Thursday, November 10, 2016

Where'd you go?

I feel like I owe an explanation because I haven't posted in a long time.  As of earlier this year, I stopped my insane commute, and traded the roads for the rails. Since moving my office location from New Jersey to midtown Manhattan, it's just not feasible to drive into work everyday. I now take a convenient express train to and from work, and walk about 30 blocks a day.

But I do miss driving. I miss my own music, the time to myself, and the crazy road-rage induced hijinks seen on the roads. But I don't miss the expense of it. With tolls topping $27.50 per day, plus gas, and additional wear and tear, I am saving a ludicrous amount of money commuting by train. For example, assuming a 20-day work month, I am saving an astounding $445 per month. That's nearly enough to offset my rising healthcare premium. Almost. But gas will become more expensive soon, and the pensions in the Port Authority and MTA wont fund themselves, so you can bet that tolls increases will continue to outpace inflation.


So whats the future of this venture? Now that I'm driving about 3 miles per day vs 107 miles, it seems silly of me to continue to write about things encountered on a commute. But I retain an intense passions for cars and automotive culture, and will always enjoy the flipping cars in the very little spare time I have. The blog will likely evolve to cover automotive news and opinions, tips, ideas and trending topics.

I want to thank the people who have been reading and supporting this blog for the last few years. I am always astounded when I look at the traffic stats, and find that tens of thousands of people have visited this page. I'm going to continue to write about automotive stuff for metro NY, but its going to have to adapt to be authentic and true.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Other Winner of the Super Bowl

For marketing people like me, The Super Bowl truly is a big game of another sorts. Its the time to see the best and brightest of the advertising world (who have the budget) show off their creativity on a global stage. There's a ton of articles out there about best and worst big game ads, with winners and losers. But to me, there was clearly only one winner this year, and it was this commercial by Audi for the R8 V10 Plus.

This ad had it all...it tugs on the heartstrings, instills patriotic pride and flaunts the new R8 both visually and delights the ears with a ripping exhaust note...all with gorgeous cinematography.

Watch it below.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Understanding Metro NY Traffic Acronyms and Abbreviations - Volume 1

Earlier this week, I’m driving up the NJTP, when I come across one of those electronic billboards that relay messages and traffic info which is occasionally correct. It mentioned road closures using the acronym “HRD”. 

I consider myself a pretty well-seasoned NY driver, but it took me a few minutes to realize that the sign was referring to the Harlem River Drive. Well actually it was the TME that was shutting HRD, from the GWB.  Sounds like a mouthful, right?

The point is, sometimes even us locals have a hard time deciphering the dictionary of abbreviations that they use when describing roads. I have collected a glossary of some of the most common ones in case you get stuck in the NY/NJ area.

  • Belt -  the Belt Parkway in the boroughs, turns into the SSP in Long Island
  • BK Bridge -  Brooklyn Bridge
  • BQE -  Brooklyn Queens Expressway
  • Bruckner / 278 -  The Bruckner Expressway
  • CBE – Cross Bronx Expressway, also known as 95
  • CCP -  Cross County Parkway
  • CIP -  Cross Island Parkway
  • CVE- Clearview Expressway, AKA I-295, also the best CIP alternative
  • FDR -  FDR drive spans the east side of Manhattam
  • GCP -  Grand Central Parkway
  • GSP – Garden State Parkway
  • GWB (UL and LL) – George Washington Bridge (Upper level and Lower level)
  • HHP / Hen Hud Park – Henry Hudson Parkway
  • Holl -  Holland tunnel
  • HRD -  Harlem River Drive
  • Hutch – the Hutchinson River Parkway
  • JFK -  JFK Airport
  • JRP -  Jackie Robinson Parkway
  • LGA -  Laguardia Airport
  • LIE / 495 -  the Long Island Expressway
  • MDE / Deegan / 87 – Major Deegan Expressway, also know as the Thruway or I-87
  • MSP -  Meadowbrook State Parkway in Long Island
  • MT Tunn -  Midtown Tunnel
  • NJTP -  NJ Turnpike, also known as I-95
  • NSP -  Northern State Parkway in Long Island -  turns into the GCP once you hit queens
  • OBC / 440 – OuterBridge Crossing
  • OP - Ocean Parkway
  • Pal -  Palisades Parkway
  • QB bridge- Queensborogh Bridge
  • RFK -  RFK or Triborough Bridge (It’s the same thing)
  • RMP – Robert Moses Parkway. You only need this if you are going to the beach
  • SAG -  Sagtikos Parkway
  • SMP / Saw Mill -  The Saw Mill River Parkway
  • Sprain / SBP -  the SprainBrook Parkway
  • SSP – Southern State Parkway, turns into the Belt in Queens
  • TNB -  Throgs Neck Bridge
  • TZB /Tapp -  The Tappan-Zee Bridge
  • VNB – Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
  • WSB -  Whitestone Bridge
  • WSH – West Side Highway spans the east side of Manhattan
  • WSP- Wantagh State Parkway






Wednesday, November 18, 2015

NYPD Traffic Enforcement Period now through Nov 22

The NYPD has announced an initiative to crack down on dangerous driving, including speeding, distracted driving and other infractions. The force has dedicated 12,000 hours to this program, which will run through November 22nd and will encompass all five boroughs.

This will mean a noticeable uptick in police presence beyond downtown Manhattan; expect more speed traps on highways and bridges, with more unmarked units.

As always, be safe out there and respect law enforcement.

Info from NY Post

Friday, October 30, 2015

My next flip car: Project WRX

I did really well with the Project E46 flip car. so well in fact, that my wife is actually letting me do another one. This time around, I was gunning for a car I had always wanted; something fast, manual transmission, great in the snow, and the looks only a mother could love. And after months of searching, I finally found my own 2004 Subaru WRX wagon, and of course, it's a stick.

Literally 6 months were spent on Craigslist trying to find this car.  It’s not that they don’t exist, it’s just that they fall into one of two camps; Either just so totally beaten they are unsalvageable, or so overwhelmingly modified that their price range is astronomical, and they look like a reject from 2Fast 2Furious.

I went and saw a bunch of cars. There was the one that was so rusted out it was about to crack under its own weight…one that had significant wreck damage that somehow was neglected on the Craigslist ad… and one that was so completely riced, there was just no saving it. I hope someone buys it just to put it out of its misery.  The prices also ran the gamut from $3500 for a “motor blown” model to $17,000 for a stage 2 with way too much boost, bro.

My budget for this project is $5000 for the car and $1000 in parts for $6K in total. I know with a little work, I can easily sell it for $8-9K, making a decent amount of profit. But besides the extra money, I get to drive a car I always wanted, and have something fun for the next Polar Vortex. I also get to learn how to wrench on a Subaru.

I finally found close to what I was looking for up in Rockland county, about an hour from my house. The guy was asking $5000 for a “Silver Mist” 2004 5-speed wagon. So I took a ride after work one day to check it out.

First things I noticed: high mileage at 184k, and some rust on the rear quarter panels which is easy enough to fix with some patience. Also, pretty much every Subaru has this after ten years. It had a little front end damage where they had hit a rock or something, and one of the fog lights was cracked and needed replacing. The other one didn’t work. Easy. The exhaust was loud. I can live with it. The clutch rides a little too high for comfort. The AC didn’t work. The tires are worn and the CD player didn’t function. After factoring these in, I offered him $4100 for the car, and the deal was struck.

 I take delivery of the car, make the transaction, and then proceed to take it for a ride. I open it up on the Bethpage parkway and proceed to rip through the gears…the turbo kicks in, 3K RPM is awesome. 4K is heavenly, and then @4500…BOOM the car shutters and the check engine light comes on…Seriously, WTF?

I take it slow for a little bit and then resume driving normally. The car seems fine. I get home and Google it, and find out this is something called “turbo creep”. Since this is my first turbo motor, I have some learning to do.  I use my new and awesome Bluetooth OBD II reader and determine that the fault code is a blown turbo wastegate solenoid…which sound expensive. So after some forum lurking, I learned that other things can cause this issue. Then I found the culprit, simply a worn vacuum hose exiting the solenoid. 50 cents worth of surgical tubing, and its fixed.

Think I found the problem...
But as I spend some time with this car, I am finding more and more things that need fixing and adjusting. The rear washer fluid hose had a massive tear in it which was causing a flood into the rear cargo compartment. $1.25 on a hose splice and its fixed. The heater blower motor was making a noise. Rip it apart, and find half the fan is shot. Twenty dollar replacement. The front control arms are rusted through. I spent 80 bucks on a new set, along with a new AC compressor through some dude on Craigslist. They even came with new bushings, score. New fog light also got put in.  

So now I’m about to tackle some of the more costly items like Tires, exhaust and AV, and I’ll see how lean I can get and still make a profit. 

New foglight to replace cracked one
The thought of doing the bodywork horrifies me. I have never painted a car before or removed rust. But this is why we buy project cars, to learn how to do this stuff. To get our hands dirty and make it our own, and then sell it off and make some money for the next project.  



Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Garmin Dash Cam 20 Review - Why doesn't everyone have one of these?

Of all the things Russia has given us, including vodka, ushankas and questionable human rights policies, I think my favorite thing is the Dashcam. Due to rampant insurance fraud (or lack of insurance) on the Mad Max-esque roads of the Tundra, many Russians have embraced the dashboard camera, or the dashcam as a way to protect themselves from tanks, falling comets and poorly maintained Yugo’s. Great examples of this can be found here and here.

But why America is slow to adopt the dashcam? It’s such a great idea, and after using one for the last few weeks, I’m hooked.

Garmin sent me one of their newer models to check out, the Garmin Dash Cam 20, their latest HD dashcam offering that's GPS enabled. Being a photographer, I was curious to see how a dashcam worked in a real world, and how it could integrate into my commute.

Here’s what’s most awesome about it:
  •           2.3” LCD screen that auto-dims
  •          Full time, date, location and speed stamp
  •          Full HD 1080P, 720P or VGA resolution
  •          Integrated microphone
  •          G-force induced incident sensor
  •          Very wide angle lens for total road coverage
  •          Compact, discreet size
  •          Dashcam Player Software is excellent

First things first- The Dash Cam 20 comes with everything you need to get started, including the camera unit and a sturdy mounting suction cup, which is joined to the same ball-joint used by all GPS manufacturers. It also comes with a power cable for the car, and a charging / transfer cable, as well as a 4GB micro-SD card and reader. It also has instructions, but honestly, no one is probably going to read them.  Set-up is extremely straightforward; just plug it into your lighter power outlet in the car and mount it. it took me a couple of tries to find the best position before I settled on mid-windshield underneath the rearview mirror in order to get the best view of the road.

Everything included in the box


The unit itself is tiny, fitting in the palm of your hand.
Mounting from outside the car is discreet enough to where it *probably* won't get stolen

From inside the car, the Dash Cam 20 provides unobtrusive
and non-distracting coverage of the road
ahead, while recording audio from inside the car.
Operation is very simple. Just plug it in, and leave it on. Forget about it, until you need it, which hopefully you won’t. The Dash Cam 20 continuously records your drive, and overwrites data as it goes so you don’t have to swap Micro SD cards. You can also protect data so it doesn't get overwritten. It turns on automatically when the car is powered on, and the display dims after a few minutes so not as to distract the driver. The drop-down power cord is kind of annoying, but it’s just one more gadget in my car that I'll eventually get used to. It doesn’t really bother me as a driver, but I do have to make sure passengers don’t get tangled up in it. If I really was ambitious, I would hardwire it.

Another benefit to the Dash Cam 20 is the built in G-sensor, which automatically saves a file of footage before and after an “incident” so you always have a record. Incidents are triggered by abrupt G-force changes like collisions, big potholes or hard braking like when pedestrians jump in front of your car. I personally found that the sensor was rather sensitive (which is adjustable), but this is likely because of my car’s stiff suspension on poorly maintained NYC roads. If in fact an incident happens, you can pull the unit to review footage, or capture snapshots using the still photo function at your set resolution. Want to prove to the DOT that a massive pothole destroyed your rim? You’re covered. If someone tries to catch you in a swoop and squat? Covered. See a dude on fire running down the shoulder into opposing traffic on the Cross Bronx? Well, you get the point. (Totally wish I had this camera when I saw that). It also helps to keep valets in check, and keeps them from taking 143 MPH joyrides in your car, like what happened to me that one time. 

Lets get into the tech: The Dash Cam 20 records in either 1080p, 720p or VGA resolution at 30 FPS With the supplied 4 GB MicroSD card, while record times are 48 minutes in 1080p, 2.2 hours in 720p or a whopping 4.8 hours in VGA. The unit will accept up to 32 GB MicroSD cards though, significantly extending recording time to about 6.5 hours in Full HD. Due to my average commute taking two hours each way, I opted for the 720P mode, and found the footage to be more than adequate. The unit does require a power source for extended use, which is a supplied power connector thoughtfully paired to a mini-USB connector. It does have a built in battery that’s good for about an hour, which is likely included in case you need to use its still camera function outside the vehicle.
Footage from the camera is recorded in the .AVI format, which is not a problem for Windows users, or it can be played with Garmin’s free Dash Cam Viewer software. To get footage from the camera, you can either pop out the SD card and use the included adapter, or plug the unit directly into their computer and download in mass storage mode using the included cable.

I was very skeptical about the image quality that these units can produce. The lens is a very wide angle, yet has no problem covering the majority of the road. While it’s not a true 180 degrees, the lens does a great job of providing an extremely wide angle of view with minimal distortion or vignetting.  I positioned it so my hood is just within the frame, to give anyone viewing the footage a true view of what I’m seeing on the road.


Still images captured from the Dash Cam 20. You can still read signs and license
plates and other info with the cameras focus. This day was bright overcast.
Note the bottom of the screen includes speed and location data



The camera lens also has a fixed focus, so while you won’t be shooting shallow depth of field portraits with it anytime soon, all of the relevant numbers in a scene such as license plates and vehicle marking will be clearly in focus. Combined with the 30 fps frame rate, details do a great job staying crisp under highway speeds and throughout various lighting conditions.

Since we don’t always drive in sunlight, the low light ability is something else to touch on. The performance is surprisingly decent, but there is some smearing from the built in noise reduction algorithms that is noticeably present in still and footage in low light. The ISO / Sensitivity is also one of the many adjustable options, perfect for those that frequently drive at night or in dark conditions. The transition from low light to bright light, such as when coming out of a tunnel is also surprisingly quick, with the cameras meter rapidly adjusting exposure to changing light.

In low light conditions such as in a tunnel or at night, the Dash Cam 20 retains
its ability to create a legible image, although with some smearing due to noise suppression
But my favorite part of this camera is actually the built in GPS function, which is well worth the upgrade from lower priced versions of this model.  While it will tell you your latitude and longitude coordinates, it also tells you your vehicle speed, which is both great for reviewing footage, but also excellent if you need to make a case in court by fighting a ticket or in other litigation. Not only that, it makes reviewing footage that much more fun, and I can prove to my wife that I’m not actually speeding all the time.

I’m usually not one for OEM software, but the Garmin Dash Cam Player software is well worth the free download. When playing files, the viewer automatically populated a map of the route for the file, and also marks any incidents in the timeline for quick review. It also has a display that shows some arrows on the car, but I have no idea what they are. I assume pitch or movement direction which shows lane changes, etc.  Download the software here -  you’ll be glad you did. http://www8.garmin.com/support/download_details.jsp?id=5815


The Dash Cam viewer Software is a great addition to the unit, providing
mapping information and other data for reviewing footage. 

The Garmin Dash Cam 20 currently retails for $249.99, but you can get it online for as low as $180 at other on-line retailers. It’s a bit pricey, but considering both the peace of mind and the GPS features that other units lack, it’s worth the investment if you do a lot of driving. 


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Dropping My Car, And Then Regretting It


The mechanic at my tire place may as well have just whispered a sweet sonnet in my ear when said to me "you really need to get those shocks and struts replaced." I tried to hide my smile, but it was no use. 

 Ask any real car guy, when something's about to go, it means a rare opportunity to replace boring stock parts with much better, cooler aftermarket equipment, and get your hands dirty in the process. As an additional bonus, if you do it cheaper than paying a mechanic, the wife acceptance factor does not calculate into the equation.

I know I wanted to drop my car just a little bit, in order to get the handling and fuel efficiency benefits. And, let’s face it, the Nissan Maxima has enough wheel gap to rival most 4x4’s.

That Instagram photo that never happened
 I started researching the best spring and shock combinations, and after much deliberation, purchased a set of KYB Excel GR2’s shocks and a set of Tein S-Tech lowering springs. Everything I read on the forums said the drop wouldn’t be too aggressive, and at 1.5” in the front and 0.5” in the rear, I figured I would be safe. It was like Christmas morning when my lowering springs arrived; they were in a huge box, sitting on my doorstep with a big Tein logo on them. I unwrapped the bright green springs from their box like a kid getting his first Nintendo, and resisted the urge to Instagram a shot of them, because, well, no one cares but me.

The worn strut after it blew
A few days later, I rolled over a bump, and heard a snap and a pop, and realized I blew my worn front strut. When I got home, fluid was splattered all over my wheel well, and I had to hose it off. The car literally bounced at every bump and didn’t feel safe to drive more than 40 MPH. Despite that, I packed up my shiny new car parts, and headed upstate to my friend’s house, where he had the tools to do the job.


Putting in an entirely new suspension was only about a three beer job, and my friend and I did it over the course of a Sunday. The old struts and springs had to be taken off, while the hardest part was working through a few rusty bolts. We used a spring compressor to get the new struts onto the new springs, mounted them, and we were done. It wasn’t the most difficult job, but it is something that needs to done with at least a little mechanical experience, and a lot of YouTube videos.  Additionally, it was extremely cost effective. An entirely new suspension cost me about $450 in parts, vs. the $1200 or so I would spend to have a mechanic do it with stock parts.
new suspension and springs

Riding home, I felt like the car was on rails. The car was so planted to the road with absolutely no body roll, I felt like a Ferrari blasting through the backroads with new found confidence. But the ride quality was jarring to say the least. I felt every little bump in the road like a slap, and I kept telling myself to wait until the springs settle…

Now it’s a month later, and the springs have settled. The drop on the car looks amazing; it has an aggressive stance that i love, but I’m starting to think it’s just too low for metro NY. I have to creep into my driveway at a perfect 45-degree angle to minimize the scraping, and speedbumps have become my new worst enemy. The parking garage at my office is doing construction, and we are now routed through a series of the nastiest bumps I have ever seen. Even at 2 MPH, I can hear my catalytic converter hitting them. I am now officially “that guy” who comes to a near complete stop before every speed bump, lest I do serious damage to my undercarriage. On the bright side though, the ride quality has significantly improved since the springs settled, and the handling is better, but not as good as when I first installed them.  Eyeballing it, I would say that the lowering rate was a mild suggestion, as I think it’s more like a 2’5” drop.

For now, I’ll live with it, although in a constant state of fear, vigilant of every pothole, railroad crossing and speedbump in the road. I'll embrace it because the car looks great, and the handling is much better. As for fuel efficiency, well that has yet to be determined.  I have to be careful when I park head-in to a curb, so I don’t rip off my front bumper. I’m looking for my next flip car, and I find myself passing over every entry listed as having “lowering springs” installed just because now I know this horror. My advice to anyone who does long commutes is to not drop your ride unless you are willing to deal with the consequences. 


                         

                           But damn it looks good. 










P.S. - Big shout-out and thanks to my buddy Ryan for helping out on this job.