Thursday, April 14, 2011 15:12
For a long time automakers must have been convinced car owners didn’t really want to know anything about the health of their vehicles, because instead of gauges that gave useful information, they installed “idiot lights,” so-called because when they came on you felt like an idiot for not checking the oil, or the water, or whatever other system the idiot light told you had just gone off the rails.
Even today many cars don’t include much more than a gas gauge and a coolant temperature gauge, so it’s a good idea to add a few extra gauges that can help you avoid trouble, or at least see it coming before it gets there.
A tachometer indicates engine RPM, and keeps you from revving it too high. Some aftermarket tachs have shift lights (see below) that you can program to flash when you reach a preset engine speed.
An oil pressure gauge tells you your engine’s getting enough oil at the right pressure to keep running. It’ll typically read lower at idle than at driving speeds, but if it suddenly reads low any other time, or drops to zero, you’ve got problems.More...
Monday, December 20, 2010 04:15
Luxury-class cars aren’t known for their tasteful restraint. After all, when you’re paying the same price for a car as you would for a house in Los Angeles, you want the best—and the most––money can buy. The cup holders should accommodate champagne flutes, not just Starbucks lattes, and the seats should be made of the skin of not just any animal, but an endangered one. So when Mercedes-Benz announced in July that it was working on a 9-speed automatic transmission for its large-displacement luxo-car engines, some people figured it was just the latest example of one-upmanship in a class that already boasted several 8-speed units.
The truth is more complicated. These days, car engineers are no longer free to let their imaginations run wild, because the EPA is looking over their shoulders to make sure nothing they do increases emissions. The problem is that all engines produce more emissions at some rpm than others, and yet they need to rev up to move the car.
The ideal solution would be a CVT (constantly variable transmission) like the ones in scooters and snowmobiles, which keeps the engine running at the most efficient rpm while the trans does the work of varying the speed of the vehicle. But current CVTs can’t handle the weight and torque of large cars, so engineers add more speeds to the automatic transmission, resulting in more gear ratios and fewer shifts and changes in engine rpm. More...
Wednesday, November 17, 2010 02:37
If there's one thing that defines a high-performance car, it’s the manual transmission. That four (or five, or sometimes six)-on-the-floor says the hand on the knob belongs to a driver with the skill to meter out the horsepower in the right amount and at the right time, without the intervention of some granny-friendly slushbox, thank you very much.
But manual transmissions are disappearing. It used to be that sticks were the default transmission, and automatics the high-priced option. Now, with electronic controls determining shift points and engine rpm, and with more drivers needing their hands free to text, phone, and hold their lattes, automatics are fast becoming the only choice in many models, with manual shifting the extra-cost option—if it’s even available at all. More...
Friday, October 8, 2010 04:35
Allow me to start with a “selling a basket case” story. I was selling my wife’s ex-rental-car Pinto. I was asking $500. The best you could say about the car was that it started every time, ran, kinda turned when you moved the steering wheel and kinda stopped when you pushed the brakes. It was cockroach-tough and just as loveable. One potential buyer walked around the car and pointed out some of the vehicle’s many faults. After quite a long time of being nice, I said to her, “Listen lady, you’re buying a ’76 Pinto, not a year-old Mercedes. Do you want it or not?”
All its problems could be fixed with a Phillips-head screwdriver: Just remove the license plates and leave it by the road.
Now, here’s a “buying a basket case” story. While living in Connecticut, I bought a seafoam-green and rust-colored Subaru wagon for $500. The best you could say was that it started pretty much every time, turned when you moved the steering wheel, and stopped when you pushed the brakes. Also, all its problems could be fixed with a Phillips-head screwdriver: Just remove the license plates and leave it by the road. One cylinder had no compression, so we disabled its rocker arms so it didn’t pump raw gas directly into the air, or oil into the intake manifold. I drove it for about eight months and sold it for $500. Best automotive return on investment I’ve experienced. (It was also a great New York City car. When taxi drivers tried to intimidate me, I looked ‘em in the eye and turned toward them. Apparently afraid of tetanus, they swerved abruptly away. I felt like Saint Dale “The Intimidator” Earnhardt.) More...
Thursday, September 23, 2010 02:06
Planning a long road trip? There are ONLY two things you need to do to make your car ready to get you safely there and back.
- First, remember all that maintenance—tires, brakes, battery, alternator belts, spark plug wires, distributor cap—you’ve been putting off? Get it done.
- Know all that scheduled work—timing belt, heater hoses, transmission inspection—that’s due (or past due)? Get it done.
It’s as simple and expensive as that.
But what if you’ve already blown your budget on critical stuff such as ocean-view motels and margaritas? What do you REALLY have to get done? How much do you want to make it there and back? Here are some tips. You choose. More...