The glitter….

glitter_mercBlack Friday, Cyber Monday, Boxing Day, Boxing Week, New Year Sale, etc… Consumers are totally submerged into ocean of excuses to max-out every single credit cards they have in their thin wallets. Cash is not anymore known to humanity since even small coffee in McDonald can be put on plastic. Masses of consumers flooding shopping malls with religious-like believe that deals offered during special days are honest and genuine. Looking for labels 20%, 30%, 40% off and even deeper “discounts” attracted iSheep crowd ready to buy stuff labeled with magical discount stickers. Business knows it and business takes advantage of financially illiterate crowd (I’m not blaming business – it is here to make money). People somehow still believe they will be offered a top quality product for the lowest possible price, as they are convinced that manufacturing and retail business is not allowed any more to make a profit.

It is a game. Every year we all enter a game, where retailers uses old tricks to convince us the 40% discount is an awesome deal and we have to figure out ourselves if it is worth attention or not. If you did not check prices a month before Black Friday or Cyber Monday then you are royally screwed. You can not figure out if this TV is really discounted from $700 to $500, or perhaps $450 was its regular price two months ago?

Inevitably the consumer ignorance is extended to car business. We read tons of reviews about cars and then we shape our opinions based on texts written by journalists with emotional intelligence of fifth grader. We read that some SUV has very bad blind spot without realizing that most of SUV have thick B-pillars that obstruct view. If you want to have minimal blind spots get a regular sedan, not SUV. Then we read that imports have low reliability and high maintenance costs, like it was not yet obvious that imports are build for handling and cornering rather than longevity. If you want a car that will lasts million years don’t buy BMW or Audi, look instead at some used Crown Vic or Grand Marquis – you will look with it like 90-year old but the car will outlive your grandson.

If you really want to develop a legitimate opinion about car, take it for spin. Test drive on highway, potholes, bumps, parking and corners. Feel how car behaves and how responsive is steering. I’ve  happened to drive Fiat 500 rental. This tiny metal box was applauded by some mindless journalists as “car of the year”. It is everything but the car of the year. Although interior was not desperately cramped the ride was awful. Wheels feel like they are made out of wood and gear stick has texture of bicycle bell. There is no difference between sport mode and regular mode, except sport mode makes car noisier. Forget about having anyone on back seat, unless you have 5-year old kid.

Fiat 500 can be potentially used as pizza delivery vehicle since it is small enough to move in city traffic and trunk will accommodate couple XL pizza boxes, but GM already offers a competition here: Chevy Spark the “pizza delivery edition“.

Shakespeare said:  “All that glitters is not gold…..”  and he was right.

Posted in Cars and Driving

The snow factor…

nowfactorWe got finally some snow. Not too much, just enough to intensify Christmas carols on the radio, ignite spending amok in shopping malls and make plowing business full of hope. As every year the first thought in the morning is “is it a right time to  set the Christmas tree or not yet?” or “should I start looking for a gifts for boxing day or not yet?” Somehow the wet white stuff falling from the sky makes people feel different like they have just open a new chapter in their life. 

I would not care less about annoying Christmas commercials played on the radio and TV since November 1st, nor I would care about stupid flyers thrown into mailbox, nor I would care about my neighbor plowing through his basement in search for winter jackets or mittens. The first thing I do care is how (bad) driving will be this morning. Not because of this laughable amount of snow that will disappear before the afternoon, but because of mindless state of other people driving this morning. Every year I can see plenty of drivers who behave like they completely lost their mind as soon as first snow flake hits the road. Soccer moms in minivans, seniors in buicks, ego maniacs in monster SUVs, they all behave like they suddenly lost all their driving skills (assuming they’ve ever had any skills).

I would never expect that desperately thin layer of snow would ever bother any driver, who passed the driving test. I would expect that traffic flow will not change and the only obstacle slowing it down would be cyclist in middle of  West Hunt Club Rd. Yet large number of drivers behave like their IQ never reached double digit numbers and they drive like Alice in Wonderland. How is it that in Canada, where where half a year we have real winter and parking lots in northern provinces are occupied by polar bears, people still have no clue how to drive in snow. Suddenly drivers got scared by white powder on street like it was a deadly poison. As the result streets are congested, traffic is moving slow like molasses and I have to keep hand on honk like I was driving in Italy.

It makes me wonder why in this geographical region there are no compulsory learning how to drive in winter conditions. How come driving schools are limited to parallel parking and driving with speed of a horse in a school zone, and absolutely no attention is paid to teaching about driving in winter conditions! Average Joe has no idea how to behave when car loses grip, when ABS fails, or what to do with under- or over-steering on black ice. 

Perhaps Ontario government some day will stop wasting time on inventing new taxes and hiking hydro rates and it will start improving regulations for driving schools so average Joe will know a little bit more than how to do parallel parking.

It is up to us, tax payers, to demand from provincial government implementing some useful changes. It would be nice, wouldn’t it….

Posted in Cars and Driving

The Comfort…

comfortWhen I look to buy any kind of furniture that supposed to accommodate my butt or back I obviously make sure that it does provide good comfort. The appearance may be left as a secondary feature to check since my floor is empty enough to be a landing zone for 747 and everything placed there will look just as good as tulips at Parliament Hill. Similar perspective one may have on other aspect of daily life: social relations, neighbors, kids, pets, food etc…. We naturally attracted to things we feel comfortable about or comfortable with, and this is more-less universal truth across the world … maybe except monks that meditate on the top of Mount Everest.

Yet when come to cars we somehow differ. Europeans tend to choose small cars with stiffer suspension that prefers good handling over the comfort. Americans, in contrary, choose big heavy cars that handle at corners like piano falling from stairs but offer soft ride. When Europeans drive sensible Volvo station wagon, Americans drive Suburbans that are little bit heavier than a house. When Europeans look for family sedan such as Jetta or Mondeo, Americans look at Impalas and Malibus that have appearance of rental cars. Of course there are some exceptions: old continent has S-Classe that will accommodate you even if you are size of Helmut Kohl, or Audi A8 that you can have if you happen to be Gerhard Schröder.

You may think that American cars are worse and not worth to consider, but you would be wrong. Everything depends on where and how you drive. On narrow streets of Bremen or Rome Golf or Panda would do excellent job and you would not wreck nerves while looking for a big parking spot. If you happen to drive long distances (in old continent this would be about 2 hour travel) then Passat, Mondeo or BMW 5-series will give you a nice ride. North America differs a bit. Streets are wide, parking spots would accommodate Dutch house, and travel from one city to another is like expedition to the Moon. Since everything is over sized in the land of hamburgers then large sedan with soft suspension and mediocre handling would certainly be a good candidate for a highway cruiser.

Take for example Lincon Town Car. It is a good car if you drive in America. Its motor is heavy like aircraft career and develop the whole 5 horsepower, but it  rotates very slow so it is whisper quiet, lasts a million years and it is cheap to repair. The car is wide like airport tarmac so it accommodates four passengers (or 2 Americans) on back seat, plus another 3 extra bodies in a trunk if you happen to be a hitman. Its suspension was designed 100 years ago but its softness can smooth down the biggest potholes in New Jersey. Town Car has a presence that reflects everything what America offers: it’s big, heavy, comfortable and cheap to run. Sadly this RWD car with old fashion body-on-frame construction is not produced anymore. Ford replaced it with Lincoln MKS that has face of a sad dog.

Sometimes, especially after 6 hour long flight, I want to step down from Euro-fashion quick racers into quiet floating boat that isolates me from surrounding world and its noisiness. What would you prefer to be in after 6 hours of siting in over cooled tube with no airflow: would you rather be in something that circles Nürburgring track in 10 sec or something you can sleep in while it hoovers over potholes?

Posted in Cars and Driving

The Change…..

thechange_smallThere comes a time when you look at your furniture, TV, appliance or cat and you think to yourself “it is time for a change”. Like Obama’s election slogan, the “change” starts driving your mind towards exploring new ways of moving around your existing stuff or replacing it with new one. If you are lucky enough and your place is not cluttered with stuff collected with hamster-like patience you do not have to worry about moving anything anywhere. If you have at home things that makes you feel like you are living in the past your attention will inevitably turn into new ways of spending money on stuff that soon will make you feel the same again. So here comes couch, chair, table, dishwasher, fridge and other stuff you happily put on your credit card 2 years ago and now it makes you again feel like you want to get rid of it.

Similar feeling you may have about your car. Car that you desired 4-5 years ago now becomes nothing more than a worn out appliance that takes precious space in your garage. You look at new shiny cars in dealerships and think: “Could I get one of these?”. You browse BMW, Mercedes or Cadillac websites and you play with configuration tools skipping price tag since all you want to know is how much it will cost you per month because you can not afford to pay cash even for used Kia.

In all this insanity there may come a thought that perhaps new car may not be any better then new one. Perhaps your existing car is reliable enough and getting a new one will be only good until warranty expires and then it will become a gambling item that may cost you arm and a leg if you happen to drive an import.

If you like me: with older car that is rock solid and floor at home that is empty like airport tarmac, don’t bother with “change” imposed by iPhone addicts and $5-latte sippers. Enjoy what you have and wait one more year before you make an change. Then you can get 1-2 year old (still) shiny car. Let someone else spend half of annual income on a new car just to lose half of its value in the first year.

Instead of browsing dealership website take your squeeze for a beer…

Posted in Cars and Driving

The wishful thinking….

toomanytailpipesI can not recall how many times I looked at passing car and thinking how it would look with this or that changed. Since I’m not special I believe that similar self entitled feeling “I know better….” goes nearly every day through heads of other people although not necessary about cars. Countless times I looked at cars parked around through finger made photo frame and I realized “This should look different!” or “If it only looked in different way I would buy it….”.

I am wiling to believe this wishful thinking about imaginary modifications imposed on  surrounding world is not necessary driven from perceiving things as bad or ugly but rather seeing things through gradual improvement; sort of “Let’s make things a bit better or nicer here”. This is not just about cars but all other bits and pieces of our daily life: houses, appliances, furniture, municipal services, condo board, road system, local grocer, kids of next door neighbor, etc. It is not about how things are around us but how we perceive them through our senses.

Disappointingly car designers and manufacturers seem to not share our wishful thinking about improvements. Looking at city traffic and comparing cars moving from one stop light to another I can’t stop thinking that those vehicles could be better, nicer, more functional. It is not that modern cars are bad (at least not all of them): Honda Fit (called Jazz in old continent) is a good car, Ford Focus is a good car, Lancia Ypsilon is also a good car (despite its dreadful motor). It is about sense that car manufacturers could make those cars better. This sense is even stronger when I realize that manufactures know they could make them better. So, we want cars to be better and we want manufacturers to build better cars, but manufacturers make improvements that do not always reflect our vision of “better”.

Old VW Golf (first, or second generation) was crampy, noisy, slow, but it handle well, it was indestructible and easy to fix. Many of those are still on road in various stages of rust. New Golf is bigger, more spacious and more comfortable. One would say: “It is better!” but after you look closer and do further comparison it is clear the new car is also heavier, ten times more expensive, difficult to fix, and it does not handle as well as the old one did. This comparison can be done for nearly every car that has been on market for more then 10 or 15 years.

Cars got bigger, more comfortable, faster, but at the same time they are much heavier, more expensive, and their maintenance (after warranty runs out) is usually a nightmare. There may be two reasons for this questionable “improvements”: cars (like any other kitchen appliance) can not be design to last forever because we would not buy a new one for a long time. Cars are design to to be: 1) difficult to fix so we almost always have to pay for specialized service, 2) too expensive to fix after warranty expires so we have to buy new car. On the other hand socialist over regulation of the industry forces car makers to fiddle complicated safety systems (adds to the weight) and implement expensive cleaning system in engine output (affects power).

Have you ever wonder why new BMW 7 or Jag XK have much taller front bonnet than the same cars build 20 years ago? New safety regulations require front hood to be able to bend couple centimeters before it reaches engine block. In the eyes of bureaucrats such flexibility supposed to protect pedestrian from injury in case front hit and fall on the hood. So car makers had to raise front fenders and round front hood to accommodate those couple centimeters imagined by bureaucrats. This of course changed entire front of the car and we will never see again beautiful shape of 1990 BMW 7 or 1980 Jaguar XK.

Many other examples prove that cars are being constantly improved not in the way we wish: electric steering isolates driver from handling response, power gadgets require kilometers of electrical cabling that is impossible to trace when something goes wrong, recycling mantra led the interior to be manufactured out of old plastic bottles (ever noticed how new cars stink inside?).

Perhaps it is time to stop following idiotic regulations and start following common sense, so the wishful thinking may become reality some day….

Posted in Cars and Driving

The Shock Effect…

the_surpriseEating out is certainly an event especially if I take my squeeze with me. Being a stingy (or I should say “cost effective”) nature I look for something that does not require me to take a mortgage to pay the bill and at the same time I steer away from  fast food or franchises as it always serves the same thing under different name. The true enjoyment is to find small mom’n’pop eatery where food does comes with something special – something that leaves a long term bookmark in memory. Sometimes there is a shock when hole in a wall serves delicious food that could be honored in five star restaurant. The shock is even magnified if place has some unusual decoration, design accents that makes me thinking “why other don’t do it”?  Somehow we got used to see similar eateries, serving fancy named dishes that provide insignificant taste and forgettable flavors.

When  driving in any city in Canada and US I see plenty of insignificant mid size sedans with forgettable shapes and and cookie cutter engineering: front engine, front wheel drive automatics with uninspiring under steering and heavy nose. I will skip here SUVs as they are subject for a different rant. Seeing so many distinguishable cars sadly lower down my expectations – I do not expect anymore any American producer to design small lightweight fun to drive cars with manual transmission. Although there are some exceptions they are not more than  drop in a bucket and they are all imports: Fiesta (euro-design), Fit and Micra. GM sells Spark and Sonic things designed by the same committee that gave us Aztec: “Hmmm, we need a city car. I know! lets install lawn mower engine to a shoe box, pair it with anemic automatic shifter, fit it with seats made out of melted plastic bottles, and let’s call it a city car!”. Producing small nicely designed car for city driving is beyond capabilities of GM or Chrysler. Mitsu Mirage is a pitiful attempt, Fiat 500 has questionable reliability (well, it is a Fiat…) and Smart is a fashion accessory rather than a car.

On the other hand observing road traffic in Rome and Warsaw is a delightful experience. Small cars with manual transmission zipping in narrow streets. Small cars that are designed to be not only functional and economic but also pretty. Cars that were certainly designed by one person rather then an undecided committee. I felt like I got a surprisingly good dish. Most of cars are obviously FWD since pairing motor with manual transmission makes it easier to assembly. Looking through offers of different manufacturers led me to  shocking discovery. Some of those pretty go-cards are RWD! My dish turned to have great unexpected flavor! I had to read specs twice to check if I did not misread something. For example Twingo (in the past it was heavily influenced by Polish car Beskid)  is a small RWD city car with manual stick!

I felt like Indiana Jones discovering hidden treasure! It is possible to make good looking small RWD car! What does Renault know that GM/Ford/Chrysler does not know? What Renault can do that GM can not do? Why I cannot buy this pretty little thing in Canada? Why do I have to choose between cars that are big like oil rig, ugly like school bus and handle like piano falling from stairs?

Who said we can not have in North America small pretty RWD cars? I will leave this question open… and I will continue eating pierogies with cranberries….

Posted in Cars and Driving

The Clean….

thecleanOnce or twice in the week I see strange clean white cars that look as they just left the dealership. Those scars are like shiny objects stuck in a bucket full of sand. They are driven by people who meticulously wash their car to be spotless like a skin on new born. They shampoo and wax cars every week and fear of any drop of dirt that may stain their vehicle.

Those clean people usually extend the cleanness to the all aspects of the social life where there is no sex (it may stain bed), no kids (they may drop tomato sauce on kitchen floor), no pets (they may jump on couch or desk), no flowers in front yard (may attract bees and other flying objects). They surround themselves in total sanitized bubble, where everything is perfectly aligned with their vision of ideal world. This makes me believe that lack of procreating activities push them to become a near extinct kind.

Thankfully there are places (such as Poland), where all sorts of dogs, cats and goats are jumping on couches and disrupting procreating couples there. In such place having a clean car is not a priority of the day, and living in a sanitized bubble is a very foreign vision. Dirt not only makes us more resilient to all sorts of  external environment but also it brings some variety and bit of fun to our daily life. How often can we see kids writing “dirt bag” with their fingers on randomly parked cars through an inch thick layer of dust? I certainly did that as a kid and finding the most dirty car on parking was leveraged to an extreme sport back then. Today kids are more excited with electronic gadgets and finger writing on a dust is a forgotten skill thanks to overprotective parents.

Don’t wash car (too often), let it become a subject of finger writing. Have some happy faces drawn as ornaments on front mask or rear window…..

Posted in Cars and Driving