Sunday, June 30, 2013

How To Find The Right Car Loan


If you're among the vast majority who borrow money to purchase a vehicle, you'll want to be armed with as much info — about you — as possible when loan shopping. You need to know not only what kind of car you can afford but also ongoing costs like gas, insurance and maintenance. It's also wise to head into a lending institution understanding as much as possible about your own finances, including credit rating, income, monthly expenses and debt. Follow the link below for our advice on best loan-shopping practices.

Car Loan: What You Need to Get One

from KickingTires

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The Continental: Le Mans Drama, Political Feuds, and Infiniti’s Benz Alternative

The Continental

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

Audi took first place in this year's 24 hours of Le Mans with its R18 e-tron quattro, just ahead of the Toyota TS030 hybrid—but I hear that the Germans were on the verge of pulling out. A few weeks before the race, the organizing body, Automobil club de l'Ouest (ACO), dumped a bomb: The Toyota race cars would be allowed to fill up their tanks with a full three extra liters, which allowed them to go an extra lap before refueling. Altogether, the Audi diesel hybrids were allowed to fill up 58 liters, or 15.3 gallons—far less than the Toyota gasoline hybrid's 76 liters (20 gallons). Audi executives were livid, and canceling the brand's appearance in Le Mans was seriously discussed.

On the podium, post-race, the ACO afforded itself another gaffe: The German flag was displayed upside down. Audi requested a correction of the embarrassing display, but the ACO said no. I suspect there are interesting talks going on behind the scenes now with Audi, and perhaps even with Porsche (also German, in case you forgot), given Audi's sister brand is planning to race an LMP1 prototype in Le Mans.

Audi Teases Face-Lifted A8

The face-lifted Audi A8 will bow at the Frankfurt auto show in September, and Audi already is teasing us with the first chunks of information. It released a peek at the new LED Matrix headlights; in high-beam setting, 25 LEDs—grouped in clusters of five—can independently be switched on or off, or dimmed. Cars traveling ahead as well as oncoming traffic are spared from glare, but beyond those areas, the lights remain at maximum brightness. When equipped with the night vision system, the LED headlights mark pedestrians with three "blinks."  And the lights bend slightly before a curve, courtesy of data from the navigation system. Equally interesting is the daytime running lights' new design signature; it is less angular and less aggressive than before, and it emanates a homogenous bar of light.

The First Infiniti with a Benz Engine

The partnership between Daimler and Renault-Nissan has so far been borne out in the technology transfer from Renault to Mercedes-Benz. The entry-level diesel engine in the A-class and B-class, the 1.5-liter OM607, is a Renault unit. And the somewhat unfortunate Citan commercial van is little more than a rebadged Renault Kangoo. Now technology is migrating the other way. In Europe, the entry-level engine for the Infiniti Q50 will be the award-winning Mercedes-Benz OM651, a four-cylinder turbodiesel with a 2.1 liters of displacement. But since that would sound a bit wimpy, Infiniti will call it the Q50 2.2 diesel. (Thanks, Infiniti, for clarifying that the Q50 is not powered by a 5-liter V-8.) Now pricing is out for the Q50 diesel: It costs €34,350, €3000 less than a Mercedes-Benz C-Class with the same engine and less equipment.

E.U. vs. Germany: Feud Over CO2 Emissions

There is unhappiness in Europe as the German government torpedoed the E.U. Commission's target to lower CO2 emissions on new cars to 95 grams per kilometer, which works out to 65.6 mpg for diesels and 57.4 mpg for gas-powered cars. The regulation was supposed to take effect by 2020. Carmakers who wouldn't conform to the supposedly planet-saving regulation were supposed to pay up: A whopping 95 euros per gram per car beyond the target.

A number of special provisions were part of the package. While 95 grams would be the industry standard, heavier cars were allowed to use more fuel. This ostensibly would discourage carmakers from spending money on light-weight technology. Funds will instead be diverted to make progress where it is cheaper: Powertrain technology. This is a sad move for those of us who are tired of the bulky monsters churned out by factories today. The E.U. was willing to have electric vehicles count double towards meeting the ambitious targets; the auto industry, however, demanded more. Companies are asking that electrics and hybrids count more heavily towards reaching the desired emissions average, dubbing their weight "supercredits." The demand is understandable, since they were somewhat tricked into diverting their R&D resources into electrics by vocal politicians.

There also is "banking," a process in which companies can use averages below the 130 g/km target set for 2015 to count towards post-2020 figures. This part was struck out from the proposal. It was too much: The German government intervened to halt the proposal, which was supposed to be voted on by the E.U. parliament next week. Now Germany hopes to convince other E.U. member states to support less-brutal proposals. If Germany emerges victorious, the country will have to pay up in other political fields. The E.U. targets are far more rigid than the proposals in the U.S., China, or Japan.

from Car and Driver Blog

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LeMons Button-Turrible Day 1: Model T, Harlequin Golf and Lone Ford Ranger Leading Classes

24 Hours of LeMons Button-Turrible day one

The first day of racing in Buttonwillow has been predictable, at least in terms of the weather. Yesterday we discussed at some length the temps at the track being on par with those on the surface of the sun. Much of the field could be seen throughout the day staring at the steaming lump that used to be their engine. The top of the leaderboard also doesn't offer much of a surprise, with most of the lead positions being held by the Usual Suspects of west coast races.

24 Hours of LeMons Button-Turrible day one

The Model T-GT, fresh off a win in Texas,  a race which the team drove its race car to, is leading the overall standings, but only by a few laps. Hot on its heels is the multi-race winning BMW 525i of Punk GP. Just two laps behind them is another multiple victor, "The most Interesting Car in the World" of Cerveza Racing. It should be mentioned that Cerveza's E28 model BMW 533i holds the fast lap of the weekend by several seconds. But wait! Don't go engraving the trophies just yet; there are 17 cars within 10 laps of 1st overall with another day of racing still to come.

24 Hours of LeMons Button-Turrible day one

We're happy to report that "Bort" is among the top ten, holding onto 7th despite losing a gear in their transmission towards the end of the day. The Springfield residents are frantically swapping in a new unit over night.

24 Hours of LeMons Button-Turrible day one

The '95 Volkswagen Golf of Team Harlequin is also one of the leading cars, currently sitting at 10th overall and leading Class B. There's a real brawl going on in the middle class of LeMons, and the always fast but rarely reliable Camaro from IWannaRoc is only a lap behind the colorful VW. One lap behind the Chevy is the mind-boggingly fast Kia Rio, aka the "Kia Pet," from As Seen on TV Racing. Yes, you read that correctly, a Kia Rio.

24 Hours of LeMons Button-Turrible day one

The Class C contest is also shaping up to be an exciting one, currently led by a very well-themed Ford Ranger. The truck is sitting at 42nd overall and the team has done a great job of maximizing track time and avoiding black flags. Hot on the Lone Ranger's heels is the '79 Buick Skyhawk from Team Planned Obsolescence  it's on the same lap as the little Ford pickup, and turning faster laps.

24 Hours of LeMons Button-Turrible day one

Although it will be a great battle between those two Class C cars, the wild-eyed lunatics from Bozos Sucko Racing and their Subaru powered, dual-control Super Beetle are in hot pursuit  Their Frankenstein monster has yet to complete a race, but the team and the drivers are highly organized and focused—they just need a little luck.

24 Hours of LeMons Button-Turrible day one

Another cobbled-together car that shouldn't work but seems to be holding up is the "Saanda," a Honda 600 with a Saab turbo motor stuffed amidship driving huge rear tires. How can you not love a car like this? In any event, they're putting down some blistering lap times and are currently holding 38th overall. Though not in contention for a class victory, this car makes us grin every time we see it.

On the flip side of that coin is a motor-swapped perpetual project that isn't working so well. We're talking about the bio-diesel–powered Vette, aka the "Corvegge." In the 7 laps the car's strung together, the fastest time around the track is more than double that of the next slowest car on track. Tune in tomorrow for the full results and winners of the other categories . . . assuming our cameras don't overheat like they did today (seriously).

from Car and Driver Blog

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Would License Plate Reader Jammers Work And Be Legal?


The news that the police departments in California routinely scan and record license plates to create a database that can be used to retroactively track any driver's motions and activities broke at political and civil liberty websites and is now percolating through the autoblogosphere. Jack Baruth wrote about it here at TTAC yesterday. Jalopnik has picked up the story today. Like the current issue over NSA monitoring of electronic communication involves balancing national security with Americans' privacy from government intrusion, recording and tracking license plates can be a useful tool in solving crime but it also seems contrary to American values and rights like freedom of motion and freedom from random surveillance without probable cause. Still, if I had a vote on the matter, since law enforcement in this country hasn't exactly had a sterling record in protecting civil liberties, I wouldn't trust them with this technology. Who knows how the political system will eventually deal with this news, but in the meantime remember that for every technology there is some way to defeat it. In this case, it might even be legal.


The law here in Michigan, and I assume it's the same in most U.S. states, is that the registration information on your license plate has to be clearly legible and free of obstructions. Since people have been ticketed for license plate frames, tinted covers, and laser filters, putting any kind of cover over the plate would be legally problematic, or at least expose you to a traffic stop. I guess it hinges on how your particular cop and judge is going to define "clearly legible" and "obstruction". It seems to me, though, that those legal terms have to do with human beings so you might be able to get away with some kind of polarized or interference filter that would mess with a digital camera but still be completely legible to a human. Still, as I said, putting anything directly over the plate might still get you a ticket.

Likewise, trying to use some kind of active lighting device that would blind the plate readers might also run afoul of statutes. I suppose there might even be some case law on using a device that interferes with traffic enforcement cameras. Actually, I'd be shocked if the traffic enforcement and municipal revenue industry jurisdictions didn't already make that illegal. So lasers and LEDs trying to blind the cops' cameras directly are probably not a good idea.


"MPH" doesn't stand for Miles Per Hour here. It's "Mobile Plate Hunter". Doesn't the use of the word "hunter" speak volumes?

Mulling this over, I thought about some of my own experience taking digital photos of cars (and license plates). I'm not a particularly great photographer, mostly a point 'n shoot guy, but over the past three years I've taken tens of thousands of stereo pairs for the 3D content at Cars In Depth so it's not like I've never tried to get a photo of a car's license plate. Actually, once at a Camaro show I spent much of the day just shooting vanity plates. As I thought about jamming a plate reader and started going through Michigan state laws about registration plates and what's legal and what's not, if you'll pardon the phrase, a light bulb went on. It's possible that the very solution may exist in the Michigan Vehicle Code.

Every car in Michigan has to display its registration plate on the back of the car in, as mentioned, a clearly legible manner. Older cars that don't have them as standard equipment are grandfathered in and exempt, but if your car was built after the federal motor vehicle safety standards were first introduced in the 1960s, your car must have a white light that illuminates your license plate at night, rendering it clearly legible at 50 feet behind the car.

Act 300 of 1949
257.686 Rear lamps; exemption; requirements for implement of husbandry; pickup camper.

Sec. 686.

(2) Either a tail lamp or a separate lamp shall be constructed and placed so as to illuminate with a white light the rear registration plate and render it clearly legible from a distance of 50 feet to the rear. A tail lamp or tail lamps, together with any separate lamp for illuminating the rear registration plate, shall be wired so as to be lighted whenever the head lamps or auxiliary driving lamps are lighted.

257.689 Clearance and marker lamps and reflectors; color.

Sec. 689.

(c) All lighting devices and reflectors mounted on the rear of any vehicle shall display or reflect a red color, except the stop light or other signal device, which may be red or amber, and except that the light illuminating the license plate shall be white.

So the law here says that I have to have a white light that illuminates my rear license plate that makes it clearly legible from a distance of fifty feet. Note that the law does not say that I can't use a light that's bright enough to make it visible at even longer distances. How bright my license plate lamp (and a "lamp" can have more than lighting element) can be does not appear to be regulated, provided it meets the minimum standards.

One of the things that I've learned shooting and processing those photos is that the human vision system is so much more sophisticated than even the most advanced digital or chemical camera. Your eyes can move in their sockets, your head can swivel and in real life your brain has terrabytes more information to work with than with photography, still or motion. What causes distortion or visual confusion in photography is not even noticed in real vision.


The above photograph of the '63 split-window Corvette coupe was taken at the General Motors Heritage Center a couple of years ago and has not been modified other than cropping. I hadn't yet learned that unless you're using auxiliary lighting, when shooting in a large room, it's best to turn off the flash and either let the cameras autoexpose or use manual settings. Otherwise, the flash ends up lighting the near field and everything in the background is dark. Also, when you use a flash you run the risk of the cars' safety reflectors shining the light back at the camera, washing out part of the image.

As you can see from the photo, the effect also works with reflective license plates. The law says that I have to have a white light for my license plate that makes it visible from 50 feet. The law doesn't say that I can't make that light so bright that bouncing off the reflective surface of the license plate it would blind a digital camera. It also doesn't say anything about light that is beyond the visible spectrum, like infrared. Since at least some of the plate readers use IR cameras, mixing in some IR with white doesn't seem to me to violate the law. Actually, if the cameras work in the infrared spectrum, perhaps an array of heating elements that sufficiently warm the plate might defeat them.

It occurs to me that strobing the light at the right frequency might further interfere with the plate reader's frame rate, but except for turn indicators, flashing lights are generally prohibited on non-emergency vehicles. As a matter of fact, most exterior lighting not used for road illumination or as otherwise required by law is prohibited. So undercarriage neon lights, or a neon license plate frame must not be illuminated when on the road. I'm not sure about coach lamps on broughams and landaus are quite legal then, but this would be another reason why an active system of additional lights trying to blind the cameras would be legally problematic.

That's why using a super bright license plate light (or lights, the law doesn't say you can't have more than one) strikes me as an elegant solution. It's not only legal, but you're using equipment that the law says you must have on your car.

Please join in the conversation. Those with expertise  in the law, optics and digital photography are particularly encouraged to share their informed opinions.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don't worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

from The Truth About Cars

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Do I Really Want One of These? Kandi Viper 250cc Reverse Trike

Click here to view the embedded video.

I've been fascinated by reverse trikes for a long time. As young teens, my older brother and I made a reverse trike go-kart (he designed the frame and the drivetrain, I did the brakes and steering) because we didn't have the money for a proper live axle setup in the back. The first hard turn taught us something about the inherent instability of three wheel vehicles. The inside front wheel lifted about 18″ off of the pavement (maybe that's why I like the photo of Jim Clark's Lotus Cortina cornering on three wheels so much). It took a bit more than a "dab of oppo" to settle it back down. I don't remember if either one of us ever completely rolled it, but it was exciting to drive. Now comes word that Morgan's revived 3 Wheeler, a car that seems to be able to drift and donut effortlessly while still keeping both front wheels planted firmly on terra firma, has become their best selling vehicle, prompting word of expanding the 3 Wheeler line. With that success my attention has once again been drawn to reverse trikes. I'm not the only one. Based on design patent drawings, it looks like Polaris will be soon introducing the Slingshot, a side by side reverse trike powered by a GM Ecotec 2.4 L four cylinder. From the styling the Slingshot looks to be aimed more at Ariel Atom fans than the traditional stringback driving glove set, so I don't think the Morgan will lose any sales to Polaris, but either way, I think the Polaris will increase the popularity of three wheelers in general.

Polaris Slingshot design patent

Polaris Slingshot design patent

Everyone who drives the Morgan reverse trike says that it's the most fun you can possibly have with a machine until they perfect sexbots. That kind of fun comes at a price. For what the Mog 3W costs, $45K and up, you can buy a couple of new, nicely equipped small cars. With that Ecotec engine and other automotive sourced components, I'm sure that the Polaris Slingshot will not be cheap either. There are other reverse trikes, like Campagna's T-Rex models, but Campagna's least expensive vehicle, the T-Rex V13R, starts at $56,000.

250MD_redMSo what can you do if you want to explore the world of road going reverse trikes, but you don't want to spend multiples of $10,000? You could build one yourself, just search Google, Bing or YouTube for reverse trike build. I particularly like this Gold Wing based leaner called TBX3, and this wild small block Chevy V8 powered FWD trike based on an Olds Toronado, a little nicer build than this old Subaru based trike. However, if you want something ready to drive off the rack (well, almost, see below) that is relatively cheap, you'll just have to keep looking to the east, China, where that country's huge scooter industry has noticed the same things that Morgan and Polaris have.

KD-250MD-3Zhejiang Kangdi Vehicles  (NASDAQ:KNDI) makes scooters, motorcycles, go-karts, golf carts, ATVs and neighborhood electric vehicles, 80% of which are exported to the U.S. and Europe. Maybe that's why the parent company and American importer use the easier-to-pronounce-by-westerners Kandi. I believe that the first reverse trike that Kandi made was a 250cc knockoff of Bombardier's Can-Am Spyder, though it doesn't have the Can-Am's stability control that keeps the Spyder from lifting a wheel without having to lean the trike. If you want a  trike that leans, Kandi offers them too. Now they've come up with something a bit more like the Morgan and Polaris trikes, something more like a car than a motorcycle or ATV, the Viper reverse trike. Powered by a single cylinder 250cc water-cooled 4 stroke engine that puts out 16.6 HP (some dealers advertise 20 HP), with an automatic CVT that has reverse, from the video posted on YouTube it looks like a real blast to drive. It's also not terrible looking, kind of cute in a Bugeye Sprite or Lotus Seven way, at least up front. Maybe I just dig cycle style fenders that turn with the front wheels. With microcar level power you won't get there quickly, but it looks like you'll have fun getting there. Come to think of it, with a scooter engine in back it might be as much like a Messerschmitt as a Morgan. Depending on where you buy it, it will cost you somewhere between $5,700 and $7,000 delivered (with some assembly required usually), a fraction of the price of the Morgan or what I expect the Polaris Slingshot to cost, let alone what a restored Kabinenroller can run these days.

250MD_pic10Actually, for that price you get at least some some sophistication. The engine has electronic ignition. Some dealers say that it also has electronic fuel injection, but this video from SuperSportz says that it has a carburetor. The suspension for the front wheels uses a standard double wishbone setup, with coilover units for springing and damping. The rear end uses a swing arm, as expected, but surprisingly they didn't just use a scooter drive train, which typically has the engine and transmission as part of the swingarm assembly, increasing unsprung weight. Instead the engine and transmission are mounted to the main frame and there's a chain drive back to the rear wheel. Rather than a monoshock in back there are twin coilover units. All three wheels have hydraulic disc brakes with ABS, with twin discs on the back wheel, like many sportbikes' front wheel brakes. An auxiliary hand activated parking brake is also included.

viper-8_smallDriver and passenger sit side by side in racing style seats with safety harnesses and there's a rudimentary roll cage. Bodywork is made from plastic, ABS and fiberglass. The frame and suspension components are made of steel tubing.  Thirteen inch cast aluminum wheels are standard, mounted with 145X70 radial tires. The Viper is operated with a steering wheel and other automotive style controls. There is a small instrument panel in the middle of the dashboard and the shift lever for the CVT sites between the seats. It's fairly spartan. Some dealers offer an optional windshield. From the looks of the yellow Viper pictured here, you can replace the stock muffler with sporty dual upswept exhausts. There is no radio or heater. SuperSportz says that future models will have a more enclosed interior, but for the time being you're sitting right in front of the engine, so it's noisy, and the radiator sits right behind the passenger seat so maybe a heater isn't needed.

viper-1_smallCruising speed is said to be about 60 MPH (some dealers say 80, others say don't believe them) so it should be suitable for urban use and maybe even hopping on the freeway for very short distances. Fuel economy is up to about 70 MPG (some dealers say 90). Both figures are of course dependent on load and road conditions. Maximum load is about 400# so you and your passenger might have to watch your weight. At least one dealer sells it under a different model name, Cyclone (see a pattern here? Caveat emptor and all that).

viper-45-5As you can see from the video at the top of this post, it can even drift a little. However, watching the Kandi Viper scamper around that parking lot gives me a little pause. At about 20 seconds into the video, the driver takes a hard left turn, and you can hear the back wheel's tire skittering as it loses and gains traction. What you can see, though, is what concerns me. At peak cornering forces the rear wheel appears to have noticeable positive camber. While there is some body roll, the camber on the wheel seems to exceed the roll angle of the body. That means that there's some flexing going on, possibly in the rear swingarm subframe or in its mountings, maybe in the main frame as well. If you pay attention to other times the Viper is cornering hard, you can see the rear end twisting.

viper-view-tail2Now camber changes happen all the time on regular cars if you pay attention, but combined with the video there's also the question of Kandi's quality control. If you spend some time looking at videos and comments posted by Kandi buyers a recurring theme appears – rather poor quality control, though many buyers seem perfectly satisfied. Though they are sold said to be 90-95% complete, many buyers report that the assembly that had already been done wasn't done properly, with some bolts left untorqued and even components switched left to right.

With a 60″ wheelbase and a front track of 57.3″, it's the size of a [very] small car. The carton it comes in ready to finish is 145x80x31.1 inches so either have access to a fork lift or a loading dock or expect to possibly pay for residential lift gate delivery. If you pay to have a dealer fully assemble it, you'll have to pick it up at a shipping depot. You can get a rough idea of what assembly involves from this video of another Kandi trike. If you're reading this site and you have a set of wrenches and sockets, you can most likely put it together. Some retailers advertise how they go over their scooters before shipping to make sure all the bolts are fastened etc. Some buyers report engines being DOA or failing soon after purchase. The fact that another frequently advertised feature is an optional warranty probably also says something about Kandi's QC at the factory. Some dealers do a better job of prep and after sales service than others, from online comments.

250MD_pic9However, I don't see anyone else offering a car-like two passenger reverse trike for anything near $6,000, and to be honest, I'd be more concerned about QC in terms of safety than reliability. It looks like the frame is made up of steel tubing that's only about 1 inch in diameter. While both front wheels look like they'll stay on the ground, I'm worried that if you stress the rear end enough, you won't just get some positive camber. Images of the entire rear end twisting itself free come to mind. As mentioned, the roll cage looks rudimentary and there doesn't appear to be much in the way of side barrier protection. In most states you'd register it as a motorcycle. My guess is that in a collision you'd probably be about as well off as on an actual motorcycle. To really check quality, though, I'd have to see a Kandi Viper close up and hopefully drive one but the closest Kandi dealer is hundreds of miles away in the Upper Peninsula.

viper-left3Still, it looks like it'd be a ball to drive and cheap to operate, possibly even a cheaper commuter than either a battery EV or a smart car. Obviously, judging a vehicle's safety based on one short YouTube video and comments on the internet is not a serious appraisal. If someone at Kandi USA, SuperSportz or another of their dealers reads this and would like to demonstrate the performance and safety of the Kandi Viper I have an open mind and I'd be happy to do a full review of the trike if you can arrange the loan of a test vehicle.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don't worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

250MD_redM KD-250MD-1 viper-1_small Polaris Slingshot design patent viper-8_small viper-5_small KD-250MD-5 viper-45-5 KD-250MD-3 viper-view1 viper-view-tail2 viper-left3 viper-right4 viper-45-6 250MD_pic10 250MD_pic9 250MD_pic7

from The Truth About Cars

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