Monday, December 28, 2009

Shameless Self-promotion

You can find my Best and Worst experiences of 2009 here in Wheels.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Shameless Self-promotion

Find my "Best and Worst Vehicles of 2009" here in Wheels.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Shameless Self-promotion

You can find my Preview of Lexus' 2010/2011 LFA supercar here at

You can find my 2009 Christmas gift list for Wheels here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

It Ought to be Criminal

What's worse than doing a motor in a 2003 Jeep Liberty once? Doing the same motor in the same Jeep two months and one day later. It didn't even make it to its next oil change.

The motor in question is a 3.7 litre SOHC V6 - basically a sawed-off version of the 4.7 litre SOHC V8 engine first used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and later (like the 3.7 litre V6) used in a bunch of Chrysler's trucks and SUVs.

That motor has a known issue with internal faults (whether it's a head gasket or a cracked head or block, I don''t know) that result in coolant consumption - I've personally seen it a few times, and no surprise, the V6 appears to have the same affliction. The V6 is also known for chucking the rocker arms off the passenger side valves when the lifters bleed down prior to a cold start.

We dealt with that issue first, but not too long after, the Liberty's V6 began consuming coolant and misfiring after sitting. Ka-Blam, motor number one out, motor number two in.

Just under two months later, Blamo! Motor number two does exactly the same thing. In goes motor number three. Ugh!

This customer's Liberty is not a high mileage vehicle, and it has received better than average care and maintenance, right down to always using the proper $25 per jug Mopar coolant.

Two identical engine failures in less than 90 days. Criminal. Am I ever grateful that this customer is super relaxed and very understanding.

Update: Jeep came back with a misfire - this time, no cause found, which means that so far, it's not an engine issue. Time will tell...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Shameless Self-promotion

My review of BMW's 750Li-based ActiveHybrid 7 can be found on here. (This is not the same one found on Wheels' site.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Huh? The Chrysler 500? Whatzat?

When I heard that Fiat was going to purchase Chrysler, I was a little confused. What did the Italian automaker hope to gain from buying the weakest of the three domestic car companies? The best that I could come up with was that it would give Fiat a dealer network and some assembly capacity on this side of the Atlantic. I'm still not completely certain.

Regardless, Chrysler/Fiat's future product plans have been announced, and the only Fiat badged models apparent are the tiny 500 (seen above), and a "large commercial van" - probably Fiat's approximate equivalent to the Dodge Sprinter (now back to being a Mercedes Sprinter, thus a competitor), the Ducato.

All other Fiat-sourced models will be Chryslers, Dodges, or Jeeps, probably completely unlike their Italian forebears in style or form.

That leaves the 500, which will be built in Mexico (instead of Poland, as European 500's are), but may be badged as a Chrysler when it goes on sale either this year or next.

Here's where they lose me. There's no Chrysler tie-in for this vehicle. It doesn't look like any current Chrysler in any way, and Chrysler doesn't have a model like this in its heritage. Chrysler isn't known for small cars, unless you count the couple of years that the Canadian-market Neon was branded as a Chrysler. They probably hope that you've forgotten about that anyway.

Frankly, the majority of the kind of buyer that would be interested in what is effectively going to be a premium subcompact along the lines of a Mini are savvy enough to realize that this is a Fiat - and probably young enough to be blissfully unaware of just how bad Fiat's products were the last time they were sold here.

Not only that, but if you're expecting customers to fork out extra for a badge, wouldn't you think that the "Fiat" brand would carry more intrigue and potential cachet than "Chrysler"?

Maybe this is why I repair and write about cars instead of selling them...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Shameless Self-promotion

My preview of BMW's very impressive ActiveHybrid 7 (the hybrid version of the 750Li) can be found here at Wheels.

When Engineers Get Bored...

...they complicate what should, or even used to be, something simple.

Case in point, a 2006 BMW 325i that I replaced the rear brake pads on yesterday. BMW is among several manufacturers that incorporate wear sensors into their brake systems, which in itself is not a bad thing. It's really simple, actually: a soft plastic piece with a simple loop of wire in it clips into one inner brake pad at each end of the car. When the pad wears, this piece hits the rotor, and eventually wears through. Once the wire loop either
a) contacts the rotor and grounds against it, or
b) wears through and opens the circuit,

it illuminates a warning light on the dash. Much more effective than squeaker tabs, the circuit "latches" once activated to prevent the light flickering on and off as the pad touches the rotor. So far, so good.

(Photo of E90 cluster from user "NoKids" at - )

This is where it all goes wrong. In older BMWs, you'd replace the pads and the sensor (sensors are about $35 each, no big deal), then you leave the key "on" with the engine off for 10 to 60 seconds to reset the light. Not this one. In this version, the "E90" model, things are a little more complicated, and don't look for the procedure in the manual or in the Mitchell or Alldata information most shops use. You won't find it.

Here, courtesy of an online BMW fan forum (and much surfing), is the final operation required - unless you have a factory BMW scan tool:

- insert key fob into dash receptacle.
- push "Start" button, but do not have your foot on the brake at the time (this puts the car in "run" but not running).
- wait for "Service" warning message to go out in message centre, replaced by the clock and odometer display.
- immediately push and hold "BC" button on signal stalk until "Service" indicator returns.
- use up and down toggle switch on signal stalk to highlight the desired service reminder.
- push and hold BC button until "Reset" appears in display.
- release and reapply BC button until a rotating clock symbol appears and then goes out.
- you may now exit the menu, turn off the car, or restart it as desired. Test drive it to ensure that the service warning is actually is out.

Hey, that was easy! I'd probably have figured it out on my own eventually - you know, an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite amount of typewriters, and so on...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shameless self-promotion

My look forward to Kia's upcoming Cadenza sedan can be found here on

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Shameless self-promotion

A partial listing of additional, past Wheels articles can be found on their website here. So can a really weird-looking masthead picture. Perhaps it's just me...

Shameless self-promotion

Find my latest published review, Chevrolet's 2010 Equinox, here at Wheels.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

When engineers get bored...

... or in this case, creative, they design things like this:

Stefan Riederer is one of BMW's engineers (and a heck of a nice guy), and in talking with him over dinner during the launch of the new (and impressive) ActiveHybrid 7, he mentioned that he designed and built the unusual bicycle-based hydrofoil seen in action below.

Completely human powered, it doesn't float at all, relying entirely on forward motion and hydrodynamics to keep it from sinking. Stefan used to work in BMW's aerodynamics lab, which no doubt helped in this pursuit.

What would he like to tackle next, were space and expense not major considerations? Human powered flight. Doubtless this man could do it...

(Photo courtesy of Stefan's website, found at the above link)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Truth in advertising...

...but should they really have to tell you?

(2010 BMW ActiveHybrid 7)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

When engineers get bored...

...they design hubcaps with hubcaps, and then use plastic caps that thread onto the wheel nuts to hold the whole arrangement on...

Oblivious, apparently.

Most days I wonder how a species as completely oblivious as ours ever managed to dominate the planet. I mean really, isn't our defining characteristic supposed to be intelligent thought?

Often times, customers will drive into the parking lot of our two-bay shop and pull up in front of our bay doors. Quite often they bypass the vacant parking spot immediately to their left. Or the other empty spots elsewhere in the lot.

Granted, there are frequently times when our lot is full, in which case, OK, I can see that there's no alternative. However at any other time, you are now preventing us from bringing cars in or taking cars out, and this ability is the lifeblood of our business. I have to wonder if these same people would park in the drive-through lane at Timmies to go in and choose their Timbits from the rack.

Today our parking lot was jammed to overflowing - all of the spots were full, our secondary (not marked) spots by the road and by our property line had cars in them, and we had a couple of cars double parked in front of our shop and in front of the far bay door. A gentleman who hasn't dealt with me since before my boss took over five years ago parks in front of my bay door (the bay with no car in it, since I was just about to bring one in), and asks if we can "just do brakes" on his full-size pickup. He has his own parts, so it shouldn't be a problem, right? He needs it done today; can't wait until Monday. Seemed surprised and a bit dissapointed when we were unable to help him.

My past dealings with this gentleman have been positive, but the only thing positive about this encounter was his being positively oblivious. Oblivious to the congested shop environment that he'd just pulled into, oblivious to the concept that hey - we make a profit on parts, so aren't keen on installing yours, particularly when your cut-rate junk parts go bad and you'll probably expect us to warranty the work - and oblivious to the explanation that there are several loyal customers and major jobs in the queue ahead of you that take precedence.

Maybe opposable thumbs are all that human beings really have going for them...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Credit (where credit is due) Department

It is just as important to recognize things done right as it is to point out shortcomings, so I've created "The Credit Department" to give it where it's due.

Not everything good has to be major - sometimes it's little touches that delight, like a dampened glove-box door, or the perfectly counter-balanced trunk that pops up just enough to aid arms-full openin
g, but not so much as to instantly expose the entire contents of the trunk to the rain.

Kudos today to whoever builds and/or designed GM's generic audio head unit (the part in the dash that the driver interacts with) - I'm guessing it's Delco/Delphi, but it could be Clarion or anyone else.

Sure, it sounds just fine in most of the applications that I've encountered it - in some it sounds fantastic. But that's not why I like it.

It's not because it's the prettiest out there either, with its oddly positioned knobs. Not that I'm complaining about that - I'll take knobs over rocker switches any day.

What it's got going for it is that it's easy to use, yet also allows for a pleasing amount of customization - right down to how many "pages" of radio station presets you want.

Why does that matter? Most GM vehicles with steering wheel controls allow you to thumb through the presets, and if you don't have enough stations to fill 36 slots, you don't have to backtrack, or go through multiple vacant or unset presets to start back at your first saved station.

Better yet, those presets can be any combination of AM, FM, or XM, in any order. Want to organize by genre? Mix and match freely.

I'm also pleased that this radio's XM tuning is n
ear-instantaneous from channel to channel. I'd speculate that the system monitors the channels on either side of the current one to make that happen, since few others that I've tried can do that - not even the excellent-sounding ELS surround system found in Acuras, which have a considerable delay in playback when switching XM stations.

In this one, even the channel name comes up immediately, and the remaining artist/song info is available pretty well the moment that station is tuned. You can choose what XM/RDS info displays as well - it doesn't have to be the station ID. A clock displays independently of the radio's readout.

GM would do well to retain the interface architecture of this design as they update their models, since the more integrated audio system found in the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox that I've just driven wasn't nearly as user-friendly.

The type pictured (this one is in a Saturn Aura) passes what I call the "rental car test" - how fast could an unfamiliar driver figure out the basic audio controls, find a station, or even set their presets. The last BMW that I drove, a 750Li, required seven separate i-Drive steps to set one radio station preset. This GM unit? Select the band (one button), then twist the tuning knob until the desired station appears. Push and hold any preset button for a few seconds until the setting is acknowledged. Your preset stations will be displayed above the button that selects them. How much more simple could it get?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hard to Love

Daily, I face a huge conundrum, as I'm forced to balance my unabashed love of cars with my occasionally deep hatred of fixing them.

It's only at certain times, or during particular tasks, but I'm convinced that there are at least two parallel conspiracies afoot.

Conspiracy 1: Automakers not only don't care about what is involved in servicing their vehicles once they're manufactured, but that they often deliberately make them both failure-prone and as difficult to service as possible.

Why, you might ask? Well, it costs money to take the time to consider service access while designing a vehicle, and even more money to actually implement those changes. That's not gonna happen - as long as the POS makes it out of warranty and doesn't require any recall work, it doesn't matter to them. Almost nobody buys a new car based on ease of future service, so why would they care?

As well, if they can force consumers to have to return to the dealerships for repairs, that's money both in their franchisee's pockets and their own, as factory parts and equipment are typically required. A perfect example is body control modules, many of which now have the anti-theft system built-in. Replacement requires reprogramming, and in some cases, the module has to be in the car and the car connected to the dealer's corporate uplink to make it happen. Some independent shops have the equipment for this, but precious few, and fewer still can reflash more than a couple of makes.

Even creating parts that will be difficult or cost-prohibitive for the aftermarket (ie: non-factory) suppliers to produce will ensure that consumers have to return to the dealership for parts. GM did this in the mid-eighties with its (initially) non-serviceable CS-series alternators. Took the aftermarket about three years to suss that one out.

Conspiracy 2: I like to call this "proof that a mechanic slept with an engineer's wife"; designs so needlessly stupid that they could only have occurred through malicious intent. I give you the DOHC GM 3.4 litre "Twin Dual Cam" V6. This is the only engine that I know of that has both a timing chain and a timing belt. I understand the reason for it (a pushrod engine retrofitted with DOHC heads), but I don't understand why the rear cylinder head has to overhang - by less than 2 cm - the oil pump drive, whose seal is/was a well-known and considerable oil-leak point. This means that replacing this $4 seal
- it's on that circular silver item near the centre of the photo - requires removing the rear cylinder head. Oy!
Other gems include serpentine belts routed through engine brackets (mid '90's GM 3800 V6), spark plug access that requires triple-jointedness and the dexterity of a Cirque du Soleil performer (Ford Aerostar), or overly complicated diagnostic procedures that don't always condemn the correct parts (certain Honda EVAP failures).

Not to mention nearly every automaker locating the oil filter on at least some of their models in such as place as to guarantee
a) a big, oily mess that will drip on the customer's driveway for days, even if you empty half a case of brake-clean trying to rinse it.
b) multiple lacerations from all of the precision-sharpened heat shields and plastic fan shrouds placed in tight proximity.
c) second, or possibly even third degree burns if the vehicle has been running for more than a two minutes in the previous three hours. These will likely occur from a combination of the 150ÂșC oil running down the tech's arm and the hot underhood components (like catalytic converters) that the filter will be sitting next to or immediately above.
Not that you'd expect to ever need to change the oil filter.

Geez folks, you make it hard to keep feelin' the love...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Well, at least it cranks and starts...

Welcome to my grand experiment!

Those who know me know that the blogosphere isn't my natural element. Those who don't, well, prepare to watch a train-wreck in slow motion as I stumble around, learning as I go. Definitely a training-wheels-on exercise, so please bear with me.


I'll post this disclaimer just once:

I work in a town that has a General Motors assembly plant, therefore there is a disproportionate amount of GM and domestic product both in my door at work and around where I live. Don't think that I'm singling GM or the Detroit Three out for my rants - I just see more of their vehicles to rant about.