Monday, August 27, 2007

Planning To Buy A New Car? The WSJ Says To Wait.

The Truth About Cars is citing a Wall Street Journal article that advises new car buyers to wait for even better deals than they can find now. The Journal article also says that some brand new 2008 models are being released with incentives already attached! That seems like pretty good news for consumers and pretty bad news for the auto manufacturers. And if the housing slump / credit crunch becomes a prolonged issue, this incentive situation could get even better / worse, depending on your perspective.

Leaving A Sour Taste

Jalopnik is claiming that "a recent study by Experian Automotive indicates that 80% of cars branded as lemons no longer maintain any sign of that status once moved out of state." Wow. As if it wasn't enough to have to worry about cars with flood damage having their titles scrubbed.

Friday, August 24, 2007

LoJack Locates Stolen Lamborghini In Italy

Autoblog tells us about an auto theft foiled with the help of LoJack. The first and only time I had to call LoJack resulted in my car being "found" in the local pound. How was I supposed to know NYC's finest would tow my car the very minute parking restrictions on 14th Street began? (Apparently they have tow trucks lined up around the corner every night waiting to pounce!) Still, I was probably the happiest person the workers at the impound lot had ever seen.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

One Day Early! A Friday Diversion...

This time, a Volkswagen Beetle getting shredded. (Thanks to CarDomain for the tip.) Check out how the shredder just keeps rotating and changing the direction of its shredders. It just grabs any little piece of the Beetle it can. Then it shreds it. And then it tries to grab another piece. Until the entire car is gone.

There's more video of SSI's shredder in action here. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

DeLorean Comeback!

Jalopnik is reporting that you'll be able to buy a brand spanking new DeLorean in 2008 for about $60,000!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The WSJ On Gas Taxes

The Wall Street Journal posted an article with some interesting facts about the gas tax. It's definitely worth a read in its entirety, but here are some of the key points:
  • The federal fuel tax in the U.S. is 18.4 cents per gallon. This has been unchanged since 1993.
  • The average fuel tax per gallon of gas (including state and federal taxes) is $0.47 in the U.S., $1 in Canada, $1.91 in Japan, and $4.54 in the United Kingdom. Think about that: Britons pay more in fuel taxes per gallon than Americans pay in total for a gallon of gas.
  • Fuel taxes make up just under 40% of the $145 billion spent on highways in the U.S. But, the U.S. Highway Account is expected to run regular deficits beginning in 2007, so more funding is needed.

The Gibbs Aquada In Action On Land & In Water!

Check out this YouTube video of the Gibbs Aquada driving down a boat ramp and out into the water.

Notice where the driver / captain sits. Right in the middle of the vehicle. In fact, the whole seating arrangement looks a bit weird to me. But, it's pretty cool to see an amphibious car in action. Very James Bond-esque.

Thanks to CarDomain for the link.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Story Of Tesla Motors As Told By Martin Eberhard

Autoblog has a video from Martin Eberhard's presentation on Tesla Motors in L.A. from earlier this month. It's just over 50 minutes. And the Q&A at the end is especially interesting.

One knock on electric cars has been what happens when the battery dies. Batteries generally aren't very friendly to the environment. Martin explains that the Li-Ion batteries that they're using in the Tesla Roadster aren't deemed as hazardous as the batteries traditionally used in cars. And Tesla has apparently partnered with someone to recycle as much of their batteries as possible.

The other interesting big-picture take-away for me is that electric cars really move the choice of fuel away from the driving experience itself. Yes, electric cars require electricity to function. But, electricity can be produced from any number of sources (nuclear, coal, wind, solar, etc.). So, not only is the car itself "friendlier" to the environment than gas-powered cars, but people may further choose that they'd like to power their electric car with solar panels installed on their home's roof, for example.

Martin concedes in the video that Tesla's still got a lot of work to do to get the Roadster to market. And he's noncommittal on a delivery date (even though he expects it to be before the end of the year). Here's to hoping that it's sooner rather than later!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

BusinessWeek Report on High-Tech Cars

Business Week has developed a mini-site with various articles about what they call "high tech" cars. There's a lot of info about more fuel-efficient, cleaner cars here. I haven't read it all, but there are articles on clean diesels, solar-powered cars, the Lexus LS600hL, BMW, a review of the Saturn Aura Hybrid, and a piece on "What Will You Be Driving In 10 Years?"

Most articles also have a slide show, so if you're interested in how some of this technology actually looks, be sure to look for the appropriate links.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Flogging The Dealer

One of the great and powerful things about the Internet is the ability of a single person, a "common" person, to get their message out to millions of readers with little-to-no effort.  And of course, any time the masses gain power, that can scare the establishment.

Jeff Bonnell wrote an interesting article at DealerRefresh about the impact of an example of this sort of power/fear relationship - a customer writing a negative blog post about a car dealership and having that blast show up on the first page of the dealership's Google search results.  Bonnell calls this "flogging."  The best way for a dealer to deal with sort of situation?  Contact the complainer and set things straight.  Once resolved, the flogger may actually edit the post and now instead of a scathing review showing up in Google, the dealer may have a glowing review and specific example of their excellent service.

I love this article for two reasons.  First, I think it's great to see that now dealers can be held accountable.  Customers have always been able to complain to the Better Business Bureau, but who bothers to check with the BBB before buying a car?  Now, all you need to do is get out your computer and tippy-tap your way to a message that may well be picked up quickly.  There probably aren't that mean real links to Jim Bob's Chevrolet out there, so there's a very real likelihood that your article will be noticed by Google and Yahoo.

The second part of this story that I love is that the most effective and sensible response by the dealers is to do the right thing.  Car dealers don't exactly have the best reputation from consumers.  People tend to not trust car salesmen, thus the oft-used stereotype of the "used-car salesman."  Maybe a new era of transparency and accountability is upon us?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Zipcar Car-Sharing Service

Three folks from Brooklyn tried the Zipcar service and put a video up on YouTube about their experience.

I always wondered how Zipcar handled security. (The keys must be left in the car, as many people can use a Zipcar any given day.) Well, turns out they issue you a little keycard, that can be used to unlock the doors, to gain access.

Also, these three had some problems getting out of a secure parking lot, as they couldn't find the "clicker" to open the gate. They called the Zipcar hotline and got sorted promptly, which impressed me.

If you're interested in Zipcar, or you'd like to learn how Zipcar approaches the rental car industry with their different approach, check out this video.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

From Tesla's Tuesday Presentation in LA!

Well, I wasn't there, but Edmunds' Philip Reed was. And he wrote a little something about his impressions.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Suzuki Recalls 75,000 Vehicles

Autoblog informs us about the latest vehicle recall, this time by Suzuki because of faulty seat belts (yikes!) on Forenza sedans and Reno hatchbacks. Autoblog also tells us how well Suzuki has been doing lately otherwise. Check it out.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Umweltzonen Are Coming!

Some cities (like London) levy surcharges for vehicles that want to drive in congested areas.

Other cities (like Manila) forbid vehicles (based on each vehicle's registration number) from entering restricted zones at certain times on certain days.

Now, Germany is implementing a system that "grades" cars based on how "friendly" they are toward the environment. German cities will be divided into zones (Umweltzonen), ranked from 1-5. Only the most enviro-friendly vehicles, for example, would be able to enter zone 5. Special badges will be given to drivers when they register their vehicles in Germany that will show what zones their vehicles have been cleared to enter.

This strikes me as an interesting approach to the problems caused by vehicle emissions and congestion. It does seem to be a convoluted way to influence vehicle purchasing decisions (how to quantify the "cost" of not being able to drive into zone 5, for example). But it should help reduce air pollution in certain areas of their cities.

Autoblog has more.

Li-Ion Battery-Powered Toyota Prius

Joe White over at the Wall Street Journal writes about his experience driving a Prius modified with a lithium-ion battery pack. The supplemental lithium-ion battery allows the Prius to be driven for the first 40 miles or so on batter power, at a cost of about 75 cents per charge.

Joe explains how a regular Prius (with its factory-installed nickel-metal hydride battery) operates and talks about other plug-in concepts (like the Chevrolet Volt) as well. And there's a short video documenting his experience with the modified Prius (which is not sanctioned by Toyota and invalidates the Prius' warranty).

Joe's reaction to this experience? "Wow! Who wouldn't want this?" But he also considers some of the remaining hurdles for plug-in technology, including reliability, safety, range, and cost.

Ford Recalls 3.6 Million Vehicles

Autoblog reports that Ford is recalling 3.6 million vehicles with potentially faulty cruise control switches that could cause fires. Their post includes the list of vehicles affected, so if you own a Ford, check it out.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Friday Diversion: Dancing Cars

CarDomain today has some crazy video footage of dancing cars.

I have seen cars bouncing around in commercials and movies, but I haven't seen this type of "dancing" before. One of the cars actually cracks apart mid-dance. And keeps going. Enjoy.

I Wish I Were In LA.....Next Week

AutoblogGreen tells us that Tesla Motor's co-founder Martin Eberhard will have one of their Roadsters on display in Los Angeles on Tuesday, August 7. Oh, he might be talking or something, too.

Autoblog On Picking Up Your New Car Overseas

We have posted a couple of times (here and here) about picking up your new luxury European ride direct from its factory overseas.

Autoblog has some new information for us in this post. Apparently:
  • 80,000 Mercedes buyers avail of the European Delivery option,
  • Volkswagen's Autostadt gets a million visitors a year, and
  • BMW has developed its own European Delivery center (for $275 million!) and dubbed it BMW Welt, expecting 45,000 customers to pick up their new cars there each year (alongside 800,000 visitors).

Commenters to Autoblog's post seem pretty excited about their European Delivery experiences. And they report saving a nice chunk of change on their purchases as well.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

It's On! X-Prize For Commercially-Viable 100 MPG Car

Jalopnik has a nice post on the latest X-Prize, including a press release with all kinds of interesting tidbits.

This X-Prize will award millions in hard, cold cash to the team that can produce a vehicle that gets at least 100 MPG (or equivalent), is commercially viable (read: people will want to buy it), and performs well in a cross-country road test (which is expected to take place in 2009 or 2010 and be covered on TV).

This is cool stuff. And it has the potential to really increase awareness of energy-efficient alternatives to vehicles' (and the world's) current reliance on oil. Competitors have already applied from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and Switzerland. Oh yeah, Tesla Motors (which we last wrote about here) is one of the entrants!

Extending The Oil Change Interval

USA Today has written an article discussing (most) automakers' recent practice of extending their recommended maintenance intervals for oil changes. Ford (up to 7,500 miles) and Volkswagen (up to 10,000 miles) are reportedly the latest to extend their oil change intervals. Just two manufacturers are mentioned as shortening their oil change intervals--Toyota (to 5,000 miles from 7,500 miles) and Porsche (to 12,000 miles from 24,000 miles).

One of the quotes I found interesting is this: "Shell Lubricants, which owns the Quaker State and Pennzoil oil brands and operates the Jiffy Lube oil-change chain, long ago abandoned its corporatewide 3,000-mile oil-change message." Really? Then why do they keep putting their "come back in 3,000 miles!" stickers in our cars?

Thanks for the tip goes to Automotive Digest, which--as usual--does a nice job of summarizing the key points of the original article.

And I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that BrightCar helps you keep track of the manufacturer-recommended interval for your car's oil change and other important maintenance items. Download your free trial and check it out.

Electric-Powered Dragster Blows By "Gassers"

Hot on the heels of Business Week's article on Tesla Motors, The Wall Street Journal has posted a fun read about electric-powered cars designed for drag strips.

One of the cars, the White Zombie, is a 1972 Datsun purchased for less than $585 in 1985 that has since been converted to electric power by Portland resident John Wayland. The White Zombie goes from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds! And it's been trouncing so-called "gassers" at a local drag strip. Click through for the story and some cool video of the White Zombie in action.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Warranty Just Expired? That's OK. You're Still Covered!

Back in March, Business Week wrote a little piece about Cadillac making it easier for dealers to avail of corporate funds (so-called goodwill funds) to make free repairs for customers whose warranties had recently expired. They also write, "Car companies have for years kept goodwill funds for dealers to draw on" when customers experience problems that would have been covered under a recently-expired warranty. So, this practice is not just specific to Cadillac.

If you experience a problem just after your warranty expires, be sure to ask for your dealer to repair it free-of-charge. They might be able to tap into the manufacturer's goodwill funds to cover the cost of the repair. And they should be more than happy to comply. After all, they know that happier customers are much more likely to return to the dealership when buying a new car.

Tesla Motors In Business Week

In "A Carmaker With Silicon Valley Spark", Business Week tells the interesting story of a "different" car company. They claim that Tesla Motors is attempting to become the first successful auto manufacturer startup since Chrysler, which was founded in 1925. The entire piece is worth a read, especially if you're as into Tesla's Roadster as I am (and here, and here). Here are a few of the interesting tidbits:
  • Elon Musk, a PayPal founder who sold to eBay for $1.5 billion, is Tesla's chairman and main financier.
  • Tesla uses tactics other startups employ, such as limiting the cash pay to its 250 employees but giving them all stock options to compensate.
  • Tesla outsources a ton of work that goes into its cars, while focusing on core technologies such as the battery, computer software, and a proprietary motor.
  • Tesla is using lithium ion batteries in its cars, the same kind that are used in laptop computers. The cost of the batteries makes up 20% of the total cost of its Roadster, but the cost is expected to fall (and has recently been falling about 8% annually).
  • Tesla is planning to build a roughly $60,000 5-passenger sedan and a $30,000 passenger car.
  • Tesla has created a division called Tesla Energy to market and sell its energy storage technology. Think Nordic is its first customer.
  • Tesla is considering an IPO for next year. Hey, even if I can't afford a Roadster, I might be able to pick up a few shares!

Domestic Vs. Import: Quality

Christopher Neiger over on AOL Autos interviewed a former quality engineer who worked for both a US and a non-US auto manufacturer. His comments suggest that--at least as regards the two auto companies he worked with--the non-US firm was far less willing to compromise quality when building its vehicles. Its a limited sample, and he does say that both companies took quality very seriously and built good quality vehicles. But, after reading it, I was left with the impression that the non-US firm cared about quality more. Check it out yourself.

Thanks to Autoblog for the tip.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lifetime Warranty Offered By Chrysler

Today Chrysler has begun offering a lifetime powertrain warranty to its customers. The warranty is valid for the original owner of the vehicle only, provided the car is inspected at least every 5 years by a certified dealer.

Offering such a warranty should increase potential customers' willingness to consider Chrysler vehicles when making a purchase, which could lead to increased sales. But I'm not convinced that many incremental buyers will be swayed by just the warranty itself. How many people drive their cars to the point they're having powertrain failures? If you're not planning on owning your car that long, this warranty isn't a factor. Instead, you'd be comparing Chrysler's 3 year / 36,000 mile warranty with the warranties of competing manufacturers. (And 3/36K doesn't stand up very well nowadays.)

Now, if someone plans to buy a car and own it for 30 years, then maybe this warranty sways them to buy a Chrysler. But they are the kinds of customers that would be most likely to avail of the lifetime warranty, so they might not be the customers Chrysler would necessarily want (or find profitable).

I think it'll be a long time--i.e., until we see how many warranty claims they have to handle--before we know how this all works out, even if Chrysler gets a sales bump short term.

For Cerberus, though, this looks like a good move. If they want to cash out of Chrysler in 5 years or so, this move probably doesn't hurt them a bit. They might get a sales bump from the lifetime warranty offer in the next 5 years, but any expenses associated with honoring lifetime warranties probably won't show up for years thereafter.

As you might expect, everyone is covering this story today, and many have interesting comments posted as well. Here are the links:

Monday, July 23, 2007

BrightCar Sale

Mark your calendars - BrightCar has a big 50%-off sale coming up tomorrow - Tuesday, July 24!

We are running a promotion in conjunction with a cool little site called Bits Du Jour.  BDJ (as the cool kids call it) is a site that advertises one software product per day at a drastically reduced rate, like a software version of Woot.com.  Well, BrightCar is going to be that product this coming Tuesday.

If you want in on this, and I know you do, you can either go to BitsDuJour.com, check out the coupon on the BrightCar site or just go to the BrightCar purchase page and enter BitsDuJour as your referral code.

Friday, July 20, 2007

An Enjoyable Way To Pass The Last 10 Minutes Of The Workweek

If you're looking for something to do for the last few minutes of your workweek, check out this post on CarDomain. Some curious Japanese apparently decided to see what would happen when they launched various tires (F1, passenger car, sports car, tractor, etc.) off a ski jump. It's interesting to see which tires fly the best, but it's also humorous to see what the various tires do post landing. They don't have any kind of slow-down mechanism like ski jumpers employ to prevent them from just continuing to travel. Enjoy. And watch out below.

These Tires Never Go Flat

The Driving Woman has an interesting post up about Michelin's TWEEL. The TWEEL is basically a combination of a tire and a wheel. And it requires no inflation. In fact, you can't inflate it. Check out the picture in the post to see exactly what it looks like.

Michelin plans to develop them first for heavy equipment, which will take a couple of years. Passenger vehicle versions are targeted for about 10 years' time.

Imagine, no flats. Ever. Pretty cool. I wonder if this could also help improve the average driver's fuel economy, as you wouldn't have to worry about under-inflated tires.

Heed the Warnings!

We've all noticed the warnings on pressurized canisters that caution us to keep the canisters away from fire and not puncture them. Well, the guy in this video at Jalopnik didn't heed the warning. It's not pretty.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Global Petrol Consumption Champions: US!

Wow. That's about all to say when you see this graphic from The Economist. The U.S. consumes more petrol each day than Britain, Germany, Japan, France, Canada, China, Russia, and Mexico......combined.

Thanks to AutoblogGreen for the heads up.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Increase Your Fuel Economy By X%!

We've all seen products that claim to improve your car's gas mileage by some percentage or another. Well, Autoblog reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tested 93 of these products and found that nearly all of them failed to work. (And the 10 that did work worked only marginally.) This study has prompted the Federal Trade Commission to warn drivers not to waste money on them. In a Detroit News article, FTC spokesman Hampton Newsome said. "These products often are found to have little or no savings in terms of fuel economy and can damage your engine or increase emissions."

The best way to achieve decent fuel economy for your vehicle seems to be to keep it properly maintained. The FTC claims that a poorly tuned engine can increase fuel economy by 10% to 20%. In addition to regular tune ups, it's important to keep tires properly inflated and air filters clean. Your fuel economy can also be greatly affected by how you drive. Easier acceleration tends to be better, and faster highway speeds (i.e., 60+ MPH) generally hurt fuel economy.

Of course, BrightCar can help you keep your vehicle properly maintained and in top shape. In addition to reminding you when you need to take your car in for regular maintenance, BrightCar can also be set up to remind you to periodically check your car's tire pressure, for example. Also, you can monitor your vehicle's MPG on the fuel economy graph on the homepage. If you notice a dip, it might be time to check the tire pressure, clean the air filter, or take the car in for servicing.

Gas Prices Around The World

Autoblog linked to a study on global gas prices by Gadling that has a nifty graphic showing that--even at about $3 per gallon of gas--Americans have it relatively easy compared with what others are paying around the world. Prices per gallon seem to range between $0.17 in Caracas to $6.65 in London. Yowza!

Monday, July 2, 2007

The 2-Minute Car Wash

Autoblog is reporting on GE's newly-developed superhydrophobic coating. This coating could theoretically be applied to cars' exteriors to prevent dirt, etc. from collecting on them and to make washing a matter of spraying the car for a couple of minutes with the hose.

In a video, GE shows that honey rolls right off a glass slide coated with its so-called "lotus leaf" compound, while it just sits on a regular glass slide.

The article's commenters wonder whether this coating will ever make it to market on automobiles, for various reasons ranging from technical difficulties with its application to dealers' desire to preserve their own high-margin "coatings".

Friday, June 29, 2007

More On Picking Up Your New Car In Europe

We previously wrote about buying a new European car and picking it up overseas. The Truth About Cars has a nice article on the process as well. Definitely worth a read, especially for people seriously considering this option. And those who aren't yet considering it just might get inspired to do so.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Autoblog On The Cost Of Having Too Many Dealerships

Autoblog recently highlighted one cost disadvantage domestic manufacturers have that relates to having too many dealerships relative to their competitors. Some of the numbers are striking. Autoblog reports:

  • "The three US carmakers have 15,741 dealers between them, while the Japanese carmakers have less than 4,000."
  • "Domestic dealers, on average, sell less than half as many vehicles per store annually than a Japanese brand dealer, and most sell far less than that."
  • "A new study by CNW Marketing Research has now tried to quantify the dollar cost [of excess dealerships] and come up with $3.9 billion, or $436 per vehicle."

So why not just reduce the number of dealers? Apparently, franchise laws make it nearly impossible to close a dealership unless the owner agrees. So, the Big 3 probably either have to live with this situation or pay the dealers to close. And the latter seems an unlikely outcome for any meaningful number of dealerships.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Vying For Consideration In The Auto Biz

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article touching on some of the points made in our recent posts (and readers' comments thereon) on GM's decision to put competitors' cars in their Chevy and Saturn dealerships. (First post. Second post.) Joseph White writes, "The risk that visitors to the Saturn store who drive both cars will like the Camry better is real. But it's not greater than the risk that the Aura will just vanish in the swarm of cars chasing the Camry."

Indeed, Edmunds' data showed that the Aura didn't get a big boost in traffic even after it received the North American Car of the Year award. But, traffic is up lately. And that's all the challengers in any segment can hope for--just getting considered by potential buyers.

Friday, June 15, 2007

10% Higher MPG For Just $400

Would you pay $400 to improve your car's fuel economy by 10%? Autoblog is reporting that MAXAIR's ATMI (Automatic Tire Monitoring & Inflation) system, which may be available as an option on new cars in the future, can automatically monitor tire pressure and keep your wheels at the correct pressure.

Because under inflated tires can lower fuel economy by about 10% and cause undue wear on tires, the cost of this option might make it very appealing (and cost-effective) to new car buyers. Properly inflated tires also offer a safer ride.

As usual, the discussion comments at Autoblog are very interesting and insightful, ranging from how the MAXAIR system works and why it'll likely cost more than $400 to consumers to why you wouldn't just put a $15 air compressor in the trunk and monitor your tires' inflation levels yourself.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Some Cool Cars Coming

I'm still partial to the Tesla Roadster, the electric-powered, high-performance sports car expected to ship in late 2007 that you can buy now for a mere $98,000. But, AutoblogGreen has a post up introducing us to another high-performance electric sports car, Lightning Car Company's Lightning GT. Production for the Lightning GT is expected to begin in 2008. There are also all kinds of technical details about the Lightning GT in the post.

And Popular Mechanics introduced us to another interesting ride, the Gibbs Aquada. Dubbed "the Boatmobile," you can drive the Aquada on land and in water!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Saturn A Succes? Not Yet Claims AutoSavant

AutoSavant takes an interesting look at Saturn's heretofore unquestioned success in 2007. They claim that Saturn's spectacular increase in sales (+30% in 2007 and +75% in May) is a result of having more models available for sale. Even so, they point out that the following car models each sold more vehicles than the entire Saturn line: Chevy Impala, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, and Toyota Corolla.

Their conclusion: Saturn must still prove it can capture sales by increasing demand for its established models and not just by introducing new ones.

More On Air-Powered Cars!

For those of you yearning for more information on MDI's air-powered car, Autoblog Green has an interview with Michael Celades, MDI's Sales Manager in Barcelona, which is definitely worth a read. Celades even hints that the cars--which are expected to go into production in India in the near future and in Europe shortly thereafter--could eventually come to American soil.

Does Initial Quality Matter?

You've probably seen a number of articles and posts recently about the J.D. Power and Associates recently-released Initial Quality Study. The most interesting report I saw was by The Wall Street Journal. With all the hoopla surrounding the J.D. Power and Associates report, they simply asked: Is Initial Quality Still Relevant?

Take a look at some of the "scores" from the study. Here is the list of the 5 brands that scored best in the study, including their respective number of "problems" reported per 100 vehicles sold in the first 90 days after purchase.
  • Porsche - 91
  • Lexus - 94
  • Lincoln - 100
  • Honda - 108
  • Mercedes-Benz - 111

The industry average number of problems has stayed between 118 and 124 in recent studies. That means that, on average, every new car sold is going to have "about" 1 problem with it. Does the difference between a "good" score of 108 and an "average" score of 120 mean a lot to the average car-buyer? Probably not in the first 90 days after purchase. Either way, you're probably still going to have to take the car to the dealer to fix something. (Although, maybe cars with higher scores also tend to have more problems later in their lives.)

The article does point out, though, that the difference highlighted above--i.e., 12 additional problems per 100 vehicles sold--does matter a lot for manufacturers. Basically, more problems means more things to fix (often mechanical requiring replacement parts), which means more parts and labor costs for the manufacturer. When you multiply those 12 problems per 100 cars over the total volume of cars sold for each brand, you start getting into some pretty big numbers.

One last interesting tidbit from the Initial Quality Study itself: J.D. Power and Associates found that 3 out of 4 newly-redesigned models perform worse in initial quality than their predecessors. Is that enough to give you second thoughts about waiting for the "new" version of model to come out before buying?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Revisiting In-Car Navigation Systems

Last month we wrote about the high cost of in-car navigation systems. The Truth About Cars blog had a related post yesterday which further discusses the pros and cons of in-car versus portable navigation systems.

One point they make is that buying cars, especially high-end models, without the expensive in-car variety is becoming more difficult. Maunfacturers, perhaps reacting to the competitive threat that portable devices pose, are increasingly offering in-car navigation systems bundled in options packages with other in-demand options, such as upgraded stereo systems. So, instead of seeing the in-car navigation option listed at $2000 (versus $500 or so for a portable device), you see that the in-car navigation system comes with the Technology Option Bundle, which costs $4200.

Bundling in-car navigation with other options might allow dealers to protect the huge markups they put on the in-car navigation technology. But car buyers shouldn't fall for it. The Truth About Cars says that the invoice cost of the in-car nav systems to dealers is $400 to $500. Don't pay more.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Of Warranties And Air-Powered Cars

Autoblog had a number of interesting posts over the past few days.

Here, they talk about Hyundai's new extended warranty for its Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles. It's a limited powertrain warranty for 10 years / 100,000 miles dating from the original date of sale. As I understand it, that effectively means that buyers of Hyundai Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles will get at least a 5 year / 40,000 mile powertrain warranty (depending on the age of and mileage on the used car). That's pretty nice for a used vehicle.

We previously wrote about consumers' seemingly poor opinion of the quality of Hyundai products. With programs like this (and its similar warranty on new vehicle purchases), Hyundai may be able to win over more customers to experience its quality first-hand.

And here, Autoblog reports on the world's first air-powered car. It's hard to believe. But, apparently, it's going into production in India, and 12 other countries are interested in it as well. Autoblog doubts it will make it to the U.S., due to safety concerns stemming from its fiberglass and foam body.

Monday, May 28, 2007

General Motors At It Again!

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about GM's suggestion that Chevy dealerships should put Toyota Camrys in their dealerships to show first-hand how their new Malibu stacks up. Well, now Saturn dealerships are apparently looking to implement a similar strategy by making available a Camry and / or a Honda Accord for comparison to the new Saturn Aura.

This article suggests that you'll not only be able to touch and feel these Aura competitors at your Saturn dealership, but that you'll be able to test drive them as well! My guess is that you could only pull that off in a Saturn dealership. Imagine the push-back you'd get from salespeople at other places, if they were asked to take people out on test drives for cars they couldn't even sell!

As Valdes-Dapena writes in his article, GM probably figures it has nothing to lose by putting competing models in its Chevy and Saturn showrooms, because it is trying to get people to just consider its products as alternatives to the Camry and Accord, the category leaders. But why don't they put the Aura in Chevy showrooms and the Malibu in Saturn ones? At least then they might drive incremental sales for GM instead of its competitors.

Thanks to CarDomain for the link.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Got An I-Key?

Autoblog has a post on the danger of putting your Nissan Altima or Infiniti G35 I-Key in the same pocket as your mobile phone: Your phone can render the I-Key, which enables and disables the cars' keyless ignition system, totally inoperable. And there's no fix. You'd have to get a new one.

Nissan's apparently working to fix the bug and plans to get new I-Key fobs to owners once it's figured it out.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Making Your Point

In a nice followup to Todd's post about the danger of talking on your cell phone while driving comes this news item - California senator Carole Migden crashed her SUV while reaching to answer a call. By the time she actually crashed, the California Highway Patrol had already received six complaints from other motorists about her driving just before the accident. At one point, she actually bounced her SUV off of the concrete barrier on the side of the highway.

Why is this relevant? Well, Senator Migden was a recent signer of a bill banning talking on a cell phone while driving. Talking about going all out to prove your point!

Tesla To Sell Its Batteries To Other Electric Car Manufacturers

Inside Line reports: In a major development that is expected to spur development of batteries for electric cars in the United States, Tesla Motors has created a new division to sell batteries to other companies. The new division is being lauded as a bold step for Tesla that will help it expand faster while providing a launchpad for other electric-vehicle manufacturers.

Hey, I'm all for more fuel-efficient vehicles out there. And especially supportive of anything that might drop the price of this beauty.

A Few Articles On The Impact Of High Gas Prices

We've seen a number of articles in the past few days that discuss the rising cost of fuel and the impact on drivers' behavior and car-buying patterns. Here's the run-down.

Automotive Digest cites a Kelly Blue Book study that talks about where drivers plan to save money now that they're paying a lot more for their gas. At the top of the discretionary spending list are shopping, eating out, and entertainment. They also report that because of rising fuel costs, 59% of new vehicle shoppers are considering vehicles they wouldn't otherwise consider. That sounds like good news for those manufacturers with the most fuel-efficient offerings and bad news for the fuel-economy laggards.

The Driving Woman talks about a USA Today analysis that concludes that Americans are cutting down on their driving for the first time in 26 years. Would you believe 10% of survey respondents have actually changed their jobs to shorten their commutes? The graphics alone at the beginning of the USA Today analysis are worth a click-through.

And Jalopnik cites an article on msn.com claiming that higher gas prices have increased the cost of operating a passenger car in the U.S. an average of $146 so far this year. That's $20 billion total. And Jalopnik reminds us that if gas hits $4.00 per gallon by this summer, as many have predicted, the total cost per vehicle will be in the neighborhood of $400 this year, the same amount as the Bush tax cut from a few years back.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

NYC Taxis To All Be Hybrids By 2012

The Wall Street Journal has an article today discussing New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's mandate that all NYC taxicabs will be hybrid vehicles by 2012. According to the article, less than 3% of NYC's roughly 13,000 cabs are currently hybrids.

Excerpt: City officials said the new standards, when fully implemented, are expected to reduce carbon emissions by more than 200,000 tons per year. Hybrid vehicles are typically more expensive, but the city said the increase in fuel efficiency will save taxi operators more than $10,000 per year.

When I read that, I wondered why more taxis aren't already hybrids. Savings of $10,000 per year? That looks like a no-brainer investment. Sure, you'd have to spring for a new car. But you'd get significant savings pretty quickly. There must be plenty of savvy financial institutions in NYC that would fund that kind of investment.

The New York Times also has an article on the matter. They raise the point that the car that now dominates NYC taxi fleets, the Ford Crown Victoria, has significantly more leg room for passengers than any of the approved hybrids. Maybe that's a reason for slow uptake of hybrids to this point.

There are apparently six hybrid models that can be used as taxis in NYC: Ford Escape, Toyota Highlander, Lexus RX 400H, Toyota Prius, Honda Accord, and Honda Civic.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Scam Proof Your Life

Edmund's Strategies for Smart Car Buyers blog tipped me off to Scam Proof Your Life. I haven't read it yet, but it looks like a winner. And it's on its way to my house from Amazon, where it gets top reviews.

Chapter 1 is apparently devoted to scams you'll encounter when buying a car. But I'm guessing everyone can find something of value in this book, whose subtitle is "377 Smart Ways to Protect You & Your Family from Ripoffs, Bogus Deals & Other Consumer Headaches". I'll write more when I've finished reading...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hands-Free Phone Conversations Dangerous For Drivers, Study Says

Many places, including the UK, have mandated the use of a hands-free calling device if a driver wants to use a cell phone while operating a vehicle. There has been concern for years whether making phone calls while driving--even with a hands-free device--is safe. Supporters of hands-free calling claim that such calls are similar to speaking with a passenger in the back seat, for example. Well, this study by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) of the UK's Department of Transport came to some pretty unsettling conclusions about such calls.

Automotive Digest recently summarized the findings of the TRL's study. (Original UK-based link here.) But TRL's main conclusion is:
  • "One clear implication is that using a mobile phone via a hands-free kit while driving is not equivalent to talking to a passenger. It is a much more difficult task. The obvious conclusion is that it is not worth the increased potential risk of using a hands-free carphone."

TRL suggests that hands-free calling is more difficult than talking to a passenger in the vehicle because:

  • The lack of proximity of the conversationalist and the possible pauses in the voice transmission require the driver to exert more mental effort on the conversation; and,
  • The person on the other end of the line is not present in the car like a passenger, and therefore cannot react to changing road conditions to help the driver in the same way a passenger can.

TRL also found that drivers engaged in hands-free calling tend to drive faster, with more variation in speed, and that their ability to safely follow vehicles in front of them lessened.

This study is the first I've seen that supports the evidence we've all seen first-hand on the road. How many times have you seen a car being driven poorly or dangerously on the road only to later notice that the driver is talking on a cell phone--hands-free device or not? If more such studies come to similar conclusions, we might see more companies ban their employees from having hands-free phone conversations while driving or even governmental regulations to prevent it. In the meantime, these conclusions may be enough to make you consider whether it's really worth taking a call next time you're behind the wheel.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Look At Brand Value In The Auto Biz

Business Week has an interesting story in its current issue that deals with one auto manufacturer's struggle to improve its brand image and highlights the value of having a good brand in the auto biz. Before I tell you the companies discussed, take this little quiz:

How are the following manufacturers ranked according to J.D. Power's 2006 Initial Quality Study?

  • Honda
  • Hyundai
  • Toyota

Drum roll, please.....

  • Hyundai (3rd)
  • Toyota (4th)
  • Honda (6th)

But Hyundai's higher finish in this study doesn't mean consumers are feeling the same way. Business Week reports that just 23% of all new-car buyers in 2006 even considered a Hyundai, while 65% considered Toyota and 50% considered Honda.

Even worse for Hyundai is the implication is that its brand actually hurts its ability to sell its vehicles. Apparently, an ad agency bidding for Hyundai's business ran a test on Hyundai's new Veracruz crossover. As Business Week reports: "When a group was shown the vehicle without any identifying logos on it, 71% said they'd buy it. Once the Hyundai logo went on, however, that dropped to 52% [while] a Toyota logo lifts intent-to-purchase by more than 20%."

Looks like it's one thing for a company to improve the quality of its product above its competitors and another thing altogether for that company to actually convince consumers to vote with their wallets for their brand. It can take years to build a good reputation in the auto industry, and--barring a public relations disaster--would probably take years to lose a good rep as well.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

HOV Lane Toll: $10 Minimum

While on a trip to Jakarta about 12 years ago, I saw a collection of people assembled just outside the entrance from a main motorway to the main road through the Central Business District. Curious, I asked my taxi driver what they were doing. He explained that Jakarta had driving restrictions in place during rush hour that prohibited cars with fewer than 2 people to use that road. The people were waiting to be hired by drivers with no one else in their cars so they could legally travel the road and easily pass through the police checkpoints without getting ticketed. "Only in the developing world," I thought.

Apparently not. AutoBlog reports that there's a guy in San Francisco who rents himself out for $10 - $20 one-way to help commuters bypass the congestion on the highway by getting them in the HOV lane. He's reportedly making $100 to $300 a day, or $2000 to $6000 per month (assuming 20 work days per month). It's a crazy world. Everywhere.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Coming Soon To Chevy Dealer Showrooms...Toyota's Camry!

Well, you don't see this every day. AutoBlog says that Chevy's car marketing director, Cheryl Catton, is suggesting that Chevy dealers put Toyota Camrys in their showrooms to let potential customers of the redesigned Malibu (expected around the turn of the year) compare the vehicles side-by-side. Catton, by the way, suggested that Chevy dealers should rent the Camrys so as to not artificially inflate sales of the competitor's vehicle. It'll be interesting to see if this actually materializes.

Cerberus is Chrysler "Winner"

Well, you can read about this one just about anywhere today: private-equity firm Cerberus is buying Chrysler from DaimlerChrysler AG. I happened to find an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal reminded readers that Daimler-Benz paid $36 billion for Chrysler Group back in 1998. Even though Cerberus has committed $7.4 billion to this deal, Daimler will receive just $1.35 billion of that (although Daimler will retain nearly 20% ownership in Chrysler), as Cerberus will pump the remaining $6.05 billion into Chrysler's businesses. Furthermore, Daimler is expected to write checks totalling nearly $2.5 billion to exit Chrysler's money-losing business between now and the time the deal actually closes. That is a colossal loss of shareholder wealth perpetrated by Daimler over the past nine years. Whoops.

Which begs the question why Cerberus--or any other private equity firm for that matter--would want to own Chrysler. Private equity guys normally pay up for businesses that generate huge, recurring amounts of free cash flow. Last check, that description didn't fit the auto industry in general and certainly not Chrysler specifically. In addition to the $7.4 billion in cash Cerberus is putting into this deal, they'll also inherit Chrysler's roughly $18 billion in retirement and health-care liabilities.

To Cerberus' credit, they do own a stake in GMAC, so there may be some potential synergies between that business and Chrysler's financing arm. And Cerberus' rental car holdings include Alamo and National, which make significant vehicle purchases for their fleets.

Still, it'll be interesting to see how this one works out financially, and whether Cerberus can get better returns than Daimler did with its Chrysler investment.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Dave's Dream Car Available

Those BrightCar aficionados out there know that Dave's dream car is the Lotus Esprit submarine James Bond drove in The Spy Who Loved Me. Well, AutoBlog tells us that one of the four Lotus Esprits built for that movie is up for auction! Only problem, it seems, is that it's not equipped for road use. Oh well, I suppose you could tool around in it in the water, Dave.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

In-Car Navigation Systems Very Costly

Autoblog pointed us to a Kicking Tires post that cited this USA Today article. Basically, the value of in-car navigation systems depreciates quickly. People looking to buy used cars aren't willing to pay up for the technology.

I think this rapid depreciation is due to a few things:
  • In-car nav systems aren't really worth the $2000 or so dealers charge for them as options on new cars. The evidence: you can find nearly-comparable portable devices for about a third as much. Is it worth paying 3 times more than the cost of a portable GPS device to have it permanently affixed to your car?
  • Portable devices offer advantages over in-car systems. Namely, you can take them with you wherever you go. Going on a trip? Bring the portable for your rental car. You can use it for navigating unfamiliar streets as well as finding restaurants and attractions as you walk around town. Going overseas? Update your portable device with an overseas map set / data set and enjoy the benefits there as well. Also, if you buy a new car, you don't have to give up your portable GPS device, like you would an in-car system.
  • As James Clark in the USA Today article says, used car buyers might be more interested in finding a bargain than in finding a car with the latest technology. Furthermore, if you're looking to buy a used car that's, say, 3 years old, that in-car nav system is already 3 years outdated. I don't think I'd pay up for that either.

For what it's worth, I've got a nice little Garmin nuvi. I've found it very handy navigating the streets in my new town as well as helping me find what I'm looking for when travelling. It's very useful--more useful, in fact, than an in-car system that I couldn't take with me while traveling.

For my money, the portable GPS devices offer more functionality and usability for about a third the cost of in-car systems.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Oil change 101

Are you a real man (or woman, for that matter)? Do you chop your own firewood? Hunt your own food? Change your car's oil yourself?

Yeah, me neither. But I'd like too! At least, the changing my own oil part. If the day had about twice as many hours, I just might do it myself, but the Jiffy Lube on every corner is too tempting. If I were to do it myself though, This detailed walk-through from the Autoblog would be an outstanding resource. They really did a nice job with this guide, with lots of detail and a lot of useful photographs. Even if you already are a real man, you'll want to check that out. Heck, if you have no intention of ever dirtying your hands or crawling under your truck, I think you'll like knowing what's under there and what those guys are doing (or should be doing) when you go to the service station.

Since this is the BrightCar Blog, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that BrightCar can help you schedule your oil changes. It's the most common routine maintenance you should be doing for your car and the one that seems to produce the most suggestions for just how often it should be done. The Quickie Lube places will tell you 3 months or 3,000 miles. Your owner's manual may tell you 5,000 miles and that expensive synthetic oil may say it can go 10,000 miles. Whichever one you want to go with, BrightCar can accommodate you. You don't need to look at that sticker on your window and try to remember to add 2,000 miles or look in your owner's manual and try to apply their rigid 5,000, 10,000, 15,000 etc. schedule to your actual driving habits and previous oil changes. BrightCar will remind you when you're due based on the schedule you want (or you can keep the schedule that BrightCar suggests based on your car's manufacturer's plan).

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Buying a European Car? Pick It Up Overseas.

Business Week's May 7 issue has an article about U.S. customers who purchase European cars at their local dealer and then travel to Europe to accept delivery. The customers pick up their cars at the manufacturer's "delivery center" and then usually embark on a European vacation behind the wheel of their new car. At the end of the vacation, the car then gets shipped back to the U.S. for the customer's use there.

Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, Saab, Volvo, and Audi apparently all offer these programs, which generally include a discount off the purchase of the car and pre-arranged travel packages. The discounts can range up to 12%, and some manufacturers may also throw in some spending money while overseas.

Of course, these discounts apply to the MSRP of the vehicle, so this might not be as great a deal as it sounds. For example, Edmunds says that the Saab 9-3 2.0T sedan referenced in the article has a True Market Value of $23,200 in my neighborhood. That's $3795 below MSRP. The discount given as part of the European vacation package is reported to be $3160.

From a manufacturer's perspective, I can see how relating such an experience with the purchase of a car would be beneficial, creating more of a personal connection with the brand. I wouldn't be surprised to see more manufacturers offer similar programs in the future.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Hunt Is On!

Volvo launches its second hunt on May 4. This is your chance to win a brand new Volvo XC90 and $50,000 in gold. All you have to do is find the treasure chest Volvo dropped somewhere in the ocean. Play along at volvocars.us.

Autoblog has more information and promises a lively discussion here. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Does My Car Really Require Premium Fuel?

One of the questions we seem to come across a lot is whether it's really required to put premium-grade fuel (i.e., high-octane fuel) in vehicles whose Owners Manuals call for it. We've seen a few articles address this topic recently and this seems to be the consensus:

  • It probably won't hurt your car to put in a lower grade of fuel; and,
  • There may be a drop in performance and fuel economy if you use a lower grade of fuel, but you should test this yourself with a couple of tanks of gas.

As to the first point, Jonathan Welsh--in his Me & My Car feature in The Wall Street Journal--explains that most modern vehicles are equipped with engine-management systems that "adjust the engine's tuning automatically to accommodate a range of fuel grades." But he advises: "In most cases the higher-octane premium fuel allows a car's engine to run at tuning settings that generate optimal horsepower while still operating efficiently. Changing to a lower grade of fuel may result in a noticeable loss of performance, but your car also may run just as well. It's worth trying a thankful or two."

As to the second point, Chris Longhurst over at The Car Bibles explains why (You'll have to scroll down to the "Octane and gas mileage" section, just over a third of the way down) performance may drop with lower-grade petrol. (According to Chris: As the vehicle's engine-management system retards ignition timing to prevent engine knock, engine performance can drop.) He also shares a story of his experience using a lower-than-recommended grade of gas in his engine. (His fuel economy was nearly 20% higher with the higher-grade gas.)

Monday, April 30, 2007

It's Not What You Drive

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently released a report on the safest and deadliest US vehicles. It's an interesting report, but the most interesting tidbit may be the observation made by the guys at leftlanenews.com - it matters less what you drive than how you drive.

The ten safest cars include a bunch of large sedans and minivans, vehicles typically driven by older drivers and families with children. Certainly those vehicles are designed to be safe, but they are also typically driven safely.

Lowest Vehicle Deaths Per Million Vehicles

Chevrolet Astro: minivan very large - 7
Infiniti G35: luxury car midsize - 11
BMW 7 Series: luxury car very large - 11
Toyota 4Runner: 4WD SUV midsize - 13
Audi A4/S4 Quattro: 4dr car midsize - 14
Mercedes E-Class: luxury car large - 14
Toyota Highlander: 4WD SUV midsize - 14
Mercedes M-Class: 4WD SUV midsize - 14
Toyota Sienna: minivan very large - 17
Honda Odyssey: minivan very large - 17
Lexus ES 330: luxury car midsize - 18
Lexus RX 330: 2WD SUV midsize - 18
Toyota Sequoia: 2WD SUV large - 18
Honda Pilot: 4WD SUV midsize - 19
BMW X5: 4WD SUV midsize - 19


Conversely, the ten deadliest vehicles include mostly smaller, cheaper cars that are often driven by younger, more aggressive drivers. You can also observe that bigger probably equals safer, but that doesn't explain why the Chevy Blazer is the deadliest vehicle on the road.

Highest Vehicle Deaths Per Million Vehicles

Chevrolet Blazer: 2dr 2WD SUV midsize - 232
Acura RSX: 2dr car small - 202
Nissan 350Z: sports car midsize - 193
Kia Spectra: hatchback 4dr car small - 191
Pontiac Sunfire: 2dr car small - 179
Kia Rio: 4dr car mini - 175
Chevrolet Cavalier: 2dr car small - 171
Mitsubishi Eclipse: 2dr car small - 169
Dodge Neon: 4dr car small - 161
Pontiac Grand Am: 2dr car midsize - 160
Chevrolet Cavalier: 4dr car small - 150
Ford Mustang: sports car midsize - 150
Ford Ranger: 4WD pickup small - 150
Mazda B Series: 2WD pickup small - 147
Mitsubishi Eclipse: convertible sports car small - 146
Mitsubishi Montero: Sport 2WD SUV midsize - 146

Sunday, April 29, 2007

I Can't Find My Car in BrightCar's Database!

We've tried to capture in our database all vehicles sold in the United States since 1983. We have more than 10,000+ vehicle-specific maintenance plans in our database. If you bought your vehicle in the U.S. after 1983, and you can't find your car's maintenance plan in our database, please email us.

For those people who have vehicles for which we do not have a vehicle-specific maintenance plan in our database (e.g., your car was sold in a country other than the U.S.), we have a number of options:
  1. You can use our general maintenance plan, which is based on industry standards. (When adding a car, just click the "custom" box near the upper-left corner and type values in the fields for Make, Year, Model, etc. instead of choosing from our drop-down menus. Once you choose "normal" or "severe" driving conditions, BrightCar will present you with our general maintenance plan, which is fully customizable.)
  2. You can enter your car's manufacturer-recommended maintenance plan into BrightCar yourself. (Again, choose custom car, enter your car details, and then add/remove items from the general maintenance plan and modify their schedules, as appropriate.)
  3. Email or fax us a copy of your car's maintenance plan, and we will enter it into BrightCar for you.
  4. Find a "U.S. equivalent" of your car and load that into BrightCar and use its maintenance plan.
If you need further assistance with the option you choose, please send us an email.

BrightCar Data File Backup

If you want to back up your BrightCar data file, you'll need to find a file called user.data in a BrightCar directory. That's where BrightCar stores all your data. Just back up that file, and you'll have a back up for your BrightCar information.

If you need more specifics, here they are:

You can find your data file in a subfolder of your "My Documents" folder. If you look in "My Documents\BrightCar" you'll see a file named "user.data". That's your data file.

If you want the full path, it should be (and this will depend a bit on your computer's setup) "C:\Documents and Settings\[your name]\My Documents\BrightCar\user.data". Replace [your name] with whatever name you told your computer to use for you (probably your first and last name).

If you are having trouble finding the file, try to search for user.data within Windows Explorer or send us an email.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Normal vs. Severe: How Do You Drive?

I recently came across an interesting response to a reader email in The Wall Street Journal's Me & My Car column. A reader had taken his 2000 Accord (with 48,000 miles) into the dealership for servicing, where he was surprised by the suggestion that he should consider an expensive timing belt replacement. The advice dished out by The Wall Street Journal was that it was probably safe to postpone the timing belt change because it wasn't due--according to the vehicle's Owners Manual--until 105,000 miles.

The discrepancy between the dealer's and The Wall Street Journal's (and, supposedly, Honda's) recommendations struck me as odd. In addition, we often see recommendations around 60,000 miles for a timing belt change.

So, I did some digging in our database of car maintenance schedules and found that Honda does indeed recommend a timing belt replacement at 105,000 miles, but only for people following "normal" driving conditions. For those subjecting their cars to "severe" driving conditions, the interval is 60,000 miles. That's quite a difference in intervals.

Because there can be such a big difference in the recommended servicing intervals based on whether you follow a "normal" or "severe" schedule, it's pretty important to know which schedule is suitable for your car. This is especially important for a service item like the timing belt, because if the timing belt breaks it can result in very costly repairs. This type of preventive maintenance can therefore help avoid costly, preventable repairs.

Fortunately, we don't have to guess which schedule is suitable for our driving styles. The manufacturers themselves say that "severe" driving conditions include:
  • Taking frequent short trips of 10 miles or less.
  • Driving in cold weather.
  • Driving in salty or dusty environments.
  • Towing a trailer.
  • Driving for extended periods at high speeds.
  • Driving routinely in stop-and-go traffic.
  • Driving with a car-top carrier.
How many people don't drive in one or more of these conditions? These driving conditions sound pretty normal to me, so it's confusing that the manufacturers define this type of driving as "severe." But the important thing is to follow the appropriate plan for your car. So, if you drive in any of these conditions, be sure to follow a "severe" maintenance schedule for your car.

Note: When you add your car to BrightCar Software, you'll be able to choose whether to load the "normal" or "severe" maintenance plan. We've got both plans in our database for nearly all U.S.-cars sold since 1983.

Further Note: We sent The Wall Street Journal an email pointing out the discrepancy between the normal and severe intervals, suggesting that maybe that dealer's recommendation wasn't so crazy after all, especially given the potential high cost of repairs, should the timing belt fail. Thereafter, the reader email and response were removed from their online version.

GM Still #1 Auto Maker

Well, that's probably not the headline you've been seeing everywhere else today. The Wall Street Journal declared, "Toyota Passes General Motors as World's Top Auto Maker," and CNBC reported, "Toyota Tops GM in First-Quarter Global Auto Sales." And we're all correct.

After 70 years as the world's largest volume auto manufacturer, General Motors finished just behind Toyota in units sold globally during the first quarter of 2007. (Toyota sold 2.35 million vehicles versus 2.26 million for GM.) But GM still holds the number one spot in the world's biggest market, the U.S. (GM held a 22% share versus 16% for Toyota.)

That's little consolation to GM, however. Toyota and GM (as well as the other U.S. car makers) seem to be on different trajectories. Toyota's global output grew 10% last year, and it is already more profitable and boasts a larger market capitalization ($200+ billion) than Big 3 combined (~$120 billion).

Monday, April 23, 2007

Electric Sports Car This Fall?

New car manufacturer Tesla Motors appears ready to start selling a sharp-looking, all-electric sports car this fall. The sleek roadster will sell for something around $100,000 and have a range of 220-250 miles. In the past, range has been one of the main problems with 100% electric cars, but technology, pushed by higher oil prices, seems to be catching up to consumer needs.

One other problem with any vehicle like this that is so advanced and different from its peers - where do you get it serviced? I assume that for most repair and maintenance work, you'd be forced to use the dealership for your service, which might limit the available consumer pool. I'd be willing to drive a few hours to buy a car, but to get it worked on?

Still, it's an interesting and promising step forward.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Welcome To The BrightCar Blog

Hey there!

Welcome to the first post at the BrightCar Blog!

The BrightCar Blog is the creation of Todd and Dave, the co-founders of BrightCar, Inc. The purpose of this blog is to find and highlight interesting news and information about the automotive industry, with a particular focus on vehicle maintenance, performance and safety. Todd and I spend a lot of time keeping abreast of what's going on out there, so we figured that there must be other folks who have similar interests. When we come across something interesting, we'll link to it here and write a little commentary. If you have something to add, feel free to leave a comment and maybe get a little conversation started. Otherwise, just sit back and let us do the talking.

Thanks for coming by and I hope we see you again.