The Truth About Cars » tech The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 13 Jul 2014 22:36:48 +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 » tech Android Auto vs. Apple CarPlay vs. Your Precious Bodily Fluids Fri, 27 Jun 2014 11:00:49 +0000 tumblr_m9hum9gnmd1rsen2io1_500At yesterday’s Google I/O keynote speech, Google laid out its vision for Android Auto (reported here yesterday), which is quite similar to Apple’s CarPlay. I’ve ranted here before about Apple’s CarPlay when it was first announced and after more details came out last March. Both have the idea that your phone can hijack the screen in your car. What’s newsworthy from Google is that we have an enlarged list of vendors who are playing along. (Wired has the full list. Suffice to say that you’ll have plenty of choices if you want a car that goes both ways, if you know what I mean. Most interesting factoid: Tesla isn’t playing with either Apple or Google. Hear that? It’s the sounds of thousands of alpha-nerd Tesla owners crying out in terror.)

Today, I want to address why you should stop worrying and learn to love having your phone in charge of your car’s telematics display.

Using most computer crap in cars will kill you. I’ve had enough of people arguing about BMW i-Drive vs. Audi MMI vs. giant Tesla touchscreens vs. your smartphone. You all don’t get it. They’re all part of a Communist plot to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. Or at least distract us and get us into horrific driving accidents. When you’re driving, you should have your hands on the wheel, or your passenger’s thigh. No, no, definitely on the wheel.

But some computer crap in cars is exceptionally valuable. When you’re driving somewhere new, nav systems are great. Even if you’re driving somewhere you go all the time, modern nav systems like Waze give you real-time user-reported intel on the traffic and even where the speed traps are. But how do Waze drivers report speed traps? They press tiny buttons on the phone and promptly create new accidents for other Waze drivers to report.

So how can you use a computer in your car safely? What we’ve seen so far from the automakers is largely a massive failure on this front. BMW’s iDrive, no matter how much they simplify it, is still an abomination upon humanity. Tesla’s giant and beautiful touchscreen, much like the Chevy Volt and other new cars that don’t have real buttons any more, require you to look for the button you’re trying to press. Prior attempts at voice recognition are laughably inaccurate, particularly once the car is moving at freeway speed and you’ve got wind noise and tire noise, never mind a blaring stereo. What’s left? The thing that Google seems to get, and you know Apple will copy it a year later and claim they invented first, is that they have all this knowledge about you. Your calendar has your destination address right next to your appointment. And they know where you live and where you drive every day on your commute. Why is this a good thing? Because Google will (hopefully) be very good at guessing what you’re up to and will just do it with little or no user intervention at all. When you do need to use your voice to tell your nav system what to do, or what music you want to play, you’ll get the benefit of Google’s backend data center megabrain which can do a way better job of figuring out what you’re talking about than the puny computer in your car or phone. Why? Because it’s got context. If you’re trying to navigate to a some business, it’s going to compare your vocal garble to the names of local destinations, especially if you did a Google search on your computer beforehand or your buddy emailed you the address. If you’re trying to play some hipster indie band, it’s going to look at the names in your library and in its “people who like X tend to like Y” megabrain graph. Smaller search space = higher recognition accuracy.

But I don’t trust the Google megabrain with my precious privacy fluids. We are rapidly approaching a moment of truth, both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing, but the fact is that you’re already telling Google, Apple, the NSA, OkCupid, and the fiendish fluoridators far too much about yourself. It’s a huge pain to keep apps from profiling you, but you can do it if you insist. (I use the totally not user-friendly XPrivacy. My proposed solution for the real world: government regulation. But I digress.) For the rest of us, there’s a tradeoff. You give up some privacy. In return you get something. Maybe that something is a free version of some game. You could pay $1 and get the advertising-free version. But do you pay that dollar? No? That’s how little you truly value your own privacy.

When you use Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, or Microsoft Win9 Cartopia Enterprise Edition, you’re indeed giving up some privacy, but look at what you’re getting back. You’re getting good stuff. For a great price.

How will we ultimately trade our privacy for all these great features? Will Google crack down on apps’ ability to learn totally unnecessarily personal things about you? (There is a new feature in Android “L” that’s supposed to help with this.) Will government regulators ultimately crack down on Google? We’ll see. Now let’s get this thing on the hump — we got some flyin’ to do.


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Memo To Ford: Expand Use Of Buttons Beyond 2013 F-Series Tue, 05 Jun 2012 18:39:41 +0000

The big news for the 2013 Ford F-Series appears to be the use of buttons, rather than trying to cram MyFord Touch down the gaping maw of every single product in the lineup implementing the MyFord Touch infotainment system. Apparently, it all has to do with work gloves.

Damon Lavrinc, of Wired magazine (and the authority on the nexus between the automotive and tech worlds) spoke to a Ford rep, who said that F-Series customers preferred physical controls over touchscreens, since the capactive controls tend to function poorly when work gloves are involved. Lavrinc went on to note that Ford was wise to stick to the formula that’s made the F-Series the best selling vehicle in American since time immemorial.

My question to Ford is this; construction workers are likely wearing gloves only during certain parts of the day. What about those who live in the snow belt, where for as much as 6 months of the year, motorists are wearing gloves all the time? Aside from the usual drawbacks of MyFord Touch (the distractions, awkward responses etc), having to jockey ones gloves on and off for simple tasks isn’t exactly an example of technology making one’s life easier.

The Wired article also quotes a Ford spokesperson admitting that only 50 percent of Edge and Explorer customers actually like the MyFord Touch system.There is evidently a large number of consumers who aren’t that interested in having to tap and finger-jab their way to a slower fan speed or different radio station, and there are plenty of good alternatives being sold at virtually every other dealership.

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A100 Hell Project: Red Metalflake Naugahyde… or Reproduction Dart GT Vinyl? Thu, 07 Apr 2011 13:00:21 +0000
As the 1966 Dodge A100 Hell Project progresses (slowly), I’m finally at the point at which T-shirts and towels draped over the trashed seats— nuked by over a decade of outdoor storage in the Colorado sun— no longer cut it. It’s time to fix ‘em up!

The framing and foam rubber are in beat but usable condition, but the original vinyl covers are totally hopeless. I could find some junkyard seats narrow enough to fit (e.g., Miata or MR2 seats), but that just won’t cut it in an A100. Now I face a dilemma: Do I go all-out custom and find some totally stony red metalflake Naugahyde, then get a custom upholstery shop to make my seats look like something out of a booth in an upscale Wisconsin bowling alley, circa 1964? Thick red piping, the works? Or do I call up my ex-coworkers at Year One and order me up a set of 1965 Dart GT seat covers? The Dart GT and most of the Chrysler factory drag race cars of the era used light and simple A100 buckets, so I could be all vintage-correct and get some colorful Dart covers sewn onto my van seats. What to do?

For now, I need a temporary solution, so I can drive the van without getting covered with crumbly foam-rubber chunks. Hey, Tradesman-based RVs of the 1970s use very similar seats to the A100′s!

This junked 1975 Dodge RV had seats that were first cousins to the ones in my van; the external dimensions are identical, though the spacing of the tracks are narrower in the A100. For 20 bucks, though, I’ll take one!

All I need to do is remove the RV’s seat tracks and drill new mounting holes for the A100′s. Fortunately, the front-to-back distance is the same for both, so I don’t need to fabricate funky brackets to get the A100 tracks installed.

Here’s the A100 seat.

The old tracks come off easily; they’re not even particularly grungy. Sometimes junkyard seats have narsty petri-dish-grade biological material packed into the track hardware, but not these.

The A100′s tracks are spaced about 9-1/2″ apart.

Measure once, cut 15 times!

After drilling fresh holes in the RV seat’s frame, I used nuts and bolts to attach the A100′s tracks.


Installed, the new seat is a bit grimy but a huge improvement over what was there before. This temporary measure buys me some time until I can decide between wild custom or semi-factory-correct (I’m not even considering getting repro A100 seat covers, since they came in boring solid neutral colors only). What would you do?

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Engine Swap: Hoonatic Racing Integra GS-R Engine Now Destined For My Civic’s Engine Compartment Wed, 23 Mar 2011 13:00:15 +0000
Those of you who follow 24 Hours of LeMons racing know the tale of the One Lap Integra, an Integra GS-R that got knocked down to LeMons price range because it had been rolled into a ball by a leadfooted previous owner. The car was hopeless, but the 170-horse B18C1 engine and transmission are in good shape… and now I’ve bought them for my beater ’92 Civic DX.

I’m also getting the complete, un-butchered wiring harness, ECM, instrument cluster, and everything else, courtesy of Hoonatic Racing team captain John and his meticulous car-stripping skills.

I’ve owned many Civics over the years, at least one example of each of the first five generations (after Soichiro Honda died, Civics became too bloated for my liking), but I’ve never done any serious modifications to any of them. My current daily driver has been the most reliable vehicle I’ve ever owned, but the 102-horsepower D15B7 under its hood just can’t make any power in Denver’s thin air. The solution: bolt in a bigger engine, just as our forefathers did when dropping 427s in their ’55 Chevys.

The only problem with the deal is that the engine is in Texas and I’m in Colorado, but that problem has been solved by the members of the Team B League Film Society – How I Learned To Stop Whining And Love The Judges Mercedes-Benz W110 LeMons team. They’ll be hauling their car up to Colorado for the second annual B.F.E. G.P. race in July, and they’ve agreed to include the GS-R goodies on their trailer. It’ll be a long four months to wait, but so worth it! I’ll be the owner of the world’s only fifth-gen Civic with a B18C1 and no wing!

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Welcome To The Future: Needle In a Haystack, Long Grade 8 Bolt In Denver Fri, 11 Mar 2011 00:30:15 +0000
The Home Depot-ization of all forms of hardware retailing continues unabated, as I found out this afternoon. I needed a pair of 7″ long 1/2″ Grade 8 bolts, today, so that I could get my Dodge A100 Hell Project back on the road. Easy, right? Maybe ten years ago it was. Not today.

It all started when Ununquadium Legend of LeMons winner Rich offered to help me convert the A100 from its pre-1967 better-hope-nothing-leaks single-circuit brake system to a mandated-by-meddling-nanny-state dual-circuit system. That part went fine (more on the project later), but I figured I’d install new shock absorbers while I had the thing up on stands with the wheels off.

See the difference between the lower mount on the old shock versus the new one? That meant that the mounting bolt wasn’t going to fit. Just get one that’s 3/4″ longer and everything will be fine.

My van has an aftermarket sway bar installation (as far as I can tell, Chrysler didn’t put factory sway bars on any A100s), which uses a long bolt through the axle beam to mount the shock absorber on the rear side and the sway bar end link on the front side. I suspect that the sway bar installer used shocks with a narrower bottom mount in order to make his sway bar hardware fit… oh, and he also used crappy bolts that got bent and corroded over the years. Ack! So, I headed down to the Ace Hardware in downtown Denver, confident that I’d find what I needed. As it turned out, Ace no longer stocks nearly as extensive a selection of Grade 8 fasteners as it once did (though the store did have quite the assortment of shiny chrome bolts), and I could find only a handful of 1/2″ shoulder bolts in Grade 8, none of which were anything close to the required 7″ length. Fortunately, the hardware guy at the store knew where I might find what I needed.

Less than a mile away, AAA Metric turned out to be just the old-school hardware supplier I needed (sorry about the crappy cellphone-camera photo). A tiny office in an industrial neighborhood in the shadow of I-25, AAA Metric (which also stocks non-metric stuff, despite the name) is staffed by real parts guys, and they hooked me up with just what I needed in a matter of minutes. Two G8 bolts, two G8 nuts. $8.06, and I’ve got what I need. I hope that a few expert-staffed, independent places like this manage to cling to life. Otherwise… well, not every retail problem can be solved by a resentful $6/hour “associate” who knows how to push the button with the picture of the hamburger and nothing more.

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You Say Your Civic Has a Cracked Cylinder Liner? Sawzall, Meet Rocker Arms! Wed, 23 Feb 2011 14:00:40 +0000
What does it take to win the Heroic Fix trophy at the heroism-heavy Southern Discomfort 24 Hours of LeMons? Frantic engine swaps are a dime a dozen in LeMons racing, but what happens when the replacement engine goes bad?

The Terminally Confused team got sweated pretty hard at the last race, what with the newness of their ’95 Civic (your car’s alleged sub-$500 price tag isn’t so convincing when the LeMons Supreme Court Judge paid $1200 for his beater ’92 Civic), and so they decided they’d better get with the program and theme up their Honda. Look, it’s a bumblebee now! Things went much better for them at the BS Inspection this time around.

The team was kind enough to rig up a bracket for one of my timelapse BumperCams; you can just see it on the very end of the “bee abdomen” in this photo. StingerCam!

The StingerCam was working great and snapping nice on-track shots like the one above, the car was running well and knocking out some non-shabby lap times, and all looked well for Team Terminally Confused. At first.

You’d think that the Civic, so bulletproof on the street, would be one of the more reliable 24 Hours of LeMons cars, but such is not the case. In fact, Honda B and D engines are among the least reliable in this type of racing, up there with the small-block Chevy and Mitsubishi Astron when it comes to rod-hurling, head-gasket-blowing misery from engines that you’d think should be able to take it. Not long into Saturday’s race session, engine troubles developed for the Terminally Confused Civic.

So it’s overheating! So it’s making a little noise! What could possibly go wrong? Suddenly the noise and smoke got a lot worse, and a connecting rod made a break for freedom.

Let’s take a closer look at the carnage beneath cylinder #1. Ever seen a hole eaten in a crankshaft like that? Ouch! No doubt that this engine is finished… but Terminally Confused didn’t give up.

See, they’d been around LeMons racing— and Hondas— long enough to know that you bring a spare engine to the race, so you don’t have to go dashing around rural South Carolina at 4:15 PM on a Saturday afternoon in an attempt to find a replacement (you could do what a certain Fox Mustang team did, which was throw in the towel after frying part of the wiring harness, even after several teams offered to rewire the car for them, but Terminally Confused wouldn’t hear of such a thing). Unfortunately, their extra engine had been hammered together out of random parts they found lying around the shop, and it sported a set of mismatched and unbalanced pistons. The good news: it’s a VTEC, yo!

So the team thrashed for a couple hours and got the “new” engine in the car.

Upon firing it up for the first time, a slight problem became apparent. What’s that horrible noise? Why all the exhaust smoke? After pulling the valve cover, they discovered that they’d neglected to tighten down one of the valve-adjustment nuts when assembling the engine. Problem solved! Terminally Confused would be back in action when the green flag waved on Sunday morning!

The car ran well at first, but then the power started dropping and alarming clouds of smoke belched from the tailpipe. What gives?

Rats, cracked cylinder liner! Water in the oil, oil in the water, all of it getting into the combustion chambers. The team tried pulling the fuel injector connector from the bad cylinder and running on three, but they kept getting black-flagged for excessive smoking.

While all this was going on, Terminally Confused member Vern decided he’d fire up his extremely sensible pit transportation: a cart with jet turbine and hydrostatic drive system.

Let’s check out this fine vehicle in action!

My ears are still ringing after a single circuit around the paddock. The Turbine Cart made a great pace car after the county-mandated late-morning quiet hour, other than a stall caused by a water-in-fuel problem.

Thing were looking bad for the Civic, with no spare engines left and no way to find one on a Sunday afternoon. LeMons Supreme Court Judge Mike (aka Mechimike of Tunachuckers Volvo Amazon fame, suggested that maybe the oil burning wouldn’t be so bad if the valves on the bad cylinder could be kept closed. What’s the quickest way to keep the valves closed? Cut the rocker arms, of course! On a cylinder with any compression, this would result in a Jake Brake-like effect, but in this case it would just keep liquid from getting forced into the other cylinders.

Blow off as much of the aluminum shavings as possible, put the valve cover back on, and go!

Amazingly, it worked! The car was way down on power and sounded terrible, but it kept making laps. Of course, the oil was still getting mixed with water, so the Terminally Confused crew had to pit every few laps and drain out the emulsified goop, but that’s a small price to pay to stay in the race. Heroic Fix!

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Brake Work Birthday Gift: How Many Mistakes Can You Find Here? Mon, 31 Jan 2011 15:00:56 +0000
Since I’ve got ungodly quantities of top-shelf booze thanks to my other job, I figured I’d celebrate my 900th birthday by having a party and pouring said booze down my guests’ throats. A couple of them went overboard on the gift department, including one who made me a coupon for free brake work on my Dodge A100 Hell Project.

2010 Ununquadium Medal and Index of Effluency winner Rich has been haranguing me for endangering innocent lives— and my own— by driving a van with single-circuit, four-wheel-drum brakes, so here’s his very thoughtful birthday gift. Yes, he’ll help with the brake-line bending and flaring (two skills I’ve never been able to master, despite many expletive-filled attempts) when I upgrade to the nanny-state-approved dual-circuit master cylinder, and he’s even got me halfway convinced to do a disc-brake conversion as well.

Can you find all the mistakes?

That wasn’t the only great birthday surprise from an Ununquadium Medal winner. Cadillac Bob of Speed Holes Racing AMC Marlin fame handed me a gift box that turned out to be full of Brezhnev Era Soviet 1:43 diecast-car awesomeness. How about a USSRDM Fiat 125?

Bob spent a couple years of his childhood in Moscow, when his engineer father had a contract job there, and he brought back a bunch of toy cars made for glorious workers’ children. I was stunned by his generosity in giving up several of them, but he says he’s still got plenty more.

A Moskvich 412!

Would you believe the Soviets honoring the Renault 16? Fiat, sure, but Renault?

Believe it! These cars now have a place of honor in my office, right next to the diecast Leyland P76 and the diecast GAZ-13 Chaika I picked up on eBay.

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NASCAR Tech: It’s A Lot More Than You Think Thu, 05 Aug 2010 15:43:11 +0000

I’ve heard a lot of derisive comments about NASCAR lately on this site, many of them from people — my fellow racers and fast-road drivers — who should know better. While it’s true that the common template is a disgrace, the idea that NASCAR is a low-tech ghetto compared to the oh-so-modern sports-car series like the ALMS is, to put it mildly, false. There’s a reason that the abortive USF1 team wanted to locate near the NASCAR guys. It’s where the tech is. Click the jump to find out why racing NASCAR takes more brainpower than any Touring Car or prototype series out there…

Let’s start with engines. NASCAR just runs old small-block Chevys with carbs, right? Not so simple. Let’s compare F1 engines to NASCAR engines using Brake Mean Effective Pressure (BMEP) and Mean Piston Speed (MPS). These are measurements of how hard and fast an engine runs. Surely the F1 engine runs at pressures and piston speeds that are FAR beyond those of NASCAR, right?

According to Race Engine Technology, The BMEP of the Formula One engine at peak torque (table line 13) is 15.17 bar while the Cup engine produces a peak torque BMEP of 15.12 bar (0.3 % less). At peak power, the Formula One BMEP value (table line 22) is 14.6 bar while the Cup figure is 14.0 bar (4.1% less). As far as piston speed,

Even more revealing, at peak power RPM (table line 19) the Formula One engine MPS is 25.5 m/s (5025 ft/min), while that of the Cup engine is less than 3% lower at 24.8 m/s (4875 ft/min). At redline, the Formula One MPS is 26.5 m/sec, while the Cup MPS is a stunning 27.5 m/sec. To put those numbers in perspective, Professor Gordon Blair wrote (Race Engine Technology, issue 27) that 26.5 m/sec was the highest he had seen.

How’d those stupid hicks get their pistons to move faster than the mighty engine builders of Formula One? Note that some street cars reach into the same piston-speed zone, but they are incapable of operating under those BMEPs for very long. F1 engines run with much greater friction to create those piston speeds because their crankshafts run faster… but NASCAR engines have a much longer stroke, thus imposing a much greater acceleration load on the parts.

Now let’s talk aero. With millions of dollars at stake, aerodynamic improvements are critical. ALMS designers can draw almost anything they want, because the rules are loose. F1 presents a much stronger challenge, which is why Nick Wirth’s CFD approach was so dominating with the LC75-based Acura ARX but has struggled to keep Virgin Racing from the bottom of the field. The limits to what you can “draw” in F1 are considerable, and any bright ideas don’t last too long, as was shown with the F-duct and flexible front wing that arrived this year and were promptly written out of next year’s rulebook.

NASCAR teams have an even tougher job. They are limited to a common template, so they can’t change the aero at all. Right? If that’s the case, then why is the Holy Grail of aerodynamic testing — the “coastdown tunnel” — rumored to exist right now, in the hands of Chip Ganassi? The answer is that NASCAR teams work at a level of aerodynamics unknown outside the world of military aviation: surface composition aero. A NASCAR Car of Tomorrow is a matrix of multiple surfaces, some smooth, some rough, all designed to manage the airflow at the near-molecular level. Jimmie Johnson’s remarkable pace last year? All the product of rough-surface aero development.

We could go on and talk about the massive effort put into the “little things” of racing — from the kind of brake compounds required to slow a NASCAR-sized sedan from 195+mph to the astoundingly complex calculations of shock absorber valving required to keep a car that big from becoming murderously loose on a bumpy superspeedway — but I hope I’ve encouraged at least some of you to go take a look at what actually happens in NASCAR. It may not be Formula One, but it’s not ALMS P2 either.

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