Monthly Archives: December 2011

Buying a New Car: Choosing the Right Car for You

How do you decide which is the best vehicle for you and your family? First, establish the price range you can afford (including sales tax and other charges) and stay within it. Second, determine your needs and choose the car, truck, or van within your price range that will best serve those needs.

It it’s to be a family car it must be able to carry everybody comfortably. For camping and hauling a lot of gear a station wagon might be best. Do you live in hilly country? Will you pull a trailer? You’ll need plenty of power. Are you a salesman clocking 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) a month on the freeways? You’ll value dependability. Are you in the market for a weekend sports runabout, an easy-on-the gas commuter, or a first car for your teenager?

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A Redone Nissan Altima is Coming Later in the Year

MELVILLE, N.Y. – At the traditional start of a new model year, new car sales are a bright spot in an iffy economy, helping to raise hopes that second recession will be avoided.

Despite some clouds on the economic horizon, sales for all this year are almost sure to finish above last year’s dismal levels. And many signs suggest further growth next year, although no one is publicly forecasting a return any time soon to pre-recession U.S. sales levels pushing 17 million new cars and light trucks.

“Given that there are still pretty significant limiting factors as far as the economy, we look at 2012 as improved over 2011 but perhaps not significantly improved,” said Alec Gutierrez, a market analyst for the Kelley Blue Book Co. Inc., an auto information provider.

Kelley expects sales in the U.S. to total 12.5 million this year and just over 13 million next year. During the recession, sales fell as low as 10.5 million, in 2009.

Reasons for optimism include pent-up demand. Some dealers say the increasingly ratty cars being given as trade-ins suggest that buyers who postponed purchases during the recession are running out of time.

The average U.S. car and light truck on the road last year was almost 11 years old, compares with nine years for cars and seven for trucks in 2007, according to the U.S. National Automotive Dealers Association.

Another reason is improving supplies of Toyotas and Hondas, with the restoration of production interrupted by March’s earthquake and tsunami.

With increased supplies of Japanese models have come increased incentives on them – rebates and the like, Expect to see GM and Ford and Chrysler try to answer the Japanese in some way with additional incentives. More positives are low interest rates on loans and improved availability of credit.

Significant new products also should help, including two mainstays for their manufacturers: the Toyota Camry and Honda CR-V, the former now on sale, the latter due by year’s end.

A redesigned Chevrolet Malibu is due early next year and a redone Nissan Altima later in the year, along with a new compact Dodge sedan. The 2012 model year traditionally begins Oct. 1, though most new models introduced since last Jan.1 have been designated 2012s, while most to come after Jan. 1, 2012, will be 2013s.

The clouds on the horizon, experts say, include the economic uncertainty that’s hurting consumer confidence.


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Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Drive in a hybrid-specific fuel-sipping manner, you will garner significant fuel savings. However, drive it conventionally, as I do all my cars, and a hybrid is little different than a conventional automobile of the same size and power. That’s in complete contrast to diesel-powered cars, which show a modest advantage when driven timidly but really shine if you have a lead foot.

I averaged, 8.4 litres per 100 kilometres in the Hyundai, a far cry from the 5.6/4.6L/100 km city/highway rating from Transport Canada. More specifically, it’s about half a liter more per 100 km than I averaged in a BMW 335d turbodiesel, which is faster and more powerful.

BH: David, did you do all of your driving on a racetrack, or just on the highway at some illegal rate of knots? I spent a fair amount of time motoring about the city, which is where hybrids really shine, and averaged 6.9 L/100 km during my week with the car. And I didn’t drive in a specific manner either.

That said, I wasn’t looking for scintillating acceleration, just a car that keep up with the steady flow of traffic without being a hindrance. The fact is, except for a few occasions when a heavier foot was called for – such as merging on to the highway – I drove the Sonata in Eco mode. It’s no dilettante – not with a net output of 206 horsepower from the combination of 2.4-litre gasoline engine and 40-horsepower electric motor.

DB: I have to admit the Sonata surprised me with its more-than-acceptable highway mileage (a typical hybrid soft spot). At 110 km/h, it was still metering out a totally credible 5.9 L/100 km. Moving up to a keeping-up-with-the-Jones 130 km/h, though it started sucking back close to eight litres for every 100 km. That’s not half-bad, but it’s about a litre more than the aforementioned 335d. Better, yes, than most conventional cars but still not as good as a simple diesel on the highway.

That said, the Sonata drives better than any hybrid I’ve sampled. The key really was Hyundai’s decision to stick with the conventional six-speed automatic transmission. In most circumstances, the Sonata Hybrid feels totally conventional. There is some throttle lag in some passing situations – as if the car is deciding whether it wants to let you consume that much gasoline. Nonetheless, it’s the most pleasant hybrid experience I’ve had.

BH: Agreed. There was a – dare I say it – sportiness to the Sonata I haven’t experienced with other hybrids. Hyundai makes much fuss over the fact the car’s Hybrid Blue Drive is the first and only system using lightweight lithium-polymer battery technology, rather than the nickel-metal hydride and lithium-ion setups used by competitors. According to the automaker, lithium polymer offers the benefits of lithium ion, but it adds robustness, power density and package flexibility. That remains to be seen, but the lithium-polymer battery pack does help make the Sonata Hybrid the lightest vehicle in the segment at just 1,574 kilograms. That’s more than 100 kg lighter than the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

DB: That feeling of conventionality also lets you notice that the basic Sonata platform is another giant step forward for Hyundai. From its almost radical good looks to the spacious cabin with a near-premium appearance, the Sonata has truly left the cheap and cheerful motif behind. I could do without the de rigueur green displays – a little digital tree monitors the environmental impact of your driving style – but the rest of the dashboard display is top-notch.

BH: Come on, David, those displays are the real reward for driving a hybrid. I absolutely geeked out on the Eco level scoring system, which acknowledges green-focused motoring with eight levels of sky colour ranging from grey to bright blue. That said I was disappointed there was no payout for accumulating points in Total Eco.

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The Once and Future Mustang: A Look at the Future of America’s Best Loved And Only Pony Car

The Mustang has been one of the top automotive icons from Detroit since the end of World War II. A lot of Camaro owners would disagree, but of them we ask, “So where’s your Camaro now, sport?”

Requiescat in pace, that’s where. Now, as the Mustang moves nearer to its first floor-to-ceiling makeover since 1979, it does so as the descendant of a family (Pony carus americanus) established by its great-great-grandfather back in the mists of the mid-20th century – April 17, 1964, to be exact. The competitors it inspired have all succumbed, leaving the species progenitor alone at center stage.

And as far as the Ford Motor Company is concerned, center stage is no exaggeration. Philip, V-P of Blue Oval Vehicle Programs (Ford’s product engineering and development group), calls this new Mustang “the critical linchpin in bringing Ford back into the public eye on the car side of the business.

“What we need now on the car side is some buzz. It’s going to bring people back into Ford showrooms.” This is a survival story to rival Robinson Crusoe’s. Ford wasn’t known for its quality or continuity during the long reign of Henry II, and on at least two occasions the corporate sachems laid plans that seemed conceived to consign the Mustang to history. Imagine Dr. Moreau turned loose in the product planning department, and you’ve got the essential flavor.

The first of these episodes led to the 1974-78 Mustang II, essentially a Pinto in wolf’s clothing, a particularly graceless and slow wolf at that.

A new platform and new sheetmetal restored respectability in ’79, but by the mid-80s the product planners were contemplating infanticide once again: an all-new Mustang on a front-drive platform. With no V-8 engine. This heresy stopped only when then-president Donald E. Petersen was deluged with outraged mail from Mustang faithful, much of it, according to the folklore, using the same salutation: “Dear Asshole.” Petersen was moved to rescue the Mustang from impending oblivion, and the front-driver went on to become the Ford Probe, since deceased.

So as we contemplate a long-waited Mustang renewal, we find ourselves wondering whether the keepers of the faith are going to keep the faith. So far, it looks like a definite maybe.

Big question: Will the production car look like these concepts? Richard Hutting, head of the concept design team, will say only that “the concepts have had an impact on the production vehicles.”

Hutting is chief of Ford’s design facility in Valencia, California, and his team also created the Forty-Nine concepts, head turners of the ’01 and ’02 shows. It’s clear at a glance that the Mustang concepts also reach into the past, a trend in recent Ford creations that design chief J Mays calls “retro futurism.” In this case, Hutting and his team drew their inspiration from the late ’60s.

“We went back to the beginning, 1964 to ’69,” he says. “We stripped that early vehicle down to its bare essentials – long hood, short deck, front wheels far forward. It all combined to give the vehicle a sense of motion and direction.”

Perhaps the strongest tie with those early Mustangs, particularly the ’67-to-’69 cars, is the forward-leaning grille shell, accentuating the classic profile.

“I like to think of it as having the leading edge of the hood becoming the most powerful element of the vehicle. It pulls the rest of the car along.Everything else sweeps off that leading edge, creating a motion trail,” says Hutting.


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2004 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SE

In case it doesn’t, the six-speed in our 3.5SE test car can be swapped for a four-speed Jatco automatic with a manual shift mode at the same trim level, or even for a five-speed Aisin automatic in the more-luxury-oriented 3.5SL model. These largely negate issues with torque steer and throttle response.

The brakes on the 3.5SE are big and fade resistant, and although our 70-mph-tp-stand-still test required a fairly lengthy 197 feet, the brakes felt secure and dependable when we went playing in the mountains. Perhaps production-level ABS calibrations will improve the car’s stopping performance, too.

When the 2004 Maximas arrive in showrooms this month, they’ll be equipped with a choice of two powerful stereo systems. The standard unit for the 3.5SE is a 240-watt eight-speaker radio/cassette/CD player; the SL gets a 320-watt Bose unit with a six-CD in-dash changer that is also offered as an option on the SE.

Options for the ’04 Maxima will be offered singly and as part of packages. One of them – the Journey package – supplies a DVD navigation system with a seven inch display for the first time in this model. That display acts as an info screen for the stereo, ventilation, and trip computer, too, even on models without navigation.

Thus, with more power, more style, more colors, and more variation, Nissan clearly hopes the Maxima will not only pickup where its worthy predecessors left off but also bring more believers into the fold.Without the torque steer, it would have been a pushover.

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The Chevrolet Aveo

The Chevrolet Aveo, which was offered as both sedan and five-door hatchback models, first appeared on Canadian roads in 2004. What set it apart, at least back then, was its perky style – its design was penned in Giorgetto Giugiaro’s renowned Italdesign studios in Turin, Italy.

When it landed, the Aveo was available in base and LS models (later LS and LT). The base car arrived with, well, just the bare essentials – manual mirrors, an AM/FM audio system and a needed rear wiper for the hatchback.

Moving up to the LT added some of life’s little luxuries, including power windows and door locks as well as a CD player for the four-speaker sound system. It also featured a power mirror – on the right side.

Where the Aveo disappointed was that air conditioning and anti-lock brakes were options. Likewise, side airbags were optional until General Motors finally saw the light and made them standard in 2010.

The Aveo’s cabin was not a bad place to while away the kilometres – the materials were pretty good and the fit and finish were commendable. Ditto the driver’s lot in life. The seat was comfortable, the correct driving position was easily established and the view to the sides and rear was clean and uncluttered. In other words, it was a combination that made the Aveo very easy to wheel around in a congested urban environment.

As for the rest of it, the Aveo did deliver surprising room given its compact dimensions. Certainly, the rear-seat legroom started off as limited and shrank as the front seats were moved back, but it was usable for the most part. Aft of that, the sedan boasted a large trunk (11.7 cubic feet) and 60/40-split/folding seatbacks. The five-door model had modest cargo space with the seats upright. However, folding them flat and tumbling the rear seat up against the front seats brought a spacious 42 cu. ft.

In 2007, the Aveo sedan was restyled – with fresher interior and exterior styling – and it was longer (an increase of 75 millimetres). While the hatchback was renamed the Aveo5, it had to wait until 2009 to get its rework.

Both models arrived with a 1.6-litre twin-cam four-cylinder engine that pushed 103 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque. Normally, numbers like these make it feel as though one should get out and give the little car a push off the line to get it started. And, in the mid-range, it felt as though the engine was trying to push a 10-ton bumper out of its way.

Thankfully, the Aveo, while far from speedy, did feel reasonably lively when the gas pedal was prodded – credit the fact that peak torque turned up for work at a low 3,600 r.p.m Yes, it took all of 11 seconds to meander its way to 100 kilometres an hour, but it got there without impeding traffic flow.

In the mid-range, dropping a couple of the five-speed manual’s cogs saw it pull off an 80-to-120-km/h passing move in 9.6 seconds.

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The Taurus SHO

Is the SHO back?

In literal terms, yes, Ford now sells a car called the Taurus SHO, but is it the original SHO’s spiritual successor? My first SHO experience was circa 1990. I was in high school, and a friend’s dad had bought one in black-on-black. It certainly didn’t have the status of my dad’s Audi 100, but its “Super High Output” 220-hp Yamaha-sourced V-6 kicked the you-know-what out of the Audi’s 130-horse five-cylinder. I never could convince him to let me drive the SHO, but I did ride shotgun a few times and I remember it well: it was lightning quick for the time, and the first time I’d experienced torque-steer in a powerful front-driver.

True to its moniker, the SHO returns as a more powerful version of the Taurus on which it’s based. Twenty years of internal combustion engine development have seen power output skyrocket (particularly in the last decade) at the same time as emissions have become significantly cleaner. While the base Taurus is equipped with a 3.5-litre V-6 that pumps out 263 hp (significantly more than the SHO of yore), the new SHO benefits from forced induction through twin turbochargers to generate 365 angry horses from the same engine displacement. This particular powerplant (and other force-fed units to follow) is termed “Eco-Boost” by the Ford marketing folks to signify that it has some type of ecologically-friendly approach to providing increased power.

Indeed, the official fuel consumption ratings of the new SHO nearly match those of the original, an accomplishment even more meaningful knowing that all of that extra power is moving around car with all-wheel drive. And while the new car’s official’s ratings of 12.3 city and 8.0 highway appear quite reasonable, my observed city consumption was more like 18, with the best trip a leisurely Sunday morning drive across town a middling 13 litres per 100 km. Seems the V-8 consumption to me.

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What You Need to Know in Getting Vehicle Insurance

In this article, I want to point out some very serious mistakes owners make after their collector car is damaged in an accident. Insurance companies, even the ones that carry policies specifically designed for old cars, are not in the business of restoration. Despite this, after an accident, many owners try to persuade the adjusters or the shops doing the repairs that the accident has caused damage that, in fact, may have been pre-existing due to previous accidents, large or small, poor restoration work or just plain age.

This may have the effect of souring the adjuster or shop and can result in the insurance company contesting how much damage was due to the accident and how much was pre-existing. The end result is a minimal repair, which may not get all the damage properly repaired and cause a lot of aggravation for all concerned. I have even seen an insurance company refuse a repair because of the car’s poor prior condition.   Yet what of my  Raptor ?

Shoddy restoration work on a car or age can make an old car susceptible to more damage in an accident than would normally occur. This leaves both the owner and the insurance company in a bit of a quandary. Just how much responsibility does each have?

If the car needed frame and panel work before the accident, how does the shop go about fixing the damage without having to repair the foundation on which it must rest? In a case like this, and as much as we would like to think the insurance company should fix it all, it can certainly balk, and you can’t blame it.

If the front fender and bumper have been damaged by an accident, it really isn’t due to the accident that the frame and firewall are corroded past the point where new parts can just be remounted. In a case like this, it may be that the owner has to step forward and put some money into the repair. If so, everyone needs to know his responsibility before the repairs are started.

A really good appraisal in which a car’s entire condition is listed is a godsend when there is an accident. Too many appraisals go on endlessly about the colour and condition of the carpets, how nicely polished the stainless trim is, the originality of the trunk liner, and yet they ignore the condition of the frame, interior bracing and structure. This is a critical mistake because a reliable report on the structural integrity of your car will have a lot more to say about the damage that occurs during an accident than your shiny trim.

I generally refuse insurance work in my shop. The reasons are twofold. The first is that the insurance companies usually don’t understand the complexity of repairing old cars in which parts are not easily obtainable or easily priced and where there are no flat-rate times available.

Secondly, owners too often want us to claim damage that has little to do with the accident. Most commonly, they try for complete paint jobs instead of being content with a repaint to the afflicted area. In rare cases where paint matches are almost impossible because of the age or type of paint, this makes sense. But often a partial repaint will be almost undetectable and quite satisfactory.

I balk at insurance work in my shop because I have been caught in the middle of owner/adjuster conflicts too many times. I have actually had insurance adjusters OK repairs and shop rates under duress, only to have the payouts reconsidered by the insurance company later and my shop has ended up subsidizing a large part of the repair. In other cases, owners have been unhappy with the results of the repairs because we adhered to the outlines laid down by the adjusters.

So if you have an old car, make sure you understand its condition and have photographs and an accurate appraisal to back up the car’s pre-accident condition. If you work with the insurance adjuster and the shop to effect the best repair possible and do not ask for repairs on things that everyone knows are not part of the damage, then things will usually work out the best.

If you want more, be prepared to pay for some repairs yourself. Just remember that your beloved old car can be written off if the insurance company believes the damage outstrips the car’s value, and that can easily be influenced by what you demand and how difficult you are to work with.


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