Friday, February 28, 2014

Innovation: Hacking cars

Image courtesy of
Innovation is a funny thing. Often times, it has a lot of great potential to do amazing things and drive progress, but there can be unintended side effects. With cars, as computers have become increasingly integrated into ever increasingly more aspects of the average car's functions, it was only a matter of time before someone discovered that you can tap into the car's computers and start to take over some of the functions. Much of this had been restricted in the past because there was no easy way to connect to a car driving along the road, but as manufacturers have started to add wireless and cellular connections to their vehicles to take advantage of the wealth of information on the Internet, they have also inadvertently exposed those cars to hacking from the outside.

But hacking, as a term, gets a bad reputation. Sure initially hackers were considered evil, building malicious code to gain access to protected resources or breaking through barriers to gain access to private data, but in recent years, hacking has also come to signify taking a very stock item and finding a unique way to use it or to personalize it to your own needs. With cars, we have been hacking ECUs for decades now. Many aftermarket companies have developed ways to hack the programming on the ECU of a fuel injected car to adjust everything from the fuel map to ignition timing to variable valve timing transition point and using all of those things to compensate for modifications that have been applied to the car to optimize the performance. This kind of hacking has been a boon to performance cars and has allowed the addition of massive power to virtually any car through the application of forced induction.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Driving 101: The Roundabout

Growing up in Southern California, I had never even heard of roundabouts, much less seen one. Every intersection had a stop light or stop sign, but none had traffic circles. When I moved to the DC area a decade ago, I encountered some roundabouts, though the majority of them were some sort of Frankenstein hybrid of a traffic circle and stop light controlled intersection. Honestly, to say they were a mess is probably being far too generous. It is somewhat understandable then that people around DC struggle to navigate this variety of intersection. However, a few years ago I relocated to just outside of Boston and, likely due to the age of the city, roundabouts seem to be extremely popular everywhere around here. Unfortunately, despite their popularity, it seems that people still struggle to understand how to safely make it around one of these without nearly killing at least one other driver or at the very least pissing someone off.

So for the second installment of our Driving 101 series, we are going to cover the basic tips for safely navigating a standard traffic circle.

Monday, February 24, 2014

News: Suffolk County, NY legislator wants no bicyclists or motorcyclists on his roads

Here is a new twist in the 2-wheel vs 4-wheel debate.

Matthew Cutrone, a young concerned citizen wrote to his legislator about the recent accident that involved his mother, who was riding a bicycle, being hit by a work van whose driver claims he did not see her (an all too common excuse, unfortunately). In the letter, young Matthew asks for the addition of a bike lane or signs in the area to raise driver awareness of the presence of bicyclists. The request seems like a perfectly legitimate one and would hardly have been difficult to implement plus would have likely had widespread support given that Suffolk County, which comprises the majority of Long Island, is popular with cyclists for its many miles of coastal roads.

The response from one Thomas Barraga, however, could not have been any more absurd. Instead of replying in a diplomatic manner, he chooses to talk about how he actively tells people not to take up bicycling and that "drivers expect to see other drivers on the road not bicyclists and motorcyclists." He goes on to talk about how signs and bike lanes are worthless because they do not have much effect since drivers ignore them. It seems that Mr. Barraga has it in his head that nobody but drivers have rights in Suffolk County and that, just because he personally seems to dislike them, everyone else should stay off his roads. Perhaps while we are at it, we should remove crosswalks and sidewalks too since drivers would not expect to pedestrians either.

I have never heard such an utterly outrageous response and, as a bicyclist and motorcyclist, will be all too happy to stay away from Suffolk County and never bring my hard earned dollars to that part of New York. However, if this is how local legislators think about the 2-wheel vs 4-wheel issue, then it is no wonder we cannot make any progress and have civil discussions about real solutions. I hope that most people are smarter than West Islip's village idiot and can see the absurdity of his narrow world view.

Here is his letter, word for word:

Friday, February 21, 2014

Drawing Board: Honda S2000 sucessor

The rumored S1500
Image courtesy of GTChannel
Since its introduction in 1999, the Honda S2000 has been considered one of the best sports cars ever produced, with its high revving four cylinder engine, track ready suspension, and classic looks. The last S2000 rolled off of Honda's Tochigi, Japan factory in 2009, and enthusiasts have been wondering what Honda has in store for the S2000's successor. Current rumors swirling about point to an "S1500" being the successor, with a 1.5 liter four cylinder engine (some rumors indicate it will be a naturally aspirated 1.5 liter, while others say turbocharged 1.5 liter), a weight lighter than the S2000, and sized smaller than the current MX-5 Miata. As the S2000's successor is still in the rumored phase, here is what we think the S2000's successor should be like.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Consumer Advice: Which car sharing service is right for you?

Can you believe this MB is available through car sharing?
As we discussed in our latest editorial about shifting American attitudes towards driving, car sharing service are becoming increasingly popular among those who live in urban areas, especially those in the younger generations who either do not want the hassle of owning a car in the city or have made the conscious decision to utilize alternative methods of transportation for most of their day-to-day needs. The result has been a renaissance of late with car sharing services popping up all over the country, and even the world, taking on a variety of different implementations of the same concept. Some rely on a fleet of company owned vehicles while others rely on the members to be willing to share their personal vehicles. Some provide a great deal of variety and allow members to find a vehicle to fit their needs while others have no variety whatsoever and give you only a single option to pick from. All have mobile apps to allow you to locate cars in your area and make or change reservations on the go.

With all of these potential choices, let's take a moment to dive in and take a look at the various car sharing options and what the perfect match member would look like to each of these services.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Editorial: The changing American attitude towards driving

Americans are slowly changing their attitudes on driving. As the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement age, they naturally spend less time behind the wheel when they give up the commute. Young Millennials are waiting longer to earn their licenses and even when they do, often are choosing not to own a vehicle, instead relying on car sharing services when needed and other forms of transportation otherwise. Those of us that fall between these two categories, fed up with traffic in the urban environments in which we live, have started to take advantage of other options if they are available or even working remotely if our jobs allow it. All of this adds up to fewer miles driven and fewer hours behind the wheel.

Image courtesy of
Driving is increasingly seen as being a chore and who can blame Americans for thinking this way. Traffic continues to increase in most metropolitan cities, snarling the roads with an endless stream of cars that just sucks away at our now precious time. As a result of the time suck, people feel it is ever more necessary to try to multi-task in the car to try to eke out efficiency from every last second - eating their meals, personal grooming, even catching up on the morning paper. This then leads to distracted drivers who drive erratically, forcing traffic to flow around them as opposed to them assisting in making traffic flow smoothly. The end result is a tortuous slog every day that seems to be getting worse and worse.

Image courtesy of
And those Millennials, who are increasingly using other means of transit, do still drive sometimes because often the sense of adventure takes one somewhere that cannot be reached by public transit. However, precisely because they do not regularly drive, they are less experienced behind the wheel and thus less confident, taking longer to make critical decisions that are then interpreted as being erratic behavior and increasing the frustration of other drivers around them. To further add to the ire of the other road users, many of these younger drivers also waited to get their driver's licenses in the first place, thus in many cases avoiding the graduated licensing requirements that many states have put in place to allow teen drivers to build increased skills and gain experience in less dangerous and distraction-prone situations. The result is a driver that might be less well prepared for the challenges that they can face and one who might simply spend even less time behind the wheel.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day: Women Most Attracted to Men in Pickup Trucks?

A recent survey by wanted to know what kind of cars attracted men and women to the opposite sex. From what we see everyday in the media, I had thought that this topic pretty much already had its answer. Needless to say, the results were somewhat surprising.

Women on an Attractive Man's Car
Image courtesy of Truck Trend
Our media generally portrays women as being attracted to men with sports cars or exotic cars. Based on this survey, at least, it would seem that a large majority of women like a man with a pickup truck. Admittedly, this result surprised me a bit. When I think of a man in a pick up truck, I generally think of three types of men: 1. the frat boy or surfer with their lifted "bro" truck, 2. rednecks or 3. the construction worker or farm hand that actually needs the truck for work. I can maybe see why a woman could be attracted to a hard- working man who uses his truck for its intended purpose, but not so much the "bro" truck owner.

This survey also asked of women what make and color their attractive man would drive. The results put Ford as the top runner for make, with the color black being the women's car color choice for the attractive man. Why? Ford's best selling vehicle is the F-150 pickup truck after all. As for the choice of color? We will get to that in a little bit.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Road Trip: Ski Trip to Sugarloaf

The morning broke with the sun shining brightly in the sky, its rays gleaming off the slicks of ice that were all that remained from the snow earlier in the week. We had already packed our gear and I just needed to deal with a few work related things before we could head out. Weather was looking like it would be cooperative for the drive, but ski report conditions were not looking promising, despite the hefty bit of snow earlier in the week. Just before noon, we picked up a few supplies and stopped to pick up a friend who would be joining us for this annual tradition. The trunk of the TSX packed to the brim with our gear, food, and booze, we headed out on the road.

Traffic heading away from the Boston area was light and we made excellent time all through New Hampshire, stopping only briefly so that the TSX could quench its thirst for premium. The further north we went, the more intense the wind chill. Despite the air temperature maintaining in the mid-30s, it felt more like the low teens. Along the way, the size of the snow piles along the side of the road got bigger and by the time I pulled the TSX off of the highway to begin our trek up into the mountains, some piles were as high as the car's windows.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Editorial: Are cars the real Earthlings?

A little while back, I came across this short film from Canada that makes an interesting point about what aliens might Earth if they were to observe us. The gist of the film is that many of our modern societies have built our entire existence around our cars - our infrastructure is designed to accommodate cars, we build homes with garages to house our cars, and we even have spas to keep our cars clean and pampered. In many ways, we have become enslaved by our cars. Of course, as humans, we prefer to think that the cars serve us, but an outside observer could very easily mistake things as being the other way around.

This makes for an interesting commentary about our modern lives. Modern American culture, in particular, values cars as a form of transportation, freedom, and status more so than nearly every other form of road transportation. While some cities have made an effort to shift away from this with city centers that are more pedestrian friendly and the installation of bike lanes throughout in an effort to encourage alternative forms of transportation, most places are still largely the domain of the automobile. That steel and glass cocoon that separates us from the elements and the world outside also ever increasingly isolates us from other road users, leading to incidents from minor run-ins to major catastrophe. The tendency to make us feel invincible and protected perhaps leads to greater risks than one might other take.

Take a break and watch this short film. Then, share with us how you think aliens would view our relationship with the automobile and if you agree with the views of the filmmaker.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Long Term Test: 2014 Acura RLX P-AWS Tech post #1

Long-Term Introduction
Current mileage: 534

With the 2011 Acura RL Tech now officially back in the hands of Acura Financial, we welcome the newest vehicle to our garage: the 2014 Acura RLX Tech P-AWS. Fitted with the latest drivetrain and interior technology that Acura has to offer, the RLX represents a nice upgrade from the now defunct RL. Sporting a 3.5L direct injection V6 motor making 310-hp, a 6-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels and joined by Acura's new precision all-wheel steering system, the car sheds the signature AWD system in an effort to improve the fuel economy while still maintaining some of the sporty character that the torque vectoring SH-AWD system used to provide.

We tested this car when it first came out last year, and, to be honest, our initial impressions were good, but not great. The interior was nice, with the new two screen arrangement of the center console and huge rear seat, but the outside was a little bland and the steering too soft. Of course, first impressions can be overridden by spending more time with a car and in the case of the RLX, it makes a big difference. I drove it around Southern California for a few hundred miles over the course of a two week period and any initial skepticism for the car was replaced with reserved admiration. Depending on how you use it and what your expectations are, the RLX will either be a big disappointment or a real gem.

Allow me to explain.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Long Term Test: 2011 Honda Fit Sport 5AT post# 2

Second Update
Current Miles: 33,925

A few weeks ago, my fiancee, along with her best friend, and I decided to visit our friend in Oceanside. This meant an hour and a half road trip, which was a great opportunity for me to find out some new things about my fiancee's 2011 Honda Fit Sport. Normally, I would either be sitting up front with my fiancee or I would be driving, but since I knew my fiancee and her best friend wanted to gossip, I decided to take up residence in the back seat.

Having never sat in the back of the Fit for any extended period of time before, I immediately noticed how roomy it was. Originally, I worried it would be cramped in the back, but the headroom was more than plentiful and the legroom was adequate. Sitting in the back seat, I also noticed something about the Fit I had never noticed before: the sound of the Fit's exhaust is noticeably louder while sitting in the back. This happened to also be the case with my old 1997 Honda Accord LX, so I chalked it up to being closer to the muffler. But despite being louder, the sound of the exhaust was still not loud enough to prevent me from drifting off to sleep.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Super Bowl Ads: Super Bowl XLVIII

Every year, the Super Bowl brings together serious ad dollars and millions upon millions of viewers. While the effectiveness of the ads on actual purchases is at best weak, much like the Broncos in the drubbing they took last night, the automakers are among the biggest spenders to purchase some of the most expensive airtime. Luckily, the ads that they have put together tend to be excellent. This year is generally no exception with a number of very entertaining ads, although some of them came from rather unexpected places. What follows are our favorite car-related ads from this year's big game.