Piston Slap: Blinded by the E39 Wagon's Light?

(from motoringconbrio.com)

Kurt writes:


Really enjoy Piston Slap and could use some help working through this problem:

I am an expat working in Europe. I brought one car from the US with me and picked up a 1997 BMW 528i Touring (5 speed) here. I just found out that I will be transferred back to the US next year and have to make a car decision pretty soon. I really like 528iT and would like to take it back with us, but it seems that the cost to self-import the Bimmer to the US is about equal to what I paid for it (and its a little long in the tooth). I really like the combination of the Touring’s performance and carrying space and am trying to decide what to buy next. The short list is:

  1. Find another E39 Touring in the US (hopefully with a manual and a little newer)
  2. E61 Touring (but am concerned with reliability)
  3. 2003 745i

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Hammer Time: Let's Party Like It's 1989

Wake up. Have breakfast. Head off to work. Wait… you need to put on some decent clothes for goodness sake! You’re not a teenager anymore.

You put on the finest thrift store clothes you can find and head off to your car and… wow! Who put a Delorean with a flux capacitor and gullwing doors on your driveway?

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Piston Slap: Trust In Yourself, Love Thy Acura

Jeffrey writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I had a question regarding one of the vehicles I own and the potential for head gasket issues. Suprisingly, this is not in regards to the Subaru!

We have a 1998 Acura 3.2TL, a great vehicle and perfect sized. I am the second owner and it does have just over 134,000 miles. It was first purchased in Boise, with an easy commute…spent some time in California with a more grueling San Jose commute, and back in Boise for 6 years. I drive it pretty easily on a 20 mile, roundtrip, commute every other day and a couple trips on the weekend. I enjoy this car. It has the classic Honda feel to it; low cowl, buttons and switches with a fluid movement, handles nicely, double-wishbone suspension, longitudinal drivetrain means no torque steer, heated mirrors/seats, excellent climate control (cold A/C). The only item(s) that do need replacing are the shocks. But overall, I’ve put minimal money into a car I purchased for $4500. Only accessory I added was a PIE Hon-Aux auxiliary port. Only dislikes are excessive wind noise in winter, due to frameless windows. Yet, I always liked frameless windows on a four-door…Subaru has them too.

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Super Piston Slap: Cause It's 9-8-7 On A...

Jack writes:

I’ve owned my (987) 2006 Porsche Cayman S for 48,000 of its 52,000 miles. It’s been a completely enjoyable experience … up until five days ago.

I had brought the car out to the track and was turning a few laps at a moderate level of speed. The car was completely stock other than a cat back exhaust, and I wasn’t running r-compounds as I was aware of the oiling issues that can happen on certain tracks when running r-compound tires. The wheels are three-piece OZ Superleggeras, custom built to match the offsets, etc. of the 19″ Turbo wheels which are an option on the Cayman S. I was even taking it a little easy this afternoon as it was an uncomfortably hot Texas day and I also had my nephew in the car.

This is not a high speed track and g-loads tend to be low and short as most corners are slow, off camber, and relatively short. Everything was running fine. Then I exited out of a very slow right hand corner onto the side straight and that’s when everything went wrong. As the motor transitioned through the cam changeover at 3500 rpm, all hell broke loose and the motor suddenly lost power. When I pulled the car over, tons of white smoke flooded the cabin. Obviously something was very wrong.

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Piston Slap: It's Not A Fox Body… So What Is It?

TTAC’s personal window into the CAW, mikey writes:

Sajeev, as spring approached our frozen north, I couldn’t face another summer sans convertible. As a proud, retired UAW and CAW member, my choice was limited to domestics. What to buy?

The Sebring? No way. New is out of my reach, so rule out a 5th gen Camaro. Having owned a 4th gen F-body…one was enough. Did I really say that? A Solstice or Sky, maybe? Can a 50 something couple pack up and go for two days? I couldn’t find a place to store a cell phone, never mind two suit cases, and a Beer cooler.

I looked at a used “Pontiac G6” hardtop convertible. Wow! all that mechanical stuff that runs the retract? Hmmmm, lets put it this way: too many years on the assembly floor, tells me to give that baby a wide berth. Draw your own conclusions.

So today we find ourselves the proud owners of a 2008 Mustang convertible. In my way of thinking, knowedge rules, and I have zero experience with Fords, except a 1969 Marquis that was a POS when I bought it, 35 years ago. So I need to update. So I’m asking the B&B to help me out.

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Piston Slap: The Shroud of Torino?

Jeramy writes:

Here’s my dilemma: Bought a 1983 5.0 Cougar for my wife as her “weekend” car, but the TBI was problematic and the seats were terribly uncomfortable. Dumped the Cougar, and bought a loaded 1985 F-150 with 5.0 and power everything, then sprayed it in Mustang Redfire Metallic red, but she wanted something more “sporty.”

So I traded the pickup for a 1971 Torino coupe with a 351W and 3 speed auto (pictured here).

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Hammer Time: Aberrations

Last night I sold a car. Not just any other vehicle but the ‘family’ vehicle. A 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid that I purchased three years ago for $6500. For 50,300 miles it proved to be a perfect fit for a family of four. My wife loved it. But with used car prices outperforming in a three year period what the Dow couldn’t attain in ten I decided to cash it in. The price three years and 50k later? $6450.

I wasn’t smart when I got that price last night. I was lucky.

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Piston Slap: Dreading "The Dreaded" ATF Flush?

Jackson writes:

I own a 2001 Nissan Maxima and a 2006 Corvette, both purchased new w/cash. I know the Maxima with 105,000+ miles has had two ATF services, which included the “dreaded ATF Flush”. So far the thing keeps running, only issue (unrelated) was a Cat replacement (99,000) and 3 O2 sensors around the same time.

The 2006 Corvette at 5 years and 42,600 miles is due for a coolant service and I see that the ATF service is 50,000 (harsh) or 100,000 (normal). So far expenses have been limited to gas, once a year oil changes and a set of tires at 26,000 due to some aggressive driving, aggressive factory camber settings and a shard of metal. It’s been spotless so far besides a squeaky roof panel which has been solved by periodic application of Super Lube to some contact points. Should I do an ATF flush for the vette? It would be a BG machine. It’s a warm weather commuter for me (42 miles round trip per day of which 26 is highway miles on which avg. speed 75 mph which is just 3 days a week).

I have taken it on 6 long trips over the years as well as weekend cruises. I do use the paddles about 30% of the time, but do not really hoon it so much the past 2 years after getting 3 speeding tickets in 6 month period…which I fought and is another subject. So please advise.

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Hammer Time: Who Should Lease?

Who should lease? Some folks believe that short term non-ownership is the perfect fit for the über-rich and nouveau riche. The rich can afford to drive whatever strikes their fancy after all… and who wants to own a Taurus when you can lease a Bentley?

As for the new rich or the soon to be rich; they also need a taste of their success. So why not a lease? Well, because I have gone nearly blue in my face over the years telling aspiring lessees that the math doesn’t work. Convenience… perhaps… worry-free ownership… maybe. But moneywise? Nein. Nyet. No.

Reason can only go so far in life. Even enthusiasts have a thing for the automotive fling. So here are seven types of lease happy shoppers I’ve met in my travels. In their own words of course.

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Piston Slap: Do We Have ALL The DATA?

TTAC Commentator Supaman writes:

Hey Sajeev, remember that Mazda 6 that had the headliner problem? The dash storage problem? Got another one for ya.

From what I understand, the 2006 Mazda 6 V6 manual is fitted with 3 engine mounts: left, right and (dog bone) lower. The lower mount was replaced last year (on my birthday coincidentally) and less than a year later, I noticed it had gone bad again after feeling the engine rocking a bit in the bay. I carried my beloved back to my mechanic who replaced the lower mount (under parts warranty) and asked him to check all the mounts. According to him, all were ok. But just last week while I was doing my oil change, I noticed the lower mount (which is right behind the oil pan) was already going bad.

This baffled me and also caused the mechanic to again scratch their heads. One of them noticed, believe it or not, a FOURTH mount located directly above the lower unit. They took the car off the lift before I could look at it but a quick internet search doesn’t turn up anything regarding this mystery FOURTH mount. Any ideas?

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Hammer Time: The Eagle and the Phoenix
I made my first fortune in Chrysler. Back in 1991 I bought 250 shares of the company at a mere $10 a share. It was all I had at the time and everyone in my f…
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Hammer Time: Auto or Stick?

You come to a gala press event filled with beautiful sheetmetal and old friends. The lunch is catered and the folks hosting the event go completely out of their way to make you happy. So far so good!

They have a fair amount riding on their new billion dollar entry level car. Tens of thousands of people will earn their livelihood on a model that promises to be ‘economical, sporty, and fun’ for only ‘$15,995!’ (before destination charge, tax, tag, title fee, and other bogus charges laden in dealer inspired small print).

Right now that ‘real’ cost doesn’t matter to you. You came to write a review, give it a fair shake, and inform the two million monthly visitors at this site that seek honesty and truth above all else. You walk up to the car. Sit down with another writer. Turn the key. Drive off… and…

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Piston Slap: A DHS, A Darn Hard Situation

Chuck writes:

My son enjoys being able to spread out when driving and also appreciates the convenience of hauling several of his buds around. He drives a 2001 Cadillac DHS. He has just moved to Massachusetts and registered the car there. It failed inspection with OBD codes P1860 and P0741. He has 60 days to resolve the problem. A little internet searching informs that these codes are related to the torque converter clutch circuit and the solenoid valve.

The codes may indicate anything from a bad electrical connection to a failed plastic solenoid (I hate plastic) to a worn TC clutch. Other than the not so likely electrical connection fix, labor is at least 12 hours, even for the solenoid. I don’t see this as an emissions or safety issue, but then I’m not the state of Massachusetts.

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Piston Slap: What's a Ford Employee to Do?

TTAC Commentator tresmonos writes:

OK. So I used to work for Ford and am now gainfully employed by them (again). My dilemma is as follows:

I am rolling on a Z24 cavalier that I bought brand new in 2001. It has 160K on the clock and the only thing I can see that’s wrong with it is a AC compressor that’s been on limp mode since 2007 (bearing), bad drum brakes due to my laziness (LMAO – SM), and interior fan’s lowest two resistors being shot. The twin cam has a bad coil as it misses at idle, but I could care less. The car’s exterior filth has literally out lasted my marriage. It’s been a hell of a financial savings for me. But we all know the twin cam dream won’t last much longer.

I temporarily moved to SC and blew my car savings load on a 100% rust free 1984 lincoln continental turbo diesel. I repainted it and have slaved over some wiring nightmares on it. I’ve got 6K invested in the thing. And I need a new mode of transportation. Foolish purchase, I know… but if you would look at the clean, rust free body, and sit in that Corinthian plush leather seats whilst romping on the gas to behold two dual plumes of diesel particulate whooshing in the rear view, you’d understand.

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Piston Slap: When Does the Mystique Wear Off?

TTAC Commentator SupremeBrougham writes:

Hey Sajeev, out of the blue a man calls me up and makes me an offer to take my Chevy HHR off my hands. I made a counter-offer and the deal was done. Hooray, no more car payments, I’ll just keep and drive the Mystique!

But, as luck would have it, the Mystique decided that it didn’t want to run anymore, so I had to have it towed to my local independent shop, and it’s been sitting there for a while. It turns out that the main wiring harness under the hood has disintegrated and needs to be replaced. He has tried calling a number of junkyards and he said they all laughed at him, and said they all cut the harnesses when removing the engines on junk cars, so none are available. At the dealer, they quoted him a price of ~$800 for a new one! He told me that he is going to try and see if he can salvage enough wiring under the hood to try and reconnect the ends together so that the car will run again. Also, I’ve tried looking online for this part but I haven’t had any luck.

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Piston Slap: Because You're Worth It?

TTAC Commentator jkross22 writes:

Sajeev, I’ve got a question for you. I took my car in for a warranty covered service (oil and brake fluid change) and the dealer suggests I have a fuel injection service done along with an alignment. The FI service is $260 and the alignment is $290. I’m driving an ’07 3-series wagon.

I can’t imagine why they would recommend an FI service other than to help pad dealer profit, and the alignment cost at the dealer is literally double what Firestone charges for the same thing. There is no drivability problem, but this is the 2nd time this dealer has tried to sell me on this FI service.

They have posters of it in their cubicles to ‘educate’ the unwashed masses about the dangers of dirty fuel injectors. It’s actually pretty funny. What gives on the FI service and is this something that is actually needed… ever?

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Super Piston Slap: Loving "The Cadillac of Tomorrow"

Sajeev rambles:

Damn that Jack Baruth and his uncanny ability to awaken the latent spiritual needs and carnal passions sorely missing in my life. I’m talking about the love of owning a 99-cent Caddy Limo from a strong bloodline, sporting a nearly perfect black leather interior. With 25 years of historical flaws in full sight, this 3800lb lightweight is still a charmer in the Cadillac Tradition. The designation as “The Cadillac of Tomorrow” holds true, have you driven the latest poseur sedans to wear the Wreath and Crest? Torqueless V6 motors, tall buffalo butts and Euro-wannabe interiors only above that of a Hyundai Sonata. I can hear it now:

“LULZ OMG you are nuts because the CTS-V is awesome and that thing’s a POS. The new Caddies even come in a wagon with a stick! Who wouldn’t want a Cadillac that can do all that?”

My bad, they still make one coupe/sedan that’s somewhat worthy of the Fleetwood 75’s halo effect, but don’t be talkin’ that Euro-Caddy station wagon mess to me. This Houstonian spends too much time watching southern hip-hop music videos with proper American Iron getting the respect it deserves. Where else can we embrace the best remnants of Detroit in popular media? But I digress…

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Piston Slap: The Cavalier's Not-So-Silent Ricochet

TTAC Commentator Silent Ricochet writes:

Hey Sajeev, it’s been a long time since I sent my first email about my 2002 Cavalier Z24 making rattling noises at low RPM. The noise has since then gotten slightly more noticeable and I finally decided to take some action and really look into it. As a quick refresher, in First and Second gear, between 1500 and 2000RPM under moderate throttle, the car will make an awful rattling noise, like that of pennies in a coffee can kind of noise.

After looking at several cavalier and J-Body forums I stumbled upon a ridiculously popular thread that contained all the information I would ever need…

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Hammer Time: Sell!

Timing isn’t everything, but it is pretty damn important when buying high dollar assets.

Back in April 2009 I told folks that now would be an ideal time to buy a new car. Demand had slacked off over 40% from the record highs. Dead and dying brands were still in the glut of recessionary despair. The credit markets, the only financial source for a lot of car buyers, were a shadow of their former selves. Plus Uncle Sam was all too willing to subsidize the gluttons amongst us with Cash for Clunkers in about a month or two. It was the perfect storm for those of us who needed cheap new wheels for the long run. But today…

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Piston Slap: Solving the Black Box Mystery

TTAC Commentator Mazder3 writes:

Hey Sajeev,

I have an auto parts question that I’ve been meaning to ask for a while but I keep forgetting about it. Back in February, going to my car after doing some shopping, I spotted a cute college woman acting strangely around her Volvo 850 sedan. She’d walk around it a couple feet then would look underneath it. I angled myself to take a peek and I saw her problem; there was a large black box being dragged next to the left front wheel. After exchanging pleasantries and a failed attempt to get the hood open (the car was an obvious salvage, the whole front end was visibly skewed to the right), I finally just reached under the car and popped the box out, muddy and snowy parking lot be damned. At the time I thought it was a windshield washer reservoir, as the hose that was holding it on was a similar size and had a similar fitting to a windshield washer line, but when I got home I realized it couldn’t be. There was no way of filling it or checking its level.

So what was it? My memory has faded on it a bit but it was made of jet black plastic, was roughly the size of a 124 count tissue box, had a hose at the top and two fittings at the base, there was a sponge inside of it and the whole thing came down from in front of the driver’s side axle line. It had some major road rash so all of the parts might not have been there. The thing that I really remember, though, that it was branded with the GM “Mark of Excellence”!

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Piston Slap: For the Next Stage in Life

Mackenzie writes:

Hello, I am a 16-year-old girl looking to buy her first car. I am looking at Jeep Cherokees (NOT Grand Cherokees). I am trying to find a decent manual transmission one, but I can’t seem to locate any within a reasonable distance from me (Eastern Virginia).

My dad says I should look for a 1999-2001 Cherokee, but the few that I have found that are stick shift usually have pretty high mileage or are out of my budget. As car experts, would you guys recommend an older (94-98ish) Cherokee or a newer one with higher mileage?

I keep hearing that American-made cars are not as hardy as foreign-made cars, and that over 180,000 miles for a Cherokee is a no-go. My parents have agreed to pay half of the car, but with what I am finding, it’s still going to be a lot of money to pay. At first I was looking at $3500 tops, but I’m thinking I will have to raise that. Any help or advice y’all have on this subject would be greatly appreciated.

Sajeev answers:

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Piston Slap: The Grapes of Wrath, Revisited

A New Age?

Jeremy writes:

I would like to thank you for your website it is one of my primary sources for automotive information, I read new articles basically every day. And with that covered, this is for the most part a piston slap:

I currently own a 93 Ranger STX approx 108k on the 4.0L V6. I bought it used in about 2000. It has been a good truck and has served me well other than feeling quite sluggish and there being some slack in the transfer case (nothing abnormal from what I am told) It is in good shape and serves me well for driving around town and taking some miles off my 05 Focus ST.

I have been looking for and thinking about purchasing a used full size 1/2 ton pickup, so that I would have a truck more comfortable for road trips (I live 50 miles from the nearest 1000+ population town) and I would like to be able to lay 8’ panels flat. My current requirements are V8 (I need some pulling power for a boat, etc) anything other than a regular cab with an 8 foot box. Its tough to find such a machine being they end up so long and unwieldy. It would be in the garage more often than not and would be used more for the big jobs than anything.

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Hammer Time: The Runaround

No one likes to be jerked around. Unfortunately in the car business you can meet an awful lot of jerks. The jerk arbitrating vehicles at the auto auction who says, ‘How do you know it’s True Miles Unknown?” when the Carfax history shows the odometer hasn’t moved since the Clinton administration. The jerk who tries to charge you $800 for ‘computer reprogramming’ when the repair is already subject to the open recall by the NHTSA. Then there are the really bad ones…

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Piston Slap: Mazda2 Shopping With an XD …not an :-(

Ben writes:

I’m planning a purchase this summer. The two cars I’m looking at most closely are the Mazda2 and the Scion xD. I noticed that the 2011 Mazda2s are spending an average of 109 days on the lot, and the 2010 xD is even worse at 239 days. Your February sales charts and March charts paint a similar picture. They’re both selling terribly, but I’m so far unable to find good deals on either, for different reasons.

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Piston Slap: The Automotive Equivalent of The End Of The World?

Steven writes:

Hi, Sajeev. I have a dilemma that I need your advice on.

I’m in a rural area of Central Ohio and have a 2000 Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer, 5.4 V8, just shy of 144,000 miles, leather, 3rd row seat, air suspension, etc., etc.. We got it to tow our livestock trailer, but now with an ’05 Chevy Silverado 2500 Crew I no longer need it (daily driver into Columbus is a ’10 Subie Forester). It’s all paid for, so no pay off issues. It’s in pretty good shape, clean, loaded to the gills as most Eddie Bauer editions are. It has some electrical glitches that no one seems to be able to fix, so when it’s parked, all the time now, I have a battery cut off switch to save the battery. The engine did blow out a spark plug awhile back but the local dealer was able to helicoil the head and it’s held up.

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Hammer Time: Good Works

Most folks will tell you how great they are. It’s not an evil thing. Just a gut reaction to personal insecurities. The great men… let others do their talking. Evil souls will pay someone for the pontificating privileges (and turn on them after the fact). However the greatest of men… tells no one of their good deeds. You don’t need faith or even a financial perk to ‘pay it forward’ and help out folks in need. With that in mind let me tell you about one of the many great men you’ve never met.

His name is George. Not a famous George like a Steinbrenner or a Stephanopoulos. Not even a Bailey or a Jetson. George is an everyday guy. Like most of us here he is also a bit of a goofball. George spends his work days designing all sorts of logos and emblems for off-beat brands. If there is a cultural creative somewhere in his neck of the woods chances are they would benefit from his talents. Unfortunately one of his in-law’s died from lung cancer a few years back. It was a soul bending, brutal and sickening experience. So he has over the years donated two vehicles towards the American Lung Association. Both Toyotas. Both of which do very well in dealer auctions that focus on overseas markets. Here’s his story. Enjoy!

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Piston Slap: LeMons, Anyone?

Oren writes:

Recently bought a 1995 BMW 318ti Active in beautiful condition for about $500. I was wondering if the car is worth spending money on to upkeep, the car has about 90,000 miles.

Sajeev answers:

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Piston Slap: A New Wrench, A Good Wrench

TTAC Commentator sastexan writes:

Hi Sajeev, I have to find a new mechanic – my former mechanic is permanently disabled (bad shoulder – he can’t even hold a gallon jug of milk with his right arm) and his old shop is just not responsive – or as competent as I demand. So, with great heartburn, I have to find a new shop for those repairs I am either unable or unwilling to perform myself: which is most since I do not have a garage or even a driveway, much less a lift or even jack stands as the street in front of our house is pretty well sloped.

The cars in question are my resto-mod 3.0L Contour SVT, my wife’s Camry and probably my mother in law’s Millenia S (with the weird miller cycle engine). I can tackle basic repairs with my car, but sometimes it’s just easier to have someone else do it.

How should one go about finding a new mechanic / shop? What questions do you ask to determine competence? I proved a long time ago that I knew more than my local Ford dealers (including causing service advisers to get fired due to my complaining about their ignorance – including yelling at one standing underneath my car on a lift arguing about the rear sway bars), but I am not opposed to company shops if I know the mechanics are competent and the rates reasonable.

Sajeev answers:

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Hammer Time: It's A Given!

Nothing drives like a Mercedes. Toyotas are reliable… but expensive. Honda makes great stickshifts. 20 years ago you could say all of these statements with complete confidence. The world had been a simpler place with brands that offered a very stringent range of offerings to a very particular audience. Now it seems that all the lines of differentiation have been smudged and greyed out.

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Hammer Time: The Parent's Car

Some families consider arguments to be ‘discussions’. Mine was definitely among them. As the youngest of four brothers it was a hassle for me to even get a word in at the dinner table. Everyone had an opinion… and damn it, they were all wrong! Especially when it came to cars.

My Dad wanted to replace his 1987 Lincoln Continental which back then had reached the ‘100k trade-in’ point. I told him that the car had plenty of life left. But the more I talked, the more I realized that no form of reason would ever penetrate his viewpoint.

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Piston Slap: A Way Out of The Cadillac Mafia?

Bryan writes:

I have a new baby, and a prized Miata, and want to keep both. Therefore I am considering selling my daily driver, a 2002 Cadillac STS with 82K miles. In order to reduce overall monthly costs, I need something with extremely high MPG. Therefore I am considering the Honda Fit.

I like small cars. I love the Miata. However, the STS is simply the nicest car I have ever driven. It’s like being friends with a mobster. Life with the “Soprano STS” is easy: soporific comfort, isolation, lots of leather, and nonchalant delivery of raw power if/when I need it. Did I mention this is the same model Silvio drove to whack Adriana in the NJ Pine Barrens? Every time I get nervous about the Northstar head gasket, the car pinches my cheeks and reassures me “ya worry too much!!!”

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Hammer Time: The Boss Killed My Car

Your worst nightmare. A pleasant drive along a yawning rural two-laner is met by a sudden ‘jolt!’ You quickly take your foot off the accelerator. Was it a transmission shudder? A miss in the engine? Some gravitational push from a UFO? After a couple of mini-jolts it looks like problem number one. You do what you can to not stress the tranny. But it gets worse and worse until ‘jolt!’ ‘JOLT!’ ‘Veeeee!!!!’ The engine spins over to the high rpm’s with nothing left to propel it. The tranny is toast… and now the fun begins.

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Piston Slap: The Sonata's Ideal Coda?

Mark writes:

We will be buying a new car soon and that will leave us with an extra one. My experience selling a car myself makes me think we don’t really have the motivation to do it ourselves this time around.

The car is located in CT and is a White 2007 Hyundai Sonata SE with ~73k miles on it. The only option is the Sunroof. For whatever reason the side mirrors seem to attract having the outer housing broken, they are still functional but the housing rattles. I’ve replaced one, unpainted grey, and will be replacing the other shortly. There are no other issues with the car as I can tell. The emissions test is due next month, so I’ll have to have that done.

I need your advice on the easiest way to sell used car. Thanks.

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Super Piston Slap: Third Time's the Charm in The 24 Hours of LeMons

The TTAC love fest at the last 24 Hours of LeMons makes me the first judge to get a taste of their own “punish the criminal miscreants” medicine. But there’s more to my story: I came full circle as a LeMons race car builder, judgy-authority figure and “successful” race driver.

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Piston Slap: The Minima-Maxima and The Circle of Life

Fred B. writes:


You recent article about racks prompted me to write. I am the proud owner of a 1996 Nissan Maxima. I’ve had it since about 30k miles. Over the course of its 209k mile life it has garnered additional accouterments along with its original generous kit. Specifically, the paint has gracelessly aged in the Texas sun to a rosy multi-hued patina that varies from nearly bare steel on some of the flat parts to the original red on the sheltered parts. The car hasn’t lived in Texas all of its life. Its formative years were spent in Indiana, where the salt festooned winter streets customized the underside. In fact, it used to make such a racket that I removed the heat shields from the exhaust system.

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Hammer Time: Why Keep It?

I have always been a ‘keeper’. Even though my inventory varies these days from muscle car’s to minivan’s, my own daily driver has always been a long-term affair. It’s an addiction that goes well beyond cars. Quality, stewardship. An opportunity to make your professional work enduring. Keeping and preserving your ride usually goes well beyond the economics of the car itself. That’s why the most fervent of horse traders in any business will eventually find a personal keeper or two. And chances are it’s not always going to be something that is flashy or popular.

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Piston Slap: Extra Rims for a Simplier Life?

TTAC Commentator talkstoanimals writes:


Much to my dismay, in less than a year my job will move from downtown Washington, DC to suburban Maryland. This means I will be forced to drive to work every day rather than being able to rely on the Metro system for the work commute. Currently, my main ride is a 2011 BMW 135i with the M Sport package and some Dinan tweaks. However, since it does occasionally snow and sleet around here, and since I’m unwilling to sell the 135 or swap the summer treads for all season rubber (I regularly flog the car out in the twisties of VA/WV and prefer the feel of summers out there), I’m presented with a twist on the new or used question. Should I:

1. Invest in a set of winter tires, perhaps in a minus 1 size on dedicated wheels? This would require that I rent storage for the wheels/tires not in use or move out of my apartment to someplace with dirty item storage space. I could maybe beg a friend with a garage to loan me a dark corner, but it would make me feel guilty.

2. Buy some sort of cheap – $3500 to $5000ish – but reliable winter car? I wouldn’t mind having a second vehicle for hauling stuff around – maybe a small pickup or a wagon/SUV. Also, since most of my social life still revolves around downtown, I wouldn’t mind having something I could park on the street without a care whether it gets doored, dinged or scraped.

If the answer is two, what car or truck should I look for? The only caveat is that, after the fiasco with my 2010 lemon-lawed Mustang [can’t find the link to the Piston Slap on the issue], I won’t buy a FoMoCo product. (Sorry, Sajeev. But Ford ticked me off so much in negotiations over the Mustang that I refuse to give them my money anymore, even in used car form. I don’t want them making a nickel off of me on parts or anything else.) The ideal would be something small enough for city life, durable, utile and easy to insure.

Sajeev Answers:

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Piston Slap: The Last Frontier, The Dreaded H*** G****t?

Newsom writes:


I am a newbie here so I am not sure that I am posing the question in the correct cyber-manner but here goes: I purchased a 2000 Nissan Frontier 4-door truck new in August of 1999. It has 112K miles and I have just replaced the clutch: it was the training vehicle for my teenage daughter. I have a son who is 13 who will also learn to drive on this vehicle, then it will be put to pasture.

When I took the truck to my mechanic to get the new clutch I told him that I smelled burning coolant when I got out of the truck. He did a pressure test and said it came from the radiator, which he replaced.

I still smell it however and I need help. There is no puddle of coolant under the truck after it has been parked. I replace about 1 quart of coolant about every two months or so but it is not disappearing rapidly. I have been resisting using the words h*** g****t for fear that he will recommend replacing them to the tune of big $$$. The smell is strongest under the hood. I don’t smell it near the tail pipe.

Please help. We cannot live without a truck in the family.

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Hammer Time: The Best Family Vacation Rides

The Griswolds had ultimate nerd-chic space and style with their 1970’s Wagonqueen Family Truckster. But the fuel economy? About 10 mpg. The ride? Pogo stick bad. Never mind the fact that the dog needed to huff it all by itself (with tragic consequences). We’ve definitely come a long way from the poorly designed body on frame vehicle of the 1970’s.

Today’s compacts can even swallow a week’s worth of groceries given the right planning. Gas may be $4 a gallon and the roads cram packed with slow rides and rubbernecks. . But your ride can still offer serious comfort, fun and savings if you plan for it. Here are some of my favorites.

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Hammer Time: The Polar Bear

Back in 1999 I was having the time of my life. In three months I had managed to become a part of five different auto auctions in the Southeast. My job in the beginning was to be a ringman. The guy who would hoot, holler and help the auctioneer create the urgency to buy. Two degrees. A BBA and an M.Ed. and what was that day job again? To point at car dealers who wanted to bid and go ‘Yep!’. You know what? I was damned good at it.

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Piston Slap: Setting The Record Straight For A Tall and Solid Panther Man

TTAC reader Turtletop writes:


I have a good friend who’s looking for his next chariot. I’ve wrenched on his cars for years now and am the one he calls when he has auto-related questions. He’s a tall and solid man, looking for a nice, comfortable and reliable ride that he fits into without bumping his head. After a long chit-chat, I suggested a Grand Marquis as a possible choice. Though my friend is averse to American iron after some bad previous experiences, I think Panthers are on his radar now. Problem is, I haven’t enough direct experience with them to offer confident recommendations on what to look for, and I don’t want to steer him wrong.

Fortunately, I know just the man to talk to! Thus, my inquiry to you.

What are the variables to consider when searching for a used Panther? Are there any particular engines, transmissions or model years that you would recommend over others, or avoid completely? Thanks for your consideration!

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Hammer Time: Extreme Couponing Edition

Last year it was Quaker State. ‘Extreme Durability’ synthetic oil had flopped in the markeplace. A lowering of it’s price to $1.99 a quart plus a $10 mail-in rebate solved that issue for Quaker State. Not any profit there obviously. But oil is dirt cheap to produce and the new marketing campaign promised better returns for all that paid shelf space. Now Valvoline is performing a similar stunt for their ‘VR1 Racing Oil’. Six quarts of synthetic for free after the $50 mailin rebate. Just make sure you keep track of the rebate. Then you can…

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Piston Slap: A Panther Lover is a Folding Hardtop Lover

Frank A. writes:

It’s been a while since you advised me on Town Car engine cleaning. I’ve still got the TC, but I’ve got an itch to add something less practical to the fleet–a retractable hardtop. Probably anybody who is old enough to have been frightened by a Ford Skyliner as a child has had this impulse now and then.

I’m interested in the Pontiac G6. They were made ’06-’09 and are percolating down into a practical price range. I can’t spend the bucks on a high dollar retractable, so the VW Eos and Chrysler Sebring would be my only other choices.

Gee whiz: Pontiac quality, Volkswagen quality, or Chrysler quality: what are you gonna choose?

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Piston Slap: The Gassy Dart, the Bosch-eating Magnum

TTAC reader sportsuburbanGT writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Have a couple of questions: I have a 72 Dodge Dart that I am performing a 318 to 340 swap. It’s taken longer than I planned (lack of time), I backed the car in the garage 2 years ago and now I am planning on firing it up in this April. The question is the gas: I had about a half tank when I backed it in, and I put some Stabil in the tank, but I took the cap off to try a new cap and the tank smelled really awful. I replaced the fuel filter, but should I drain the tank and refill with fresh gas, put some fresh gas in the tank to mix up what is in there, or pull the tank have it boiled out and refill. I was driving the car up until March 2009, and I put that last half tank in there in March 2009. I am in Long Island, NY so we have that crap gas till April.

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Piston Slap: The Fallacy of the Low Mile Original

Lewis writes:

So I have been debating my next car purchase and am wondering your thoughts.
Does it make more sense to purchase an older low mileage used vehicle or a newer vehicle with high miles. An example would be let’s say a 1997 Jeep Wrangler with under 30K miles or a 2007 Jeep Wrangler with 95K miles.

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Hammer Time: Conversion Vans

Who wants one these days? For the last ten years the entire conversion van industry has been pretty much niched out of existence. First minivans started becoming the mode of choice for those wanting a big screen and a wide array of entertainment options on the road. Then the mastodon SUV’s came to fore. Offering to tow your camper, pop-up, motorbikes, and pretty much anything else that you seemingly needed to take with you. That was only the beginning

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Piston Slap: The Science of Seating Comfort

Carlton writes:

It sure would be nice if TTAC would do a piece about seat comfort. My wife has back problems and is not comfortable on long drives in our Mazda 6. I know comfort is largely subjective but are there any objective metrics available? Upright seating position seems to be better for both of us and a firm cushion is much preferred over soft.

I’ll bet many other readers are interested in this subject too.

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Piston Slap: For the Love Of...1982?

TTAC reader Tiburon Guy writes:

Hey Sajeev,

Long time I know: I still have the Hyundai, fixed up and kicking butt. I ditched my 2000 Ford Mustang v6 and bought a 2010 Ranger XLT. No regrets at all: 24 MPG city…come on!

The real reason why i’m responding is I have a question: I always wanted a car from my birth year. (1982) Thing is, the early 80’s weren’t too kind aesthetically on domestics. With a budget of 8-10k, what would you guys suggest that I should get from 82 that looks good, rides better, and won’t leave me broke from maintenance and repairs?

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Hammer Time: Of Pins And Pricks

Beware of the pin-prick mentality. It blinds even the best of us in the automotive world.

A lot of great cars over the decades have been deflated by the nascent fashions of the moment. The Chrysler minivan was a slow seller when it was first released. “Too big. Too bulky. Not a wagon!” cried the conventional soothsayers of the status quo.

Then it sold like hotcakes. 10+ million vehicles in 20 years. Beetles. Corollas. The 1st gen Taurus. Just a few ‘weird cars’ have invoked more enduring design ideas for auto design folk than hundreds of conventional hum-drum models of modern time. Which now brings me to New York City’s next taxi. Will it shine like a beacon in the coming era? Or is the design more out of wack than John Rocker’s first visit to the Big Apple?

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Hammer Time, Beijing Edition: Need a License? Go To Court

We have documented extensively how Beijing’s license plate lottery mucked-up the car market of China’s capital. Now, Beijingers found a creative way to get their sought-after license play without bothering Lady Luck: They go to court.

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Piston Slap: How to Save a Saturn

Brian writes:

Hey Sajeev – as a TTAC reader, and a consummate “I’m an enthusiast, but my wallet says otherwise” tinkerer, I’m currently in a dilemma that could use your opinion and the reader’s.

I have a 2001 Saturn L200 2.2 liter that blew a head gasket. Strangest blown head gasket I’ve ever seen: no loss of power, no other signs than an intermediate low coolant light. This eventually culminated in my adding 2 gallons of (idiotic) dex-cool and then driving it 2 miles, and looking for leaks, only to discover the low coolant light was on again. That the point at which I discovered the dex-cool oil mixture that had inundated my crankcase. I had been putting off diagnosing and fixing what I thought was a minor and intermittent coolant leak (sure is cold in Minnesota this time of year, heated shop or no) but now I have no choice. The car has 190k on it. I had become determined around 160k that I was simply going to drive it into the ground.

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Piston Slap: The German Engineering Plunge?

Drew writes:

Dear Truth-sayers…

I’ve finally made it. I have the capability to buy a German sports sedan. But does that mean I should?

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Hammer Time: Freebies

It was the good old days. The Summer of 2007. I had become one of the top buyers at a nearby discount parts store, and several others nearby wanted my business. At this point I was buying all my parts for my cars at ‘cost’ plus 10%. But that didn’t matter. Like the sub-prime world, the store managers were paid bonuses based on their volume of sales. Who needed profit when you could make it up with volume? Well, it took about a year for the guys up the chain of command to figure that out.

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Piston Slap: The Quandary of The "Orient Panther"

Frank in Boston writes:


I am the original owner and caretaker of a beloved 1995 Acura Integra LS. The car has only 68K pampered miles with all maintenance done based on “time-out” rather than mileage. It lives on a steady diet of E-10 Mobil regular dispensed in and around greater Boston. It is my ‘Orient Panther’ and ran like the proverbial Swiss watch until…

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Piston Slap: Karma, Cash And Choosing a Final Resting Place

Jayson writes:


I have a couple of Q45’s that are ready for retirement. They have been great highway rides, but I just don’t have the time or desire to keep them running anymore. Since I no longer have time to wrench on them, parting them out is a no-go and neither is going to leave the driveway under their own power. My question is what is the best way to dispose of a dead car or two?

Should I just call a local wrecking yard or just sell them for scrap?

Call the “We need your used car” charities for a donation?

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Piston Slap: (Sane) Purchase Advice For (Insane) Panther Love

Philip writes:


I have been driving a 2002 Chrysler T&C mini-van that is on its 3rd transmission. Based on the mileage, number 4 is right around the corner. I am feeling the Panther Love and I looking into a Lincoln Town Car.

A little background info. We live in The Woodlands Tx and I am the main taxi driver for a tall family of six. Neither my wife nor my teenage children do not what their dad driving an old man’s car. I, on the other hand, could care less.

The Panther I found on Ebaymotors/Autotrader is a 2003 Town Car with 42000 miles for 13800. The car is in Richmond Tx. Could you point me in the right direction on who I could have look at this car and what would be a fair asking price?

P.S.: Wife wants me to get a smaller sedan. She will be getting herself a mini-van for the family.

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Piston Slap: Dusting Off Love for a Swedish Meatball

James writes:

Hey Sajeev, James here (well duh.) I’m at a conundrum of logic-versus-emotion and I need someone to talk me out of this idea. My current car is an ’07 Accord EX sedan, 4-cylinder, 5-speed, low miles (like 42k, hardly broken in.) It’s a great car – costs almost nothing to maintain,comfortable, great shifter, good gas mileage. The only thing is, I don’t actually… well… like it.

I’ve always had a thing for turbocharged Swedish cars (oh lord.) My last car was a beautiful Saab 900 SPG that blew up in dramatic fashion despite me throwing a frankly insane amount of money at it while I owned it. Thus the appliance-like Honda now.

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Hammer Time: Behind The Gavel

Auto auctions are unique creatures. There are endless lines of cars going in and out of the lane. Auctioneers using their powers of persuasion to create the urgency to buy. Alliances. Egos. Organized chaos at every moment… and most of all a reserve price that has to be met come hell or high water. There is one unique twist to today’s auto auction world. Many buyers and sellers will never come to the auction. They are online. Viewing all the sales and inventory for the week on a computer. Which brings to me the first company featured in this three part installment:: Insurance Auto Auctions.

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Hammer Time: The Best Time

“When should I buy?” Some folks think that the end of the month is the best. Dealers need to hit their quotas and well.. isn’t every car salesman measured on their month end performance? Others believe that the best time to buy is when the new model’s change over during the August/September time frame. The manufacturers need to clear out those leftovers 2011 models for their recently pressed ‘new cars’. Most of the new cars are mostly the same so… why not just buy the old ones! Well, it’s not that simple.The answer to ‘when’ to buy always depends on three ‘whats’.

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Piston Slap: Eastern Oregonians Need LSD?

Mark writes via LinkedIn:

You may remember I asked a question about the right winter car for my wife here in southern Oregon some time ago – she is happy now with her Subaru Forester, right in line with what the B&B said she should drive.

My current question has to do with my 2000 Mazda Miata. It has a hardtop, but is otherwise stock. Due to the arrival of my 1959 Rover P5 Sedan project car, the Miata has to live outside in the winter. I’ve put winter tires on it, but should I also man up and spend the money for a LSD rear end? It is an easy swap, but since I am confused after looking online about how much I would benefit in the snow from such an upgrade, I thought I’d ask for some advice. Should I spend the money on the Miata, or put a kicking sound system in the Rover?

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  • Bd2 Other way around.Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the Pony Coupe during the early 1970s and later used its wedge shape as the basis for the M1 and then the DMC-12.The 3G Supra was just one of many Japanese coupes to adopt the wedge shape (actually was one of the later ones).The Mitsubishi Starion, Nissan 300ZX, etc.
  • Tassos I also want one of the idiots who support the ban to explain to me how it will work.Suppose sometime (2035 or later) you cannot buy a new ICE vehicle in the UK.Q1: Will this lead to a ICE fleet resembling that of CUBA, with 100 year old '56 Chevys eventually? (in that case, just calculate the horrible extra pollution due to keeping 100 year old cars on the road)Q2: Will people be able to buy PARTS for their old cars FOREVER?Q3: Will people be allowed to jump across the Channel and buy a nice ICE in France, Germany (who makes the best cars anyway), or any place else that still sells them, and then use it in the UK?
  • Tassos Bans are ridiculous and undemocratic and smell of Middle Ages and the Inquisition. Even 2035 is hardly any better than 2030.The ALMIGHTY CONSUMER should decide, not... CARB, preferably WITHOUT the Government messing with the playing field.And if the usual clueless idiots read this and offer the tired "But Government subsidizes the oil industry too", will they EVER learn that those MINISCULE (compared to the TRILLIONS of $ size of this industry) subsidies were designed to help the SMALL Oil producers defend themselves against the "Big Oil" multinationals. Ask ANY major Oil co CEO and he will gladly tell you that you can take those tiny subsidies and shove them.
  • Dusterdude The suppliers can ask for concessions, but I wouldn’t hold my breath . With the UAW they are ultimately bound to negotiate with them. However, with suppliers , they could always find another supplier ( which in some cases would be difficult, but not impossible)
  • AMcA Phoenix. Awful. The roads are huge and wide, with dedicated lanes for turning, always. Requires no attention to what you're doing. The roads are idiot proofed, so all the idiots drive - they have no choice, because everything is so spread out.