Today’s go karts are anything but greasy kids stuff. Read on to discover what makes these these mechanically impressive machines tick.
Some people love go kart racing – simply called “karting” by the true blue fans – because of the competition. Others love it for the family atmosphere at events. Still others love it because of the vehicles themselves – and, if you’re a DIYer, you’ll probably want to know just how these racing machines are constructed.
Recreational participants sometimes construct their own vehicles, while competitive racers must purchase factory-made ones. It’s all about safety. Racers on big tracks reach speeds of up to 152 miles per hour in professional-grade karts that typically weigh 165 to 175 pounds (75 to 79 kilograms).
“The TaG division,” says John Ferris, president of the World Karting Association, “is the most popular. TaG stands for ‘touch and go’ and its vehicles have an electric start, like a car, while the other divisions need an external starter, like Indy cars. TaG vehicles have water-cooled engines, while the rest have air-cooled ones.”
Typically, backyard / amusement park karts are powered by 4-stroke engines or electric motors, while racing karts use small 2-stroke or 4-stroke engines. “All classes of racing,” John says, “allow the owner to work on the engine – or to hire someone else to do so – by putting in new pistons or rings and the like. Some classes allow for rebuilding of engines that include modifications to make the kart go faster.”
The sport has evolved over the years and here is just one way in which that’s true. “Classes that allow modifications used to be the most popular,” John explains. “In these open classes, you could modify however you wanted – at least within certain limits. Local Saturday tracks, sometimes called outlaw tracks, still have those classes, but there is no tinkering in the big races. Those races are like NASCAR with strict specifications for engines.”
When people do modify engines, they typically take a factory built one and bring the specs up to the limits, perhaps by raising ports – or by lowering ports. “You can’t add extra ports,” John cautions, “because you need to use stock engines.”
- 4-stroke engines are typically air-cooled, with about 5 to 20 HP. Manufacturers include Briggs & Stratton, Tecumseh, Kohler, Robin and Honda.
- More powerful 4-stroke engines are manufactured by Yamaha, TKM, Biland and Aixro (Wankel), offering up 15 to 48 HP.
- 2-stroke engines are built by WTP, Comer, IAME (Parilla, Komet), TM, Vortex, Titan, REFO, TKM, PRD, Yamaha and Rotax, ranging from about 8 HP for a single-cylinder 60 cc unit to more than 90 HP for a twin 250 cc.
- The most popular classes use TaG 125 cc units, which are electronically limited to 16,000 RPM.
Karts do not come with any sort of suspension system. In fact, shock absorbers and springs are banned from the vehicles, according to John. “Instead,” he says, “the frame of the vehicle itself serves as suspension. A kart’s chrome tubing creates spring and flex, allowing the vehicle to spring and come back.”
Although the chassis needs to be flexible enough to serve as suspension, as mentioned above, it must also be stiff enough not to break. In general, a stiffer chassis is preferable for dry conditions, while a more flexible chassis is preferable in wet and/or other poor traction conditions.
To find which chassis – and accompanying engine – is appropriate for World Karting Association events, see the chart at the bottom of this page.
Because karts do not have a differential, the chassis is designed so that the inside rear tire lifts off the ground when cornering. “Karts are intentionally designed this way for speed,” John says, “so the inside tire doesn’t slow you down when you race. You may not notice as the tire lifts when you corner, but it does.”
Tires and wheels are significantly smaller than on a typical car, with Bridgestone, Dunlop and Maxxis making tires, along with kart-specific manufacturers such as MG, MOJO and Vega. Just like with cars, there are different types of tires for varying weather conditions. On a dry track, slicks are appropriate. Slicks range from very soft compositions that provide maximum grip to much harder ones that are longer lasting but provide less grip.
Rain tires are used in wet weather, and are also known as “wets.” These are narrower tires than slicks and are not permitted in all racing classes. John points out that many organizations specify how soft your tires are allowed to be.
More sophisticated karts contain monitoring systems that keep track of RPM, lap timing, number of laps, best lap, cooling system temperature, exhaust gas temperature, g-force (lateral and longitudinal acceleration), throttle position, steering wheel position, brake pressure and more.
If you’re interested in building your own kart for recreational karting, Popular Mechanics offers advice. This article shares how you can build your own kart for $689.15 in just one day, offering sites that provide the materials and resources that you’ll need. Remember that, if you’re interested in more serious racing, homemade karts are not permitted.
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts has the tools and accessories for most moving vehicles–at great savings and values. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
Photos courtesy of World Karting Association.
If you’re looking for a place to display your antique or classic car and spend a weekend with like-minded people, consider adding the annual Swigart Meet in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania to your schedule. Not only will you see plenty of outstanding cars at the meet, but you can then go into the nearby museum to see even more incredible vehicles, including rare – and even unique – cars.
Prior Swigart Meets have featured the following cars:
- 1925 Packard four-door sedan
- 1968 Honda Dream motorcycle
- 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V Limousine (formerly owned by Conrad Hilton)
- 1960 Austin Healey Sprite
- 1976 Pontiac Trans-Am Coupe
- 1999 Plymouth Prowler
Find photos and more information about the 2014 meet here. And, if you attend in 2015, be sure to visit the museum that co-sponsors the meet.
William E. Swigart, Jr. Automobile Museum
The National Association of Automobile Museums has only given out three Lifetime Achievement Awards: to Henry Ford, William F. Farrah (National Automobile Museum) and W. Emmett Swigart.
- Emmett Swigart may have been the first person to recognize the value in collecting old cars, first sharing his collection in 1920, after watching beat up vehicles being dismantled for parts. This was an era when many entrepreneurs tried their hand at car manufacturing, with typically small production runs – most of which haven’t been in production for a long time now.
He passed on his love of unique cars to his son, William E. Swigart, Jr., who opened the William E. Swigart, Jr. Automobile Museum in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.
Billed as the oldest museum for automobiles, it contains rare cars, including these three one-of-a-kind treasures:
- 1936 Duesenberg 12-cylinder Gentlemen Speedster with 160 hp; a Lycoming L-head, V-12 engine; 390.8 ci; and 3 speed manual transmission. Two of these cars were built, but one was lost in a fire. The one in the museum was previously owned by actor Jackie Coogan.
- 1916 Scripps-Booth, a luxury vehicle built in Detroit; this was the year that Scripps-Booth merged with the Sterling Motor Company, with a goal to build 12,000 cars in just one year.
- 1920 Carroll Six: one of the previous owners, Eric Johnson, used scrap airplane parts from a WWII PT19 Fairchild trainer engine to repair the vehicle; more about the Carroll Six later.
This is the only museum with two Preston Tucker vehicles, located side-by-side, including his hand built 1947 Tin Goose Prototype. Plus, this museum may have the largest license plate and radiator emblem collection in the country.
Overall, there are approximately 200 vehicles in the collection, with 35 to 40 on them on display at any one time. Other rare cars include:
- 1930 Model J dual-cowl phaeton, a “straight-eight” with dual overhead cams and 265 hp
- 1903 Curved Dash Oldsmobile, one of 3,924 of this model built in this year, the third year of production for the company
- 1910 Winton Six Model 17-B, with 48.6 hp and a cost of $3,000 when brand new (more than $73,000 in today’s dollars)
Advance Auto Parts did a bit of digging into the story behind the Carroll Six. Why? Because it was built by one of the 70 to 80 entrepreneurs who manufactured cars in the Cleveland area during the early 20th century – and because there is only one known example left in the world.
To that end, car historian Bob Kayle provided us with the January-March 1991 issue of The Bulb Horn, the publication of The Veteran Motor Car Club of America. Through this resource and a handful of others, we discovered that:
- Charles F. Carroll, an attorney, successful advertising professional and inventor, announced his new car in Lorain, Ohio’s Times Herald on January 13, 1920.
- He rented factory space, created blueprints, gathered car parts and persuaded wealthy local stockholders to invest in his dream.
- “Two bodies will be furnished, one a close coupled five passenger touring car and the other a roadster, and will be finished in either Carroll green or Burgundy red. The wheelbase is 131” and it will have an aluminum body upholstered in leather. The six-cylinder engine develops 48 hp and has enclosed overhead valves. Full equipment includes six disc wheels, Fisk cord tires, permanent type top, and trunk with a built-in rack.”
- The roadster never came into being and the wheelbase was scaled down to 128”.
Distribution was a big problem for early car manufacturers, but Carroll quickly secured a partner in San Francisco, Fred W. Hauger, who planned to sell this car in 11 states, plus the Hawaiian Islands.
One hundred and six cars were scheduled for 1920, although it’s unlikely that the production goal for this “attractive and even a bit racy” vehicle was reached. The car had a:
- radiator that was set back seven and a half inches from the front axle
- body, hood and fenders that were “pleasingly curved”
- swept-back windshield that gave it a slightly futuristic look
The car was not cheap ($3,895 or more than $45,000 in today’s dollars) but it did come with leather-covered steel top, side curtains, long running boards with dual side-mount spare tires, Bijur starting and lighting, and a K.W. ignition system.
Some Carroll cars were allegedly ruined when they were shipped to California without antifreeze. When the weather turned cold, the engines were ruined, a serious financial blow to the company. By May 1922, the company was out of money and one of the investors was said to help himself to four cars, plus a partially built one, plus some parts as his self-determined repayment. Although there are rumors of four Carroll cars still being in existence, only the one at the Swigart museum is a certainty.
Editor’s note: What other rare or unique cars are out there? Leave a comment below.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
In this installment, the Mechanic Next Door takes on the feature-rich Chevy Tahoe.
Kelly Blue Book voted the 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe The Best Buy of the Year among full-size SUVs. ALG awarded it first place in the full-size SUV category. Car and Driver named it the Editors Choice in Full-Size Crossovers/SUVs, and the Texas Auto Writers Association selected Tahoe as the Full-Size SUV of Texas (doesn’t it go without saying that everything in Texas is full-size?) at the Texas Truck Rodeo.
The Tahoe has impressive numbers to go along with those awards and accolades. Tahoe sales increased 88 percent in January of this year compared to the same time period last year, and in the large SUV category, Tahoe sales year-to-date in April were nearly double that of its closest competitor – second-place Chevy Suburban.
Clearly, the Chrvrolet Tahoe has what drivers want, especially when gas prices are low.
Tahoe was born in 1994 for the ’95 model year, springing from the Chevrolet Blazer and capturing MotorTrend’s Truck of the Year Award in just its second year. Shorter than its Suburban brother, Tahoe shared until 2000 the similar GMT400-series platform with Suburban, as did the Yukon, Escalade, Blazer and C/K trucks.
In the 20 years since Tahoe’s debut, consumer demands and tastes have evolved, as has vehicle technology – so much so that today’s Tahoe bears little resemblance to its first predecessor, other than its name.
A quick look inside Tahoe’s interior leaves little doubt what’s front and center on consumers’ wants and needs list, and it’s not just cup holders. We can’t live without our electronics, and Tahoe’s amenities ensure we don’t have to.
Available 4G LTE Wi-Fi Technology accommodates the simultaneous connection of up to seven devices so every passenger remains connected, even on the road. All those devices need power, which they’ll have no trouble finding, thanks to 13 charging stations (airport waiting area planners, take note) as well as the availability of wireless charging and a three-prong, 110-volt outlet for laptops and larger devices. Six of those 13 charging stations are USB ports and there’s Bluetooth capability that can also attach up to seven devices with Chevy’s MyLink system.
Controlling MyLink is accomplished with the swipe of a finger on an eight-inch, color touch screen that features customizable icon locations. Hidden behind the touch screen is a secret compartment for storing small items, accessible only by entering a password on the screen.
Yes, Tahoe has class and style, right down to its instrument cluster, which Chevy describes as being “designed after high-end watches.”
When Tahoe drivers need to haul something other than precious human cargo, there are 94.7 cubic feet of cargo space, and second and third-row seats that fold flat. Chevy also boasts that Tahoe has “the fastest power-release second-row and power-folding third-row seats of any competitor.” Because that’s important when you’re in a big hurry to…..remove or fold your seats?
In addition to a hands-free liftgate that opens with a gentle kicking motion thanks to a sensor hidden under the rear bumper, Tahoe also features keyless entry as well as starting, bringing the engine to life with just the push of a button. Passengers will have difficulty hearing that engine, or any other external noise for that matter, as Chevy claims this is “the quietest Tahoe ever.” Sound-dampening material has been added pretty much everywhere, including in the engine compartment, wheel liners, dash and floor, and there’s an “acoustic-laminated windshield” along with triple-sealed inlaid doors.
All this peace and quiet and style sit atop available 22-inch aluminum wheels with premium paint and chrome inserts, or 20 inchers or even 18’s on the LS and LT models.
Stepping up into a Tahoe – particularly one riding on 22’s – is made easier with the by retractable side assist steps with perimeter lighting. While that lighting is a nice touch, the heavy-duty illumination comes in the form of projector-beam headlamps and rear LED tail lamps that really light up the night, with high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps available on the LTZ model.
Even with gas prices being low, fuel economy is still top of mind for most drivers, and Tahoe delivers about what you’d expect for a vehicle of this size – EPA Estimated Fuel Economy of 16 MPG around town and 23 or 22 – depending if you’re piloting the two- or four-wheel drive version, respectively – on the open road.
That 26-gallon fuel tank is feeding a 5.3-liter EcoTech3 V-8 that features active fuel management which takes four cylinders offline when their power isn’t needed, direct injection for more power and fuel efficiency with reduced emissions, and variable valve timing for maximum power and efficiency. All this engine technology churns out an impressive 355 HP and 383 lb-ft torque that are capable of towing 8,500 lbs.
And, let’s not forget what’s most important – safety. Seven airbags, collision alerts, lane departure warnings, automatic front braking, side-blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert, rear park assist, rear-vision camera, and a theft-protection package help protect and prevent.
Available in three models, an LS, LT, and LTZ, Chevy calls it, “the most advanced Tahoe ever,” and they’re not kidding. But first you’ll have to decide on what you need and what you can afford. MSRP is $46,300 and there is a list of add-on accessories – 58 to be exact – in nine categories covering everything from interior or exterior cargo management to electronics to security and protection.
Tahoe’s all grown up and has class and style, making it a perfect match for drivers with similar qualities.
Editor’s note: Stop by Advance Auto Parts for all you need to keep your Tahoe running right and looking sweet. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to customize your car, then consider headlight, turn signal and taillight tinting. You can add a touch of personalization quickly, as long as you have a few basic materials, including the tinted film – and a steady hand.
But – and we can’t stress this enough – be sure to check with your state laws before adding any sort of film to your lights! And, the reality is that, if you travel to another state in this vehicle, you may have to face some challenges with law enforcement there if their laws – or enforcement of them – differ.
Here is a quick look at how to tint your headlights using vinyl from a roll:
Meanwhile, here are easy-to-follow instructions that use:
• paper towels
• heat gun
• spray bottle
• tinting film
• craft knife
Although tinting of your headlights, turn signals and taillights is inexpensive compared to many other customization options, it’s important to get quality vinyl – and that it’s transparent so that the light output is not dulled, which can be dangerous. Be cautious of spray products that create cool looks but produce dulled lighting that makes road driving hazardous.
Window tinting laws – can you do it or not?
There is a website specifically dedicated to sharing tinting laws by state, with the following cautions:
“Every state has different laws, rules, regulations and guidelines and we are offering concise data for legally allowed window darkness and reflection for each of the 50 states. While we provide generic state tint law information, note that every district or county may have its own specific restrictions, exemptions or regulations. You should verify our information yourself with your local DMV or other law enforcement authorities.”
As an example, here are applicable laws for sedans in California:
Tint darkness for sedans:
- Windshield: Non-reflective tint is allowed on the top 4 inches of the windshield.
- Front Side windows: Must allow more than 70% of light in.
- Back Side windows: Any darkness can be used.
- Rear Window: Any darkness can be used.
Tint reflection for sedans:
- Front Side windows: Must not be more reflective than a standard window.
- Back Side windows: Must not be more reflective than a standard window
- Side Mirrors: Dual side mirrors are required if the rear window is tinted.
- Restricted Colors: California tint laws do not permit using red, amber or blue tint colors.
- Certificates: Manufacturers of film do need to certify the film they sell in the state and the driver is required to have the certificate in his/her possession.
- Stickers: State law does require a certificate or a sticker from the installing company and the manufacturer’s name and address.
- Medical Exceptions: California law doesn’t allow any medical exemptions that would allow you use special tint.
Although California does not provide for any medical exceptions, some states do for people with sun allergies or other skin conditions. Different laws apply in California for vans and SUVs. And, here is information about window tinting in California directly from their DMV. We recommend that you look at the DMV information pertinent to your state before you begin.
Top reasons to tint your car windows
First of all, it can look really cool! We don’t need any experts to verify that for us. As for the rest of the benefits listed for window tints, keep in mind that many people who are knowledgeable about tinting also sell the product and we have not found independent studies that verify these claims. Many of them, of course, just make good sense.
• Sun glare can be dangerous. Yes, you can wear sunglasses, but you can lose them or break them. Tinting helps you to drive more safely without needing another glare-cutting accessory.
• Tinting provides more privacy. This means that people can’t readily see what you have in your car, helpful when you’ve gone shopping – or accidentally left your wallet or purse or cell phone, laptop or other in-demand device inside. Most people are honest, sure, and wouldn’t think of breaking in to steal your belongings, but the tinting will help protect you from people who might.
• Tinting provides protection to your upholstery, keeping your car interior cool enough to help prevent warping, fading and cracking. Plus, it feels cooler and more comfortable when you’re sitting on it.
• These treatments make your windows more shatterproof. This can help protect you and your passengers in an accident as the tint can keep pieces of broken glass together and prevent them from getting into your eyes or slicing your skin. Window tinting can save you money if an object crashes into one of your windows, for the same reason (tinting holding pieces of glass together).
• You can stay cool! You can reduce the heat inside your car significantly with tinting. A cooler interior means that you’ll have less need of your air conditioning – and less air conditioning means that you’ll use less gasoline.
• You can reduce UV rays with quality car tinting. Prolonged exposure to UV rays have been associated with skin damage, up to and including skin cancer. We have not seen any scientific studies that show a reduction in risk by using window tints, but common sense says it could have a helpful effect. Window tinting comes in a variety of variable light transmissions (VLTs) and, the smaller the number, the darker the tint – and the smaller amounts of light that is let through.
Choosing the right tint for your windows
Typical VLT choices – from least tinted to most – are 70%, 50%, 35%, 25% and 5%. As with all products, there are higher quality films and lesser quality ones. Higher quality ones are said to fade and crack less often. You can purchase an auto tinting kit with pre-cut pieces to fit your windows precisely. Or, you can purchase the tint material in a roll and cut the film yourself.
Editor’s note: Find the tinting products you need at Advance Auto Parts today.
Our Mechanic Next Door runs down the top six reasons–and foolproof steps–for cleaning your vehicle’s engine.
If you’ve ever purchased a new or used vehicle from a dealer or prepped for a car show, you know just how clean an engine compartment can look. The metal gleams, the black hoses glisten, and you can touch any surface and not come away covered in dirt, grease or oil. Conversely, every driver knows that it doesn’t stay that way long as things get nasty under there in a hurry – a fact we’re reminded of every time the hood’s popped to check fluids, do some work, or investigate a disturbing new noise, vibration, or smell.
Drivers clean their vehicles’ interiors and exteriors, but by and large tend to ignore the engine compartment, allowing grit and grime to accumulate over the years and miles. Whether you don’t clean under there because you don’t know how and are afraid you’ll damage something, or you’re a seasoned do-it-yourselfer but just don’t think it’s important, consider these thoughts and tips on engine cleaning.
Why do it?
Sure, a clean engine looks great, but that’s just one of the reasons for tackling this project. Here are some reasons you may not have thought of for cleaning your engine and engine compartment:
- It’s easier to spot potential trouble before it becomes a major problem. If your engine is filthy, you’re not going to know if that small fluid leak has been there forever, or if it just appeared. Clean engines make leaks, cracks and other problems easier to spot.
- Remove road salt and debris that can lead to corrosion if they’re allowed to accumulate.
- Remove debris that can cause hot spots to form on the engine and its components, shortening their lives.
- Prevent the buildup of combustible materials, such as leaves or oil, that are fire hazards on the road and in the garage.
- A clean engine is more enjoyable to work on and look at.
- A vehicle with a clean engine and engine compartment has a higher resale value.
Make it shine.
Ask ten different DIYers how to clean an engine and you’ll get 10 different answers. It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not something you should dive into without possessing some knowledge. Back in the day, the preferred method of cleaning an engine was to steam clean it. Cheap, easy, and it got the job done. Times change, as do engines, and steam cleaning isn’t the best option any longer because of the sensitive electronics in the engine compartment. Fortunately, there’s an alternative today – engine cleaners.
First, browse the various engine cleaning and degreasing products available. There’s water-based, solvent-based, gel, foam, spray bottles, aerosol cans – you name it. I prefer a solvent-based cleaner because it cuts through grease and grime better than a water-based one, which translates to less effort and elbow grease for me trying to scrub away stubborn dirt. I also migrate toward gel-based engine cleaners because I like the way they stick better to vertical surfaces, giving the cleaner’s scrubbing action more time to work on the surface, and me more time to do something else.
How engine cleaners work is a mystery to me, mainly because I’m not a chemist. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Gunk Foamy Engine Brite Cleaner includes propane, 2-butoxyethanol, aromatic petroluem naptha, isobutene, and petroleum base oil as ingredients. I don’t know what they do, except work well, but I imagine the solvents and other ingredients break down the grease and grime and reduce its surface tension, making it easier to wash away.
In addition to choosing a cleaner/degreaser, you’ll also want to pick up a drip pan and some absorbent pads. Why? A lot of oil and other chemicals will be rolling off your engine when you clean it and this hazardous cocktail shouldn’t be going onto your driveway, into a storm water drain, or seeping throughout the ground. Instead, capture the dirty fluids on the pads and drip pan, allow the pads to sit in the sun until the water evaporates, and then find a local recycling center that accepts both the used pads and the oily water from the drip tray.
Once you have all your supplies, use an air compressor or can of compressed air to first blow away any loose debris that may have accumulated under the hood.
Next, start the vehicle and let the engine warm up – but just a little. You want it warm to help break up the grease when the cleaner is applied, but not so hot that you can’t touch it and that it presents a fire danger when sprayed with a solvent or when oil and grease start moving around. Also, a hot engine sprayed with cold water is a sure-fire way to damage an engine and other vehicle parts.
Once it’s warmed up and the engine is off, wrap all visible electronic connections and components in plastic wrap or plastic bags to prevent water from damaging them. Cover the alternator and all filters and the air intake as well.
Position the drip pan and absorbent pads under the engine, then apply the engine cleaner – following the manufacturer’s instructions – and wait for the magic to happen. While the cleaner is working, look for any areas that have a lot of grease or dirt and scrub those spots with a plastic-bristle brush or rag.
Once the cleaner has been on there for the recommended period of time, rinse it and the dirt off gently. Engine cleaning is not a job where you want to use a car wash hose or home pressure cleaner because the water pressure is too high and could force moisture into sensitive engine parts. Instead, use a gentle spray from a garden hose, being sure to avoid electronic components as much as possible. Once the rinse is complete, the compressed air will come in handy again to blow any water out of crevices where it may have accumulated.
When you’re satisfied with the appearance, remove the plastic coverings applied earlier, start the engine and let it reach operating temperature to help evaporate any remaining water.
When the engine has cooled, apply a rubber or vinyl protectant to hoses and plastic components. Then, step back and admire your very clean, very shiny, and very satisfying engine bay, and ask yourself why you waited so long to clean your engine.
Editor’s note: Don’t let a dirty engine get in the way. Rely upon Advance Auto Parts for everything you need to clean and protect your engine. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.
*Always consult your owner’s manual first. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure warranties are not voided.
Remember when you were a little kid and the idea of playing in the mud outside after it rained got you hyped? Pushing your toy cars and trucks through the mud puddles while you did your best to enunciate the sound of a beefed-up engine was one of life’s simple joys. Well, now you’re a grown-up with a rugged four-wheel-drive rig and maybe you want to kick up some summer mud, albeit on a much grander and exciting scale. Here’s a video that gives you a taste of what a blast this sub-category of off-roading can be.
Choose your weapon
To probably nobody’s surprise, the most popular mud tamer is the modern-day Jeep Wrangler and its very similar old-school forebears, Jeep’s CJ-5 and CJ-7. Compact dimensions, plenty of ground clearance, stout four-wheel-drive components and room in the wheel wells for large off-road tires are key reasons these iconic Jeeps reign supreme.
But they are far from the only good choices. Older Toyota Land Cruisers (the more basic four-door SUV styles as well as the Jeep-like FJ40) are very capable and durable rigs, as are the first- and second-generation Ford Broncos. Of course, 4WD pickup trucks are solid picks too, though the massive, full-size ones can sometimes prove too bulky in off-road environments with narrow trails. As such, we favor compact, more maneuverable pickups such as the Ford Ranger, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. One might also consider a Land Rover Defender, though aces off road, they tend to be rather pricey.
Depending on the scenario, simply popping your truck into 4WD and driving on through the muck as if you’re on pavement may not be sufficient. As with any type of challenge, there are proper techniques that separate the hackers from those that know what they’re doing. As such, thanks to the pros at off-road.com, fourwheeler.com and allstate.com, we’ve come up with a six-pack of tips to make sure that you move through the mud.
1) Don’t go it alone. Having at least one other person with a truck and recovery gear (such as a powerful winch) provides peace of mind, as well as a helping hand (and truck) should you get stuck.
2) Air down your tires. Lowering your tires’ pressure increases surface area and allows the tires to flex and grab traction better than when they’re fully-aired up for on-road use. Dropping down to 18 to 20 psi should be about right.
3) If it looks like a rather deep mud puddle / bog you’re attempting to negotiate, you might want to hop out and go on recon first. Grab a long stick and check it out on foot, poking the stick in various spots to get an idea of the mud’s consistency, its depth and if there are any large rocks or tree roots lying below in wait.
4) Take the proper line. If others are also having fun in the muddy playground, watch and take note of the line they’re taking as they work their way through. Usually going straight is best, but there may be some obstructions or stickier points that may dictate using a different, more traction-friendly line that somebody else has demonstrated.
5) If your vehicle has a low range, then start out in 4WD low. This will obviously maximize your traction and torque at the low speeds you’ll be using to make your way through the mud.
6) Take it easy. Throwing up 15-foot high rooster tails of muddy water at higher speed may look cool in commercials, but you could lose control and end up doing some damage or stalling out your engine. It’s slow and steady that wins this race. As the experts say and as with other types of off-roading, you should go as slow as possible but as fast as necessary to keep moving forward. Momentum, not speed, is your best friend here.
So you’ve discovered that you really dig playing in the mud. Fortunately, so do a lot of other off-road enthusiasts. Reading the various online forums for tips on where to go, how to set up your vehicle and how to improve your skills will help you enjoy your mucked up adventures even more. We suggest also checking out enthusiast sites such as mudtrails.com and offroadworld.net, which are also great for finding new friends that share this dirty passion.
Editor’s note: After you’ve gotten your fill of summer mudding, be sure to hit up Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of wash and wax products.
In this installment, Street Talk puts the spotlight on a rare but desirable bird in the sport compact segment – the Eagle Talon
One of a set of automotive triplets, the Eagle Talon is a rather rare bird in the sport compact car arena. Indeed, can you remember the last time you saw an Eagle Talon flying down the road? Yet this product of American and Japanese parents was one of the more interesting choices in its segment. Along with its aggressive, head-turning styling it offered available turbocharged power and all-wheel drive, the latter two features giving it a wheel or two up on the more popular kids in this class, the Honda Civic, Acura Integra and Nissan 240 SX.
The Eagle has hatched
Debuting for 1990 along with its Plymouth Laser and Mitsubishi Eclipse triplet siblings, the Eagle Talon was a product of a joint venture between Chrysler and Mitsubishi. All built in the U.S. at the “Diamond Star Motors” plant located in Normal, Illinois, these three cars shared similar sporty hatchback styling and Mitsubishi mechanicals. The base Eagle Talon came with a 2.0-liter, 16-valve four with 135 horsepower, while the TSi and TSi AWD versions packed a turbocharged 2.0-liter sporting 190 and 195 horses, respectively. Transmission choices consisted of a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic. Initially at least, unlike the Laser and Eclipse, the Talon didn’t sully its image with a price-leading, 92-hp stripper version. With 135 hp, even that base Talon provided peppy performance, but we know you’re probably thinking: “Yeah, that’s great, but tell me about the turbo!”
In 1990, squeezing nearly 200 horsepower from a four-cylinder turbocharged engine was big news. And thanks to the stout low- and mid-range grunt that a turbo provides, this meant blowing off less-muscular rivals from Honda, Toyota and Nissan was a breeze. Capable of sprinting to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds and running down the quarter mile in the low-15-second range, a Talon TSi was a genuine thrill ride back in the early ‘90s.
Offering all-wheel drive to more effectively put that power to the pavement provided an edge in handling, especially in foul weather conditions. The AWD version of the TSi also featured a more sophisticated rear suspension (multi-link versus torsion beam) as well as limited-slip center and rear differentials. Outfitted with a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks and a ski rack, a Talon TSi AWD was a skier’s or snowboarder’s dream.
Changes from 1990 through 1994 were mostly minimal. Notable highlights included, for 1992, slightly revised front- and rear-end styling and a switch from pop-up headlights to exposed units. The following year saw the debut of a declawed Talon. Dubbed the DL, this downgraded version shared its 92-hp engine and sparse standard features list with its entry-level Diamond Star siblings. The previous “base” Talon essentially continued as a new “ES” trim level.
Eagle Talon Version 2.0
As with the Eclipse, the Talon was redesigned for 1995 (the Laser was dropped after 1994). The two cars looked even more similar than before. One might argue that the Talon had more handsome styling, with a larger set of tail lights that helped minimize the heavy, “loaded diaper” rear bumper look of its Mitsu relative.
More importantly, performance was boosted via a pair of more powerful engines. Seen in the new entry-level “ESi” trim, the 2.0-liter non-turbo four now made 140 horsepower, while the turbocharged versions seen in the TSi and TSi AWD made 210 hp (205 with the automatic transmission). As such, acceleration times were a few tenths or so quicker, meaning a TSi AWD could hit 60 in about 6.3 seconds and rip through the quarter mile in the high 14-second range.
Sadly, the Eagle Talon, and indeed the Eagle brand itself, would soar no more after 1998, having been discontinued after that model year. The biggest changes for these second-generation models took place for 1997, when once again Eagle debuted a stripped-out base model that deleted the ESi’s rear spoiler, audio system and intermittent wipers. Thankfully, this entry-level version did not substitute a weaker engine as it had in the past. That year also saw rear drum brakes replace the previously standard rear discs in non-turbo models, while the TSi AWD version got larger (17-inch versus previous 16-inch) alloy wheels. A larger front badge and rear spoiler are the more notable visual clues to these later second-gen Talons.
Should you be a fan of these exciting Eagles and want to capture one, you’ll likely find that task fairly difficult given that they were last produced nearly two decades ago. Still, that doesn’t mean impossible. Checking out the enthusiasts sites, such as DSMtalk and DSMtuners can provide a wealth of information, such as the most effective and economical mods, as well as classified ads for the cars themselves. And there’s always craigslist, eBay and bringatrailer.com, where your chances of finding an unmodified example are likely much greater than doing so on the dedicated sites.
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is here to help in the care and feeding of your Eagle Talon, or otherwise. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
“Self-steering will become a fringe taste – like baking from scratch and riding horses – but regarded as dangerous and socially irresponsible. It will be left to young men who are prone to high-risk behavior, a few type-A personalities with control issues, and some old people who just don’t like to change.” (D.C. Innes)
As of June 2015, there are 77 public-street permits in California for driverless cars, also called autonomous or self-driving cars. Not surprisingly, 48 of them are licensed to the Internet giant Google (up from just 23 in May 2015), with Tesla coming in second with 12 permits – and Mercedes-Benz having two. Google plans to test its 25 added permits on a new fleet of cars on private roads, transferring them to public roads later this summer.
Reasons for the push for driverless cars include that these vehicles are expected to:
• Reduce accidents
• Eventually eliminate most traffic congestion
• Decrease the need for highway expansion because these cars operate bumper-to-bumper at higher speeds, reducing fuel consumption and emissions
Currently, there are 306 people who are licensed to operate autonomous cars – and 202 of them are associated with Google. Sound like something you’d like to do? Here are guidelines for California drivers who’d like to be licensed for driverless cars.
Six accident reports have been filed with these driverless cars so far, five of which with Google’s vehicles. Google had already disclosed four of those accidents, stating that they happened because of human error, either the one in control of the driverless car or by another driver. The fifth accident happened in June and, since Google has committed to reporting these accidents, information will likely be forthcoming about that incident soon. Here are more specifics.
Drive via your smartphone — and much more
Take a look at this quote (and be prepared for some British spellings): “It SOUNDS like a scene from a James Bond film. BMW has revealed a car that can drive itself around a multistorey car park and then manoeuvre itself into a bay – all at the touch of a smartwatch. When the owner returns, weighed down with bags of shopping, the car will come and meet them.”
BMW calls this feature “remote valet parking” and they did the big reveal at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. Meanwhile, here is a demonstration of the current park assist feature available from BMW, which is still cool all by itself.
Another feature revealed by BMW at the Consumer Electronics Show involves a camera that’s embedded in the headline between the driver and passenger. And, if a phone call comes in, point a finger and move it towards the screen to answer the call. Move your finger to the right – and you’ve declined the call. If the screen is in music mode, you can adjust the volume by making a finger circle. Lost? Point two fingers at the screen to get directions home.
Sitting in the rear? You really can become a back-seat driver through your Samsung tablet. You can adjust the car’s temperature, the music or movie that’s playing or your seat’s position with just a few quick clicks.
Also revealed at the show was Driver Assist technology, in development by Hyundai. This technology tells drivers how to reach a destination, but “also displays upcoming street signs, warns the driver of other vehicles that are likely to cut them off, and helps them navigate difficult turns and exits with easy-to-follow arrows on the monitor. It also has a warning system that alerts the driver of pedestrians and animals in the car’s path and will automatically brake if they are too close.”
This car can also monitor drivers’ heart rates and pull itself over and call for emergency help if the driver suffers signs of a heart attack. For more on that subject, see our previous blog post titled Cars of the Future: Personalized Ambulances.
To put its money where its mouth is, Audi had its A7 Piloted Driving concept car drive to the Las Vegas Convention Center from Palo Alto, California, traveling for more than 550 miles without the human in the driver’s seat taking charge. The car safely changed lanes and passed other vehicles. The car can recognize SUVs, trucks and police cars, distinguishing them from more ordinary cars, and can spot pedestrians, even those partially blocked by parked cars.
All of this technology takes real computer power, so Audi invested in the Tegra X1 superchip that allows a car to “learn” how to drive via the computer’s training algorithm. Although the Tegra X1 is only the size of a thumbnail, it’s said to have the power of a room-sized supercomputer from only ten years ago.
Mercedes-Benz displayed the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept, where passengers can rotate bucket seats to face one another while the car automatically drives, a seating arrangement not available since the days of horse and buggy. Door panel touchscreens allow passengers to make video calls, surf the web and post on social media. LED lighting on the outside of the vehicle tells pedestrians whether the car is being driven by a person (white lights) or autonomously (blue lights). Plus, the car can project a virtual crosswalk to let pedestrians know how to safely cross the street when near the vehicle.
All of this new technology can seem exciting – or scary. To calm fears, journalists were taken on a ride with a Volkswagen Passat with Cruise4U technology, which allows for autopilot steering, accelerating and braking.
What does the future hold for driverless cars?
Ford Motor Company is predicting that vehicles will have “fully autonomous navigation and parking” after 2025. Ford already has its own automated research vehicle, released at the end of 2013 in an experiment with State Farm Insurance and the University of Michigan to develop ways for cars to “’communicate with each other and the world around them to make driving safer’ and reduce congestion.”
This vehicle contains sensors that scan up to 200 feet of roadway, “using light in the same way that a bat or dolphin uses sound waves.” Meanwhile, some Ford cars can already send a signal when another vehicle has entered a driver’s blind spot, and the steering wheel vibrates when the driver is veering out of his or her lane.
IHS Automotive agrees that self-driving cars will debut for the average person around 2025, and predicts that, in the first year, about 2/10 of 1% of sales will be self-drivers. That would be about 230,000 cars of the projected 115 million car sales anticipated for that year. Within twenty years of their debut, IHS expects that driverless cars will account for about nine percent of car sales.
So, how are you feeling about all of this? Excited? Anxious to own a self-driver? Or, do you like driving too much?
About a year and a half ago, Advance Auto Parts talked to experts about automated vehicles, including Phil Floraday, senior web editor of Automobile Magazine. Phil open admitted that he wasn’t thrilled about the trend, saying that, “I want people to have the driving experience. Face it, at Automobile, we still like manual transmissions. We believe in man-machine interaction because of the amount of joy you can get from really good transmission, from really good brakes. You blend into the car and become like one.”
Fast forward to today. On June 22, 2015, WorldMag.com published an article by D.C. Innes, who is an associate professor of politics at The King’s College, titled The car of the future and our future in cars. Innes believes that, “Despite our love for the wheel, we may be drawn inexorably into going driverless.” He blames insurance companies, saying that carriers will most likely charge high premiums to people who want to steer their own vehicles.
Time of transition
The transition to driverless cars will be – and has already been – gradual. In 2013, we’d talked to Steve Garfink of Seer Communication. Steve consults with companies, research groups and governmental agencies that are focusing on the transition from human driving to autonomous driving. He shared a rating system where the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) lists five levels, some of which have already taken place:
• Level 0: no automation, with the driver needing to be in complete control of steering, braking and the like at all times
•Level 1: function-specific automation, where vehicles have at least one automated feature, such as adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes, which help a driver brake more quickly
• Level 2: the combination of two or more autonomous technologies, such as adaptive cruise control and lane centering; in this level, a driver must be prepared to take manual control of his or her vehicle back at any time. Some of these technologies may only be workable in highway driving, in favorable weather conditions and the like.
• Level 3: in this level, drivers will not need to constantly monitor road conditions; rather, he or she will be given a reasonable amount of time to transition from the autonomous driving experience to the more traditional manual driving; in theory, a driver of a level 3 car would, according to Steve, presumably “be free to talk on the phone, text, read the paper, or do whatever else they want knowing they will have plenty of reaction time before they have to pay attention to the road.” When this type of driving becomes available, a long trip could become a productive time, without the “tension of navigating among the big rigs plying” the highway.
• Level 4: the vehicle can handle all “safety-critical driving functions,” and can simply provide destination/navigation information; this vehicle could be occupied or unoccupied.
Steve gave a couple more predictions:
• In California – and perhaps other places – there will be no new regulations until a vehicle reaches level 2.
• Drivers may treat level 2 vehicles, where a driver must be prepared to take back control at any time, as level 3, where more transition time from driverless to driver-controlled exists. It will be interesting, Steve says, to see the effects of that on road safety.
Editor’s note: What are your thoughts about driverless cars? Share them in the comments below! And know that, as cars evolve, Advance Auto Parts will keep providing you with what you need to maintain and upgrade your vehicles.
Three cheers for the red, white and blue! As the fourth of July rolls around, we gearheads gathered ’round the garage to reflect on what American car makers have done to wave the old flag. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of them rolled out a handful of celebratory editions during the 1970s. Why then? We’re guessing it was the fact that the Bicentennial, the 200th anniversary of our country’s Declaration of Independence, took place during that decade — the year 1976 to be exact.
Four years before the Bicentennial, the 1972 Olympic Games took place. The summer games in particular were filled with triumph and tragedy. American swimmer Mark Spitz took home an incredible seven gold medals, a record that stood for thirty six years. Sadly, those Olympics were sullied when a Palestinian terrorist group broke into the games and ultimately ended up killing 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. Prior to this roller coaster ride of Olympic emotions, Ford rolled out its patriotically-themed pony cars.
In the spring of 1972, just before the start of those summer games, Ford introduced “Sprint” editions of its Pinto, Maverick and Mustang models. Built to honor the 1972 American Olympic team and designed to inspire both patriotism and sales, these cars featured eye-catching red, white and blue color schemes. The body was essentially finished in a white and blue two-tone, with red pin striping separating the two colors. The interior was done up in white and blue as well. Additionally, 50 Sprint edition Mustang convertibles were built for use in the 1972 Cherry Blossom parade, an event held in Washington D.C. every spring. Underneath, the cars were unchanged, meaning one could wheeze along in a Pinto with a 54-horsepower 1.6-liter four or swiftly “sprint” away from a stoplight challenger in a Mustang packing a 351 High Output V8, making a strong-for-the-era 275 horsepower.
Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet
Two years later, it would be Chevrolet feeling the patriotic vibe. For 1974, Chevrolet launched a clever TV commercial with a song capturing four things (see subtitle above) that Americans ostensibly loved. With a jingle that would prove to be one of the most popular in advertising, that ad would go on to serve the company for quite some time.
That year, to further the patriotic sentiment, Chevy offered the “Spirit of America” package on its Vega, Nova and Impala models. As expected, a red, white and blue theme prevailed. White exterior paint was standard on all except the Impala, which offered a choice between white and a dark blue hue. Red, white and blue stripes added more exterior pizzazz while inside, all three had white vinyl upholstery with red or blue carpeting.
America’s last convertible (for five years, anyway)
The Bicentennial year (1976) was full of celebrations for America’s 200th birthday. Setting off fireworks of its own was Cadillac, the only American carmaker offering a convertible that year. Due to dwindling sales of convertibles and the increased governmental safety standards (such as roll-over protection) said to be looming on the horizon, every American car maker except Cadillac, with its Eldorado model, had by then abandoned the convertible segment.
To seemingly celebrate not only America’s bicentennial but also the philosophy of capitalism, Cadillac decreed that the final 200 Eldorado convertibles made would be “Bicentennial Edition” models. Wearing white paint with tasteful blue and red pinstripes, these loaded and pricey Eldos also sported white leather upholstery with red piping to go with the red dash and carpeting.
As we now know, these ended up not being America’s last convertible. Just six years later, 1982 saw the comeback of the American convertible in the form of the Buick Riviera and Chrysler LeBaron/Dodge 400 twins, meaning the U.S. had gone just five years without a convertible new car offering. Subsequent years saw more drop tops debut, including, in 1984, Cadillac’s resurrected Eldorado convertible.
Editor’s note: Keep your ride running true-blue with parts, tools and accessories from Advance Auto Parts.