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Local Motors: The Future of Automaking

October 1st, 2014

Local Motors Rally Fighter

Whether you want a $700 remote-control car, a $1,900 skateboard or a $99,900 car, Local Motors has you covered.

The Phoenix company is famous for its open-source design strategy and series of micro factories, which allow for the company’s signature product, the Rally Fighter, to be designed, and built, by the same people who buy it.

The Local Motors website says the Rally Fighter:

Looks like a race car, rides like a luxury vehicle. A rugged tube chassis construction complemented with all the requisite creature comforts. This 50-state street legal off-road desert racer is at home on the open road, the daily commute, and on the most challenging desert terrains.

More on the Rally Fighter in a moment, but first, check this out:

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Burning Oil in a Brand New Car

April 7th, 2014

oil_level_low_warning

Burning oil in a 1973 Cadillac seems legit.

Drive an old boat like that around for long and you’ll stop at every gas station and put in a quart of oil. Worn engines simply burn and leak oil, often causing heavy smoke and the putrid odor of crusty black tar.

Drivers of those old cars don’t get too angry at the oil consumption because they know it just comes with the territory of having the pleasure of driving a Nixon-era automobile.

A 2013 car should never burn a quart of oil between oil changes.

Right?

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Airless Tires Closer to Reality

November 20th, 2013

Airless tires

I fully expect to have a tire catastrophe in the near future.

I accept this fact because for the last couple of weeks, I’ve ignored a tire problem that has cropped up. There’s a slow leak in my front driver’s-side tire that requires a stop at the gas station, four quarters and about 15 pounds of air pressure every couple of days.

There are some who won’t call that a “slow leak,” but instead give it the full-blown label of “leak,” or even “flat tire.”

There are two possibilities with this leak. Either it’s an easy fix that a quick stop at a tire store can fix, or it’s a sign that I’ll soon have a $600 credit-card charge for four new tires.

I foresee the latter, which explains my lack of action to resolve the problem.

If only there was a way to eliminate the need for air in tires…

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Are Auto Parts Stores a Thing of the Past?

June 19th, 2013
How's the parking lot at your local auto parts store?

How’s the parking lot at your local auto parts store?

How much longer will auto parts stores be around?

In college I worked the parts counter at a national auto parts chain store in Seattle. I loved my job. I worked all day on Saturdays and Sundays and from 5 pm to 10 pm two to three times during the week. I loved helping out and learning about the customers’ project cars, learning about different parts for different cars and occasionally helping stranded motorists by changing a battery, doing an electrical test, even breaking the rules once and changing out an alternator right there in the parking lot. In the dark.

This was in the late 1990s, and the auto parts store was a busy environment of shared enthusiasm for cars and ambitious DIYers taking on repair projects for their beloved vehicles.

I have a feeling that culture is gone… or quickly vanishing.

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Lost Car Keys: An Expensive Lesson in Organization

April 5th, 2013

Car keys

If everything in life happens for a reason, I can only assume there’s a lesson on organization in losing one’s car keys.

There was a time when losing keys wasn’t that big a deal. A copy of a copied spare could be made for about $1.50, and life would get back to normal. Even if no spares were around, a locksmith could whip up a replacement in no time flat, or a new lock and/or ignition could be picked up at the local auto parts store and installed in an afternoon.

Losing keys to a vehicle made in the last decade, though, spells real trouble. Real expensive trouble!

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When Is Tire Siping a Good Idea?

January 15th, 2013

2012 Subaru Legacy

My parents recently leased a new 2012 Subaru Legacy. They wanted a vehicle to replace their 2000 Honda CR-V, which served them well through many harsh Pacific Northwest winters.

This being their first winter with the car, they were interested to see how it did once the snow started piling up. Well, this week, they got their wish. With temps well below freezing and hard-packed snow covering many city streets, my mom approached the first incline of the season. She made it up the slope, stopped at the intersection and immediately slid to the curb. Like hot butter on a cold plate.

The AWD system of the Subaru wasn’t the issue here… it was obviously the tires. Which raised the question: Shouldn’t AWD cars sold in markets that get snow come equipped with proper tires?

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Kit Cars Make a Case, But Used Is Better Option

March 20th, 2012

Ford GT40 kit car

I went to junior high school around the corner from a Lamborghini.

In 7th grade a friend pointed to a house with a closed garage door and said, “There’s a Lamborghini in that garage.” I didn’t believe him, because I never saw it. The garage door was always closed. Every day I’d look, hoping to catch a glimpse of a real Lamborghini. Then, one day…

A bright red, low-slung angular Lamborghini Countach sat in the driveway. I was in awe. It was the first Lamborghini I’d ever seen.

Or was it?

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Green Update: Why Do EVs Cost So Much?

March 13th, 2012

Tesla battery

The high cost of EVs and most hybrids is owing to the batteries, as most of you know. And 65 percent of Americans simply won’t pay the extra cost of an EV over a gas-powered car.

We did a story last month about Tesla’s “bricked” Roadsters, wherein the cost of replacing the battery (photo above) was claimed by the factory to be about $40,000, or 37 percent of the car’s original cost. For the Volt, I’ve heard a replacement battery cost of anywhere from $8,000 to $13,000.

And there are other associated costs with new technology, including the up-front cost of engineering, tooling, marketing and small production runs. Sure, these get reduced or amortized over time, but in the beginning, not.

Another “opportunity cost” for the buyer may be the government-sponsored tax credit. This could become an automatic add-in to the car’s price—as one of our commenters has claimed (scroll to Randy here). So in fact the federal $7,500 tax credit, in his scenario, goes into the carmaker’s pocket. The buyer gets the rebate but pays $7,500 more for the car. If true, that is a sick scam that ought to be investigated.

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LEDs: Lights of the Future or Just Another Driving Distraction?

January 23rd, 2012

The image that started the LED revolution

Audi changed the automotive world.

It didn’t do it with a revolutionary new engine or by using a new lighter-than-steel chassis. It did it with light. A glaring, menacing light that etched its way into our psyches after emerging from a darkened room on an Audi R8.

From the instant those LED strips lit up, the personality of Audi changed forever. It took on a new cool arrogance while spawning imitations from almost all other automakers. The swoopy LEDs make an approaching Audi instantly recognizable, but not everyone is a fan of the bright automotive bling.

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Crunched Cars for Christmas: Planned and Unplanned

December 29th, 2011

Tropical Chevrolet, Miami

Cars are not forever, but some of us get upset when they crash, get crunched or are otherwise destroyed. Of course. We are attached to cars, even when they aren’t ours. So here are three stories of Christmastime crunches that will surely tug at your heartstrings.

A couple of weeks ago at 3 a.m., a speeding drunk driver demolished at least three brand-new Corvettes on the lot of Tropical Chevrolet in Miami Shores, Fla. Naturally, the guy sustained only minor injuries, as the cars did not.

This is the second time that Tropical has gotten creamed. In 2007, a Corvette driver landed on top of four Suburbans, valued at over $300,000, and again the driver survived intact.

Several possible conclusions here: 1. Don’t drink and drive. 2. Somebody really has it in for Tropical. 3. The Corvette driver was extremely annoyed at the Service Department.

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