The Truth About Cars » Question of the Day The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:58:32 +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 » Question of the Day QOTD: At What Price Connectivity? Mon, 14 Apr 2014 15:36:17 +0000 Caterham_7_Roadsport_SV

From this week’s Automotive News, editor Jason Stein talks to former Hyundai CEO and now TrueCar board member John Krafcik about connected cars

“Do you notice that as we talk about increased connectivity in the car, we are also talking about being less connected with the car?” Krafcik asks through a phone line. “Connectivity and autonomy. Sounds like those are at odds with each other, hey?”

Krafcik, who owns a Caterham and a Porsche 911, is one executive who can speak with authority on the inverse relationship between in-car connectivity and feeling a connection with one’s automobile. Unfortunately, we seem to be moving inexorably towards the “connected car” model, at the expense of feeling connected to our cars – and most people don’t seem to mind one bit.

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If The Big Lebowski Were Filmed Today, What Car Would The Dude Drive? Mon, 17 Mar 2014 13:00:18 +0000 Big_Lebowski_Torino_Crash-550pxBefore the Clint Eastwood film (but after the cheezoid TV show), the most well-known Ford Gran Torino in cinema history was the beater ’73 sedan driven by Jeff Bridges’ character in The Big Lebowski. This film, which took quite a while to go from box-office dud to sacred document of the Lebowski Jihad, was released in 1998 and was set in late 1990 or early 1991 (a period during which I was also in Southern California and living a fairly Dude-ish lifestyle myself). The choice of a ’73 Gran Torino by the Coen Brothers makes some interesting statements for those who obsess about movie cars, and Monday is always the best day to discuss such things.
Big_Lebowski_Torino_Impound-550pxLooking at 1990/1991 from the perspective of 1998, you’ve got a nasty recession being observed via dot-com boom-tinted glasses, the first one-sided ass-kicking dished out by the US military since Vietnam from the point of view of an ascendant hyperpower, and so forth. At the same time, the latter years of the 1990s saw cars that could knock of 200,000 miles becoming commonplace, with carburetors and mechanical ignition systems dead as global Marxism-Leninism. With all that in mind, The Dude’s car had to be something from the Malaise Era, for symbolic location along the Malaise-Gulf War-Hyperpower continuum as well as for the fact that unemployable Los Angeles loadies could be expected to drive 18-year-old midsize sedans.
Big_Lebowski_Torino_Brochure-550pxSo the question here is: What would be this car’s equivalent today? If you’re just going by straight model years, a 2014 movie set in 2006 with the protagonist driving an 18-year-old midsize Ford sedan would give us a 1988 Taurus… and it’s easy to picture the 2006 Dude clanking along in a hooptified first-gen Taurus.
10 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' GredenHowever, the runup in global commodities prices in the second half of the first decade of the century meant that larger cars were worth a fair amount at the scrapper, which means that even the ugliest Taurus floated a bit above the very bottom of the car-value barrel. That’s why I think that The Dude of 2006 would drive an early Hyundai Excel. What do you think?

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QOTD: What Do You Want Covered At NAIAS Thu, 09 Jan 2014 11:00:46 +0000 CoboHallDetroit

The first NAIAS press day I ever attended was in 2010. The auto industry was just finding its feet again after coming off record low sales. Discretion was the order of the day, with Ford unveiling the 2011 5.0 Mustang off-site, as fuel economy, alternative powertrains and other politically correct “stories” took precedence of power and brawn. Nancy Pelosi walked the show floor. For the first time in years, there’s an air of confidence surrounding the show. The industry appears to have found its legs again, the OEMs are making money, and a host of important debuts are set to be unveiled. Let us know what you’d like to see covered. We’ll make sure to have our photographers snapping pictures while myself and Juan bring you all the info.

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Question: What Is the Stoniest Moter Vehicle of All Time? Wed, 01 Jan 2014 05:01:57 +0000 QOTD-GreenVanAs of 12:01 AM Mountain Time on Wednesday, the first legal, open-to-the-general public cannabis shops in the United States may start selling their wares. In my Denver neighborhood, the dispensary next door to the first Chipotle restaurant opens for business at 10:00 AM, and I’m trying to guess what kind of car, truck, or other vehicle will be the first to screech to a smoky halt at this establishment’s front door. Actually, the loadiest stoners aren’t exactly conscious of, like, the clock, man, so this vehicle will probably show up on Friday at about 11:38 PM, and then the occupants will forget why they were there in the first place and go find a 7-11 to buy some Twin Bings… but for the purposes of discussion we’re going to say 10:00 AM on the dot, stoniest motor vehicle. What is it?
69BlueBeetle_RearThe good old Type 1 Beetle (and its Transporter cousin) scores pretty high on the TCH-O-Meter, though you don’t see many of them these days. Hippies back in the old days liked air-cooled Volkswagens because they’ll run like crap better than any other car, which means that you can space out on maintenance for years and still drive; the air-cooled Volks is the only four-stroke four-cylinder engine I’ve ever seen that will run on one cylinder. There’s no water to boil over, no complicated controls to confuse the driver.
85_Tercel_Emblem_LHThe 1983-86 Toyota Tercel 4WD wagon is a favorite of Denver/Boulder wastoids, and it’s also quite popular in the redwood country of California. Reliable, room for all your loser friends and their snowboards, friendly-looking, capable of chugging through fairly serious snow.
64ImpalaConvert-01The 1961-64 Chevy Impala makes this list, because Cheech drove one in Up In Smoke.
IMG_1270My vote, however, goes to any vintage scooter. One look at a group of scooter freaks and you can tell they’re smoking some stuff that would make even Willie Nelson freak out. What’s your choice for Stoniest Vehicle of All Time?

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Question: What’s the Best Japanese Car Name Ever? Mon, 23 Dec 2013 14:00:09 +0000 QOTD-BongoFriendeeAs we all know, the Japanese car industry has produced some of the greatest cars ever made, from the Isuzu Statesman Deville to the Autozam AZ-1. And, of course, the Japanese have come up with some of the greatest car names ever. The Nissan Homy Elgrand. The Mitsubishi Debonair Royal AMG. The Mazda Bongo Friendee. So many to choose from!

Of course, my personal favorite is the Mazda Cosmo Big Run Genteel. I’m not sure if the Genteel was a separate model, or just an option package, but who cares? Genteel! So, what’s your favorite Japanese Car Name?

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QOTD: Better Off Mainstream? Wed, 27 Nov 2013 15:30:39 +0000 SONY DSC

Speaking at a preview event for the next-generation Hyundai Genesis, Hyundai CEO John Krafcik defended his company’s decision to forgo establishing a seperate luxury channel for cars like the Genesis and Equus. While the rationale put forth usually revolves around the exorbitantly expensive pricetag for launching a new brand and an all-new sales network, Krafcik put it from another angle.

Speaking to Automotive News, Krafcik remarked

“I do believe that when the three premium Japanese brands were launched, it was during a certain time in the industry when there was a certain optimism about where the industry was headed,” he said.

“I really believe that if those three companies had a chance to really think about their path, they might have taken the path that we chose.”

The epoch that saw the launch of Infiniti, Acura and Lexus was the peak of Japan’s “bubble”, when Japanese automakers seemed to have limitless budgets for new vehicle R&D, marketing (think of those wacky home-market ads with Hollywood star endorsements) and sales channels (whether it was new luxury brands in America or multiple sales channels in Japan).

At the time, the rationale was that a Nissan President or Toyota Aristo was suitable for sale with a more plebian badge in Japan, but American consumers would not be willing to shell out premium car money for a luxury sedan sold alongside a Corolla or a Civic, no matter how good it was.

Nearly three decades on and Acura is largely confined to America and China, while Infiniti seems to be stuck in the mud as far as becoming a global luxury brand. Even Lexus, which has become a household name on par with BMW or Mercedes-Benz, hasn’t made any kind of dent in Europe. Do you agree with Krafcik’s assessment? Let us know in the comments.

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QOTD: How About A TTAC Hot Wheels Series Wed, 16 Oct 2013 11:30:13 +0000 Mazda_Miata_Red

Over on Jalopnik’s Opposite Lock section, Juan Barnett raised the idea of having a “Jalopnik” series of Hot Wheels cars that would best represent the site. Everything from a Miata to an RS6 Avant to a Merkur XR4Ti was thrown around for the hypothetical 5-car collection. How about one for our august publication?

At first I thought about switching out Hot Wheels cars for the very JDM Tomica line, but then we’d be unable to include our favorite American Iron

If I were to have my pick, it would be something like this:

1) Any Panther (which model is up for debate)

2) Murilee’s Project Car Hell Impala

3) VW Jetta TDI Sportwagon in Brown

4) Jack’s Green S5

5) Chrysler Minivan

Honorable mentions include the latest V6 Mustang, the 2014 Toyota Corolla, NormSV650′s 40 MPG Saab, any of the BigTruckSeriesReview@Youtube’s SRT products and Zackman’s Impala.

Of course, these selections would likely be doomed to commercial failure. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go rip the NSX Concept out of the blister card.

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QOTD: They Want How Much For A Cadillac ELR? Fri, 11 Oct 2013 19:55:45 +0000 2014-Cadillac-ELR-_12_-450x300

Pricing for the Cadillac ELR has been announced, and the swoopy Caddy coupe with the Voltec powertrain has been stickered at an astonishing $75,995, not including the $7,500 federal tax credit as well as other incentives.

One can make the argument that there will be a market for a premium plug-in that wealthy buyers can write off as an expense in one form another, personally, I think GM is out of their mind.

While the ELR gets a more powerful powertrain, Cadillac’s CUE system, improved regen braking capabilities and Batmobile-esque looks, the nearly $76k sticker price puts it within a few thousand dollars of the Tesla Model S 85 kWh Performance model. Fans of the Voltec powertrain can argue that the plug-in system is superior with respect to range and not being stranded on the side of the road, but I’d argue that in the green car space, nothing can touch a Tesla as far as image, cachet and status are concerned. And many people shopping for such a car are cognizant of that. I’m not sure that the ELR, positioned as a “green flagship” for Cadillac can command that kind of money.

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Question: What Engine Swap Would Most Enrage Single-Interest Corvette Fanatics? Thu, 29 Aug 2013 13:00:20 +0000 Toyota V8 - Picture courtesy of LextremeIn my role as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court, prospective racers often ask me questions that go something like: “I have a (car type known to be fast and/or expensive) that I got for (credulity-strainingly cheap price) and I would like to race it in LeMons without getting hit with penalty laps. How can I do this?” In most cases, the car will turn out to be a BMW M3, Acura Integra GS-R, or C4 Corvette, and I tell the questioner to seek another type of car. Still, you can get genuinely horrible C4 Corvettes for LeMons-grade money, provided you sell off some trim parts and so on, and that’s just what happened with this bunch. No problem, I said, just drop in an engine that will anger the Corvette Jihad and all will be well (it helps that the Chief Perpetrator of LeMons racing was the owner and editor-in-chief of Corvette Magazine for years, and he can’t stand the Corvette Jihad). I suggested the Toyota 1UZ V8, as found in Lexus LS400s and SC400s, but perhaps there’s an engine that would raise the blood pressure of Corvette fanatics even higher. What engine would that be?
LeMons-Phoenix10-0895In fact, we’ve seen two C4s in LeMons racing. There was this one, which was overpriced at 300 bucks, came with a very tired LT-1 350, and got stomped by a couple of bone-stock VW Rabbits and a slushbox Neon running on three cylinders.
309-LVH12-UGThen there was Spank’s “Corvegge”, which featured Olds 350 diesel power and ran on straight vegetable oil. Some Corvette guys were made upset by this, but at least the engine came from General Motors.
pickup2So, what engine would elicit the most rage from the Corvette Jihad? The team would prefer something with sufficient power to get around the track at least as quickly as, say, a Saturn SL2, which rules out my first choice (a Model A flathead four). Ideally, it should be an engine that can be purchased cheaply. Chrysler 360? BMW M50? Ford Modular 4.6? Nissan VH45?

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Question: What Car Is Most Favored By Murderers? Thu, 08 Aug 2013 15:30:31 +0000 SC400-1Back when I was looking for a cheap suspension-donor Lexus SC400, I had a couple of friends tell me to be careful when I went to go look at clapped-out Americanized Soarers with three-digit price tags: “All worn-out SC400s, in fact all worn-out Lexuses, are owned by murderers! You’ll see!” As it turned out, none of the cars I looked at had trunks full of quicklime, shovels, and duct tape… but that got me to thinking about the “murderer car” thing. Which car available today has the image of being owned by the scariest, manslaughteringest individuals? My answer, which I know to be the correct one, may be seen after the jump.
Toyota Echo - picture courtesy of ToyotaYeah, the Toyota Echo. American car buyers were afraid of the Echo from the beginning, for good reason; it’s just a creepy-looking car! Toyota had to recycle the chassis of the Echo in the much-less-creepy Scion xA and xB.

It sure didn’t help that Robin Williams’ scary stalker character in One Hour Photo drove an Echo. All right, so what’s your choice of frightening Murderer Car?

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QOTD: What Automotive Details Are You Missing? Wed, 07 Aug 2013 16:40:46 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 12.21.46 PM

OK, folks: time for one last question of the day (for now, anyway). As you know, we’ve covered the best automotive details and the worst automotive details, both of which garnered well over 200 comments. Interestingly, the “worst” thread got about 100 more comments than the “best” thread, proving that we TTACers are a “glass is half empty” kind of crowd.

With that knowledge in mind, I’ve decided to ask one more pressing question: what automotive details are you missing? In other words: you’re driving down the road and you think to yourself: Why the hell doesn’t it have that? And then you get even more upset when someone tells you that the latest subcompact General Motors vehicle does have that, and it’s standard.

These can be from your own car, a friend’s car, or the industry as whole. And with that in mind, let’s get started:

Convertible Top Open/Close With Key Fob

At Porsche, I discovered that all European convertible models have a feature that allows the convertible top to open and close with the press of a key fob button. Hold down the unlock button in your 911 Cabriolet, for example, and the windows and top all go down. Seems brilliant, right?

Except that feature isn’t offered in the States, presumably for liability reasons. You know: because an American will place a baby on the roof of a convertible, press the button, then sue the automaker for $25 million, which will turn into $95 million once the jurors start crying.

Sliding Doors

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 12.20.53 PM

If you’ve been to Europe, chances are you’ve seen the Peugeot 1007, which was recently voted the coolest car ever in a scientific poll taken on the Peugeot 1007 Facebook group.

I love the 1007 because it’s unique in one very important way: it features sliding doors, and it isn’t a minivan. The doors aren’t for the rear passengers, you see, but for the front seats. This allows you to park virtually anywhere and get out of your car, making it the exact opposite of the Ford GT.

Swiveling Headlights

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 12.20.15 PM

I know, I know, a few luxury cars have this. And that means in about 10 years, all cars will have it. But to me, that moment couldn’t come soon enough. I think swiveling headlights are one of the greatest things currently offered: they save your neck in dark corners, and they seem to shine exactly where you want them to.

Rear-Facing Third-Row Seats


I used to own a car with rear-facing third-row seats, which qualifies me as to be an expert on the hotly contested issue of: Should cars have rear-facing third row seats?

The answer is, of course: yes they should. Because let’s be honest: rear-facing third-row seats pretty much always lead to a happy childhood. Also, for those who believe they aren’t safe, here’s a thought: in a rear-end collision, wouldn’t you rather have your legs get hit than the back of your head? I thought so.

Hands-Free Texting


If you’re like me, you view texting as a necessary evil with which we, as a society, are forced to cope. And if you’re like me, you probably send the occasional text message at a traffic light. Well, guess what? Most people are not like me. Most people are texting at all hours of the day and night, including while driving down the street, the highway, the alley, and, occasionally, the sidewalk.

I recently read a study on texting that said around 60 percent of 13-to-25-year-olds consider it the preferred method of communication. And since texting is so easy to distract us from driving, this is something that automakers will need to integrate better in the coming years. Voice controls? Mind controls? I don’t know. But something.

So, TTAC, what details are you missing? And don’t worry: I promise we’ll have “answers of the day” posts coming soon.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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QOTD: What Are The Worst Automotive Details? Fri, 02 Aug 2013 18:30:11 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 12.15.37 PM

It’s time to devote yet another column to automotive details. The sharp-minded among us may be annoyed by this, since I already covered this subject last week. But this time, things are different. This time, it’s negative. And negative sells. I know that because I live in Atlanta, home of CNN, who drives around in large panel trucks with huge printed signs on each side that say: “HAVE YOU SEEN SOMETHING BLOODY? TWEET US!”

Anyway: negative automotive details. I’ve got a few suggestions and, as always, I’m asking for your help to uncover more. For those of you curious as to why I’ve done so many question-and-answer posts lately, I promise there is a reason, namely that I’m going out of town in two weeks and I want to compile all the answers into a few posts that you can read while I’m gone. But also it’s because I love reading the responses, to the point where I was up last time until 2 a.m. Googling “BMW glovebox flashlight.”

Here are my nominations for some of the worst automotive details, based on a few of the cars I’ve owned. Feel free to share yours.

Range Rover Parking Sensors

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 12.14.03 PM

It’s hard for me to believe that any single thing is more infuriating than the parking sensors on my Range Rover. (Re-reading this sentence, it sounds like someone who might say: “I just can’t get the temperature of my spa quite right.”) Seriously, though: I often think that I would gladly come home and discover that a burglar entered my home, stole all of my clothes, then let in a two-year-old child who drew all over the walls in Sharpie, all if it meant I no longer had to deal with my Range Rover parking sensors.

This is the problem. I’m backing into a parking space, so the sensors automatically activate. That’s great. They start beeping. Beep. Beep. Beep. Perfect. Then I get closer. Beep beep. Beep beep. Then I get super close. Beeeeeeeep. Exactly what I want to hear. So I stop parking and place the vehicle in park. And what happens next? You guessed it: Beeeeeeeep! Once the sensor goes on, it does not turn off, even if the vehicle is no longer in gear. So you’re parked and maybe you’re waiting for someone, and you just sit there listening to Beeeeeeep! And yes, you can manually turn off the sensor, but then you must manually turn it back on again when you’re trying to leave.

If you happen to know the person who designed these sensors, kindly provide me with their address so I can dispatch a crew of clothes-stealing burglars and creative, marker-wielding two-year-olds.

Mercedes Next Track Steering Wheel

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 12.14.54 PM

Owning a Mercedes is an unusual decision that I strongly recommend you only make if you can stomach a) tremendous depreciation, or b) substantial maintenance costs. In fact, it’s often both of those things, and never neither.

The detail that upset me most about Mercedes ownership, however, was none of that. It was the lack of a steering wheel ‘next track’ button.

Allow me to explain. The steering wheel of most Mercedes models, like any luxury car, is covered with buttons. On my 2007 E-Class, the total number was eight, just to be precise. But this is where the anger comes in: of those eight buttons, not one controlled the next stereo track! Instead, we had volume, phone, and four buttons for the “driver information center,” which you use approximately once a month when people ask: What kinda mileage duzzis thing get?

Gated Automatic Transmissions

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 12.15.54 PM

I will never in my life understand why gated automatic transmissions exist. One of you out there in readerland probably has a completely valid explanation that makes perfect sense in your mind, but trust me: you’ve never had to explain it to an elderly person in the hot sun.

I once worked at a large rental car agency, and we had to deliver a car to an elderly driver after her previous rental, a Dodge Avenger, broke down. (Shocking, right?) So we brought her a Suzuki Forenza, which has a gated automatic shifter, and I spent the next 30 minutes attempting to explain how it works. Unfortunately, I was at a loss for words when she asked why it works that way. I still am.

Cadillac CTS Foot-Mounted Parking Brake

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 12.16.47 PM

Before I got my current CTS-V Wagon, I had a CTS-V sedan, which was a fairly decent car in many ways – except for one glaring detail. No, I’m not talking about the plastic center stack, which derived its material from a Playskool toy. I am instead referring to the foot-mounted parking brake.

You’re probably thinking: What’s the big deal? A lot of cars have foot-mounted parking brakes! And that’s very true. The difference, however, is that most of those cars don’t have manual transmissions. The CTS-V did. That meant there were four pedals in the driver footwell, and the one you never wanted to press was directly next to the one you had to press each time you changed gear.

So, folks, what are your worst automotive details? It’s Friday night and my girlfriend is out of town, which can only mean one thing: 2 a.m. automotive Googling. Bring it on.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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QOTD: The No-Frills Luxury Car? Not As Crazy As It Sounds Wed, 10 Jul 2013 14:33:44 +0000 2010-Lincoln-Town-Car-Sedan-Signature-Limited-4dr-Sedan-Interior

An increasing trend I’ve been noticing is the increasing discomfort that older buyers are experiencing with luxury cars. Even the more tech savvy of the lot are getting frustrated with the rapid influx of technology in their cars of choice.

In the past year, I’ve had two older gentleman ask me for lower-tech alternatives in the luxury segment. One man in his 80′s was interested in a Lincoln MKT, but ended up purchasing a Lexus LS460 after being unable to get a handle on MyLincoln Touch. Another in his mid 60′s, who religiously buys Lexus ES350s, is now looking at a Hyundai Azera after being frustrated with the new mouse-style control for the Lexus infotainment system.

Doug DeMuro brought up a great point on his Kinja blog, namely, what are older buyers gravitating towards when every luxury brand seems committed to attracting younger buyers. Yes, this makes good business sense, lest you become Buick, saddled with a customer base that is literally dying off. But why ignore your customer base, which actually has the money to buy your cars? Why does the Cadillac XTS, a car that will only be bought by those in the over 45-set, offer CUE, a notoriously bad touch-sensitive infotainment system? The XTS is the kind of car that should be elegant but simply laid out for ease of us. A driving experience laden with distractions and repeatedly stabbing a haptic feedback control is the antithesis of luxury.

I wonder if the tide will eventually turn back to traditional buttons, simpler layouts and less reliance on complex, fragile electronic systems. As public beta testing and increasingly disposable electronics become the norm, cars have the opportunity to be a beacon of resilience and quality. But I don’t think I’d be on that.

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QOTD: Pick Your Poison – CVT Or 4-Speed Auto Tue, 14 May 2013 12:30:04 +0000 Corolla1-550x366

TTAC’s favorite beige appliance, the Toyota Corolla, is due for a redesign this year, and powertrain details are starting to leak out. For TTAC readers, there’s nothing but bad news.

It looks like buyers will have their choice of either a 4-speed automatic or a CVT. A 6-speed manual is technically available, but anyone who ever encounters a Corolla on the rental lot will most likely be stuck with one of these two transmissions.

The question for you, my darling readers, is which one would you prefer? The 4-speed seems like old hat in this day and age of 8,9 and even 10-speed transmissions, but it gets the job done with minimal fuss. Many of us also have a philosophical opposition to CVTs, but as Alex Dykes reports, some of them are actually quite good.

What would you rather take? Me? I’d demand an upgrade at the rental counter. But you don’t have that choice.

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Question: If New-Vehicle Emission Regulations Were Abolished, Would You Opt For the Smog-Delete Package? Fri, 03 May 2013 14:00:38 +0000 QOTD - Angering Greens With Excess Pollution - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWe won’t get into the politics of emission-control laws here, except to observe that you’re either a Marx-quoting, global-warming-duped, vegan one-worlder who wants to crush personal initiative beneath tons of bureaucracy and force everyone to ride an electric bus to their groat rations at the communal kitchen… or you’re an Ayn-quoting, gun-fondling, toxic-waste-spreading wingnut who cackles with glee at the mental image of inner-city children shriveling like salt-soaked slugs beneath tons of lead, oxides of nitrogen, and unburned hydrocarbons. Now that you’ve all chosen sides, imagine that every official in every level of every government in the world waved their magic legislative pens and put the kibosh on all emissions-related regulations concerning motor vehicles. Would you go clean, dirty, or in-between with your next vehicle purchase?
QOTD-OptionalSmogGearIn such a world, most vehicle manufacturers would offer some sort of choice in the matter; simply tweaking engine-management software allows a vehicle to favor fuel-economy over emissions, power over emissions, or emissions over both. You’d be able to choose, say, the Dirty Bird Edition Challenger, which would have a giant wing, no catalytic converters, and oxides-of-nitrogen-enhancing 14:1 compression. Hey, if residents of Fontana don’t like smog, they can take advantage of our free-market system to find jobs in a place with clean air! If you want to impress others with your commitment to clean air, you could buy the Breath of Fresh Air Edition Prius, which would offer 16 wheel horsepower and a dashboard-mounted meter that registered individual carbon atoms coming from the tailpipe. Hey, if you can’t stand being stuck behind those holier-than-thou types, you have the freedom to get the hell out of San Francisco! What’s it gonna be?

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QOTD: Is Australia The Canary In The Coal Mine For Canada? Thu, 02 May 2013 15:53:29 +0000 2014_chevrolet_impala_f34_ns_112612_717-450x300

The latest round of bad news regarding the Australian domestic auto industry has shifted TTAC’s attention to Canada, another country burdened with some similar issues. If Australia’s own car industry is getting hammered, then how much longer does Canada have?

Australia’s car market was once far more protected, but the reduction of imported vehicle tariffs and cheap exported cars from countries like Japan and Thailand have made locally built cars an extremely expensive proposition. Unlike Canada, Australia’s vehicle exports are minimal, and the domestic car industry has been reduced to relying on local consumers and government handouts to help stay afloat. While Australia has rapidly switched from locally-made, thirsty V8 sedans to small, fuel-efficient compacts, Canada has always had a taste for gas-sippers. Hell, two of them (the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla) are even built there.

But Canada now finds itself in a paradox; the country relies on exports, yet has a very strong currency. Once upon a time, Canada’s dollar was worth around 62 cents, which made it a much more attractive place to build cars. The loonie’s recent rise to parity has made it significantly more expensive to build cars in Canada, and it’s not just the auto makers who are recognizing this.

An Automotive News article quotes one Canadian Auto Workers union official who seems resigned to the fact that increasing costs mean dwindling prospects for Canada’s auto manufacturing industry.

“As those costs increase — 40, 60 percent — we simply can’t compete anymore,” said Ron Svajlenko, the president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 222, the union whose membership has dwindled to 3,500 from 12,000 in 2002. “When it comes to a decision about where you’re going to do things, you go to where the costs are low.”

The CAW was a very tough negotiating partner for the Big Three in the last round of contracts, managing to stave of a full implementation of a UAW-style two-tier wage system for new hires. But the CAW didn’t get all of the investment it was looking for either. While Ford got a commitment to upgrading the Oakville plant, upgrades for Chrysler’s Brampton plant (which builds the LX cars) never materialized and GM even shifted product out of Canadian factories, leaving the future of its Oshawa Assembly plant in doubt. Canada, and the province of Ontario still maintain some advantages; a publicly funded healthcare system and a generous regime of tax credits and low rates for corporate income tax can be compelling reasons for auto makers to continue to build cars in Canada.

But the currency issue will remain a thorn in the side of Canada and Australia, albeit for different reasons. Canada’s strong dollar makes it not only unprofitable to build cars there, but also gives the OEMs a good reason to pack up for low-cost Mexico or, even better, “bring jobs home”, as in the case of GM moving production of the Impala (at least in part) back to Detroit.

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QOTD: Should Elon Musk Run The Show At GM? Wed, 01 May 2013 11:00:44 +0000

We don’t get enough good questions from the readers, and it’s a damn shame. Reader Steve Hofer sent us a great one via email; what if Elon Musk was running General Motors?

I was thinking about how Steve Jobs came from what was essentially a failed company with NeXT, to raise Apple from the dead. I imagined the possibility that GM would take over Tesla. Thinking of the Apple precedent, I imagined what if Elon Musk pulled a Steve Jobs and leveraged a board seat into effective control of the company. Assuming Elon became GM’s CEO, does he have what it takes to do a good job? Perhaps he does. I have some reasons.

(1) Elon is smarter than anyone at GM.

(2) He understands how to put together a critical path to implement very complex tasks, whether building an electric car or a private space program.

(3) He is not risk adverse.

(4) He is not tied to 19th or 20th century ideas.

(5) More traditional choices failed and will likely fail again.

Personally, I am not willing to take the Thomas Friedman-esque leap of logic that posits that a successful tech entrpeneur should be put in charge of America’s auto industry. Tesla and GM are as different as two car companies could possibly be, and who is to say that there isn’t somebody at GM that has an equally formidable intellect as Musk does. We don’t know for sure one way or another. In any case, there are plenty of commenters who have actually spent time working with (or for) GM who have a much better insight than I do. Have at it.

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Question Of The Day: What Is The Lamest Reason Why Someone Decided Not To Buy Your Car? Mon, 22 Apr 2013 15:01:07 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Sometimes Wikipedia cracks me up.

The Toyota Previa… “failed to steal any significant share from the Chrysler minivans due to its high price, odd Asian styling, poor fuel economy, terrible horn, and weak engines.”

Note to Toyota engineers. Work on that horn! The old ones apparently weren’t horny enough.

The retail car business seems to be a hotbed for irrational snobs and hot-headed lunatics. Not to mention those who don’t bother reading advertisements before wasting your time.

Case in point. Every time I sell an old gasser Mercedes, I always put the following headline in big bold letters.


This will not stop someone who is under 25 from coming to my lot, showing me the ad on their rinky-dinky cell phone, and asking where is the diesel Benz.

Every… single… time…

The same is true for when I sell a Mustang or a Camaro.


In this case, the young cell phone surfer will either come with their friends, or their Dad.

“I thought this was a Z28/GT model?”, the father/friend will say while the reading challenged kid is busy texting his friends.

“Did you read the ad?”

“Well… um… son? Did you read the ad?”

These are just cases where basic reading comprehension skills are lacking. Lame yes. But when it comes to the car itself, I deal with three unique types of nutjobs that just make me want to walk away from a conversation mid-sentence and close my office door.

1) The Badge Whore

This is the guy or gal who calls you about a Pontiac Vibe or Geo Prizm and wants it to magically turn into a Toyota. They will test drive it. Like it. Tell you about their all too loved Toyota that apparently bit the big one, and then ask you…

“Do you have a Toyota Corolla/Matrix?”

“Yes, but they are a higher price.”

“Can you call me when you get one in with similar mileage for the same price.”

“I can’t. Those don’t exist. For the same price, it will usually have around 50,000 to 70,000 more miles. You do realize that this is the exact same vehicle mechanically.”

“Yeah… but I really want a Toyota.”


2) The Illusionist

This is the prospective car buyer who will bitch about issues that don’t actually exist. Or will ask you to lower the price due to maintenance it may ‘potentially’ need 20,000 miles down the road.

C: “Do you hear that?”

Me: “Hear what?”

C: “That roar.”

Me: “Those would be the tires.”

C: “What about those little spiky things on the side of them?”

Me: “Those would be new tires.”

C: “And why doesn’t this car have a CD player?”

Me: “Because it’s a 15 year old economy car. They didn’t come with CD players?”

C: “Why does the antenna stay up?”

Me: “Because it’s a fixed antenna.”

C: “I don’t like old cars. This is an old car. Has it recently been given a service?”

Me: “The odometer is at 160k. The oil was changed and it has new tires. The major service isn’t due until 180k.”

C: “That will cost money.”

Me: “So does a bus pass.”

Finally, you have the car buyer who is more lame than Kwame Kilpatrick, Rod Blagojevich, and the 1962 Mets.

3) The Chronic Lawballer

This is the guy who, if you offered a perfectly good car for $1000, would counter with an $800 offer, an extended warranty, and a free toaster.

Yes, the following scenario really did happen to me.

Customer: “You know a lot about SAABs?”

Me: “Sure. I’ve had a couple dozen. (Keeping the SAAB-istic and SAAB-ist puns to myself.)

C: “You know they are unreliable.”

Me: “You realize this car has been on the road for 20 years.”

C: “Well, I’ve had SAABs for a long time. Decades. I never pay more than $500 for them.”

Me: “You realize I can crush this vehicle and get more than $500 out of it today.”

C: “That doesn’t matter. Kelly Blue Book says it’s worth $500 and that’s what I’m going to pay.”

Me: “I can’t help you. That’s not realistic.”

C: “Okay then. What about $600, a 7 day warranty, and you give me your toaster?”

Me: “What?”

C: “I need a toaster. Mine broke. I also saw a toaster in your office. I’m also looking for a TV but you didn’t have one of those.”

Me: “The car is $1200″

C: (looks at me startled) “You said a thousand?”

Me: “Yes, but I always charge more for aggravation.”

C: “No, I want to buy the car and toaster for $600.”

Me: “$1300 then.”

C: “You’re ripping me off.”

Me: “What?”

C: “You’re ripping me off!”

Me: “No toaster then. $1350.”

We ended up arguing for nearly 20 minutes and… I sold the car and toaster for $1200. The guy then called me up a few days later and asked if I could send him $200 since the alternator needed to be replaced.

I replied, “Do you still have my toaster?”

He pawned it. I kept my money. So what are the lamest excuses you have ever heard from a car buyer?



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QOTD: Is Hyundai Growing Too Fast? Wed, 10 Apr 2013 17:46:45 +0000

A Reuters article on Hyundai’s recent quality problems raises an interesting question. Has the company grown too fast following an unprecedented image makeover?

Reuters quotes a Korean professor of automotive engineering discussing Hyundai’s recent quality issues

“Hyundai has built factories very fast around the globe until recent years, but its quality improvement has failed to keep up with its rapid volume growth,” said Kim Phill-soo, a professor at Department of Automotive Engineering at Daelim University College in Seoul. “The latest recall highlighted loopholes in Hyundai’s quality system.”

The most recent recall, which involves a brake lamp switch, affects 1.9 million vehicles in the United States alone, according to Reuters. There have been other recalls as well, including rusty subframes and self-deploying airbags. Despite these problems, Hyundai has managed to ride a wave of goodwill on the strength of their products and their image turnaround. Hyundai has become an underdog company that people are willing to root for, and the recent fuel economy snafu, that ended up becoming a non-event for many people, is strong evidence of how effective they are at managing their PR affairs.

On the one hand, I have to wonder if the latest recall is a result of the increasing standardization of auto parts. The nature of this phenomenon suggests that when parts fail, the failure can cascade across mass quantities of vehicles, resulting in the mega recalls we’ve seen over the past few years. With the implementation of modular architectures and further standardization, the potential for these mega recalls only increases. Just wait till Volkswagen’s MQB cars suffer their first recall for a look at the “new normal” of recalls will be.

But that shouldn’t discourage us from asking if there may be underlying quality issues at Hyundai. Jack Baruth noted that the Elantra he rented last year looked a little worse for wear compared to other cars of a similar vintage – though notably, the car’s fuel economy did meet his expectations.

Lacking the requisite manufacturing and engineering knowledge, I’ll put this one to the B&B, rather than submitting my theory as a definitive answer. Have at it.

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Question Of The Day: What Is The Strangest Thing You Found In A Car? Fri, 05 Apr 2013 14:30:43 +0000

Press fleet vehicles are full of little surprises.

A rap CD with a certain word used 200 times in a three minute song.

Then there are the unusual litany of condoms, leftover roaches (the smokable variety), and paternity results that no doubt tell you more about your peers than you ever thought possible.

Finally, there was a trade-in that topped them all. I called it the Thelma and Louise car.

Two young ladies decided to chronicle their love affair on the headliner of a 1990 Volvo 740 wagon.

Oh the tales! Oh the pictures! From the very front of the windshield to the rear tailgate, I got to read up on more raunchy poetry and admired a surprising variety of artistic renderings, just by folding the rear seats and taking in all that scenery.

It was like caveman scenery. Except there was no cave and certainly no man.

I didn’t buy the vehicle. Honest. It was actually owned by Stan the Old Man when he was a wholesaler. Like any true Southern gentleman, Stan replaced the headliner and preserved the remnants in something that probably resembled a sock drawer.

This brings me to our question for the day. What is the strangest thing you found in a vehicle? Extra credit will be given if the thing you found can be associated with any felonies or celebrities. Double credit if you can combine the two.

Note: I always give credit whenever a good idea comes from an outside source. In this case, Christopher Little was the direct inspiration for today’s QOTD.  


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Question: What Ten-Year Period Was the Auto Industry’s Greatest Leap Forward? Fri, 05 Apr 2013 13:00:09 +0000 Once I get to ranting on the subject, I’ll fulminate that the true modern era of the automobile didn’t start until about 1990, when carburetors and points ignitions finally disappeared from new cars sold in the United States. Before and after that point, however, a lot of progress— and backsliding— has taken place in the automotive industry. Which brings up the question: what ten-year period, starting with Karl Benz’s Patent Motorwagen in 1886, saw the most improvement, innovation, whatever you want to call it, in the automotive world?
You may choose to give most emphasis to advances in engineering and materials, in which case the advances made by GM and its rivals during the 1946-1956 period might be most important. Or maybe Mr. Ford’s greatest hit and resulting huge lowering of the cost of a new car could give the win to 1909-1919. European cars sure looked beautiful from, say, 1958 through 1968, and you can’t write off the bang-per-buck advances in build quality accomplished by Japanese automakers during the 1975-1985 period. But wait— how about electronic fuel injection and engine controls, which became standard equipment on even the lowliest econoboxes during the 1980s? And do we even consider any period containing 1939-45, a period during which the major carmaking countries were too busy blasting one another to crap to do much automotive innovation, but which produced a lot of engineering advances that went into cars later on? Or, what the heck, we’re living in the Golden Age of Ridiculous Horsepower right now— could be that 2003-2013 gets your vote! Your thoughts?

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QOTD: Your Automotive 10 Plagues Mon, 25 Mar 2013 17:53:53 +0000

Passover is upon us, and starting tonight, the Zionist Occupation forces of TTAC’s editorial roster (as well as our 44th President, and Road Tester Emeritus Michael Karesh) will refrain from eating bread as we recall the Exodus from Egypt, and the last time The Tribe ever did any manual labor.

In honor of this momentous blockbuster occassion, which spawned the blockbuster film starring Charlton Heston, I’d like to discuss the 10 Plagues that currently afflict us car fans. Brett Berk did one a couple years back, but it’s time to update it. My own list, which I will spill 10 drops of wine for both tonight and tomorrow

  1. Homogenous vehicle offerings
  2. Overly complex touch screens
  3. Nonsensical CAFE regulations
  4. Pedestrian safety dictating automotive design
  5. The Chevrolet Camaro
  6. Inflated used car prices
  7. Road salt
  8. Non-trade barriers like FMVSS and the Chicken Tax
  9. Autoplay Youtube videos on automotive sites
  10. Jeremy Clarkson’s writing being taken as gospel

Feel free to share yours.

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Question Of The Day: What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up… Car Wise? Fri, 22 Mar 2013 16:23:51 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Another day at the office. Like most drones on a Friday afternoon, you’re wasting your time playing on the Internet. Thanks to a mid-level job that requires more presence than productivity.

The smell of slightly burnt coffee and the din of florescent lights is already starting to kill your weekend mojo. This is the time when you usually take a bit of the vodka that’s hidden under the lock and key of a nearby file cabinet, and mix it into whatever drinkable substance strikes your fancy at the soda machine.

You open the drawer and…. huh? Who put some Colt 45 malt liquor in there? Ice cold. Wow.

You pause for a second. Pop it open, and before you know it.

A genie pops out. But this is no ordinary genie….

Click here to view the embedded video.

This is the same exact genie who helped you choose your 20 year sentence.

“Oh God. Don’t tell me you’re going to make me keep another new car for 20 years.” you say in mortal fear of purchasing another Saturn like appliance as a daily commuter.

That genie, who has a remarkable resemblance to a Star Wars actor from the early 1980′s, walks straight up to you and offers two simple words.

“New… Life…”

You immediately think about the good life. Fun. Challenge. Beauty. Achievement. All the things that are missing from your current line of work. But as the world around you changes in the blink of an eye, you find yourself in the middle of this.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Now you start to really panic, “Genie? You want me to take over a depressing amusement park from the 1980′s? Wasn’t driving a Saturn for 20 years bad enough?”

The genie quickly retorts. “Not quite for you young friend! But yes, I am a bit disappointed by your unexciting choice of vehicle and your line of work. I mean, c’mon! You are an office grunt driving a Saturn instead of a man conquering this world. That’s why I have a mission in mind for you.”

The genie takes a quick swig of his own Colt 45 malt liquor and stares at you with a menacing glare. “I’m going to give you a second chance. This time forget about the car. After realizing you bought a Saturn, I thought that your next wish should involve public transit. Which it kinda does because now you’re going to be a 16 year old working class poor kid from PA.”

You look at yourself in a nearby mirror and quickly see a few things. The paunch is gone. T-shirt. Sneakers. Funny baseball cap. Skinny body. That genie has decided to give you one last chance to make good in this world.

The genie points his finger right at you and says, “Don’t worry about trying to bet your way to becoming a billionaire, because I have already removed all those memories from your mind. What you need to do is find a job you love. And it has to be in the auto industry.”

You think for quite a while. It’s going to be one long ride from the junior year of high school to the job of your dreams. And you have to get this right because if you screw it up, the genie will send you back to the modern day with a lifelong sentence of riding mass transit instead of a car.

We’re talking the underfunded version of mass transit where long waits, bad smells, and long journeys are a part of daily life. In otherwords you will be stuck in the hot, humid hellhole known as Atlanta. Or even worse, Miami.

So what would you like to do for a living? Designer? Mechanical engineer? Automotive Analyst? Journalist? You can be a marketer of all things NASCAR, or even a franchised car dealer if you’re willing to start from the bottom.

That’s another thing. This journey is as much about the path as it is the destination. So think hard and choose with care.

Good luck!





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What Automotive “How To” Would Mean A Lot To You? Mon, 25 Feb 2013 18:15:42 +0000

Late night conversation with Kreindler, “Hey Steve! Do you know what one of our top articles of all-time is?”

“The one where Bertel put a sex toy on the front of the page?”

“Hah! No, the one about changing your oil.”

“Really?! Well if Yahoo (recent!) and Jalopnik (recent!) want to feature my work, I guess I should throw my old stomping grounds a bone.”

There are a slew of topics that I have covered over the last six years. 500+ articles in all, and more than a few of them covered a ”How To Do This” slant of automotive wisdom. But there could be more.

That’s where you come into play. TTAC will be dedicating some major real estate towards featuring articles that have a helpful bent for auto enthusiasts. If I help others become long-term car owners, instead of perpetual debtors, I feel like this site has truly served a greater common good.

Think about yourself. Your parents. Your children. Even your friends and acquaintances. What “How To” articles would help push the ownership experience to it’s furthest limits of personal satisfaction?

Thanks for all you do. All the best!

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QOTD: Is This The Best Used Car Deal Today? Thu, 07 Feb 2013 14:00:35 +0000

Miata. E30. Panther. Is it time to add another nameplate to the Used Car Hall of Fame? Because the 2012+ Chevrolet Impala looks like a sure-fire winner to me.

TTAC reader (and sometime contributor) Andrew Bell has been a tireless advocate of the W-Body Impala, to the point where even our own Zackman looks like a halfway-committed dilettante. While discussing the latest Kelly Blue Book Total Cost of Ownership study, Andrew laid out the case for a one-year old Impala as the used car buy.

Not much to break on it really. The design is ancient. The new one with the 3.6 is one of the greatest deals on the market. 300+hp, Bluetooth, decent stereo, 4 wheel discs, <3700lbs, 6spd auto, power everything (windows, locks, auto-start, remote trunk, seats), <$15000 (2012 LT with about 30000km). <9L/100km with 87 octane, unstoppable in the winter, and cheap to insure.

Pricing for one of these cars runs from $13,445 for a base model LS ex-rental with about 34,000 miles, to $24,995 for a loaded LTZ with half the mileage. Since these are Canadian prices, they will undoubtedly vary compared to the United States. As Jack noted earlier this summer, The Impala may not be the most sophisticated or engaging car to drive, but for the price of a stripped out subcompact, you can have a nearly new full-size sedan with plenty of standard equipment, a legitimately well-engineered powertrain and halfway decent fuel economy (18/30/22 city/highway/combined mpg).

The Impala may not satisfy our collective desires when it comes to personal transportation, but as a mode of transportation for a college-bound younger sibling, a grandparent on a fixed income or someone like Andrew, who needs to churn out hundreds of highway miles each week visiting rural job sites, it’s hard to think of a better fit than the ol’ W-Body. According to Andrew, the Panther was a close second, but in the end, the front-drive layout and superior fuel economy were better suited to rural Ontario’s climate exorbitant gas prices.

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