Crucial Cars: Nissan Maxima

1989 Nissan Maxima photoFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, Street Talk goes in-depth on perhaps the first affordable performance sedan of the modern era: the Nissan Maxima.

Do you know about the original four-door sports car?

We’re talking about the Nissan Maxima, of course — but a lot of people would have guessed something else. If you want to talk about cars that don’t get enough credit for being cool, the Maxima’s right up there at the top. This car should be a legend in its own time, yet all it is to most folks today is an overgrown Altima with a price tag to match.

But we’re not talking about the current Maxima, see, or even the previous one; we’re talking about that sweet spot back in the 1990s, when the Maxima gave you performance you couldn’t get anywhere else for the price.

So we’re going to take a minute and set the record straight. We also want to talk about some cool mods that Maxima owners are still rocking on the street.

4DSC

Wearing that simple acronym — 4 Door Sports Car — on a sticker affixed to its rear window, the 1989 Nissan Maxima started a revolution. Actually, some would argue it was the preceding Maxima (1984-’88) that commenced the true sportiness, what with its 3.0-liter V6 engine and available adaptive suspension, and you could even go back to the first two generations (1976-’84), which shared their powertrains with the iconic Z two-seater. But if you ask us, the official beginning of the Maxima’s dominance was when they slapped that “4DSC” sticker on the window. Nissan had brought together the strengths of the earlier models into a cohesive whole, and the result was the perfect antidote to the common Camry.

What made the 4DSC Maxima so great? Styling, for one thing. Even after almost three decades, this is one slick-looking sedan, with smooth lines that clearly distinguish it from its blocky, ’80s-tastic predecessor. But the real star was the SE model, which featured a 190-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 that put it in the upper echelon of performance sedans. If you wanted a quicker midsize four-door in those days, you had to go European — and even then, the Maxima SE had a fighting chance. Consider this: with the five-speed manual transmission, the Maxima SE did zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds. Shoot, the Mercedes-Benz E420 with its 275-hp V8 would have had a hard time keeping up.

Naturally, this Maxima cost a fraction of what the Europeans were charging, and it also offered cool stuff like a legit sport-tuned suspension, a Bose audio system, a sunroof and attractive alloy wheels. The icing on the cake was its incredible reliability, with 200,000-mile-plus specimens becoming increasingly common as the years went on.

Check out this vintage commercial on the 1989 Nissan Maxima:

The Torsion Beam Fiasco and General Decline

To be fair, the subsequent Maxima (1995-’99) was a great car, too, even though it carried over the SE’s 190-hp V6 (now standard on all models) and didn’t really break new ground otherwise. That was still good enough to make it the enthusiast’s choice over the humdrum family sedans in its class. But some bemoaned its droopy rear-end styling, and even more shook their heads at its solid-axle torsion beam rear suspension, an explicit cost-cutting move that effectively conceded the handling crown to the previous car with its four-wheel independent setup. The “4DSC” sticker had disappeared from the rear window, and that wasn’t a coincidence.

To this Maxima’s credit, reliability remained a strong point, and many are still on the road today with insanely high miles. But it wasn’t as awesome as its predecessor, and unfortunately that was the start of a trend.

Since then, each subsequent Maxima has grown more powerful but less engaging, culminating with the current model, which comes only with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and is indeed little more than an overgrown Altima.2014 Nissan Maxima photo

But for a decade or so, the Maxima was the best affordable performance sedan that money could buy. When you look around today at high-powered midsizers like the Accord V6 and Camry V6, you gotta give a little nod to the four-door sports car, the granddaddy of them all.

Street Mods for your Maxima

If you want to put your finger on the pulse of the Maxima community, check out the forums. They break it down by generation, and if you look at the two we highlighted — 1989-’94 and 1995-’99 — they’ve got tens of thousands more threads than the rest.

No offense if you own a different Maxima, but we weren’t kidding that those are the ones to have.

Now, supposing you want to put your personal stamp on your Maxima, there’s no end to the possibilities. Slap a turbo kit on it for more power? No problem, the powertrain’s certainly robust enough for that. Crazy subwoofers in the trunk? Been there, done that, with extensive DIYs in the forums. You’ll see a lot of the ’89-’94 models slammed to within a millimeter of their lives, and some of them look damn good, too. Ground effects, sick rims — you name it, the Maxima can rock it.

The best part is, these cars are so old that you can buy one for a song, leaving you plenty in the bank to customize to your heart’s content.

Tell Us Your Maxima Story

The Maxima is a car that engenders serious loyalty. We know a number of “Maxima families,” and all of them got started with one of the early models that never let them down. Have you had that kind of Maxima experience? Tell us about it in the comments.

2015 comprehensive wheel guide by Advance Auto Parts

Ferrari F40 wheel photoCount on Advance Auto Parts for reliable info about your ride, whether you’re looking to improve performance or street appeal – or both. Today, we take a look at one of its most basic features, the wheel.

Most iconic wheels in history

According to CarThrottle.com’s top 10 list, the Ferrari F40 from the late 1980s and early 1990s is the winner. According to the site, these wheels are as special as the car itself and “despite being only 17 inches at each corner (small by today’s supercar standards), they displayed all the confidence in design that became synonymous with the era.”

Second place went to the BMW E30’s cross spoke alloy wheels that cost extra when the car was first released in 1982. Check out the article for photos of these two beauties, as well as the wheel choices in places three through ten.

Modern-day choices

Whether you’re looking to pimp your ride (wouldn’t it be great to have a fresh new look after a long winter?) or whether you’re looking for tough dependable choices from reliable brands, here is guidance.

First, a video. In it, Alan Peltier, president of HRE Wheels, shares the latest in his company’s custom high street performance wheels with Jay Leno – including one that Leno says looks like so much trouble that it should get a ticket even when not in motion. Warning: if you fall in love with these babies, be prepared to spend $6,000-$12,000 – or even $15,000 to $20,000 – for a set of four:

Now, let’s get more practical.

CarThrottle.com names the ten most incredible aftermarket wheels for when you’re ready to make your ride look amazing. Topping the list:

  • Rota Grid: called the “Swiss Army Knife of rims” for their ability to look “awesome on pretty much any car,” they come with uncluttered wide spokes.
  • OZ Ultraleggera: if you love a dark grey finish, CarThrottle.com recommends this “gorgeous multi-spoke design.”
  • ATS Classic: these come with contrasting black centers with chrome rims.

Take a look at the images as well as the rest of the winners.

Here’s what Tires.About.com chose as the ten most beautiful aftermarket wheels (after confessing a dislike of chrome because it’s harder to maintain, and because of a personal distaste of the look). The list is topped by:

  • KMC Ink’d: called a “canvas for wheel artists. Just breathtaking.”
  • TSW Silverstone: “dead black inner looks great in the daylight, but tends to disappear at night, leaving the bright-silver, diamond cut outer ring looking like it floats in midair as the car is moving.”
  • Enkei GW8: “I’ve never seen anything even remotely like this wheel. Minimalist red plastic inserts and a jagged, asymmetrical spoke design make the GW8 one of Enkei’s unique works of wheel art.”

Toughness matters to you? Find out which five aftermarket wheels Tires.About.com names as the five brands to consider – and three to avoid.

Finally, get another opinion – from Sub5Zero.com – about the ten coolest wheel manufacturers on earth. They assure readers that, “Yes, even the most mundane transportation appliances under the sun can be endowed with new found sex appeal simply by slapping on some new hoops.”

Point of clarification

Today, many people call wheels by the name of “rims,” especially when crafted from aluminum alloy. Technically speaking, though, “rims” are the outer portion of the wheel where the tire is actually mounted.

But, no matter what you call them, how did we get to this point?

Going back in time

The name of the creative genius(es) who first thought of using wheels for transportation reasons is lost in the mist of time, but it probably happened around 3,200 BC (yes, more than 5,000 years ago!).The goal? To have the fastest Mesopotamian chariot in town.

Fifteen hundred years later, Egyptians invented a way to use less material and to move more quickly with their lighter-in-weight wheels: they invented the spoke. Greeks then brainstormed the cross-bar wheel.

About 3,000 years ago (1,000 BC), the Celts added iron rims to their chariots – and that’s about as far as wheels evolved until 1802, when G.F. Bauer registered a patent for a wire tension spoke, where wire was threaded through the rim of the wheel – and this evolved into what we see on modern-day bicycles.

Automobile wheels

If you were a true trendsetter, buying wheels for the first automobile that used them, you’d only need to buy three – since the 1885 Benz Patent Motorwagen only had three wire wheels covered with hard rubber. Another set of trendsetters, Andre and Edouard Michelin, first came up with the idea of using rubber for this purpose. They then went on to found the now-famous tire company. In 1910, the B.F. Goodrich Company improved upon the invention by adding carbon to the rubber.

In the United States, the Ford Model T sported wooden artillery wheels until the 1926 and 1927 vehicles, which used steel welded-spoke wheels. The tires, unfortunately, had a short lifespan, needing repairs after only 30 to 40 miles and lasting only about 2,000 miles before needing to be trashed. Plus, tires often separated from the wheel.

Next were the steel disc wheels stamped out of a roll of sheet metal, which were more solid that Ford’s version. These became more lightweight over time, leading to today’s steel and aluminum/nickel alloy wheels (more about those soon).

From looking cool to keeping raw power under control

Complex.com provides a great overview of car wheels from 1945-1960, the period they call the postwar drag racing era. During this time, drag racers cut holes into the wheels to avoid meltdowns, turned them backwards into deep dish wheels to make them stand out, and more.

Then, in the late 1950s, American Racing invented what is now called the mag wheel with “big fat spokes. It met the three considerations – weight, strength, and brake cooling – but it also looked cool. It was the first real cool hot rod rim.”
Plus, heavy-duty steel and then aluminum rims made “gas-guzzling muscle cars” from Ford, Chevy and Chrysler capture attention on the streets. And so, “what distinguished the ‘hot’ from the ‘cold” was not just the big-block engines under the heavy hoods. It was the rims that let you know real quick who was a serious threat and who a poser. If you have American Racing rims, you were the big-time. They kept all that raw power under control.”

Complex.com also takes you through 1960-1970, the age of chrome, when racecar rims made it on the streets and the smooth aluminum Moon Disc reduced drag, when chrome reverse rims were cutting edge and people painted their rims. Also check out rims from the era of the low rider (1970-1980), from the age of the spinner (1980-1990) and beyond.

Steel versus alloy

Car wheel comparison chart

 

** Less nickel creates a lighter wheel, but one that can bend more easily upon impact; more nickel makes a heavier wheel, which doesn’t bend easily but can become brittle and crack.
Some wheels are made of cast aluminum where the melted alloy is poured into a mold, with multiple methods of casting, including:** Less nickel creates a lighter wheel, but one that can bend more easily upon impact; more nickel makes a heavier wheel, which doesn’t bend easily but can become brittle and crack.

• Gravity casting: metal is poured directly into a mold with only gravity pushing the alloy. This ends up being a thicker and heavier form of alloy.

• Pressure casting:
  • Low pressure: air forces the molten metal into the mold, making it denser and stronger
  • Counter-pressure: a mild vacuum in the mold sucks the alloy into it; this also makes a denser, stronger wheel
 • Free flowing: high pressure rollers stretch and shape the alloy, creating a thin dense metal that is similar to forged aluminum (see below)

Some wheels are made of forged aluminum where a solid piece of alloy is placed under 13 million pounds of pressure (and heat) to crush it before shaping. This makes an exceptionally dense and strong piece of metal that is also very light. TSW Wheels takes forging a step further, doing so while the forge is spinning at high speeds, which creates an even stronger product.

See Tires.About.com’s Wheel Composition and Construction for more info.

Time to DIY

The TireRack.com site is a great resource when you’re a DIYer. One article suggests that, when choosing which wheels to buy, you should consider quality, integrity and value. What level of quality do you need? If you’re looking for winter wheels, you’ll have less of a need for sophisticated technology, TireRack.com points out, than if you’re looking to race.

Having the correct size of wheels, of course, is crucial. You already know that they come in a wide range of widths, from the petite 14” wheels to massive 24” ones, with 16”, 17” and 18” serving as common diameters. Widths tend to increase along with diameters, so you might see a 14 x 5 wheel or a 19 x 10 one.

Yet, a proper fit is something more than diameter (or even diameter and width). According to TireRack.com, “To property fit on a vehicle the wheel must have the proper bolt pattern, centerbore, offset, width, and most importantly, the proper load capacity for the vehicle.” And, when selecting wheels, make sure that you tell your vendor what has been upgraded on your vehicle. If, for example, the brake system has been modified, then additional measurements need taken for an optimal fit.

If you’re buying online and need to measure the wheels yourself, eBay.com’s Wheels and Rims Buying Guide offers advice. If you aren’t changing the size, it’s fairly simple. Look at the code that’s on your current wheels. It might read “225/70R16.” If so, then these are 16 inch wheels on a 225 millimeter radial tire with a sidewall height of 70. Note that, on some high performance cars, rear wheels are slightly larger than those in the front.

If plus-sizing your wheels, then precise measurements are a must. Measure the width (left edge to right edge); diameter (top to bottom); bolt pattern (“how many bolts; measure width of bolt circle with bolt circle gauge or use measuring tape and starting at edge of first bolt hole, measure to the center of the third bolt hole, skipping the second one); backspace (clearance of wheel from the wheel well); and offset (distance from the hub mounting surface to the wheel centerline)

When it’s time to install your wheels, we refer you back to TireRack.com. The site offers tire and wheel installation tips. Even if you’re fairly comfortable with doing the job yourself, it wouldn’t hurt to review these first.

Budgeting for your upgrade

Costs vary widely. Bigger wheel sizes, not surprisingly, can cost more than smaller ones, all else being equal. Steel is cheaper than alloy. Plainer wheels are typically less expensive than flashy and/or artistic choices, and more appealing wheel finishes can cost you.

We’ve seen $65 wheels on discounted wheel sites. We’ve seen refurbished wheels that cost much less than what they would when brand new, and we’ve seen eye-catching ones that are custom made (and therefore more expensive).

It will almost always be cheaper to upgrade your Ford or Chevy than your Mercedes-Benz. Replacements for luxury cars can easily cost $500-600 per wheel.

The best general advice that we can give:

  • Determine your vehicle’s needs; as mentioned above, you need more sophistication if you plan to race than if you drive more traditionally.
  • Decide your budget.
  • Choose wheels of reasonable quality that fit your vehicle (and your budget).
  • Don’t be so penny foolish that you buy wheels that are poorly made or that aren’t the best fit because those decisions will cost you in the long run.
  • Beyond that, let your personal taste be your guide.
  • Have fun!

Gas mileage

You’ve probably heard that the right wheels can save on gas mileage – and we decided to investigate, to determine how much of that is rumor and, how much, fact. Among other sources, we took a look at BankRate.com’s article, Wheels and tires affect car’s gas mileage. This article points out how manufacturers invest time and money determining the ideal wheel and tire sizes for a particular vehicle. When you replace OEM wheels and/or tires, the car’s handling – and therefore fuel economy – can be affected. And, handling and mileage can be affected in either an upward or downward manner.

Common sense suggests that bigger wheels are heavier and are therefore a drag on fuel efficiency, but the formula isn’t quite that simple. We recommend that you read the entire BankRate.com article if you’re interested in how aftermarket wheels can affect handling and/or mileage.

You can also look at CarAndDriver.com tests on upsized wheels as they attempt to find just the right upgrades.

Other performance benefits with the right wheels

TireRack.com lists these four that, taken together, make for a smoother more comfortable ride:

• Alloy wheels reduce unsprung weight, which allows for “more precise steering input and improved ‘turning in’ characteristics.”

• Improved acceleration and braking

• Added rigidity, which can “significantly reduce wheel/tire deflection in cornering”

• Increased brake cooling

Future of the wheel

The pneumatic tire was invented in 1845, when leather was filled with compressed air – and it’s still the standard used today, although the leather was replaced with rubber.

Here’s a glimpse of what’s around the corner with futuristic wheels: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVgMArLtDk8

In 2006, Michelin announced the Tweel, which is a non-pneumatic tire/wheel combo that, according to Michelin, can provide the same load-carrying capacity as the traditional wheel and tire. Stability challenges apparently exist once a vehicle moves at more than 50 mph, with significant vibration occurring, but we expect to see improvements.

Michelin is also experimenting with the Active Wheel System for electric cars. This system houses the vehicle’s engine, suspension, gearbox and transmission shaft.

Keep your wheels looking good

Once you invest all this time, energy and money into choosing the right wheels for your vehicle, you’ll want to keep them looking nice. Fortunately, Advance Auto Parts has a complete line of products to keep your wheels looking their best, plus accessories.

 

Wheel graphic courtesy of Hemmings Motor News.

 

 

 

Recap: Detroit Auto Show 2015

Our resident Gearhead recaps one of his all-time favorite events: The North American International Auto Show, in Detroit, Michigan.

Let me say this right upfront: It’s always a privilege for an old fart like me to attend a major automotive event like the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, or NAIAS, as it’s sometimes called. There’s nothing like that buzz in the air when a new car gets unveiled, or when the next automaker’s press conference is about to get underway.

But recently I’ve been feeling like there aren’t as many awesome rides at the auto shows as there used to be. With the internet, of course, you get all manner of “teasers” and information leaks on social media before the show, but the cars themselves just haven’t been doing it for me.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised by the action this year in Detroit. For once, the focus wasn’t on electric-powered this or hydrogen-powered that; there were simply a bunch of amazing cars that I’d love to own, and I got up close and personal with every one of ‘em.

I’d have you here all day if I gave you the whole list, so tell you what, here are the three vehicles at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show that I liked the most.

1. Ford F-150 Raptor

Ford F-150 Raptor 2017 photo

 

The all-new, second-generation Raptor off-roader was love at first sight for me, and the more I learned about it, the more infatuated I got. Well, for the most part. To be honest with you, I wish the previous Raptor’s 411-horsepower, 6.2-liter V8 were still around. The newly standard 3.5-liter “EcoBoost” twin-turbo V6 is said to make even more power than the outgoing V8, but I promise you it won’t sound half as good when you’re on the throttle. Otherwise, though, the new Raptor is a home run, from its handsome, muscular styling to its beefed-up underpinnings that are even more capable than before. The specialized Fox Racing Shox have more travel, there’s a new terrain-management system with driver-selectable modes, and the transmission is a novel 10-speed automatic that’s being co-developed with General Motors. I’m not even a truck guy and I want an F-150 Raptor. Bad.

2. Ford GT

Ford GT picture

Ford managed to keep its next-generation supercar under wraps until the company press conference, and let’s just say everyone was shocked in the very best way when it broke cover. I mean, look at the thing — it’s gorgeous, but with a definite edge, like a Ferrari that went to finishing school in America. It’s even got Lambo-style scissor doors, trumping the previous Ford GT (sold in limited quantities a decade ago) with its conventional forward-hinged swingers. In the engine compartment, located behind the seats and beneath a clear window, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost takes up residency, relegating another fine V8 to the dustbin. But in this case I’m in a forgiving mood, because Ford has cranked the twin-turbo V6 up to more than 600 horsepower. Offered solely with a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, the latest Ford GT figures to be a world-beater at the racetrack, yet the interior’s decked out with high-tech furnishings like a configurable TFT instrument panel and the SYNC touchscreen infotainment system. If there’s one car at this year’s show that’s bound to become an automotive icon, it’s the reinvented GT.

3. Acura NSX

Acura NSX picture

But for the Ford GT’s presence, the new NSX would have stolen the show. Like the GT, the NSX has had about a decade off since the previous generation bit the dust, and it’s been similarly rejuvenated with a twin-turbo V6 of its own and a nine-speed dual-clutch automated transmission. Unlike the Ford, however, the NSX also features an all-wheel-drive system with tri-motor hybrid assist (two motors for the front axle, one for the rear). Total output is estimated to be in excess of 600 hp. Beyond the numbers, the NSX looks great with cool LED headlights, massive wheels (19-in fronts, 20-in rears) and a body that actually takes some chances, at least by Honda/Acura standards. The interior looks beautiful, too. Audi and Porsche might want to check their rearviews, because Acura wants in on the premium sports-car business.

Let’s Talk

Come on, I know you were following the Auto Show at home. What were your favorites this year? Tell me why I should have picked yours in the comments.

News from Detroit Auto Show 2015

Can’t make it to Michigan this week? No problem, Advance is live at the Detroit Auto Show, bringing you the latest news and updates!

Ford GT Supercar

Here’s a hot item for you:

Ford is making big waves early on at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, unveiling a pair of hotly anticipated second-generation performance models: the Ford F-150 Raptor and the Ford GT supercar, both powered by the proven 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V6.

Ford F-150

Keep an eye out for more news and a full recap later this week!

The North American International Auto Show takes place now through January 25, 2015, at COBO Center, Detroit, Michigan.

What NOT To Do While Working On Your Car

Check out our resident Gearhead’s Top 3 Things to avoid doing while DIY’ing.

Car engine pictureIf you’re reading this article, let me first extend a warm welcome to a fellow Gearhead. Anyone who likes to get his or her hands dirty with DIY projects is alright in my book. But there’s a dark side to DIY, as we all know, and it’s the simple fact that things can go wrong.

Moreover, things will go wrong if you don’t have a method to your madness.

Now, I’m not here to insult your intelligence. Chances are, you’ve tackled some heavy projects already, and I imagine you’ve been successful. But even experts can learn new tricks, and that’s what I want to talk about today. Let’s consider three things you don’t want to do when you’re taking on a serious DIY challenge.

1. Don’t trust the Internet.

Remember, I’m talking about hardcore projects here. If you’re changing your spark plugs or brake pads or something simple like that, then by all means, consult your online forum of choice and follow the handy DIY guide. But for more invasive procedures, you’re playing with fire if you crowd-source the details. You’re already invested enough in your car’s well-being to be your own mechanic — why not act like a mechanic and get a dedicated shop manual for your car?

If you’re with me on that, you’ve got a couple options. The old-school approach is to track down a manual that you hold in your hands, whether you find it on eBay or through a third-party provider like Haynes or Chilton. If you just can’t stay away from your computer, Haynes has an online version that features color photos and wiring diagrams, videos and detailed troubleshooting procedures.  Have a look at http://www.haynes.com/onlinerepairmanuals/.

2. Don’t rely on memory – use your camera.

This one’s so simple that experienced DIY’ers might even find it a little insulting. “I don’t need no stinkin’ photos,” you might be thinking. “I’ve been wrenching on cars for years!” Hey, I hear you. So have I. But with the advent of smartphones that can take a nice sharp photo, you’d be crazy, in my humble opinion, not to use your phone’s camera to document the disassembly process step-by-step. Okay, not every step — some stuff you can do in your sleep if you’ve been DIY’ing long enough. But you know as well as I do that those shop-manual diagrams are inscrutable at times, and anyway, the job’s bound to be a lot easier if you can retrace your steps in full color. The point is to put everything back where you found it, and photos leave no doubt where things are supposed to go.

3. Don’t forget the “While you’re in there” stuff.

This is one that only DIY mechanics will embrace — because real mechanics want you to pay them to disassemble the same stuff as many times as possible! As a DIY’er, though, your time is valuable, and you don’t want to waste it on taking things apart more than once. There’s a counterargument, of course, and it’s that the main point of DIY’ing is to save money, so why compromise your savings by replacing parts that aren’t broken? If that’s what you’re thinking, I hear you, and my answer is that you’ve just got to use your best judgment on a case-by-case basis.

I’ll give you an example: I did my lower ball joints recently, and while I had the control arms out, I thought about other parts in there that might merit the R&R treatment. You don’t want to use a spring compressor more often than you have to, right? Well, I realized each control arm had some rubber bushings in it that had probably never been changed, and new ones cost about 20 bucks for a whole kit. That’s what you call a no-brainer. On the flipside, whenever my engine cover’s off, I’ve got easy access to my mass airflow sensor (MAF), but that damn thing costs 400 bucks. Now you’ve got a no-brainer going the other way. So it’s a judgment call, like I said, but you should always be thinking about reasonably priced parts that can be replaced “while you’re in there.”

Let’s Talk

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about DIY’ing over the years, it’s that every experienced DIY’er has wisdom to contribute. What are some common mistakes that you’ve learned to avoid? Let’s hear it in the comments.

 

Editor’s note: After all that, one things’s for sure—what you should be doing is getting the parts you need fast and then back to those car projects. Advance Auto Parts can help: buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

CES 2015 — NVIDIA unveils superchip for smartphones…and cars

Nvidia Tegra X1The 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is underway in Las Vegas, offering up an exciting array of car-related gadgets and gizmos to techies and car enthusiasts of all stripes.

One of the show’s top attractions so far is a new superchip for cars from visual computing leader Nvidia.

On Sunday, NVIDIA announced the Tegra X1 processor, which CEO Jen-Hsun Huang described as a tiny workhorse for smartphones and cars. The Santa Clara, CA, company aims to push into the automotive market with chips for vehicles’ driver-assistance and entertainment systems as they become as complex in their way as PCs and tablets.

Huang also unveiled two new technologies for cars using the Tegra X1. Automakers could use NVIDIA’s Drive PX platform to push advanced driver-assistance systems a step closer to self-driving cars. The PX system can scan dozens of images a second using cameras and sensors around a vehicle and actually learn to categorize these images so it can more easily recognize them, Huang said. The technology would help a car assist drivers to avoid crashes or, eventually, take over all driving responsibilities.

Huang also unveiled Drive CX, a system that uses the Tegra chip to provide souped-up graphics and infotainment displays inside vehicles. He said cars will soon have many more touchscreen displays and NVIDIA wants to provide the technology to make those displays graphically stunning and powerful enough to create real-time navigation maps in 3D.

Visit CNET to read the full story.

Cheers to 2015!

Happy New Year 2015 car photoAll of us at the DIY Garage wish you and yours a safe and Happy New Year.

Now, let’s get those resolutions in high gear—and those projects underway.

Ford trademarks “EcoBeast”

Ford EcoBoost Logo

As recently reported by Motrolix, Ford has made formal moves to trademark the name “EcoBeast,” an obvious reference to its massively successful EcoBoost engine line.

Filed this past week with the US Patent and Trademark Office, the application falls under the “automobiles and automobile engines” category within Goods and Services.

Here are some more details:

Ford EcoBeast trademark applicationFor the uninitiated, Ford’s EcoBoost engine can be found in its ever-popular F-150 trucks, and is known for its unique combination of power and fuel economy. It’s no surprise that “EcoBeast” has been used for some time as a nick-name by Ford enthusiasts, but what makes this new move by the company even more interesting is what comes next. Will Ford use EcoBeast as the moniker for a new line of mammoth pick-ups? A concept car? A higher-end line of engines?

Or, will the Ford Motor Company just let the trademark languish into obscurity as so many other massive corporations have done before, just to ensure no one else can use it.

What do you think?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Read the full story at Motrolix.

Merry Christmas
from the DIY Garage

Santa Claus Christmas carWe wish you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season 2014.

The DIY Garage Team

Motor Oil: What Do the Numbers Really Mean?

Our Mechanic Next door delves into the origins and meaning of motor oil viscosity grades.

“220. 221. Whatever it takes.”

motor oil 1

That infamous line of reasoning worked for Jack Butler (Michael Keaton) in the 1983 hit movie Mr. Mom, so it should work for you, too, when it comes to selecting the right motor oil grade, right? Simply pick a number? Wrong! Just like with electricity, when it comes to car oil, numbers matter – especially if you want to protect your engine.

Oil “weights” or grades – such as 10W-30 – are actually a numerical coding system developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to grade oils based on their viscosity. Viscosity is the state of being viscous, which according to Merriam-Webster, describes “a liquid being thick or sticky, not flowing easily.”

Viscosity is measured by the how long it takes a specific amount of oil to flow through a specific-sized opening at a specific temperature. The longer the oil takes to flow through, the higher the viscosity. The tool used to conduct that test – if you really want to impress others with your motor oil and physics knowledge – is a viscometer.

Think of pouring pancake syrup from the bottle – at warmer temperatures, the syrup pours fast and easy, while at colder temperatures, it’s thicker and more difficult to get flowing. The same can be said for oil.

The particular challenge with motor oil, however, is that automotive engines need engine oil to be both thin and free flowing when temperatures are freezing and the engine is cold, but thick when it’s hot out and the engine has reached operating temperature. That’s where multi-weight or multi-grade oils enter the picture and why they were created.American Petroleum Institute

SAE’s J300 standard, first published in 1911 and revised numerous times since, classifies oil into 11 viscosity grades – 0W, 5W, 10W, 15W, 20W, 25W, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 – with the “W” signifying “winter,” not weight. Oils first received this “W” designation from SAE in the 1950s. The lower the number preceding the W, the lower the temperature for which the oil is rated. Those winter numbers were modified further after a rash of catastrophic engine failures in the early 1980s. Unusually cold weather in the U.S. and Europe caused oil to gel. When this occurred, the engine would still start, but it couldn’t pull the gelled oil out of the oil pan, resulting in the failures. As a result, SAE added a low-temperature test to measure pumping viscosity as well, and indicated this oil with the W specification.

Back to the idea of multi-weight oils. A popular oil, such as 10W-30, actually performs like two oils in one when it comes to engine lubrication. At colder temperatures it is and delivers a 10W-grade oil performance, while at higher temperatures it is and performs like a 30-grade oil – according to SAE’s standards and tests – providing engine protection at both ends of the temperature spectrum, which is important since engines have to operate in a range of temperatures. Think of it this way – that SAE 30 oil you might use in your riding mower has the same viscosity as the 10W-30 oil in your vehicle, but only at 210°, the maximum temperature that SAE requires. The difference arises at colder temperatures where the SAE 30 oil can’t perform, necessitating some enhancements that make it a multi-grade oil. At those lower temperatures, that’s where the 10W oil and its characteristics come into play.

Oil’s desired performance characteristics at varied temperatures, as specified by SAE, are achieved through the addition of Viscosity improvers (VI) or modifiers that increase the oil’s viscosity as temperatures rise. The result is oil that performs and provides engine lubrication no matter what the temperature.

The good news for drivers is that they don’t need to be an engineer or chemist to know which car oil to use, and they don’t have to change their oil grade whenever the temperature changes. Simply follow the motor oil grade recommended by the vehicle manufacturer for optimal engine protection in all types of weather.

oil sealIt’s important to note that SAE also has a coding system for gear oil, such that used in a manual transmission, and that it’s different than the ratings for engine oil. So if there’s a bottle of 85W-140 oil sitting on the barn or garage shelf gathering dust, don’t put it in your engine.

And finally, when choosing an oil, look for one with the American Petroleum Institute “donut” seal on the bottle. It indicates that the oil meets API performance standards.

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