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Hyundai and Kia. An unusual survival story.

Let's face it. The Hyundai Pony was a disaster and it's taken Hyundai, along with Kia, over 30 years to recover. The original car was designed by a set of fugitives from British Motor Corporation and just like the Austin Marina on which it was based, if it rained, the Pony stopped working!

Many companies would have done a "Blackberry"and quietly faded away. But Hyundai persisted and eventually out did the Japanese.

So I find it fascinating how Korean companies Kia and Hyundai have become synonymous with both value and quality, and how these companies have raised themselves from a “sub-par status” to a genuine contender in today’s market. Once considered a cheap alternative to buying Japanese, these two firms have invested insane amounts of capitol in the American market since the mid-1990s. They also have spent large sums on developing their own brand identities, creating their own high-tech R&D departments, and purchasing legitimate materials that rival those found on vehicles costing twice as much.

So how is it that these Korean companies have gone from worst to first?

Kia’s history started with bicycle manufacturing in the early 1950s, and by the 1970s the company had shifted to the manufacturing of motorcycles, cars, and trucks. It later partnered with Ford in the 1980s to make versions of Ford/Mazda collaboration cars, and by 1994 Kia had outgrown its humble roots and began selling the Sephia and the Sportage in America. But the Asian financial crisis forced Kia to file for bankruptcy, at which point Hyundai took over the company and to this day remains majority stakeholder. Over the next decade Kia grew slowly but steadily and became a genuine contender as it fixed its earlier miscues, opened a U.S. corporate headquarters and design center, and solidified its dedication to the American market in 2010 with the opening of its Georgia manufacturing plant.

Hyundai’s history draws some interesting parallels to Kia’s, as it also began not with cars (it began with engineering and construction), and it has also had dealings with Ford in the production of vehicles. After developing its own technologies for the Sonata in 1988 and its own engine and transmission line in the early 1990s, Hyundai began to invest heavily in the quality, design, manufacturing, and long-term research of its vehicles in order to raise its status and value in the American market. It added a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty to all of its cars and launched an aggressive marketing campaign, and in 2006 Hyundai hired former BMW designer Thomas Bürkle as head of the company’s design department. The automaker has opted to show a devout dedication to the American market by stationing its North American headquarters in Michigan, and an assembly plant in Alabama.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for these Korean car makers, and back in the 1980s and 1990s many Americans avoided these “Japanese wannabes” for fear of poor craftsmanship and public ridicule. These fears were rightly founded, as early models from either maker was typically appalling on every level. But after equally rocky starts, and incessant criticism from both critics and consumers alike, these Korean firms began to gather some steam in the American marketplace and are now giving companies like Honda, Toyota, and BMW genuine cause for concern as the world realizes that it is OK to buy Korean.

1. Good value

What started out as just a cheap Korean economy car has blossomed into quite the value-packed product, as both Hyundai and Kia continue to offer more for less. Features that were often reserved for high-end luxury makers like Lexus and BMW can now be found on many models, and it is not uncommon to run across amenities like genuine Napa leather interior, heated rear seats, automatic high-beam assistance, and ventilated front seats. All of these features come at a fraction of the cost of their Japanese and European competition with cars like the Sonata ranking third on U.S. News’ list of “Best Midsize Cars For The Money.” And while the Sonata was bested by the 2015 Honda Accord Hybrid and 2015 Toyota Camry, it rolls in at thousands of dollars less than either of these two, further enforcing the fact that it has excellent value for the money.

2. Amazing warranties

Sick of people calling its products crap, Hyundai rolled-out an industry first 10-year/100,000-mile warranty in 1998, with Kia shortly following suit. Labeled as “America’s Best Warranty,” this warranty covers the powertrain, a 5-year/60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper coverage, 5-year/unlimited mileage roadside assistance, seven years of rust protection, and even carries a lifetime hybrid battery warranty. Hyundai saw an 82% sales jump the year after the program was put in place, and while Kia’s powertrain and new vehicle warranties are the same as Hyundai’s, it’s roadside assistance is limited to 60,000 miles, and its rust coverage is two years less than its Korean counterpart’s.

3. Turbocharged and hybrid-powered

Kia and Hyundai were quick to hop on the hybrid bandwagon a few years back, and with the aforementioned lifetime battery warranty and favorable reviews, it is no wonder that the hybrid versions of these cars are selling quite well. The hybrid versions of the Optima and Sonata are no slouches either, with both vehicles topping-out around the 200 horsepower mark.

But some of us don’t give a hoot about fuel efficiency, and just want some uncompromising power. Korean auto makers were tapping into this trend way before most, so while auto makers are scrambling to put turbos on their engines to increase powerbands, Kia and Hyundai have already been established as turbo specialists.

 4. Cute and quirky

Kia and Hyundai have something for those of us who aren’t into turbos and hybrids, and surprisingly it is still fun and fuel-efficient. With budget-minded Generation Z  buyers demanding tech-savvy, compact economy cars, it is no wonder that cars like the Veloster and Soul are proving to be popular with today’s car buyer. These cars are affordable, adorable, and completely quirky in their own technology-laden little ways.

 5. Individualistic options abound

Tired of blending in and looking like everyone else on the block? Korean car companies have been listening to Americans gripe about this for decades, so they have rolled-out tons of customizable options as well as luxury vehicles like the Equus and performance machines like the Genesis R-Spec. The latter of these two features a fire-breathing 3.8-liter V6 that churns-out 348 horses (besting a comparable Mustang) and is available with Brembo brakes, a Torsen limited-slip differential, and comes standard in rear-wheel-drive. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the 429 horsepower Hyundai Equus, which offers more interior room, horsepower, and amenities than its competition, all at a fraction of the price.

 6. Sharp styling

Once considered a hideous laughingstock of the automotive community, modern Korean cars are actually becoming quite sharp looking. From the use of LED illumination, to redesigned lines and interior cues, all the way to performance aero kits, recent models from both manufacturers are truly a step above previous generations. A dozen years ago no one was ogling a Korean car save for the sticker price on its windshield, nowadays fully-furnished models are cause for statements like, “There’s no way that’s a Kia.”

 7. Improved quality

Long gone are the days when people complained about inferior Korean quality. These cars are made in America, offer fantastic value for the money, and every year land tons of awards for their overall quality. This shift all started back in 2004, when Hyundai shocked everyone when it tied with Honda for initial brand quality in a study by J.D. Power and Associates. It then placed third overall in J.D. Power’s 2006 Initial Quality Survey, trailing only Porsche and Lexus. Meanwhile Kia has been busy cleaning-up as well, winning awards recently for its safety, design, and ingenuity.

Ed note: Every now and again, someone writes an article and my reaction is "Gee, I wish I'd said that!"
                  This article so closely parallels my feelings on the subject of electric cars, I couldn't resist republishing it in full:

Electric cars are nothing but taxpayer subsidized toys for the one per centers, writes Kenneth P. Green. Guelph Mercury

Twenty years ago, in May 1995, I had my first op-ed published in a major newspaper, Los Angeles Times.

The headline was "Pull the plug on the electric car mandate." In that column I pointed out that battery-powered (non-hybrid) electric vehicles were not ready for wide-scale adoption for a variety of reasons, including their high cost and their inferior characteristics compared to regular internal combustion vehicles of the day.

I also observed that there was a distinct possibility of aggravating environmental problems rather than easing them, as the electric vehicles of the day used lead-acid batteries and could increase ambient air lead concentrations, still a significant issue at the time. I argued that "Parking pricing, roadway pricing and mass-transit privatization are the lowest-cost and most equitable solutions to the air pollution problems we face today."

Sadly enough, I am writing essentially that same op-ed today.

Rather than learn a lesson from government's previous attempts to force its favoured technology onto a complex, international market, policy-makers in the United States have doubled, tripled and quadrupled down on the idea, and they have, in virtually every metric of success, failed dismally.

Back in 1990, the California Air Resources Board had mandated that two per cent of the California vehicle fleet go electric by 1998, climbing to 10 per cent by 2003. By 1995, when I wrote that op-ed, it was obvious that the government would never meet those targets (and indeed, GM only manufactured a little over 1,000 of its EV1s, the only mass-market battery electric available).

Back in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama set his own electric vehicles target of having one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. It's equally clear that the federal government won't reach that target despite making large purchases of the cars for government fleets — the Obama administration quietly eliminated their fleet acquisition target in March.

What do I have against electric cars that motivates me to write negative articles about them for 20 years?

Not a thing. If a person wants to buy a luxury car, without subsidies from the less well-off, without subsidized charging stations, and without government grants, loans or mandates, more power to them. If they can actually find a legal place to enjoy the initial rush of acceleration that electric vehicles are famed for, good on them.

The problem is, that's not usually what happens. Instead, lavish subsidies from state and federal governments enable a tiny cadre of wealthy eco-warriors like Leonardo DiCaprio to ostentatiously drive his Tesla to the Academy Awards at the expense of less-fortunate taxpayers. They allow Tesla Motors to exist not by selling cars at a profit, but by claiming Zero Emission Vehicle credits and selling them to other car companies that pass the cost onto regular car-buyers.

So on this 20-year anniversary of my first major op-ed, I'll celebrate by repeating the obvious.

First, government bureaucrats cannot pick winning technologies. They lack knowledge of consumer preferences, as well as knowledge of the specific desires of time and place that only markets can discover. They claim to understand that, yet the technology mandates (often dressed up as "performance standards") just keep on coming.

Second, the technology to produce an all-electric vehicle that rivals the performance and price of regular internal combustion engines did not exist in 1995, nor in 2005, and it still doesn't exist in 2015. Third, it's just as unfair now, in 2015, to rob poor Peter to subsidize rich Leo's purchase of a wealthy guy's toy.

How can anyone justify the U.S. federal government, for example, giving someone $7,500 in tax credits to buy a $70,000 (plus) Tesla hotrod? How does California justify dumping in another $2,500 subsidy, and then privilege these cars to ride on high-occupancy lanes as single-occupant vehicles? How do you justify forcing condominium associations to install electric vehicles charging stations at the whim of one electric car owner, when costs are going to be shared by others?

And that's only a small slice of the handouts bragged about on the Tesla Motors website.

Some will claim an environmental rationale, but that's silly: the economics make it impossible to deploy them at a scale that would significantly reduce either conventional air pollutants or greenhouse gases, and that's assuming you had the wind and solar power online to charge them.

Ten per cent electric vehicles mandates and million-car electric vehicles mandates are just as silly now as they have been for 20 years.

It's time, again, to pull the plug on these mandates, subsidies, and fleet acquisition targets. Let them compete in the luxury market as other luxury carmakers must.

Kenneth P. Green is senior director of natural resource studies at the Fraser Institute. (

Be concerned, be very concerned: About the algorithm that could kill you.

Someday, perhaps sooner than you think, robots are likely to start making moral decisions.

Pretend you’re alone in a driverless car on a single-lane road that’s heading into a tunnel. A child suddenly runs across the tunnel’s entrance, trips and falls. You can either hit the child and save yourself or swerve into the tunnel edifice, killing yourself but saving the child.

Of the 110 people who responded to the online poll, some 64 percent of people said they’d save themselves, while 36 percent would sacrifice themselves for the child.

The questions is a modern take on old philosophical conundrums — the so-called “trolley questions.”

They’re versions of:
Do you divert a runaway train to save a building of people or let it continue on its deadly course, killing an innocent bystander?

They keep asking the question — how should engineers design these cars to react?

And there’s another question nobody’s asking: Who should decide how the car swerves? Who has the moral authority?”

As you’re automating more and more technologies … you’re sometimes going to be automating answers to what turn out to be deeply moral questions.

Relatively few people are asking such questions.

Say that the best we could do is make robot cars reduce traffic fatalities by 1,000 lives. That’s still pretty good. But if they did so by saving all 32,000 would-be victims while causing 31,000 entirely new victims, we wouldn’t be so quick to accept this trade — even if there’s a net savings of lives.”

The ethics of electronics aren’t just life-and-death decisions. Few designers worry about anything but functionality and marketability. But designs can affect both how we see ourselves and how we are broadcast to the world — something close to our core identity. No idle textbook wondering, this — in a way, Facebook’s algorithms already control what we present to the world.

a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer: “a basic algorithm for division”

Algorithms are the priceless coding that drive sites to do things like make money for Mark Zuckerberg. But that also means that code makes decisions about us — often without our knowing it.

Engineers must change their approach to these robot dilemmas. I look at those kinds of issues the way critics might have looked at health care issues 50 or 60 years ago in a moral way, not just a technical one. The same thing needs to happen in engineering.

Meanwhile, users should know that designers and engineers are making moral choices. And they should understand what algorithms are — and that they might do things with our thoughts and appearances that we don’t want, without our realizing it.

Then we need to ask questions, like when our right to present ourselves as we wish can supersede a company’s ability to profit.

This one, too: Who gets to determine how a driverless car will react when faced with a kid, a tunnel, an oncoming vehicle and you?

Summer driving - some things you can do for yourself.
In the summer months it’s especially important to check fluids, belts and hoses and keep an eye on tires.

Summertime is as hard on cars as winter is, and extremes cause trouble, whether it’s cold or heat.

Brake fluid and power steering fluid should be clean and clear.

Transmission fluid should be bright red. If you put it up to your nose and smell it, it should not smell burnt at all. If it’s dark
brown or smells burned, or if it’s been 60,000 km since the last change, most likely the transmission fluid needs to be
changed. Check your owners manual carefully, however because the latest cars and trucks have extended
recommendations since new and improved lubricants are now being specified.

Antifreeze should be clean and green — or orange.
We recommend changing green antifreeze every two years or 60,000 kms and orange antifreeze every 100,000 km.

Car owners should have their oil changed every 8 to 10,000 km or every six months, unless they are using synthetics.
Oil should not be black, but can start taking on a deep brown color, which is acceptable.

You can refill these fluids yourself but it’s important to double-check the labels.
It’s important that you know what you’re looking at, and make sure if you’re topping it off, to use the correct fluid.
Again your owners manual will specify the type of fluid to be used and they vary more greatly now, than they ever have.

And it’s important to check for wear on tires.
As tires age, the ultraviolet rays of the sun dry out and weather the rubber on the side of the tires and you should always
check them for weathering and cracking.

Tires should be replaced when the tread gets below 3/32 of an inch. A good way to check that is to take a quarter, and push
the head of the moose into the tread. If you can see the top of the head, that’s 3/32 of an inch and the tire should be replaced.

Many tires have wear bars running straight across the tire and if any are level with the tread, again, the tire should be replaced.

Bad tire pressure is the biggest cause of tire failure. Tires with too low of pressure can’t dissipate heat and
over inflated tires wear out the tread. If you have time for nothing else, at least check that all four tires appear to equally inflated,
the odds are that they do not need adjustment, but if one tire seems low on pressure, a check up is mandatory.

You should check your belts and hoses, too.

Cracking and dry rot are signs that belts need to be replaced.

Hoses wear from the inside out, so to check for wear.
You should squeeze them. If they are coming apart, they'll feel really mushy.
If they feel really hard, though, they should also be replaced.

A safety check every time the oil is changed is a very good and low cost, investment.

If the air conditioning fails, it’s important to have a backup plan. It’s hot this time of year so it’s always good to make
sure all your windows go up and down properly in case something happens to the air conditioning.

The latest studies indicate that keeping the windows closed and using the air conditioning system produces less air drag and therefore,
uses less fuel.

The solution? Put 'em on the outside: LOL.

Under some conditions, airbags will injure and in some instances kill vehicle occupants. To provide crash protection for occupants not wearing seat belts, the United States airbag designs trigger much more forcefully than airbags designed to the international ECE standards used in most other countries. Recent "smart" airbag controllers can recognize if a seatbelt is used, and alter the airbag cushion deployment parameters accordingly.

In 1990, the first automotive fatality attributed to an airbag was reported. TRW produced the first gas-inflated airbag in 1994, with sensors and low-inflation-force bags becoming common soon afterwards. Dual-depth (also known as dual-stage) airbags appeared on passenger cars in 1998. By 2005, deaths related to airbags had declined, with no adult deaths and two child deaths attributed to airbags that year. however, injuries remain fairly common in accidents with an airbag deployment.

Serious injuries are less common, but severe or fatal injuries can occur to vehicle occupants very near an airbag or in direct contact when it deploys. Such injuries may be sustained by unconscious drivers slumped over the steering wheel, unrestrained or improperly restrained occupants who slide forward in the seat during pre-crash braking, and properly belted drivers sitting very close to the steering wheel. A good reason for the driver not to cross hands over the steering wheel, a rule taught to most learner drivers but quickly forgotten by most, is that an airbag deployment while negotiating a turn may result in the driver's hand(s) being driven forcefully into his or her face, exacerbating any injuries from the airbag alone.

Improvements in sensing and gas generator technology have allowed the development of third generation airbag systems that can adjust their deployment parameters to size, weight, position and restraint status of the occupant. These improvements have demonstrated a reduced injury risk factor for small adults and children, who had an increased risk of injury with first generation airbag systems.

From 1990 to 2000, the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified 175 fatalities caused by air bags. Most of these (104) have been children, while the rest were adults. About 3.3 million air bag deployments have occurred during that interval, and the agency estimates more than 6,377 lives saved and countless injuries prevented.

A rear-facing infant restraint put in the front seat of a vehicle places an infant's head close to the airbag, which can cause severe head injuries, or death if the airbag deploys. Some modern cars include a switch to disable the front passenger airbag, in case a child-supporting seat is used there (although not in Australia, where rear-facing child seats are prohibited in the front where an airbag is fitted).

In vehicles with side airbags, it is dangerous for occupants to lean against the windows, doors, and pillars, or to place objects between themselves and the side of the vehicle. Articles hung from a vehicle's clothes hanger hooks can be hazardous if the vehicle's side curtain airbags deploy. A seat-mounted airbag may also cause internal injury if the occupant leans against the door.

We'll just call this Luddite Week. Airbags, yay or nay? On the one hand, obviously, the intent behind airbags is to save your life.
But the road to hell is paved with such good intentions!
The idea of a gas-filled shotgun shell pointed at my chest at all times frankly makes me a bit queezy.

Do they save lives?
Some, maybe.
But exactly how many is difficult to calculate.
One study puts the number at about 400 lives per year.

However, would airbags save a single life if seat belts were worn at all times?
Probably not.

And then of course we have the added cost and weight and complexity that half a dozen bags per car imbue.

Is it all worthwhile?

It never was and it becomes less and less worthwhile as time goes on.
If your seat belt light is on, fasten your seat belt and ignore it, or tape it over.
The quick solution, no matter what the the bureaucrats say, is to pull the fuse on that system.
If it it was me, I would.

To see or not to see, that is the question.

Most people don’t care about cars and are therefore, not reading this blog. So far as they are concerned, a car is a cell phone or a refrigerator on wheels.

There are three things that non-car people do that puzzle me. The first is refusing to test drive more than one car when considering a purchase.
The only two things in life that will cost more than a new car are a house and a university education, and they should owe it to themselves to buy
the car they like best.

The second is ignoring basic maintenance. Again, cars are expensive, so why not take care of them?

The third is more of a matter of personal opinion, but stop adjusting your side-view mirrors incorrectly.

For whatever reason, North Americans love making sure they can’t see out of their cars.

Anyway, people have a variety of opinions regarding how to best adjust their mirrors, and almost all of them are wrong.
Why are they wrong? They’re wrong because they intentionally create blind spots for the sake of making sure drivers can see things that are entirely irrelevant.

While you’re driving down the road, the side of your car isn’t going to magically disappear. Despite supposedly developing object permanence at age 2, drivers are constantly terrified that the sides of their cars are going to disappear if not constantly monitored. To help assuage this fear, they set their side-view mirrors to help them watch and make sure their cars haven’t magically opened up into sideless wonders at some point.

Then again, maybe it’s the name of the mirrors that confuses people. After all, they’re called side-view mirrors. Perhaps drivers hear the name and believe they’re intended to help them view the sides of their cars. Nobody believes that rear-view mirrors are intended for viewing the rear of their car — that would be silly and useless — but then again, using your side-view mirrors to view the sides of your car is equally ridiculous.

Side-view mirrors are on the side of your car, yes, but they’re actually intended for viewing what’s beside your vehicle, not the sides of your vehicle itself.

If you set up your mirrors properly, a passing car will appear in your rear-view mirror, transition into your side-view mirror, and then transition into your peripheral vision. It will do so seamlessly, and it will do so without ever fully disappearing from one of your mirrors until it is clearly visible in your peripheral vision. Those blind spots you’re constantly worried about just disappear.

How exactly does one go about obtaining this miraculous arrangement?

First, you sit in the driver’s seat and lean your head against the driver’s side window. Adjust that mirror until you can just barely see the edge of your car, then sit back up. Lean approximately the same distance toward the passenger side, and do the same thing to the passenger side mirror. Once you sit back up straight, you’re done.

The exact positioning of each mirror may require some fine-tuning, but once you get it right, you won’t ever have to worry about changing lanes and accidentally hitting a car you couldn’t see. A car in your rear-view mirror will be partly in your side-view mirror as it begins to pass you, and even when you can see a car beside you out of the corner of your eye, it will also still be partly in your side-view mirror.

Sadly, American drivers are so committed to the idea of having blind spots that changing the mirrors to eliminate them is usually considered unacceptable. Drivers don’t like not being able to see the sides of their cars. They don’t like the idea that they can’t constantly monitor their rear bumpers or their rear wheels, and they’ll come up with all manner of excuses to justify intentionally leaving blind spots that don’t need to be there.

The most confusing thing is, even if being able to keep an eye on your rear bumper helps a little with parallel parking, most cars these days have backup cameras, and those are much more accurate than a mirror view of the side of your car.

Even if people say they need it for parking, the truth is, doing something different can be scary, and people don’t like having to learn something new. Doing one thing slightly different and spending a week adjusting to the newness of it could actually save you thousands of dollars in car accidents you don’t have, so is it really not worth it to at least give it a shot?

Five neat old cars for the price of one new one.

Car obsession isn’t rare, nor is owning several vehicles. But it's amazing how many car writers share the affliction.
Some express it by carefully curating a collection of classics; others choose a shotgun approach with less traditional machinery.

This has little to do with income and everything to do with perspective and a kind of disease.

There's one writer that has a warehouse full of cheap old British sports cars.

An editor for Road & Track, has a lifelong obsession with humble Volkswagens.

Somebody at Car and Driver went to absurd lengths to obtain a three-cylinder Suzuki Cappuccino.

This is probably because newer cars are expensive, and variety is the spice of life.
If you’re of modest means and willing to sacrifice, you can have five neat old cars for the price of a single new one.

As far as I can tell, this affliction is rooted in what we’ve lost.

Call it simplicity or purity, maybe even character, born not of wear or time, but of freedom of design. And an obsession with the fundamental quirks that give a car personality. Things like floor-hinged pedals, gated shifters, or doors whose latches feel deeply mechanical, like the cocking of a gun.

And if you drive a lot of new cars, you realize that stuff is growing rarer by the minute.

It is a byproduct of progress, econazi dictates and the nanny state. On paper, a new BMW M3 is superior to any before it. The modern car accelerates harder, stops quicker, and is quieter and more comfortable than an M3 built in the 1990s. Any engineer will point to it as a less compromised product. But compromise is character. The older car is simpler and smaller. It was built to less aggressive crash standards, so it has thinner pillars and weighs less. You can see out of it easily, and the lack of weight helps the car give you feedback, so it’s more fun to drive at legal speed. An SUV feels like a city bus by comparison.

Modern can be better, but it isn’t necessarily so.

This isn’t a unique opinion, and these aren’t new arguments. Twenty years ago, people were looking to the vehicles of decades prior and bemoaning the increase in weight and complexity. In the late 1800s, the first automobiles were viewed as atrocities, far less civilized and romantic than horses. Rose-tinting the past while moving forward is human nature.

But looking back still has value. Many analysts, for example, now believe that the recent boom in classic-car values is due to the arc of new-vehicle development.
Take the current Porsche 911 GT3 (please): a fantastic car, but complex by the standards of even ten years ago. The electrically assisted power steering is distant. The car’s newly elongated wheelbase improves stability and ride, but at the expense of a cozy cabin and compact footprint. It’s also available only with an automatic transmission—a piece of equipment that takes an engaging job out of the driver’s hands.

Previous GT3s were deeply involving to drive and only available with manuals. When the new car was announced, older examples—even relatively recent models—saw a noticeable increase in value.

What have we gained? Everyone knows that restrictive legislation killed the grossly unsafe or heavily polluting car. That is inarguably good. As is the glut of durable, crashable and recyclable vehicles filling showrooms. We are living in something of a golden age of automobiles—more performance and relative fuel economy than ever before. And while new cars still break, statistically, they’re more reliable and efficient than at any point in history. The inevitable march forward has given us direct-injected, turbocharged engines with fantastic performance and wonderful fuel economy, dual-clutch transmissions that deliver shifts in the blink of an eye, and electric cars virtually free of excuses. Although it is these very same devices that account for perhaps, 90% of all the recalls last year alone.

Part of this is simply time. Computer-controlled engines have been common for over 30 years. Crash safety has been a science for longer than NASA’s Apollo program existed. Even the simple rubber tire is over a century old. Those are just three pieces of a complex machine, but cumulatively speaking, each has received more development hours than the Manhattan Project. Given similar time and engineering attention, anything would evolve to be good.

But if humanity is an assemblage of flaws, we’re slowly engineering the human out of the automobile. And the more new cars I drive, the more I find myself drawn to the “bad” old ones.

The shift lever that goes directly into the four-speed transmission—no linkage, just a rod moving another rod moving a gear stack. It clicks into place with a notchy, mechanical flip, like the rewind lever on an old film camera. The manual steering box and small tires keep the wheel dancing and talkative at modest speed. The paint is faded and shrunken, but the ash trays and door furniture are plated metal, not plastic. The whole car seems to have been built with an eye toward multiple lives, with a simple, honest functionality at the heart of every piece.

My Porsche's  engine, a 2.5-liter straight four, is neither original to the car or quiet. It howls, but it’s a virtual turbine on the Interstate—glassy, revvy, unmistakably German. You stay awake and feel alive. You can be dwarfed by Honda Accords, until they try to follow around a diminishing radius turn!

I like nice cars and pretty things, of course. I can wander about at Barrett Jackson and be impressed. Nor am I a Luddite. I love the Porsche, but I wouldn’t strap my grandkids into it for a ride downtown. My wife has a 2015 Mazda3. It’s reliable. You put the key in and it goes. So far it’s needed little more than gas & tires. This a wonderful thing.

I can make a difference here. I can make this car better, keep it alive without losing the patina and earned funkiness of age. And then we can get out and go places.

I have owned as many as five cars ay any one time, no counting garage courtesy cars.
The1% literally can’t count their vehicles without a spreadsheet, so by some standards, five is nothing.

At the very least, for a very small investment, you've always got something to drive!

          Motion sickness - another problem for the self driving car.


I once tried my hand at rally navigating - I just couldn't keep my head down. I could feel motion sickness coming at me after only an hour of being driven. And yet, I've crossed the Gulf Stream more than once in a bad storm, with 30 foot seas and haven't had even a hint of sea sickness. So automobile motion sickness is different and more potent - which is why I switched to driving rally cars and hired a navigator who could read a map while being bounced around.

A report just issued by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, suggests a similar problem could befall those riding in autonomous-driving cars. According to the study that’s because the three main factors that trigger motion sickness – specifically, a conflict between vestibular (balance) and visual inputs, an inability to anticipate the direction of motion and a lack of control over the direction of motion – will be elevated in self-driving vehicles.

The report suggests between six and 10 percent of Americans riding in autonomous vehicles would be expected to always, or at least usually, suffer some degree of motion sickness. What’s more, the frequency and severity suffered can be expected to vary depending on what an occupant is doing at the time instead of driving. Those reading, watching movies or television, texting and working while on autopilot should suffer the most motion sickness, while those who steadfastly keep their eyes on the road are likely to endure the least measure of discomfort.

Some might find riding in Google’s planned self-driving car to be an unsettling experience, in more ways than one.

Automakers will have to design self-driving cars specifically to help reduce the inherent proclivity for car sickness, including having large transparent windows to maximize an occupant’s visual field and orienting seats and displays so that riders are facing forward. Mercedes-Benz recently showed a prototype driverless car that featured deeply tinted windows and rear-facing front seats, which would apparently be a no-no in this regard. Alternately, riders prone to the malady could always take anti-nausea medications, though this is not a particularly practical solution for various reasons. Beyond that, riders could take a nap, or at the least keep their eyes closed while the vehicle is in motion, which is said to help minimize motion sickness.

Whichever automaker becomes the first to market a fully autonomous vehicle might take heed to place one important item on the standard equipment list – a barf bag.

                     Road testing - the first step in the purchase of a used car.

A road test is the first step towards the purchase of a used car because if  the prospective purchase fails most of the test, then you must move
on to finding another vehicle: Going to phase 2 - the "up on the lift, under the microscope" examination at a garage would be a
waste of 100  dollars or more..

Phase 2, of course, will determine a number of objectives, including the possibility of major structural repairs
- items that cannot be detected so easily in a road test

Firstly - find yourself a nice rough road. A bumpy road will show up any looseness in the suspension and depending on the noise,
it is very often possible to gauge the
seriousness of the fault.
A loose sway bar link sounds terrible but is not really a danger and can be treated as a routine repair.
But a loose ball joint is now
or never and has to be repaired ASAP.

The same principle applies to brake noises. A loud scraping noise usually indicates metal on metal and severe vibration under
braking needs immediate attention also. On the other hand, a little intermittent noise when turning usually indicates a mild amount
of rust build up on the edges of the rotors or drums and a routine cleaning may be all that is required. If the car has alloy wheels, there
is even the possibility of assessing how much life is left in the brakes, because the pads and rotors are easily visible.

Engine noises can be analysed mostly by just blipping the throttle and listening carefully to differentiate between piston slap,
wrist pin looseness, noisy valves and a terminal rapping noise from the main bearings..

Automatic transmissions don't usually make any noise, they just begin to misbehave and a road test is the only way to
analyse this fault.

A second advantage of road testing is that in many cases, where someone wants an inspection on an almost new car,
say one that is two years old and has less than 40,000 Km on the clock, a full wheels up inspection is probably not necessary.

Particularly if the prospective owner cannot wait a week.

Then an empty parking lot, where noise is at a minimum, should be selected. The car is parked with the engine running and the front wheels
cranked over as far as they will go. An under the hood inspection of all fluids, except coolant, and a revving of the engine to detect
noises, is followed by engine shut down to inspect all the belts.

Going down on hands and knees then allows inspection of the CV boots, the exhaust system, the rust condition underneath
and a check for any fluid leaks.

A careful walk around will always show if the car has been repainted. Watch for the tell tale signs of masking tape.

Tire condition is easily noted. On the road, the clutch, air conditioning and electrical functions such as electric
windows can be checked. Wheel alignment can be judged with a smooth road and a "hands off the steering wheel to see what
happens next" approach. All this usually takes about twenty minutes and should be done on a dry day, preferably with plenty of

Then there is the "seat of the pants factor" which develops in ones mind over many years. In spite of finding nothing immediately
wrong, it's sometimes hard to ignore the warning bell ringing in ones head that says all is not correct.

In which case, even a very late model used car has to go onto the lift.

Of course there is also the "CR" factor. If a particular car has a bad reputation, it had better be in first class shape, because an
inherently unreliable vehicle that has been abused is just going to get worse and worse as time goes on.

           My personal keeper.
Thank you, car manufacturers, for making driving that bit easier and allowing me to have one less thing to think about - namely speed limits and roads signs.
By all accounts, this latest safety tech has been designed to improve safety, and I should be in favour of that.

But here’s the thing: what I’m not in favour of is too much automation. So, if the concept of a car recognising a speed limit sign and moderating your speed accordingly doesn’t fill you with joy, then you’re in good company with me.
Particularly when the speed limits in question are 80 years old and way out of whack with the capabilities of the modern automobile. Speed limits are for revenue collection, so you can expect your taxes to increase somewhere, somehow, to compensate for the loss of revenue when cars never exceed speed limits.

Speed limit sign recognition systems are no longer new, but this added ‘feature’ is sure to promote a new level of laziness among drivers who already view driving as an unappealing chore. Granted, that’s likely to be rather a lot of people. However, unless it’s 100% reliable, I’ll be sticking to my usual approach: using my eyes and moderating my speed the old fashioned way.

    Stay on target
Mind you, I do that already on autoroutes, as I’m something of a cruise control Luddite. Basic ‘dumb’ systems I can tolerate, yet the current crop of so-called intelligent systems - with the ability to detect cars and reign in your speed - are often overwhelmed by the random actions of others.

You can have the fanciest radar or camera-based system on hand, but if the Prius driver up ahead can’t stay in the in the "right" lane for long enough, you’re subjected to a less than smooth - and safe - experience. Plus, you always know the drivers who have switched on their cruise control and switched off their brains; they’re the ones tapping the brake pedal to regularly suspend this auto throttle nonsense, as they can’t be bothered to drive and pay attention at the same time. For what’s often pitched as a labour-saving feature, these guys are doing an awful lot of work.

    A wheely stupid idea

On a small but growing number of high-end cars there’s a new fancy-pants addition to the cruise control system. Lane departure warning will be familiar to some and, in truth, can be a force for good. If you drift out of your lane, you’re soon alerted to your transgression. However, add an automated steering correction - albeit a small one - and I foresee complacency quickly becoming standard equipment.

Have we really reached the point where even steering a car has become too much of a challenge for some? If that’s the case, then autonomous cars can’t come a moment too soon. There, I’ve said it. Bring on the robot cars.

    Better safe than sorry

Still, it’s not all bad. Most of the safety equipment on modern cars is a force for good. It would take a pretty miserable person to whinge about the benefits of anti-locking brakes and traction or stability control.

But for fans of fast cars, it’s a different story. Keen drivers are starting to grumble about the lack of ‘feel’ they’re getting from everything from hot hatches to supercars. Some of these otherwise useful safety systems cut in earlier than desired, while wooly steering - thanks to all that artificial assistance - robs you of confidence. These features are the new automotive party poopers.

 Fair enough if performance cars aren’t your thing, but for anyone seeking some semblance of fun in an otherwise restricted and overcrowded landscape, manufacturers are starting to take the ‘mother knows best’ approach a little too far. In a bid to provide numerous safeguards, turning everything off has also become a pain: press and hold, or just press, or press twice - the hoop-jumping to disable a safety system is starting to get silly.

    It pays to be pragmatic

The reality is that, for all our moaning, driver assistance is here to stay. In fact, it’s guaranteed to increase as car makers strive to make their products even safer. Governments will also be putting pressure on firms to provide more occupant protection, and with the nut behind the wheel (that’s you and me) often the weak link, the desire to minimise human error is only going to increase as technology becomes smarter and cheaper.

Although I understand the motives behind the use of most of the tech stuffed into modern cars, I’m not ready to embrace the ‘nanny’ mentality associated with it all. Which means I’ll be keeping my Porsche 944 forever: something old, somethjing tht's fun to drive and is and vaguely reliable.


Chain stores do the simple parts of car maintenance.

They change oil and they sell and mount tires.

Over the years I've seen enough evidence to suggest that you might want to be careful how much of the responsibility for your cars'
welfare you really want to put into their hands.

I knew someone who went to buy four new tires at one of these super sized discount stores.
As she backed out, all four wheels fell off. Not one single wheel nut  was in place.
The ensuing damages for bodywork repair probably took all the profit out of that operation for a while.

Then there was the fellow who got a free tire rotation every 10,000 Km (6000 miles) and he'd taken advantage of the offer.
But in the process, the "technician" had broken one wheel stud and not being a fully qualified auto mechanic, he wasn't able to repair it.

The four remaining wheel nuts would be OK until he could get it repaired, if he stayed local and didn't do any highway driving, or fast cornering.

Anotherexample involves the Honda Accord that got towed in with the owner saying that the engine was running very badly.

A supermarket type place had done an oil change. Investigation showed that there was just over a litre of oil left in the engine and it was as
black and thick as Manitoba Spring Gumbo. But the oil filter was new - and of a brand I had ever heard of.

Obviously, somebody changed the filter, but simply forgot to change the oil and being a VTEC engine, which does not like being
short of oil, the engine computer cut power and would have eventually have shut the car down - fortunately long before any engine
damage could have occurred.

OK, so what's the bottom line of these morality tales?

It's simply this; If you go to one of these vast emporiums for ANY type of auto repair, stay with the vehicle and watch everything that
goes on. Don't be tempted to wander off into the main store.

Watch for the use and over use of impact wrenches.

Watch for rapid tire inflation which often means that the tire didn't have time to seat properly on the rim and consequently may be
oval or egg shaped.

Insist on having the wheel nuts tightened by hand with a torque wrench or a special torque limiting bar attachment which is colour
coded to various torque levels.

Over tightening wheel nuts can not only strip threads and break studs, but can also severely distort brake rotors.

In oil changes, watch out for the 3 foot tightening wrench or the slipping wring wrench that takes all the corners off the drain plug.
I don't know how many drain holes have had to be repaired - but it's a lot, due to over tightening.
In some cases, it involves replacement of the oil pan.

As you drive away, pause for a brief time on a patch of asphalt that is free of oil droppings and then check to see if you're leaving any
oil behind as you back away. Losing an engine due to gross oil leaks is subject to compensation, but is such a hassle that this little
precaution is well worth it. Open the hood as well and make sure you still have a dipstick!

I'm not telling you that you shouldn't use these types of repair operations, but remember that tire and oil changing do not require
the possession of any kind of technicians ticket - any teenager off the street can be hired to do the work.


Winter was a frozen hell for many snowbelt residents this season, but it's important to remember that it was just as trying for your car
—ice, slush, mud, and salt are no friend to a car's paint or interior.
As the weather finally begins to thaw, it is high time to brush up on the essentials of car care.

First and foremost: Read the F%$#!&$ Directions

Don't be a hero. When it comes to your car's paint and interior, put your pride aside and read the label.
No matter what product you plan on using to help shed your car's winter grime, it's absolutely crucial you follow the instructions
and use it the right way.
While this may sound like common sense, it bears mentioning because incorrect use of certain products can actually
do more harm than good.

Washing is obviously the first step.

For this,  you will need liquid soap especially designed for washing cars.

Dish washer detergents strip wax finishes and streak very badly.

A car wash soap will lubricate the surface and float the dirt away as it is washed off, instead of rubbing it into the surface.
Let no panel, nook, or cranny go unnoticed, as all of that salt and dirt has surely found its way into your wheel wells and undercarriage.
A high-pressure hose is another useful tool for this step.

You should be using two buckets—one for lathering up your sponge and another for wringing out all of the filth.
With just one bucket for both purposes, you'll only end up scouring the same dirt back into your paint.

Dry the car with a chamois by squeezing the chammy dry and laying it on the surface.
Gently drag the sheeted chamois over the surface and let it dry.

Run your hand over the surface. It should be very smooth. If it feels rough, then there are deposits still impacted into the surface
that can be removed with a mild compounding paste.  Rub the paste into the surface very gently and remove it with a soft material
such as a well washed cotton undershirt. 
The compound also removes wax, so new wax will be need to be applied.
The more severe the oxidization, the more aggressive
the abrasive wax required. Rub it in so that the surface is polished.
Do all this work by hand.
Motorised polishers are for professionals, (just like sanding you parquet floors) - don't even think about doing it yourself.

At last it is time to give the surface its final coat of protection. Carnauba based waxes are the best.
Stay away form cheap products that use chalk as the polishing media, which will have you going round for hours picking white
deposits out of every nook and cranny. Teflon based products are not much good either.

Waxing gives you the best quality of protection for your car over time, so a good wax will mean you don’t have to repeat the process
as often in the future. The best advice for applying wax is to use thin and even coats—more is not better, because only so much wax
can bond to the car's surface. In fact, it's just a waste of wax.

Never be tempted to use wax on your windshield, it will ruin the wiper blades and smear like mad.

On the side windows and rear windows, that do not have wiper blades, a touch of wax does no harm and is more effective
than Rain-X. (Which is not really saying very much).

Note that factory wheels are often powdercoat painted and should be treated like a painted surface. Pick up a bottle of wheel-and-tire
cleaner for the best results. Before you start, make sure you know what metal the wheels are made of.
There are dedicated products for aluminum, chrome, and steel, but using the wrong one could be abrasive to your wheels.
With the right cleaner, go to work on the wheels and tires while making sure to stay clear from the brake calipers and rotors,
which could react unfavorably to the solution.
When in doubt, always use the least aggressive product to avoid stains or damage. Dry with a cotton towel or anold udershirt..

Pull all of your mats out, and find a dry brush to use on the carpeting. Use the brush to fluff the carpet fibers and follow your work with a
vacuum, ideally with an attachment for hard-to-reach places. The same is true for your car's cloth seats. A casual once-over isn't going
to do the job here, so make sure you take the time to really cover the entire interior surface.
Smaller brushes and attachments will prove especially useful for cleaning air vents, which can collect large amounts of dust and dirt.

For leather seats, there are plenty of leather cleaner products out there, but see if you can find one that's made for leather
car interiors and seats.
Saddle soap is equally good and cheaper to buy.
Apply the leather cleaner according to the directions and wipe it down with a cotton towel.
When your friend's car is cracking and peeling inside, you'll be grateful you took the time to enrich your car's hide.

Finally, you may want to spray the tires with another conditioner that brings out that new black look.
This has about as much long term effect as sealing your driveway. But what the heck? It looks good for awhile.

Have fun!

While these steps do take time and care, it shouldn't be difficult or arduous. There's a certain satisfaction and enjoyment we
can all get from taking care of our cars, not to mention the money you'll save by doing it yourself.
With a little bit of elbow grease, you and your car can enjoy motoring season feeling like a million bucks.

And of-course, a shiny car will be more slippery through the air and give you much better gas mileage - LOL.

And a couple of hints:

Baby your car’s paint with a little Ivory soap.

Ivory bar soap is a great way to remove bug marks from a vehicle’s painted surface due to its slightly caustic chemical makeup. Simply make a paste by rubbing a clean wet facecloth on the soap and applying it to the bug marks on your vehicle. Do not do this in direct sunlight. Wipe and thoroughly rinse the paste after a minute or so. If you’re extra cautious, test the paste on a painted under-panel or less visible area first. Make sure to use the original or classic Ivory bar soap. 

Razor blades are dangerous on glass 

While safety type blades are great tools for removing stubborn substances from windshield glass and other body panels, they can also do a lot of damage. To avoid scratching glass or painted surfaces, always angle the blade so its entire width is in constant contact with the surface you’re working on. Any angles or uneven pressure will result in scratches or gouges. Almost any hardware or auto parts store will sell the holder for these blades. The holder will allow you to keep the right angle and pressure on your work.

Other blogs worth reading

40) Treat your car battery with respect, or it can kill you.

41) In praise of the good old station wagon.

44) Future shock, the unending complication of electronic devices in you car.

45) Overheating engines.

47)  The case for annual safety inspections.

50) Rusty brake rotors (or discs)- no easy solution.

51) The piston engine is going to be with us for a very, very long time.

52) Avoiding rip offs in the car repair business.

58) Electronic brake force distribution.

61) Hydrogen vs electricity - no contest.

63) Why flushing brake oil makes sense.

64) When should I change my oil?

66) W/W antifreeze and long term warranties.

67) Nitrogen

68) Recirc A/C

70) Electric car radiation danger

71) Fuel saving devices that don't

75) Scheduling appointments.

78 Modern design of alternators and batteries.

79) Autumn leaves.