Piston Slap: Too Cool, or Dex-Cool?

Nate writes:

Ok, you asked for input and I’ve got a question about my 2003 Cadillac CTS. I figure I’m more likely to get a reliable answer from you and the best & brightest of TTAC than the goof balls at Car Talk (this letter is from February-SM), so I’ll ask.

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Hammer Time: The Tough Choice

First the guy called. Then his wife. Then the repo driver.

The truck had been out in front of their house for nearly a half hour. Lights flashing. Neighbors peeved, and humiliation aplenty.

“Steve, I can get both cars. What do you want me to do?”

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Piston Slap: Can I Still Drive This?

Nicholas writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Daily reader but not a commenter. Had a question regarding a recently deer damaged car that I wanted to see what you and the community might have to say about it. I’m the owner of a 2003, Honda Civic LX, 4-door, manual transmission, with 56,000 miles on the odometer. The car spent most of its life in an underground parking garage in the District of Columbia and was driven sporadically on the weekends. As a result, it was in great condition until its unfortunate encounter with the deer.

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Hammer Time: German Fury, Easy Credit & The 1967 Arabs

I woke up bright and early on Monday morning, 7:00 AM. A wake-up time reserved for maniacs and those who have circadian rhythms that are the exact opposite of yours truly.

Just a 10 mile drive to a neighboring auto auction. A nice stroll to a back lot loaded with 91 cars for the 9:30 AM sale. The beauty of the day seemed to shine before me as I looked at what was supposed to be an immaculate 1987 BMW 524td that had all of 69,000 miles.

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Piston Slap: …but the Kitchen Sink

Will writes:

Hi Sajeev, I am heeding your call for more questions.

1) Can a crack around one of the intake system tubes (thanks, shopmonkeys!) to the right of the Throttle-Body on an ’01 MkIV Jetta GLS 2.0 be the source of a lumpy idle (+even decreased mileage)? -I think it’s the Y-Tube next to the PCV. (also: last time I checked, this pipe was something like $200 to replace new from the stealership)

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Piston Slap: Need a "Hans and Franz" ABS Workout?

Craig writes:

Sajeev,

Some time ago I purchased a 1995 (E36) BMW M3 as a project car. Mostly I have limited myself to bringing the maintenance up to date. I have a more than averagely equipped workshop and can find my way around a car pretty well (I have even built my own Brunton SuperStalker) One problem that has eluded me from day 1 is an intermittent ABS light.

Should I just ditch the ABS forever or is there a way to trouble shoot these things without Hans and Franz at the stealership taking me for a ride?

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Hammer Time: And Now For Something Completely Different…

This 2009 BMW 535i has 45,000 miles and looks absolutely drop dead gorgeous. It offers nearly the same acceleration as a 550i, and far more space than the 335i, which is more sought after in the enthusiast world.

To me, if you’re a true keeper, all of this is good news. The better news? It’s a lemon!

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Piston Slap: A Solution to Our Coking Problem?


Kurt asks:

I’ve heard from maintenance shops and oil additive producers that DI engines, especially Audi and BMW, have severe problems with carbon buildup in their valve systems. Might be good to chat about this and also poll readers to see if other vehicles have the same issue. Thank you.

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Piston Slap: The Least Sexy Question of The Year?

JCP writes:

So here’s the least sexy question of the year. For those of us with the need for six seats (and climbing over the middle row of an SUV is unacceptable) what is your take on the reasonable lifespan of the current minivan lineup? I’m curious what you can expect to be a reasonable number of miles on a Caravan, Oddessy or Sienna if you were to be traveling 900 miles on Christmas Eve or New Years Day? Breakdowns with a family of six in this situation can get very expensive fast, so replacing the vehicle before it breaks can make financial sense. How far would you recommend pushing it?

Assumptions; minivans are purchased new and all regular maintenance is done. Do you have any thoughts on the various models and do any of them have timebombs under the hood?

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Piston Slap: The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men…

TTAC commentator sprite948 writes:

Sajeev,

I once owned, to my sorrow, a 1978 Saab Turbo. The bearings in the snail went belly up in about 50,000 miles, which pretty much made the turbo a maintenance item that needed regular replacement.

So now we see increasing numbers of vehicles with smallish engines with turbos. What’s your estimate of their longevity?

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Piston Slap: The Heat Is On!

Ramin writes:

Sajeev,

I am not a TTAC member, but I read it almost daily. I suppose I should join soon. Anyway having read your “piston slap: we need your help” post, I have one that has been stumping me for about a year now:

The car is an 08 Impreza STI. For the past year or so, the power steering struggles and whines. It is much worse when the car is cold, doubly so when the weather and the car are cold. There is no belt squeal. I have tried flushing and bleeding, both with factory fluid and also with the Lucas stop-leak stuff. Modest initial improvement only lasts a little while. Subaru forum posts suggest the STI cooks its PS fluid because the fluid lines route near hot turbo components. However it seems now even with fresh fluid, the problem persists, leading me to suspect a component has gone bad. I don’t want to drop over $600 for a new pump. Are there any tricks you know of, like for example, replacing a particular gasket? Or, better yet, some advice on narrowing down exactly what the culprit is (short of replacing the whole freaking pump)?

Thanks a lot and keep up the good work – I love the site and what you all have done with it.

Sajeev answers:

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Hammer Time Rewind: 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: Why Toyota Lost Its Sport

Back in 1992 Toyota was at the forefront of quality engineering.

The Lexus nameplate had become the best selling import luxury brand in North America thanks to ES, LS and SC models that were easily among the most over-engineered vehicles of the time. 200k became not only an achievement for most Toyotas, but an expectation as well, and the models of that time were rolling testaments to a culture that prioritized the principles of Kaizen (continuous improvement) and Muda (the minimzation of waste) above all else.

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Piston Slap: Um, Like, No! (UPDATE)

Luke writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Thank you again for publishing my question on the LR3. While the beautiful white Landy that originally set a hook in me was a possibility up to the very end, ironically the air conditioning stopped working while my wife was test driving it. That told me everything I needed to know. We’ve been doing some hardcore car shopping over the past week. We have decided on a vehicle, but first I’ll tell you about the ones that didn’t make the cut:

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Hammer Time: Ten Ways To Change Your Oil (Without Killing Yourself Or Others)

It’s an unbelievable pain. Or a pleasure worthy of a cold beer on a hot summer day.

Changing oil in a car can either be a 1-2-3 process that gives you an instant feeling of afternoon achievement. Or a painful and miserable endeavor that leaves stains on your clothes, oil slicks on your driveway, and cuss words on the tip of your tongue.

The question every car owner has to ask is, “Will this be worth my time?”

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Piston Slap: Um, Like, No!

Luke writes:

Hi Sajeev:

Unlike a lot of those seeking your sage advice, I’m not going to ask you whether or not I should buy a different car. I know I am buying a different car. My mind is made up, so don’t take any of my words as a question about soldiering on with what I have. My summer car is a mint, nicely upgraded 1994 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 (full Spohn/Strano suspension, hopped up LT1, Corvette brakes, etc) with 60K miles and it is not going anywhere. What I need is a new winter/utility vehicle…

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Piston Slap: E36, The Immaculata!

Robert writes:

Sajeev –

My wife drives a 1998 328i that we bought new for her- it currently has 64,300 miles on it. She drives it more or less daily (just not very far) so we couldn ’t just get rid of it; it would have to be replaced. I call this car ”The Immaculata” as it lives in covered parking and is often mistaken by her un-car-savvy girlfriends as almost new.

Unfortunately that isn’t the case. It got a new hood and fender after ”an incident”, and it’s ticked off the list of usual E36 demands. New shocks, radiator, etc. However it’s gotten everything it wanted including regular oil changes and radiator and brake flushes and a transmission flush as well.

Now it’s advanced down the list to having the HVAC mix door slam open when the heat comes on. My Independent macanic say $1,500 to fix that but it annoys the wife.

Thought about replacing the car, but I’m kind of stuck. She’s used to her heated seats and the easy power of the BMW. The suggestion of a new Mini was sneered at. However obviously this car, even in great condition as it is won’t be worth enough to make the trade for a new 3 – and she won’t eventry driving my 2011 anyhow.

So… should I bite the bullet and fix the noise she’s complaining about, bite the shotgun shell and dump it while it’s as valuable as it will ever get and buy a new car she doesn’t want, or tell her she’s crazy and that I don’t hear the noise?

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Piston Slap: Preventative Maintenance or Over Medication?

TTAC Commentator Silent Ricochet writes:

Hello Sajeev,

You’ve helped me greatly in the past, and I once again turn to you for your knowledge of used cars and reliability.

To refresh your memory, I drive a 2002 Chevy Cavalier Z24. It’s a 5-Speed Manual, with the 2.4L Quad 4 motor in it, not the lifeless 2.2. I’m about to hit 145k and I’ve got a few concerns about the car and what I should exactly do with it.

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Piston Slap: Keep the Jeep, Change Your Name?

John writes:

What sort of upgrades would you recommend for a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited? I bought it to replace my 300CE, which was the feature of a previous Piston Slap. I am planning on keeping this one for the foreseeable future. The only problems with it right now are broken fog lights, the rear window wiper is frozen, and God-awful gas mileage. Aside from the wiper and the fog lights, is there anything you would recommend?

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Hammer Time: Finding A Cheap Ride

Most auto auctions will have an ‘inop sale’ right before the regular sales begins.

Inop sales consist of vehicles that don’t run for one reason or another. It could need little more than a battery or a fuel pump. Or it could be that the electric system is fried, the engine is toast, and the car is truly worth more dead than alive.

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Piston Slap: Of Winter Tires and The Nrburgring Daihatsu?

Bill writes:

Sajeev,

I read your column (a while back – SM) lamenting the drop off of correspondence relating to automotive issues of the failing mechanical kind, and I was moved sufficiently enough to set up your email address and respond with a situation leaning near the “no matter how stupid” edge of the spectrum.

My wife’s car is a 1996 Honda Civic LX 4 door, silver in color, 4 speed automatic transmission, and boasting the passing of 113,000+ miles with nary a problem other than the failing of 2 oxygen sensors around 55,000 miles each time.

I have kept to the maintenance schedule with religious fervor since our purchase of the vehicle in 1997 with 9,500 miles showing on the odometer. I do change the oil & filter myself because of the predilection of anyone changing oil professsionally to overfill the reservoir, thus prompting me to have to go under the car and drain out the excess.

But I digress.

My problem with the car is that it sits in the garage about 98% of the time because my wife does not drive except on those rare occasions when the Dollar Tree beckons with false promises of quantity and quality at a low price – kind of like Hyundai during their early days.

In spring I mount UHP summer tires, and in winter I mount dedicated winter tires in hopes that having the proper rubber meeting the road regardless of weather will spur a desire within my wife to back out of the garage and go forth into the world.

But that is rarely the case, so I am wondering if I am spending $65.00 twice a year to dismount and mount tires on the same wheels for the purpose of covering about 3,000 miles per annum is a waste of money or if I should buy a new set of sharp looking alloy wheels for the summer tires and leave the winter tires on the Acura GSR twisties currently on the car.

Failing that I have attached my never read by anyone story about the Daihatsu Midget doing a lap of the famed Nurburgring. Hopefully it will provide a few moments of amusement as you wait patiently for someone to provide a more useful quandery of the automotive kind to ponder.

Sincerely and Seriously,
Bill

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Piston Slap: In God We Rust, Part II

Keith writes:

Hello Sajeev,

My conundrum is as follows: I am a graduate student with another 1.5 years left of school. I commute at least 200-300 miles a week living in rural Maine (so a car is a must for me). My ride for the last 4 years has been a 2002 Mazda Protege5 with manual transmission. Bought in August 2007 with 69,000 miles, now at 143,000 miles. The car has never outright let me down and I love the balance between fuel efficiency, utility of the hatch, and fun to driver factor. What I don’t love is that it keeps rusting away. I have had minor rust repairs performed in the past to get it to keep passing inspections – the rear wheel wells, the floor beneath the rear seats. The rust around the windshield became bad enough that it started to let a little rain water in (though me and a tube of silicone quickly “cured” that). This car is by no means cosmetically perfect anymore, but it still drives great and has been kept up mechanically. Again, grad student – I feel like I am supposed to have a beat up looking car.

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Hammer Time: It Takes A Meaning, To Catch A Meaning

It was a long, boring, wonderful weekend.

I had no deeds to do, and no promises to keep. Other than spending time with the family and getting better acquainted with old Simon & Garfunkel songs, I pretty much had the time to myself.

It wasn’t until late Sunday that a piece of news would forever change my life.

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Piston Slap: The Folly of the 90-degree V6?

TTAC commentator Jerszy writes:

Dear Sajeev;

Hopefully you & your fantastic community can help me here.

I recently purchased a 2002 Dodge Dakota Sport 4X4 (3.9 V6, 67k, Auto).

I bought it to replace my 2002 Cougar Sport Package (2.5 V6, 64K, Manual, speed-limited to 139mph) which as you know is not a good suburban truck and can’t really haul things. The Cougar was a fun car, very agile and could haul me around town and being a kitty-car it really did purr. Unfortunately it had to live outside in the rusty north for the last 6 years and was starting to age rapidly. Since I live in a “snow belt” (avg. snowfall ~120 inches a year) it had to be 4 wheel drive.

Now the Dakota is a definitely a truck. Almost as big as the ‘76 Silverado I had 30 years ago and just as four-wheelie as the ‘84 Toyota 4X4 truck I replaced it with. (That Toyota rusted, rusted, rusted so much I had to fabricate a wooden bed for it in 1987!)

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Piston Slap: Gender-based Automotive Discrimination?

Brian writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Love reading TTAC – thanks for all the entertainment. Responding to your request for more stupid questions, I have one ripe for pontification.

I am a (male) small business owner with two small children and I’m looking for a new vehicle. I’m a big guy and with all the stuff kids have, I can’t get something too small. Nevertheless, in my search I’ve been toying lately with this question: What makes a car “manly/masculine” or “girly/feminine”? I understand that a two ton hunk of metal cannot in itself take on gender-specific characteristics, but there are definitely cars that women tend to call “cute” and cars that men tend to look at as “awesome”. Can anyone really look me in the eye and tell me that a VW Jetta or a small SUV strikes them as “manly”?

But picking such a car before hearing the reactions almost seems counter-intuitive. At first glance you may think that mustang coupes would be “manly”, but lately it seems that more women are buying them than men. SUVs are supposed to be big and tough, but more women use them for carpool duty than for off-road or towing duty. Same problem with trucks these days or, for that matter, just about any other segment. All the online lists of “manly” cars seem to detail special trims of expensive, ostentatious, or otherwise impractical vehicles with twice the horsepower I need. Below the 50k mark, are there any “manly” somewhat normal family-capable cars out there? Does a car have to have some exclusivity to it (i.e. either by price, customization, or a limited edition)? Is it a matter of power/engine/trim (i.e. Audi A4 vs. S4)? Color choice (interior/exterior)? Does size REALLY matter?

Are there elements of car design that tend to appeal more to men than women (or vice versa)?

I know, the answer can largely be in the eye of the beholder, and I’m interested in your opinion. Call me shallow, but I covet the envious stares of others on the road.

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Hammer Time: Are Shareholders Worth It?

Capitalism has no loyalties.

Everybody is replaceable.

Products. Employees. Employers. Services. Alliances. Joint Ventures. Financiers. Even the executives of multinational firms along with their board of directors are only as good as whatever quarterly numbers can be cooked up by their ‘independent’ auditing firm.

Capitalism is the ultimate “Let’s go!”, “Do it!” and “Screw you!” of economic systems. You name the angle or need in capitalism, and chances are that there is a market substitute that can immediately fill the gap. Even government regulations can be routinely challenged by trade organizations, international courts, and the all too common political handshake.

All this reality happens… on paper.

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Piston Slap: Starting the Game All Over Again?

Dave writes:

Sajeev,
I’m a sales rep for a corporate auto supplier in the Detroit area. I currently drive a 2008 Dodge Magnum SXT that I put around 5000 kms per month and currently has 165000kms. Bought it as a lease back with 30000kms in 2009 and it’s completely paid off.

My question is – Do I drive the Magnum for another year, putting the mileage up over 200000 and far reduce the residual value or do I trade it in on a low mileage Explorer, Flex, or Durango and start the process over again getting more cash value for the Mag. There’s no real reason to dump the Magnum – It’s in fantastic shape and aside from regular maintenance and some front end suspension work, hasn’t emptied my pockets.

Just looking for another point of view and some insight into what the residual value over time and mileage looks like for the situation.

Thanks,
Dave

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Piston Slap: An Irrational Preference for Hyundais?

JP writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I though myself out of asking this question, then your asked for more questions, so…What’s the best way to sell a beat-up 2002 Hyundai “Satan Fe” without feeling guilty about it?

Not so long ago, I married into a family with an irrational preference for Hyundais. In order of purchase (all new): 2002 Santa Fe 2.7L AWD, 2003 Santa Fe 3.3L FWD, 2006 Santa Fe 3.3L FWD, 2009 Azera, 2011 Tucson. All bought with about as much consideration as I put into buying shoes. The upside: hand-me-downs.

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Hammer Time: Mere Stones

Dad: Douglas?

Son: Can you call me Doug?

Dad: Maybe in the next life Douglas. Listen. I am very proud of you for the good grades in college. You’re really applying yourself. So I’m going to match your funds and help you buy a car.

Son: You’re kidding! You realize that my savings are well into the four figures these days and not the three.

Dad: Yes. And you realize that I am going to expect to have some authority over what you buy.

Son: You mean veto power.

Dad: And then some…

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Hammer Time: A Tale Of Two Car Cultures

In much of the undeveloped world, wealth and poverty have a permanence for individuals. The governments own or subsidize the most lucrative businesses. Access to credit and capital is scant for the average citizen. Food resources are a priority, and higher education is often times solely for the wealthy and well-connected.

It’s hard to build a good life when corruption, bribery, and the ‘thug mentality’ are a big part of daily life. Arab Springs, Civil Wars, Fascisms of every stripe. The aftermath of allying with all these dictatorships and other criminal organizations is a culture that preys on weakness.

What does this have to do with cars? Everything and then some, sad to say. Let me introduce you to two groups that epitomize everything I see in this business as a car dealer here in the United States.

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Hammer Time: Not Fancy, Just Fleeting

While vacationing in the land of neverending chotchkies and kitsch, I came across Jack Baruth’s recent article on Captivas.

This second-tier Chevrolet is getting a stiff price premium at the auctions these days for two simple reasons.

1) GM is willing to throw more financing at this vehicle than it’s actually worth… at least the first 50 coming through their auctions.

2) There will likely be at least 50 people willing to pay that premium, and then some. Just to have any late model vehicle.

The first reason is nothing more than an old trick used by manufacturers for decades on end at the auctions. Limit supply. Finance aggressively. Hope that the ever larger loads of off-lease and rental vehicles that follow can hit a similar price premium.

Other than a few early victories, the manufacturer has to bow down to the limits of their dealer network and financing arm. Then the independent dealers enter the fray and the price finds an equilibrum that may yield profits for everyone. From the bean counters, to the shareholders, to the consumers. Everyone wins!

Except, in GM’s unique case, the Captiva has been a fleet-only vehicle. Which brings on the question. Do fleet-only models make sense?

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Piston Slap: The Ultimate Commute?
TTAC reader LeMansteve writes:

Hi Sajeev,

It’s convenient you just posted your plea for emails because I have been letting one brew for a while now. I have been following TTAC for about a year now. I’ve been conflicted on a classic question for quite a while now and thought I would open it up to you and the TTAC readers. Here is my situation:

My daily driver is a 2004 330i sedan (6-speed stick, of course). My commute is long and the car is going to reach 110k soon. For my daily commute, I have 2 routes to choose from.

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Piston Slap: The Case for an Extended Warranty

Rémi writes:

Might be weak, but since you’re asking for questions, here’s mine.

Just got a 2011 BMW 335d late last year (Diesel FTW!), love the car and torque so far and getting 35 mpg with it, but I am a bit afraid of the long term reliability of this extra complicated German engineering marvel. BMW is offering an extended warranty from 4 years/50K miles to 6 years/100K miles for about $2500. I am guessing they think they would come out ahead statistically, which would lead me to not pay for the extension, but I’d hate to be the statistical anomaly given the price of parts and labor…

Hope this helps, and looking forward for the answer!

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Piston Slap: There's a Misfire on the Frontier!
Nate writes:

Hi Sajeev,

You asked for some emails, so here’s one from me. It may not be Piston Slap worthy, but it’s got me confused. Here’s my problem:

I have a 1998 Nissan Frontier. 150k miles, 2.4l four banger. It threw a Service Engine light on me the other day. The code is a P0301, i.e. cylinder #1 misfire. Figuring it was a spark plug issue, and since I was about due for a tune up anyway, I replace the plugs, wires, distributor cap and rotor. I cleared the code with my scanner, and….it came right back. I did a little creeping on the Nissan forums, and the consensus seems to be that this results from clogged EGR passages. So this past weekend I decided to clean them. I was lead to believe that this would be a cake walk. All that was required was to remove the set screws between the intake runners, spray some carb cleaner in there and scrub them out. Easier said than done. Removing the screws was not too bad, but putting them back in after cleaning was nigh impossible. 5 hours and sawed off 8mm Allen wrench later, I had the plugs back in. My truck ran great! For 20 minutes. Then the code came back. Now I’m pretty much flummoxed. The way I see it, my options are:

1. Remove the air cleaner assembly and manifold screws again and try cleaning them more thoroughly with a pipe brush and more carb cleaner
2. Try something like Seafoam through a vacuum hose. I am reluctant to do this as I’m not 100% sure which hose to use and opinions on Seafoam are mixed
3. Take my vehicle to a mechanic for a more professional diagnosis. I do have access to a reputable independent mechanic who specializes in Nissans and Toyotas

So, what do the B&B think? Anyone else had this problem with a Nissan KA24DE 4 cylinder?

Thanks for your help.

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Piston Slap: Demand Satisfaction…via YouTube?

TTAC commentator hidrotule2001 writes,

Sajeev,

I’ve got an intermittent, befuddling problem with the manual transmission in my 2011 Ford Fiesta: The shifter will periodically refuse to move into 4th gear.

This usually happens 10-15 minutes after the car is started, and mostly during warm weather (but I’ve never been able to consistently reproduce the behavior). When i say it refuses to move into 4th gear, I mean with the clutch fully engaged (peddle to the floor) attempting to move the shifter into 4th position feels like trying to shift into 1st gear when going 60 miles an hour; like there is some sort of synchro problem.

Moving the shifter back to the neutral position and trying again doesn’t change the behavior (the shifter never gets far out of the neutral position to begin with). Down-shifting to 3rd, and then trying to shift again does get rid of the problem (at least so far), which is why I haven’t been able to demonstrate it to the dealer.

The car is 100% stock, and only has 10.5k miles on it. I’ve done some searching on various forums and the closest I’ve found is a couple of posts on Mustang forums with similar issues where the transmission fluid was low, but I’ve had that checked and everything is within spec.

Any ideas on what might be causing this? The problem is an annoyance right now, but I wonder if it might indicate an underlying issue that could get worse as time goes on…

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Hammer Time: Neglect, Abuse, Rust, and Crap!

“You know what? The average person who lives in the South could probably own two new cars for their entire lifetime.”

“Steve! What are ya? Nuts?!”

“No. Think about it Tim. The average person in the future will probably drive about 10k miles a year. Let’s say they get a new car when they’re 22.”

“A new car? Really? Are we talking about a newly minted college grad? Or someone who actually works?”

“Someone who works… look. You can buy the new car in your 20’s. Maintain it well. Wax it once a year or so. Don’t drive too aggressively. Here in Georgia you have smooth roads, no rust…”

“And shiny happy people holding hands! Look Steve. You’re a frugal fellow. Maybe even cheap. Maybe a tightwad. Maybe one of the cheapest bastards I’ve ever met…”

“Well Tim, spare me your usual compliments. My theory still holds. I think the average car of recent times can hit 300k or 30 years if it’s driven conservatively and maintained well…”

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Piston Slap: Damned If You Do…

Kurt writes:

Dear Sajeev,

I’m writing about if/when/how to change the transmission fluid in modern automobiles. It’s been my experience when changing the fluid on a vehicle with > 100,000 miles and original tranny, the odds of trans problems within 5,000 miles rise dramatically. The consensus on the interwebs is this was true for older cars, but not necessarily modern vehicles using synthetic fluid. First my history…I’m only listing the cars where I actually changed the fluid. 89 Suburu GL – Fluid Changed at 120,000, total trans failure at 125k. 94 Chevy S10 blazer, trans fluid change at 115k, trans failure at 123k. Current: 2006 Honda Odyssey – Trans Fluid Change at 95K, Torque Converter starting to go out at 100K (yeah, I know this is a weak spot on this vehicle regardless) – wondering if I should change out the rest of the fluid before having someone look at the torque converter?. Additionally what to do about my 2003 Chevy Trailblazer LS (2wd) …..145k, original transmission, original owner, no trans fluid changes ever. The quick lube joint says fluid color is off – looks good enough to me though. I’d like to keep the truck a few more years due to the blood sweat and tears already invested in repairs.

I’ve read that Trans Fluid power flushes can cause more harm than good, and a standard fluid change only swaps a % of the fluid – normally needing 3 of those to get a full fluid swap. Add the twist of certain vehicles needing “special” fluid such as Hondas and it’s hard to say if my failures are due to improper technique by improperly trained quick lube employees, improper fluid, or if changing the fluid isn’t really needed! I always say “I’ll change the trans fluid when the trans fails”. I’m a mild wrench head, some blacked fingernails to prove it ….if my setup allowed it I’d love to change my own fluid – no one cares as much as the owner. However I stopped changing my own fluids after an Exxon Valdez-like accident on my driveway. Any advice on this topic?

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Piston Slap: The Cadillac Hack

Geek alert! This one is tech-heavy!

TTAC Commentator Skor writes:

Sajeev,

Not a question, but it’s good to know that as long as there are cars there are people who will come up with hacks, no matter how complicated things get.

I have an 1992 Cadillac Seville and the blower motor fan disintegrated and jammed up the blower motor, which in turn shorted out the blower resistor. The squirrel cage disintegrated. I checked inside the blower housing to see if there was anything loose, but I could find nothing except pieces of the fan. All of this stuff was OE, no one has been in there since the car came from the factory. I’m sure someone at GM thought that saving a nickel on plastic was a good idea. Well, I bought a new motor/fan assembly and installed it. Wasn’t too bad, about $40. When I tried it, it was a no-go. Next thing I do is check the fuse (30 amp) it was fine. Then I checked the blower motor controller. It was blown. Crap! Apparently when the fan blew up, it jammed the motor, which then took out the motor controller. I’m thinking to myself:

“Nice engineering. The components on this circuit blow before the fuse does. WTF is the fuse for?”

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Piston Slap: Honda Fanboi, Beater Enthusiast, Wannabe Racer?

Carleton writes:

Sajeev,

I have two essentially unrelated questions but both seemingly require something that I greatly lack: money. I’m a 22 year old engineering student in New Hampshire and have been around cars my whole life. Over the past few years, I’ve purchased several older motorcycles on craigslist very inexpensively, sorted the mechanical issues, cleaned them up and sold each on for a solid profit ($500 to $1000 profit per bike). While this has been fun, cars have always been my real passion. Working on motorcycles has given me the confidence to tackle a project of a larger scale, so I am seeking advice to realize two long awaited desires. I am currently working and making around $1000 per month and can play with about $200-$300 every month. Furthermore, I have access to my grandfather’s a large garage with pretty much every tool needed to do any automotive work.

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Hammer Time: Sometimes It Pays to Be a Damn Yankee!

As a 20 year Northern transplant, I have been told that there are 3 types of yankees here in Georgia.

Most of you already know that a yankee is a northern fellow who comes down, stays for a short time, and heads back up North.

A damn yankee is a northern fellow who stays… forever.

A damn good yankee, is a yankee who marries another yankee and they both move back up North.

I happen to be a fourth and fifth type of yankee. The one who marries a southerner and stays… which makes me a damn damn yankee. Along with this is my penchant for frugality, which makes me a damn damn cheap yankee.

I don’t mind being considered any type of damn Yankee. Heck I even grew up rooting for the New York Yankees in a North Jersey neighborhood infested with Met fans. But as for being cheap…

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Piston Slap: The Ideal Aussie Indie Film Star?
James writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I’m a university student completing their honours degree in screen production. My project for this year is making a short drama/comedy about a young man and his car (surprise, surprise!), so I’m looking for old, tidy cars with character.

My search has come down to a yellow 1983 Volvo 244 GL 3sp auto, offered to me for $500AUD with no registration – the pictures I’ve been given shows a very straight, tidy old brick, but it could respond well to a good polish. The bad? The car has been sitting around for at least a few months (could even be closer to a year…), which causes worries. I’m told it drove quite well before it was put away and the owners in question are quite mechanically minded and love their bricks, so I’m lead to believe it will be a good car. However, if I buy this car and it doesn’t work, suddenly I’m out of money and I don’t have a car for my film. So is there anything I should be wary of and check to ensure clean health? Any brick nuts want to chime either?

For you brick nuts, it’s an ’83 244 GL with the B23 and the 3 speed automatic. It’s done 280,000 kilometres/170k miles. I’m from Australia so I’m sure someone will school me on how we got the better bricks and USDM got shafted or something along those lines!

Speedy response would be lovely before I loose my money!

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Piston Slap: Has The World Gone Mad?

Clint writes:

It seems odd to me that some old Japanese cars are becoming collectible. Some cars are understandable like Toyota 2000gt, 240z, RX3, etc. It seems that rarity plays a huge role in what people consider collectible. A good example is a Toyota Cressida Wagon. Its not a sports car, its not attractive but it some how has some pizazz. I do not foresee many American Classics from the mid 70’s becoming collectible. There will be a few but it seems like people love Datsun, Toyota and Mazda’s from that era. Even low mile Subaru’s are become collectible. Has the world gone mad?

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Hammer Time: The Consequences of Self-Delusion

Like many politicians during their recreational moments, cars can make some unique and funny noises once they experience the stresses of the open road.

Some of them are quite normal such as the ‘vroom’ of the engine. The ‘roar’ of the tire, and the ‘squeaky squeaky’ of a worn suspension over a series of bumps.

But what about the ‘clunk’ of loose steering components? Or the metallic ‘clanging’ of a brake system well past it’s maintenance time?

The majority of drivers simply like to delay the inevitable.

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Hammer Time: Vandalism

The fellow had spent nearly three hours on the road. Just to drive a 10 year old Isuzu SUV.

Traffic cones. Construction. Stalls and accidents. By the time he got to my lot he was already emotionally spent, and it was only 10:00 A.M.

Then he saw it.

The front passenger tire was flatter than a Ford Festiva going through the crusher. I was at the bank when he called. Hadn’t even opened the lot yet. Finally when I got there I noticed that an old Lincoln Mark VIII had two tires flat as well.

It wasn’t a coincidence.

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Piston Slap: A Real Caddy, A Once in a Lifetime Deal…

TTAC commentator Kenzter writes:

Sajeev,

I recently picked up a 1969 Cadillac Sedan Deville. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime deals you only hear about, like my uncles cousins sister is selling her deceased husbands garage queen for pennies on the dollar deal.

My problem is, the Automatic Climate Control (a $550 option!) does not work. The only settings that trigger any response are FOG and ICE. Even then, I can only hear the blower motor and just barely feel air from the floor vents. Where to begin the troubleshooting?

Thanks,
Kenzter

Sajeev answers:

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Hammer Time: Is America Becoming The Land Of The Suckers?

Suckers come in all shapes and sizes.

They can be a young guy with college loans in his mid-20’s who is charged $800+ for a $100 repair. Or an elderly couple on a fixed income who is encouraged to sign on the dotted line with a malevolent seller.

Every single American has probably been a sucker at some point in their lives when it comes to cars. Young, old, smart, not so smart, confident, fearful… and in all cases, struggling with the unfamiliar. Our society is not one that de-fangs the predators or educates the victims. It is a debtful and litigious one that encourages money to be thrown into every which direction but personal accountability.

Or does it? Frugality is supposedly the in thing these days… and cars are now kept longer than ever. As a life long debt hater, I would like to think that there are far fewer suckers than before. Especially when it comes to cars.

But the numbers tell me otherwise.

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Hammer Time Rewind: 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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Piston Slap: Dumping Your 9-5? 10-4 on That!

Curt writes:

Sajeev,

I’m looking for some Saab selling advice. A couple of years ago I convinced my girlfriend that she would love the functionality and performance of a 2002 Saab 9-5 turbo wagon (5-spd)… perhaps in some small part because I wanted one myself. As she fell in love with the Saab I grew to hate its constant need for attention and respect its ability to find new and creative ways to fail.

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Hammer Time: Your Worst Deal Ever

There is an old saying that, “Victory has a hundred fathers. But defeat is an orphan.” JFK has been attributed to having said this quote right after the Bay of Pigs with the word ‘thousand’ replacing ‘hundreds’. But the truth is that those words originated from a far worse time. Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Foreign Minister to Benito Musolini, was the one who may have popularized this saying. Or it could have been the peasants of his hometown. Or perhaps his parents. To be frank, I think most philosophical sayings originate from parents while they’re raising their kids.

What does this have to do with our cars? Well, in our modern world we call cars that start 99.5% of the time, “Bad!”. Cars are usually more reliable than the kids and adults who drive them… and why not? Reliability is a given today just as plastic has become an acceptable interior adornment in most cars.

Durability is also a given as well. Yesterday’s 150,000 miles is now trumped by today’s 250,000 miles. Let’s be blunt about it. Most cars, if properly taken care of, can last well beyond our willingness to keep them.

But there are exceptions…

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Piston Slap: To Test in 4WD…or Not?

Jonathon writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Long time reader, not a commenter though. I have simple situation, and a simple question. Last Friday my beloved, and owned from birth, 1995 Grand Prix GTP developed a head gasket leak. This is something I can, with father-in law help, tackle in the summer. However living in Northern Ontario, a driveway repair is just not an option right now. It’s time for a new ride.

Since all those years ago I did not give my wife (g.f. at the time) any option into the purchase, this time around it will be something we both are in love with. Sadly that leaves a V6 Mustang or the 2013 Genesis 3.8 out. Also we lost our niece at the beginning of the year in a highway car accident that killed three other teenagers (the quality of highway maintenance is now privatized and sub-par). Anyways, that has my wife eying a 4×4\awd even more then ever.

Top on her list is a 2012 Wrangler Sahara Unlimited (bare bones except auto & A\C). The mileage for this is 16\20. Our car, new, apparently was 16\24. From our sleepy little city to Toronto is ~360km. At the current 1.28\l, it would mean another $14 there and back for one of our escapes to the big city. So the question I have is, when the EPA tested the wrangler did they do it in 4wd, so that we could expect to see better mileage, or 2wd, and that is what we should expect?

Regards,

Jonathan

ps…anyone have any suggestions for a driveway mechanic preparing to replace a headgasket on a 1995 Pontiac 3.4 with DOHC?

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Piston Slap: Stupid Question, or Stupid Answer?

TTAC Commentator tresmonos writes:

Sajeev,

I recently wrote you about my dilemma of m y dying cavalier and should I purchase a ST Focus when they come out. My question is: how easy is it to convert a v belt to a standard ‘grooved’ serpentine belt? My ’84 Diesel Fox body has mostly sat since I’ve started my new job, but back when I had time and excellent southern weather to work on it, I had rebuilt the alternator, rewired the main line from the alternator to the battery (removed the high voltage line from the main loom) and was messing around with different pullies to see if I could solve the age old dilemma that plagues these diesels: thrown v belts.

The v belt drives the alternator and the water pump. Diesel Fox’s are rare as those v belts get tossed, octogenarians would limp their beloved Lincoln home, then crack their Ford meth inspired, paper thin, specific head to a BMW M21. Sad grandma and grandpa.

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Hammer Time: The Beater Index

Everybody believes they know what a beater is.

“My old 10 year old Chevy Cavalier is a real beater!”, they may remark in some self-affirming way. “Why it’s old and it has 120k miles, and the paint is faded… and…”, they will continue to go through the list on the mistaken belief that any car made in the late Clinton to Bush era is a beater. They’re not. At least not quite yet. Any car that can be scanned or diagnosed with a conventional OBDII scanner is not a beater.

Then there is the modern day Yuppie beater. “I have a late 90’s Mercedes E-Class that’s a true beater!” Never mind that the car would fit in at any country club if the owner bothered to give it a good detail.

In my humble opinion, these types of cars are not beaters at all. What qualifies? Well let’s go through the list shall we?

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Piston Slap: Talk Me Off the Ledge!!!

TTAC Commentator PartsUnknown writes:

Sajeev,

Long story short, a family friend has an ’86 944 non-turbo sitting in her driveway in suburban Massachusetts. It belongs to her son who lives in Manhattan. Although he loves the car, it simply does not fit his current lifestyle. He wants to sell it, but is not actively pursuing it. His mother is constantly suggesting that I buy it (she knows my predilection for cars). Here’s the deal: it’s been sitting for a few years, driven sparingly. It appears to be in good cosmetic condition and it apparently runs. I know these cars are expensive to maintain.

I’m a busy man, with a wife and two young kids, a demanding career and a Saab 9-5 that I like to tinker with to satisfy my inner mechanic. I value time with my family above all, and while focusing on saving for retirement and college tuition, probably couldn’t afford to dump massive amounts of money into this car. The only reason I’m even considering it is that this guy’s mother has hinted that he just wants to get rid of it, and she said laughing, “he’d probably take $1,000 for it”. Question is, should I even entertain the idea? What, at minimum, would it cost to get this thing roadworthy as a weekend ride considering its relative lack of use (keeping in mind I’m a middling DIYer)? I’m leaning no, but $1,000 for a decent 944 seems like a no-brainer. Almost. I previously owned a 1986 911 Carrera Coupe, which was a fantastic car, but I sold it for precisely the reasons stated above – to prioritize time with my family over spending a Saturday replacing blower motors and ball joints.

Talk me off the ledge.

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Piston Slap: Crystal Ballin' the Bling-Free Altima!

Peter writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I drive a 97 Nissan Altima GLE with a leather interior and 180,000 miles on it. I’m wondering:

1. How much longer will this car be a reliable daily driver? It is immaculate. I am the 2nd owner, and I have the receipts going back to the window sticker.

2. What car is most similar to my Altima that will be five years old at the time I need to replace it? I drive 15,000 miles a year. A new car is not an option, because I can’t take the new car stench.

The best trait about my car is that it has a muted interior with no brightwork. This makes it good for Southern California and great for my trips across the desert. With my next car, I am willing to forget the leather interior and the sunroof. I am also not averse to replacing it with a manual. A muted interior, however, is a must. If I’m stuck with brightwork and chromed plastic, I will black it out myself.

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Hammer Time Rewind: The Seven Deadly Sins

There are some cars that no one will appreciate… but the owners. A bad brand name. Fatal and expensive defects from times past. Even a body style made of a designer’s frump can turn a brilliant vehicle into a showroom relic. This week I majored in buying unloved cars. Seven cars. Seven sins. More than likely seventy-seven plus days on the pavement.

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Piston Slap: A Sticky Subie Situation?

TTAC commentator gessvt writes:

Sajeev –

Looking for some advice on a “to sell or not to sell” situation. A little background: I’ve been a fairly faithful Blue Oval guy for most of my driving years, with a few brief forays into cheap, reliable imports for college duty, and a recent contract gig that required me to drive The General’s products (GMC Sierra 4×4, Saab 9-5 Aero and Chevy Cobalt SS). We also own a trouble free Monterey minivan and a perfect ’93 5.0 notchback. My new job has no such requirement, so I made the decision to pay cash for a unique, fun, safe daily driver.

I’m outside of Chicago, and with the exception of this year, am usually subjected to significant snowfall and slow-to-react city
plowing service. A friend left his WRX wagon with me last winter so that a local body shop buddy could do a quick bumper respray in order to sell it. We had a blizzard during this time, and the WRX had Blizzaks, so I drove it around and was *hooked*. This car had too many miles and had been subjected to his car-guy wrath, so I searched for the Holy Grail of Subarus: the 2005 Legacy GT 5-speed wagon.

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Piston Slap: D.I. Another Day?

TTAC Commentator edgett writes:

Sajeev –

I’ve got a 2007 BMW 335 which has a direct injection system. Although I enjoy the car, it has been through three fuel pumps in 35,000 miles and BMW has thankfully extended the warranty on the fuel pump to 100,000 miles and seven years. The benefits, however, are extraordinary. This engine gets excellent fuel mileage and makes fantastic power. So tell me why DI systems are so difficult that mighty Honda has yet to take the plunge!

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Piston Slap: Crossing Over Into Minivan Tow Ratings?

Mike writes:

Dear Sajeev,

I have been a fan of TTAC for a while now. I am motivated to write by the recent responses to towing with a 2005 Odyssey. Two years ago I bought a 2008 Toyota Sienna and a 21 foot (actual total length) travel trailer. The trailer has a GVWR of 3500 lb, which the Sienna is rated to tow with its towing package. I had an independent shop install a fluid-to-air ATF cooler, unfortunately, perhaps, choosing the smallest model as it was recommended for a 3500 lb tow. I was concerned about getting too much cooling in the winter. The van already had an ATF cooler in the radiator. I had them put in an ATF temperature gauge (before the radiator) at the same time. The towed weight of the trailer is several hundred pounds below the GVWR, but it has a front profile that is basically vertical. I have towed the trailer about 20,000 km (yes, I’m in Canada) and done what Toyota calls an ATF change three times. That’s actually a drain the pan and refill with 4 L of ATF, not really a change. Of course, I have no way of knowing how accurate the gauge is, but the highest it’s been on the highway is 220 F on a couple of grades in the BC mountains (Coquihalla highway). The temperature went down as soon as the grade did. It went up to 240 F or so for a few minutes while backing up a steep hill and around a bit of a corner into a storage yard. The van had 38,000 km on it when purchased and is now at 82,000 km.

Enough background. I am writing to ask why it is apparently okay to tow a larger trailer (5000 lb rating) with a Highlander but not a 3500 lb trailer with a Sienna. As far as I can tell, the engine, transmission and weight of the vehicles are basically the same. The internet is rife with posters who advise against towing with a minivan but seem to have no qualms about doing so with a SUV, except the very smallest.

What do you think?

Thanks very much for helping me out with this. I can find no answer to my question on the internet.

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Hammer Time: Who White Trashed This Car?

The 1998 Pontiac Grand Prix looked like it had got in a fight, and lost.

The front bumper was hanging perilously close to the ground. A big lick on the left hand side had smashed it up well and good, along with the left fender and hood. The body cladding on both sides of the vehicle had been stripped off. Leaving holes and plastic screw holders as the proverbial abusive pockmarks of the unloved.

Her seats were tore up… dashboard smashed… forget about a plain old beater. This one was beat all too hell. And you know what?

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Hammer Time: Three Billion Gallons
Like a sign on a door, this sum of financial flammables has indeed been given two meanings.The first is that it represents the daily gasoline usage of all of us here on planet Earth. Scooters, cars, industrial machines, toys, generators, plastics and petrochemical materials the world over all amount to this “deficits don’t matter” level of daily consumption.That number alone will be incredibly hard to change on a voluntary basis. Heck, it may indeed be close to the realm of impossible barring another financial crisis. But there is a smaller usage level that can be altered depending on… well… you!
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  • ToolGuy @Matt, let me throw this at you:Let's say I drive a typical ICE vehicle 15,000 miles/year at a typical 18 mpg (observed). Let's say fuel is $4.50/gallon and electricity cost for my EV will be one-third of my gasoline cost - so replacing the ICE with an EV would save me $2,500 per year. Let's say I keep my vehicles 8 years. That's $20,000 in fuel savings over the life of the vehicle.If the vehicles have equal capabilities and are otherwise comparable, a rational typical consumer should be willing to pay up to a $20,000 premium for the EV over the ICE. (More if they drive more.)TL;DR: Why do they cost more? Because they are worth it (potentially).
  • Inside Looking Out Why EBFlex dominates this EV discussion? Just because he is a Ford expert?
  • Marky S. Very nice article and photos. I am a HUGE Edsel fan. I have always been fascinated with the "Charlie Brown of Cars." Allow me to make a minor correction to add here: the Pacer line was the second-from-bottom rung Edsel, not the entry-level trim. That would be the Edsel Ranger for 1958. It had the widest array of body styles. The Ranger 2-door sedan (with a "B-pillar", not a pillarless hardtop), was priced at $2,484. So, the Ranger and Pacer both used the smaller Ford body. The next two upscale Edsel's were based on the Mercury body, are were: Corsair, and, top-line Citation. Although the 1959 style is my fav. I would love a '58 Edsel Pacer 4-door hardtop sedan!
  • Lou_BC Stupid to kill the 6ft box in the crewcab. That's the most common Canyon/Colorado trim I see. That kills the utility of a small truck. The extended cab was a poor seller so that makes sense. GM should have kept the diesel. It's a decent engine that mates well with the 6 speed. Fuel economy is impressive.
  • Lou_BC High end EV's are selling well. Car companies are taking advantage of that fact. I see quite a few $100k pickups in my travels so why is that ok but $100k EV's are bad? The cynical side of me sees car companies tack on 8k premiums to EV's around the time we see governments up EV credits. Coincidence? No fooking way.