Monday, June 29, 2009

2010 Ford Taurus: Review & Pictures

After some odd renaming of the brand, Ford finally has settled on a new design for the Ford Taurus sedan. And it looks like a real winner, per Road and Track:

Soft springs and heavy dampers absorb Michigan's ever-present potholes nicely, yet allow for crisp corner entry. Roll control is good, but if you push too hard there's a benign transition into moderate understeer that is wholly predictable. With higher cornering speeds come a proportional amount of body roll, but thankfully not as much as might be expected. The improvement is related to revised rear suspension that moves the shocks farther outboard for a better motion ratio that's now 1:1 as opposed to the previous car's 0.6:1.

Gripes are minor. The shift paddles feel plasticky, as if they were supplied by Mattel. And the standard wheels of the top-of-the-line Limited model are not alloys; they are steel wheels with plastic chrome cladding.


If this Ford Taurus is anywhere nearly as successful as the Fusion has been in the mid-size segment, we'll finally have a great American 6-cylinder car that people want to buy over a foreign counterpart. Many drivers will chime in that they have been loyal to American brands even despite the awful cars coming out of Detroit for decades now, but I'm talking about mainstream appeal for, of all things, a Ford Taurus that was thought to be dead years ago.

If I were in the market for a new car, I'd run to a Ford dealership and test thing out to see if it's as good as the review indicates. Judging by the brand new 2008 Ford Edge that a relative of mine recently purchased, all I can say is, Ford is on the right track. And yes, there definitely is a correlation between their recent success and not taking any bailout money.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Wow, I Miss Royal Ford

I live in the Boston area and the only use I've had for the Boston Globe (the hard copy) in recent years has been to read the automotive section. I always enjoyed Royal Ford's weekly column in the Globe. He struck a great balance between giving important information to everyday drivers when reviewing a vehicle, but also pointed out some of the more specialized aspects of the car for enthusiasts. Sure, he'd take the occasional jab at German companies for higher prices and higher expected maintenance costs in some cases, but the banter was always playful and he also gave a nod to the excellent way those cars drove. He is a journalist to be respected.

In complete contract to Mr. Ford is Sherrice Gilbash. Let me start by saying I think she fits in wonderfully for the website she writes for - The articles she writes are clearly geared toward Moms who are shopping for a grocery-getter but maybe with some niceties attached that Moms can appreciate - and surely, even some Dads.

But some of her articles have shown up in the Boston Globe lately, front and center in the automotive section where Royal Ford's (and then journalists') used to reside - and strangely, they have not been republished on Even reviews by folks will show up on the website a day or so after the review is published in the paper. Not so with those written by Sherrice. Not too important, but odd and of note.

Here are some of the bits and pieces published in the Boston Globe recently:

For the 2009 Volkswagen CC 3.6L 4Motion review:

From the outside, the CC is incredibly smooth-looking — think stilettos and a black mini dress. This car turns heads and even gets people to point; that’s something I usually discourage my kids from doing, but in this case I told them it was a compliment. I started feeling guilty for being in sweats with no makeup when I was driving the CC.

Combine that punchy power with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive, and the CC proves you can look sporty and sexy and still plow through the snow like it’s nobody’s business. Too cool!

Stilettos, black mini dress, sexy, and the full sentence (?) "Too cool!". Again, clearly geared toward a female demographic, and that's fine for, but for the Globe?

Here's more from her 2009 Audi A4 quattro review:

From the outside, the A4 has an incredible presence. It exudes style and sets the tone for the complete image of what and who an Audi driver is. I certainly wanted to be seen in the A4. For me, it was like wanting to be seen on that one day each month when I actually do my hair and makeup to pick the kids up from school. Darn it, I worked hard on my look and I want to reap the rewards of recognition!

This car may carry carpool by day, but by night — look out! My husband and I enjoyed a night out on the town while I had the A4. Getting ready, we felt as if we had to dress to the car’s level of class — definitely strappy heels with this one! As we hid the booster seats in the trunk, we glanced at each other with glee and said, “No kids!”

Sherrice goes on and on about the snack space given in the A4's rear armrest too. She focuses on what the driver should be in relation to this car instead of taking this car on a track and seeing what it can actually accomplish, and how it compares to its rivals and current technology in the marketplace. Honestly, anyone halfway familiar with German cars will surely find the armrest storage feature useful, but a little nod in that direction is all that's needed - not paragraphs worth of praise. An Audi is something you want to drive, and again, while her articles are useful for readers of, I'm not sure why The Boston Globe switched from Royal Ford's more technically oriented articles with still a dash of his excellent, witty personality, to just about anyone on the internet who reviews cars. Maybe they'll ask me to write a review for them next?

By the way, there doesn't appear to be an official Royal Ford website, so here I'm linking to the closest thing I found in Google...enjoy!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Supreme Court Delays Sale of Chrysler

The sale of the core Chrysler business to Fiat is at the heart of Barack Obama's plans to save the automaker from liquidation, something which the administration's lawyers argued is inevitable if the Italians walk away. Under the terms of the agreement, the deal must be completed by 15 June.

Fiat will emerge with management control and with an initial 20 per cent ownership of Chrysler under the deal, hammered out ahead of the bankruptcy filing at the end of March. A union-run healthcare trust will own most of the company, while unsecured bondholders will get only a sliver. Mr Obama condemned hedge funds holding the bonds for refusing to sign up to the deal, but a trio of Indiana state pension funds continued to try to block it.

They lost in bankruptcy court, and in an appeals court ruling last Friday, but were given permission to pursue the matter at the Supreme Court. They argued that the interests of unsecured bondholders had illegally been placed behind those of the union.


The Obama spin here is laughable: Chrysler is being sold because, since 1979, it has needed bailout after bailout & is in the business of providing pensions to former and current workers, instead of making great cars people want.

While I definitely want to see Fiat & Alfa vehicles sold here as soon as possible, I didn't know the majority shareholder of the new entity would be a union-run healthcare trust. This spells trouble, and this is exactly why Fiat refuses to put up any of their own cash to be part of this deal: because even Fiat knows subsidizing healthcare pensions and union corruption with their own money coming into this deal means that money disappears and is never heard from again.

Much as I hate to see the union be any part of this, I still want Ginsberg to finally let Chrysler die - in part, at least - and allow Fiat to take control to send the message that American car companies need to be more like Ford if they want to survive.

UPDATE 6/11/2009: It appears Chrysler is finally going to die, for the most part, as Fiat has been approved to take over all of Chrysler's assets. Let's hope this leads to a rebadging of the brand to Fiat and Chrysler finally dies a decent death, as should have happened in 1979.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New commentary on 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid

I wrote a blog post about the new 2010 Honda Insight hybrid for the website Check it out here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Vehicle lighting: Daniel Stern Lighting Consultancy and Supply

Vehicle lighting (headlamps, fog lamps, tail lights, and especially directional bulbs) is more important than most people realize. In the US, we're so used to options on the shelf that when we see a blue-looking headlamp at AutoZone and the manufacturer tells us it'll allow us to see better at night, we take the info at face value, and buy the lamp, thinking we look cool with blue-ish headlamps.

There's also the issue of use: today, on my way to work, it was raining hard and there was a lot of mist & fog in the air, such that visibility was down below 50 feet or so. There were many people who didn't even have their tail lights on, let alone fog lamps. So if you were driving and a person stopped suddenly in front of you, you may not have even known they were there until you saw their brake lights, and by then it would be too late if you were unknowingly following too closely. Unfortunately, fog lamps are used as an odd fashion statement here: "hey, my vehicle came with these cool extra lights, so I'm going to use them!" This is particularly a problem with pickup truck owners: they're already too high up, and have fog lamps, so instead of using their low beams, they use their parking lights (big no-no) and fog lamps. Simply odd; not sure where pickup truck drivers learned this or why they do it, but it's dangerous as almost no one sees your fog lamps, particularly not anyone behind you or directly in front of you.

Then there's directional bulbs. Of course, many people don't even use them when they should. But they cast a wide beam and have little in the way of glare (when they are yellow - fashionable white or red tail lamps are just a bad idea). As such, they should always be used as appropriate.

In Europe, lighting regulations are much more strict. In many countries, all vehicles come with fog lamps, and you can be fined for using them outside of the normal use. My 2002 Mercedes-Benz E320 comes with a rear fog lamp, which some Audis and Volvos also have here in the States (BMW has opted not to include rear fog lamps in their US inventory). The rear fog lamp on the Benz lights up on the driver's side tail light assembly, so an approaching car knows which side of the car they may hit if they approach too quickly, and can effectively maneuver to the appropriate side.

There's an entire science behind vehicle lighting and its effects on the eyes, as well as its effectiveness in certain situations, which depends on which area of the country you live, etc. Daniel Stern Lighting Consultancy & Supply was recommend to me on a Benz board a while back, and Daniel has been great to work with & buy from. He gives his time via email to explain to you what types of bulbs one should use depending on your car and in which area of the country you live. Drop him a line if you're shopping for lighting.

Click here for Daniel Stern Lighting Consultancy and Supply

Monday, May 4, 2009

2009 BMW 1-series

After reading this review of the 2009 BMW 1-series coupe on's Auto section, I'm scratching my head. What, exactly, is wrong with this vehicle? The reviewer attempts to explain but loses me:

The price. Our 128i started with a MSRP of $29,200, plus a destination charge of $825. If you could stop there, we could see this as an entry-level sports coupe. However, an array of ``normal'' BMW options pushed the final price to $41,345. We had the Sport package ($1,300), Premium Package ($3,700), Steptronic with paddles ($1,425), Xenon headlights ($800), and Navigation system ($2,100) as the major add-ons. For comparison, a comparable 3-Series has a base price of $33,600 and would be about $45,500 similarly equipped.

The two-part starting "system" is pretentious. Push the key fob into the dash, and then hit the start/stop button. How about reverting to turnkey vehicles?

The cup holders. There's a big one – MINI-style – on the passenger side and another tucked half under the center armrest. It's a bit on the sparse side for Mrs. G who's inclined to embark on a three-hour morning trip with hot tea, Diet Coke and a bottle of water, almost always guaranteeing a pit stop.

Talk about nitpicking...

So my understand after reading his review is that "it drove just great, but man, they need to give me more cup holders, give me the car for less money, and give me more rear seat room in the smallest BMW ever sold that had a rear seat in the first place". Sounds like this reviewer is asking a bit too much out of what's supposed to be not an entry-level luxury car, but a small, sporty coupe that harkens back to the 3-series of the past.

And that's just the problem with this vehicle, isn't it? Positioning.

The 1-series follows in the footsteps of the redesigned 3-series - bigger, wider, and more luxurious than the 3-series vehicles that defined a genre, especially in the early - then late - 1990s. Those cars were sports cars first, sports sedans second - the suspension & handling were perfect for a true driver's car. Then BMW realized at redesign in 2006 that they had millions of potential 3-series buyers and it was BMW's top-selling car stateside. I won't go so far as to say that BMW "sold out" by making the 3-series more consumer friendly, but there was definitely a niche that was vacated when the new 3-series came out. Thus, the 1-series - which delivers, apparently, in all aspects of what 3-series loyalists want that car to be, even today.

Back to the review, cup holders and iPod adapters simply aren't standard equipment in Germany, so they can't be standard equipment here. Not every Benz and BMW that rolls off the factory line in Germany is supposed to be a "luxury car" the way we define it here - piled to the top with electronic gizmos, cup holders, etc. - basically the "living room on wheels for people who kinda like to drive sometimes" mentality we have here in the US. Lexus & Acura, by contrast, made luxury vehicles strictly for the American market, and they were supposed to sit on the same chassis as Camry & Accord vehicles, but deliver in better handling and luxury options. This is more of a history lesson than a car review, but the lesson is that German luxury cars will always require more options to make an equally equipped Lexus. And personally, I'd rather pay more & drive the German car than the Lexus or Acura, after owning & driving all types & realizing that you're paying for a true autobahn-capable vehicle no matter what model you buy (1-series, C-class, S-class, 5-series - even VW Passat).

German cars will always take this kind of heat from reviewers because of the "you get more by paying less" attitude the media maintains toward Japanse counterparts. Still, the 1-series seems to be doing quite well in filling the niche left behind by the current-gen 3-series: a true driver's car that will transport two - and maybe 3, sometimes - adults very comfortably while having that basic, sports-like feel on the interior (a couple cup holders, maybe a fancy stereo if you're willing to pay for it). You're supposed to enjoy driving this car, that's the message BMW is sending, even if it doesn't translate well here in the US.

Monday, April 27, 2009

(Not quite a) Review: 2008 Ford Edge Limited - AWD

Earlier this month, my father decided his 2000 Ford Windstar minivan had had enough. A respectable and reliable little van, it served his small business purposes well and was much more fuel efficient than any silly and huge SUV, like a Yukon or Suburban. It probably had just as much cargo room too, but the savings from being more fuel efficient was the big reason for staying small.

Fast forward 9 years and 140,000 miles later. This car was always left outside and was never properly cared for. As such, it began to rust a bit. My father had already planned on getting rid of it, and Ford had done him well in the past, so why not go with another Ford? Particularly in this type of economic climate, any American auto dealership would bend over backward to get his business, he figured. Turns out he was right.

He was able to pick up a 2008 Ford Edge Limited - AWD (navi, leather, all those goodies - even option 18" chrome wheels!) for about $12K below MSRP (as I understand it - never saw the bill of sale or anything).

More than just the price, though, the car is actually pretty solid. I drove it briefly and it seemed pretty sturdy. The options are great, the interior quality is very nice, and the exterior styling isn't anything to laugh at like some of the Buick or Oldsmobile models of the 1990s. The reason for the deep discount was more than just the fact that it was an American car, of course; it had been sitting on the lot for well over a year and a half by this point and the dealer wanted it gone.

This is how Detroit can win American car buyers back: shed inventory for low cost, make what people WANT to buy like this Ford Edge, give up the addiction to huge trucks and atrocities like the $50,000 GMC Yukon Hybrid, and stick to making sensible vehicles people can be proud of when parked next to foreign competitors like Honda and VW. Pretty soon, if they can make this work, it will be the American auto owners laughing at folks who paid too much for a foreign car instead of the other way around.

Begging for socialism

Note: this was already posted on my other blog but as it involved the auto industry it belongs here too.

In a shameful move by a shamefully & poorly managed US auto company, GM is now asking the government to completely take over the company so it doesn't have to run itself - nor confront the unions it plans to phase out:

GM is living on $15.4 billion in government loans and faces a June 1 deadline to restructure and get more government money. If the restructuring doesn't satisfy the government, the company could go into bankruptcy protection.

GM said in a news release that it will ask the government to take 50 percent of its common stock in exchange for canceling half the government loans to the company as of June 1.

If both are successful, the government and UAW health care trust would own 89 percent of the company's stock, with the government holding over a 50 percent stake, Henderson said.


I would rather see GM go out of business or at least substantially reduce its product offerings (more than just slashing Pontiac; think much bigger - or smaller, as the case may be). The government should not be in the business of making cars for profit. And since the government will realize this soon too, taking over 50% of the company's stock (read: operational & financial decisions) means we're slowly getting on the path of government taking over all industry. Alarmist? Apocalyptic? OK maybe a bit too much melodrama to make such a leap, but it's still frightening for those of us who value good old fashioned hard work in our industry here in the States.

My only hope is that a strong state like Texas secedes from the union and shows the other 49 how it's done. Only that type of action will finally convince people that a heavily centralized federal government, which should not be in the business of bailing out or taking over industries to the point where those companies are given a lifeline just long enough to BEG the government to put it out of its misery as an independent for-profit going concern, has no place in this country.
If this (or something like it) doesn't happen? I fear the socialism bug that has infested too many countries in Europe, and spread all too easily via the EU.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Car care products: Mothers Reflections Advanced Wax vs. Turtle Wax

When I stumbled upon on the recommendation of someone on a Honda board a while back, I didn't realize just how lucky I was at the time. What I heard from the sales reps & owner at Wax Station - who deal almost exclusively in detailing products made by Mothers - is that Reflections Advanced Wax goes on easy, buffs off easy, and leaves a lasting shine. I didn't know quite what that meant until I used Reflections for years, and then tried to wax my sister's car the other day with some Turtle Wax product that I can't even find on their site at the moment (this link gives you the closest product I could find).

The Turtle Wax polish went on fairly easily, but not nearly as easily as Reflections - not by a mile. It did behave when being pushed around by the microfibre waxing cloth I used (no automatic buffers here - I do it by hand). So okay, step 1 (after using some Mother's Pre-Wax Cleaner on certain areas that looked particularly dirty - remember, there was no existing coat of wax to strip off) was finished.

Buffing off the haze was a bit of a tough task when compared to how the product went on. Keep in mind her Accord is a smaller car than my Benz, thus there's less of an area to wax, so the amount of time it took me to wax the car was shorter. I also ensured her car was NOT in direct sunlight.

When I took a clean cloth to try to buff out the haze, it was like I had covered the car with Rain-X and had left it out in the sun too long. It was simply impossible to get it all off, and streaks abounded. Even on 100% dry panels, streaking still occurred because I couldn't put enough pressure on the paint to get that gunk off! It was very disappointing after I had worked hard to get the stuff on. I'll have to go fix it this week by using some Mothers wax.

Overall, I'd give that Turtle Wax product a huge thumbs down when compared to Mothers waxes I have used.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Repair Shops: European Auto Solutions in Waltham, MA

There are a few shops in Massachusetts which are very good at what they do, and this is by no means a comprehensive list:

Accel Automotive - they work on just about anything - including antiques, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo ( they are located right next to where Alfa used to be in the 90s in Waltham, MA). Good people & honest. I have used them for years and if they have ever made a mistake, they own up to it and pay for it. What else can you ask for from your mechanic? We have a Lexus ES that will likely never see another shop again outside of Accel, and the following shop for tires & alignment.

Donovan Alignment - now a franchise of American Car Care Centers but again - very fair & honest, very talented when it comes to diagnosis. I've never been disappointed.

As good as these two shops are, for our Mercedes-Benz, I recently started using European Auto Solutions. Due to copyright issues they can't actually have Mercedes in the name, but they work solely on Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

The short history is that the owner, Tim Allen (no, not that one), a former Fidelity big-wig, had a passion for Benzes. A specialty Benz restoration shop that worked on all Benz model years and types, located nearby in Wayland, and named Hatch & Sons, was closing up shop (they would eventually re-open in Hudson). Tim was at the point of needing a new challenge in his life, so he left Fidelity and under a year later, the former Hatch & Sons service coordinator was working for him in a new shop in Waltham called European Auto Solutions.

I have used them for a few jobs now. The insurance nightmare posts (look in the archives - I'm sick of even linking to them at this point) speak to some major door issues after my driver's door needed replacement, and EAS brought me in from the cold: they replaced faulty wiring, connected the window regulator properly, aligned the door properly, replaced the contact switch, etc. All for a very reasonable rate, and just knowing my car was in the hands of people who had a passion for the brand and who never touched other cars, that gave me a level of comfort I hadn't had in my vehicle since the accident in January 2009.

I also needed rear coil springs done, and those were done without a hitch.

During my last visit, the owner, Tim, had to give me a ride to and from work. He was telling me about his passion for the W124 chassis, or the 300E (and 500E) of about the mid-80s to 1992 or so. Speaking with the service manager, Ed, is cool enough, but having 10-15 minutes of time alone with the owner of the shop and talking Benzes with him was very cool. He had no issue at all with giving me a ride to work after their loaner car wasn't back in time for me as promised, which showed me he's a down-to-Earth guy who values his customer base. Being the son of a business owner who's been located up the street from EAS for the past 35 years, this is very important to me when selecting shops to whom I will give my business.

If you're in MA and have an old or new Benz, give them a shot, you won't be let down!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hitches in Fiat/Chrysler negotiations

MILAN – Automaker Fiat Group SpA will walk away from a deal to take a 20-percent stake in Chrysler LLC if the U.S. automaker's unions don't agree to major cost cuts, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said in an interview published Wednesday.

Fiat and Chrysler are up against an April 30 deadline for Fiat to take a stake in the failing U.S. automaker in exchange for small car technology, but Chrysler first needs concessions from creditors and unions to ink the Fiat deal. If the Fiat alliance isn't finalized by then, the U.S. government has threatened not to provide any more aid and let Chrysler be sold off in pieces.

"The dialogue is out of sync," Marchionne said. "I think they need to see what state the industry is in. Canada and the U.S. are coming in as the lender of last resort. .... No one else would put a dollar in. This is the worst condemnation of the viability of this business."



Rewind 20 or 30 years. Think anything like this could ever happen?

Chrysler is defnitely an American-auto-hating whipping boy, for sure. For a German/Italian car loving guy, it's easy to completely disregard Chrysler and maybe even scoff at them. But haven't they also been an accurate sign of the times in the US? In the 70s, they represented a company that refused to change even in the midst of much higher oil prices than their cars could handle, and needed a government bailout. I think there was another bailout in there somewhere. Now they need $6billion - and then more to make this deal work, with two weeks left before D-Day.

Chrysler hasn't learned a thing over the past 30 years. They've had some nice vehicles in that time, but most of them are run of the mill and don't even compare to Japanese or German counterparts. And now, in typically American fashion, they are ready to allow unions to do all the talking for them in another "save our asses" deal.

Sure, Fiat won't inject cash or buy stock from Chrysler...but why should they? The government has offered $6billion to help Chrysler, and apparently even that is not enough to bring them out of bankruptcy and allow Fiat to take the reins & run with a freshly bailed out American auto giant.

It's sad, and shows just how far America has fallen internationally - not only in cars, but as a trade partner and in terms of asset value. Thirty years ago, Fiat would have jumped at the chance to buy Chrysler and would have offered stock, bonds, cash, anything it could throw to have such a large American base.

For my part, I'd love to see this deal go through - DaimlerBenz lost their patience with the Chrysler brand, but Fiat seems to be more about completely remaking the company if they have the opportunity, while also selling Alfa Romeo vehicles here in the States again for the first time since 1995. This could only be a good thing for the American consumer, and yet again, we see labor unions getting in the way. They would apparently rather lose their jobs and see the company completely fail than give concessions to at least keep some of their huge pensions and disproportionate benefits.


UPDATE 4/27/2009

This update was just posted on most of the major news sites. Looks like we may see Alfa Romeo & Fiat models here in the next few years after all! I guess the unions would rather make concessions than, ya know, join the ranks of the unemployed...surprisingly easy logic to follow after you think about it!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Latest - and possibly last - insurance nightmare update

Click here and scroll toward the bottom for the latest insurance nightmare update.

It's been nearly three months since the accident and we may be at the end. The only thing left is waiting to hear from the MA Division of Insurance Appeals Board to see if they will give me back my deductible.

Monday, March 30, 2009

2009 GMC Yukon Hybrid: $50K?

GMC is definitely missing the point with its new hybrid, but it's a car that almost needed to be made. I'm surprised this monster wasn't advertised in Big Love or something (photos at end of post).

First, the basics, with my thoughts tacked on:

  • 4-speed automatic (CVT). I'm not a fan of this: one more gear in the tranny to make this smoother and save fuel while shifting wouldn't have killed GMC in such a large vehicle.
  • 6.0-liter V8. Expected.
  • Towing capacity: 1733 lbs (4x4 option, and why wouldn't you get the 4x4 if you're getting a truck this large?). Acceptable, and with a hybrid power train, maybe you're not doing as much towing as the next Yukon owner.

  • Standard leather & navigation. For $50K? It better have leather seats and navi!

  • Fuel economy: 20-22 mpg. Surprised? I wasn't. For the price, I would have expected a little better, but remember, this IS a Yukon.

The official reason given for putting hybrid technology - co-developed by BMW, DaimlerChrysler, AND GM (surprised?) - into a monster SUV is that GMC wants to "highlight our commitment to save as much fuel as possible by applying our best technology to the highest fuel-consuming vehicles first" (cited from this Motor Trend review).

What about the unofficial reasons? Well, for one, I understand putting hybrid tech into larger vehicles to save fuel, as follows:
  • tiny hybrid cars cannot take the kind of impact offered by a car such as - oh, I dunno, a GMC Yukon? - while keeping the driver and passengers safe. The Prius can get all the praise and government crash test ratings it wants, but the fact of the matter is, I'd rather drive my Benz around and pay more per gallon AND per tank to keep my family safe in the event of a collision. When it's time for a new car, I'll go with a BlueTec or a Benz E-class hybrid (doesn't exist yet).

  • there's plenty of need for commercial vehicles like the Yukon, so we can't simply ignore them and hope businesses start using Prius' for towing and at construction sites. It's simply not going to happen.

  • say you're a taxi or livery service and someone wants an SUV to take a family to the airport? Our entire family did this last year when we went to Aruba and had a large Cadillac Escalade (extended) take us. Imagine driving that thing around every day in Boston traffic to and from the airport? That electric power train to save gas in city driving is going to be a godsend for you and may allow you to keep prices on your service reasonable.
However, I still think when looking at the big picture, General Motors is missing out on a great opportunity. It's easier to test this technology out in a relatively low-volume car. When I say low volume, I mean for families who are staying away from these behemoths; commercial fleets will be backed by the warranty, and the potential bad press if liability is bad won't be as harsh coming from loyal commercial fleet buyers. However, GM should be using this same hybrid technology in a bunch of cars, and soon. The US has a huge image problem when it comes to Ford, GM, and Chrysler. They simply are unwilling to give up the truck-and-SUV push. One recent commercial comparing the Chevy Silverado to the Toyota Tundra touts the former's gas mileage over the Tundra and then has the audacity to call Chevy the "greenest" truck on the road (can't find the ad online just yet). It's still a pickup truck, and my opinion of pickups is that they simply shouldn't be allowed on the road unless you have a commercial license plate (i.e.; you'd have to show a need to own a truck like that, such as a contracting company or construction worker, to own such a vehicle).

For $50,000+, and it's not even an Escalade, I think this is a niche market to say the least. If it's as smooth and comfortable as expected, I'm sure plenty of folks - more the further West you go in the States - will find this suitable if they can afford it (with GM in desperation mode it's likely you'd be able to get a good deal on one). But for most, we can only hope US returns to car-making glory by doing something to trump Japanese and Germany automakers instead of sitting in reaction mode as they have for decades.

Fomula 1 Season started yesterday

The Australian Grand Prix marked the beginning of the 2009 season for F1 racing. For those of us who value exceptional engineering, these races are the pinnacle of auto racing. I will admit I have a strong dislike for NASCAR, as they simply take existing platforms and trick them out to perform very well on a circular racetrack, so we're going to ignore NASCAR in this blog.

First, a recap and some info: I'm a huge Ferarri fan. I know, it's kind of like being a Yankees fan, and I loathe the Bronx Bombers. But I have Italian blood and Ferrari is one of the best car companies in the entire world. I'm also a Mercedes owner, so I'm not too disappointed when I see Benz teams win - except for the fact that I cannot stand Lewis Hamilton (kind of like my LeBron envy as a Celtics fan, which may rear its ugly head big time in the 2009 NBA playoffs).

Once Schumacher retired a few years back, no one knew what to expect from Ferrari. Then, clawing their way back into the race after a disappointing start, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen took the championship for Ferrari at the very last minute of the last race in 2007. In 2008, they were in a similar position, but Hamilton - in only his second year of being a professional F1 racer - took the championship.

What does 2009 hold? Well, with Honda bowing out of F1 racing, siting economic concerns (we all know how I feel about Honda lately), another Mercedes team filled the gap: Brawn-Mercedes. This team is new for 2009 and, surprise surprise, took the first race in Australia this past weekend. This goes to show how important it is to have both a driver's and constructor's championship in F1: it's the mating of the two - great driver, great car - that wins races.

It should be an interesting season as both Ferraris were out of the first race and didn't cross the finish line.

The disappointing part of recent seasons of F1 for me, is that they have now eliminated both the Canadian and the US Grand Prix races (Montreal, Indianapolis, respectively). I'm much closer to Canada and had the good fortune of attending the 2004 Canadian Grand Prix with my father, and can only hope they add a course in North America again in the near future.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Car Care: for all your needs

To put it bluntly,
  • Is a great small business run by great people
  • Are experts in all things car care related - interior, exterior, newer cars, older cars, show cars; scratches, washing, waxing, painting, etc. etc.
  • Sells only the highest quality products from the industry leader in car care products - that would be Mothers.

Many folks are loyal to Meguiar's and I can understand that. Some folks prefer Turtle Wax, which I think is more of a trendy company, but nonetheless, there's lots of quality products to be had at Auto Zone or Napa. Where you strike out in a franchise store is the personal touch offered by and the fact that they won't sell abrasive cloths, brushes, or applicators.

Here's where fits in: if they sold Meguiars products, they'd still sell a great assortment of non-abrasive snow & upholstery brushes, wheel waxes, and other products that allow for great car care. They don't just stock bottles of waxes and polishes and call it a day; they can advise you on how to take care of your vehicle based on make, paint type, age, condition, and your particular wants & needs. As a result, I have no choice but to plug them here after years of dealing with them. The first time I had a question and was referred on a Benz board to for proper vehicle care, the manager/owner asked me to call him rather than discuss over email. That was back in 2004. He spent a half hour with me on the phone and I wrote down notes that I still have on car care. When David W. took over, he kept the personal touch and I didn't miss a beat in terms of which microfibre cloths to mate to my great Mothers products. Even for something as small as a wheel spoke brush, David spent the time to help me pick the right one; or which detergent to use with microfibre cloths.

They truly are a great American small business and I am proud to be a customer of their business. If you have any car care needs, do yourself a favor and email their sales dept (sales at waxstation dot com, or mail at waxstation dot com). Even if you're nervous about changing brands to Mothers, simply buying microfibre cloths & the proper brushes for your vehicle to apply your other brand will impress you in terms of the order process, the ease of use of their site, the great descriptions of products, and the responsiveness of their sales team.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Latest insurance nightmare update

Click here and scroll down to the 3/26/09 update.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Another reason to hate Honda: The S2000 says goodbye

Honda lets yet another great product slip through the cracks, unreplaced by something, let alone a half-decent vehicle in the same segment:

Sayonara, S2000 [Road & Track, April 2009]

The S2000 was a great racing-inspired roadster, and the only Honda-branded product with rear wheel drive at the time. The Acura NSX was the only other rear-wheel drive car Honda/Acura made during those years, and that has been replaced with...nothing. Simply phased out, like this car, with no plans for a replacement.

With a new CEO joining Honda's ranks a few years ago (link is provided to show how well Fukui worked out for Honda - he's being replaced soon too), the second-generation Acura TL was one of the most popular cars in its segment, the Honda Accord had actually outsold the Camry for a year, and the new 2006 Civic was taking over the compact car segment. A new - and first - all wheel drive system for Acura could only mean good things going forward, right? Wrong.

While the Civic continues to impress, the overall vehicle market has dropped significantly in terms of sales, just like every other industry lately. The new Acura TL is designed oddly, to say the least; the RL gets no love from anyone and is lagging behind its competitors, and as I've mentioned in this space before, Acura never revived the CL and therefore never challenged the G coupe from Infiniti (which, by the way, is standard RWD with optional AWD). Since Acura is no BMW with only a FWD or AWD version offered on its TL, and only a four-cylinder in its smallest car (the TSX) until recently, I have a hard time figuring out the motivations of Honda's luxury brand.

This is aside from the fact that the new Accord - while impressive - grew to just over full size status in its most recent incarnation (2008 Full Model Change). With Korean competitors increasingly biting into the sales of Honda and Toyota, especially in the bread and butter segments like mid-size and compact sedans, it's amazing Honda decided to cut off the DX (most basic) trim level in the Accord and position the Accord as more upscale than it already was - as even a few years ago you could rack up over $30K on an Accord by buying the loaded V6 version. These are ideas I'd expect from dealership goons, not Honda Corporate.

It's hard to build loyalty into a brand when you can't get the basics right. Sales of the RDX and MDX are okay, but they could be even better if the rest of Acura's lineup was at least somewhat attractive, and people aren't buying SUVs in the numbers they were years ago anyway.

Honda is showing lately (and this does hurt as a former Honda owner) that they are all poorly executed style, with some good substance but nothing substantially better than what's out there from other companies.

One can make the same argument about certain Mercedes products too, but at least they are turning it around with the new C-class and new S-class (as well as a new E-class on the way soon). I'm not worried about the future of Mercedes-Benz, but I am worried about the future of Honda/Acura.

Tires: Snow tires - Michelin Alpin PA3 or Blizzak WS60?

Based on my insurance nightmare posts, you can tell I've had a lot to think about this winter without use of my Benz (at least, not in working order until recently, when I had the steering rack replaced). Even though I used to be one of those people who thought winter tires were silly now that we can all buy all-season radials, I've done a 180 and now believe in snow tires.

In my vehicle in particular, only 35% of the torque is going to the steering wheels. Sixty-five percent goes to the rear, and in my 2002 E320, this is a full time system - not like the new BMW XDrive or Infiniti's system which are both performance and safety-based.

As a result, and as I mentioned in a prior post, I have never been happy with the way my Conti all-seasons turned in snow. They also - in part - caused the accident as I was going slow, but still hydroplaned sideways into another car while trying to maneuver a curve in the road (while it was icy). Snow tires could have helped solve this problem - and will in the future, as I've decided to buy a set for next winter.

A couple of things one should know before purchasing:
  • If you have 17" rims or larger, it's probably better to go with a 16" rim for your new snow tires. Try to get H-rated if you can, vs. T-rated, unless you live in Canada or a remote area where little plowing is done. Most of the time, in areas like Massachusetts, the roads are plowed so well that 90% of your driving time on the snow tires will be done in somewhat dry conditions, and the treads on these tires do not last long.
  • It's much easier to go with another set of rims AND tires at the same time, even if you only have steel wheels or rims smaller than 17". You're increasing your up front cost by $400 or more, but the convenience you get out of not having to swap tires on the same rims each season is worth it. You can even do it yourself, then simply take the car with its seasonal tires for a balancing & alignment without having to lug tires around. Plus, reducing the number of times your rubber has to be taken off one rim and put on again later is a good thing.
  • Though I'm just about to recommend Michelins, don't take that as a slight on other brands. There are a dizzying array of tire brands out there, so if you're intent on researching each and every kind, go to and have a ball.

First things first: I posted on my favorite Mercedes forum about this and sought out recommendations from other trusted forum members. Make sure that you belong to a good online forum where bloviating and drama are kept to a minimum. A healthy community of vehicle owners who swap tricks and solve problems together will be a car owner's most valuable resource.

Many Benz owners seem to gravitate toward Michelin, Blizzak, or Dunlop snow brands. By posting in the forum, and looking on, I found out the following:

  • I have 17" rims and it would be good - and cheaper at least in terms of the tires - to go down to 16" and narrower for my snow tires. Narrower helps give the tire better traction with less weight dispersed on a wider piece of rubber.
  • Michelin X-Ice's were highly favored, but are being replaced by the Michelin Alpin PA3 brand. This is important because if you ever blow one out, it will be more difficult to find the same tire if it's been discontinued for a while. Even if the X-Ice is a slightly better tire, it's not worth the potential of having to replace two vs. one if something happens to one.
  • Blizzak WS60 seemed to give slightly better traction in ice & snow, but were a bit choppy on dry pavement. As I mentioned above, most of my driving even in winter months will be on dryer roads as plowing and salting are done constantly during storms, and high budgets for clean-up work abound. So while the Blizzaks were tempting because I wanted to get the best snow tire based on my accident experience, I don't think I'd be missing out on too much by getting a highly rated Michelin that still got the job done while giving me better highway performance than the Blizzak.

So the decision is to seek out Michelin Alpin PA3 for snow tires next winter, along with a set of used OEM 16" rims or new, cheaper 16" rims. Always check your owner's manual for required offsets, etc. when downgrading wheel size to a non-stock size. For me, I have optional 17" factory rims on my car, so I can go down to a 215/55/16 size with no issue.

Another great thing about purchasing snow tires is that you can have more fun with your three-season tires. I may end up going with Michelin Pilot Sport A/S plus, which are essentially summer tires that can handle a dusting of snow very well. This may help provide the driver with better performance in the summer months, as you can buy a stiffer tire that still sticks to the road very well.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Insurance Nightmare - update

See 3/3/2009 update on original Insurance Nightmare post.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Hyundai means "watch out"

Though the normal German vehicles will continue to dominate this blog, I initially thought this Hyundai Genesis coupe was a Mercedes:

You have to admit, this car looks pretty cool - but how did it drive? Per Road & Track:

What's Hot:
  • Looks as good as it handles
  • Affordable, more fuel-efficient 4-cylinder turbo model
  • Feels well built

What's Not:

  • V-6 lacks midrange torque
  • Interior not nearly as plush as Genesis sedan's
  • Child-size-only rear seat head room


Hyundai appears to have made a car that handles well on a RWD platform (wake up already, Honda, and stop killing the cars that people love - like the S2000). They badged it as a Genesis coupe, though it seems like there's plenty of distinction between the coupe and sedan - unlike, say, the Mercedes E-class and CLK-class, or the Honda Accord coupe vs. sedan.

For nearly $30K, it'll probably be right up there with some of the other hot coupes in its segment - the Infiniti G37 is one that the Genesis is likely targeting.

The problem is that the G37 has a new 3.7 liter engine giving more horsepower - and the G35 was more than capable; it was exciting. The Infiniti G is also established at this point, as one of the best cars for its price (BMW 3-series coupes are a bit more expensive, similarly-equipped - and yes, of course I feel it's worth the extra dough). The point Road & Track makes about the V6 lacking mid-range torque worries me, as does the idea that maybe the initial quality won't hold up over time like a Mercedes or an Infiniti. Based on the "cons" we see in the list above from Road & Track, it seems like this will be a bit smaller, less powerful, and less luxurious than some of its competitors.

But this is Hyundai we're talking about. The Sonata wowed people when it was redesigned, though it did steal the Accord's taillights. The Santa Fe continues to sell fairly well and Hyundai is a brand people identify with, because they're coming out with new and exciting vehicles - and in some cases, engines.

In terms of sales, I'm sure this car will do fine, and just as the excitement starts to wear off, I'm sure Hyundai will introduce a mid-model cycle change to upgrade the interior and engine. I'm also impressed that Hyundai went RWD - why Honda can't seem to bring itself to make an Acura coupe when its competitors seem to be eating Honda alive; I just have no explanation for that (the now-defunct RSX doesn't count; it was a glorified Civic). They never even tried to fight the Infiniti G35 coupe, and the new TL has a questionable design, even if it does handle well with its SH-AWD system.

Hyundai appears to be doing the right thing for the average car buyer: the person who doesn't care what brand it is, as long as it looks cool and handles reasonably well. They will continue to eat at precious market share currently enjoyed by Honda & Toyota, until we might finally see those companies put out an exciting product or two.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tires: Michelin Primacy MXV4

Overall rating: Thumbs up.

UPDATE APRIL 2ND, 2011: This post seems to be popular based on the internet traffic it draws - in relation to my other posts, not in terms of # of hits.  But I wanted to update those that may surf on into this post from an internet search engine:  The Michelin Primacy MXV4, after over three years and about 30K miles, are still riding very well, still holding their pressure well, and knock on wood, not one of them has had to be replaced yet.  There's little doubt I'll buy another set when the time comes, which is likely later this year or early next based on current tread wear.  On to the original post!


When it was time for my wife's 2000 Lexus ES300 to get new tires last year, we wanted to be somewhat picky while on a budget. We had heard great things about Michelin, and I also knew Pirelli was good. I knew Continental pretty well as they came stock on my Mercedes E-class, so this was going to be a difficult decision.

The tires we settled on were Michelin Primacy MXV4. A few notes about what brought us to our decision:
  • I've never been fully satisfied with how my Contintental ContiProContact tires have handled turns in the snow, and that's big for a New Englander. When you're driving a performance vehicle in weather - safely, of course - you want a tire that will allow you to retain some of those performance characteristics in the snow. The Contis were sure-footed in any kind of rain and even in bad snow when moving straight ahead, but, well...take a look at my Insurance Nightmare post; a contributing factor was definitely the hydroplaning of the Contis on ice. Would a Michelin have handled better? It would have been a wider tire on the E-class than on the Lexus, so I'll never know for that particular incident.
  • I didn't know enough about Pirelli to make the decision to go with them. And even though I know the brand to be a good brand, I had a bad experience with old, cracked Pirellis on the tires that came with my 2002 E-class. Not a fair way to assess a brand, but I figured, I'll have plenty of time to try them out in the future.
  • Once again - I had heard great things about Michelin, and particularly this tire. My preferred alignment shop highly recommended the Primacy based on what I told the owner about my wife's driving style.
So how have they held up over time? They only have about 6-7K miles on them, but so far, so good. Understanding that the tire has a bigger sidewall because the Lexus has 15" wheels, and also understanding it's a fairly narrow tire compared to that of some other brands in the same class, the wet traction is better than the Contis on my AWD Benz. The ride is a bit stiff, but I'm used to a stiffer ride in my wife's Lexus because it's a smaller, front-wheel drive car vs. a rear-wheel biased AWD vehicle in my E-class. They may be relatively noisy, but since they're mated to a Lexus, with all that sound dampening, it's not extremely noisy and the ride overall is still comfortable.

They have held their "round" and their pressure very well and I expect to get them rotated in the near future, so we'll see how the tread wear has held up over the course of those 6-7K miles. Knowing my wife drives very conservatively I don't expect any issues.

You now know what I like about the tire - so are there are any cons?

Sure: for a ride like a Lexus ES300, these may be a bit too stiff and may allow a bit too much in the way of bumps into the cabin. I don't' have a very good basis for comparison because we've only owned the car a year, and the previous tires were pretty much cooked when we bought the car. Still, I prefer a stiffer ride and I'm willing to make the sacrifice of a little more noise and a little more stiffness for a tire that lasts a while and handles well in rain and snow. For those that prioritize comfort over anything else, these are not the tire for you, and you may be better off going with a Conti (Pirellis, in my experience, tend to be more performance-oriented and stiff, but I'm no expert).

One more note: from the reviews on the Tire Rack website, it seems previous "Energy MXV4" owners liked the wet traction in that tire better. This makes me wonder why Michelin would ever discontinue that tire since I believe the wet traction is stellar on this replacement of the Energy. This may say more about my distrust for Continental after my accident than anything.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Insurance nightmare: Not over yet!

Per my updated Insurance Nightmare post, a few things have made me think since this past week.

The rack and pinion in my car is bent, per the 2/20/2009 update. I also never heard from my body shop - owned by a family friend - after he:

  • allowed me to drop the car off to my preferred alignment specialist for the steering diagnosis on Thursday morning
  • at 3:30pm that day, offered to go around the corner and get the car so I wouldn't need to waste another trip down there (he had to do some more door-related work for me)
  • failed to call me on FRIDAY - over 27 hours later he was closed for the weekend - to tell me to come pick up the car or let me know the status of the rack and pinion appraisal as well as the progress on the door latch & window (the latter two being very easy fixes that just required a few new parts, from my understanding)

So that leaves me to think, why did he not call me?

Either he forgot (unlikely), couldn't get the appraiser out to his shop on Friday (after telling me he'd call Thursday to set it up - normally plenty of time even in this busy time of year for insurance companies) (more likely) - or possibly the appraiser needed to get authorization to surprise the insurance company with a multi-thousand dollar piece of work on top of what they've already done. This is what I'm afraid of, but not for the reasons you'd think: Insurance companies in Mass. are bound very tightly to Commonwealth law. They have to cover anything that could be accident related, and the rack and pinion issue is definitely related. So there's no issue with the amount of money they'd have to cover, the only possible issues could be: do they want to do this work vs. totaling the vehicle, and can they source the parts used?

I'd be surprised if they totaled the vehicle. They've already put $2500 or more into the car - my first insurance check was for north of $1,500, I paid $300, so that makes $1,800 of work. Plus a $200 dealer airbag fix, two alignments that didn't go well (hence the alignment specialist), and now work done last Thursday by my alignment shop.

But a new rack and pinion? And what if I insist on new parts, citing that the car may never drive the same regardless so I don't want to take the chance I get someone's old rack and pinion that was busted at the junk yard to begin with? The could be thousands more, and suddenly we're nearing $5,000 territory for total damages. That's a lot of work on a 2002 model vehicle with 107xxx miles on it. So yes, I think it's possible, just not probable, that they may total the vehicle.

In terms of sourcing the parts, that may take a bit, but not likely longer than a couple of days. So again, it makes me wonder why the body shop never called me. It's unlikely given the speed and efficiency of the appraisal service to this point that 24 hours notice wasn't enough to get the R&P issue appraised, priced, and then sent to the alignment shop.

To be continued tomorrow when I speak to the body shop...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Insurance nightmare: Scroll down

Please click here or scroll down depending on your current view to see the 2/20/2009 update on the accident & insurance nightmare, starting with "NEW UPDATE" and ending at "End of 2/20/2009 update". Interesting stuff regarding extensive new repairs that are necessary and will be covered by insurance claim.

Tips & Tricks: Aftermarket brakes for German vehicles

Most Honda and Toyota owners have a vast array of options for aftermarket brakes. There are plenty of Honda/Acura and Toyota/Lexus products on the road, as well as the newer Korean brands, such that a ton of different options exist when it's time for new brake pads and/or rotors.

German vehicles can be a bit tricky. They are finicky, and many of them have brake wear sensors (many Japanese vehicles do too but only in their luxury brands). Also, what if it's time for pads but not rotors? Do you go the OEM (original equipment manufacturer, for those not familiar with the term) route, or do you go aftermarket?

All I can tell you is that my experience with aftermarket brakes has been great, and I've used - twice now - Sure, this is partly a shout-out to them, but it's also to ease your mind about using aftermarket brakes on a sophisticated luxury car. Note that in both cases below, we used OEM rotors with aftermarket pads, with positive results.

When my E-class needed new brakes, I was ready to go OEM. I had been told by my alignment specialist that OEM is the way to go with any car, when I had a Honda Accord, but I wanted to save money as well as get something without as much brake dust on my Benz wheels (the Benz OEM brakes, on both the W210 [1997-2002 (sedan) or 2003 (wagon)] and W211 chassis [2003 (sedan) and 2004 (wagon) to 2009] produce tons of brake dust). It seemed like I was washing the entire car every week just so I could clean the wheels. This isn't a bad thing - once a week wash is nice in the summer, especially, when one in cold climates has access to an outside hose that often - but it still was causing extra work, despite the great performance I got out of the brakes.

I spoke to a gentleman by the name of Yves at, and I got the referral from a friend. I told him I didn't want to invest in parts for my Benz that I wouldn't be happy with and he completely understood, and walked me through my options. I told him I was more concerned with performance, though the brakes didn't have to be "track-ready", meaning I wasn't racing the car or anything - they just had to be as safe in terms of 'bite' while also lasting a while, as the OEM brakes.

He recommended the following for my vehicle:

- Brembo discs all around, PBR Metal Masters rear pads, Akebono ceramic front pads

A year later it was time for brakes on my wife's 2000 Lexus ES300 Platinum Edition. Here's what we did on hers. Note that these still having amazing bite a year later because she doesn't drive aggressively and they have been amazing thus far:

- Brembo discs all around, PBR Metal Masters rear pads, Akebono Ceramic front pads

Noticing a pattern yet?

The point is, it's always worth it to explore aftermarket options even on items as important as brakes. Just do your research and work with a well-informed business like or There are plenty more out there but use your model's preferred forum to get the specific answers you need, or even talk to your parts specialist at your local dealership - they are usually more willing to work with you and answer questions, even about aftermarket parts, than you think.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

2010 Mercedes-Benz E-class coupe and sedan

OK, I'll admit it: It looks like a Honda Accord coupe on the outside with a BMW 3-series coupe rear end:

[Click here for R&T article.]

Keep in mind my inherent bias toward Mercedes-Benz as a current owner.

As much as I want to detest the side and rear design of this vehicle as a knock-off of other designs currently on the market, we need to face facts: Car design ain't what it used to be. A good design comes out - usually from a German company, ironically enough in this case - and every company emulates pieces of it in their next vehicle's redesign. Some rip-offs, like the prior-gen Hyundai Sonata tail lamps vs. the 2003-2005 Honda Accord, are obvious. In this case, Mercedes used some obvious design cues from Honda and BMW, but I still feel they did a decent job giving this car its own character. Only when we see the final E-class sedan model will we be able to tell if this was born more from the new E-class design sessions or a "slight imitation" of the design cues from other cars.

This is an intriguing car, however. I'm sure Mercedes-Benz will be getting rid of the CLK, since that was always an E-class coupe anyway; this is simply a rebadge, taking the opportunity of a full model change to rebadge the vehicle.

What I like about this: Four seats instead of five. Why build a coupe - even the new four-door "coupes" like the Mercedes-Benz CL-class and Volkswagen CC - for five adults? Who is ever going to want to sit in the middle? Having four seats gives the two rear passengers a bucket seat each, which is a nice treat for once you climb back there and realize you're stuck for a while. A heated seat would be nice, and I'm sure that will be available on the new model - maybe even a cooled seat with some packages.

I also like the side view of this vehicle, and the new pillar-less design of this coupe. This isn't particularly new but it opens up the car to a retractable hard top and other niceties that I'm sure we'll find out about during the model year.

The cockpit looks flush and classy, typical of Mercedes vehicles. This shouldn't be an issue given its price point.

What I don't like about this: The borrowing of design cues, mostly. Otherwise, I haven't seen one of these up close nor sat in one, so it's difficult to tell what I don't like.

I'm sure it will drive like a Benz - not nearly as "in tune" with the road as a BMW, but beautiful steering and handling, and a bit of separation from the road compared to some of its contemporaries. Oh, and powerful of course. VERY powerful.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Car-ma: What if you've had it with car repairs on a high mileage vehicle?

Based on my recent post about a nightmare with my insurance company and body shop, one can imagine how easy it is to get fed up and go to bed with dreams of leasing a Honda Civic.

On top of the insanity with my E-class, my wife's car stalled out on her on a highway exit ramp recently. This happened less than 36 hours after we had just picked the car up after an AC clutch replacement and oil change. Turned out in a freak occurrence that a bracket had fallen on top of the fan belt and broken it. That day, when we were taking my car - which still isn't completely fixed yet - to my office to get my laptop, I realized I had run over a nail and needed to get my tire patched.

It's easy to throw my hands up and say, "enough is enough! I want a reliable car where I don't have to always deal with this crap - under warranty so the dealer can handle it all!" I've gone that route before, and here are my general thoughts after getting a nice talking-to by a good friend familiar with these matters (and also relying on my own experience with "buying brand new"):

  • When cars are new, that is typically when they have the most problems, not the least. Very few car companies make unreliable cars, but when new engines are being broken in or new parts are being tested out on you, the consumer, bad things can happen. On a brand new 2006 Accord, the power steering pump went less than 5,000 miles in. Turns out they had a recall on them for every model Honda used that pump on.
  • Not all dealers are fully stocked with morons, but none of us like dealing with salespeople. The car buying process is brutal. You get that nice factory warranty when you're done with that, but you also get service techs who might refuse warranty work or not be willing to work with you over things that are minor to them but important to you, such as noise diagnostics. "Oh, you're hearing a funny sound? I don't hear it, sorry."
  • New cars are expensive...again, you get the warranty, but what about buying the car one year old and saving thousands while also getting the balance of the factory warranty? Or Certified Pre-Owned?

Some car buyers cannot be bothered with maintenance schedules late into a car's life, and having to set aside a budget for things that might happen to a used car without a warranty. It can sure get expensive dealing with tires, brakes, failed electronics, etc. These are the risks you take, but unless you get a lemon, it's a risk you can live with - and you're saving all that money by buying used.

When all is said & done, my particular situations recently are mostly a result of bad luck, almost comedic bad luck. Overall, the cars we have are extremely reliable (knock on wood-grain dash) and any new car could be giving us these issues if it had slipped in the snow or needed some electronic part and the mechanic didn't do a good job putting things back together. I've found some of the least knowledgeable service techs end up being employed by dealerships, believe it or not, because they have no incentive to stay on top of things or know their stuff. Independent mechanics have reputations, which spread like wildfire on the internet these days, even locally (craigslist, yelp, yahoo! local, etc.).

This is not to say one should never buy new, only that if you run into a string of bad luck, take a deep breath and think about what is really causing problems: bad luck, insurance companies, repair work...or a bad car? In most cases it is not the latter.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

New BMW 5-series "Gran Turismo" concept (Geneva Auto Show)

When the new BMW 7-series came out in 2002, people were wondering what to think of it. Same with the Pontiac Aztec. One eventually succeeded after a refresh, one fell flat on its face. So now we have the 5-series "Gran Turismo". Click here or see below for pictures. Will it follow in the footsteps of the 7-series or the Aztec?

While the design itself may take some time to grow on the American crowd, the name of the game here is utility. People simply want more out of cars, and Americans in particular are looking for better solutions than minivans and huge, hulking SUVs - even with gas still below $2.00 per gallon in most areas.

BMW has a 5-series wagon and also has both X5 and X6 SUVs, the latter of which is more akin to this 5-series Gran Turismo. So where's the market for this? Well, the X6 is much better off mated to a V8 from what the reviewers tell us, and it's a more expensive vehicle as it shares the underpinnings of a 6-series, not a 5-series. This hatchback version (not wagon version - two different things!) will take some time to grow on the American crowd, but as usual, others will follow in BMW's footsteps and within a few years, there will be an army of Toyota Venza and BMW GT clones on the road. Note that Honda is already building a Venza and GT-fighter in a higher version of the Accord with a hatchback.

When the X3 came out, I recall people saying the same thing: where's the utility in THIS tiny thing?

Here are some cool features of this car per the Road & Track article linked above, and why I feel it will be a winner here (with time):
  • Rear passengers will be able to adjust their seats via rake, fore, and aft.
  • Rear seats automatically fold down with one-touch power feature (not sure if it will come with 60/40 power split, but this is likely)
  • Hatch opens much like a Volvo SUV - two ways: either one small compartment via flip-up lid, or the entire hatch, as with a wagon
  • The front seats and presentation will likely be the exact same as any 5-series, meaning it will be "functional luxury"

In short, this is the ultimate yuppie tailgater. Bring it to football games and grill on the hatch lid. Bring it to hockey games and let your neighbors watch as you roll up in a stylish vehicle with enough space to carry hockey bags, golf clubs, etc., yet still handles like a BMW 5-series - which is saying a lot.

At the risk of sounding like a BMW cheerleader, I simply believe that, as has been the case with most BMW models lately, this will inspire a slew of copycats - so why not get ahead of the curve?

Friday, February 13, 2009

General shopping guidelines, part I

One of the curses of being a luxury car owner is that when one is buying used (who are these people that can even afford to lease an S-class?), there's always a glut of great cars on the market at fair prices. Due to the weakening economy, one can buy a 2004 BMW 5-series for $20,000 or so, depending on mileage. BMW is one of the last companies to offer full maintenance with their warranty period, so BMWs continue to keep their value well, falling a bit right after it's out of the warranty period.

The BMW is just an example, but is this really a good buy? Well, the one in question (link will expire in a few days so I won't bother posting it) is a 530i, which in 2004 was the best 6-cylinder option one had in a BMW 5-series. So there's one "pro" to that purchase. It also has 30K miles - another excellent "pro", indicating it hasn't been used much in over five years of ownership. It's in immaculate shape - another pro.

But it's a 2004! 2004 was the first year of the newly designed 5-series. Is this a bad thing? Not always, but a few things to note about new body styles:
  • In German vehicles in particular, they may carry the same exact engine as the prior model, at least for a year or two, tweaked for more torque. This happened to the E320 (1997-2006 had the same engine). This isn't necessarily a bad thing; in fact it can give you confidence that the engine is tried and true, and may be a reason to get into that newer body style if you like the design better.
  • New body styles sometimes come with new electronic wizardry - ventilated seats, new traction system, new wiring harnesses, iPod integration. This has no doubt been tested extensively at the factory, but over thousands of units being shipped per month when a new model comes out, there are bound to be issues. On the used market, this is particularly a problem as the vehicle likely isn't under warranty and some of the nuisances may not be covered under any affordable aftermarket warranty.
  • Sometimes, companies make missteps. The current-gen E-class is a nice looking car, but I would honestly rather own a "W210" chassis (prior gen). It seems more spacious, is more classic in feel and design, and the layout makes more sense than the W211. That's not to say one shouldn't buy an E-class from 2003-2009 used, but shop it against comparable models first, or look for concept photos of the next generation to see how radically the company is changing the style. Do research and comparisons to find out if that's the car you really want for a bunch of years.
  • If the old body style had features that were nearly as good (a la the old vs. new E-class) and the design differences don't bother you so much, maybe look at the old body style if it was considered more reliable, depending on age & mileage of course.
More tips to follow.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Insurance nightmare

LATEST UPDATE 4/8/2009 (toward bottom)

On 1/11/2009, I got into an accident. Here's a chronicling of the event, and a lesson as to why you should always have any vehicle towed to a mechanic who can then outsource to a body shop, NOT the other way around, when doing insurance work:

  • 1/11/2009: Hydroplaned (yes, with a German AWD car) on bad snow and ice, driver's side to driver's side collision with another vehicle. Called insurance company, logged incident, filled out all police reports, etc.
  • 1/13/2009: Noticed steering and suspension seemed off. Had AAA tow the vehicle down to a body shop - owned by a family friend who had just done an excellent job on painting my sister's car.
  • 1/14/2009: I dropped by body shop to tell them every little thing about what needed to be fixed.
  • 1/16/2009: Finally spoke to my claims rep after hunting him down by logging into my insurance carrier's online interface. It took him 5 days to pick up the phone and talk to me. While understand they are busy this time of year, it wasn't accepted as an excuse from me.
  • 1/16/2009: Supposedly, this was the first date an appraisal was done. Per Mass. law they have five days to get an appraiser out to the vehicle from the date the incident is reported. $2,000 or so in damages.
  • 1/19/2009: Learned I needed to appeal surcharge as being on wrong side of road automatically carries surcharge on insurance. Today (2/12/2009), still waiting to hear back from appeals board.
  • 1/20/2009: Received two insurance checks; one for my tow ($30) and one for the damage. Gave big check and "direction to pay" form to body shop so they could handle everything directly with the appraiser.
  • 1/30/2009: Hadn't heard from body shop. Called, he told me vehicle would be ready "beginning of next week".
  • 2/6/2009: Called again a week later after not hearing, and hounding my insurance agent about my 30 day rental. I have 30 days of rental on my policy and I was fast approaching that deadline (2/11/09). Vehicle promised for Monday morning after alignment on Saturday. My big question at this point - why the hell did it take so long and why wasn't the car aligned yet?
  • 2/9/2009: Pick up the vehicle unaligned. Drive it right back to body shop and ask for a ride to work. ABS lights - from accident! - still flashing. Luckily, I have a spare brake light switch - common problem in these cars and cheap to fix - and tell him to put it in and try that out.
  • 2/10/2009: Pick up newly aligned vehicle, but steering isn't right. I tell myself I'll call tomorrow. But when I get home, I realize that I CAN'T CLOSE THE DOOR. The latch was not set properly. Also noticing that vehicle lock button from inside does not work, and remote does not allow car to lock fully (doesn't flash three times when locking per usual). Call body shop owner on cell phone, he walks me through how to close the door, apologizes, takes car back the next day. SRS airbag light is still on at this point, something only the dealer can re-set.
  • 2/11/2009: Dropped off car to body shop again. Told him about lock issue and insisted it's done correctly by dealership under claim. Also called my preferred alignment specialist who has never let me down, scheduled appt. to check steering very thoroughly, and told body shop owner to pay for it and bill it under the claim; he agreed. End of day, body shop owner calls me telling me car is being dropped off for work on 2/12 at DEALERSHIP to wrap up the locking and SRS airbag light issue. He also tells me that the service tech insists these cars do not flash three times when locked. A Mercedes-Benz service tech is telling me this, and I have to read from my owner's manual to tell him he's wrong. He agreed to note it on the work order. The lights flashing issue is likely a symptom of the larger central locking problem, but smelling amateur hour at a dealership doesn't give me faith that this is going to go well.
  • 2/12/2009: After returning rental on Monday evening, I'm working from home and waiting today to hear the latest status on my vehicle. It's been over a month since the accident and my wife has an appointment with her vehicle tomorrow, so I need to have it back today. I wish I could say I have faith everything will be fine - minus the appointment I have with my alignment specialist next week - but I don't realistically think the vehicle will ever be the same; I'll probably notice little things here and there.
  • 2/13/2009: Picked up car yesterday. Door rattles very slightly and window needs to be cleaned, but otherwise, everything seems to finally be fixed. Just need to head out and get the steering checked under the claim next Thursday.
  • 2/19/2009: Had the vehicle checked out under the claim at my preferred alignment specialist. Steering was not symmetrical, meaning it wasn't acting the same on both sides. That was a big key to the following diagnosis: The rack and pinion is BENT on the vehicle. That's a huge part to have to replace and, per a friend that knows of such matters, may render the vehicle different for the rest of its life if it's not done carefully and with newer parts. The impact wasn't at a high speed but was at a strange enough angle to bend the rack and pinion. I trust my alignment shop so I'm sure they will notice if a wheel is bent or other issues arise when doing the work - which is being done under the claim, of course. Just one more item on what is now a huge list - the damage has to have cost at least $4,000 at this point, if not more. They probably value the car around $10K, so one more major issue and it will have gotten enough work to warrant a total! Car is now with body shop so he can set up appraisal on rack and pinion issue as well as fixing washer hose, door latch, window issue with (hopefully) new parts.

Phone call on 2/19/2009 when finding out the rack and pinion was bent:

Me: Hi Dave! What's the diagnosis?

Dave: Well, just to settle up here...did you realize that the steering was tighter on one side than the other?

Me: Yes!

Dave: Did you feel like at higher speeds it was kind of fighting you?

Me: Yes, I did [more concerned now].

Dave: And you said that the steering never really returns to dead center?

Me: No, but now that you mention it...[blood pressure rising]

Dave: Ok. Well, what I found is that the rack and pinion is BENT.

Me: Um...the rack and pinion is BENT??

Dave: The rack and pinion is bent.

Me: [ten seconds of silence]

Dave: ...HELLO?!

Me: Oh, sorry. Well, uh, the body shop owner will pick it up and set up the appraisal...

And that's pretty much how I feel about it. Imagine ten seconds of contemplative silence when a nice all-wheel drive foreign luxury car needs to have most of the steering system replaced. If that doesn't deserve a moment or ten of silence, I don't know what does.

I love the body shop owner and all, but he obviously doesn't realize how sensitive the Mercedes equipment and electronics can be, and how they have to be put back together correctly the first time. I should have listened to the Benz experts at AlphaCars ( from whom I bought the car and brought it to them the first time for all work, body and mechanical. Next time I'll know better. The silver lining here is that he did a beautiful job on the paint, it's the electronics he can't deal with.

There are also miscellaneous phone calls to Hertz and the claims rep that just were unnecessary and shouldn't have been made by me. Having to educate the dealer on the central locking system is unacceptable.

Owning a luxury car is wonderful, as there are many deals to be had used. But one has to be a proactive owner, by looking at forums (my favorite for Mercedes vehicles is and involving yourself in the ownership of the vehicle. Keep up with maintenance schedules too as luxury cars love to be pampered. It's an investment in time, and if you're buying a luxury car just for the bling, you'll be disappointed fairly quickly.

Will post updates above as they occur.

UPDATE 3/3/2009:

Per above, the rack and pinion on my vehicle is bent. Last week, my alignment shop told me to be prepared that the insurance company won't cover it. I wondered why, and the owner told me that the appraiser was far too quick in making an assessment, wouldn't listen to the owner's explanation as to how this could have happened as a result of the accident, and complained that this was "the fourth time" he had to look at the vehicle.

I wrote a long email to my claims rep explaining the logic behind the accident causing the steering rack to bend, and also asking him to expedite the request to cover it via insurance. He initially denied any coverage on the rack and pinion, saying that the appraiser wasn't able to tie it to the accident. So I had to escalate to his manager and explain to her that the appraiser is not only a jerk (using different verbiage of course), but that his logic didn't make any sense and he was essentially making up his own laws of physics.

They are taking a second look at it - hopefully with a different appraiser - on Friday. We'll see what happens this time.

In one week we'll officially be two months removed from the accident.

UPDATE 3/19/2009:

More updates on this insurance work nightmare:

  • steering rack work is being done in two days and paid for by yours truly. Thanks to my friends on, I found great deals on a steering rack at
  • Insurance company had a second appraisal where the appraisal service still couldn't tie the steering rack damage to my accident, so they are now following up with an in-house appraiser at my request.
  • The body shop not only left dust from their wetsaw all over my interior, there's also black paint specks on the leather. That's being paid for by me for about $50 next week.
  • A follow up appraisal for the crap door the insurance company gave me is being done next week at a different mechanic
  • The plastic around the middle rear seatbelt buckle has broken off - and it can only be replaced by ordering the entire new part at $72 (cheapest I found new).

Long and short of it is, my body shop is AWFUL and the only reason I"ll ever set foot in their office again is to share my receipts for work being done on issues they caused. Fifty dollars for removing black paint overspray and a $72 part later, I'm still not happy with the overall job they did and the fact that I need to babysit every shop that ever touches the car again.

UPDATE 3/26/2009:

  • My car is at my normal mechanic today for what will hopefully be the last appraisal. After complaining to the insurance company, I had my mechanic fix the problems caused by my body shop and the door in general: window mounted badly, door mounting seems to be not quite right, washer hose is broken (could be wear & tear, but suddenly, after being at the body shop for a month?), and the speaker goes in and out intermittently and the sound is a bit milky. Also, I noticed some odd brown staining on the exterior mirror that is bad news - likely means the electrochromatic backing to the mirror glass is going bad.
  • I'm taking the car back to the mechanic that did the steering rack work (alignment specialist) as the counterclockwise end of the turn doesn't seem to be quite right (hearing some odd noises there)
  • I went to a Mercedes restoration specialist shop - (EAS) - and they were able to get most of the black specks left by the body shop off my leather. I'm following up with them on another appointment next week since they are Mercedes experts and I can talk to them about the smallest maintenance item & they'll understand. Finally! I wish I had found these guys earlier and used them to fix the problems caused by the accident.

We're in the home stretch; after today & tomorrow, there should be nothing else related to the accident that needs to be fixed. I can only hope that the insurance company agrees to reimburse me for the steering rack expense.

UPDATE 4/8/2009:

Well, EAS has been excellent to deal with. They have officially won me over as a new customer. I hate to abandon my old shop, and I'll still use them for my wife's car (EAS works on Benzes exclusively so I couldn't even take my wife's car there if I wanted to).

Without further ado...

  • I was reimbursed by the insurance company to the tune of over $800 for the steering rack. Other insured drivers take note: complain, appeal, rinse, repeat if you want to get reimbursed by the insurance company for something you know is due to the accident but that the appraisal service refuses to tie in to the claim. This was a huge relief.
  • My hearing was today (not something I needed to attend) to determine if my surcharge would be waived and my deductible refunded. This is only the second time I've had to use this service and I'm glad Massachusetts opted to keep it around. Sure, it's a $50 non-refundable fee to even try fighting the insurance company, but it's worth it in the end as it worked for me in the past and the board overturns something like 50% of the cases it hears. This either means that people only try appealing when they know they have a chance, or that the insurance companies rarely split a claim 50/50 to avoid a surcharge, even when such a result is warranted.
  • EAS in Waltham fixed my door issues; the lights weren't blinking correctly when I shut the door and locked it, and the dome light would stay on when I shut the door. So they looked into it and said it was a $10 part - door contact switch - and would charge me mimimal labor since they "shouldn't have given me back the car like that". I tell ya, these guys are great, and for any Benz owner, they make you feel like royalty - not your ego, but you as a car owner. It's been a joy to visit their shop four times (paint on leather issue, first door issue, subsequent work on door to fix problems caused by body shop, then yesterday for the door follow up).
  • The body shop who did the work to my car was caught red-handed after it was found he used a door that was not the one the insurance company paid for. I'm sure that doesn't make him look good to the insurance company, but what do I care? He circumvented the rules, made money off the insurance company's reimbursement, but at least he was good enough to reimburse me after he was caught red-handed and after I insisted to take my business elsewhere as long as he reimbursed me. I'm honestly surprised he came through and didn't tell me to get lost after all was said & done.
  • Speaking of those problems with the door, what EAS fixed on my third visit to their shop was: door panel mounted incorrectly, oxidation (read: RUST) on the inside of the door that was cleaned up by EAS nicely (they said it looked like it had been sitting in the junkyard for a while), window regulator was not connected properly, there was even a used PAINT STICK inside the door, still. Talk about zero class and zero pride. The body shop owner I know didn't do this himself, and his help...well...let's just say they don't seem like the kinda guys you want to run into late at night. This cost $220 total to fix when you throw in the fact that my middle seatbelt was broken and I found a good deal on a new one.
  • I asked EAS to test my ride out and see if the alignment seemed off. It did, and this is a surprise as my alignment shop only did a 2-wheel alignment when installing the steering rack. First I was worried the rack itself was bad, which would have meant taking advantage of my lifetime warranty on the rack, but I'm more concerned that the alignment shop - which has never, ever let me down in any way - was careless enough to do a 2-wheel alignment on an all-wheel drive car. Those cars need to be aligned with all wheels, not 2, as each axle has its own drive train. AWD car owners, take note of this, and also note that a flatbed must be called to tow your car if ever you need a tow for the same reason. EAS will be doing the alignment next week, as well as some suspension maintenance.
Overall, I'm happy I found a new shop, and knowing that I got most of the money back I spent on this claim out of my own pocket, would I go through this all again? Actually, no. It was stressful, the insurance company fought me on everything, and I had to complain every single day to the point of getting the appraiser re-assigned as he was a jerk. But what did I learn from all this?
  1. Never have your car towed to a body shop after an accident. Always use a mechanic and ask them what they think of local body shops if they don't do the work themselves. Make sure this mechanic is reputable and is given high praise online in forums, etc. Any shop they choose to use as an outsource for your car will reflect poorly on them if the shop they're using does poor work - and plus, they will be liable for any issues when they hand the car back to you, so they will be more likely to work with you on those issues.
  2. Make sure whatever mechanic or body shop being used to fix damage on your car is familiar with your make and model. If you own a luxury car this is especially important as doors, electronics, etc. are more complex on luxury cars than in econoboxes, and some shops don't know how to handle that but they won't turn down the work, so they'll wing it.
  3. As I stated above - complain, appeal, rinse, repeat. Never give up, keep fighting an insurance company or bad appraiser/appraisal service and they may eventually come around.
  4. GET SNOW TIRES!!!!!!!!!!! I'm getting snow tires next winter due to this mess I've had to deal with. All wheel drive, rear wheel drive, front wheel drive - it doesn't matter. If you live in a cooler climate, do yourself a favor and get snows for your vehicle.
Next - and hopefully last - update will be regarding the results of my appeal, which I will hear about by mail.