The Truth About Cars » questions The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:26:12 +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 » questions 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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Help Me Solve a 30-Year-Old Mystery: What Car Is Depicted In This Taqueria Painting? Wed, 19 Feb 2014 14:00:19 +0000 03 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOne of the things I miss most about living in the San Francisco Bay Area— OK, maybe the thing I miss the most— is the proper Mission-style burrito. Here in Denver, the Midwestern-influenced salty/bland flavors, brown rice, and incorrect shape of the Chipotle-style burrito dominates, and so whenever I head back to Northern California to shoot some junkyard cars, I try to hit the taqueria that got me hooked on Mission-style Burritos in the first place: Ramiro & Sons Taqueria in my hometown of Alameda, California. Inside this place (whose burritos, good as they are, don’t quite measure up to what you’ll get in the actual Mission District about five miles due east and on the other side of the Bay; this place is my personal favorite), you’ll find a painting on the wall that’s been hanging there since 1984, and that painting depicts a yellow two-door hardtop of some sort parked in front. For 30 years now, I’ve puzzled over that painting, trying to figure out what kind of car I’m seeing.
01 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt looks like something from the heart of Malaise Detroit, no doubt with some air shocks in the back to give it the rake that was all the rage in early-80s Alameda. It appears that the artist is still around, but I thought it would be cheating to ask him. Instead, I’m asking you.
02 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBack when I was shooting street-parked Alameda cars for the Down On the Street series at Jalopnik, I couldn’t help thinking of the Yellow Mystery Car when I shot this yellow 510 across the street from Ramirez & Sons.
1973 Pontiac Grand Am - Picture Courtesy of Old Car BrochuresMy strongest hunch has always been that we’re looking at a 1973-75 Pontiac Grand Am Colonnade with the blinds or louvers (or whatever you call those colonnade-y things on the rear quarter-windows) removed.
1977 Pontiac Grand Prix-  Picture Courtesy of Old Car BrochuresIt might be a mid-70s Pontiac Grand Prix.
1982 Ford Fairmont Futura- Picture Courtesy of Old Car BrochuresOr perhaps it’s a Fox Ford, say an ’82 Fairmont Futura?
Toyota Corona Coupe - Picture Courtesy of Bosozokustyle
Maybe it isn’t even an American car at all. The Toyota Corona RT132 Coupe wasn’t available in the United States, but perhaps a sailor at the Alameda Naval Air Station brought one over from Japan. All right, let’s solve this mystery— what is this car?

01 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 1973 Pontiac Grand Am - Picture Courtesy of Old Car Brochures 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix-  Picture Courtesy of Old Car Brochures 1982 Ford Fairmont Futura- Picture Courtesy of Old Car Brochures RamirezPainting1280px-3 ]]> 112
Flirtin’ With Disaster – Motorcyclists’ Thoughts On Defensive Driving Fri, 29 Mar 2013 14:59:21 +0000

It can be murder out there!

I am always hesitant to write a “how to” article. I learned a long time ago that no matter how good I am at something, there is always someone better right around the corner. For every bad-ass black belt you meet, there is a Chuck Norris looking to teach him some humility. Still, when I know something it’s hard to keep it under my hat so I am going to risk drawing your ire in order to start a conversation. Let’s keep it congenial, mkay?

My first motorcycle experiences were not good. The first time I threw a leg over a bike I ended up riding it into side of my uncle’s house. Another time I dumped a Honda three-wheeler into an irrigation ditch and smashed my head on a rock so the fact that I turned out to be a rather proficient motorcyclist in my later years is something many people still regard with amazement. How proficient? In 20+ years of riding, 9 of those in Japan where I was on two wheels almost every day, I never had an accident that did much more than scuff my bike or an injury that required as much as a band aid to treat. Still, I had my share of close calls and the experience taught me a lot about road safety and made me a better driver.

Driving a car and riding a motorcycle are skills that are only loosely related. I know I just burst some people’s bubbles with that statement, but the truth is I may have just saved your life. I don’t care how many fast cars you have driven, you cannot step out of your car and leap onto the back of a 150HP superbike with no practice or training and expect to be fully successful. Still, some of the skills you learn on a bike, especially when they involve defensive driving, situational awareness and things like avoidance and evasion can greatly enhance your ability behind the wheel.

The first thing we teach new riders is to act like they are invisible, because to a lot of drivers that’s exactly what they are. Being invisible leads to a lot of bad things. Cars frequently cut across your path, pull out in front of you and even merge into your lane while you are riding along side of them. The trick to staying alive is to know that driver’s often don’t see you and that you need to be ready to react in a split second.

Sometimes that reaction needs to involve escape routes. Bikes are small and they can go a lot of places people might not think about. They can run in the gutter between a curb and the lane of travel with surprising ease, they can dive between cars – in fact the space between cars can be surprisingly roomy – and they can even split the space between their lane and oncoming cars if they have to. Cars can do this too. Look at any third world street and you will see five lanes of traffic where there are markings for just three. I’m not saying you should drive in these places every day, but you should be looking for them and thinking about how you might want to use them should that semi-truck you are running next to want your space.

That’s another thing, don’t get obsessed with your legal “right” to be somewhere. The law says a motorcycle is entitled to its place on the road as same as a car, right? If you decide to take your CBR up against grandpa’s Buick you are going to lose. If someone else wants your spot, move out of the way and let them in. There’s no point in getting pissy about it, just do it and move on with your life.

Because I love a good discussion and because I have discovered that there is a real art to brevity, I’m not going to spill all my secrets here. I want to ask you, the Best and Brightest to spill YOUR secrets. What do you know about driving and/or riding that can help save some pain, frustration and maybe even lives?

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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Question: What Car Would You Drive In the Year of Your Birth Rally? Sat, 11 Aug 2012 15:00:38 +0000 The concept behind the Year of Your Birth Rally is simple: you must drive a vehicle with a model year the same as your own. Nick Pon, Assistant Perp of the 24 Hours of LeMons, created the idea and swears he’s going to organize such a rally someday. He was born in 1980, which means he has a vast array of terrible-yet-great Malaise Era machinery to choose from. I was born in 1966, which means I could drive my ’66 Dodge A100… or a ’66 Beaumont. What would you drive?
I asked this question at another site a couple of years back and got some good responses… and a whole bunch of lame ones. I think this group of readers can do better.

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Question: What Car Most Needs a Spec Racing Series? Wed, 27 Jun 2012 14:00:08 +0000 After my idea for a DUI Telepresence Crown Victoria Racing series failed to attract the shadowy Eastern European investors I’d hoped to line up, I got to thinking about spec racing. Everybody in a spec racing series runs the same kind of car, which makes parts easy to get and (in theory, though sure as hell not in practice) puts the focus on driver skill rather than vehicle price. There’s Spec Miata and Spec E30 and Spec Neon and all the rest, but it’s sort of boring watching those races. Spec racing needs better cars, and we’re going to pick the best one right now!
The key to a good spec-race car is availability and cheapness. You need the kind of car that you can find under tarps in countless side yards across the country, that’s so common in junkyards that The Crusher gags when it sees yet another one approaching. One of my top choices, therefore, is Spec Eighty-Eight. The downsized B-Body Oldsmobile 88s of the 1977-1985 model years are omnipresent in junkyards, they’re tough full-frame monsters that can take a lot of punishment, and they came equipped with a wide assortment of torque-happy Oldsmobile V8s. Plus, “Spec Eighty-Eight” just sounds cool.
But maybe racers would prefer something a little more modern, with four-wheel disc brakes and electronic fuel injection. That’s why Spec Leganza is the way to go! Imagine a track full of Guigario-styled Korean pseudo-luxury sedans, each with a screaming 136 horsepower under the hood. I predict that Spec Leganza will be bigger than NASCAR within five years.
My all-time top choice for a spec racing series is, of course, Spec Dynasty. Inspired by the French Cathouse Red interior of this junked ’93 Dynasty, I’ve been pushing Spec Dynasty to racy types ever since. So far, there hasn’t been a run on solid examples of Dodge’s mid-size luxury sedan of the late 1980s and early 1990syet. The rules of Spec Dynasty wouuld permit badge-engineered sibling New Yorkers of the same era, which would lead to heated rivalry between the Dynasty and New Yorker racers. OK, now it’s your turn. Spec Scoupe? Spec Tempo?

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Question: Which New Car Would Make the Sneakiest Sleeper? Wed, 06 Jun 2012 14:30:53 +0000 Old-timers will tell you that the Golden Age of the Sleeper ran from the end of World War II through the late 1960s, when you could take, say, a Grandma-spec ’61 Lancer wagon and stuff the engine compartment full of Max Wedge 413 power. I think the old-timers are as wrong about that as they are about the superiority of film cameras over digital cameras; the current era of computerized engine controls, big turbochargers, and tougher drivetrain components means you can get ridiculous power (and handling) out of quotidian transportation appliances. So, looking at the current lineup of snore-inducing machinery that nobody would ever in a million years suspect of being quick, which new car would provide the best balance of potential performance and invisibility? A Kia Rio with a huge turbocharger and the finest suspension upgrades that cubic yards of cash can buy?
The problem with the Rio is that it’s so invisible that nobody would quite know what to think when one is sighted getting 100 yards of rubber shifting into fourth gear on the highway. That’s why I think the Camry would be my sleeper of choice. The ’12 Camry’s V6 makes a fairly decent 268 horses, but the use of the same engine family in Toyota trucks means that you can get all manner of aftermarket supercharger and turbocharger kits for it. I’d want a manual transmission, and (if I couldn’t find some JDM unit that bolts onto the tranverse-mount GR engine) I’d see if the RAV4 6-speed could survive 400+ boosted horsepower.
Yeah, nobody would know what to make of a bone-stock-appearing Camry that could really haul the mail! What new car would you choose for such a project?

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Question: What’s the Most Ridiculous Example of Badge Engineering? Fri, 10 Feb 2012 19:00:30 +0000
After writing my earlier post on the Isuzu Statesman Deville, I got to thinking about all the oddball vehicles that have resulted from badge engineering exercises over the years. Some badge-engineered cars end up being successful for the parent company (e.g., the Colt), but most just confuse vehicle shoppers. The Plymouth Cricket. The Isuzu Hombre. The Mercury Mountaineer. The list is long, but I think the Plymouth Arrow Truck gets my vote for the most senseless act of brand-diluting badge engineering in American automotive history. The Plymouth Arrow car was a rebadged Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste, and it didn’t exactly set any sales records. Apparently hallucinating much different sales figures for the Arrow, the suits at Chrysler figured they’d slap the name on Plymouth-badged Mitsubishi Mighty Max pickups and make dozens of dollars! Plymouth had made trucks in the 1940s and revived the idea with some success in the mid-1970s, but the marketplace wasn’t clamoring for Plymouth-badged Mitsubishi pickups with confusing name similarity to a slow-selling and essentially unrelated Plymouth car. What feat of badge engineering gets your vote as the most ridiculous?

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The Eternal Quest To Explain The Unknown Sun, 28 Feb 2010 13:26:26 +0000

A quiet Sunday. Time to fire up Google and put in “Toyota AND [cause OR reason].” We come up with ample explanations why Toyota is not called Toyoda.  Or why Peiping turned into Peking, and then into Beijing. What about the causes of sudden acceleration? Let’s see what we find. (If you have other things to do on a  Sunday: We find a lot of questions and no answers.)

ABC News, 11/25/2009: “However, safety expert Sean Kane said the recall doesn’t address hundreds of runaway Toyota cases he has uncovered where owners insist floor mats cannot be blamed. “What concerns me is that this recall still doesn’t get to the root cause of the non-floor mat sudden acceleration cases,” said Kane, who heads the firm Safety Research & Strategies. Overall, the firm says it discovered over 2,000 Toyota sudden acceleration cases involving 16 deaths and 243 injuries. An ABC News investigation revealed that many Toyota owners are in rebellion and have refused to accept the company’s explanation for their sudden acceleration incidents. “

Reuters 2/1/2002: “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reviewed the automaker’s plan to install new parts in existing accelerator systems or replace them entirely. “Toyota has announced its remedy and based on its current knowledge, NHTSA has no reason to challenge this remedy,” the agency said in a statement. No deaths or injuries are suspected in cases of sticking pedals, the government said.”

Injury Law Blog & News, 2/23/2010: „Of the 2,000 complaints of sudden acceleration, just 5 percent blamed a sticking gas pedal. No government investigation of sudden-acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles has identified a sticking pedal as a potential cause.”

Toyota’s Pedal Recall FAQ, undated: “The issue involves a friction device in the pedal designed to provide the proper “feel” by adding resistance and making the pedal steady and stable. This friction device includes a “shoe” that rubs against an adjoining surface during normal pedal operation. Due to the materials used, wear and environmental conditions, these surfaces may, over time, begin to stick and release instead of operating smoothly.” 1/30/2010: Drops Toyota pedal in bucket of ice water, bakes it, finds no fault. Issues a call to send in pictures or videos of faulty pedal: “How is it that we cannot get a picture of one of these pedals with so many people complaining? It just doesn’t make sense.” 2/18/2010: “Mechanical failure is easier and more transparent to diagnose than an electronic problem. The average garage mechanic might miss out checking the computer micro-processing failures. Service centers usually replace the whole defective unit without some serious investigation on the cause. The management, dealers and mechanics have difficulty in diagnosing rare unpredictable failure in their electronics. The average driver does not really know also the exact problem when their cars computer or electronic gadget malfunctions. It’s hard to check wiring failures, damaged circuit boards and programming in modern cars. Thus, proving that Toyota recall as due to faulty electronics and auto computer system failure might be a difficult task.”

Ron Hart in the Walton Sun, 2/27/02: “ Congress dragged Toyota, kicking and bowing, to Washington to testify in one of the indignant show trials they so love. I wish they would subpoena themselves and bring Congress before a Senate hearing, under oath and under the hot lights of TV cameras. Then we might get to the roots of most problems in America: Too much government intervention, confusing rules, and second-guessing politicians.”

The Korea Herald, 2/13/2010: “Many observers suspect something other than safety concerns behind the harsh response of the United States to Toyota’s recall. To former Kia Motors chairman Kim Sun-hong, the U.S. reaction to the Toyota problem is an act of “killing the chickens to scare the monkeys.” This Chinese proverb illustrates the cruel yet effective tactic of killing one to tame a hundred: As monkeys misbehave in the treetops, annoyed humans violently kill chickens in front of the monkeys. From fear, the monkeys get silent and tamed. Some even fall out of the trees.”

Charlie Rossiter in 2/07/2010: “Now, with the tragedies around the Toyota sudden-acceleration problem, I am reminded once again of how limited driver’s education is for preparing people to drive. It breaks my heart to think that most, if not all, of the tragic deaths that have occurred because of sudden unexpected acceleration could have been avoided if the drivers had only known that putting a car in neutral means that a stuck accelerator can do nothing but race the engine—it can’t accelerate the car. Knowing that simple fact and acting upon it could have saved their lives. It makes me wonder how many people know what to do if their brakes fail. I doubt that many youngsters coming out of drivers ed classes realize that if they shift to a lower gear, even with an automatic transmission, they can slow the car. Would they think to gently try the emergency?“

CNN Money, 2/26/2010: “Up until last month, you’d think there was no need to worry about angering the Japanese. But now that our best and brightest in Congress have done a wonderful job of verbally undressing the CEO of Toyota Motor in front of the entire world, are we biting the other hand that feeds us? ‘We have to be the dumbest borrower around. It’s pretty remarkable. We don’t want to alienate Japan,’ said Haag Sherman, managing director with Salient Partners, an investment firm in Houston. Japan held approximately $768.8 billion in U.S. Treasurys as of December and China owned $755.4 billion. Those numbers were just released last week. ‘$750 million times 2 is a much bigger problem than $750 million times 1,’ said Keith McCullough, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based investment research firm Hedgeye Risk Management, about the possibility of our two biggest creditors losing interest in our debt. ‘It won’t matter if Bernanke doesn’t want to raise rates. The market may do it for him.’”

Norfolk Daily News, 2/4/2010: “Wrecks involving old cars are a lot like wrecks involving any newly recalled Toyota: far more often than not, the cause is not mechanical. The cause is the driver, and there’s no recall procedure for that.”

Reader totothedog in the (usually heavily redacted) comments section of China Daily, 2/9/2010: “Toyota Pedals Cause Power Cut at Santander. The Spanish bank has bought a string of Poodleville banks in recent months, similar to the way Icelandic banks bought Poodleville’s high street retailers. As a result, Santander which is probably on the same terrorist list as Iceland, has had several computer and power failures in the poodle state. Strangely, no such power cuts occur in Spain. The recurring faults have been traced to pedals installed in the power station which are identical to those used in Toyota cars.”

US Recall News, 2/3/2002: “Toyota recall: Four different causes. So which is it?“

Wikipedia, undated: “The 5 Whys is a question-asking method used to explore the cause/effect relationships underlying a particular problem. Ultimately, the goal of applying the 5 Whys method is to determine a root cause of a defect or problem.”

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