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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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Keyless Entry: Convenience or Invitation to Hackers?

December 21st, 2011

Keyless entry

The following thoughts are occasioned by a recent trip to Boston, during which I drove my nephew’s Mazda CX-9. Beautiful car, with all the goodies, including keyless entry and auto-start. My first thought was how hackable that thing was.

Hacking keyless entry to unlock and start cars has become all the rage, even in Africa. A rash of car thefts in Rustenburg, S.A., was caused by thieves using “a universal remote available on the black market that allegedly opens about 50% of the latest cars available on the market.”

The more sophisticated keyless car systems get, the more vulnerabilities they seem to offer. Bad boys can hack your smartphone pretty easily, and Apple’s voice-command Siri can be hacked to start your car with a proxy server. Media players are now a target:

Earlier this year, researchers from the University of California, San Diego and the University of Washington hid a Trojan on a CD, which, once inserted into the stereo, gave them access to the vehicle’s full computer system. And this past summer, researchers at the Black Hat Security Conference demonstrated a proof-of-concept hack in which they hacked into a car’s security system using a text message.

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Five Things You Should Never Say to a Mechanic

November 8th, 2011
Car mechanic

Do you trust your mechanic?

If you own a car, you should know a mechanic.

Sure, car owners can abuse their rides, neglect maintenance and hope things are OK. When cars don’t get the attention they need, though, they have a nasty habit of eventually striking back by draining their owners’ bank accounts. Cars don’t thrive on neglect.

Fluids, brakes, drivetrain components, electronics and engine mechanics are all parts of a precision system that must work in perfect harmony to maintain performance and longevity in a car.

If you wait on maintenance and don’t have an established relationship with a good mechanic when your car starts giving you problems, be careful what you say when bringing your vehicle to a shop you’ve never visited. If you value your money at all, be absolutely sure you don’t say anything like this:

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Honda’s Troubles Multiply with Thailand Floods

October 31st, 2011

Flooded Hondas

Maybe you’ve been watching the photos coming out of Thailand. This one is of Honda’s underwater assembly plant near Bangkok, which is likely to be out of commission for up to 6 months, affecting 3 percent of global output.

And who can forget the pictures from the earthquake/tsunami disaster in March that humbled Honda big-time? Plus the strong yen, which has contributed to Honda’s recent announcement of quarterly profit falling 56 percent. U.S. sales dropped 22.3 percent, and revenue from nearly all regions was down.

The company is really taking it on the chin—and this at a time when U.S. auto sales are predicted to rise. Other companies, like Toyota, have also been affected by the floods, and there are all kinds of supply chain shortages.

We’ve written before about Honda’s 2.5 million recalls and how Consumer Reports dissed the Civic. Now the bad press about the car has forced Honda to move up its efforts to redo the cheapened Civic, to sometime in 2013. By which time, the damage may have multiplied.

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New Winter Driving Tech: Worth It?

October 21st, 2011

Frozen car

For the first 10 or so years of my winter driving career, my cars were equipped with nothing more than a slow-working heater and, maybe, a rear defroster.

That made for some cold driving experiences and often required some extra time outside scraping the windows clear before hunkering down in the driver’s seat wearing a down coat and puffy gloves. (It’s amazing what a 10-degree snowy night will do to a car!)

In the years since, I’ve moved up in the world to the point where I now have a garage, which I believe is the most essential piece of the winter driving puzzle. Incredible inventions, those garages. I also discovered heated seats, which back in the day I would have said I would never need. Now I can never not have them.

I was reminded of all this while reading a piece on MSN called “5 Techie Features for Winter Driving.” Are these overkill, pointless gadgets or the next things we won’t be able to live without? Read on and leave your opinion!

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Cubans Can Now Buy and Sell Post-Revolution Cars

October 6th, 2011

Cuban cars

We’ve all seen the photos of crumbling buildings, bad streets and 1950s cars that have been made, somehow, to survive.

Like all these old cars, the economy in Cuba has been crumbling and disintegrating over the years, yet manages to hang on. Now, as of October 1, a new law permits buying and selling of post-1959 cars by the general public, which likely encourage many of the owners of pre-1959 cars to trade them in on newer ones. There are also agricultural and small business reforms.

The owners of old cars may or may not benefit in terms of resales. But the economy surely will—and it’s about time.

This move finally opens a market closed for 50 years to U.S. auto companies and parts suppliers (to repair the old cars). It permits trading of the old cars, some of which are classics, some of which will come to the U.S. We’ll show you a few more pix after the break.

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Finally, a Jeep Wrangler Pickup—in Kit Form

July 22nd, 2011

Jeep Wrangler JK-8

The Mopar Division of Chrysler has come up with a kit called the JK-8 that converts the four-door Wrangler Unlimited into a pickup. Jeep owners have been seeking a pickup model for a long time.

After all, who uses the back seat of a Jeep for anything but hauling dogs, jerry cans and trash?

Jeep finally got the message that such a kit could help fill the small-pickup hole in the market, with off-road capability to boot. Mopar’s kit ($5,499) transforms your Wrangler Unlimited (base price, $25,545) into a very cool machine for transporting Honda generators, La-Z-Boy recliners, beer kegs and other necessaries.

The problem is you’re looking at $32,000 big bucks, plus installation, which can be done by a “motivated do-it-yourselfer” or, better, by a Jeep dealer. “The kit consists of new body panels that make up the pickup bed, a new bulkhead behind the front seats, new B-pillars, roll bar extensions, and a removable fiberglass roof.” Welding and painting are required.

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