Piston Slap: Transmission Talk, Debunked

Ernest writes:

Hi Sajeev, first of all I enjoy your column very much. The Honda transmission post over in the “New or Used” column raised my interest in something I’ve always been curious about. I have a few questions:

  1. I used to compensate for my lead foot by coasting down slight slopes or towards a red light in neutral (in my automatic.) I used to drive a manual and I understand it can be dangerous to coast down a steep slope because the differential becomes free and so the rear wheels can turn in opposite directions, potentially allowing for a spin.
  2. I stopped the practice in my automatic after learning (from a usenet board years ago) that the multi-plate clutch has very small clearances in N and consequently leads to overheating if allowed to coast. I’ve also heard that you don’t even want to idle at a standstill in N. Is this true? What the heck is N in an automatic intended for anyway, if you’re not supposed to use it?
  3. It was mentioned that you shouldn’t go into reverse without doing a complete stop. Same idea?
  4. Is it better to stress the engine at low rpm in overdrive, or to stress the transmission at high rpm in D4 (or D3 or whatever)?

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Piston Slap: The REAL Swagger Wagon

TTAC Commentator MadHungarian writes:

Hi Sajeev – I am your fellow Town Car-o-phile, and per Panther Appreciation week commentary, I accept your invitation. How do you get that harshness out of the ride of my 2005 Signature Limited? That banging and bottoming in the rear over seemingly minor bumps. Strangely, it seems worse at lower speeds. I miss the authentically Land Yacht-y ride of my ’92. I don’t miss the seriously imprecise steering, but is one a necessary tradeoff to get the other?

A photo of my somewhat blingy ’05 is included for your enjoyment. It’s got only 54K and as far as I know the air suspension and all other suspension components are in proper order.

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Hammer Time: Sonseed

My niece and nephew are about to have their B’nai Mitzvah. To call this event a ‘gala’ will be like calling Lillith Fair, “a trite affair with a few left-leaning ladies.” Money will be spent aplenty. Ceremonies that are thousands of years old will be performed and honored, and I will have the best time since last year’s demo derby. Even though I live in Georgia, I love coming back ‘home’, and some cars that were truly authentic for their time still give me that same feeling.

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Hammer Time: Iacocca's Auction Triumph

Who wants a 1996 Chrysler LHS? The last car to ever impersonate an Iacocca inspired Chrysler New Yorker glided down the auction lane in pure anonymous bliss. The Mazda 3 behind it had already hooked all the dealers looking for some sub-prime finance fodder and hey, I knew that the 3’s transmission was toast. I was not in the mood to have a dogfight with half the dealers at this sale. My job was to pick my battles and find the dealer queens, but which ones?

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Hammer Time: Bye Bye 10k. Hello Lease!

Aaahhh… the good old days of 2008. A time when you could poach for a decently equipped gas sipper right around the 10k range. Of course we had (and still have) bogus fees aplenty. The processing fee. The documentation fee. The ‘we are gonna screw you any way we can’ fee. Out the door most of these vehicles hit the 12k to 13k mark. But with enough luck, a little demo miles, and a clunker in the driveway, you could always limbo close to that 10k mark. Can you still get this deal in October 2010 ?

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Hammer Time: Sell, Lease, Rent, or Kill? – 1989 BMW 750il

This vehicle was worth over $80,000 back in the good old days of Bush the Elder. Now? Not so much. The Bimmer pictured here has no check engine light.. The transmission shifts perfectly. It has 104k original miles with no accident history, and a raft of parts have recently been put into this vehicle by the prior owner. Someone loved this car and sold their first born in the process to keep it up.

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Hammer Time: Search and Seizure

“Always hire a professional.” It’s one of the easiest pieces of advice to ever give, and one of the absolute hardest to take. We all want our work to be done on the cheap… or free.

I learned a long time ago that ‘cheap’ is almost always the most expensive way to go. The guy who lowballs you for a repo job? He may have faulty equipment or be in a drug laden state. Yeah, you may get that car back for $50 less. But it may likely be ransacked for personal property that will be sold to a nearby pawn to make up the difference. Your ‘former’ customer may decide to pay you a visit given that he left most of his life’s possessions in the vehicle. They have no proof. But you will still have a headache to clean up. Both in terms of an angry former customer and the reconditioning of your once pristine ride. So what do you do?

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Hammer Time: Tramps And Thieves

As Ben Hamper once wrote for his book, ‘The Rivethead’… “Certain names have been changed in this book to expose the innocent and protect the guilty.” Well I say the guilty deserve every bit of publicity we can give them in this world. Especially when a few longtime criminals have names that can change by the minute and circumstance. Exposing the guilty is a public service and I will let you, the reader, know about these worthless bastards with just an absolute minimal amount of alphabetical alteration. As for the innocent…

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Hammer Time: Day One

“They are two nasty disgusting fucks in an SUV.” Stan’s fingers were literally shaking with anger as he slammed his door after driving sixty-five miles to change a flat tire. “I’ll tell you one other thing Steve. That tire of there’s was slashed! There is no way a rock on the side of the road is gonna leave a three inch gash on the sidewall.”

This was my ‘welcome back’ moment from a nice long vacation. Stan the Old Man was making everyone’s life crazy at the lot and as far as I was concerned, he was already living on borrowed time. Two pissed off long time customers had called me directly while I was in Honduras. One had been responsible for four separate purchases between family and friends over the past year. He was followed a few days later by a mild mannered Grandmother who told me in not so many words that Stan behaved like an old Southern bigot.

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Hammer Time: Carfax Vs. Autocheck

There was a time when nearly every customer asked, “Does it come with a clean Carfax history?” It came to a point where I would just routinely leave them on the driver’s seat so that the questioner could peruse what they thought was a complete ownership history. Then certain things happened in the marketplace.

Dealers began targeting vehicles that ‘did’ have frame damage, but were not mentioned on Carfax. Not every insurance company or state police agency agency had (or has) a relationship with Carfax… and some of the nastiest of damage came with the most expensive of vehicles. Carfax got blamed, threatened, sued, and dragged through the sensationalistic dreck we now find on network news. The price of Carfax subscriptions went up while this was happening, and as a result dealers and individuals began to seek alternatives. Autocheck became a de facto standard at the auto auctions, and now it is the leading competitor to Carfax. But is it better?

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Hammer Time:The Minivan Man

I remember it like it was today. We had a long line of trade-in’s going through the public auction and I was working the ring. When you’re down on the ground at the auction, your job is to hoot, holler, and help the auctioneer create the urgency to buy. In most states you are called a ‘ringman’ and for the next two hours, my job would be to use everything but jumbled auctioneer’s English. As a ringman my powers of persuasion are eyes, hands, body, and a fair bit of negotiating after the final bid falls short of the reserve. I read people. Just as I do when I’m on the block, and by 2002 I had already finished in the top 10 in the World Auctioneer’s Championship as a ringman. But forget about that lucky accolade. At the moment, I needed a minivan for my wife.

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Hammer Time: War Without Tears

The leather still has that fragrant smell of dead thick cow skin and the interior offers a better living space than many Manhattan apartments. It only has 104,000 original miles after 21 pampered years on the smooth roads of North Georgia. Everything about it is world class. But as soon as I utter the name BMW, some of you will be instantly turned off. A Yuppiemobile. A prestigious status symbol loaded with whatever arrogance and hubris the Germans can muster. Not to mention that it’s not a Lexus, or a Jaguar, or a….

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Hammer Time: Dirty Videos

The Volvo 740 was a rolling pile of boredom for most folks. A typical midsized sedan that was a bit heavy, a bit underpowered, very safe, and downright spartan in base form. Where’s the fun in all that? Well it depends on where you drive it. Take this video and marvel in a car that could drift like a 240SX given the right combination of snow, skinny snow tires, and a driver that could have easily passed for the stig’s Swedish sister . If there is anything that can get me into my 1993 Volvo 940 (the 740’s twin brother), it would be a video like this. How about you? Any video flights of fancy that remind you of the greatness that is your daily driver?

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Hammer Time: The Seasons

The girlfriend had become a wife. A beautiful wedding that would forever change two lives took place on a sunny Georgia afternoon, June 12th, 1999. My wife was the oldest of six and would be the first in her family to marry. I, the youngest of four, would be the last. Both families were conservative and traditional in that all too regional way. My cut-throat New Jersey mentality was tempered with a determination to do what I wanted to do in life. Damn the shackles of the corporate world and the pointless long hours. I would find a way to beat the system and enjoy free time instead of paperwork and fluorescent lights. ‘She’ wanted to be a mom. But that was years down the road… or so I thought.

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Hammer Time: The Steenkin' Lincoln

You know a car is in trouble when it’s owned by cats. This once proud luxury car had fallen into a rancid feline funk. Cats sunbathing on the roof. Scratch marks on the outside vinyl that had gone from small rivlets to rippling rapids. Even a few dozen tears in the seats from my girlfriends five siblings. The headliner could have easily turned into a canopy plaything for the cats. But thankfully the doors were kept closed at all times. No pee smells in here! In sum, it was redneck car-chitecture that had been forgotten in a rural Georgia driveway somewhere between civilization and Deliverance. The ‘extra’ family car that would prove to be my girlfrined’s future transportation for the next three years.

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Hammer Time: Resale Suicide

Back in 2008 I saw some of the weirdest optioned vehicles to have ever gone through any auto auction. Vehicles that were given power everything including cruise, ABS and traction control… but manual windows. Long wheel base minivans that offered captain’s chairs and premium sound… but no rear air. Even midsized sedans that had all the features a family would want. Except side airbags which the rental car company decided would cost too much to repair in the event of an accident. Fast forward two years later. Used car inventories are at their lowest point in 35 years and used car prices are up over a thousand bucks from last year. Have the manufacturers finally found some pearls of wisdom? Or are there still too many penny wise, pound foolish practices running amuck in the industry. Well???

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Hammer Time: Is It Worth It?

Some folks will blow five grand on a cruise. Others will take it to Vegas. The adventurous among us may even decide go to Central America during the off season and find that the country they’re visiting is now under martial law. Some freak out. Others buy a nice drink at a cafe and people watch. We all have risk tolerances when it comes to life’s pleasures, and cars are no different. The question with buying any car though is not whether you want to get some bang for the buck. But whether you’re willing to get the ‘education’ that comes with it.

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Hammer Time: The Auto Auction Translator

Today Hammer Time brings you its guide to commonly-used auto auction phrases and their translations.

Car Dealer – “You can have it if you want it.”

Translation – “I know you’re going to run the bid up anyhow. So go ahead and *%$&! take it.”

Car Dealer – “This car is a bad boy.”

Translation – It drinks. It smokes. Some day soon it will be hanging out with the other bad boys at the neighborhood junkyard.

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Hammer Time: The Piper Principle

Wrestling fans and auto enthusiasts have a lot in common. They can be sickeningly loyal to their favorites. Even when it’s obvious their one and only favorite is well past their prime. They also have a bit of a dopamine problem. Adrenalin, excitement, the thrill of seeing ‘their guy’ win the battles. It’s all there. Even for the boring ones. Whether it’s a Camry climbing up the sales chart. Or a 1988 Toyota MR2 carving up a modern day competitor over a mountain overpass. It’s a rush to see ‘your choice’ be the best choice. But then there’s the Piper Principle.

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Hammer Time: Take This Car And Shove It!

I went to a public sale this past Thursday. Dozens of vehicles were sold for four figure premiums, but unfortunately virtually all of them were complete and utter trash. A repo’d 2008 Dodge Avenger SXT was riddled with 89,000 torturous miles of abuse and neglect. It shaked, rattled, and barely rolled through the block. Thanks to an owner who considered the numerous warning lights to be mere suggestions.. But it still went for $8800. How? Why? We’re talking clean book value for a rough car in every sense of the word.

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Hammer Time: Title Pawn Cons

0%. Sounds good doesn’t it? The title pawn billboard clearly showed that big beautiful numerical goose egg with some illegible lettering underneath a mini-asterisk. “Interesting?” I thought. Since I was stuck in Atlanta with my 17th traffic jam of the week, I decided to give the place a call and see how good the deal really was.

Well the 0% was good for balances over $2500… for 30 days. Then there were fees. Then a recalculation of the smaller balance. Finally I just got ticked off after over a minute’s worth of recalculations and doubletalk, “Let’s say I come by and get a $1000 loan. How much interest would I pay the first month?”. The answer came out to 17.6%.

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Hammer Time: Junk Cars

I have three junk cars at the moment. The first is the world renowned 1997 Oldsmobile Achieva with a front end uglier than Mike Tyson after his last ‘comeback’ fight.. It came standard with 300 pounds of GM parts bin plastic in it’s heyday, and an oil burning 2.4 Liter engine that rarely ever sees 200k. Like most cars conceived during the Smith and Stempel era, along with the Cavalier and Lumina that now accompany it near a shady tree, the car was well past it’s prime before it ever left the factory floor.

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Hammer Time: The Ultimate Tightwad Car

Saturn? Civic? Neon? A diesel owned by Chuck Goolsbee? For the longest time I’ve been trying to figure out what penny pinching prodigy earns the most keep. I’ve spent years pondering this question. Well, more like a few dull moments at the auctions. I finally figured out the answer this evening. The cheapest car to own is the one you like so much… that you’re willing to buy another one just like it so that you can keep yours on the road for years to come. I’ll give you a recent example of two ‘cheap’ cars with two very divergent destinies.

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Hammer Time: Indian Summer

The dogs days of July have been anything but. 83 dealers visited a well-established independent sale this Monday that offered only 93 vehicles. They came to buy and let me tell ya… the dealers paid all the money in the world for some very slim pickings. They had no choice because inventory now is getting near famine levels in the wholesale markets.

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Hammer Time: Feeling Used

Wholesale heaven used to be a crowded place at the dealer auctions. There were Taurae aplenty. Neons, Stratuses, Sables, Sebrings, Optimas, Milans, the names were as endless as the need to keep all the factories humming. Even in the ‘somewhat’ good old days of 2004, the average vehicle that sold for $5,000 at a sale usually had only about 70 to 75k on it. But now it’s a different auction world.

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Hammer Time: Title Pawn Pro

Frank Pajares was an amazing professor at Emory University. He changed lives… and in my specific case he would routinely kick me out of my philosophical foundations at will. “It takes a meaning to catch a meaning.” he would tell me along with the rest of his class during one of our many heated debates. The ‘act’ of putting yourself in someone elses shoes is always a difficult thing for any of us to do. Especially in academia where strong opinions and cultural isolation are the reality of the day. The same is true for the corporate world as well. Speaking of which…

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Hammer Time: The Black Pawn

100 Cars are lined up for next week’s sale. Every single one of them is a repo from a very successful title pawn company… and every one has a story to tell.

The histories on many repos really begin with the license plates. Disabled Veteran… Educator… it’s amazing how many cars and trucks were once owned by folks who really made a difference in this world.

It doesn’t matter though. After 25 percent monthly interest rates and numerous attempts to get their clients to borrow even more money… their car is now forfeit. And so is their freedom.

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Hammer Time: 15 to 20 is Plenty

I remember when a 15 year old car was as wore out as an old mop. Rust. Electric gremlins. Dark oils and brownish fluids spewing out of nearly every seal and gasket. When the auctions had a car that was nearly old enough to drive itself, it was usually already smoking (out of the tailpipe)… and drinking (it’s own oil and coolant). The jalopies that came from the bad old days of the 1980’s almost always left a puddle of ‘remembrance’ which you had to be careful not to step on when looking at the next elderly statesman. A run of old cars would result in a nice white cloud above everyone’s head and a post-auction headache for yours truly. It was a nasty smelly world not too long ago.. but now…

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Hammer Time: Off The Beaten Path

My family hates buying stuff at the big box stores. Mom and Pop’s, garage sales and thrift stores have always been the staples of good living for the Lang Gang. That’s not all. There’s a slaughterhouse a few hundred feet away from the county border where I get all my meat. A dozen neighborhood gardens offer an amazing variety of produce for the taking and trading. Heck, even my customers have offered everything from power generators to honey during tight times which I gladly accept. This is Georgia after all. When it comes to buying and selling all things automotive, I have also fond an awful lot of very unusual solutions. Namely…

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Hammer Time: Crisis

Holy shit! That’s Mike!” I was flipping through the channels… and there he was. A friend of mine. University of Michigan MBA. Extroverted personality par excellence. Former middle manager at Ford, trying to sell used cars on a public access station. ‘Welcome to the P.T. Barnum world of no shame!” I thought to myself… and God knows I’ve already been there. First there was a Mini (nice car!). Then a PT Cruiser (at least they shined it up). Then the 2078th Impala that was for sale in South Carolina. Then…

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Hammer Time: Investments

Five years ago ‘financing’ was like a cuss word to me. I had spent the prior two years traveling around the country for an auto finance company liquidating 10,000+ repos annually. Seeing repossessed Ford Rangers with $600+ monthly payments and Kias given to anyone with a pulse made me very wary of that world. I stuck with cash cars and made a great worry free living doing that. That was until October 2008 when the cash customer literally disappeared from my landscape.

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Hammer Time: Trivial Pursuits

Knowledge is not always a good thing. Esoteric. Rarified. Just plain old pointless. High school? Anyhow, I have this strange fascination with car reviews. Not the new snuff. But those older wilted beaters that the marketplace has more or less forgotten. You talk to me about a Volvo 240 and my mind will recall a few of these write-up’s and a neat little side story. A 2011 Prius? I would almost rather watch the grass grow.

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Hammer Time: The $16 Car

Who the hell wants a Dodge Daytona? It was a question I was forced to ask myself as a 1991 model with an Iacocca inspired trombone red interior passed through the block. The bidding started at $200 and… well… it sold for $200. Then there was the seller fee, the transport cost, a battery, and pretty soon…

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Hammer Time: 400 Gallons of Paint

I was broke. Well let me rephrase that. I was a graduate student. So I guess you could say I was ‘comfortably broke’. My home was rented out to two other less broke students and I had plans to convert part of my garage into yet another bedroom so that I could hopefully get another $400 in monthly income. You could say that it was a beautiful time since I had a scholarship and no real responsibilities. But academia and me were not really meant to be. I had plans…

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Hammer Time: Meir Panim

60 days ago I had this idea thanks to a charity I’ve always admired. I would offer long-term rentals for drivers who weren’t too picky or too rich (in taste). But were in dire need to no fault of their own. There were a lot of safeguards and a few hoops that most folks would need to clear before I finally rented them out. Money up front with a deposit. Full coverage insurance. No DUI’s or suspended licenses. Mileage limitations. The list went on and on but pretty soon I found a niche… and thankfully that niche has finally found me.

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Hammer Time: The Trade

I don’t believe in charity. I believe in help and I believe in profit. A sick or dying child may need my help… and I’ll give them everything I can. But an able bodied human being will only get one simple thing from me. A trade. Knowledge, money, work, things, emotions. I’ve traded everything in my life as did my father and grandfather. Horses, mules, cars, houses, fancy foods of every flavor you can imagine. It gave us an education. A family. A “happily ever after”. Everything we ever desired in our lives came true from the pursuit of profit and the willingness to trade… and of course share…

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Hammer Time: The Legend

Back in 1987 the only V8 I knew about was made out of tomatoes and some weird spicy stuff. I was all of 14 then, and my concerns in life were little more than the infrequent dating opportunity and eating out (my mom didn’t believe in cooking). There was college… but that seemed as far away as the drop dead gorgeous brunette who sat two desks in front of me in Spanish class. I was terrible in Spanish, and with good reason. Back then I remember trying in vain to read my Spanish homework at the local Audi customer’s lounge. A place my mom frequently visited and despised for 5000 good reasons. Later that evening, a 60 minutes expose would result in our Audi being taken straight to a dealership one more time. But this time the sign up front said ‘Acura’.

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Hammer Time: Repairs

$110 an hour. That’s what certain European dealerships will charge for their $15 an hour technicians. Now granted you’re paying for the nice marble floor and a waiting room filled with old magazines, cable news and pretzels. But still that’s an awful lot of money to part with. In fact, a lot of dealerships make an exceptional living out of highballing the repair cost and lowballing the trade-in value once the customer sees the repair estimate. One outfit in particular with nearly ten dealerships in my neck of the woods clears the two million dollar mark just on this homegrown recipe for consumer disaster. So how do you avoid it?

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Hammer Time: The Unintended Benefits of Hybrids

Hybrids give you better fuel economy. Hybrids save the environment. Hybrids will even shine your shoes and make trees grow out of your ass. So say the left wing folks who are hated by the right wing folks who are then hated back by the left wing folks for being hated by those all too mean and hateful right wing folks. Where does that leave the rest of us who just drive these machines? Well, in surprisingly solid ground once you take politics out of the equation. A hybrid can…

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Hammer Time: Responsibility

I’m a crook, and I’m glad to admit it. Back when GM was trading in the 20’s I decided to sell the company short. Way short. In fact I didn’t cover my short until GM’s price reached a bankruptcy teetering $3 a share. The reasons were endless… of course. But the crux of my decision was based on the very same observation Goldman Sachs had with American’s sub-prime mortgages… the books were essentially cooked.

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Hammer Time: I'm Walking

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Well the hell with that! I’m going to fly if I have to travel even half the distance. I suffer enough these days. Traveling 500+ miles a week in Atlanta is a brutal punishment for any sane soul and mine is sometimes jaded to the point of h-e double hockey sticks.

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Hammer Time: Wealth Construction

My Dad worked with the same company for sixty years. His first days were spent making coffee, learning English, and finding any opportunities for him and the company. It wasn’t easy. Back then America was in a recession with unfathomable debt and a dollar that could seemingly buy all the remnants of a battle scarred Europe. Today we have all the elements of the past. Except America is still fighting the wars, the dollar is weak, and the only thing that our country can seemingly buy is more debt… and time. With such lighthearted thoughts in my head this afternoon, I decided to go for a long walk.

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Hammer Time: 50,000 Honda Hybrid Miles

I am not in the ‘keeper’ business. Cars to me have always been an investment asset, like stocks, bonds, and a good accountant are for most other folks. My daily drivers are supposed to make me money. But then I have to balance this against one other unavoidable fact: I’m married.

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Hammer Time: Edison Medicine

I revisited my past recently. A friend of mine who has been in the car business for longer than I’ve been alive called me right out of the blue. It had been well over two recessions since our last talk and yes, there was an awful lot of catching up to do. So the banter lasted about three hours and all we talked about was… how things don’t work in the car business. The list is longer than a modern day health care bill and the prescription is pain (and debt) incarnate. That is unless you decide to take the easy way out. In which case it’s downright fatal. There are thousands of do’s and don’ts in this business. Today I’ll share the Top Five ways many rookies end up scorching the thin skin under their Hawaiian shirts.

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Hammer Time: Late Model Dings

Everyone wants a showhorse car at a workhorse price. When folks find out about my work,they automatically assume that the auction lanes are paved in pure gold. A late-model Honda that’s high in demand? They think I can get one for $5000 under retail when the truth the few I can actually get are already selling at retail. The finance game changes the cost of popular late model cars dramatically as do tax refunds. An unpopular car or one with a minor accident history? Now that’s a different story.

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Hammer Time: Eye of the Zeitgeist

I fell in love with Chrysler back in 1991. Really. The LH sedans were the first four door cars I ever wanted to buy. Sports car looks. 214 horsepower. Of course they were just in the developmental stage back then with only a Viper or two out in the real world. I didn’t care. As I studied more of Chrysler’s other show cars of that time and reflected on the company’s restructuring measures (I was an industry wonk even then), I smelled the opportunity of an 18 year old’s lifetime. I bought 260 shares of Chrysler at just over $10 a share. Two years later I thought LH stood for, “Lordy Hallelujah!” as I spent my newfound fortune on babes and booze. Make that one babe who thankfully became my wife, and a laptop computer.

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Hammer Time: Rowdy Roddy Piper

Some people just don’t get ‘it’. My wife can’t understand why I like Davesfarm videos and Bruce Springsteen. I can’t understand why she listens to whiny effeminate men who pretend to be musicians. Fair enough… we’re living up to our gender driven destinies. But then there’s the myth of an ‘educated’ person.

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Hammer Time: Preservation

There’s something amazing about recessions. Prices can come tumbling down to Earth and the costs of living can all of a sudden be dirt cheap. Yes, I’m aware that my country’s leaders seem fully content on feasting on our future wealth with no concern for the consequences. Fair enough. But I also know a good deal when I see one.

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Hammer Time: Avanti's Inferno

“What should I buy?” Well these days it really doesn’t matter as much as you would think. The marketplace is absolutely riddled with 300+ late models to choose from and most of them are perfectly fine daily drivers. A Toyota? A Buick? A Mitsubishi? For most folks it really doesn’t matter. I’m not kidding. Their footwear is going to have a bigger impact on their quality of life than the car they drive.

But even today’s automotive world has a few cars that will cost more money to maintain per capita than our national debt. I’m not kidding there either. Bad engines. Clunky transmissions. Electric Gremlins worthy of a Steven Spielberg Sequel. Not to mention safety recalls that could even make a Chinese bureaucrat nervous. So without further lawsuits or potential censorship issues from aspiring TTAC sponsors, here they are…

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Hammer Time: Damn!

The mind can deviate to all sorts of weirdness when it comes to cars. Baby on Board signs. ‘Rims’ that cost more than the actual vehicle. The ungodly use of purples, yellows and lime greens on entry level econoboxes. Then there’s the real deals. Cars that are so hysterically and vomitously ugly that only it’s creator can appreciate the rancid spewage. I see a lot of that at the auctions. Let me give you a few true classics of the trade…

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Hammer Time: Buying Ugly, Selling Happy

Today I bought an Astro with a garbage bag for a driver’s window. Three very ugly Cavaliers. A Dodge Ram with a vinyl interior. A brown Chrysler Concorde with a deformed trunk lid. A Ford F150 with plexiglass rear glass. A Tahoe with 235k. A Suburban with a rebuilt title, and a Maxima that doesn’t run… yet. Total cost was about $8500. Why would I buy all this drek? Well, truth be told none of these will be keepers. I won’t be financing them. They won’t be used as rentals. In fact I have absolutely no clue about their long-term durability. I bought them because I needed to fatten up my dealer auction for next Tuesday. Will it work? You bet.

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Hammer Time: The Tinkerer's Car

Owning an old Volvo is like having a garden. There is always something to do in a garden. Likewise, the quality of your compost, soil, and water is going to dictate your harvest. The same is true for your driving habits, parts and fluids when it comes to keeping any old car. Okay, enough of the analogies. We’re all enthusiasts here. A 1991 Volvo 740 came to me with a two ton jack and a gas can in the trunk as well as enough spare parts to start it’s own Volvo shrine. It also came with the crappiest car seat covers I had ever seen, a blue wire that connected the alternator to trunk speakers that were removed (it had been Gomered). Finally, it had to be pushed through the auction lane because it wouldn’t stay running. But I bought it anyway for $175… and then the fun began.

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Hammer Time: Happy Returns

Does retail always give you the best return when it comes to cars? The reflexive answer is ‘yes’. But the real answer is ‘It depends’. I’ve seen cars bought at dealer auctions that don’t have a chance in a felon’s hell of reclaiming their outrageous price. This week there was a Barney inspired purple 1998 Dodge Caravan with 118k that sold for $3000. That one will have to be financed to a hardcore Prince fan with a brood. A little while back I also saw this Farley inspired van go for $5800. That one is still at the dealer’s lot begging for monetary penance. Of course, these two extreme examples are somewhere between a lightning strike and a snow flurry in Atlanta. So what’s the norm?

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Hammer Time: Quality Work

Yesterday I sold a 1992 Lexus LS400. It was a well kept model with all the bells and whistles for it’s time. Hands-free cell phone. 250 horsepower V8. Sunroof, ABS, plenty of wood interior accents. For 195,000 miles it was a really great car. At the time it drove off I was speaking to a journalist from Reuters who was covering the Toyota recall. A mental somersault happened at that very moment. While I watched the Lexus pull away and kept on discussing the industry wide battle to contain costs, I looked at a few of my older cars. A 1993 Town & Country, still in great condition. A 1995 Cavalier that could easily go another eight to ten years. A 1997 Pontiac Sunfire Convertible that still drove like it was virtually new. Three cars. All of which were of seemingly dubious reputations for their time all had a good shot of hitting the big 20. I realized something in that very moment…

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Hammer Time: Keeping the Commuter

I hate spending money. To me the act of letting go of my hard earned dollars is the equivalent of forced labor at a future point in my life. Not that I won’t pay for things that I really enjoy. Family, vacations (within reason), educational tools, and even good friends are on that radar. But cars are ‘things’ and most of them are used for the miseries of daily commuting. An activity I rank right up there with filling out paperwork and paying bills. How do I keep those dollars and time where it belongs? I simply plan for the future and invest when necessary.

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Hammer Time: The Toyota Reality

A quarter century ago, give or take a year, my brother Paul became the first in the family to drive a Toyota. A 1984 Toyota Celica-Supra. It was a true shifting of gears for the Lang Gang. Everyone up to that time had bought a GM. Mom and Dad drove Cadillacs (only one saw 100k). The eldest one had a Monte Carlo (a.k.a. Crapo) that didn’t see the road half the time. Second in line had a Regal (a.k.a. the dying diesel) that ended up stolen and trashed in the Grand Canyon. He actually felt sorry for the Canyon. Within three years both these Roger Smith specials were replaced with 1988 Celica GT’s. Great cars with no nicknames necessary. Three years later I had a Celica GT-S sitting on my driveway. Even better. Still no nicknames. By the end of the decade everyone in the family had a Toyota. But then things changed…

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Hammer Time: Mickey Mouse

Back in 2007, I made my 37th pilgrimage to mouse country. My wife and kids were hardcore Disneyites. Me? I was just there for the company. I deal with enough Goofys in real life and the thought of waiting in line to meet yet another one chafed at me. So I told my wife that I would spend the next day visiting my own wonderland. An auto auction. There was a low mileage Geo Metro I was interested in along with about a half dozen other older vehicles.

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Hammer Time: The Good Old Days

Let’s pretend they never happened because… well… we’re still waiting for them. Sure, on the surface things could be worse. Real estate is getting to be cheap. Cars are getting even cheaper. We seem to be in this period of mild deflation where ‘deficits don’t matter’ and interest rates remain low thanks to China. It’s a debtly paradise that will eventually turn our economy upside down, but for now it’s all good. As John Fogerty used to say, “There’s a calm before the storm, I know it’s been calmin’ for some time.” I’m not convinced that hyperinflation will be on that menu, but a happy-go-lucky tightwad like me realizes that books and reality need to be balanced no matter what. So…

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Hammer Time: Saturn Shangri-La

In 1994, you could buy a base model Saturn for $9995 plus tax, tag and dealer fee. In 2002, you could buy a base model Saturn for $9995 plus tax, tag and dealer fee. In 2010, you may very well be able to buy an entry level Saturn for….

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Hammer Time: Here You Come Again!

If I had the choice to meet anyone in this world, it would be Dolly Parton. Politicians, rock stars and ‘modern day philosophers’ are always aplenty. Look at who wrote this sentence! But there is only one Dolly and every time I see a car get no-saled at an auction and revisit it’s old haunting grounds, I can’t help but think of this song and smile.

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  • FifaCup Loving both Interior and exterior designs.
  • FifaCup This is not good for the auto industry
  • Jeff S This would be a good commuter vehicle especially for those working in a large metropolitan area. The only thing is that by the time you put airbags, backup cameras, and a few of the other required safety features this car would no longer be simple and the price would be not much cheaper than a subcompact. I like the idea but I doubt a car like this would get marketed in anyplace besides Europe and the 3rd World.
  • ScarecrowRepair That's what I came to say!
  • Inside Looking Out " the plastic reinforced with cotton waste used on select garbage vehicles assembled by the Soviet Union. "Wrong. The car you are talking about was the product German engineering, East German. It's name was Trabant.