Thursday, 19 April 2012

Speed is Relative - or is it?

There was an interesting video recently posted on YouTube where someone on a Yamaha blasted up the highway on Vancouver Island at speeds into the 300kph range. Reaction from the media and law enforcement was swift and predictable: catch the offender and throw the book at him - it was probably a ‘him’. So was my thought - at first.

Then I read an article posted by the Canadian Press Online where Ontario flatly refused to raise speed limits on its major freeways to 120 kph or 130kph from 100kph. According to Transport Minister Bob Chiarelli one of the points in favor of keeping the lower limit was that “police are kept busy issuing tickets to drivers caught going that (120 kph)fast.”

So what is “too fast”? Was the motorcyclist “reckless”?

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Mix of Factors Affects Used-Car Price

I wrote a column about used-car pricing a while ago. It's interesting how little and how much has changed. Craigslist and Kijiji have all but replaced newspapers. Auto Trader type publications are online and buyers are more savvy than ever before. Manufacturers have Certified Used Car programs for their used stock. So can you if you keep decent records. Here it is:

 Q.  In 1984 I bought a new VW Jetta Turbo Diesel which now has over 120 000 km on it.  I like the car very much and it hasn't given me any trouble to speak of but now I would like to sell it and buy a newer car.  How can I determine what the car is worth as a used car?  There just don't seem to be very many models like this one around.

 A.  The problem with guessing the value of a used car is that the seller is never sure that the asked price was indeed right.  If it sold too quickly did you ask enough?  Or, if it never sells, are you asking too much?  Most of the time it is a matter of pricing the car for the current used car market in your area.  This pricing is made more difficult, as you are finding, by the fact that you own a 'rare' car.  To aid you in making an educated guess at the Jetta's value, the following points will give a good idea of what dealers look at when someone tries to trade in a used vehicle. 
There's No Substitute For Research

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Volt or Milllivolt?

In the past month the Chevrolet Volt has been attacked by the press for battery fires that can occur some length of time after a side impact and, by the Republicans, for being an ‘Obamamobile’. And then GM has to stop production because of lagging sales.

Why is the American press so negative about American products? Are Imports really that much better?

Almost fifty years ago, Ralph Nader was ultimately responsible for killing GM’s Corvair while championing the movement toward safer cars. Turns out that ten years later the Corvair’s alleged poor handling was shown not to exist and that the car was actually very safe. But it was too late for the Corvair, and ultimately the 1960's American small car movement.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Replaced Your Car's Cabin Air Filter Lately?

Many vehicles made after 1990 have a cabin air filter in the AC/heater (HVAC) system. Have you ever wondered why? It’s not just to clean the incoming air as the name suggests.

A couple of things happened to vehicles in those years that made cabin filters a great feature. First cars got smaller and evaporators – the unit that cools the air – got smaller. Second, the industry refrigerant changed from R-12 or Freon to R-134a because of ozone depleting substance regulations. 

Older, large evaporators had lots of space around the tubes and fins for moisture from the air to run through without freezing. Dust, pollen, bacteria that came into the car through the fresh air intake was washed out quickly by the freely running water. The smaller, more compact evaporators were redesigned to increase efficiency but they had little space for water flow. They also ran a bit warmer which didn’t pull as much moisture out of the air as before.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Hybrids - Are They Green or Brown?

One of the perks of my job is that I travel to exotic destinations. A few years back I ended up in Edmonton Alberta in the dead of winter with temperatures hovering around -25C. 

At the car rental counter I was given the choice between something and a Toyota Camry Hybrid. I jumped at the chance to drive one of these new technology cars.

I'd always been intrigued with the hybrid concept but was not ready to scoot around in a Honda Insight, something that looked like a sci-fi project.

Once I figured out the 'starting' procedure and got the controls set, which included a driver info centre with wheels, battery, motor and lots of flashy arrows, I was off.

I quietly whirred my way out of the parkade and by the time I hit the road, the heater had the car nice and toasty. The motor finally fired up at about 50kph (30mph) and highway speed was not far away.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A Face Only a Mother Could Love

There have certainly been some interesting cars made around the world in the last hundred years or so. 

Some, like the three wheeled Reliants and Bonds made in England skirted tax laws. Three wheels were taxed as motorcycles and four as a motorcar. Others, like the German Messerschmitt must have been made solely to use up spare aircraft parts. Japanese tax laws used an engine size of 360cc as a cut point resulting in some tiny 4 wheeled shoe boxes that were at least stable in corners.

The handle in the back is to turn it around!

Then there were some cars that were just plain ugly. Like the Pontiac Aztec. Or the AMC Pacer. 

So my question is: In your opinion, what is the ugliest car you can think of?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Choke? Isn't That What Athletes Do?

Something I hear from youngsters – that’s anyone younger than me by 10 years – all too often is that life was easier in the old days. I’m not too sure that it applies to owning or fixing cars. Compare the following oft-repeated scenario to today’s fill - drive - change oil (maybe) - sell car lifestyle.

Q.Last year I had a tune-up done on my 1972 Chevrolet Caprice (454 engine). Since then, whenever I start it up it stalls. I have to repeat the starting procedure five or six times before it stays running. Is there any way to cure this problem? Will I have to have the carburetor overhauled or replaced?

A.First off, I don't think that the carburetor necessarily has to be rebuilt or replaced. Since the condition didn't start until after the tune-up, it must have been caused by the mechanic, not the car. Somehow, the automatic choke system or the fast idle mechanism was disturbed. Or something that was hiding the problem was fixed so that the stalling now appears to be the worst concern.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

B-Spec - The New Face of Entry Level Racing?

In May 1958 Road & Track magazine tested the Mercedes 180D. Performance was meagre: 0 - 60 was 32.3s. 1/4 mile time: 26.0s and top speed not quite 69 mph. In 1968 I bought one as my first car. Every day, on the way to the University of Calgary, it became a challenge to see how fast I could get going up University Drive from Crowchild Trail before I had to brake for the light at the end. I don’t think I ever broke the speed limit - by much.

What’s that got to do with B-Spec Racing? Everything. Based on B Cars including: Mazda2, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta, Chevy Cruz these small, light and nimble cars will offer more skill-based racing than many earlier series like this.

Speed and power will take a back seat to line, momentum and finding the gap before it starts to appear. Couple that with a relatively low cost, how much more fun can you legally have? It's also a great way to entice new club racing prospects.

Cars will be stock with a few upgrades to tires and suspension allowed, equipped with the mandatory safety equipment and race certified. Drivers also need the normal race paraphernalia and licencing, but after that, it’s basically showroom stock with a multitude of fiddle factors like restrictor plates and ballast to even the playing field a bit.

SCCA has a complete set of rules and regs available at

Now all I need is about 25 grand and to be able to get in and out of the car.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Crazy Wheel Alignment

With the end of snow season comes the time to dump the snow tires and put on the summer ones. It's also time to have that annual wheel alignment done on your vehicle. Just be careful so that you don't have the same problems as a friend of mine had.

He had the shop install some newer tires, which were already mounted on rims, before the wheel alignment was done. One of the tires was quite low on air but he thought that they would check the tire pressures before starting the alignment. They didn't. The tires were inflated to the right pressure afterwards and now the car pulled to one side. The shop was contacted but he was ensured that tire pressure wouldn't affect the alignment. He didn't believe it and neither should you.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Welcome to Georgethecarguy

“The more things change, the more they stay the same” - A. Karr.

As technicians (not mechanics anymore!) we’re faced with new and ever-changing technology that needs diagnosing, repairing and replacing. What a crazy and somewhat unrealistic demand. Social philosophy (a.k.a. customer expectations) combine with that to really put us behind the eight ball.

So, what to do? Remember the past, is what I say. Because nothing really has changed in the way things work. Only in the way we look at things.