A Brief Thought on Electric Vehicles

Auto enthusiasts and non-gearheads alike are wondering when the electric vehicle will become more mainstream.  Tesla’s successful shattering of the “uncool” stigma that plagued EVs and hybrids of the past has many new startups trying to follow suit (yes, we’re talking about you, Faraday), and this has people wondering; what is standing in the way of electric cars taking over?

Well for one, there’s the lack of proper infrastructure.  Many people are still married to the idea that they can simply jump into the car and drive wherever they like, limited only by the size of their bladders and frequency of gas stations along the way.  The often innate desire to be able to drive across the country at the drop of a hat can be found deep in the recesses of their repressed wanderlust, and that very notion being limited is what hurts electric vehicles sales no matter how little it actually matters to the workaday commuter.  The idea that once the needle hits “E”, there is no way to power back up in 5 minutes (unless you have carefully crafted your route around available charging stations) is a tough pill to swallow.

Batteries come to mind as another limitation.  Their size, weight, and general lack of performance hinder what are otherwise very technologically advanced vehicles.  Advances in battery technology to the point where they can last longer, weigh less, and offer up more overall performance will be needed to move more EVs from dealership lots and get the general population on board with accepting these vehicles as a viable alternative to traditional fossil fuel vehicles.

Until charging stations or battery swap locations are more actively subsidized and built at a more rapid pace to match the ambitions of major manufacturers, the majority of consumers will still pick the regular, fossil fuel burning auto over the futuristic EV as their primary mode of transport.

What are your thoughts on electric vehicles?

Fiat Caught in UAW Labor Scandal

The former Fiat VP of Employee Relations, Al Iacobelli, has been indicted for donating upwards of 1 million USD to UAW (United Auto Workers) officials to be put towards mortgages, jewelry and even a $315,000 Ferrari.  All of the above puts Fiat in a tough spot as the donation is in direct violation of the Labor Management Relations Act.

This is coming on the heels of Fiat’s own version of #dieselgate (admittedly on a much smaller scale) and undoubtedly has the manufacturer’s reputation taking a bit of a hit.

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Photo Credit: Edmunds.com

 

Want to own a BMW M5 of internet fame? Look no further…

YouTube star Parker Nirenstein of Vehicle Virgins has decided to sell his e39 BMW M5 and is listing it for sale on the beloved www.bringatrailer.com auction site.

Notwithstanding its video documented car, e39 M5s are quickly climbing in value and this one is no exception.  If you weren’t already pining for a reasonable fun car with no electronic nannies, we bet you are now!
http://bringatrailer.com/listing/2001-bmw-m5-16/

Subaru brings in the big guns

If you’ve been paying any attention lately, you’ve likely heard the buzz surrounding new versions of the Subaru BRZ and STI that are coming out.   Well Subaru has finally released images of the STI Type RA (Record Attempt) and BRZ tS (tuned by STI) and, simply put, they look menacing.

Thanks to new pistons, cold air intake, exhaust and a retuned ECU, the RA will get a slight bump to 310 hp (up from the standard 305).  A different 3rd gear ratio and removal of the spare tire make the car feel lighter and nimbler than previous years.  19″ BBS wheels wearing some sticky 245 section Yokohama tires round out the exterior package alongside some carbon fiber aero and subtle visual clues to let onlookers know this is not a standard STI.

The BRZ tS gets a host of suspension work and chassis stiffening.  Sachs dampers and coil springs on all 4 corners coupled with V-bracing up front will undoubtedly make this an apex-slayer to the utmost degree.  Add some lightweight 18″ wheels and some sticky 215 section tires in place of the old Prius-sized pizza cutters and you have a recipe for a knife-edge vehicle that will probably be quite happy at the road course.

Visual updates will be limited to some carbon fiber aero bits and some well-bolstered seats inside the cabin, but then again, it’s all about the go and not the show here.

We look forward to the release of pricing and detailed specs of these two new track-focused, pavement-hungry animals from the mad scientists inside Subaru’s STI division.  They are expected to go on sale in early 2018 and well frankly, that can’t come soon enough!

Driving Instruction and Why It Needs to Change

As someone who learned to drive at a very young age on private property, parking lots, and various driveways, I feel very strongly about the benefits of getting familiar with how a car operates just as soon as you can touch the pedals.  There is no replacement for seat time and an experienced kid behind the wheel is much safer than one that doesn’t know how to handle a car.

Now the problem today is that most drivers (young and old alike) do not know how to handle a car in the worst case scenarios simply because they’ve never been put into those situations. Driver education focuses on preventing drivers from getting themselves into dangerous situations, and that’s important, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes things happen and when they do, no amount of preventative education will help.

It is under these conditions in which a driver would benefit from a training program that focuses on car control in extreme circumstances.  A program that allows a driver to experience a car skidding out and losing traction or the pulse of the brake pedal as the ABS kicks in should be a required class to get your license, to drive on the road in which you are responsible for your car, your safety and that of your passengers, and by extension, the lives of other drivers on the road.

We are letting new drivers off easy with the almost laughably lax requirements to get a learner’s permit/license.  30 hours of classroom instruction, 12 hours of behind the wheel instruction, and 6 hours of in-car observation (in MA) is all fine and dandy, but where is the instruction around how to avoid a snowbank when your brakes lock up and your car won’t turn?  Where is the instruction on what do to if the back end of the car starts sliding out on you?  The old adage of “hope for the best but prepare for the worst” has never rung truer.  We want young drivers on the road who are competent at handling potentially dangerous situations because they have experienced them before (in a controlled environment of course).

We need to start taking young driver education more seriously and prepare them for dangerous situations so that they can react appropriately and possibly keep themselves out of trouble.

How to sell your car properly

Selling your car can be a daunting task to say the least.  Whether the attachment is emotional or financial, your car isn’t going to market itself and finding a way to make it stand out from the crowd can be difficult.  We’ll cover some of the basics to help you get rid of the old so you can bring in the new.

  1. Take good, high quality pictures:  Too often you see blurry pictures that look like they were taken by a 5 year old on the world’s first cell phone camera.  This really puts sellers off and can downplay a car that is actually in great condition.  Make sure you snap pictures of both the interior and exterior, ensuring that the car has been cleaned thoroughly (both inside and out) and that all of your belongings are removed.
  2. Provide proof of service history:  If you haven’t been saving receipts for work done, you’re in a bit of a tough spot here.  But proof that the car has been maintained well goes a long way to easing potential new owners’ minds.  If you don’t have receipts, call shops or dealerships where you know it’s been serviced to see if they have any records they could send.
  3. Be descriptive:  Describe the condition of the car (accurately of course) in more than 2 words.  A short ad that says “runs great, new tires, no A/C” often turns off potential buyers.  Talk a little about the car (but don’t write a dissertation on it) to let the buyer know you cared about maintaining the car and know it well.
  4. Include a Carfax report:  A Carfax report for around $40 will give the buyer peace of mind that is has not been in an accident or experienced flood damage etc. – well worth your money.
  5. Do your research on value:  A car that isn’t priced well will likely either not sell or leave you with less cash than you should have gotten.  Check all of the usual valuation sites like www.kbb.com and www.nada.com to find out what your car is worth and list it accordingly.  Always be prepared to negotiate if you are motivated to sell.
  6. Prepare documents:  Make sure you have the title (or know exactly where/how to get it if you financed) and make up a Bill of Sale (easily found online) to make sure you cover all of your bases.
  7. Stay safe:  If you are planning on meeting potential buyers to have them inspect the car, meet during the day in a public place (parking lot of a restaurant, gas station etc.) to avoid any potential danger.   If you don’t feel safe, bring a friend with you.
  8. Minimize risk:  Only allow test drives to potential buyers who have cash or have proof of financing, that way you can avoid tire kickers.  A free joy ride is a quick way to damage the car and you could potentially be out even more money to repair it on your own dime.
  9. Where to list:  Craigslist is very popular because it is free, but Autotrader is a good option as well.  Ebaymotors will get your more visibility, but you encounter more out-of-area buyers and that can complicate things.

Don’t be afraid to attempt this on your own.  You can always trade the car into a dealership if you are unsuccessful selling it, but if you are able to sell it yourself, you could potentially gain thousands of dollars more than what a dealership would have offered you.

What keeps a car interesting?

For one reason or another, a vast majority of us will want a new car within a few years.  A combination of getting bored with the current ride and the allure of a fresh new set of wheels has the average consumer buying a new car every 6.5 years (actually, a dramatic increase as of late).  But out there right now is someone who has owned a car for decades and loved every minute of it, so what’s the magical combo that keeps a car interesting for that long?

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For many, it’s the aftermarket support.  Part of keeping a car for that long means that it’s always evolving – never truly finished, and that means LOTS of parts to be swapped in and out as tastes change.  Whether that’s an abundance of wheels to try or 23 different types of exhausts to fit, the availability of aftermarket parts to keep rides looking up-to-date has always been a big part of the “it’s almost done, honey” perpetual project car.

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A car that you always look back at when walking away, that’s when you know you’ve got something worth holding on to.  Whether it’s a 2017 or a 1987, a car with timeless looks can be the difference between trading up to the latest and greatest and holding on to your prized possession because “everything was better in the 80s”.  Of course, this is subjective, but a car that has captured your heart by way of your eyes is one that will usually be the object of your affection for quite some time.

What keeps you swooning over your car?  Is it the former or the latter?  If it’s one of the two, a combination of both, or something entirely different, leave your thoughts on what helps cars defy the odds and become un-sellable.

The Subaru Impreza: Why 2017 is a big year

As much as we New Englanders love our AWD Subaru chariots to get us to/from wherever we need to go no matter what the conditions, the word phrase “refined ride” isn’t exactly part of their brand vocabulary.  Utilitarian is just one  word that comes to mind when describing an older Forester or bare bones Impreza, and it seems Subaru was listening to consumers as is evident in the newly redesigned Impreza.

Photo Credit: Consumer Reports

For 2017, Subaru has announced to the AWD faithful that their new Impreza (based on an all-new, shareable platform) will be quieter, ride better, and be an all-around more comfortable vehicle.  Sure, they’ve been saying that for a little while and with the exception of the Outback or Legacy, their vehicles have remained relatively “tinny”.  However, this is now a completely different ball game.

Photo credit: Consumer Reports

At first glance, not much appears to have changed.  The updates to the exterior are there (but subtle) and while the interior does benefit from some choice upgrades like a nice big touch screen and soft-touch materials, it isn’t a completely different vehicle, and for good reason.

Photo Credit: Subaru

The biggest changes become apparent when you get it out on the road.  Noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) levels have been reduced significantly and overall the cabin feels much more solid than past generations.  Steering response is great and the vehicle feels much more planted on the road, all adding to the image of a vehicle that really can “do it all” and be reasonably priced.  All of a sudden, you realize that Subaru took all of the successful aspects of the old Impreza, and simply refined it to the point where it functions as a much more comfortable vehicle without losing the Subaru character that people love.

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

As a whole, the new Impreza has certainly upped it’s game.  As pricing stays relatively flat, it will likely now appeal to buyers looking for the functionality of an AWD hatchback but want a little bit more refinement than hat was previously available at Subaru.  This new platform will be shared with other vehicles in the lineup so we look forward to driving the CrossTrek and Forester, among others.  Time will tell if this is what Subaru was going for, but we’re predicting that this can only mean good things for the unofficial car manufacturer of New England.

Best Bug-Out vehicles

While I think most of us can agree that the zombie apocalypse isn’t going to happen next week, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to dream about building up or buying a vehicle as the ultimate bug-out, go-anywhere-and-survive type of transportation.  So, without further ado, here is a list of the top vehicles that will keep you out of harm’s way in the most extreme (if not altogether unlikely) of scenarios.

 

1)      Avtoros Shaman:  You probably haven’t heard about this low-volume, Russian-made beast but that doesn’t mean it won’t put most anything to shame off the pavement. 8 wheel drive, 8 wheel steering, amphibious capabilities, and seating for 7 of your closest friends/family, what’s not to like?  Throw a mattress and a few packets of Quaker oatmeal in the back and you’re good to go. 

 

2)      Hagglund BV206:  Ever wanted to own a mini-tank but just didn’t pull the trigger because, well, it didn’t have a trailer?  Your search has ended.  The Hagglund was built for the sole purpose of going absolutely anywhere on the planet with all of the necessities to survive the harshest environs, including Antarctica.

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3)      M35 2.5 ton cargo truck: Affectionately called the “deuce and a half” this military grade truck is a go-anywhere 6X6 that is fairly readily available.  Though its top speed is nothing spectacular, it will run on pretty much anything and laugh in the face of small road obstacles.  Throw a camper on the back and you’ve got yourself a pretty bulletproof truck.    

 

4)      Earth Roamer XV-LT:  If the zombie apocalypse forces you into the great outdoors, the Earth Romer is the vehicle to have.  Based on the Ford F550 platform, these cab-over expedition duty campers are designed to keep you comfortable wherever the path may lead you. 

 

5)      The “Kira” Expedition RV:  Brian Ferren of Applied Minds has built the ultimate go anywhere vehicle.  Designed to tackle terrain with the most powerful technology this planet has to offer, (not to mention a turbo-diesel motorcycle for light reconnaissance) you’d be able to head to the most remote reaches of the planet with ease (and a hot shower).

 

6)      The “Burlak”: Once again, the Russians deliver a monster of a truck capable of toppling mountains with a punch of the skinny pedal.  From the guys who brought you the Sherp (a smaller version of this, essentially) this vehicle has the space to take you and your family of 4 anywhere in relative comfort. 

 

7)      Russian “Vityaz” or DT-30PM: This is a just a fancy way of saying a tank with another tank as a trailer.  This “articulating tracked vehicle” or ATV is basically two tanks strapped together with a payload of 10 tons.  Popular in the then USSR, these vehicles saw military and civilian action all over the world gaining access to remote areas where nothing else could dream of going.

 

8)      Arctic Trucks Toyota Hilux AT44 6X6: One of the slightly more civilized and attainable vehicles of this bunch, the transformed Hilux has already performed admirably on Top Gear’s Arctic special (albeit in a slightly different form).  Toyota build quality with Icelandic arctic ingenuity and know-how, doubtful there’s a better cold weather combo out there. 

 

So when you’re preparing for the end of days, be sure to save up for some suitable transportation because these aren’t going to be cheap (or easy to find).  Drool away preppers, your vehicle has arrived! 

The legend lives on: The 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

The Toyota Land Cruiser name has always been synonymous with go-anywhere capability but only in the 1990’s did it begin to garner some respect as a luxury vehicle as well.  Well this trend continues with this mid-model refresh for 2016, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more capable luxury vehicle than this uber-posh off-roader.

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For 2016, the front fascia of the Land Cruiser gets a refresh, the most prominent new feature being the quad-projector LED headlights that light up the night like the 4th of July.  The revised grill has been accused of being too Highlander-esque but there’s no mistaking this for the Toyota cross-over with much less machismo.  From the A-pillars forward, we have all new sheet metal and the taillights get a slightly refreshed look, but overall, there aren’t very many significant changes to the exterior of the Land Cruiser for 2016, unless of course you count the multiple little “Land Cruiser” embellishments on the headlights and bottom of the rear doors.

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Inside is where you’ll notice the biggest changes.  2016 brings in a new era of gadgetry with a 9” touch screen shoe-horned into the center console.  In keeping with the Land Cruiser tradition, every feature is standard equipment, meaning you get Bluetooth, navigation, heated/cooled seats, 2 rear entertainment screens and a plethora of other luxury bits to keep you and your riders happy.  Quality materials are still used everywhere, and the new steering wheel not only looks and feels great, but also heats up for those cold winter days.  Legroom and headroom are still ample in both front and rear seats, but you do feel like you are in a bit of a cockpit with this latest generation having all manner of knobs and buttons very close to the driver.  Worth noting is that any surface, button or knob that gets used frequently exudes true quality.  The aforementioned knobs feel like solid metal, the switches most commonly used are like a well-oiled bolt-action rifle, simply perfection.  Additionally, the seats are very comfortable and would serve anyone well on long family expeditions.  Overall, a very nice place to be, especially with this author’s favorite, the optional Terra (brown) leather.

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Safety is still a Toyota priority and the Land Cruiser is no exception.  As standard equipment, you’ll find blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warnings, and radar guided cruise control that can brake the vehicle in case the driver isn’t paying attention.  Not only is this vehicle a great cross-country hauler, but these features add a new level of safety that comes standard. 

On the road, the Land Cruiser still feels as solid as ever.  Speed bumps simply flatten out in fear, potholes and road imperfections are coerced into submission, there is really no better riding full-size SUV on the planet.  Road noise is minimal with the huge amount of sound deadening used, and the only drawback to this latest Land Cruiser is the visibility.  With the newly designed hood that is about the same size as a soccer field, forward visibility is reduced a bit.  The same 5.7L V8 comes back unchanged for 2016 as it still puts out a hefty yet buttery smooth 381hp and 401 lb/ft of torque, but don’t expect this monster to win any drag races as it tips the scales at 5765 lbs, not exactly light.  The new 8 speed transmission does its best to help in these cases, but you’d be hard pressed to notice a difference from the last gearbox other than that it seems to shift a bit more frequently and perhaps it does so q bit more quickly and smoothly.  Overall it still has great manners on or off the road, but long distance drivers especially will appreciate just how stress-free piloting one of these behemoths has become.

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At roughly $85k, there’s no denying that this is not an inexpensive vehicle, but when you crunch the numbers on just how long these legends last with so few repairs required, things start to add up.  If you want the ultimate vehicle in luxury, capability, and reliability, look no further than the Toyota Land Cruiser.

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