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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Piston Slap: Pay No Attention to That Minder Behind the Curtain!

Bryan writes:


I bought a salvage-title 2007 Honda Fit with 73k miles. Since then I’ve put 10k miles on it.

The owner’s manual has no maintenance schedule. Instead, everything is driven by the “maintenance minder”. A small display shows alphanumeric codes when certain conditions are reached. For example, the “1A” service is oil, filter, and hose/boot checks. Other codes like “1C” and “2C” are more rigorous things like belts & plugs, trans fluid, etc. There is an infamous oil life monitor which, if followed, has me draining blackstrap molasses at enormous intervals.

I’m stumped as to the mileage or conditions that prompt these. Without any previous service history I don’t know when to change plugs (are they 30k or 100k plugs?), transmission fluids (either on a normal or severe schedule) or serpentine belt (it was nearly dust at 74k).

Is there a database that reveals the mileage behind these reminders? I’d like to keep the car as long as possible. I love it and I love car maintenance. How can I be a maintenance hypochondriac with a maintenance minder?

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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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Piston Slap: An Indistinguishable Ball of Rust?

Mike writes:

Good morning Sajeev.

Ask (for Piston Slap questions) and you shall receive. You are under no obligation to publish this assuming you receive more interesting material. Thanks for doing what you do.

You may remember me as one of your fellow Lincoln Mark VIII enthusiasts. The sway bars rock, and for now, I’m still running the OEM HIDs in my 2nd gen, hoping you find an aftermarket solution you deem adequate, and spread the word when the time comes. Although I do now own a pair of Doug’s delrin adapters, just in case.

But this isn’t about that car. Oh yes, it’s the Panther!

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Hammer Time Rewind: Tricking A Birddog

Every few months I get an unwanted creature in my life.

It smiles. It makes nice conversation, and for as long as I’m at the auction it almost never leaves me alone.

“What did you think about that car Steve?”, “How’s business going Steve?” “Are you going to bid on that car Steve?”

Rarely do I get sick of hearing my own name. But when it’s said for the sake of a one sided relationship, my mind wanders to deviant thoughts.

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Hammer Time: The Best Used Cars! Or Not…

The automotive world is infested with lists and rankings.

The 10 Best Here. The 10 Most There. Sometimes you may even find a 10 Least or a 10 Greatest. The range of expertise for such rancor can vary from truly knowledgable souls to borderline literary dope pushers with monetary agendas.

Personally, I enjoy the mental exercise. When you look at 20,000+ vehicles going through the lanes at the auto auctions every year for well over a decade, ranking becomes part of your work. The same is true for folks in traffic. Or those who take strolls through our streets. Or our junkyards.

Since every publication in the car business offers some type of “Best Car!” article, we here at TTAC have decided to do our own…

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Hammer Time: Choosing Partners

Commitment. It’s one of those words that is either an affirmation of your beliefs, or a fear ridden long-term deal with the devil.

Commitment also happens to be the double edged sword of automotive ownership.

It means sacrificing the fickle fashions of tomorrow for a vehicle that may gradually become more of a ‘daily companion’ than a passionate lover. While many of your friends and neighbors find new love and new trysts, you must chose to do more with an all too familiar partner for the open road.

Yes, the acceleration will gradually be in the rear view mirror of tomorrow’s front runners. The seats will age. The maintenance needs will lighten your wallet, and the avant garde of newness will give way to the less thrilling realities of beaterdom.

But then again, some partners offer a far better bang for the buck. Even when you’re reelin’ in the years and rollin’ away the time.

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Piston Slap: Shake, Shivers…so Roll!

TTAC commentator Kitzler writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Quick question everybody ignores: I personally do not like racing a cold engine. My last two cars, a Dodge and a Lexus, both had automatic transmissions. When the engine was cold, Summer or Winter, worse in Winter, you had to rev the engine to 3000. before it would shift properly. Worse, the automatic would not shift into top gear until the engine was lukewarm, a couple of miles. Now here is the clincher, as the cars got older, the couple miles became three. What gives?

Appreciate an answer about racing a cold engine and why the damn automatic won’t shift properly, thanks.

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Piston Slap: If You Must Tow With a Minivan…
TTAC Commentator 70Cougar writes:Dear Sajeev:

My wife has a 2005 Odyssey with 50,000 miles. To date, we’ve had no problems with the transmission, but I keep reading about how the transmission on the Odyssey isn’t cut out for a vehicle that heavy. I’ve been contemplating getting a utility trailer for it (although, shockingly, my wife isn’t too hip on having a utility trailer in the driveway) and, in the course of my research, I’ve found that a transmission cooler is recommended if you’re going to haul a trailer. Is it worthwhile to install a transmission cooler even if I don’t get a trailer? Is there any downside to transmission coolers (e.g., the trans runs cold for too long)?

My wife has a 5 mile commute (10 miles round trip) and we hope to keep the van at least another 5 years.

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Piston Slap: Bustin' Carbon Down Mexico Way!

TTAC commentator cacon writes:

Hello Sajeev,

I’m a long time reader, but not much of a poster. Anyway, I currently own a 2009 SEAT Leon (bought new, I’m from Mexico if you wonder how I got this car), which is basically a 5th gen VW Golf in drag, 1.8 TSI engine and 6 speed manual, 32k km in the odometer (about 20k miles) almost 100% of city stop and go traffic. Currently, there’s nothing wrong with the car, but today I took it to the dealership for the vehicle emissions tests (all good) and looking at all the services that they provide I found this: Engine Carbon Build Up Cleaning with Hydrogen, so I ask the service representative what it was, in he basically told me that a machine is connected to the fuel system of the car and they feed it with hydrogen and keep the car running for about half an hour, and that should remove all the carbon build ups in the system.

Reading this and other forums I learned about the propensity of major carbon build in the valves, regarding the direct injected engines, so I found this interesting. Googling this cleaning system, I rapidly found about it: OxyHydrogen Engine Carbon Cleaning, although I just barely read about using it in scooter engines.

Then it came to me!! Ask Master Sajeev about it!! So I’m wondering if you ever heard of this system and if it’s really effective in removing carbon build ups, or if it is a bad idea to ever think about it. Dealership charges about $50 to perform this service by the way….

Saludos desde México!!
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Piston Slap: of Lemons and VW GTIs

Paul writes:

Good Morning Sajeev,

Today is my 2010 GTI’s 15th day in the shop (shocking, right?). Earlier this month it was in for 13 days, I had it back for 6, and I dropped it back off two days ago. The issue is somewhat strange, but in my mind, easily fixable. I have been getting CEL 2294 and when I run my own VCDS scans, I have been getting the following logs (edited down).

  • 004501 – Fuel Pressure Regulator Valve (N276)
  • P1195 – 000 – Open or Short to Ground – Intermittent
  • 008852 – Fuel Pressure Regulator Valve (N276)
  • P2294 – 000 – Open Circuit – Intermittent
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Hammer Time: Read My Lips!

Taxes and fees are the pedal and the metal of state governments. Without em’, all you would be looking at is a bunch of big buildings with no one doing anything in them.

Most police cars would be busy hiding out in secret hideaways awaiting the next revenue source. Property taxes would go way up. Appraisals for those properties wouldn’t follow market realities, and the state and county governments would be busy up trying to drum up every pork barrel budget possible from the Federal government. From airports with no aviation traffic. To winding roads that lead to the eternal fountain of no accountability.

But then again, my kids need to be educated. Roads and sewers fall apart. Bad guys (and girls) need to be put away and rehabilitated. Parks need to be protected. The roads need to be repaired. Restaurants need to be hygenic. Fire departments. Libraries. Electric power. Water. Disaster relief…. and dare I say it… health care. That last one is a real big issue for a lot of folks.

How does the government pay for it all? Simple. By trying to be fair. Stop laughing.

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Piston Slap: Venom for the Plastic Triangle?

Chris writes:


Since you have a background in automotive design, I would be interested in your opinion on this matter…there has been one styling quirk that has always peeved me: the plastic filler panel where something else should have been.

The most (in)famous example is the plastic triangle on the C-pillar of the Dodge Sebring. I first started noticing this about 15 years ago on my brother’s Ford Contour: the rear door had a huge plastic filler panel behind the rear window where every other car made until then had a small fixed piece of glass. And I thought to myself: couldn’t they have come up with something better than a piece of plastic that’s already fading to chalky gray?

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Hammer Time: Buy! Buy Buy!

When do wholesale prices equal retail prices?

Think about it for a second. When do the prices of a consumer good become so expensive that there is virtually no markup?

Here are a few scenarios that I can come up with… given what I’ve seen at the auto auctions these days.

1) Extreme shortage of product and too many wholesale buyers.

2) Most everyone buying the product is financing it to sub-prime customers who only care about ‘the monthly payment’.

3) You have enough seasonal dealers, overseas buyers, and funny money that the laws of economics no longer apply.

Now having said that, I ended up buying five vehicles at one sale recently. My purchases were…

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Piston Slap: The Cupped Tire Quandary

Mark in Upper Kentucky writes:


Here’s a tire question for you to chew on: I just bought a new Mustang V6 (w/ the performance package), so I’ll soon put my ’07 Focus ST on the block. The car is in good shape mechanically and cosmetically, but I’ve got a bit of a tire issue. The Goodyear Eagle GT on the left rear has about 30k miles on it and is making a racket.

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Piston Slap: Lubeguarding Against Ford Tranny Shudder?

Dan R writes:

Hello Sajeev,

I have a transmission related question that I was hoping you may be able to assist me with. I have a 2003 Mustang GT, 4.6, Auto. 110k. (3rd owner) The car has the occasional classic Ford “AOD trans shudder” at lower RPM under load.

It does not really affect the overall drivability of the car but is an annoyance and I’d like to take care of it. As far as I know this car has never had a trans service done. I’ve heard mixed reviews on weather to do a trans flush or not.

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Hammer Time: The Unsellable Car

I once had a vehicle that sat on my lot for over 9 months. It wasn’t anything too bad. A 1998 Plymouth Grand Voyager in the tannest shade of brown. But no one wanted the thing.

I couldn’t figure it out. Did it have too many miles on it? Did brown all of a sudden become the new purple, orange or lime green? It did have four doors instead of the three door minivan albatrosses that were common during the pre-Y2k era. But I couldn’t get so much as a nibble on it for months on end.

Denial can be a hard pill to cough up. Lo and behold, this is what I figured out.

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Hammer Time: Biohazard Cars

Do you know what a biohazard is? Different industries have different standards for the word. In the auction business it means any vehicle where the occupants blood stained the interior. A few drops. An open gash. If a person had the misfortune of bleeding or dying in their car, it will be announced at an auction as a ‘Biohazard’.

Most of these vehicles are sold at’salvage auctions such as Copart & Insurance Auto Auctions. The general public feels queasy about these vehicles for good reason, and I always thought it would be a neat idea to group some of these cars together and have nearby high school students and DUI offenders visit the carnage.

Then again, maybe biohazard vehicles should be exhibited for a far broader audience.

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Piston Slap: Going Ballast-ic on Bi-Xenons?

Confused in South Bend writes:

Hi, Sajeev….

I am the owner of 2003 M-B C240 base, with the Bi-Xenon headlights. Recently, one of the headlights has developed an issue….in cold weather, it does not work.

Went to my German car specialist, who wasn’t so special on this issue. No problem, he said, replace the bulb. $160 later, still had the problem. OK, negotiated for him to give me a credit on the next fix.

Researched on the web, purchased a used Ballast. Mr. German car specialist looked at the part, scratched his head and said, “I don’t know what this part is.” Mercedes dealer says, spend about $900 for an entirely new headlight assembly.

I know that Mercedes engineers think money grows on trees….but $900 to fix a balky headlight? Come on…

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Piston Slap: An "Occasional Jaunt" On...Winter Tires?

Anonymous writes:


Recently I picked up a set of Bridgestone Blizzak WS60 winter tires for my 2006 Mitsubishi Evolution IX GSR (lightly modded at approximately 350 whp/320 wtq) and unfortunately I was unable to get a “V” speed rating in winter tires as they only came in “H”.

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Piston Slap: Throwing (Ignition) Parts at a (Fuel) Problem?

Chris writes:

Hey Sajeev,

Long time lurker here. Since you asked so nice, here’s a problem that I haven’t managed to troubleshoot myself, and so far my own searches & forum postings haven’t nailed an answer. My girlfriend drives a 99 Mazda Protégé. If driven for an extremely short distance (like from the street into the garage), it will not start the next morning. It turns over just fine, but doesn’t catch.

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Hammer Time: Should Speed Limits Be Limits?

There used to be a long line of cars going in the direction of my childhood home.

My mom, bless her heart, used to observe the speed limits with enough zeal to make Ralph Nader blush. “Do we drive 25 miles per hour? No! We drive 20. That way we are always obeying the law!” Needless to say, I have managed to steer free and clear of her driving habits for well over 20 years. She thinks I’m a control freak… when the truth is she’s just too damn slow.

The slow issue got me thinking about speed limits back in the bad old days of the 1980’s. Between reading various auto magazines at the back of my high school classes, I used to daydream about a better society. Not about serving your fellow man or envisioning world peace. But one where drivers like my mom would just get the hell out of my way. One where the observance of all motoring laws would be based on reason and logic, rather than the short-term needs of a ravenous revenue seeking police state.

A beautiful driving utopia where asphalt and heavier right feet would march in unison towards a quicker commute. Where speed limits would be anywhere between 10 mph to 20 mph higher than today’s superficially low limits. Where a speed limit would indeed become a speed limit.

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Hammer Time: The Last Bad Car

Ah, the good old days. When a young Kadett could be crude and lewd. A Chevette Scooter could exemplify 14th floor parsimony with it’s cardboard cutouts, and the Yugo was justifiably bombed out of existence.

A bad car was a known commodity back then. But what about now?

Everyone cribs each others specs and suppliers these days and the results are… well… middling.

For example, is the 2012 Kia Rio a bad car? Jack Baruth says, “ Hell No!“. Motor Trend says something in the lines of “B-Class Economy Just Got Better!” and then puts it dead last in a recent comparo (along with putting the Hyundai Accent first.)

Who is right? Who is wrong?

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Piston Slap: Some Venom for Andrew's Vellum?

Andrew writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I always enjoy reading your nuggets of design wisdom and critique on TTAC. From your articles, its obvious you know some rather talented designers, and definitely have some interesting stories.

If you could spare a moment of your time for a TTAC reader, I’m looking for some feedback on my industrial design portfolio; I’m trying to land my first proper design job that I’ll be happy with after graduating in April of last year. I’m currently working in a somewhat related field in a job that pays well but gives me no joy.

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Hammer Time: Confessions Of An Auto Auctioneer

A little over 12 years ago I got married. It was a bargain basement wedding that overlooked a beautiful lake on one side, and my mother-in-law’s house on the other. At that time I was all of three months into the free market free-for-all that is the auto auction business.

No bid calling at that point. No buying of vehicles on the side. Not even some grandiose plan to turn my auction and automotive interests into an enduring career. I just went for auctioneering tryouts at the sales and, with enough recommendations from friends in the business, hoped for the best.

My first job was to be the ringman. The guy who says, “Yep!” while pointing to a professional car buyer at the auctions. For two to three hours I took my two degrees at Emory and put them towards their most relevant use at the sales… “Yep!!!”

My daily performances may not have been Hamlet on Broadway at that time. But it was a living and a surprisingly lucrative one that has now spanned nearly 2,000 auctions and over 100,000 vehicles.

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Piston Slap: LeMons Racer Seeks Minivan Normalcy

Brian writes:


Heeding the call for silly, not-really-that-good letters…plus I wrote you a while back about my Freestyle. Since then, my wife actually sat in a minivan, and that’s the direction we are heading. We are looking at replacing it quickly so that she can take the three kiddos to Grandma’s house while I enter Lemons South this March.

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Piston Slap: Seeing the Forester for the Trees?

Jim writes:


I hope you are well. I have several questions regarding my 2011 Forester (5 speed):

a) I drive 8 to 10K annually and change the 5w-20 every 6 months. Is this sufficient?

b) Subaru keeps sending me extended warranty offers. This tells me that I likely don’t need it. What do you think? My favorite moment when purchasing the Forester: The F & I rep mentioning “If people want to drive around without the extended warranty, it is not my problem.”

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Piston Slap: Always Trust, But Verify

Patrick writes:

Okay, I have a question. Strictly follow the manufacturer’s suggested maintenance schedule, or only perform demand maintenance?

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Piston Slap: Justy-fied Freestylin' Over CVTs, Part III

Frank writes:

Good morning,

I am planning a transmission swap in my 2006 five hundred from a 2WD CVT to the offered 6speed of the same vintage. So far as I have discerned, I will need the trans, flywheel, axleshafts, computer and harness. A few compatibility questions though, trans mounts? speedo cable? Shifter and/or linkage? How about the PCM that controls the trans. They offer a few different ones, specifically:

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Piston Slap: Frontal Area, Our Friend?

Bill writes:

After reading you post on modern interior design, I had to ask about another fad that seems to be all the rage with designers: big grilles (they really love the grille on the Lancer X) With modern cars being all about gas mileage (judging by their advertising), would they get better highway gas mileage if they were a bit more aerodynamic?

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Hammer Time: Past Profits, Future Prophets

One fond memory I have of the pre-recession era was cheap cars. A pristine 1992 Mercedes 190E in a garage kept red that I bought for $1000. The two year old 2002 Infinit Q45 that I bought for $23,600 and sold for $32,500. Heck, even the beaters. Old late 80’s Town Car’s and Crown Vic’s with only 80k or so. The last of the good Saab 900’s. Volvo 240 wagon’s that had been given Volvo OEM components from day one. All of them I bought for $500… or less.

It had been a great time to be a used car dealer and an automotive enthusiast. I sold over 150 vehicles in a space the size of a driveway and had plenty of time to travel, do some local bid calling, and begin my writings at TTAC. I was a happy man.

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Piston Slap: Automotive Design Studio Inbreeding?
TTAC Commentator halftruth writes:Hey Sajeev,I see a lot of manufacturers using the binocular style gauge motif (see Hyundai Elantra, 2011 Avalon, Chevy Cruze for example) and I hate it! I also see a lot of carmakers using the upside down triangle motif in a lot of their steering wheel designs. We can even throw in the obligatory fuel AND coolant gauge.. they all seem to do this same thing with little variation. That said, if we look thru history, this mimicking has always gone on.But why? Sometimes a bad idea is just that and shouldn’t be copied: I am reminded of huge gaudy consoles that take up legroom- for an automatic.
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Piston Slap: A Lack of H-Town Heating

TTAC commentator kericf writes:


I have been a previous emailer with some questions about my Rodeo. Now I turn to you in need of help with my wife’s 2005 Nissan Pathfinder (115k miles). The HVAC system doesn’t emit heat properly. A google search of the problem reveals I am certainly NOT the only person dealing with this problem.

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Hammer Time: 10 Random Thoughts On Car Buying

Last weekend I flew into the highly opinionated world known as Long Island. Within minutes my sensitive Southern ears were exposed to the most strident of views in today’s political world. These conversations can be summarized in four words, “Yay us! Boo them!” The usual cheering sections of modern politics.

After gradually listening to the verbal pom-poms over a nice cup of tea, I realized something. I’m no different.

Perish the thought. I may very well believe in several ideas about car buying that are essentially untrue.

Heck, I may even unknowingly promote them at TTAC. So here are 10 opinions I have on car buying. No essays. No glorious soliloquies of pithy summations. Just thoughts with a brief rationale. Let me know if you agree or disagree. I’m handing out free pom-poms in honor of my trip.

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Piston Slap: Beaucoup Patience for a Worthy Corolla?

Jeff writes:

Hi Sajeev:

I enjoy your articles advising people on what cars to buy or avoid. I have a bit of a different problem.

My mother recently passed away, and I inherited her 1989 Corolla down in Florida. She bought it used down there, it has a little over 100,000 miles on it. The car is absolutely mint, as you could imagine for a Florida car. It runs great, the AC works well, and the body and paint are in excellent condition, as is the interior – it has been kept out of the sun. Even the engine is in great condition – all the anodized parts still look as new. Plus, it doesn’t even leak. It has had regular maintenance, belts, hoses and fluids changed.

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Piston Slap: Financial Traction, AWD Distraction?

John writes:

Hey Sajeev,

Since you requested goofy questions for Piston Slap, I’ve got one:

A friend of mine told me that her dad had a Subaru (I don’t know what particular model). He had one of the tires blow out, and even though he knew he should either replace all four tires, or have the new one shaved down to match the other three, he decided to risk it and just use the one new tire as is. Consequently, the all wheel drive system got messed up due to the ever so slight mismatch in tire diameters. Is this for real? I’ve never heard anything like that before.

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Piston Slap: Raising the Bar by Lowering It?

TTAC commentator educatordan writes:

I know this is an exercise in mental masturbation but I find myself thinking about it and perhaps the B&B with their extensive experience could shed some light on the subject.

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Piston Slap: But How Much Debt Makes the World Go 'round?

Sajeev writes:

Writing this Piston Slap during “the Big Game” is especially sweet for me, thanks to all of you. Last week’s plea for more content generated about 75 emails for your reading pleasure, which at the rate of 2 a week, means you will continue to enrich the lives of everyone who reads Piston Slap. Which makes me more proud than I can possibly convey in a short period of time. So let’s do this thing!

Mark writes:

I drive a 06 Civic sedan with about 138K on the clock. I only drive about 18 miles a day, and the car is in decent shape.

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Hammer Time Rewind: Depreciation Kills

From the good old days of 2007…

“Is that yours?” Millions of car buyers spend billions of dollars hoping that this statement will be born of admiration rather than pity. When these words come out of a car dealer’s mouth at trade-in time, they can be especially hurtful– even if the salesman is as honest as their spiel is long. That’s the moment when most car buyers finally discover whether or not their automotive “investment” has walked off a cliff and fallen into the financial abyss known as depreciation.

Here’s how to avoid the freefall.

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Hammer Time: Missing You

There are so many things I miss these days.

I miss having a presidential candidate that is as ruthless and cunning as Richard Nixon.

I miss stuffing my mouth with sweets and having a body that can absorb endless hours of athletic abuse.

I even miss a lot of the comedians from days gone by. From Red Skelton to Chris Farley. Even the Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx flicks always find their way to my home every month or so.

We always can use more laughter after all. But what about cars? What prophetic trends from our automotive past deserve a second coming?

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Piston Slap: We Need YOUR Help!

Sajeev writes:

Dear Best and Brightest,

As you already know, the Piston Slap series is meant to put a spin on the typical automotive Q&A advice column: combining the mad power of Google searches, the wacky fun seen on any enthusiast forum, informed (or not) advice and a ton of opinionated, half-cocked rants written by yours truly. What’s not to love?

When I pitched the idea to Robert Farago many moons ago, I had no idea it would work this well. Except for now.

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Hammer Time: Titles

I used to love going to the county tag office. Really.

There was a nice little back room where the employees would offer cake and cookies to the neighborhood dealers. In fact, the hospitality for this particular office was so renowned that some dealers in other counties would pay them a visit. Titles would be transacted. Fees to the state would be paid, and a good chunk of those proceeds would go straight to the county coffers.

Not anymore…

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Piston Slap: Panther Love is a Siren Song?

TTAC Commentator cc-rider writes:

Hi Sajeev- Happy New Year. A local 2003 Marauder popped up next to me for a very nice price. It is a one-owner car with 113k. I spoke to the owner and it just needs a bit of cosmetic work. The grill is busted up a little bit. He bought a new car and wants to unload the Marauder before the new one comes. He has it listed for $4995. It seems way underpriced by me from what I have seen. It seems that the going rate would be more like 8-9k at least.

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Piston Slap: O-rings Are the Enemy Within?

TTAC Commentator NICKNICK writes:


I can’t believe it’s been two years since I asked you to post a problem with my 1999 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT. It may have been fixed with just a new gas cap.

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Piston Slap: Playing Super Breakout by Itself?

C.V. writes:

I am a mechanical engineering student looking to learn how to work on cars.

My friend has given me the opportunity to take his 1988 Mazda B2200 extra-cab 5-speed. When I drove it, I saw why. The catalytic converter has broken off, and apparently pieces of it are in the exhaust. Would it be possible to just replace the catalytic converter, or should I replace the whole exhaust?

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Super Piston Slap: A Love Supreme, A Traveling DashMat

TTAC Commentator supremebrougham writes:

Hey Sajeev…

I just got done reading the Ranger piece on TTAC, and I decided that I want to ask you something. A few months ago I lost my Father, and last week my Mom gave me his ’03 Ranger to use as a trade for a new Escape.

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Hammer Time: If You Want A Deal, You Have To Pay For It

BCA Auctions in Derby, UK; Courtesy of Zimbio.com

I get a lot of emails from auto enthusiasts. About 60% of what I get comes down to this question.

“Can you get me a high demand vehicle at a disgustingly low price at the auctions?”

The short answer is no. Just as an athlete can’t contradict the laws of physics, I can’t control the free market aspect of a dealer auction. In my world a car is bid on by dozens of professionals until the last man pays the most. If you want a Toyonda or the latest and greatest wheels that are based on yet another ‘”Fast & Furious” ripoff, then you have to pay the premium.

As for unpopular cars, they are a different story.

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Piston Slap: Bad ECU, Cowboy? This Ain't My First Rodeo!

TTAC Commentator Tree Trunk writes:

Hello Sajeev,

I comment on TTAC as Tree Trunk from the frozen tundra in interior Alaska and am looking for advice on how to deal with an out of control repair of an old beater. I have a ’95 Isuzu Rodeo with 130K that until recently had been a pretty low maintenance, reliable ride.

Out of the blue the check engine light came on and the engine stalled. A handy friend checked all obvious things to get it running again without success. It would start up run for a few min before reving wildly and then die. Luckily I thought, it broke down close to a reputable shop (NAPA certified) so we towed it there.

Seven weeks and two thousand dollars, not to mention the rental car cost I am back at square one. First they diagnosed bad PCM, a rebuild unit was in five weeks later, two weeks behind schedule. I made it half a mile down the road before it stalled again.

This time around it was supposedly a slack timing belt hitting the crankshaft sensor causing the engine to stall. Week and another thousand dollars later, after first ordering the wrong parts and then not all the needed parts the engine started up, but wouldn’t you know it stalled again.

In hindsight, I should have scrapped it the moment it broke down. But short of finding a time machine that is not an option.

Now I am waiting the next call from the shop and need advice from you and the best and brightest. It seems obvious that the one or both of the diagnostics were faulty and some third thing is causing the stalling.

What do I do, keep paying with a smile, demand a full repair free of charge or something in-between?

Sajeev answers:

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Piston Slap: LED, Not For Me?

TTAC Commentator John R writes:

What’s your opinion of aftermarket LED bulbs for signal/brake/reverse replacement?

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Piston Slap: Of HID-retrofit Hatred, Panther Love…PART II

A TTAC lurker writes:

Sajeev, I’m local to Houston and greatly look forward to my daily lurk on TTAC. I just had to respond affirmatively to the latest piston slap about HID’s and Panthers.
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Piston Slap: Of HID-retrofit Hatred, Panther Love

Robin writes:

So when I get my next big check I’m getting me a Panther. On this you can depend. You’ve talked me into it! But that’s not the point of my email. Rather, I’ve seen these HID light kits and wonder if it’s a lot of hype or if there is some veracity to the upgrade?

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Piston Slap: Whom to Trust Whilst Getting In The Zone?

TTAC Commentator John R writes:


I just replaced the battery in my 07 Sonata sometime earlier this year and now it’s behaving like it needs another. I should probably mention that I’m running aftermarket HIDs (I know, I know). I know (now) when the right lamp starts to fade and change from blue to white or sometimes purple its time to change the battery, but its happening a lot sooner than last time. I got a good two years in between when I had the HIDs installed and the last time I changed the battery. Back then I thought it was bulbs but as soon as I replaced them it started doing it again. That’s when I replaced the battery. Now its happening again.

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Piston Slap: Saving Gas, Money and Porsche 944?

Guilmo writes:

Sajeev, I need your help to resolve my dilemma. Picked up a certified 07 Rabbit less than a year ago and am not satisfied with its fuel economy and frankly just bored with it. I’m averaging about 9L/100Km and I know will only get worse come winter. I use this car solely to commute to work and occasionally put a large hockey bag in the hatch.

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Piston Slap: Modesty, Korean Purgatory and The E60

Rodrigo writes:

Hello Sajeev,

I’m being offered a 2005 BMW 545i with 78,000 miles on the clock. Well-equipped with the sport package and manual transmission, it’s being offered at $18,000 (negotiable) by a co-worker’s family member who “wants to get rid of it quick so he can replace it with a new truck.” I’m told it’s been babied, but I’ll definitely be asking for service records and a chance to have it inspected by a German car indy mechanic that’s 3 blocks from my apartment.

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Piston Slap: Of Head Bolts, Bad-Ass Sedans…

Earl writes:

I just bought a mint condition, dealer-maintained 1990 Cressida. I am aware of the head bolt torque issue on the 6 cylinder engine. The car shows no sign of head gasket issues. My question: should I have my dealer simply re-torque the head bolts? Their tech (30-year’s experience) says he’s done this on many cars with no issues. Your thoughts?

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Hammer Time: Your Cheapest Car Ever

Have you ever bought a car that was cheaper than dirt?

I’m not talking about a $2000 Shoney’s special that was owned by an elder statesmen or grand-mama. I’m talking cheap. As in cheaper than a Vegas wedding with a fake Elvis and a bottle of leftover hooch from the last couple that got hitched.

$500. $100. Free. Negative amounts. Nothing is better than cheap. Unless it’s also good.

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Piston Slap: Porsche Customer Service Doesn't Stink?

Sam writes:

Hello, can you tell me what ever happened with the Porsche IMS concern? At 18K miles, an IMS bearing failure has caused a catastrophic engine failure in my Porsche 911. My Porsche dealer (who has done all of the Porsche recommended service on the car since new) just told me that there is nothing that they or Porsche can or will do, and that it is an isolated incident. I have since been doing research online, and I find out that an IMS bearing failure is not at all a rare occurrence.

I am not a litigious person and I am not out to tarnish the Porsche name. But with a repair cost of $19k, I cannot afford to get my car fixed. I am looking to get Porsche to step up and address what would appear to be a bearing design defect.

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Hammer Time: Saving Bluebird…

It was a long day at the auction. Over a thousand cars sold in a matter of three hours. Dealers were busy paying for their pre-tax season purchases and the size of the line seemed to just grow bigger at the understaffed counters. Everyone had ‘issues’. To make matters worse, along with the lines and chaos I had a headache. A crushing headache.

So instead of engaging in random conversations with friends I’ve known for forever and a day, I wandered off to the most remote corner of the sale. The TRA lane. Also known as ‘crusher fodder’. This is where banks, car dealers and charities get rid of cars that are usually worth more dead than alive. Bidding starts at $450 plus the auction fee and for that you can either help ‘export to China’ or find the parts needed to make a problem car good again.

In the very last space sat an old 1987 Volvo 240 wagon… a Bluebird… and she had one helluva story to tell.

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Piston Slap: 4DSC Goes to Infiniti and Beyond?

T.J. writes:

Hey guys,

The day I knew was coming but hoped would never arrive is here. I have to decide whether its time to replace my trusty ride, a 1996 Infiniti I30 with estimated 235k miles (odo was broken years ago, repaired, and reset to a mileage amount we now think is low. actual miles is probably around 250-260k). The issue is an oil leak.

It’s now leaking at the rate of about 5 quarts every 3000 miles. I’ve been content to keep topping off the oil, but now the leak is causing other problems; specfically, the a/c and alternator belt will not stay on because the pulley is soaked in oil. Fixing the leak would be over $1000, and this would the third or so leak that we’ve plugged, only to have another pop up, so I’m convinced that if I was to fix it, a new engine is the way to go. I have an estimate from my mechanic (a very reasonable, trustworthy independent shop) for $2200 or so ($850 for a used local engine with 90k miles, $200 in other parts, and 13 hours labor).

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  • Dartman It was all a scam just to gin up some free publicity. It worked. Tassos go back to sleep; no ones on your lawn. Real ‘murricans prefer hot dogs to gyros.
  • ToolGuy I plan to install a sink in the crawl space soon. After that I plan to put washer and dryer hookups on my roof.
  • ToolGuy "That power team adds an electric supercharger"YES!
  • Cardave5150 UAW is acting all butt-hurt that their employers didn't "share the wealth" when they had massive profits. They conveniently forget that they have a CONTRACT with their employers, which was negotiated in good faith, and which the Remaining 3 are honoring, paying them exactly what they negotiated last time.
  • Kwik_Shift That's a shame.