The Truth About Cars » Product Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 02 Dec 2014 21:43:30 +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 » Product Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Product Review: E30 LS1 Conversion (Van Swearingen) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/product-review-e30-ls1-conversion-van-swearingen/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/product-review-e30-ls1-conversion-van-swearingen/#comments Thu, 05 Aug 2010 15:04:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=362240 For its day, the BMW E30 3-series was an impressive blend of German craftsmanship, understated and cohesive style with remarkable performance. Then again, the E30 may lack straight line performance but the handling remains stellar. And the look is almost timeless. But it needs more than 200 horsepower to truly shine outside of its numerous […]

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For its day, the BMW E30 3-series was an impressive blend of German craftsmanship, understated and cohesive style with remarkable performance. Then again, the E30 may lack straight line performance but the handling remains stellar. And the look is almost timeless. But it needs more than 200 horsepower to truly shine outside of its numerous wins at the 24 Hours Of LeMons. Perhaps 345 horses will help the cause. So let’s put a lightweight, torque intensive V8 under the hood to fix that singular shortcoming.

Steve and Garret Van Swearingen found me via Piston Slap, and showed us all they had the resources to make it happen. Furthermore, these gentlemen possess the foresight to realize that others are similarly demented: though perhaps not as adventurous. Enter their self-published PDF document, E30-LS1, the definitive record on how to install a Chevy LS-X into the near perfect BMW E30.

Because of all the maniacal, pro-Chevy LS swap Piston Slap rants I’ve bestowed upon TTAC readers, Steve gave me a copy of the conversion article, gratis. No, I didn’t rush out and buy an E30, a late-model Pontiac GTO donor car (preferred) and clear my garage of my current projects, though his work is so detailed and intriguing that I considered it. Too bad the conversion isn’t a walk in the park: and his document is complete information overload.

With that in mind, legal liabilities come with this knowledge. Like anyone who lives in a cubicle, Steve and Garret understand CYA statements, which occupy the document’s first chapter. Such is life.

Without giving away the entire bill of sale, let’s hit the highlights of the E30-LS1 instruction manual. Most noticeably, the document is filled with CAD drawings of everything from the (modified) Pontiac GTO oil pan, brake booster linkages and transmission mounts. And that’s only a short list. While I didn’t make any of the parts to verify accuracy, anyone knowledgeable in CAD sees that Steve and Garret did their homework.

There are impressive hand drawings: while some are crude enough to require a second look, all are clear, detailed and valuable.  Take the custom intake tube leading to the LS-X’s centrally located throttle body: decent renderings, but with valuable notes that add to the document’s (somewhat) easy to read nature.  You know, for a deeply technical discussion.

Photographs abound, showing how the finished product looks: I especially like the photos of the rethought, re-engineered brake booster/master cylinder at the firewall, as that is a fairly complicated component to make for your average weekend wrench turner. But the stunning 3D renderings of the redesigned transmission mount might be the coolest diagram. Other renderings show how the T-56 6-speed transmission bolts into the E30 body, step-by-step. While not showing an exploded view diagram, this looks cleaner and easier to digest.

But pictures and drawings aren’t gonna get it done.  So they wrote easy to understand, somewhat un-technical copy explaining what parts are needed. It even tells you where to buy them. This saves a tremendous amount of time, even in the Internet age.

And even more details are sweated, telling you where a certain GM part fits under the E30’s bonnet, and what modification (hose, screw, clamp, etc) is needed to make it right. If words take too long, odds are there’s a picture to speed up the process. A great example is the content given to fabricate the GM-BMW hybrid A/C system under hood.  Yes, you have OEM levels of refinement here too.

Not every idea is set in stone: I imagine one can cut a corner or two with a zip-tie.  That is, if you’re a complete slacker. And that’s your call: everything needed to make that judgment is available.

But, on a limited production basis, Steve and Garret are offering a number of parts for the E30-LS1 swap. They went as far as removing the real-world tested parts on their personal E30: engine and transmission mounts, brake booster linkage system, second differential mount and the radiator mount.  The parts are removed to build welding fixtures from them, and many of the parts were redesigned to be laser-cut, in order to make it feasible to produce multiple copies.

Why is that relevant?  Because, much like a regular shade tree mechanic, Steve and Garret originally made these parts with crude tools like a hacksaw and file. So they are hoping to sell the kit (including the document reviewed here) for between $1200 and $1500. The standalone document is $99, which is certainly the best use of your time and money, should you buy into the E30-LS1 value proposition.

I see the light, and would take the plunge if I could. If this kind of mechanical mayhem is up your alley, pick up an E30-LS1 guide or the conversion parts by emailing E30LS1@gmail.com.

Steve and Garret Van Swearingen provided TTAC with a complimentary copy of their E30-LS1 Guide for evaluation purposes.

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Product Review: Harbor Freight Hydraulic Scissor Lift http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/product-review-harbor-freight-hydraulic-scissor-lift/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/product-review-harbor-freight-hydraulic-scissor-lift/#comments Thu, 07 Jan 2010 20:22:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=341031 Having lead a life of high adventure in my youth, scaling pinnacles of rocks and ice, I never imagined that I’d meet my end, flat on my back crushed beneath a falling car. I was setting a new land-speed record for butt-shoulder-shuffling on my way out from under the creaking, swaying mass of 1999 Volkswagen […]

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The New Beetle of Damocles?

Having lead a life of high adventure in my youth, scaling pinnacles of rocks and ice, I never imagined that I’d meet my end, flat on my back crushed beneath a falling car. I was setting a new land-speed record for butt-shoulder-shuffling on my way out from under the creaking, swaying mass of 1999 Volkswagen New Beetle-shaped steel groaning menacingly above my body. Moments before the VW started moving it was resting firmly on my tried, and until-that-moment trusted ramps and jack-stands. But now I was going to die, life flashing before my eyes, staring swaying death in the face as my wife’s “cute bug” transformed into Damocles’ Sword, or Poe’s Pendulum, my garage floor playing the Pit. The tremor ceased as my head cleared the oil pan, and the Beetle slowed, then stopped making the horrific creaking noises as the jack-stands stopped wobbling. I cleared the bumper and leapt to my feet in a single motion, and relief swept over me like the expected post-quake tidal wave should. “Damn, I’m still alive!… in fact… I’m completely unharmed!” Running into the house I yelled at the family: ‘Did you guys feel that?!” … only to be met with a non-chalant: “feel what?”

In retrospect the tremor which scared me out from under the car was only a barely-rattle-the-china 3.2 on the Richter Scale, but it drove home an indelible lesson to this DIY mechanic living in a region where three tectonic plates meet: I NEED to get a lift!

flatWith kids heading for college in a few years, the budget was tight, but the family’s financial committee agreed that my life and future earning power were worth an investment of about a thousand bucks or so. Armed with that vote of confidence I perused the web for advice and good deals on a better platform for the home mechanic to raise his car off the ground.

Most of the work I do on my family’s cars involves basic maintenance: Fluid Changes. Tire Rotations. Brake Jobs. Occasionally tasks are a tad more involved, especially with my hobby car, a vintage British sports car, which always seems to have some little thing, and occasionally a big thing wrong with it. Major engine overhauls and complete restorations however are out of my league, so in reality the lift I required could be a light-duty model. Sure, I’d love a deluxe two- or four-post lift, but at the time I was shopping I really had no place to put one, and they were all priced out of my budget. Scissor lifts however seemed to be a good compromise: small, semi-portable, usable in a small garage, and far safer than ramps & jack-stands, while being reasoraisednably priced

At the suggestion of more than one like-minded cheapskate wrench-turner I settled upon the “US General” 6000lb Scissor Lift from Harbor Freight. (Item #46604) It is likely the lowest-price lift on the market. Using a Triple-Word-Score combination of coupons, online specials, and shipping discounts the total price came to about $850 in 2003. I live in the boonies 60-some miles out of Seattle and due to the size and weight (~750lbs) of the lift Harbor Freight would only use a freight forwarder for shipping.

This meant I had to pick it up at a loading dock in Seattle in my battered old farm pickup. It arrived in two pieces: a large wooden crate, with a cardboard box containing the hydraulic control unit strapped to the top of it, which fit right into the short bed of the old Dodge. I borrowed a neighbor’s tractor with a backhoe to unload the bulky unit from the truck’s bed and set it on the concrete floor of my garage. A few months later I relocated it to our barn, which became my workshop after the last of the domestic livestock were moved to better accommodations elsewhere. Moving the whole unit around is unwieldy, yet once upon a concrete slab it is very easy for a single person to maneuver the lift around an open space due to the magic of leverage and physics. The Control unit is essentially designed as a wheeled lever, and the lift is equipped with sturdy rollers at one end, and a lever-eye at the other end.

First, theProblem solved! bad news: Two minor parts failed almost immediately. The original plastic wheels of the control unit are just not up to the task of holding the weight of the lift when used as a lever. They literally crumbled after a few tries moving the lift around. I replaced them with sturdier units from my local hardware store with actual bearings in them. Secondly the control unit is very top-heavy and with the broken wheels it tipped over, falling right onto the fitting for the hydraulic pipe, breaking it. At first I tried calling Harbor Freight’s customer service department to have the pipe replaced. Eventually I gave up that fruitless exercise and had a new pipe fabricated at my local NAPA store. Both repairs have held up for almost six years.

The good news: It is simple to operate, safe, and makes common automotive maintenance work a breeze. Low clearance cars such as my vintage Jaguar require help getting over the folded lift, so I have collected some long 4×4 & 4×6 lumber to arrange around the lift for that purpose. Vehicles with more ground clearance can just drive over it. Moveable arms with adjustable rubber-topped pads provide the lifting surfaces under the car. The pads are scored with right-angled grooves to mate up to the body work of cars like VW, who use flanges as lifting points. The lift has several pre-set ratcheting safety latch points as it goes up, providing safe, stable levels to perform work. To raise the car you operate the hydraulic pump, which runs from a standard household electrical outlet, with a push-button. To lower the car you must hold two levers, one retracting the safety-catch, the other slowly releasing the hydraulic fluid.

Oil changes, tire rotations, and brake work are now super-easy, and so much safer and faster when performed on the lift. Instead of spending lots of time raising, lowering and fiddling with jacks and stands, I can now get right to work. However, since the lift itself is positioned directly under the car working on things like transmissions or exhaust can be problematic depending upon the car. For these applications a traditional lift would be much better, but for the home mechanic on a budget this small lift is a wonderful luxury. I’ve used it countless times for oil and filter changes, and when it came time to sell the New Beetle I was able to do it right with numerous photos of every nook and cranny to put it on eBay Motors.

Had that tremor in 2003 bloomed into a genuine 6.0 or larger quake I might not be here today to enjoy life. Even if you don’t live in a “geological entertainment zone” like I do the peace of mind provided by such a simple and safe working platform is well worth the cost.

65E-up control flat jeep jetta Problem solved! raised safetylock The New Beetle of Damocles? Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Product Review: Optima Batteries http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/12/product-review-optima-batteries/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/12/product-review-optima-batteries/#comments Thu, 17 Dec 2009 22:20:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=339529 Perhaps you’ve seen the advertisement: an Optima battery survives the rigors of a demolition derby, then goes into the vehicle taking it’s owner home. But is it pure advertising hyperbole or is there something to the claim? To find out I tested the Optima Red Top and Yellow top batteries in situations ranging from daily-driving […]

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Perhaps you’ve seen the advertisement: an Optima battery survives the rigors of a demolition derby, then goes into the vehicle taking it’s owner home. But is it pure advertising hyperbole or is there something to the claim? To find out I tested the Optima Red Top and Yellow top batteries in situations ranging from daily-driving to that demolition derby-in-denial, the 24 Hours of LeMons.

Geek Alert: while conventional lead-acid batteries use (fragile) lead plates suspended in vats of acid, the Optima has lead wound into a spiral tube.  Optima’s design is inherently stronger, thus more resistant to vibration, especially in off-road applications.  The design also allows a more pure grade of lead and there’s a fiberglass mat to hold the electrolyte gel against the lead. Fantastic.

In reality, it works. TTAC’s race car for the 24hrs of LeMons uses my leftover Optima “Red Top” battery, doing very well under the rigors of race use. Proof positive was our electrical nightmare: the reinforced battery tray that dislodged itself from the rusty fender. With our luck, the car’s good vibrations let battery hold down (metal) meet the positive cable. Then they became friends. Such good friends, in fact, they welded themselves together and cooked several underhood wires.  But the Optima survived the ordeal, where a normal battery would have exploded.

But why did I donate a functional Optima to the LeMons car?  Again, geek alert: my Lincoln Mark VIII (a car known for charging problems as they age) had bizarre charging characteristics after 2 years of use with a Red Top, even with significant upgrades over OEM. It worked until it’s second Houston summer made the car’s voltage fluctuate several tenths in stop/go traffic.  Fearing more problems (been there, done that), I proactively switched to a conventional battery and netted rock-solid charging after 2+ years of daily commuting. I discussed this with an Optima product guru: he suggested the problem is unique to my car.  Frankly, after many hours of wrenching, I suspect he’s right.

I had two other negative Red Top experiences, one from vehicles in storage for 6-12 months, unable to take a trickle charge afterwards.  Optima says this is a common problem, but it’s the battery charger’s fault. In their words:

If an OPTIMA is deeply discharged (below 10.5 volts) most basic chargers will not supply a charge. Also keep in mind an OPTIMA will not recharge properly if treated as a regular flooded or gel battery. To charge the battery, you can wire a second fully charged automotive battery (12+V) to the discharged AGM in parallel (+ to + and – to –). Then hook up the charger to either battery, setting the charger at 10 amps. Leave for two hours, monitoring frequently. During this process if the discharged battery gets very hot or if it is venting (hissing sound from vents) then stop this process immediately. When the discharged battery reaches 10.5 volts or more, remove the standard battery and continue charging the AGM until fully charged.

For normal charging a relatively low current, such as one or two amps can work well, but when the battery has been deeply discharged, some sulfation of the battery plates may have occurred. If you charge at 10 amps, the higher current will help to break up this sulfation. If you have an automatic charger, let it run until the charger indicates charging is complete. If you have a manual charger, you can get a rough estimate of the charging time in hours of a completely discharged battery (11.2V) by multiplying the capacity (amp hours or Ah) of the battery by 1.2. If your battery is not completely discharged the time would be less.

In most cases these steps will recover the AGM battery. It’s okay for the AGM battery to get slightly warm during the charging process. If it’s hot to the touch it means there’s a short and the process should be discontinued.

A fancier charger like a CTEC should work fine, but that’s not all: I had a (daily driven) Optima Red Top fail on the 36th month of its 36 month warranty.  The car’s charging system is in excellent condition, but the battery couldn’t start the car after sitting overnight.  While the free replacement works flawlessly for 2+ years, this was disappointing considering Optima’s premium pricing.

And there’s that: Optima Red Tops are about $150, roughly $50 more than a conventional battery with a similar warranty.  The Yellow Top, with its superior “deep cycle” capabilities often retails for an extra $20 over the Red Top.  And Optima supplied a Yellow Top for TTAC’s project car, a Cadillac Fleetwood Limo in dire need of a new battery, alternator and so much more.

Long story short: the Yellow Top worked flawlessly while diagnosing, wrenching and cranking (endlessly cranking) the Caddy’s pathetic motor. Not to mention providing hours of entertainment to passers by at the 24 Hours of LeMons, thanks to the Yellow Top’s deep reserve against the Limo’s extensive interior lighting, BOSE audio and power-hungry load-leveling suspension.  The Yellow Top is designed to handle long periods of usage, resisting failure after repeated discharges. My time with the Limo proved it. I am happy with this battery’s short-term performance: like the race car’s Red Top, this is the ideal partner for a Limo.

But what about the average car of your average TTAC reader?  Even with Optima’s clear engineering superiority, I don’t see their performance gains worth the higher asking price.  My negative experiences with the Red Top aside, this product isn’t a good value for your daily driver. Non-street legal toys and high-current applications are a different story.

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