plunge-modest-lowering-expectations/#comments Sun, 02 Nov 2014 14:00:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=939065 Just about all of my daily drivers have been stock, more or less. I did some engine, transmission and overdrive swaps on Volvos back in the 1980s, but everything was factory, if not on that particular vehicle when it left Goteborg. Also, there was a 1972 VW bus for which I built a high-performance Beetle […]

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Just about all of my daily drivers have been stock, more or less. I did some engine, transmission and overdrive swaps on Volvos back in the 1980s, but everything was factory, if not on that particular vehicle when it left Goteborg. Also, there was a 1972 VW bus for which I built a high-performance Beetle *engine so it could cruise at fast enough speeds to be safe on the interstates. Other than those, I haven’t done any mechanical modifications to cars that I’ve driven regularly, at least not to the chassis, but now I’m taking the plunge.

My mom just turned 90, may she live to 120, and as is often the case with older folks, she stopped driving when she could no longer do so without endangering herself or others. The car she stopped driving is a 2002 Saturn SL, pretty much a base car with a 1.9 liter OHC engine and a three speed automatic transmission. Mom never drove it much, usually for short trips to go shopping or to her part-time job serving lunches to other seniors at the JCC. Over the years it transitioned from the car she drove, to the car she was driven in. Now it’s the car I take my grandson, Aryeh, to visit her at her new apartment.

Though GM is rightly slagged for not giving Saturn products the incremental improvements they deserved, with the same basic design of the S series coupes, sedans and wagons, staying in production for a long time. The Saturn project was a big deal for GM in the beginning. The company devoted a lot of resources to the Saturn project and the cars seem to be engineered well, even if interior QC and general refinement is lacking. They’re honest little cars.  With plastic body panels, rust, at least the visible kind, isn’t a problem, and they’re relatively durable. If you look around, there are plenty of ten to twenty year old Saturns providing fairly reliable daily transportation to folks.

Yeah, the engine is a bit agricultural in tone and weak in traffic (though the DOHC versions aren’t slow) and that archaic transmission is closer, in terms of available ratios, to a 1950s era Powerglide 2-speed, than to even the six speed automatics that enthusiasts today consider obsolete as manufacturers roll out DCTs and eight or nine speed automatics.

However, I’ve grown to regard what Aryeh calls “Zayde’s blue car” with affection. Other than a serpentine belt tensioner going bad while returning from the recent 24 Hours of Lemons race at Gingerman Raceway, it’s never let me down. Even that breakdown wasn’t really a breakdown, since the alternator light came on about three miles from a populated exit on the interstate. Though the car was overheating by the time I got to the hotel just off of the freeway, nothing was permanently damaged and I still had enough juice in the battery to be able to start it in the morning and drive to the Chevy dealer that I passed on my way to the Holiday Inn.

I should mention that the Saturn S series cars, while not highly regarded by enthusiasts at large, have their fans. They’re light, about 2,600 lbs, they have real independent rear suspension, not an inexpensive torsion beam setup, you can equip them with disc brakes at all four corners, and the twin cam engine can be tuned with good results. There were at least a couple of Saturns in the Lemons race.

tire    rack

With close to 100,000 miles on the odometer, the tensioner and belt repair was a reminder that there were lot of OEM parts that probably should be attended to. Over the past year or so I’ve noticed that the left front strut was beginning to creak while turning at low speeds and there’s also the telltale clattering when turning left that indicates a constant velocity joint on one of the axle shafts of the front wheel drive car. It doesn’t make sense to change just one strut and since much of the labor of replacing the axle is disassembling the front suspension I decided to replace both axles and both struts. With the rear shocks as old and worn out as the struts, they needed to be replaces as well.

I like cars that can handle and while the Saturn SL isn’t a bad handling car, and the steering is weighted pretty well, it’s not what I’d call sporting in character. Turn in could be quicker and there’s way more body roll than I’d like. I’ve had real good results from KYB shock absorbers going back to those Volvos. According to the Saturn enthusiast fora, KYB GR2 struts are about 30% stiffer than the OEM units for which they’re supposed to be direct replacements. To be honest, there aren’t many choices. Bilstein doesn’t make anything that fits the Saturn and I wasn’t going to spend the money to get Koni coilover inserts set in the OEM struts, so KYB it was. By the way, KYB is moving from the GR2 brand familiar to North American enthusiasts, to the Excel-G brand sold elsewhere. They’re the same shocks and struts, they’ll just be painted black instead of silver.

tire   rack

To compliment the stiffer shocks, I’m also going to put some H&R Sport springs on the car to lower it. Now I’m not joining Stance Nation. This isn’t for looks, though the car will look less like a guy wearing his trouser cuffs above his ankles. There’s a modest 1.4″ drop in front, nothing you wouldn’t see that distinguishes an “S” model from a less sporting version of the same car. The back will go down a little bit less, 1.3″, so there will be a tiny bit more rake. The springs are also stiffer than stock, 205/195 front to rear vs 126/129. One nice thing about the KYB struts is that they have an oval hole that allows for stock alignment specs without having to use a special camber bolt.

Those springs may be a bit too stiff for the bad road surfaces here in Michigan, or at least that’s what Sajeev Mehta suggested when I circulated my plans with the TTAC staff. He thinks stiffer shocks on new OEM springs would freshen the suspension enough for my needs. He may be correct, but the springs were less than $200 and I’m already going to be paying for R&Ring the springs because I’m replacing the struts. What do you think? Will Michigan’s scarred roads, a lowered suspension and stiffer shocks and springs loosen the fillings in my few remaining teeth, or will I actually have a better ride compared to worn out OEM shocks and springs?

Since I’m concerned about getting too stiff (no cracks from the peanut gallery, please) I asked my colleagues about wheel sizes. Jack Baruth suggested that I’m still going to have to go to a bigger wheel if I want to get performance tires, that there just aren’t a lot of choices in 14″ sizes. For a performance tire he suggested Dunlop Direzzas or Yokohama Advan Rs. I don’t know what owners of old Brit roadsters are doing, but Jack is correct, checking the tire warehouses, there aren’t that many performance tires for 13s and 14s. I was able, however, to find some Direzza DZ102 tires, an update to the original DZ101, for $82 ea at Tire Rack. It’s a directional, summer tire.  The widest tire that will fit on the car is a 205, so I’m going with a 205 55 r15. That gives me about 0.8″ more tread width and it’s close enough to the original tire circumference to keep the speedometer within 1 mph accuracy in most driving conditions. Tire Size Conversion is a useful site, by the way, to check compatibility and things like speedo calibrations.

tire     rack

Two of the car’s current 14″ OEM steel wheels had to be knocked back into shape by yours truly and a baby sledge after mom clipped some curbs. Detroit area potholes are deservedly notorious, so I’m not about to spend money on aluminum wheels. Steelies are cheaper and, as mentioned, you don’t need special tools to straighten them. Every set of used alloy rims that I saw advertised on Craigslist had some kind of cosmetic damage or worse. Discount Tire, a local chain, had some U.S. made 15×6″ steel wheels by Unique for $55 a piece. They’re pretty much OEM replacements, only bigger and wider. I think they’ll look just fine with chrome lug nuts. Discount Tire’s software simulation of what the car will look like with the steelies heads this post. Buying the wheels there gets me a discount on mounting and balancing.

I have to say that as a consumer I’ve been pleased so far. When I ordered the springs, I got a followup call from Tire Rack explaining that I should anticipate possible accelerated wear on the shock absorbers and other suspension components. When I called a local repair shop to get a price on labor, the guy asked me why I was lowering the car and said he’d had customers who regretted it. I explained that it wasn’t about looks, but rather handling and that I was going with a fairly modest drop so I didn’t expect to start scraping driveway aprons.

tirerack

The parts are in.

So the adventure has started. The parts are all in. I can’t get the car into the shop until next week, but in the meantime this weekend, if there’s no precipitation, I’m going to take the car over to a parking lot and get some baseline data. I’ll shoot video to record body lean and I downloaded a lateral acceleration app for my smartphone. After I get cornering data as is, I’ll do it again after replacing the suspension parts, and if the snow holds off longer, I’ll do it yet again with the new tires, reporting back after each step. If I’m happy with the results, I’ll upgrade the base rear drum brakes with discs I can pull off a higher spec Saturn at the junkyard. That’s a bolt on conversion. Long term, I’ll keep my eye out for a DOHC/5-speed drivetrain I can get cheap.

Per my colleagues’ suggestions, I’ll be keeping the alignment at the OEM settings. As Jack pointed out, I don’t need a darty car on icy Michigan roads.

Speaking of icy roads, I’ll be keeping the old rims and tires for winter use. The OEM wheels are mounted with some Cooper all-season tires with plenty of tread life remaining that should suffice in the cold. I know how Baruth feels about all-seasons in the winter and having test driven Bridgestone Blizzaks in a blizzard, I’m a fan of sticky winter tires, but I grew up learning to drive in big rear wheel drive American sedans with bias ply tires and since I haven’t managed to get stuck or plow into someone so far, the all-seasons will do for winter driving for now.

So what do the Best & Brightest have to say? Am I on a fool’s errand trying to make this rather unexciting car more sporting? Will the stiffer, lower springs and stiffer shocks ride worse than the OEM setup with 100K miles on the components? Either way I’ll keep you informed.

* For you air-cooled VeeDub enthusiasts, it was an AE crankcase with 1648cc barrels, dual port heads (slightly milled), a street cam, 009 mechanical distributor and a Holley/Weber two barrel carb, plus a high pressure Melling oil pump and an external oil filter and auxiliary oil cooler (and homebrew interior heater using that hot oil).

** It surprises me that the Saturn station wagons don’t get more love from enthusiasts. A small wagon that could be gotten with a DOHC engine, a 5 speed manual transmission and 4 wheel disc brakes checks a lot of boxes. I think they look pretty good too.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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TTAC Author Gets Schooled: Tries Again http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/ttac-author-gets-schooled-tries-again/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/ttac-author-gets-schooled-tries-again/#comments Thu, 14 Nov 2013 15:47:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=651306 Earlier this week I wrote a little article about the SEMA show and those weird little auto add-ons that so many people choose to stick all over their otherwise decent looking rides. In it, I contrasted performance add-ons with “auto accessories” and tried to poke a little fun at those plastic chrome doo-dads and the […]

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Earlier this week I wrote a little article about the SEMA show and those weird little auto add-ons that so many people choose to stick all over their otherwise decent looking rides. In it, I contrasted performance add-ons with “auto accessories” and tried to poke a little fun at those plastic chrome doo-dads and the people who abuse them. It wasn’t really intended to be a heavy “think piece.” It was supposed to be light, fun and maybe elicit some cheerful banter from the best and brightest. Nice and easy, right? Hell no. As usual, the TTAC readership doesn’t make anything easy…

No excuses, the premise of my article was silly. I said performance add-ons were a good thing and that auto accessories were by their very nature, stupid. Despite that, a couple of you guys took the ball I punted so lazily downfield and ran it right back up the field. The points you made are really good and since my earlier article wasn’t intended to start a serious discussion I’m not sure they got the attention they deserved. But you made me think, and when someone does that I figure they might make others think too. That means another article and, hopefully, a fuller discussion.

El Carlismo en Castilla-La Mancha Image courtesy of www.abc.es

El Carlismo en Castilla-La Mancha
Image courtesy of www.abc.es

In response to my assertion that performance mods were justifiable while appearance mods were not, Carlisimo wrote:

I scoff at mods that looked tacked on, as many of them do. But I understand them. Even a small mod can make your car feel fresh for a little while, and that’s a good feeling. Especially when you know your car isn’t everything you’d like it to be. And I have a soft spot for underglow that I won’t admit to out loud.

Those modders are more honest than those of us who install performance mods. What could be sillier than increasing our car’s top speed from 137 to 140mph when we never exceed 80? Oooh, my coilovers save me a second when I drive around in a circle on a loop in the middle of nowhere. Best $1,000 evar! (I did install coilovers on my Miata. I like them, but it wasn’t a purchase I try to justify.) In contrast, visual mods make their difference 100% of the time, including when parked, and in heavy traffic. That’s value.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Athos Noble wrote:

Personally I don’t care, even in the most offensive of the cases. And I saw plenty of those in Venezuela. Here not so much, but they’re still out there… Brembo brake caliper covers anyone? chintzy 20″ chrome wheels? As far as I’m concerned, people can spend their money in whatever they want.

For example, I would use the aftermarket to upgrade my headlamps to projectors, complete with angel eyes. I also would like a fancier stereo and some “sport” seats would spice up my current ride. Some 18″ wheels would make it look more actual too. And retrofitting later model suspension bits would make it drive nicer. A turbo kit would certainly give it more oomph and coupling it with a LPG kit would make that “affordable” to run. I could sort those issues via OEM bits, aftermarket or a wrecker.

There were other comments as well, and while they were all great these are the two I want to focus on. Part of me wants to follow Carlisimo’s point to its logical conclusion and decry any form of performance add-on for the street but Athos raises a great point when he talks about improving a lot of your car’s basic characteristics through the aftermarket and selective scavenging. It’s clearly not the black-and-white issue I tried to lay out in that earlier, sillier article and I am hoping this new discussion allows us to fully explore the topic.

I’m curious, what are good add-ons for the street? What add-ons have you mounted over the years? What did you hope to gain and did the results meet your expectations? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Photo Thomas Kreutzer

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

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New or Used: Wagon + Stick = Trouble? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/new-or-used-wagon-stick-trouble/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/new-or-used-wagon-stick-trouble/#comments Fri, 13 Jan 2012 13:32:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=425712   Aaron writes: Hi! I’ll try to be concise. I have a 2003 A4 manual sedan with 78K. I wanted a wagon but couldn’t find one and was in a hurry for wheels. Well, now I found one: 2003, manual, 107K. It’s at a dealer lot. Plus it’s got some desirable performance modifications, including exhaust. […]

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Aaron writes:

Hi! I’ll try to be concise.

I have a 2003 A4 manual sedan with 78K. I wanted a wagon but couldn’t find one and was in a hurry for wheels. Well, now I found one: 2003, manual, 107K. It’s at a dealer lot. Plus it’s got some desirable performance modifications, including exhaust.

The question: what will the dealer think of a trade? If my mechanic likes it i wouldn’t object to a straight trade, maybe even a (very) little cash from me if the timing belt is new. But are wagons with sticks and rumbly exhaust desirable? What’s it worth relative to mine? It seems like the similarity of the cars (same drivetrain, options, etc) should make this comparison location- and current market- independent.

I’m going to take the car for an inspection tomorrow, and offers may be made thereafter.

Steve Answers:

It depends on the condition and the history.

On the surface you would assume that a wagon with a stick would be a less desirable vehicle. But when it comes to a sporty oriented vehicle, there are plenty of buyers willing to row their own gears and go for the ‘unpopular’ body style.

Unfortunately for you Audi wagons aren’t popular. Just expensive.

When it comes to premium brands like Audi, I always look at condition first. Why? Because when it comes to picky buyers the condition is what sells it. I can convince a buyer to move from a station wagon to a sedan if that vehicle comes with something that most others do not.

Dealer records. A clean car with a perfect history. You may chuckle at all these dealer derived cliches, but the ease of sale and extra cash these models bring is very real in the retail marketplace.

Which brings me to the prior owner for this wagon. Do you know him yet? Do you plan on getting to know him? A thorough inspection will always uncover a few things. But the most important question to consider is, “Why did the guy get rid of his vehicle?”

I would strongly suggest that you try to get in touch with the prior owner and weigh it all in. Many dealers will tell you what you want to hear. But the prior owner can tell you what you need to know.

Good luck!

Sajeev answers:

Steve covered all the dealer angles of this, except for one: modified cars are death for resale and a nightmare on floorplan costs on a normal dealership.  This car is excellent fodder for a specialty tuner/hot rod shop, because they have an appreciation and the patience to wait for the right buyer. I am sure this car is awesome, it sounds like it’d certainly ring my bell. But I will play devil’s advocate for one reason: personal experience.

Even a Hot-Rod Lincoln fanatic like myself was a little put off when a supposedly “mint, granny driven” Lincoln Mark VIII at a local Hyundai lot actually had Flowmaster mufflers upon closer inspection.  Very few grannies want to hear the rumble of “flowbastards” in their ride, no matter how sweet it may sound on a 4-cam Ford V8. It seemed like a proper granny car that was bastardized by a second owner. My gut suggested I didn’t want to be the third owner of such a machine.  Which isn’t totally relevant to your situation, but there’s more.

The mufflers made the other minor flaws (interior trim abuse) a little more worrisome. The Mark VIII I wound up owning was truly stock, had a bona-fide service history (with recent repairs on typical fail points) but had cosmetic issues the flowmaster-Mark did not have…even then, I bought it. I modded it to my tastes and was much happier. And almost 10 years later, I have no regrets. Zero.

So when you combine these things:

  • Station Wagon
  • Old Audi, no warranty (i.e. this isn’t a cash cow like a CamCord, Tacoma, etc)
  • Stick shift
  • Modifications, including a “louder than stock” exhaust

You wind up with a vehicle that’s very hard to shift off a car lot. Odds are you are one of the few people interested in this vehicle.  But, if the car is as cool as you make it sound, the dealer might have you by the short hairs. That is, if you showed any interest in the modifications.

For your sake, I hope you frowned upon those modifications. I also hope the mods don’t imply that the car was abused: many a modified Audi is driven hard, making for a powertrain that’s frightfully expensive proposition to keep running. Clutches, axle shafts, transaxles, you name it! If you haven’t already, be a regular on the forums and get good with tools and service manuals.

My advice? Unless you are totally amazed by how it sits, get a stock one and modify it later.

 

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

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