A Look Back at the Truckcar

Lots of people love pickup trucks but don’t always have the need for a full-size truck. Way back in the ’50s, manufacturers developed a solution with the car-based truck, commonly called the truckcar, or coupe utility. Whatever you call ’em, the idea is the same. Take a car chassis and drivetrain, and drop a small pickup bed out back. While they’re the automotive equivalent of the mullet (business up front, party in the back), the classic truckcar has earned a place in the hearts of many.

Full-size legends

Ford Ranchero

The Ford Ranchero

While truck-ish cars have existed almost since the beginning of the car, Ford really kicked things off with the introduction of the 1957 Ranchero. Built on the full-size Ford sedan and coupe chassis, the Ranchero obviously differed from other cars with its body-integrated pickup bed. At a little over 5 feet long, the Ranchero bed offered light work potential in an easy-to-drive, car-like package.

The ’60s saw the Ranchero transition to the compact Falcon chassis, then the larger Torino, where giant engines like the 460 V8 were common. Cargo ratings hovered just over 1,000 pounds throughout the changes, making the Ranchero a true “half-ton truck.” While it sold well, light trucks were exempt from emissions and mileage requirements, so 1979 was the Ranchero’s last year, as it was replaced by the Ford Ranger compact truck.

The El Camino

The El Camino, Source | Allen Watkin

GM noticed early surging sales of the Ranchero and quickly developed its own competitor. The ’59 El Camino was based off the full-size Chevy sedan/wagon chassis but offered a variety of engines, from a weak inline six, to the fuel-injected 283 Ramjet. The second generation switched to the smaller Chevelle platform, and the El Camino mirrored the muscle car’s options and equipment, including the 396 V8.

The ’70s weren’t a great time for most car manufacturers, but the El Camino survived better than most. With a big-block 454 V8, manual trans, and rear-wheel drive under a lightweight rear, the El Camino was a groovy burnout machine that also delivered a respectable 5,000-pound tow rating when properly optioned.

Compact and odd

Subaru BRAT

The Subaru BRAT, Source | ilikewaffles

Around the time the Ranchero was disappearing in favor of light trucks, Subaru developed this odd little competitor. The BRAT differed from the American car-trucks with its 1.6-liter inline four cylinder making all of 67 horsepower, and driving all four wheels. While the bed was small, the weirdness continued there, with the option of two rear-facing jump seats. Alongside Van Halen’s best years, the BRAT was only available from 1978 to 1985.

Dodge Rampage

The Dodge Rampage, Source | John Lloyd

Apparently the coupe utility market was hot in the early ’80s, as Dodge felt the need to jump in with the Rampage. Despite the popularity of the K chassis, this little guy was built off the L platform (think Dodge Omni) and featured a 2.2-liter inline four powering the front wheels. That’s peak 1980s right there: a FWD truck with a tape player. It was even available in “Garnet Pearl Metallic,” which is ’80s-speak for neon pink. Rad.

Want one brand new?

Holden Ute

The Holden Ute, Source | FotoSleuth

Australia has a unique place in automotive history, as it never forgot how to build a muscle car, even during the 1970s and ’80s. The Aussie version of the El Camino is the Holden Ute. Like standard versions of the truckcar, the Ute features a modern chassis, suspension, and interior, with all the useful bed space you would likely need. If a standard V6 isn’t enough power, step up to the SS version, which features a 400+ horsepower 6.2-liter V8 and 6-speed manual transmission. With a 3,500-pound tow rating, it can haul your race car to the track, and then rip off a high 12-second quarter mile. Work and play in one great-looking package.

Volkswagen Saveiro

The Volkswagen Saveiro, Source | Wikipedia

While the 1980s mostly put an end to the rear-wheel drive truckcar, the Ute has held out until 2017. Now the closest comparable vehicles are small front-wheel drive truckcars like the VW Saveiro. This subcompact coupe utility drives the front wheels with a choice of four-cylinder engines, which is plenty of power when your truck is three-feet shorter than a Toyota Tacoma. Cheap and economical, the Saveiro meets the needs of many owners. Want one? You’ll have to move outside the US, as Volkswagen has no plans to sell them here.

While the truckcar doesn’t look to be returning to the USA anytime soon, we do have a lot of options if you don’t mind buying used. From a fun muscle project to a useful truck alternative, the truckcar style has a lot to offer.

Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.

Courtney Force Explains the Thrill of Driving a Funny Car

NHRA Funny Cars deliver some of the most exciting racing on earth, backed by extreme engineering, precision teamwork, and fearless drivers. Nothing quite matches the fury of two racers blistering the track at more than 300 miles per hour. We wanted to know more about these super powerful machines, so we talked to NHRA pro racer Courtney Force to get the details.

Source | CourtneyForce.com

How does it feel to drive a Funny Car? – It’s no joke

“You’re pretty much strapped to a rocket,” says Courtney Force, driver for John Force Racing and the winningest female NHRA Funny Car driver of all time. “It’s a 10,000-horsepower car, and we launch at four or five Gs off the starting line—and negative Gs when we pull the parachutes—so it’s an exhilarating ride.”

Exhilarating might be an understatement here. You might have wondered how much horsepower a Top Fuel Funny Car has, but the answer can only be approximated as there isn’t a dynamometer on earth that can survive measuring the exact power level. The roots-style supercharger forces air into the forged aluminum engine at a crushing 65 psi. Like a firehose, the fuel pump can push more than 100 gallons per minute. Each race consumes about 15 gallons, so Force’s Camaro burns roughly 60 gallons of nitromethane per mile. Tipping the scale at only 2,300 pounds, the 0 to 60 number looks like a typo, taking about 0.8 seconds. Force has completed the 1,000-foot track in 3.855 seconds, at a top speed of 331.45 miles per hour. All those stats sound extreme? They should, as this car is built with only the best parts.

“We build everything in-house at John Force Racing,” Force said. “That gives our teams a little bit of an advantage. We have a paint shop, a chassis shop, and the guys in our shop in Brownsburg, Ind., really do a phenomenal job with these cars.”

The winner is determined by far more just than stats on paper, and fans love how the drivers leave everything out on the track in a tire-smoking and earth-shaking display of power. In the stands, you can feel the engine vibrations in your chest even from hundreds of feet away. Force broke it down for us, describing how it feels to drive a Funny Car.

“Outside of the Funny Car, it’s very loud and powerful,” she says. “But when you’re in the cockpit of the car, I get into my zone, and it becomes surprisingly peaceful. My earplugs and radio are in, and I have a headsock and a helmet that kind of muffles the sound.” Force says the race is less peaceful, as no amount of insulation can muffle the ferocious power of the big V8.

“The closest thing I could think of would be trying to hold on to a bull for seven seconds—except we’ve got to do it in four. You can’t really compare it to a roller-coaster ride because of the Gs that we pull, but it’s definitely a rush and a lot of fun for a crazy, four-second ride.”

The street car

The Chevrolet Camaro SS that you can buy from a dealer is a little different. The direct injected 6.2L V8 generates 455 hp and 455 lb-ft. Solid numbers, but we’re already losing this race. A supercharger isn’t available on the SS model, and the street car weighs in at more than 1,000 pounds heavier than the race car, at 3,685 pounds. The fuel pump can push 66 gallons per hour (not minute), and the SS earns an estimated 25 MPG highway, so at least the street car wins that contest.

We’re comparing apples and oranges here: Zero to 60 in four seconds flat is impressive for the price, but it won’t keep up with Force’s car. The quarter mile passes in 12.3 seconds at 116 mph, also an impressive feat but way slower than a Top Fuel Funny Car. Still, Force says the Camaro SS is a fun ride.

“I was driving a Camaro SS as my everyday car,” she says. “I got to do to a project with a COPO Camaro, so I’ve worked a lot with Chevy.” Force says that—surprisingly—she had never done a burnout or raced a street car on the track until the COPO promotional event, and the Camaro was a lot of fun.

“Having the Camaro SS as an everyday car is perfect for someone like me who loves racing and likes a sportier car on the road.”

Experience the speed

No one’s going to be driving a Funny Car as a daily driver. Still, there are parts available to help you feel a little more like Courtney does on race day, from superchargers to performance exhaust systems. Maybe get started with an aftermarket air intake or short throw shifter. Whether you have a Chevy Silverado or a Honda Accord, there’s parts and knowledge out there that can show you how to increase horsepower for nearly any vehicle.

If you’d rather leave speed to the pros, check out an NHRA event this year and catch some Funny Car racing. See if there’s going to be a race near you, or follow Force on her official page, Facebook, or Twitter.

“We’re really excited here at John Force Racing,” Force says. “Especially for my team since we’ve teamed up with Advance Auto Parts for our Funny Car for 2017. We’ve got the same team as I had last year, and if we can continue to roll over what we had going on with our team and our car, I think 2017 is going to be our best year yet.”

Are you an NHRA fan? Let us know in the comments. 

5 Things You Need to Do Before Modifying Your Ride

Did you pick up a classic project car? Or did you simply decide that it’s time to start modifying your current vehicle? Before you kick off the projects, there are a few things you should take care of—especially if you’re planning on adding extra power. Whether you’re working on a 1965 Falcon or 2015 F-150, here’s what to do before modifying your ride.

Don’t be Fred Flintstone

You can’t go if you can’t stop. Adding more power for a faster ride is a wonderful thing, but having the power to stop all that power is even more important. Most factory braking systems are acceptable with factory power levels but become inadequate after modifications.

Look into pad and rotor upgrades at a minimum. Ceramic pads are a great all-around street option, and certainly better than those asbestos pads on your ’50s Plymouth. Modern vehicles mostly come with organic pads offering less health hazards and a cheap price, but opt for composite pads for the best braking possible on the street. While swapping pads, be sure to flush your brake fluid for easy and cheap insurance. If you want to go the extra mile, drilled and slotted rotors look awesome and provide extra cooling for repeated stops.

Stay cool

Speaking of cooling, don’t forget that more horsepower almost always means more heat. On a classic, you’ll want to upgrade the cooling system. An upgraded radiator isn’t cheap, but the price includes peace of mind. Another way to look at it: a better radiator is cheaper than a new engine block.

If you have a heavy belt-driven engine fan, look into upgrading to electric fans. They’re lighter, reducing parasitic power loss, and can increase power and gas mileage. Don’t forget to keep the rest of the vehicle cool. If you’re working with an automatic transmission, you’ll want to look at a transmission cooler. It’s cheap and helps prevent the number one cause of early transmission failure: heat. You can even run a differential cooler, if you like overkill. If your ride is newer, its cooling capacity is probably improved over a classic, but it may be time to flush the radiator with some fresh coolant.

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Get charged up

Electrical systems from back in the day just aren’t up for modern performance. While performing repairs on a classic, go for upgrades in the electrical system. Swap out the old school points distributor for a higher performance and more reliable HEI unit. It’s the same price, easier to find in stores, and will support your higher horsepower goals. For a classic or modern ride, pick up some thicker spark plug wires with low internal resistance. They’ll deliver more bang to the spark plug. Also, just about every electrical part can be affordably upgraded here, so go for the best spark plugs, coil, cap, and rotor that your budget allows.

Tackle those corners

Ignore the suspension, and your street warrior might be a sudden and unfortunate off-roader. Adding power without suspension improvements makes a 1966 GTO just spin the tires and a 2006 GTO have excessive wheel hop. Either way, you aren’t going anywhere quickly.

Controlling all those forces on curvy roads and under hard throttle takes a good suspension. Upgrade your shocks, struts, and springs with more sport-oriented options. Add sway bars for better cornering, or upsize with thicker diameter bars if your current bars are lacking. If your classic is over 25 years old, look underneath at the suspension bushings—you’ll want to replace those crumbling rubber things right away. Performance versions are cheap, but even new factory equipment rubber bushings will be a dramatic improvement.

Under pressure

Tires have improved more in the last 50 years than perhaps any other area of the automobile. If your Packard project came with tubes and re-treads, or your Mustang is running Gatorbacks, it’s time to get some new tires. You can go for a period-correct look, while still increasing grip and hydroplane resistance and decreasing stopping distance. Hagerty recommends new tires if yours reach eight years old, regardless of mileage or tread life. It seems obvious, but these are the only four contact points your vehicle has with the road. Inspect them carefully and budget for a good set of tires.

While this seems like a large checklist, remember that this isn’t a side track distracting from your performance goals. This is about making your ride a better, safer, more reliable, and faster vehicle.

Anything we missed here? Let us know in the comments.

Tools 101: Essential Tools for Basic DIYing

Tools

Source | Andy Jensen

If you’ve decided to tackle a vehicle repair by yourself for the first time, welcome to the DIY Club! It’s fun here, plus we’ve got awesome tools. Whether it’s your first repair, first car, or first garage, we’ll cover all the affordable and useful tools you’ll need to get the job done. Let’s get started with the obvious.

Air Pressure Gauge

Got $2? That can buy one of the most useful tools in your inventory: an air pressure gauge. This simple device does exactly what its name suggests, measuring the amount of air in your tires and displaying the reading of pressure in pounds per square inch. This is useful information, since underinflated tires cause decreased gas mileage, increased tire wear, and poor handling. Wielding this simple, inexpensive tool and adjusting your tire pressure to the proper level will save you money and make your vehicle drive properly. That’s quite a return on such a small investment.

Jack

Sure, your vehicle probably came with a jack, but have you looked at it? It’s likely a stamped steel hunk of junk with the build quality of a Cracker Jack box toy. A solid jack is cheap, well-built, and easy to use—making it safer all around. Floor jacks are large, but they roll easily, have a low profile for low vehicles, and can lift tons in just a few pumps of the handle. If you need something smaller for everyday carry, bottle jacks are conveniently small but offer incredible lifting power. There’s even some that can lift a ridiculous 20 tons, for our DIYers with an Abrams tank.

Jack Stands

Odds are that once the vehicle is in the air, you’ll want some backup support. Modern jacks are reliable, but sometimes you need both front wheels in the air or maybe even all four. In that case, you need jack stands. Think of them like a cell phone mount for your car; it’s cheap safety. These steel or aluminum devices keep the vehicle at the lifted height, allowing for easy and safe tire rotation, oil and transmission fluid changes, and swapping out brake pads.

Buying tip: save cash and get a kit offering jack and jack stands together.

Ratchet and Sockets

Yeah, wrenches are cool. But there’s nothing like the sound of a spinning ratchet that loudly and proudly announces, “I’m fixing my ride!” Rather than slowly working a bolt off with a wrench, a ratchet and sockets get the job done in less time. For small bolts, go with a 1/4-inch drive. For large bolts, like on heavy-duty trucks, buy a 1/2-inch drive socket. Or split the difference and get a 3/8-inch drive. Buy sockets, however, for that specific ratchet, as 1/2-inch sockets will leave you disappointed on your 1/4-inch drive ratchet. Like with the jack stands above, buying a ratchet/socket set is easier and cheaper than buying individually.

Multimeter

This tool is way more than just a battery tester. A basic multimeter can read the volts, current, and impedance of electrical systems, providing valuable troubleshooting assistance. Flip-up headlights being wonky on your Honda Prelude? Use a multimeter on the headlight relay. Thinking that your Ford Explorer’s coil packs might be going out? Make sure with a multimeter. It can also help around the home with installing that ceiling fan or troubleshooting Christmas tree lights, so it’s far more than just an automotive tool. And, yes, it will also be a great way to test your battery.

LED Lighting

Lighting isn’t a tool in the traditional sense. It won’t help you get that seized bolt unstuck or grease those bearings, but it certainly will help with both of those projects. Roadside emergencies seem to mainly happen at night, and it’s no fun changing a tire by the headlights of passing motorists. LED lights are long-lasting, compact, run cool, and can be very affordable. Options cover basic flashlights and headlamps for seeing into dark engine bays to large four-foot shop lighting systems that can turn garage darkness into daylight. A good first buy is a handheld unit with a magnet for attaching to metal surfaces. Everything is easier when you can see what you’re doing. Get some good lights.

Cleanup

Some of the most-used tools, and often most overlooked, are those involving cleaning up. For yourself, get clean with mechanic’s soap and stay clean with some disposable latex or tough safety gloves. For your ride, a degreaser is your best friend under the hood, while the top of the hood needs a good car wash soap. A shop vac is excellent at keeping the interior clean and can even power through the mess of your garage/workspace. PEAK offers a radiator cleaner among other fluids, and if you spill them, use your shop towels. Those cheapo things have a million uses.

Have any suggestions for the first-time wrencher? What would be a common and affordable tool that everyone needs? Add to this list in the comments.

The Future of Hot Rodding: Electric Cars

Hot rodders and horsepower enthusiasts tend to have a dismal opinion of electric cars. Once accurately described as slow tin cans, today’s electric vehicles are the future of the muscle car and the hot rodding hobby.

As you probably know, an electric car has no internal combustion engine, but relies on an electric motor and battery for motivation. The upside as a commuter vehicle is reduced operating costs, zero engine noise, and zero at-vehicle emissions. The downsides have traditionally been style and handling, as most early electric cars had all the aesthetics of a melted bar of soap, and all the driving charisma of a kid’s pedal car. Times have changed.

Source | Unsplash/Tim Wright

The future is fast

Tesla currently leads the charge (puns blatantly intended), with overpowered versions of the Model S sedan and Model X crossover. The Model S P100D in the appropriately named Ludicrous Mode can achieve 0 to 60 mph in just 2.5 seconds. That’s an impressive number, especially when you consider the electric sedan weighs over 4,600 lbs and can seat seven passengers. This electric $130k American sedan shames million dollar super exotics from Lamborghini and Pagani.

And Tesla isn’t the only one doing electric performance. Porsche’s Mission E looks incredible, and should offer terrific performance. GM recently trademarked the Corvette E-Ray name, so electric performance may be affordable very soon.

Source | Tesla

Under the hood with electric cars

But enough about buying new cars. Half the fun of hot rodding is tinkering under the hood and spinning wrenches, right? That can still happen in the age of electrics.

While these cars don’t need oil changes, they will need maintenance. Everything from the A/C and power steering, to shocks/struts and related suspension parts will eventually need replacing. That electric Nissan Leaf still needs brake pads.

There’s hot rod parts for electrics too. Just like a gas burning ride, you can upgrade the wheels, stance, handling, braking, and so on. If you are just into appearance mods, electric cars will have aftermarket options like body kits, giant wings, and vented hoods too.

Source | Saleen

Electric aftermarket mods

Aftermarket tuning companies will survive in this new electric era just fine. Saleen has been making Ford Mustang parts for decades, but now also fully reworks the Model S into their own distinctive performance sedan renamed the GTX.

And let’s not forget the DIY hot rod market. The motors may be unusually quiet, but they are relatively easy to replace with something more powerful. Just like a small block to big block engine swap, but with more torque and fewer emissions. There’s even the option to retrofit modern electric motors into a classic. There’s nothing wrong with a ’57 Chevy with 1,000 lb/ft of instant torque and no gas bill. In fact, that’s pretty cool.

This era is much like the transition from carburetors to electronic fuel injection (EFI) in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Enthusiasts said EFI would be the death of the performance car, the DIY mechanic and hot rodding, but instead the highly adaptable technology lead to the modern golden age of performance we now enjoy. EFI is the reason we can have street cars running 9 second quarter miles. The electronic age will be different too, but it has the potential to expand the hot rodding hobby into new markets and areas of interest. This is not the end of performance cars, but an exciting new chapter full of potential.

Do any of you have experience maintaining or modding electric cars? We want to hear about it!

The Weird World of Intake Manifolds

 

Intake manifolds are often a hot rodder’s upgrade part but are otherwise mostly ignored. Every minivan on the road has an intake manifold feeding an air and fuel mixture to the cylinder heads, so they don’t have the sexy and complex reputation of a turbocharger. Still, throughout the history of internal combustion, there have been several intake manifolds that left us scratching our heads. Here are a few of the weirdest.

Source | Andy Jensen

If You Can’t Dodge It, Ram It

This one causes a puppy-head-tilt reaction in everyone who sees it for the first time. The Chrysler B-block was a standard and unexciting people-moving engine by 1960 until it was topped by the unique cross-ram manifold. The dual four-barrel carbs sit way out over the exhaust manifolds and run the air charge through a gigantic, 30-inch runner to the opposite side intake port. Yup, the driver’s side feeds the passenger side cylinders, and vice versa. Chrysler rated the 361 cross ram at 310 horsepower, which wasn’t bad considering the muscle-car wars hadn’t really started yet. While it wasn’t a drag strip warrior due to losing power in higher RPMs, the cross-ram-equipped car had an impressive 435 lb-ft of torque down low, thanks to the extremely long runners.

Defying Gravity

What do you do when the traditional intake manifold world gets boring? Turn it upside down — or in this case, sideways. Sidedraft carbs were needed due to packaging constraints on cars with average-size engines in a small engine bay, like the Jaguar XK120 and Datsun 240Z. While North America was familiar with a standard Holley sitting directly on the manifold, the sidedraft style meant the Weber or SU carbs were mounted 90 degrees sideways, feeding a vertically mounted intake manifold. It’s easy to assume that gravity pulls fuel from the carb bowl into the manifold, which means sidedrafts shouldn’t work. Fortunately, the Venturi effect, which draws the air and gas mixture into the engine, is far more influential than gravity, meaning the intake manifold works just the same as if it were installed on top of the engine. If you want really weird-looking, there’s aftermarket kits to put sidedrafts on a rotary.

Truck Engine in a Sports Car

Remember the ’80s? No? Well, lucky you. The rest of us suffered for a bit while the manufacturers tried to figure out how to balance horsepower with emissions. GM’s solution was electronic-fuel injection with the tuned port intake (TPI) manifold. The distinctive long curved runners connecting the plenum to the lower manifold are a source of the engine’s torque, with a tuned length that takes advantage of pulses in the air charge at low and mid RPM. Right as the pulse of air is about to slam into the closed intake valve, it opens, sending a blast of slightly compressed air into the chamber. While only generating 245 horsepower, the TPI could make an impressive-for-the-time, 345 lb-ft of torque. If that isn’t oddball enough for you, the ’85 to ’88 V8s had nine fuel injectors.

Looks Like a Bad Day at the Factory

A transverse (sideways) mounted intake manifold make sense on a transverse mounted engine, like the modern Toyota Corolla. The cylinders are in a line between the wheel wells, and the intake manifold lines up with the cylinders left to right. Things get quite a bit more confusing when looking at the engine bay of the Infiniti Q45. The Nissan VH series engines were longitudinal (front to back) V8s driving the rear wheels but topped by a spider-like intake manifold sitting sideways as if it were front wheel drive. The reasoning behind the strange layout is unclear, but it was probably for packaging or emissions. This reminds us that the orientation of the intake manifold does not always determine the drive wheels. For further proof, look to the ’90s Acura Legend. While the engine drives the front wheels, the longitudinally mounted manifold suggests the rear wheels are driven. Oddly, this layout in a modern Japanese EFI sedan recalls the classic Oldsmobile Toronado.

While these oddities are no longer in production (excluding some as aftermarket upgrades), they solved an engineering dilemma of their times.

If you know of any other unusual intake manifolds that should be on this list, make sure to let us know in the comments.

How Often Should You Really Change That Engine Oil?

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You’ve heard that old advice countless times: “You should change your oil every three months, or 3,000 miles.” While commonly followed, is this rule still true today? How often should you really change your oil? Let’s take a look at the specifics of oil changes.

Why Change the Oil?

If you’re the DIY type who changes your own oil, you probably return the used oil back to the retailer for recycling. But that brings up a good question: if it can be recycled and used again, why even change it at all? It’s not that the oil goes bad, but the oil in your engine becomes contaminated and loses efficiency. You want clean oil lubricating your engine, not contaminants and grit.

The slight clearance between moving parts—say, between piston rings and cylinder walls—allows trace amounts of burned fuel to mix with the oil, contaminating it. Over time, these contaminants will turn your oil dark. The oil filter keeps a lot of that junk from circulating in your engine, but it has a limited capacity. When the filter can no longer keep the contaminants out of your oil, it’s time for an oil change. If you go too long without one, the contaminants build up and can cause costly sludge issues.

How Many Miles?

The 3,000-mile oil change guideline has likely been around longer than your parents have been driving. Many drivers still stand by it today. There are a lot of arguments here, as many of us have been rewarded with a reliable vehicle after religiously changing the oil at 3,000 miles.

Studies, however, show that might be a placebo effect. While a $50 oil and filter change is cheap preventative maintenance on a $30,000 vehicle, everyone from Edmunds to the New York Times agrees that the 3,000-mile oil change is no longer applicable in today’s vehicles. The rules have changed with the tech of the last 50 years. With the innovations in tighter build tolerances and higher-quality synthetic oils, many sources suggest a 5,000-mile to 10,000-mile oil change should be the new normal.

 Check Your Manual

Some of the discussion over proper oil-change intervals may come from your owner’s manual. Most manuals list two different recommended mileages for oil changes based on whether your driving routine is “normal” or “severe.” Normal driving is considered the usual daily commute. The more frequent “severe” service schedule should be followed for commercial vehicles, or when using your daily driver for towing, off-roading, or racing.

Even a single manufacturer can have different mileage recommendations based on the engine type and recommended motor oil. For example, Toyota uses 5W-20 in the Rav4, and recommends changing the oil every 5,000 miles. On the other hand, Toyota also recommends lighter 0W-20 in the new Prius, which it says is good for 10,000 miles (if you periodically monitor the oil level). Then there’s the Tundra, which needs a 2,500-mile service when using E-85 fuel. For peace of mind, read the manual.

When in Doubt, Send It Out

If you want to geek out over this and know exactly when to change your oil, science can help you out there. Blackstone Labs is one service that analyzes the chemical makeup of used oil, and can offer fascinating insight into what is happening with your oil, and your engine, as the miles add up. If the analysis shows unusual engine wear, there are additives that can resolve the issue, giving you many more years of problem-free driving.

While the recommended oil-change interval has increased over the years, one thing that remains constant is the need to change your oil.

Do you stick with 3,000 miles or follow the manual? Tell us in the comments.

9 Dream Cars You Could Actually Own (Thanks to Depreciation)

Depreciation is a disappointing reality for new car owners, but it also has a bright side for those who avoid buying new: allowing magnificent machines to become easily affordable in just a few years. If you don’t mind your “new” ride having some miles, depreciated mega luxury and exotic vehicles may have exactly what you’re looking for at an unbeatable price. We get that these types of cars are often more expensive to repair or harder to find parts for, making them still out of budget for a lot of us.

However, consider us dreamers.

Since the average new car costs just over $33,000, let’s look at a few head-turning examples that undercut your everyday rides.

Aston Martin DB7

Let’s start off big. Less than $30,000 buys a hand-built British super-coupe with a 5.9-liter V12. The DB7 still looks and sounds amazing today, and low mileage examples are easily found online. At this price point, your Aston will be a little older—about turn of the millennium—but it will be loaded with luxury features. Unfortunately, it won’t have rockets or ejection seats, but it will make you feel as cool as James Bond.

Audi S8

Audi’s big sedan drives as beautifully as it looks, partially due to the 5.2-liter V10 delivering 450 horsepower. The Tiptronic six-speed transmission sends that power to all four wheels, so this can be your practical winter car. There’s also adaptive bi-xenon headlights, Alcantara and aluminum trim, and a seven-inch nav screen. How much does all that cost? Under $20,000 if you don’t mind a decade back, but still under $30,000 for a gorgeous 2009.

Cadillac Escalade

Cadillac Escalade

Perhaps a big family hauler is more of your dream ride. If the Aston won’t carry your five kids, take a look into a used Escalade. New examples start at $75,000, but if you don’t mind the previous body style, you can score a 4WD luxury SUV for less than half that price. Expect leather and speakers everywhere, tons of convenience features, and a 6.2L V8 making the best tow rating on this list. Who says your dream ride can’t be practical?

Chevrolet Corvette Z06

Surprised to see a Chevy here? The sixth-generation Z06 put supercars on notice, with 505 horsepower coming from one of the biggest engines available in modern times, a 7.0-liter LS7 V8. The on-track performance was incredible, even with a base price of 70 grand. The years have been kind to this ‘vette, meaning you can score a reliable and powerful coupe for around $30,000. That might be the most horsepower you can buy for the money.

Hummer H1

If you’re more of the off-road type, we’ve got you covered. The original H1 was a military brute barely adapted for street use. It was not the greatest daily driver due to the Spartan interior (the features list is just an AM/FM radio), but over the years it forged a massive cult following. You won’t win any races with more than 7,000 pounds and a 6.5-liter diesel V8, but getting to your favorite fishing hole will be easy and fun. Originally six figures, 20-something models will set you back far less.

Hyundai Equus

Not many kids put posters of a Hyundai on their bedroom walls, but that could be changing. Evidence lies in the excellent Equus, mainly known as the most expensive Hyundai ever made, fully optioned to nearly $70,000. That cash buys a lot of car here, as the Equus is comparable to a loaded BMW 7-Series. Power is impressive, from the 5.0-liter “Tau” V8 driving the rear wheels, and an eight-speed auto keeps the shifting refined. This isn’t your buddy’s Sonata, but a used one is the same price.

Land Rover Range Rover

Land Rover Range Rover

If you enjoy off-roading and a vehicle with civil on-road manners, don’t buy two vehicles, just get a supercharged Range Rover. The blower helps the 5.0-liter V8 churn out 510 horsepower, turning this classy British SUV into a genuine hot rod. Sure, there’s leather, Bluetooth, and dual-zone climate control, but it also has air suspension, descent control, and gigantic 15-inch Brembo brakes.

Lotus Elise

Possibly the most head-turning ride on this list, the Elise may be old enough to buy alcohol, but it still gets lots of looks. The mid-mounted Toyota sourced 1.8-liter inline four cylinder isn’t all that impressive at 189 horsepower, until you realize it only has to push 1,900 pounds. That’s less than half a Dodge Challenger. The lack of weight makes the Elise quick, especially around corners. If you can swing Toyota Camry money for a reliable and fun two-seat roadster, get this one.

Porsche 911

Porsche 911

Yes, even legends depreciate. Under $30K used to mean you were stuck looking at a less desirable 996 model. While they are smokin’ bargains right now, the 997 series (2005–2012) is better looking and more capable. The 3.8-liter flat six is up to 355 horsepower, and the engine sound from behind you is absolutely perfect. The interior is refined and modern, but not busy with extra tech. If it has all its service records, a 911 can even be reliable. You won’t get a GT3 for this price, but the Carrera S is just as nice if you squint.

While these depreciated dream rides do have some miles on them, they can usually serve as daily drivers if you keep up on the maintenance. That’s a small price to pay for a vehicle that will put a smile on your face every time you see it.

Thinking of buying your dream ride? Let us know what you’re searching for in the comments below.

Racing 101: Your Guide to Street-Legal Rally Racing

Rally racing looks like a blast, but the costs often seem prohibitive to drivers with a casual interest. What many don’t realize is there’s a rally for everyone, from affordable local charity drives to national competitive events. They can be a great way to test your driving chops, put your car through its paces, and have some fun! Here’s a guide to (legally) experiencing competition from the driver’s seat.

Local rallies

Your local rally is a timed event covering a predetermined course. Rather than racing competitors to the finish, the rally marshal has already run the course and determined what the speed and finishing time should be. Competitors travel the course at legal speeds, using their driving and navigational skills to get as close to the official time as possible. The closest driver wins the rally, with competitors sometimes separated by seconds.

This type of rally is a time/speed/distance event. Think of it as an easy drive to a new destination, except you don’t know where it is and you have to be on time. Other rallies are set up as mobile scavenger hunts, where each point along the route requires searching for objects. Others require you to solve clues in order to figure out where to go. You should have a solid working knowledge of the area you’re in before tackling those rallies.

Regardless of the variations, this is all you need to compete:

  • A street-legal vehicle
  • A licensed driver (you!)
  • A co-driver/navigator
  • Solid teamwork

A stopwatch and GPS are likely needed to win but not required for participation. The low entrance fees—usually around $25—are often donated to a local charity or cause, so you can think of your driving time as doing a good deed. Of course, donating more than the entrance fee is always appreciated.

National events

OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car

If you need more speed on your drive, check out one of the national rally events. Endurance rallies like the new Baja 4000 are proving popular with the off-road crowd. It even has a Spirit category for “highly unsuitable vehicles,” where they encourage mutant cars, lemons, and ice cream trucks.

The street and track enthusiasts have more options, though, as Hot Rod magazine’s Power Tour cuts through different regions of the United States every year. There’s also the Ultimate Street Car Association, which hits up tracks around the country. While there are no scavenger hunts, the behind-the-wheel competition can be intense.

This event is an annual nationwide search for the ultimate street-legal vehicle. Rather than demanding maxed-out race cars with plates, USCA rules state that competing vehicles must be better in every way, not just acceleration. “Reach the highest performance on the track, contain features that allow it to be driven daily, achieve high-quality fit and finish, and involve the use of innovative and cutting edge ideas and parts.” Air conditioning and emissions equipment are mandatory here, and comfy seats and Wi-Fi earn bonus points.

Events vary but include judging in a car-show format, examining design and engineering, an autocross course, a road race, and a start-stop event testing grip and braking. USCA vehicles must be able to complete a road rally at legal speeds, up to 100 miles in length. Like your local rally, this isn’t a race, but it is still worth points in two days full of competition and speed.

A road rally is a great way to get out there and enjoy your ride while supporting a cause, or for one massively exciting weekend at a race track.

Have you ever competed in a rally ? Share your experience and tips for winning in the comments.

Weird Car Problems: The Explained and Unexplained

Frantzou Fleurine/Unsplash

Driving on a dark, foggy road past a graveyard in the middle of nowhere, you may feel a bit uneasy at your creepy surroundings. But you should never feel unease about your vehicle’s maintenance and reliability. Wise drivers know the horrors can be defeated with just a little preventative maintenance. Join us as we seek out solutions to weird and unexplained car problems, in honor of Halloween.

Horrifying screaming

All is calm and silent, until the turn of the ignition key that sounds like a horde of banshees released from under your hood. While the screech is alarming, no real damage is occurring. Serpentine belts stretch as they wear, causing improper tension on the various pulleys. Rather than gripping the belt, the pulley will lose traction and slip, causing that screaming sound you hear. It can mysteriously fade as the engine warms up, but with replacements running around $30, it might be nice to silence the screams permanently.

Mysterious smoke

Snaking out from under the hood like some mythical monster, smoke is always cause for alarm. Screaming and running works in the movies but is less effective in this case. When safely parked, pop the hood and have a look. Small amounts of smoke are usually a result of something fluid, like oil or coolant, coming into contact with something hot—like an exhaust manifold—and burning off. It can be a simple and easy fix if taken care of right away. On the other hand, if your car has Gremlins (or is a Gremlin), it happens for no reason at all.

Revolting smells

Sulfur is a natural compound found in crude oil. After processing, and despite EPA reductions, it is still found in gasoline. The emissions system normally takes care of cleaning it up, but a failing sensor can throw off the sensitive mix, leaving unburned sulfur exiting the tailpipe. Sensors are fairly cheap and easy to fix, but not getting to them in time will make the smell worse and cause the catalytic converter to fail—and that has a horrifying price.

Bumps in the night

Thumps and clunks from unseen forces are pounding on your car. Thankfully, it’s not poltergeists but the suspension. Worn-out shocks and struts are the most common cause of those mysterious bumps. Another clue is that the ride and handling of the vehicle will be negatively affected, resulting in a sloppier and bouncier ride than normal. This haunting will get worse with increased miles, so get the old parts an exorcism now.

Monstrous groans

Every time you turn the steering wheel, it’s like Frankenstein is groaning from under the front of your car. The power-steering system is the likely culprit and is easily diagnosed. Often, there is air in the system, causing cavitation and foaming the fluid. Just adding power-steering fluid can sometimes banish the groans, although a leak can cause the low fluid level. If the fluid level is good, check if the idler arm bushing needs grease, before looking to a new power-steering pump.

Sudden mortality

You hope your vehicle has a long and trouble-free life on the road, but some vehicles are destined for a shorter existence. Usually this is easily explained, perhaps when engine or transmission replacement costs outweigh the value of the vehicle. Other times, they seem to die for absolutely no reason at all, killed by an unseen mysterious force that targets vehicle electronics. It’s both sad and spooky.

Have you ever defeated the mysteries and gremlins, and won back a reliable ride? Let us know how you did it in the comments.