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Is a moped worth it?

May 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Moto


DriverSense – Kevin Fleming
 In these tough times, can a moped be an economical and practical solution for saving cash?

There is no doubt about it; times are tough for almost everyone.  Many families are finding it absolutely vital to cut spending in many areas of their lives, including how much they drive and other costs associated with owning a vehicle.  Sure, there are hybrids and electric cars out there to save a bit on gas, but some may not be able to foot the up front cost to purchase a brand new vehicle right now.  There has to be another way, right?  Being that warmer weather is approaching for many readers, it may be worthwhile to look at investing in a moped.

The Benefits

Being a former owner of a moped, I can vouch for the fact that mopeds will save you a fair amount of money during the warmer months of the year while you can comfortably ride it.  The most obvious benefit is the money that you will save on gas.  Depending on how big the motor is and how much the moped weighs, you can expect to see anywhere from 50 to 100mpg on average.  Granted, the fuel tank on a moped can only hold a gallon or two, but when you add up the miles, you can go a long ways before refueling, especially if you live in an urban area or small town.  Keep in mind that you will have to use premium gasoline along with two cycle oil mixed together in most cases.

The other cost saving advantage of owning a moped is that insurance is incredibly cheap, even for full coverage.  For example, the moped that I owned was worth around $600 (USD), but for full coverage, I paid exactly $1 per year (no joke).  Granted, just like a car, insurance costs are dependent on your driving record, but even for those whose record isn’t exactly spotless, I would wager that premiums on a moped wouldn’t break the bank for you.

Plus, the up front cost of purchasing a moped is quite cheap depending on the model you have your eye on.  Like all vehicles with a motor, be sure to keep up on your maintenance and you will get many years of use out of your moped.  The gas savings alone may in fact pay for the moped and then some as time goes forward.
The most obvious benefit to owning and riding a moped is that it is fun and something different, especially for those who have driven a standard auto their whole life.


Operating a moped isn’t exactly like operating a car, so extra precautions need to be taken.  If you are concerned that riding a moped is similar to riding a massive motorcycle, mopeds are lightweight and are easy to control, so have no worries there.  Just like learning to riding a bike, once you have learned to ride a moped, you’ll never forget.  But keep in mind that you are no longer protected from the various dangers of the road like you would be in a standard auto.

As I will discuss below, you should check with your province or state concerning the specifics of owning and riding a moped.  When it comes to helmets, whether you have to or not, you should always wear a helmet.  You may be confident in your riding abilities on a moped, but there are other drivers on the road that may not be paying attention to you, for example.  So save yourself the trouble and wear a helmet.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a moped by definition is not exactly the fastest vehicle on the road.  In most provinces and states, it is illegal to ride a moped on a highway. 

Common sense would dictate that you avoid highways if at all possible while riding a moped.  You are putting yourself in danger, as well as other motorists.Besides staying away from highways, keep in mind that it is typically illegal to transport a passenger.  Mopeds are not motorcycles and are unable to safely accommodate two passengers in a safe manner.  Plus, you will not be able to go very fast and your gas mileage will suffer.

Legal Issues

Before investing in a moped, you should take a look at the laws governing the use of mopeds in your province or state.  Like most motor vehicles, a moped usually has to be registered, licensed and insured regardless of where you reside.  One important area to look into is the law governing whether or not you need a special license to operate a moped.  In most cases, all you need is a standard driver’s license, but depending on how many cubic centimetres (cc’s) your moped’s engine is and how much it weighs, you may need a motorcycle license to legally ride it.  If you have an old moped lying around and do not know if you would need a special license to ride it, its top speed should give you a good indication.  If your moped can hit a top speed of over 35 or 40mph, it will most likely be considered a motorcycle and therefore, you will need a special license.

Electric bikes gain traction

May 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Moto

01_brammo-enertia – Hannah Elliott

Get ready for an American motorcycle revolution. That deep Harley rumble and the siren call of the Suzuki whine will soon be sharing the road with silent bikes. A slew of sleek, lightweight machines, either fully electric or hybrid, is making its debut and signaling a paradigm shift in both motorcycle culture and green transportation.

The $10,874 Zero S will go on sale this spring, one of the first plug-in motorcycles widely available in the U.S. Weighing in at just 225 pounds, this bike is made by former NASA engineer Neal Saiki and his three-year-old Santa Cruz, Calif., start-up.
In Pictures: Electric Motorcycles Gain Traction 

Electric bikes’ biggest draw is the fact they cost less than 1 cent per mile to drive; Saiki’s Zero S goes 60 miles on one charge and can hit 60 miles per hour at top speed.

Its dirt-ready predecessor has already proven itself on the U.S. market. Last year, Zero sold out of the electric Zero X dirt bike and had a six-month waiting list for that model. Saiki expects the same this year, despite the downturn. More than 100 buyers have already made $1,092 deposits to reserve Zero S’s, sight unseen. 

Other electric options, with top speeds of 70 and 150 miles per hour, respectively: the $9,290 Electric Motorsport GPR-S (currently available for order) and $75,401 Mission Motors Mission One (slated for delivery in early 2010). 

There are even more electric models coming down the pike, including an electric motorcycle from Honda, promised for 2011, and the forthcoming $13,107 Brammo Enertia. Hybrid offerings like the EVII and Piaggio are also joining the pack. 

By the Numbers

Until the first quarter of 2009, when the economic crisis sent U.S. motorcycle sales tumbling 21 per cent, bike sales had grown steadily, increasing 58 per cent to 6.6 million since 1998, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC). 

Motorcycles tend to do well in tough economic times, as drivers look for ways to save on fuel and vehicle purchase costs. Americans bought 1.1 million motorcycles last year, the sixth year in a row that domestic bike sales topped 1 million units, according to the MIC. Prior to this six-year period, the last time U.S. motorcycle sales topped 1 million was in the early 1970s, when oil prices jumped. 

Honda President and CEO Takeo Fukui says he expects motorcycle sales to support the company through difficult times. He even predicts consistent and extended market growth in Asia and South America, where motorcycles are used for daily transport rather than recreation. Honda sold 15.1 million motorcycles worldwide last year, up 12 per cent from 2007.

American Revolution

Historically, Americans have used motorcycles for play, not work, while Europeans and Asians rely on small motorbikes for inexpensive transport through narrow streets. But that divide is slowly narrowing, says Paolo Timoni, president of Italy-based motorcycle maker Piaggio USA. Piaggio sells seven brands of motorcycles and scooters worldwide.

Motorcycles are gaining traction in the States mainly because commuters are realizing how much gasoline they can save, how much easier it is to find parking, and how effective bikes are for avoiding congestion, Timoni says. Not to mention the fact that electric bikes require almost no maintenance (since they have only one moving part, the rotor) and will never leak gasoline or brake fluid. 

A recently passed 10 per cent federal tax credit for electric motorcycles has no doubt helped spur interest as well.

Of course, it will take some doing to convince Harley loyalists to convert to electric machines. But electric-bike makers say they aren’t necessarily trying to win converts. Instead, they want to sell motorcycles to people who already love them and are looking to augment their garage portfolios with something green.

Those electric makers will know they’ve hit it big when they get a Hell’s Angels chapter of their own.

In Pictures: Electric Motorcycles Gain Traction

Ferrari sets sales record

May 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Auto

by Mark Nichol

A 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa has sold at auction for a whopping 9.2 million Euros ($14.3M) making it the most expensive car ever sold. It went under the hammer at the third annual Ferrari ‘Leggenda e Passione’ event, held in Maranello in association with Sotheby’s. The price is around $3.2M more than the previous world record, which was set at the last event by a 1961 Ferrari 250GT California Spider, once owned by actor James Coburn.

This car, one of only 22 now-legendary ‘pontoon-fender’, 250s ever made between 1957 and 1958, was raced regularly, notably in the ’1000km Buenos Aires’ in January 1958. The 250 TR competed in 19 championship races in total, winning ten of them. Ferrari has not revealed the identity of the purchaser, which is also referred to by its chassis designation ’0714TR’, but plenty is known about its history.

It was delivered to its first owner in December 1957, racing driver Piero Drogo, before being debuted at the aforementioned Buenos Aires race where it finished fourth. It then entered the Grand Prix of Cuba and Portugal before being sold to a wealthy Texan called Alan Connell, who used it to win a handful of races on the North American circuit. Its last race was in June 1963 at the Elkhart Lake 500.

Carfax doesn’t always offer all the facts: Marketplace investigation

May 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Club

Jennifer Leask, CBC News

An investigation by CBC-TV’s Marketplace has revealed that vehicle history reports obtained from Carfax are often lacking key data from several sources.

Using a web-based service, the company provides reports to individuals and businesses on used cars and light trucks in Canada and the United States. But, the Marketplace investigation showed those reports are often missing information, like some Canadian and most U.S. insurance claims as well as inspection information from auction houses, which means consumers may be lulled into a false sense of security about a potential used car purchase.

Marketplace ran Carfax reports using the unique Vehicle Identification Numbers, or VINs, for used cars for sale or already sold in Canada and then the results were compared to information gleaned from other databases.

This Carfax report, provided by a used car dealer and captured on a Marketplace hidden camera, showed no problems with a car later found to have been involved in two accidents.This Carfax report, provided by a used car dealer and captured on a Marketplace hidden camera, showed no problems with a car later found to have been involved in two accidents.CBC
Ads for the company, which is based in Centreville, Va., encourage consumers not to buy a used car without first checking Carfax. The company claims it is, “the first step to protecting yourself against buying used cars with costly hidden problems.”

The Carfax website claims the company, “receives information from more than 20,000 data sources including every U.S. and Canadian provincial motor vehicle agency, plus many auto auctions, fire and police departments, collision repair facilities, fleet management and rental agencies, and more.”

The Marketplace investigation revealed that while odometer readings and junk or salvaged titles are provided to Carfax from provincial and private insurance providers, accident or insurance claim history is not always included.

At one dealership in Port Coquitlam, B.C., a dozen vehicles with accident-free Carfax reports actually had frame damage records from the U.S. auction houses where they were sold to Canadian dealerships.

Data not always up to date

Another problem plaguing the popular service, which costs $39.99 US for 30 days of unlimited searching, is a time lag between when an accident or insurance claim occurs and when it is recorded in the Carfax system.

Marketplace uncovered police reports on two accidents involving the same 2005 Acura RSX. One of the accidents took place in 2005 in New York State, and the other in 2008 in Florida. Only the 2008 accident is noted in a Carfax report.

Larry Gamache, a Carfax spokesman, told Marketplace host Erica Johnson, “As quickly as people can report the information to us, we include it in our database.”

Marketplace host Erica Johnson checks out frame damage on a truck with mechanic Chris Evans. The damage found by Evans contradicts the Carfax report indicating the vehicle had an accident-free history.Marketplace host Erica Johnson checks out frame damage on a truck with mechanic Chris Evans. The damage found by Evans contradicts the Carfax report indicating the vehicle had an accident-free history. CBC
Darren Brockett bought a 2002 Nissan X-Terra after seeing an accident-free Carfax report on the Port Coquitlam dealer’s website.

A frame damage record from the auction house was found when Marketplace ran the VIN of the X-Terra through other databases. With the owner’s permission,Marketplace took the truck to a frame alignment specialist, and confirmed the frame damage.

“It looks like it took an impact on the front, either sideways or more directly in front, bent this rail in, kinked it up in this area, and when they straightened it, [it] cracked,” said Chris Evans, a mechanic at West Coast Alignment and Frame in Vancouver.

Evans inspected the damage to the front right side of the truck and said it was likely unsafe to drive.

During the interview with Carfax, Johnson explained that Brockett trusted Carfax to “let him know if the truck he was buying had any problems.”

Gamache’s response was, “I’m sorry he was mistaken.”

Prepare your car for warm weather

May 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Auto


DriverSense – Kevin Fleming

Do you think winter is the only season that requires special maintenance?  Think again.

With winter finally behind us, many of us look forward to the warm spring and summer months.  Heck, even fall isn’t so bad compared to a Canadian winter!  There are, however, certain things that you must do to prepare your house, wardrobe and even your car for a change in temperature.  Keeping up with a few simple maintenance tasks not only improves your vehicle, it also minimizes the environmental impact it has.  From simple aesthetic things to more complicated efficiency issues, your ‘winter car’ is very different from your ‘summer car’, even if it is the same vehicle.

Change Your Tires

Remember the winter tires that you had put on your car to provide better traction during icy months?  Well it is time to remove them because they work best on snow-covered roads.  Winter tires are also considerably more expensive than all-season tires, so naturally you want them to last as many winters as possible.  Driving in warm temperatures on sand-covered roads will only cause them to wear out faster.

Give Your Car A Wash

It sounds simple enough, but when you think of all that sand and salt leftover from the winter, your car really does need a good wash…and by good I mean the works.  Consider washing from the bottom up to keep from splashing dirt from the wheel wells (this part of the car has the most sand and salt) back onto the areas you have already cleaned.  It is also a good idea to invest in a couple of wash mitts.  They contain no abrasive material and manage to get the job done well.

The inside of your car will likely need to be cleaned also.  Salt and other debris can find their way into the smallest of crevices and, let’s face it, everyone wants their car to shine outside and inside.  Rinsing the floor mats and vacuuming underneath will remove salt thoroughly.  When it comes to the windows, your regular household glass cleaners work just as well as special auto cleaning products.
Have The Brakes Checked


With all of the slipping and sliding your brakes had to endure during the winter, don’t be surprised if your brakes squeal or have to be pushed all the way down before they do their job.  Have your mechanic check them out if you are not sure of their performance abilities, just to be safe.  When it comes to brakes, it is better that you are overly cautious than not cautious enough.

Other Services

While your brakes are being checked, be sure to mention any strange noises you may have noticed, as they can be a result of winter wear and tear.  You may want to have your mechanic check your vehicle’s suspension and steering because cold weather (and frost) can affect both of these internal systems.  As well, changing windshield washer fluid makes sense because you no longer need the de-icing offered by winter washer fluids.  Check for one specifically designed to clean bugs off the windshield, as it is common to have them stuck on, especially after a long drive.

There are many other services you can have done for your car, such as transmission fluid changes, air filter and oil changes, checking for any leaks and ensuring there are no cracks under the hood, however, following the maintenance schedule written in your vehicle’s manual will keep it running smoothly and efficiently.

Once your car has been serviced, why not plan a road trip to celebrate the end of winter?  Whether it is with friends, family, a special someone or all of the above, make the most out of the warm months.  The spring and summer seasons won’t last very long.  Before you know it, it will be time to have those winter tires installed and washer fluid changed yet again.

Stay Green Year Round!

Understanding the importance of seasonal maintenance is an essential step to driving a safer vehicle.  It is also a part of making sure your car emits the least amount of pollutants possible.  Every action you take to improve your vehicle’s longevity lessens your carbon footprint as well as the hit to your wallet.  If you haven’t already done so, go take care of your vehicle and get enjoy the warm weather…while it lasts.

Top tuner cars

May 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Auto – Chris Nagy

 Revealed to the masses through the Fast and the Furious movie franchises, the tuner culture parallels the hot-rod/street-rod gangs who were prevalent during the ’50s. Technology and performancephilosophies may differ, but the goal remains the same:  juice up humdrum passenger cars to become the best on the street. The tuner market in the U.S. is a $5 billion industry — in performance and appearance accessories — so, it only makes sense that automakers want a piece of this trendy action.

Originally, the sport compact tuner market sprouted due to auto manufacturer’s neglect for the small-car segment in the ’90s. Now, manufacturers push their cars through blatant marketing strategies that target the young tuners and produce cars that are ideal for tuner upgrades. While it is possible to upgrade and change any vehicle — given you have the time, money and talent — only a handful of vehicles, listed below, are considered the top tuner cars on the market right now.

Number 10
Scion Tc2008 Scion Tc


Following a U.S. debut with a pair of micro-compact sport wagons, Scion’s Tc sport coupe invoked a more obvious claim for the performance-driven youth movement. Advertised like Mr. Potato Head for young adult auto buyers, the Scion brand is a line of vehicles designed specifically to entice the sport compact tuner crowd. Both Scion and Toyota Racing Development (TRD) are attempting to turn tuner cars into a one-stop shopping trip for buyers. Though purest may find this prospect humiliating — the process of finding, purchasing and installing your own parts is part and parcel when it comes to tuning — remember, a TRD supercharger can humiliate your friends, spinning 200 horsepower into the 2.4-liter engine.

 Number 9
Subaru Impreza WRX

Once renowned simply as the company that built the quirky Brat and Justy, Subarumade a commitment to the World Rally Car (WRC) scene — which featured their Impreza — to beat the likes of Toyota and Mitsubishi. This feat did not go unnoticed by the tuner crowd. In 2002, Subaru brought over, from Japan, a 227-horsepower, turbocharged Impreza called the WRX. Utilizing the same boxer engine configuration found in a Porsche 911, the Impreza WRX’s lower center of gravity improves the effectiveness of Subaru’s all-wheel-drive handling — power and stability. What more could you ask for? 

Number 8

Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V

First appearing in 2002, the Nissan Sentra‘s Spec-V package used jazzed-up colors along with Nissan Skyline-derived design touches, such as six-spoke wheels and a racy front bumper cover. Restyled for 2007, the Sentra SE-R Spec-V’s new grille feeds air to the spiced-up 200 horsepower, 4-cylinder powerhouse. Armed with a close-shift six-speed gearbox, the new Sentra SE-R Spec-V needs only 6.7 seconds to storm from 0 to 60 mph. Add the performance-tuned suspension system and large-diameter 12.6-inch front disc brakes to a list of enhancements for a new vehicle that maintains a low, compact-sedan price while still performing like a sports car.
Number 7
Mitsubishi Lancer

One of the more popular sedans in the sport compact tuner arena has to be the Mitsubishi Lancer. The affordable and fun Lancer’s popularity alone could be accredited to nearly doubling Mitsubishi’s attractiveness to tuners. While the base model of the Lancer is treated to a slew of after-market dress-up accessories, it is the performance flagship Evolution, or EVO as it’s more commonly know, that is the more desirable four-door slammer. The last U.S. model, EVO IX, produced an impressive 286 horsepower from a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter engine. Look out for the brand new EVO X in 2008.

Number 6
Acura RSX

The Acura RSX has big shoes to fill; those of the the Acura Integra. Introduced in 2002, the RSX received mixed reviews at first but was then embraced by the same tuner crowd who had loved the Integra so much. Wrenches found immediate euphoria tuning the new 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder i-VTEC engine that produces 200 horsepower and is available in the tradionally Acura Type-S trim. Sport-tuned suspension and a 6-speed manual transmission have also been added to the Type-S package. Unfortunately, the love of the RSX wasn’t as great as that of the Integra and the RSX was retired in 2006 without a known replacement.

Number 5
Acura Integra

A sister car to the Honda Civic, the two-door Acura Integra’s arrived in 1987 taking the shape and persona of a sportier hatchback than the affable Hondas. However, for the vehicle’s second generation, the Acura Integra would do more than just pose like a sport compact; it became the champion for Honda’s VTEC (variable valve timing and life electronic control) system. Producing 160 horsepower initially, the VTEC effort stirred the interests of the performance after-market crowd. That stir became a tidal wave when Acura brought out a Type-R version of the coupe. While raising the ponies to 195, the removal of soundproofing material and air-conditioning allowed a 0 to 60 mph time in a stout 7.0 seconds.

Number 4
Toyota Supra

You may remember an orange Toyota Supra costarring with Vin Dieseland Paul Walker in the first Fast and the Furious movie. Originally marketed as a premium option over the Toyota Celica, the Supra eventually grew into a high-performance, stand-alone supercar. The last and greatest incarnation of the Supra is based on a 1993 redesign making room for, at that time, one of Toyota’s most powerful production engines. Being force-fed by twin-turbochargers, the 3.0-liter, 300-horsepower engine was originally designed for Japanesesports car racing. Despite the model being discontinued in 2002, motorsport blood continues filling the soul of the Supra, particularly in import drag racing competitions. And rumor has it, a brand new version of the Supra may be headed to the U.S. in the near future.

Number 3
Nissan Skyline GT-R


The Skyline existed as forbidden fruit to the North American auto market with the exception of gray market imports that became extremely popular during the late ’90s. The most popular R32, R33, and R34 generations (built between 1989 and 2002) are famed for their twin-turbo, 2.6-liter engines purposely underrated by Nissan at 280 horsepower. In the hands of custom tuners, these Skyline GT-R engines can generate up to 600 horsepower. Whether juiced up or standard, engine power translates surefooted traction into high performance with Nissan’s all-wheel drive system controlled through an electronic torque splitter system known as ATTESA. We might have a hard time seeing a high-speed Skyline if they weren’t adorning every tuner magazine in the U.S. right now.

Number 2
Nissan Silvia

Unlike its highly popular brother, the Nissan Skyline, the Nissan Silvia is exclusively a two-door, compact sports car. Although North Americans may not be completely familiar with the name Silvia, names such as 200SX and 240SX were sports cars sold stateside built on the Silvia’s vehicle platform. However, the Nissan Silvia is unique for its lightweight construction and for how easy it is to modify the 247-horsepower engine. The Silvia is less envied than the Skyline for its four-wheel drive system that served as an option from 1988 to 2002 models. No longer in production, the Nissan is currently well-utilized in competitive drifting.

Number 1
Honda Civic

A cheap and oh-so-popular import car, the Honda Civic is a venerable leader in the tuner world, just as the ’30s Fords were energized by passionate hot rodders. Between 1988 and 2000, the Honda Civic model was one of the most popular cars sold in the U.S. and the tuner aftermarket was practically born from the desire to customize the Civic’s looks and beef up the VTEC engines. By the time performance-craved youths declared the Honda Civic a tuner icon, Honda alienated the sport compact market starting with the 2001 Civic. Intending to improve their showroom specs, the Honda Civic abandoned their customizable double wishbone front suspension and are continually updating the facade of their vehicles, not to mention what lies under the hood. The Honda Civic SiR is testimony to Honda’s sport compact passion.

The extra costs of hybrids

May 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Auto


DriverSense – Kevin Fleming

Hybrids may save you money in the short term, but if you plan to hang onto your hybrid, the hidden costs involved may turn some off.

There is no doubt that hybrid vehicles help many to save money in terms of gas costs.  Plus, there is no doubt that they help reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere.  Depending on where you reside, you may also receive a tax break for buying a hybrid.  What is not to like about those three elements combined?  But what many dealers and manufacturers will not tell you is that there are additional costs involved when you buy a hybrid.  The costs may not be of any concern to the average driver now, but down the road your wallet may suffer.

Battery Costs

Besides the standard maintenance costs, the one major complaint that I have heard involves the extra cost to replace a battery.  Hybrid car batteries usually fail for reasons akin to a standard battery in a gas or diesel powered car.  After a while, a battery is simply unable to hold a charge due to being charged and discharged one too many times.  On top of that, hybrid batteries are built with multiple cells.  If one cell were to fail by way of corrosion or a faulty component, chances are that you may have to replace the entire battery.  Granted, some dealerships or local mechanics may be trained to repair an issue with a single cell, but those are few and far between.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to buy a warranty when you purchase a hybrid vehicle.  The warranties offered by hybrid manufacturers can extend as much as ten years or 100,000 miles.  Even though battery costs have decreased considerably since the introduction of hybrid vehicles, they are still costly for the average individual.  Right now a brand new battery will run you somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3,000 if a problem were to arise.  As you will see below, there are other ways to obtain a battery in used condition, but they are becoming a rarity as more and more people join the hybrid movement.

Not All Cars Are The Same

We also have to look at the other side of the story for clarity’s sake.  Just like a standard gasoline powered vehicle, a hybrid is not immune to how a driver treats it or minor defects.  As with any vehicle, you should attempt to follow the maintenance schedule included in the owner’s manual to a ‘t.’  It may be an inconvenience for some, but it is quite necessary, especially in regard to hybrids.  It may cost even more than a standard vehicle to keep it up, but it is a necessary evil.  For some, it may not cost much at all.  If you have purchased an extended warranty with your hybrid, you should be covered for all major problems, including battery issues.

As we all know, the guy next door may own the same vehicle as you, but for some strange reason, your vehicle seems to be having more issues than his.  Again, this harkens back to how you treat your vehicle, but it also has something to do with luck.  I have heard reports of individuals driving a hybrid around for 200,000 miles with no issue what so ever, including the battery.  Then again, there are stories around that claim some hybrids barely make it over 100,000 miles before the battery fails and needs to be replaced.  One solution for this may be to try to get your hands on a salvaged battery if at all possible and have it installed at a dealership.  But as we have seen above, the cost either way may not be practical for some.

Think Before You Buy

Right now gas prices are down considerably compared to last year.  But like any product sold and traded on the free market, prices have the tendency to fluctuate between highs and lows.  Surely we will see a rise in gas prices at some point in the future, which will send the masses out to purchase hybrids.  Please note, I find nothing wrong with hybrids, nor am I biased against them, but if you go out to buy a hybrid, keep in mind that four or five years down the road, you may have to purchase a new battery at a considerable cost.

Best convertibles of 2009

May 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Auto

ca_autos-744428349-1241185874 – Hannah Elliott

Record-high temperatures last weekend gave New Yorkers a glimpse of the summer ahead–and, very likely, thoughts of how nice it’d be to drive a car with no roof.

Convertibles account for only about 2 per cent of the domestic auto market, but they tend to command much of the auto industry’ s attention in the spring, when their sales peak. The highest figures generally come in April, May and June–in normal years, at least.
In Depth: Best Convertibles of 2009 

Last month gave no indication that U.S. sales of convertibles will follow past trends. The Chrysler Sebring convertible, for example, sold 71.6 per cent fewer units over March 2008; the Volkswagen Eos, 62.9 per cent fewer; and the Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible, 67 per cent fewer.

MINI, down 46.8 per cent for the Cooper convertible last month, launched its updated Cooper and John Cooper Works convertibles March 28, moving forward with the carefree image convertibles conjure. MINI execs say they expect the cars to sell well despite an expected 5 million- to 7 million-unit drop in total U.S. auto sales this year.

‘It’s a good time of year to launch it,’ says Vincent Kung, product manager for MINI. ‘This is convertible weather.’

Those who can sympathize–and who are in the market to splurge–should remember that the trick isn’t simply finding the hottest convertible; it’s finding the one that best suits a particular lifestyle.

If you want the most expensive, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Roadster (0-60 miles per hour in 3.8 seconds) can satisfy with its $589,000 sticker price. If it’s legroom you need, go for the roomy Jaguar XKR (four doors and 45.1 inches of front legroom). If you require value, consider the $51,050 Saab 9-3.

Whatever your needs (or wallet size), this year’s crop of open-top rides offers a bit of everything. 

Behind the Numbers

To compile our list of the best convertibles of 2009, we separated the field–there are roughly 70 convertible models available in the U.S.–into categories, such as the most expensive, the fastest, the most powerful and the most fuel-efficient, and then examined their specifics. The winners of each of our 10 groups made the list.

The result is a mixed bag of mid-range models like the $33,943 Chrysler Sebring, the best-selling convertible last year, and high-end stars like the $112,434 Jaguar XKR, which has the most legroom of the group. (If it’s a toss-up between the two, legroom will cost a pretty penny.)

The SLR McLaren Roadster won in multiple categories, but the runners-up–the Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG Roadster and Dodge Viper, in the most-powerful and fastest categories, respectively–are equally impressive. They also cost significantly less. While neither exactly belongs in the bargain basement, at $232,792 and $108,574 they are cheaper alternatives when considered against the McLaren.

More Practicality

While the base prices and styles of the cars on the list vary, all of them have one thing in common: They’re much more practical than the cramped, loud, raggedy-topped convertibles of yesteryear. Whatever your price bracket, there’s a convertible that’s likely to satisfy.

Dave Engelman, a spokesman for Porsche, says design features like the mid-engines in the Porsche Boxster and Cayman convertibles allow trunk space in the front and back of the vehicle, making way for groceries, luggage or golf clubs.

‘Even though it’s a two-seater, you can live with the car, whereas there are other cars and roadsters out there that you just–if you have a briefcase with you and somebody else, now somebody’s holding a briefcase in their lap,’ Engelman says.

Noise is another concern. The rag-top convertibles of the ’80s and ’90s rattled in the wind on any highway excursion–an annoyance that, along with the necessity to pull over to raise the top (which took an excruciatingly long time), has been largely done away with.

The Sebring offers a hard-top that will lower at the push of a button from 35 feet away. And the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the most dependable car on our list, drops its optional hardtop in just 12 seconds after one latch is released.

Even soft-tops are much improved. The MINI Cooper convertible, runner-up in the fuel-efficient category, has a function that allows the power-operated top to stretch out halfway overhead, acting like a sunroof.

Engineering the Open-Air Experience

If some of the more mainstream cars on the list still seem pricey, keep in mind that building a convertible isn’t as simple for automakers as leaving off the roof. Building a car without a top changes the flexibility and stability of the vehicle, which affects handling, braking and safety.

Martin Birkmann, a product manager and manager of motorsports for BMW, compares the adjustment to working with a shoe box: ‘If you twist with the lid on or the lid off, there’s a very different experience. Our total rigidity is much higher than a shoe box’s, so what the roof can provide needs to be provided elsewhere.’

Those engineers must be doing something right, considering how many shapes, sizes and styles convertibles now come in. It’s no longer a matter of whether or not a convertible suits your lifestyle, but of how many already do.

In Depth: Best Convertibles of 2009

Fastest cars under $60,000

May 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Auto


ca_autos-439218064-12410262691 – Hannah Elliott


The Mercedes-Benz SL550 will get to 60 miles per hour in 5.3 seconds, but that kind of speed will cost you–to the tune of $118,000 big ones.

If you can settle on a car that will get you to 60 mph just one-tenth of a second later, the savings can be significant. The Mercedes SLK350 costs only $50,950. It’s not the exact same car (the SL550 has one of the most luxurious, high-tech interiors of any vehicle), but it’s certainly close.
In Pictures: Fastest Cars Under $50,000 

Several other cars also deliver speed without the price of an F1 race car. They hail from all the usual suspects, such as Audi, BMW, Lexus and Porsche ( PSEPF.PK – news – people ), as well as American automakers Chevrolet, Ford and Saturn. There’s a reasonably priced speedster to suit just about any taste.

Behind the Numbers

For our list, we used Kelley Blue Book data to identify vehicles currently sold in the U.S. that cost less than $60,000 but have quick zero-to-60-mph times. We then pared down the list to the top 10 fastest under $60K.

The $46,325 Ford Mustang GT500 tops our list with a blistering zero-to-60 time of 4.3 seconds. Close behind, the $37,285 Chevrolet Camaro SS, hits 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. BMW’s $44,052 135i coupe comes in third. 

Martin Birkmann, BMW’s motorsport manager and manager of product and price planning, says fast cars must successfully balance weight, velocity and control. 

‘For us, speed is something that should have a sensory component for the driver,’ Birkmann says. ‘It should be something that can be experienced but also something that [the driver] feels being in control of.’

That control creates safety–a responsiveness that’s available when accelerating, cornering and stopping is not about achieving breakneck speed, but about preventing a crash.

Cars like Lexus’ $45,139 IS 350 are more expensive than their slower counterparts because it takes stronger, lighter and more durable components to give vehicles that extra control at high speeds. 

If engineers want to quicken a car like the $57,114 Porsche Boxster, they must add a bigger engine, bigger brakes, bigger wheels and bigger tires to compensate for the increase in speed. That can throw off the entire design. 

‘We just don’t put a bigger engine in something and say, ‘OK, now you go faster,” says Dave Engelman, a spokesman for Porsche. ‘It’s back to that balance thing. We really don’t compromise giving one thing up to get another. It all has to work together.’

Greener Speed

Certain kinds of engines provide a speed advantage, as well. Turbocharged engines, for example, force more air into an engine’s chambers than usual in order to push the pistons downward faster. This helps increase displacement while using less fuel. A turbo-boosted V6 engine uses less gas than–but achieves the same power as–a V8. 

The Ford Flex crossover, for instance, uses a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 engine that gets 355 horsepower and 350 ft.-lb. of torque. That configuration improves fuel economy by 10 per cent to 15 per cent over a V8 in the same class–with no sacrifice in speed.

Even with national average gas prices $1.74 lower than they were a year ago, fuel economy is as important as raw speed, says David Paja, the director of marketing for passenger vehicles at Honeywell ( HON – news – people ). The New Jersey-based company makes turboboosters for Ford, BMW and Jaguar.

‘Customers are more and more looking at turbocharging as the key technology … to meet some of the conflicting priorities over the next few years,’ Paja says. ‘They are trying to make affordable cars that meet lower fuel-consumption standards.’

At any rate, our list supports the notion that you don’t have to fork over your life savings, or even more than you can easily afford, to go fast. Options abound, even within our list: BMW’s 135i uses a 3.0-liter turbocharged 300-hp V6 engine and costs thousands less than the $55,943 BMW Z4–and it reaches 60 mph from a standstill half a second faster. 

Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it, too.


In Pictures: Fastest Cars Under $50,000

Audi R8

April 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured


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