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Tag Archives: cars

One of the things I hate doing is taking the car in for maintenance. Even if the service representative isn’t pushy, I still feel like I’m getting scammed into paying money for no reason. I think the reason for this is because I don’t really know what I’m paying for.

The car industry reminds me a lot of the consumer computer industry – places like Future Shop and Best Buy will suggest that people buy extended warranties, anti virus protection, recovery discs, geek help, etc with their computer purchase. I’m sure a lot of consumers don’t actually know whether they need these services or not but are preyed upon and end up spending more money than is necessary. I feel like one of those consumers when it comes to cars.

Of course, I don’t want to feel helpless, so I try to never make impulse decisions and to do some research before committing to certain tasks. But I find it is very difficult to do research – I can’t (economically) experiment with my car to see the effects of my decision and I find the information I find online is biased. For example, I had to decide whether to do my timing replacement this weekend and did some reading online – the anecdotes were from people who suffered premature failure and those that repeated the standard line (replace it every 100,000km). The (perhaps silent majority) who had their timing belt last well over 100,000km hardly post at all; and why should they? They are quite happy with their timing belt’s longevity.

I ended up getting the timing belt replaced, because I had already put it off for almost 35,000km longer than I should’ve (obviously it didn’t snap). But it got me thinking about a recent article I read in Wired about designing for failure.

If you chart failures over time, you will almost always see some form of bell-shaped curve: A few units will fail early, most will fail in a cluster in the middle of the chart, and a few will last much longer than expected. Knowing when the first failures will happen is vital to guaranteeing reliability. On Ford parts, the very first fails aren’t supposed to happen until just after the 10-year mark (with most of them occurring much later).

I am quite confident that the maintenance guidelines for every single part are set so that the time limit is to the extreme left of the bell curve – it would be a public relations disaster if a car’s parts failed when it could have been prevented through a more pre-emptive maintenance plan. Of course that means that on average, you can safely go beyond that guideline without suffering failure. The trick, is that you don’t know the time scale of the curve so it is difficult to judge how much longer you can go (and the car companies will never tell you either).

Therefore in a way, the money that you pay for car maintenance is actually a form of insurance to ensure that your parts don’t fail. Except instead of the insurance companies having full knowledge of the statistical likelihood something will happen and charging based on that calculation, car manufacturers make you pay the full price for the part at pessimistic intervals, every time. That is an inefficient system, and a rip off.

Lexus put on an event over the weekend to promote their upcoming hybrid, the CT 200h (I think that’s the right combination of letters). It was held at the Distillery District and featured free concerts by a few somewhat known bands.

I didn’t hear about the event until Friday morning on the radio, when they said that The Stills will be performing for free. I never got around to seeing The Stills in concert, so we went down to see them.

There was conflicting information as to whether they started at 7PM or 8PM. So we arrived around 7:30 which ended up being halfway through their set. The played maybe 7 songs after we arrived, none of which I heard of before! Then I realized, that I learned about them and listened to their debut album way back in 2005. That was 5 years ago! And at that time, their album was already 2 years old! I haven’t listened to their newer albums, so it’s no surprise that I didn’t know their songs.

I think the event was lame. The crowd on Friday night was pretty sparse (although maybe Lexus expected a higher conversion rate from the more upscale audience). The Stills had no energy, and seemed to be just phoning it in. Lexus put together a couple of booths with information about their new car. Their hook was that you could win a new iPad, by playing a couple of activities on iPads. The activities were VERY lame. On one, you could superimpose your mugshot on a picture of the car. On another, you could sketch out a path within Toronto you wanted to travel upon, and a third one you could watch videos of the car in action.

Perhaps Lexus wasn’t expecting a technically savant crowd, and expected that the audience would be impressed by the use of an iPad. For me, the apps showed a lack of thought in creating an engaging activity that I would spread the word about. Although, in retrospect I guess they succeed since they get my criticism.

When I get lazy with blogging, I just post links to some neat stuff around the web:

I always try to get a ‘real’ Japanese car when renting, but this was the first time that I’ve been successful. I ended up getting a Yaris from Hertz for $11/day. We had considered buying a Yaris when purchasing our current car, as it was in the same price range, but ended up getting something else instead of paying the Toyota premium. I’m glad because it is poorly featured, the dials on the dash don’t even light up! Plus, it didn’t do so well although Calgary does have much steeper hills than Toronto.

* moblogged from my phone. How cool is that?

This past weekend, Xbox Canada held an event at the Better Living Centre in the CNE to promote the upcoming release of Forza Motorsport 3. The had some stations setup to play the game (including 3-TV setups), a few of the cars from the game on display, and an artist who was painting a custom Toronto skin onto a car. There was also an autocross track where you can take rides as people race around the circuit for the best time (which ended up being 18.88s), or race your own car around. Here were our VIP Pit Passes to the event.

Pretty cool eh? It looks like we were all special and all that, being VIP and having pit access; but in reality everyone who filled in the entrance survey received one of these (and you had to to get in).

The had various Audis (a couple of TTs, and a R8) a Ferarri, a Lamborghini and a Mercedes McLaren SLR on display. Did you know the SLR goes for half a million? Someone in Ontario actually owned the SLR and while we were there let some (real) VIPs sit in it. Normal VIPs like us were only able to sit in the Audi TTS and the Ferrari.

The autocross track was a bit lame since it was just in a parking lot (compared to Montreal’s F1 circuit), but we did watch for awhile. It was fun watching people’s cars actually slide around in real life. There were some normal cars like a Golf, souped up Civic; some sports cars like the S2000, GT-R, Fairlady-Z (aka not the NA 350z) and some real rally cars. Here’s a run of the track by a Lotus Elan S3 from the 60s:

It was a bit too chilly for us to stand around in line waiting for a 20 second ride around the track, but that is a neat option. You had to wear a helmet and everything – I guess the air bag is not safe enough.

I didn’t actually try Forza3 because I am not really a fan of simulation racing (and I tried Forza2 which was too hard to be worth the effort), but it was fun to go to this event. I hope it was worth it for Microsoft to put their marketing money into this effort rather than buying more billboards!

We didn’t go anywhere this weekend, because our planning was messed up by the fallout of getting rear-ended on the 404.

The body shop estimated 1-1.5 weeks, which meant that I would have to keep my rental over the long weekend. The 1.5 weeks were up on Friday, but they didn’t call me; so I gave them a call and they were estimating May 20th, 2 weeks after I brought it in! But they managed to get everything done on Friday and we got our car back. But it was too late to plan a road trip.

I also got a very detailed, itemized list of the repairs, and it totalled to almost $7k (including more than $400 for towing from the CRC to the body shop). Add to that the initial $200 to tow to the CRC, $320 for the rental, and various overhead costs for dealing with the claim; this event “paid” for almost 4 years of my insurance!

Because we were staying within the city, one thing I didn’t have to book for this trip was a car. I’m glad to save the hassle, but I’m also glad because driving over there seems a lot different than in North America.

The first thing you notice is that they prefer small cars there. Sure I saw a couple of Mercedes and BMW sedans, but the majority of the cars on the road are small hatchbacks. There were a lot of European brands like Renault, Citroen, Peugeot, and Fiat but also familiar brands such as VW (Golfs), and Toyota (Yaris). I would have expected the reverse of Detroit, with very few American cars, but I did see quite a number of Fords (Focus). Surprisingly I didn’t see any Hondas, and I randomly saw 1 PT Cruiser and 1 Dodge Caravan.

Yes, in fact you’re right, I did spend a lot of time looking around counting cars. In fact I made it a game to count the number of Smart cars. I hit 122 on the entire trip, but 60 of those were on the first day (and I wasn’t even paying attention all the time). I got tired of the game after the first day otherwise I’m sure the number would be much higher.

Because they have small cars, they can start and stop quickly, so they drive aggressively. There is a tendency to merge lanes randomly and to wait for left turns in parallel (perpendicular to the original lane) instead of in serial. Also, I read a neat point that in France (and unlike US/UK), cars entering roundabouts have the right of way. That’s an accident-causing fact right there. As crazy as it was though, I wouldn’t go to say that it is as chaotic as China.

The third deterrent to driving was the price of gas. I only came across one gas “station”, which are basically stores on the street that have a gas pump as a store front, and the price of gas on the meter was 3.39€/L. That’s like 4x our inflated cost of $1.09+/L that we’re paying in Canada!

Oh one last thing, if you’ve ever been on the Champs Elysées, you’ll know that the major European car dealerships all have storefronts there. I’m curious however whether they actually sell cars there or they’re just selling their brand. Because one of the worse places I can think of to pick up your new car is the most popular street in the city.

Yesterday I went to the Toronto Auto Show, although unlike last year, I was not looking to purchase a car; so this trip was a pure photography expedition. A bunch of us met up at my place around noon, grabbed some lunch at Ajisen Ramen, and after some deliberations decided to drive down instead of taking The Better Way. But Joe, Ida, Pauline and I decided to grab some BBT before going, and then decided to park at City Hall; so by the time we actually made it into the show, we were a full building behind the other group.

The show itself was as expected. Lots of people, many of whom were lining up to sit in fancy cars and the other half were taking pictures. Taking pictures of the cars is a lot like taking pictures at a tourist attraction, there are always idiots that stand beside whatever you’re trying to take a picture of, or people walking in front of you. I ahd better luck this year because I brought my 10-20mm lens and was able to stand Right Against™ the cars and prevent this from happening. But overall, the day was a lot of walking around and taking pictures. I didn’t actually sit in many cars this year.

The concept cars this year were not as cool as last, although I was liked the Kia Kue and Soul (coming out in January 2009!) as well as the Toyota hybrid. Toyota also had a separate display for their i-Real which Pauline really liked, but I thought was only the 3rd coolest thing in the show. I think of it as a Segway for people who get tired of standing out all the time.

What were the cooler things? I’m glad you asked. The 2nd coolest thing I saw was the Speed Racer car, the Mach 5. It was there to promote the movie (there was also Will Smith’s Shelby in I Am Legend) and I doubt it would actually drive; but still very cool to see in real life.

The coolest thing from the Auto Show was not even a car! We were browsing around the Ford display around 4:30, when by chance they announced that special guest would be signing autographs. It turned out to be Wayne Gretzky’s dad, Walter Gretzky, and we were fortunately in the right place at the right time. After waiting 5-10 minutes, we each got a quick autograph and photo op. Gretzky was there along with a special #99 Ford GT so I guess it was somewhat car related. His handlers also told us to speak slowly and loudly, and so I was panicking with deciding what to say. I knew a bit of his story of how he lost his memory of his son’s greatest accomplishments, but it seemed tragic and common to say something to that respect. In the end, it was very assembly line-ish as he just asked us for our names and took a picture quickly.

Afterwards, we headed to Lone Star for dinner and back uptown to the same tea shop where we bought BBT in the afternoon for, well, BBT.

I was given a couple of holidays between Christmas and New Years so I went with Pauline’s family on a road trip to Michigan. We spent a night in Detroit and a night in Saginaw, went to Frankenmuth (a Bavarian town, which seems to be popular in the US as there is one in Washington State as well) and to do some shopping.

The thing that struck me the most once I crossed the border was that there were a lot of American cars. In Toronto, we’re used to seeing all the brands, and perhaps a higher concentration of Hondas and Toyotas. But in Michigan, over some 3-4 hours of driving on the interstates, I saw 2 Camrys, 2 Volvos, 1 Odyssey, 1 Civic, and 1 Honda Insight — that’s it (and yes, I was specifically looking for non-American cars). The rest of the cars were Ford, Chevy, GMC, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Dodge, Mercury and a couple of Saturns. Most of them were either pick-ups, minivans, or SUVs. Man, I expected there to be a higher concentration of American cars in their automobile heartland, but I didn’t expect them to dominate to that extent.

Oh yeah, and Michigan roads suck, they’re all concrete.

Before this year, I had never gone down to the auto show. But seeing as I am in the market for a car, and the auto show provided lots of opportunities to take pictures, I headed down with Aaron on Saturday. Since I had never been, I was not prepared for the sheer size of the show. It filled the entire Metro Convention Centre (including the hallways), the Rogers Centre field and the concessions track. It was also quite busy, being a weekend, and also because the previous weekend was Chinese New Year. Although, usually we only had to wait 5 minutes max to try a car.

Ford Shelby GR-1I won’t bore you to tears by blogging about all the vehicles I tried. The highlight of the show were the concept cars. Many of the major manufacturers had them: Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Mazda, Ford, Acura. They were all neat except for the Acura one, which looked like a sleek batmobile built for driving through traffic jams. I particularly liked the Ford SYN US. I thought it was cool because it didn’t have a rear window or side windows. Instead, each side and the back had a small camera embedded in the frame. The insides contained LCDs which are used in place of the windows. I don’t think it’s very practical because it would be trivial to block the camera lens with a piece of gum — actually I think that’s why it’s cool. I can’t believe the engineers thought to design a car without solving that problem.

In addition to that, the Ford exhibit had a Shelby GR-1 on display and a Ford GT (I think). So it wins for having the coolest cars. Honda loses for having the most boring exhibit, and Nissan loses for having a stupid display of their concept car. First they placed a wall of (dirty) glass between the car and the crowd, and second, the glass wall randomly becomes opaque to hide the car.

Then there were the fancy cars, the ones that will set you back a cool $450k, and that’s not even including taxes. It felt like going through a museum to look at these cars, you couldn’t get close and there were tons of people hanging around just looking at them. And of course, everyone has the same pictures! Unless of course you were one of the lucky few with a large enough wallet or knew the staff.

Albums have filler tracks, here is a filler blog since I have nothing to write about at the moment.

Recently seen license plates:

  • “My Fast” on a Volkswagon Golf, he had to pay for his license plate, but VW didn’t have to pay for his meme marketing.
  • “Thinkr” on the way to Waterloo. I wonder if he works in Web 2.0?
  • “Leaver” on a 4-door, red Chevrolet Aveo driven by a middle age white woman. I can’t put this one together.
  • “CybrMC” by a couple in an Acura TSX.
  • “Outlook” by a navy Lincoln. That’s a Microsoft of car brands: boxy, unsporty, old and tired.

In The Economics of War, the author mentions an example, that has nothing to do with war, about people’s driving behaviours. He talks about people who race through a yellow light during a rush hour, only to be stopped before they clear the intersection. This impedes the flow of traffic in the other direction until their light turns yellow, and a couple of cars in their direction race the light and obstruct the intersection again. So on and so forth. The author argues that the last few cars are acting economically sound because it lets them reach their destination a little bit quicker, at the expense of slowing everyone else down. Basically your micro vs macro argument.

I see examples of these quite frequently when driving, especially in rush hour where I think you need to be aggressive or be a chump. But I noticed a situation which is counterintuitive in that putting one’s interests ahead of society’s actually helps everyone out.

On my drive home, the onramp to the highway has to merge the cars from two directions, with my direction being the lane that actually ends up on the highway. Now some cars that approach, merge at the first sign of a space; which is good for society because they end up waiting in their assigned space in line. Other cars however, accelerate ahead until the very end of the lane before merging in, thereby jumping several spaces in the queue even though they were side-by-side with you at the beginning. This is beneficial for them because they get home sooner, but it pushes everyone else back one space.

But here’s the interesting thing that’s wrong with this analysis. There will always be people who wait until the last minute to merge, because it’s the most beneficial for the individual. So the people who are merging early, in actuality, are allowing the cars behind them to jump ahead of them and merge closer to the front of the line. Now if you’re behind all of these cars, and watching cars merge early; instead of being behind x cars, you end up being behind x+y cars, which is bad for the society of cars waiting to go on the highway. So always merge at the last minute unless there is no traffic.

As the price of gas increased, I remember hearing about some crazy strategies to get gas for cheap. Avoid filling near the start of the weekend, especially if it’s a long weekend; don’t fill up early in the morning; only fill up on a Tuesday, and not the Monday; OK some of these I made up because I can’t honestly remember what they were. They were too complicated to remember!

Having been driving more lately, the thing that I have discovered is that gas stations have moved to a more simple formula. Fill up at night for saving$$$. I don’t know the exact time they switch, and it seems like the switch in a stepwise manner, but around 10PM gas is generally much cheaper than in the daytime. I’m talking about a 10% decrease in price!

When I first noticed this, I, like everyone else lined up to fill up. There were crazy lines, and I pretty much had to wait 20-30 minutes to get gas. Some gas stations even had to close down because they ran out of gas. But this has been going on for a month or so, and it doesn’t seem to have stopped. It seems to be the gas station’s plan to do this, and I have no idea why they are (have to?) do this?

So, in lieu of understanding this phenomenom, my advice would be to not fill up in the day, and fill up at night.