Thursday, December 29, 2011

Terrible Car Commercials

With all of the money that auto executives spend on TV advertising, you would think that they would be very careful with what they are trying to say about their cars and how they say it. Sometimes things might look good in the boardroom but look terrible on the small screen.

Here are a few bad commercials that I have come across on the internet. Some of them are old and some of them are new, but all of them are pretty bad. Many of the horrible ads that I have seen are bad because they are now so old, and the car they are advertising is now known to be so bad, that the commercials can only make you laugh. Some of the ads are just bad, and were always bad. Either way, if you can at least have something to laugh at, it’s worthwhile taking another look.

Here is just a few for now there will be more, later.

Datsun 280ZX Black Gold

This advertisement is from 1980 which should be abundantly obvious to anyone who actually remembers that year. This ad really doesn’t need any explanation because the terribleness of it all is pretty easy to see. What is up with that dopey kiss?

1986 Ford Taurus Introduction

This is an ad that was probably very effective because it has a catchy tune, shows the car zooming down the road, and it shows plenty of people reacting positively to seeing the brand new Ford Taurus. This was the first year of the Taurus so it was totally new to the world and this commercial does make it look somewhat exciting. The problem with this ad is that the 1986 Ford Taurus was such a terrible car that it is hilarious to see the poor saps in this ad get so giddy over something that is going to have a bad transmission and blown head gaskets after only a few miles.

Chrysler 200 Imported from Detroit

I got a question for ya...What in the world is this guy talking about? As if Eminem drives a 200. This is a grandma car and putting a rap star in an ad like this isn’t fooling anyone. And what’s with the whole “Imported from Detroit” tagline? Last time I looked at the map Detroit was within the borders of the United States along with both New York City and Las Vegas. The ad also seems to be saying that because Detroit somehow resembles a ghost town that has fallen apart because of the problems in the auto industry, somehow they (the troubled local auto industry) are now able to build a really nice car for your grandma? "This is the motorcity, and this is what we do!" What do you do? 

Ford and Chevy Trucks towing each other

My truck is bigger than your truck…no my truck is bigger than your truck. Girls, girls, you’re both pretty. As if you need to haul a truck hauling a truck pulling a truck. These little tests prove nothing, and are probably faked half the time anyway. Like someone who is about to buy a truck is going to be influenced by seeing a truck towing a mountain. If the Chevy at the end is really towing the mountain, who’s to say that they could just hook up a Ford to the front of the Chevy and then film a Ford commercial of their truck towing the truck that is towing the mountain. And what is the deal with the people just sitting around out in the middle of nowhere as the mountain towing truck drives by? No way is this commercial, or any other commercial like it, is really effective.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What Makes an Oil Burner

Diesels are on the rise, what makes them so special?

The fuel used in diesel engines is often referred to as fuel oil. This is because it is a longer hydrocarbon chain than those used to formulate gasoline. If some diesel fuel is spilled on the garage floor it will still be there the next day and will not have evaporated like a puddle of gasoline would have. So the fuel is what makes a diesel different from a regular engine. While it is true that the fuel is different, other differences obviously exist that necessitate a different fuel.

Diesels get better fuel economy than gasoline engines, and diesels usually go more miles than a gasoline engine before a rebuild is needed. Diesels make more noise then a gas engine, diesel powered cars are never as fast as gasoline powered cars (naturally aspirated), and diesels may have a tendency to produce nasty black smoke when they are not running right. Many of these things are generally known by anyone who has ever owned a diesel, and these things usually represent the extent of the average person’s knowledge regarding diesel engines but differences run much deeper, and there are reasons why all of the things mentioned above are true, or maybe not as true as they once were.

Various efficiencies affect the operation of every engine regardless of fuel type, and these same efficiencies actually have an impact on the operation many things mechanical. The first one is thermal efficiency. When fuel is consumed in an engine it is burned. This seems easy enough to understand but what is really going on is a conversion of energy. Engines don’t “make” power; they convert it from a potential source to a kinetic source. The energy is in the fuel, and when the fuel is burned this same energy is converted into something more useful which in this case is the motion that makes the vehicle go. More specifically though, the energy is extracted from the fuel by turning that energy into heat. More on how this efficiency affects diesel engine function in just a minute.

The fundamental difference between a diesel engine and a gasoline engine is the way that the fuel is ignited in the combustion chamber. A gasoline engine uses what is called spark ignition (SI) to get the fuel burning. SI uses a transformer style coil to produce a high-voltage spark and introduce that spark via a spark plug, into the combustion chamber. When the spark jumps the air gap at the tip of the spark plug, the heat of the spark ignites the air/fuel mixture. When the fuel burns, the rapid expansion of the hot gases pushes the piston downward in the cylinder.

In the case of a diesel engine the air and fuel are ignited by compression (CI). The compression itself doesn’t actually ignite the fuel, but rather the concentration of heat energy when all of the air in the cylinder is squeezed into a very small space in the combustion chamber. When the air is squeezed the molecules in the air start banging into each other creating friction. This increased molecular energy is manifested as heat. This heat is used to ignite the fuel which then expands and pushes on the piston.

In order for the temperatures in the combustion chamber to get high enough, the pressure in the combustion chamber must also be very high since temperature and pressure are always related. Because of this, diesel engines have a much higher compression ratio than gasoline engines. A gasoline engine might have a compression ratio in the neighborhood of 8:1 to 10:1 on average, but a diesel engine might have a compression ratio of 20:1. This higher compression ratio means that the engine must use more force to push the piston all of the way up but the result is combustion that produces a tremendous amount of torque, and it also causes more power to be extracted from the fuel then what you would get from the combustion process in a gasoline engine. This increased thermal efficiency is the reason that diesel engines get better fuel economy then similarly sized gasoline engines. Gasoline engines turn more of the energy from the fuel into wasted heat instead of movement of the piston.
Cross section of a diesel engine. Note the large injector in the middle that
sprays fuel directly into the combustion chamber.
With the compression ratio being so high in a diesel engine, the internal bits of the motor must be built to handle more abuse and greater forces. This tends to make diesel engines last longer than gasoline engines from a mechanical standpoint. Many of the heavy-duty diesel engines that are used in the big rigs that you see on the highways will go 500k miles or more before they need to be rebuilt, whereas the typical gasoline engine will only go half that distance before requiring a rebuild, and that’s only if you are lucky.
Because diesel engines have such high compression ratios they must also use a different method for putting the fuel into the combustion chamber. Gasoline engines will nearly always mix the fuel with the air, and then open the intake valve to let the two of them enter the combustion chamber mixed and ready to go. This means that the fuel is in the cylinder as the piston moves upward, compressing everything in its path and the fuel does not burn until the spark is introduced. Old gasoline engines used carburetors to dispense fuel into the top of the intake manifold. Multiport fuel injection involves spraying the fuel into the intake manifold right onto the backs of the intake valves.

In the case of the CI engine the fuel is injected directly into the combustion chamber once the piston has moved all the way to the top of the cylinder and all of the air in the cylinder has been thoroughly squeezed into a very small space. The reason that the fuel is injected in the manner is related to the high pressure in the cylinder. If the fuel was already in the cylinder as the piston was squeezing everything together it would spontaneously combust at a point before the piston was at the top of its travels, and ready to accept the force of the rapidly expanding gases. Because the fuel must be injected into this high-pressure situation, the injection pressure at the tip of the injector must be very high. On many newer diesel engines this pressure is around 25,000 psi. In order to inject the fuel at this pressure some very special fuel system components and strategies are required. The injection pressure in a gasoline engine is only somewhere between 30 and 60 psi.

Recently, new technology has been introduced in the world of gasoline engines that allows the SI engine to gain some of the efficiency of the CI engine. This new technology is referred to as gasoline direct injection (GDI) A GDI engine can run with a higher compression ratio but can still burn gasoline, and it can burn it in a manner that leads to more power on less fuel, with more of the fuel being properly consumed which in turn leads to lower emissions. This is a great development that will likely lead to the end of standard multi-port injection as we have known it for the last 30 years.

One of the draw backs to using diesel engines has been in the way that they respond to regular driving about town and on the highways. Diesel engines have traditionally produced an excellent amount of torque but not much horsepower. Think of torque as the force that does the work of moving the vehicle down the road, and the horsepower as the speed at which the engine can apply the torque. Because most people want better throttle response when they take off from a stop light, diesel engines have struggled to become as popular as gasoline engines.

Noise is also a consideration for many people. Diesel engines make a noise that can best be described as a loud deep rattle from within the engine. This noise is produced by the sudden combustion of the air/fuel mixture in the engine. When the air and fuel first ignite the initial blast is like a sudden explosion instead of a controlled burn. This little fireball does settle down and burn in a more controlled manner for producing reliable power, but when it first starts to burn it’s a bit erratic. The sound is a popping of the air from the sudden expansion and does not result from any mechanical parts banging against each other. On newer computer controlled diesel engines that noise is dramatically reduced by the injector squirting a tiny amount of fuel into the combustion chamber to get things burning before then spraying the main volume of fuel into the combustion chamber that is used to produce power. This tiny initial blast, referred to as a pilot injection, doesn't make much noise and it helps the large volume of fuel to begin burning in a much more controlled manner.

In reality the concern of snappy performance, or the lack thereof, that used to be associated with all diesels is really not all that valid anymore. Most diesel powered vehicles on the market now use a turbocharger to increase the horsepower of the engine and give it a much better throttle response. A turbo essentially puts more oxygen into the combustion chamber. The use of the turbo makes a diesel powered vehicle more pleasant to drive, but it does add extra cost to the bottom line when you go to purchase a new vehicle.
The question is often asked, why do we not have more diesel engine options if it works so well? In Europe at least half of all new cars sold are diesel powered, but in the US it is about 1%. The biggest reason that people in the U.S. don’t buy many diesels is because the cost of gasoline here is cheaper than what it is in Europe. The other reason is all of the terrible diesel engine options in the U.S. from the late 70’s and early 80’s. These vehicles resulted from the energy crisis of the 70’s but the problem is that many of these old diesel engines were horribly built.

1984 Ford Escort. The reason that Americans don't like diesels.
What could be worse than a 1984 Ford Escort? How about a 1984 Ford Escort with a non-turbo diesel engine. Many of the diesel engines from this time period didn’t use a turbo so they were gutless. They were not computer controlled so black smoke was normal without proper maintenance. And like all other diesel engines they were noisy. Some of them were just gasoline engines with some modifications to turn them into diesel engines. For the consumer this all meant higher initial cost to purchase the vehicle, less reliability because these engines were not well built, and hassle in finding a station where they could get fuel. Not all of these early diesel options in the U.S. market were that bad, Mercedes and Volkswagen had diesel engines in some of their offerings that were far superior to the ones in the domestic cars and trucks, but they were still gutless and noisy.

Chevy Cruze. One of the new small sedans that will be
available with a diesel engine.
With fuel economy again being a great concern, and with computer engine controls leading to greater efficiency and reliability, diesel engines are poised to make new inroads in gaining market share within the U.S. Companies such as Mercedes and Volkswagen have pretty much always had diesel options in some of their cars sold in the U.S. and the domestics have nearly always had a diesel option for their large pickups. Lately however many companies have begun to offer more diesel options in passenger cars where diesels had never been an option before. Chances are that diesels may yet do well in the U.S. but whether or not they can become as popular here as they are in the Europe remains to be seen.

Diesel Advantages
  • Better fuel economy, often much better
  • High torque
  • Built tougher
  • No ignition system to wear out, i.e. spark plugs

Diesel Disadvantages
  • Higher purchase price
  • A gallon of diesel costs more than a gallon of gasoline
  • Not every gas station has diesel
  • Usually slower than gasoline counterparts
  • Good luck finding a good diesel mechanic that isn’t working on heavy-duty stuff only

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Stupid Car Accessories

One of the reasons that we love our cars so much is that we feel like they are an extension of who we are. We often become one with our vehicles so much so that we become that car and that car becomes us. Just like we dress ourselves each morning to make ourselves comfortable and to also perhaps make some kind of statement, we may also dress our cars with different things to make a statement. Sometimes people either don’t know better, or just have no taste when it comes to expressing themselves through automotive customization, or through personal dress for that matter.

While this list does not include everything it does represent the large variation that exists in tastelessness. The one thing that all of these items certainly have in common is the fact that many people at some point have applied these custom bits to their cars and trucks while saying to themselves, “This is going to look cool!” They couldn’t be more wrong and if they had and true friends, these friends would let them know.

So here is the list and the reason why each of these things is lame. If you have any of these things on your car or truck, please be advised that you ought to remove them if possible because there is a good chance that most people on the road think that you are crazy, stupid, or just have no taste. Many of these things apply to pickup trucks only and it is definitely possible to see many of these things on one truck at the same time. That truck is a book that you can go ahead judge by its cover.

Truck balls

While this list of tasteless accessories does not follow any particular ranking, if they were ranked, truck nuts or balls or testicles if you will, have to be the tackiest thing that you can put on a vehicle. This molded plastic pair of gonads are usually seen on 4WD pickup trucks, and are usually placed there by some hill billy that lacks manners and a sense of what’s appropriate, and certainly what looks cool. These truck nuts were certainly invented by a man rather than a woman because everyone knows that nobody is more obsessed with the male genitalia than men themselves, even straight men. Everything is a contest! Determining exactly what the thought is in purchasing and displaying such things is hard to determine, but it is quite easy to reach the conclusion that plastic truck balls are not cool and show a complete lack of fastidiousness on the part of the vehicle owner.
Tacky? I think a picture is worth a thousand words.
So you can match the color of your truck. Mismatched colors
would be in poor taste don't you think?
Calvin Urination Stickers

These are stickers that depict the comic strip character Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic, relieving himself on all sorts of different things. These stickers are often found in the back windows of the trucks that have the private parts dangling from the hitch. Calvin peeing on a Ford logo in the back window of a Chevy can be common; in fact Calvin relieving himself on Chevy logos and Dodge logos can be just as common and just as uncouth. Why would anyone feel the need to advertise their dislike for something as innocuous as a rival car company or sports team? I have even seen stickers of Calvin going potty on political figures or government entities. Every one of these stickers is tacky since human bodily functions displayed in cartoon depictions are never cool.
Take your pick. Either way you're lame.

This is the protective cover that goes over the grill and the front part of the hood to “protect” the paint, not the article of clothing worn by a woman to support her abilities. Car bras never protect the paint they actually destroy it by trapping dirt and moisture and every other body finish destroying agent against the paint. Even if none of that stuff does get under the bra, this useless contraption blocks UV rays from hitting the car evenly so you end up with two tone paint.
Clear bras just turn yellow and start to peel off so they are not much better.
Looks okay now but it will look bad soon.
Besides damaging the car’s finish, bras just look bad. They rarely fit properly for very long before they start to sag and bunch and the straps become stretched, and then the very thing that they are meant to cover or protect ends up looking terrible because of the sagging and hanging of it. I think this same thing happens to the bras of the female human type. Not only this, but they also cover up the front end of the car which is quite often the best looking part. When I was a kid I had a friend whose parents had put really fancy furniture in their living room but then always kept it covered with plastic. What is the point of having something beautiful to look at and cover it with something that is so ugly? I will not draw any analogy between this point and the female woman type bras, but others might.
Paint damage from wearing a bra.
Stick-On Vents

Little circles on the fender are not cool.
Most little decorative details that simply stick on the body panels with some kind of adhesive from the 3M Company are no good, but currently it seems very popular to stick fake vents along the top of the front fenders. For a long time the venti-port has been a design trademark for Buick as they used to put these on their cars decades ago and have recently started putting them on again. A few other models feature these ports as well. If the vehicle had such trim from the factory it’s a bit better but when the vents are fake, such as they are even on the Buicks, then it’s kind of silly. Anyone can go down to their local auto parts store and put these on their car any which way they want. I even saw a Cadillac Escalade the other day that had them all the way down the side of their vehicle, on the doors and on the rear quarter panels. Tacky, tacky, tacky!

Tailgate Nets

Once again what is the point? Are you trying to make your truck look like you are racing in the Paris Dakar rally? Somehow I doubt that your 1990 Ford Ranger could really look cool at all let alone with a silly plastic or vinyl net for a tailgate. Some say that the reason for using one of these is to improve fuel economy. Mythbusters actually tested this idea to see if it really did help and of course it did not. Sorry but this is another hill billy add on.

Woman Silhouettes

Okay we get it, you like the ladies but what is the point of these tasteless little silhouettes? Some of these are the classic style that has been around for a very long time, and some these have been somewhat newly popularized by a certain clothing brand. The devil woman on one side and the angel woman on the other side fall into this category. What is so cool about a buxom devil woman complete with a tail? Really?  
Is this cool? What is it trying to say?

Lewd References to Other Truck Brands

This is somewhat related to the issue of Calvin and his urination habits but what I am referring to here is so much worse. The statements made in a giant window sticker can be so offensive that I dare not repeat them here, but if you use your imagination you might be able to imagine how words like Cummins or Power Stroke could be turned into something dirty. How could anybody see one of these stickers and think that it will help them say something positive about themselves or the vehicle they drive. Besides, Chevy, Ford, and Dodge all have their respective weaknesses so disparaging the truck of someone else to their faces like this will just make you look even more stupid when your dirty sticker clad truck breaks down.

Stupid Exhaust Tips

When did it become cool to have a fat exhaust tip? These things have been showing up on lots of different cars for a while, but the ones that seem the most down-at-heel are those that are found on little sedans and hatchbacks, or those that are found on big pick-up trucks. I’m not sure if these are supposed to make the vehicle look like they have more power, or are somehow really fast. In reality more powerful engines have a fatter exhaust pipe but this starts at the engine and goes back from there, not just in the last 12 inches of the pipe. Once again an overly large exhaust tip is likely to be found on the back of the pick-up that is also sporting the plastic you know what’s mentioned above.

Other exhaust tips that are not cool are ones that have electric lights in them, or the ones that whistle like a turbo, the ones that are fake such as is found on the Lexus IS, although these are built that way in the factory, they are still lame and almost make the entire car lame. Sometimes a chrome exhaust tip will be added that is a normal diameter but it doesn’t fit right so it sticks out way too far. This makes the vehicle look worse than the stock the tailpipe does. All of these silly exhaust tips do nothing to enhance the vehicle and just look stupid.
Is the size of the exhaust tip compensation for something?
One more thing with exhaust pipes. Stacks are lame. I’m talking about routing the exhaust out at the front of the bed into one or two exhaust stacks. No matter what you do to your truck to make it look like a big rig, it will never actually be one. With stacks in the back of a truck you can’t have a shell or a truck box installed, and the pipes can get so hot that they can damage anything in the bed that might accidently touch them. And of course mixing stacks with overly big tips that light up would be really bad.
Why, why, why?
Aftermarket Spoilers

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 99% of these things look terrible. Most of the time, they are way too big, and make no sense from an aerodynamic standpoint. Racecars use a large spoiler over the rear wheels because these are the drive wheels, and the down force produced by the spoiler keeps them well connected to the road. Much of the time when you see one of these outrageous contraptions riding around on the trunk lid of some compact car, that car is nearly always front wheel drive. These cars really don’t even get going fast enough for the spoiler to even provide any kind of aerodynamic effect other than causing drag and thereby reducing fuel economy. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s many car manufacturers offered some kind of low profile spoiler as a dealer installed accessory. Most of these are tasteful enough that they look okay but they still don’t provide any benefit.
Doesn't that look sporty?
An ugly spoiler attached to a car that is actually something
worthwhile, other than the fact that it's pink.
Body Kits

Someone took the ugly stick to this Honda Civic.
These are the large plastic or fiber glass pieces that fit around the rocker panels, and replace the front and rear bumper covers, in order to give the vehicle a more aggressive or more performance oriented look. I would say about 95% of these body kits look terrible for a number of different reasons. The first is that they rarely fit properly, or they are not installed properly. This leaves theme flapping in the breeze with big gaps, sagginess, and the panels dragging on the ground. When they smack the concrete on every steep driveway approach they get scraped up and cracked, which of course makes them looking even worse. With body kits the only ones that look good are either dealer installed factory options, or ones that are understated. The way to guarantee a good body kit is to actually spend a lot of money on it. The cheap stuff looks bad every time.
How to ruin a perfectly good BMW 3 Series, add
an ugly body kit.

Some body kits are so bad that they actually don’t have spaces for things like the turn signals or marker lights. So when they are installed these lights just get unplugged and eliminated. I’m pretty sure that exterior lights are important, and why anyone would think it’s okay to eliminate one or two of them makes no sense.