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Showing posts with the label automotiveIndustry

Time is Running Out for a New Van

Once again I have been wasting my time shopping for a new van or pickup truck to serve as my tow vehicle. The best news is that one of the salesmen and I had a good chuckle over the list of "options": intermittent windshield wipers, clock, leather wrap for steering wheel...'fine Corinthian leather' presumably.

Alas I cannot find a Chevy Express van with a locking differential, denoted by a code, G80, on the sticker of codes in the glovebox. This confuses the salespeople to no end: it is doubtful they even know what a 'differential' is.

Think of the insanity of the automobile industry: the locking differential is a $350 option. Most of the customers would pay that much for the  #05 Premium Cupholder Convenience package, featuring simulated imported Italian marble. But it is a rare used van that will have the G80 option.

Model year 2017 is the last year for the venerable GM Vortec engine in the van.  If you are the kind of person who thinks that used trucks are so…

Impressive (Anti-) Demonstration of Traction Control Systems

I thought the season was over -- the season of pulling people out of the river at my campground. But a rear-wheel-drive Ford Transit van got stuck just after its drive-wheels hit the water. It's true that he chose the wrong place to cross.

Remembering what I learned from experimenting with a Nissan NV van a couple years ago, I told him to turn off the traction control switch on the dashboard. Naturally he had no notion what that meant. But he finally found the switch. By turning off that switch, the traction control system was supposed to surrender its capability to throttle back/down the engine when a wheel starts slipping. Still, it was supposed to apply the brake to the slipping wheel, thereby imitating a limited-slip differential.

But that isn't what happened in practice, with the Ford Transit van in the river, where one wheel still slipped, while the other was completely stationary -- just the malaise of an open differential, in olden times. All this occurred in reverse ge…

German the Middle of a River

These days I feel like a professional accident-gawker. People are doing the craziest things, and not always getting lucky about it: driving across a high and fast stream in crossover utility vehicles; driving low clearance vehicles on rough roads; and in general, having the wrong tires on the wrong car at the wrong place.

They can't imagine being away from phone service, therefore they are confident that every problem can be fixed by whipping out their smartphone, and giving somebody a credit card number. Do they know how long it can take for a tow truck to arrive in the mountains on a festival weekend in a busy tourist town?

Don't they understand that automobile repair and tire shops are closed on the weekends in small towns? That a small town tire shop isn't strong in specialized European or barrio-style tires? That the river is higher in the evening than in the morning?

My favorite was a small Mercedes crossover utility vehicle that tried to do exactly that, cross over, ou…

Creating the Perfect Tow Vehicle Out of Imperfection

Wiser men than I have fallen victim to the 'previous investment trap.' That is my official excuse for taking so long to turn an imperfect -- and steadily worsening -- tow vehicle situation into a drastically better choice. 

(Since I refuse to carry a mountain bike on the outside of a vehicle, my tow vehicle choices are restricted to a van or a pickup with a heavy, expensive cap on the back. I am afraid the white cargo van has become such a stereotype that it will receive prejudicial treatment from rangers.)

In fact I haven't been this pleased and excited for a long time. There really is something to be said for agonizing over a problem for a long time before finally 'hitting the ball out of the park.' It adds drama to life.

When I put the doggie door into the rear cargo ramp in my cargo trailer, I finally broke free of the Previous Investment Trap. I abandoned the idea of making a screen room out of the back of the trailer, and decided to see if the mountain bike coul…

A Predatory Truck Consumer Smacks His Lips

One of these days I will give up the bad habit of reading doom-and-gloom financial blogs. They don't do their readers any good. They are the proverbial 'broken clock that gives the right time, twice a day.'

These days they are screaming about how bad automobile sales are. Through the alchemy of confirmation bias, I seem to see a glut of automobiles for sale in make-shift parking lots where they don't even belong.

It is time to actually believe the doom-and-gloomers when the prices actually go down. Still, it is easy to believe them after the insane auto industry trends of the last seven years. The very apotheosis of these trends is the ridiculous size and popularity of pickup trucks. But don't let me get started on that...

Right now, all a consumer can do is visualize a serious predator, like a mountain lion or wolf, spotting a herd of unsuspecting deer. The predator moves in carefully, so as not to alarm the herd. And the predators allow themselves no demonstrativene…

Trying to Get Educated at a Repair Shop

I dared to hope. It almost worked.

I was laying on the ground, watching a mechanic install a new leaf spring on the unbroken side, so that I would have a matched pair of brand spanking new leaf springs on my single axle trailer. I was at the business from which we had ordered and shipped the first leaf spring. It was quite a large business actually, witha 'reputation' for being experts.

If I learned to repair a broken suspension part in the field, it might someday save me hundreds of dollars in towing, if the towing service balked at paying the tow truck to come to an inaccessible location. (Be aware that towing insurance is not a panacea. There are reasons why you don't want to camp in too backwoodsey a location.)

In fact I did learn a couple tricks of the trade before the manager came over to inform me that insurance regulations did not allow a customer in the work area. In fact, I had already thought of that, by laying down just outside the building. (My head wasn't un…

Can Retro-grouchery Get You a Better Truck?

It's Super Bowl season. What would the ancient Greeks think of the NFL player who dances in the end zone after scoring a touchdown? No matter how proud a modern secularist and rationalist is about their superiority to superstition, don't we still believe in hubris? We start to get nervous about feeling too pleased with ourselves, and especially, if we show it in public.

For instance my van (tow vehicle) recently passed the 250,000 mile mark. At first I thought about celebrating this achievement by posting about it. Then I decided to keep my big trap shut, lest I jinx myself.

But by now, the gods have probably moved on to other things, and they won't notice if I do a little dancing in the end-zone about this.  Of course, when a person considers a new vehicle, all they can really do is stack the odds in their favor with statistically-valid generalizations. It still comes down to one lucky or unlucky specimen in a general category. But it is still worth mentioning my good luck …

Appreciating Intellectual Pleasure and Applying It

A person can actually learn to enjoy intellectual pleasures, although it is rare to do so. There are plenty of folks who work with their brains, but that is a different game because it is mainly about making a living, and an outlet for ambition, with a certain amount of ego-gratification. By intellectual pleasure I mean a more disinterested appreciation of something that is beautiful simply to think about, after a certain amount of time and struggle for the thinker.

For my part, the greatest intellectual pleasure comes from trying to look beneath the surface appearance of things in order to see the Cause. Even better, I like to visualize the conflict of large trends and fundamental belief systems. I always visualize this photograph of my first dog, taken in his middle-age, some years ago.

Retirement and leisure certainly help this process, as does getting out of a metropolitan ant hill. Perhaps tuning out the daily trivia of the mainstream media is the most important aid. The key is det…

Watching the Automotive-Bubble Drive Home

I really don't know what to believe about the liquidity bubble built by most of the world's central banks since 2009. I have become numb, and simply shake my head in disbelief.

But a recent article on Zero Hedge got me thinking about a more concrete manifestation of the liquidity bubble. They think the motor vehicle bubble is ready to pop. In particular, there are millions of leased cars and trucks that will be turned in soon, creating a glut of 3-year-old used cars and trucks.

Since I think the used truck market is even more over-priced than the new truck market, their prediction is mouth-watering, even more so considering that circa 2013 trucks are likely to be as good as trucks ever get. Of course they could start making smaller pickup trucks, but don't hold your breath.

Have you seen the ridiculous numbers that CAFE, the government-imposed fuel economy requirement, is demanding in the years ahead? What are they planning on doing?  Much of the low-hanging fruit has already…

The Ideal Tow Vehicle Fantasy

I actually went for a test drive, the other day, of a 2014 Nissan Frontier pickup truck. Much to my surprise I was allowed to put my mountain bike in the cargo bed, and learned that the short (5 foot) beds of the more popular crew cab models are not long enough for a mountain bike with a front bag. Good grief -- what could you use a 5 foot bed for? The 6 foot beds of the non-crew-cab models would work for a mountain bike, but only 10% of the used Frontier markeplace is non-crew-cab.

Still, it was worth having this experience just to savor the fantasy of my ideal pickup: it would actually be a van built on a small or medium pickup platform. That is,
rear wheel drive with 6000 pounds of towing direct fuel injection and no turbos.high ground clearance and big tires. a non-open rear differential, be it a traction control system that applies brakes to the slipping wheel, or locking or limited slip (mechanical) differential.six drive gears or more, and I don't mean with 2 of t…

Part 1: Improving Traction in the Tow Vehicle of a Trailer

Rewrite: good grief, I started off on how-to trivia before I discussed the 'why' of getting better traction: it will give you more freedom in choosing campsites and provide a higher quality experience. 

But I have gotten-by just fine at dispersed camping without making a big or expensive project out of better traction. My rig was nothing special, traction-wise: a two-wheel-drive van pulling a 4000 lb (loaded) travel trailer. It had the standard open differential and lacked an electronic traction control system which is standard on newer vehicles. 

But remember that an "equipment X worked well enough for me" type argument is a circular argument. You know the limitations of your equipment, and compensate for them by restricting your campground choices. That is what I want to rise above. (Circular arguments like this eat up enormous amounts of time and space on public discussion forums.)

'So what?' if you get stuck every couple years? Be a good sport about it. See…

A RetroGrouch Has a Good Day and a Bad Day

It has been quite a few years since I went over to Algodones, Baja California Norte, Mexico to get my teeth cleaned. Thus it was time for a little bit of nostalgia -- I hadn't been to Mexico since the early Aughts.

As I walked into the lobby of the oficina dentista, my heart sank. It had been gringa-ized! Pretty decorations, glossy magazines, nice furniture, and a marble floor. One of the attractions of going to Mexico used to be that it helped you to realize how much of what you pay for in the USA is just worthless overhead.

Ideally you should walk into the dentist's office and find a dirt floor. Then you would sit down on a bale of hay. In front, a burro or two would be snoozing. To kill time during your wait, the customers could throw snacks down on the ground for chickens and roosters.

Then you would go into the dentista's room, and find it full of state-of-the-art dental equipment from Siemens. It used to be somewhat like this idealized picture.

Euro-Vans, Go Home!

Once again I took advantage of a mountain biking event to check out the motor vehicles, used to carry bikes and camping gear around. Once again I didn't learn much, because most people had the bikes on external racks. No thanks.

I didn't see one homemade, plywood cap/shell on a pickup truck. That is my best plan for the future. The commercial caps are expensive, not tall enough (at the stern), lack barn doors (at the stern), and have too many windows. (The first mistake in any vehicular design is too many windows.) Besides, I want to mount furring strips, shelves, and hooks on the inside, just like a cargo trailer. Are you really going to drill holes through a new commercial $2000-3000 cap?

But then I got a little excited about seeing the rebadged Fiat cargo van that Chrysler is selling as the RAM "Promaster." My goodness, where do they put the engine in this ugly, snub-nosed thing? But 'ugly' is OK with me. I knew that it was front wheel drive, and therefore …

Finally! The New Ford Van in Real Life

In August 2014 Ford started manufacturing the full-sized Transit van -- not to be confused with the teeny Transit Connect. The full-size Transit is the replacement for the venerable full-sized Econoline E-series vans, which is what I have been driving for the last 239,000 miles. 

So why haven't I been able to find one on a dealer's lot? Somebody suggested it was because the dealers don't really know what the market wants, and they don't want to guess wrong. The new 2015 Transit has a lot of choices: three roof heights, two wheel bases, cargo versus passenger, and three engines to choose from.

At long last I got lucky and saw one at a truck stop:

Unfortunately it was a long-wheelbase passenger van, rather than the short wheel-base, low roof, windowless cargo van that I want. Still, it made a positive impression. Remember that this is a uni-body -- stamped and spot-welded sheet metal -- rather than a box on two frame rails, like a truck.

I didn't have a tape measure hand…

How Can Morale Be So Good in Some Large Businesses?

Once upon a time, perhaps up to a decade ago, Walmart was a winner. You could feel something amongst its employees. But how would you ever have proved it was real instead of subjective and impressionistic? But I was convinced of an elan vital amongst all those low-wage employees in that giant corporation. But in the middle Aughts, it seemed that spirit started draining out of Walmart.

Today I went to Walmart for a routine oil and lube job. There were no long lines, which was a pleasant surprise. Or was it? The first thing they started doing was fumbling with those handheld gadgets that supposedly "manage information" about your rig: real rocket science stuff, like your name, address, and odometer reading. I've yet to see one of their employees use these gadgets without struggle and delay.  No doubt these handheld gadgets were sold as "productivity enhancers" by some executive in the I.T. (information technology) department, back at corporate headquarters.

The nex…

Part 2: Thinking Your Way Out of, and Into, a Box

If you too are in the habit of coming up with "brilliant" ideas, only to find that they don't work out as well as expected, you might enjoy having a good laugh at my frustration.

Since only a small fraction of the readers have the same needs for a new tow vehicle that I do, I will try to drag my problem towards more general ideas, as the post moves along. 

Until then, recall the starting point of this problem-solving exercise: the most economical way to live at the point of diminishing returns regarding comfort and camping freedom is to pull a converted cargo trailer. I have had this opinion for a decade, and now I am proving it in real life. 

Now it is time to move on to Phase 2, finding a good tow vehicle for a lightweight trailer (3000 pounds loaded). By "good" I mean:

1. Something far less than the standard pickup price of $65000 (or whatever).
2. Something that can get over 20 mpg unhitched. (I only tow 2000 miles per year, so I can be a good loser and accept d…

A Long Term Love Affair with a Certain Type of Land

While selecting a new tow vehicle I have been aware of the disadvantages of having once worked in the automobile industry. Consider the analogy of four middle-aged male friends, sitting at a cafe after golf. The geography of their table makes for some pleasant and harmless girl-watching, at which all of the men except one consider themselves an expert.

The foot-dragger is a middle-aged, male gynecologist, who has been putting in unusually long hours lately. He tries not to be a "wet blanket" on the discussion, especially after one of the men brags about how "hot" his new girlfriend is. But the best the gynecologist can manage is a condescending smile for the sake of his friend.

But I wonder, does the world-weary gynecologist really consider his ennui a higher form of wisdom? Or is there one part of him that envies the naive enthusiasm of his friends at the table?

This analogy doesn't just apply to someone like me buying a new tow vehicle. It also applies to a lon…