Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tesla Stock Price

Are investors cashing out before the end of the year for tax reasons, or is this a vote of no confidence for Tesla? In the last month, Tesla's stock price has dropped by ~20%.

Grandma The Fighter

I am sitting at the hospital bedside of my 93 year old grandmother. Rebecca was born in Russia, and survived Stalin and the Wehrmacht siege of Leningrad. Now she is fighting with her heart and her lungs, gasping and coughing to get a breath. She's a tough old lady, but I think she is getting tired.

Don't give up yet Grandma!

Fiat's Nero

This morning on Autoline Detroit, John McElroy's auto talk show, a Fiat lady stated that part of the Fiat 500's ordering experience will be calling colors by their Italian names. So red will be rose, and black will be nero. Cue the Rome burns jokes. But what I don't get is, why not call it Cinquecento then? For mist people, if you say "five hundred", they will think of a very bland large sedan from Ford.

If you're going to go Italian, go all in, that's what I say.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Aptera Dead?

Aptera has been very quiet since participating (but not finishing) in the Progressive Automotive X-Prize competition.  After a very promising early start, and lots of great media coverage, Aptera went through a management shake-up, and now appears to be starving slowly.  Without government loans to develop their product, or a large angel investor to come in and rescue them, they seem to be adrift.

You know it is bad when the fans, some of whom have put down actual deposits, are losing faith.  Look at this poll on the unofficial Aptera forums.  As of now the 68% of the responses say that they don't think they will ever get their car.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Redesigned 300C

Allpar.com has some nice side-by-side photos of the refreshed 300C along with the previous design.  

I like the increased windshield rake, and how they lowered the door shoulders to allow for a less slab-sided look, with a little more glass.  There is a nice, slightly upward sweeping character line.  From the side, it looks a little more like a Cadillac (not a bad thing), while the front is distinctly Chrysler.

The interior is much nicer looking as well.

In my opinion, this is a good redesign of Chrysler's flagship.

Where Chrysler will be challenged for a while yet is in the powertrain department.  The new Phoenix V6 will bring much needed refinement and better fuel economy, but the rumor at Allpar is that the 300C will probably launch with a Mercedes sourced 5-speed automatic transmission, when the fuel economy leaders are getting into 6 speed transmissions.  Will Chrysler have the money to outsource a 6 or 7 speed auto?  Consider that the closest competitor to the 300C at Ford, the Taurus, gets EPA combined 22mpg with a 6spd auto, while the Cadillac STS gets 21mpg combined, also with a 6 speed auto.  Toyota's Avalon gets 23mpg from a 6 speed. 

Automakers Sue EPA over E15

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group that represents most of the OEMs operating in the U.S., has joined the lawsuit originally filed by other organisations to try to block the E15 waiver that the EPA is granting for newer vehicles.  Detroit News story here.


The E15 waiver is a half-baked idea.  It should only be issued when it is determined that the vast majority (say, 95%) of cars on the road today can safely operate with E15.  Otherwise, consumer confusion will ensue, and the result will be that no gas station will want to carry the stuff.  If the data isn't there yet then the EPA should wait until the data is in.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Review: Pep Boys Definity Dakota H/T Tires

In my previous post, I reviewed the experience of buying tires at Pep Boys.*

The tires that were chosen were Definity Dakota H/T, which are a highway tread light truck/SUV tire. The Definity line is a store-brand of Pep Boys, manufactured by Cooper Tire. Cooper also makes Avon, Mastercraft, and Starfire branded tires. The Dakotas are also available in offroad (M/T) and all terrain (A/T) tread patterns.

These tires have a 520 treadwear rating (very good), A traction (good) and B (decent) temperature rating. They come with a 60,000mi tread life warranty.

And they're even Made In The U.S.A., not Chinese rubber here.

Consumer Reports did not review Definity Dakotas, but they did review Cooper's Discovery SUV tires, and gave them a good rating, particularly for dry handling, hydroplaning, and noise.

The new Dakotas were a marked improvement over the worn Kelly tires that were previously mounted on Anne's Escape. We noticed the difference right away, the Escape rode much quieter and a bit softer than it had on the old tires. "Wow, this is like a new car!", said a very happy Anne.

Wet braking and handling on snow seemed good, definitely better than the old tires. The highway tread still seemed to have plenty of bite to get going in the snowy and icy road conditions that prevail in Michigan now.

Overall, I would say that the Definity Dakota tires are a good tire, and are quite good for the money. Pep Boys is currently charging $120/tire for them, with the 4th tire free, though this does not include balancing and tire stems. If I was in the market for inexpensive all season SUV tires, I would definitely consider Dakota H/T.


  • Quiet
  • Good wet/snow grip
  • Soft ride
  • Made in USA

  • Balancing, stems cost extra
  • 4th tire free deal is a prepaid Visa rebate, not cash back at sale

*Disclosure: Pep Boys provided a free set of Definity tires to my friend in exchange for this review. The blogger was not compensated.

Review: Pep Boys Tire Service

I was recently contacted by a Pep Boys representative who wanted me to review their eServe service reservation system, and their Definity tires. I didn't need tires at the time, but I knew young mother of 2, Anne L,, who could use some new tires. In this post I'll review the service experience, and in my next one I'll talk about the tires.*

Pep Boys has locations all over the Midwest, East coast, and a few on the Southern West coast. They are a discount auto parts store, similar to other large chains such as Autozone and the Midwest's O'Reilly's. They also offer repair services.

Unlike other local chains, Pep Boys has a nice online
apppointment scheduling system they call eServe. By
going to Pepboys.com and filling out a relatively short form, you can set up an appointment in a 1 hour slot in the coming days or weeks.

Anne set up an appointment for tire service online. It was fairly easy. First, you identify the vehicle being serviced, in this case a Ford Escape with worn out tires. Then you pick a service slot, in one hour blocks. On the next screen you select what general type of service you need, in this case, tire service.

A neat feature in the eServe system is that you can have it text message you a reminder of your appointment time, as well as email.

After setting the appointment information, you get a reservation number, which you can print out and take with you on the day of your appointment.

On the day of Anne's appointment, your blogger tagged along to observe the process.

The service area was buzzing with customers, as a big snow storm had just hammered the Northern Midwest, and people were rushing to get their vehicles set for winter, or repaired after slogging through the nasty weather.

The Pep Boys employee who check Anne in was friendly and efficient. He logged her information, and said that while they are quite busy, we should be able to get out in about an hour. Since she was there for tires, he took her to the tire display and took several minutes to explain the difference between the different types of tires. I listened in, and I think he did a accurate job.

He explained that the Dakota SUV tires, the appropriate product for a Ford Escape, came in 3 tread styles: M/T (mud), A/T (all terrain), and H/T (highway). He correctly
explained that the more aggressive treads are better for offroad and better in deep snow, but come with a penalty of more noise and worse fuel economy on smooth roads. Since Anne didn't do much offroading, she opted for the quietest rolling tread, the Dakota

Anne was offered road hazard insurance, at $15/tire, and after having torn up tires on Michigan's infamous winter potholes, she agreed.

Anne gave Pep Boys points for correctly following her instructions to mount the tires with the white letters facing in, something that her last tire provide had not done.

She was also offered a $75 four wheel alignment, which I recommended that she accept, because an occasinoal alignment is imortant to keep your tires wearing evenly.

We went to wait in the small waiting room, which had about 8 seats arranged around TV and a pile of dog-eared magazines. I wasn't impressed much with the waiting area, it had no real isolation from the noise of the store. In the modern era, free wi-fi is a must, but it was not offered. Many dealerships and other service shops also offer complimentary coffee, or some basic kids activities such as coloring books; neither was available here.

The service manager stopped by and offered to adjust the TV, if anyone wanted a different channel, which was nice.

After some time, the service manager came buy with a yellow service sheet, which had comments from the mechanic. Now began the age old game, the up-sell. "So we found a few things we thought you might want to know about...", he began. Anne's battery terminals were corroded, would she like the $5.99 battery recondition service, which would clean up an seal her battery terminals? Anne said sure, it was inexpensive. He offered to load test the battery, also, and Anne agreed.

A few minutes later, the service manager returned with more problems. "Your
battery isn't doing great on the load test, we only
got 260 cranking amps out of rated 600, do you want us to replace the battery?". Since Anne did not have any problems starting her car, even in frigid winter temperatures, I told her it was not critical to do it right then (and I hinted that changing a battery was a very easy DIY project). She declined the battery.

In addition to the battery, the service manager offered her transmission fluid flush, coolant service, an oil change, and new shocks. All were offered based on the mileage of the vehicle, but he admitted that all of these components "looked OK". Anne declined the extra service.

The tire replacement itself took a little longer than expected because of some corrosion on the
aluminum wheel bead areas. The service manager carried a dismounted wheel into the waiting area to show Anne, and said that it should
be OK, but that he was going to have to clean up the corrosion by grinding it off, and that he may need to put some bead sealer on the wheels.

Anne appreciated the service bay window, which allows curious customers to peek into the service area and watch what is going on with their vehicle.

When it looked like Anne was going to be late for an evening appointment, the service manager pitched in to help change tires and get Anne out the door on time.

After 1 1/2 hours, the service was completed, and we rolled out with nice new Dakota H/T's on Anne's old Escape, and clean battery terminals.

Pep Boys also passed another test of mine: they inflated the tires to the proper pressure. Some shops hire boneheads who think you are supposed to inflate the tires to their max sidewall rating, rather than what it says on the vehicle's door sticker. This has happened to me more than once.

The Dakota H/T's were a decent deal, with "buy 3 4th tire free", coming in at $119 x 3 or $357. However, Pep Boys charges extra for wheel balancing and "tire handling", so the actual charges were as follows:

Tire Mounting $0.0/ea
Tire Handling $2.50/ea $10.00 total
Wheel Balance $12.99/ea $51.96
Road Hazard $14.57/ea $58.28
Valve Stem $3.49/ea $13.96
These charges increased the cost of the tires to a pre-tax out-the-door price of $491/4, or about $123/ea., not including alignment. In general, I think it is better to have "out-the-door" pricing on tires, where the price includes everything needed to mount and balance the tires. Also, you should know that the 4th tire free is actually a rebate in the form of a prepaid Visa card, not cash back at time of service. Adding shop and other fees on separately feels tricky, because it allows stores to advertise apparently very low tire prices, but you are in fact only shopping the tire itself, not the whole service.

I think that Pep Boys is a decent place to get tires and other basic service done, though I can't judge on more serious repairs. They were courteous, efficient, and happy to explain their service to customers. They were thorough with their up-sell, offering many other services in addition to the originally requested items, but they were not push and took "no thanks" without drama. Most places you go for service will try to sell you additional service if they see an opportunity, and Pep Boys did not attempt the dreaded fluid-color ploy ("Look how dirty your coolant is compared to this shiny new coolant!"). I would prefer a single "out-the-door" price advertised on the tires.


  • eServe reservation system easy to use
  • Efficient, courteous service
  • Followed customer tire mounting instructions
  • Tires choices well explained
  • Tires were reasonably priced
  • 4th tire free promotion is a good deal
  • Service up-sell was not obnoxious, some of it was justified
  • Very basic waiting area; no free wi-fi or coffee
  • Several attempts to up-sell service
  • Advertised tire pricing leaves out required fees and parts
  • 4th tire free promotion uses a prepaid Visa card, not cash at time of service

*Disclosure: Pep Boys did not compensate me for this review, however, they did give a friend of mine a free set of new tires plus installation.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SOLVED! Geocache Challenge Prize #1


SOLVED! Geocache Challege Prize #2


SOLVED! Autoprophet Geocache Challege 2010!!!

Congratulations to Charles and his brother, who found both prizes this afternoon, Dec. 20th.
My family has been big into geocaching for years, so after seeing your blog entry, my brother and I swung by birmingham this afternoon. Perfect timing, as my car needs a new battery, pads and rotors, and a few other regular maintenance type odds and ends. Thanks Auto Prophet and Pep Boys!

-Charles (Auto aficionado and NRA Life Member)


Thanks to Pep Boys, who donated some gift cards, I am very happy to kick off this year's Autoprophet Geocache Challenge!

I have hidden two groups of Pep Boys gift cards in a much-loved part of Birmingham. Prize
#1 is 3 $50 gift cards, for a total of $150. Prize #2 is 2 $50 gift cards, for $100. The gift cards are hidden in gaily spray painted clear plastic soup containers. If you find both prizes, you win yourself a total of $250 to spend at Pep Boys, right before Christmas. What can you get at Pep Boys for $250? Besides tires, parts, oil, etc.?

*Disclosure: Pep Boys donated gift cards for this contest, the blogger did not receive any compensation.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Smug Vee Dub

I saw this guy, "GAS H8R" on the road the other day. I suppose he removed the TDI badges from his Golf.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Nissan's Naughty Nav

Nissan's new Nav system will help you find "Adult Entertainment" locations, according to a review by Family Car Review.  It's debuting in the new 2011 Nissan Quest minivan

Good job Nissan.  Way to know your market.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Top 10 Recalls of 2010

Car And Driver, my favorite car enthusiast magazine, has an nice one-page article in this month's issue summarizing graphically the top 10 recalls of 2010. Leading the pack was Toyota, with 5 of the top 10 recalls. Second was GM, with 2, and Honda with 2. Nissan had 1 recall in the top 10.

Congratulations to Ford, Chrysler, VW, and Hyundai for not making this top 10 list.


I went with the kids to see Tangled over the weekend. It was excellent, probably the best non-Pixar Disney movie in recent history.

I experienced 3D for the first time, and had mixed feelings. On one hand, it worked very well in many scenes. It seemed to break down a bit when the effect was used to try to make objects look very close to the audience. And the 3D version of the Justin Bieber biopic preview... ugh, nauseating.

It was neat. Maybe even worth an extra $3, for the right movie. But not for Justin Bieber.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Rumor: Honda Killing Element

There is a rumor that Honda is going to announce the end of the Element, the quirky 3 1/2 door bread van, likely due to slow sales.  It's too bad, I was impressed with Honda for bringing out such a quirky and utilitarian vehicle, which was basically a large box on wheels.  The Element, though much larger than the Scion xB and Nissan Cube, paved the way for the quirky little box cars.

I'm not sure what Honda is thinking lately, in terms of design.  Some of its designs are unique and interesting, like the now aging Civic, or the new CR-Z.  But Honda has been flirting too much with ugly, witness Acura's ugly chrome mug, or the bizarre Odyssey lightning bolt zig-zag belt line.  

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bumper Compatibility: Not There Yet

IIHS, the organization that is funded by the auto insurance industry, issued a report about continuing poor comparability between small SUV and car bumpers.  You can read it here.

The bottom line is, automakers have not yet redesigned their small SUVs to have bumper heights that are compatible with their cars.  The result is expensive low speed collisions between small SUVs and cars, which necessarily drive up insurance costs to the consumer.

Friday, November 26, 2010

How To Move Your Garmin Favorites

Garmin GPSs store your favorites in a file called Current.gpx, in the folder X:\GPX\.

So say you got a new GPS, and want to copy over your collection of favorite locations.

Connect your old GPS via USB to your computer. It should show up as a new drive.

Copy the file Current.gpx to your computer, and rename it to somenthing else, e.g. TEMP.gpx.

Then plug in your new Garmin, and copy the TEMP.gpx file to the \GPX\ folder.

Restart the Garmin. It should merge your favorites into its Current.gpx file.

GM Ad: "We All Fall Down"

This is a touching ad, no doubt about it.

However, GM isn't an individual. It is a huge company with hundreds of executives at the top, steering the boat.

GM isn't a boxer that took a hard punch by a powerful opponent.

GM whittled itself down, year after year, making bad decision after bad decision. And GM didn't entirely pick itself up... it required a major reorganization, financial destruction, and outside management.

That is the key thing. GM must remember, as an organization, how they went from largest automaker in the world to bankrupt. They need to have the "lessons learned" burned into the very DNA of their leadership culture.

I'm glad GM is back on track, for numerous reasons. A failure of GM would have been catastrophic not just to the domestic auto industry, but to the entire economy.

They had better stay on top of the game now, because I don't think the American public will have the will to save them again.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

GM Logo Flip-Flop

For a while, GM insisted on linking all of its brands together by putting a little silver GM square logo on each vehicle, be it a Daewoo Chevrolet or a Cadillac.  Now, the old GM-in-a-blue-square logo is hard to find--it is off of the RenCen, and missing from most of GM's web pages.

One place it appears to live on is at the GM fleet web site, here: http://www.gmfleet.com/

I suppose if you go bankrupt, and then are reborn as a new, lean company, you may want to tinker with your logo.  And if you are GM, you want to emphasize each brand individually, instead of reminding people that their Cadillac has something in common with a Daewoo.   But the Blue Square dates back to 1964 according to one source I found, and logos should not be thrown around lightly.   Remember how Ford was mocked for changing its top line logo from the blue oval to the company name in script?

New GM Website

GM has updated its web site with a neat intro video showing off GM's engineering prowess.  It's a great video, with a nice tech-rock soundtrack, check it out.  http://www.gm.com

.GOV Soaking Up Hybrid Capacity

According to Bloomberg, Obama's administration has purchased 25% of domestic hybrid production.  In fact, it appears that Obama was the biggest customer for the Malibu mild hybrid, which was a market flop.

The government purchased about 64 percent of GM's Chevy Malibu hybrid models and 29 percent of all Ford Fusion hybrids manufactured since Obama took office in 2009, the data show. GM stopped making the Malibu hybrid in 2009 after lack of consumer demand.

Hybrid demand is weak because of relatively reasonable gas prices, so the U.S. government is helping to keep hybrid capacity utilized by buying for the federal fleet.  This will help the taxpayer in the long run, by using less fuel, but the cost up front is significant.

Interestingly, Bloomberg reports that the average purchase price was about $5,300 under MSRP.  GIven that hybrids tend to be a loss leader or break-even product to begin with, this program probably didn't help Ford and GM make much money.

For the hybrid business to prosper and evolve, two things need to happen, and soon: batteries need to be cheaper, and gas prices need to be higher.  The consumer has proven that he is primarily cost driven.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fiat's Nero

I heard on John McElroy's automotive news show, Autoline Detroit, that Fiat will use Italian names for its colors in its marketing and ordering materials.  For example, red will be called rosso and black will be nero.  (Que Rome burning jokes)

What I don't understand then is why Fiat is calling the 500 "Five Hundred" and not "Cinquecento", which is its proper Italian name.  Some Americans many associate a recent large sedan by Ford with "Five Hundred".  Maybe the problem is teaching us dumb Americans how to say Cinquecento, although it isn't that hard once you hear it.  It sounds like "chink-wuh-chento" (not "sink-wuh-sento").  Fiat could hire some Italian babe with full lips to show us how it is done.

If you are going to go Italian, I say, go all in.  Call it Cinquecento.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ford Explorer Smashing "Priceless Ming Vases"

Part of Ford's online social marketing campaign for the new Explorer is a series of short and amusing YouTube videos which answer a question about some feature of the vehicle.  

I thought this one was funny.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

iPod Touch Bug: Alarm

Well so much for the illusion of Apple's "it just works". I found a bug in iOS 4.1 in, of all things, the built in Alarm app.

After the end of daylight savings time, my alarm that was set for 6:00 AM now triggers at 7:00 AM, even though the click is set to 6:00 and the alarm is set to 6:00!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Veterans Day

Did you know there is only one surviving American veteran of WWI?  Read Frank Buckle's fascinating story here.

Thank you to our military veterans.  You fought, and many of you were wounded, many of you lost friends, because the country asked you for service.  Our freedoms and comforts rest on your shoulders.

GE: Eating Up EV Tax Credits

Is there a downside to the public to GE's announcement that it will buy 25,000 EVs, including 12,000 Chevrolet Volts?  

The tax credit for EVs phases out after a manufacturer sells 200,000 of them.  From Public Law 111-5, Sections 1141-1144

    `(2) PHASEOUT PERIOD- For purposes of this subsection, the phaseout period is the period beginning with the second calendar quarter following the calendar quarter which includes the first date on which the number of new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicles manufactured by the manufacturer of the vehicle referred to in paragraph (1) sold for use in the United States after December 31, 2009, is at least 200,000.
By gobbling up EVs, GE certainly helps to jump-start the industry, but they also gobble up future tax credits that consumers would have gotten, unless GE opts to forego the EV tax credit.  Which would be bad business.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

E15: Big OIl Fights Back

The American Petroleum Institute has filed a lawsuit to block the EPA's waiver allowing E15 in late model (post 2007) vehicles, on the grounds that the potential harmful effects from E15 have not been fully studied.

I agree with the API, at the heart of it.  If E15 is sold alongside E10, some customers may try to use it in older vehicles, and they could have problems.  

However, on the practical side, I don't see E15 going anywhere in this piecemeal permitting approach.  For E15 to have any impact, it will have to be mandated, not just permitted.  And I doubt it will be mandated until it has been proven safe for older vehicles.  Considering that the average age of cars on the road in the U.S. is around 10 years or so, to safely cover most used cars EPA needs to test back well before 2001 model year.  I don't have the data (R.L. Polk, where are you?) but I suspect you would have to go back to like 1995 to cover 95% of the vehicles on the road.

On the commercial side, gas station owners are not about to spend $20,000 per pump to upgrade to E15 certified pumps.  According to this NY Times piece, unless there is a mandate, gas stations are not going to be switching over.

The third option for service station owners is simply not to sell E15, which Mr. Eichberger said seemed likely. "It is an authorization without a mandate," he said. "There is no retailer out there who has to sell this product."

E15 will remain mostly a symbolic gesture for the near future.  And if your favorite station does put up signs warning you that they are selling E15, make sure you don't put it in your older car, boat, 4 wheeler, or lawnmower.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mulally Crushes Jobs

Steve Jobs, that is.  Amazing times we live in.  Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford, has crushed Apple's Steve Jobs in the Fortune magazine Business Person Of The Year internet poll, 96% to 4%.  Link here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mahindra Update -- Still On Track?

I just got this email from Global Vehicles regarding Mahindra. It doesn't mention the litigation at all, and seems to blame domestic Indian market demand for the delay to U.S. introduction. Huh?

Good Morning Mahindra Truck Fans,

Congratulations. You are part of over 30,000 signed up to be the first to experience the hardworking Mahindra trucks.

I know you are wondering when you will have the opportunity to get behind the wheel of one of these amazing, authentic, robust, fuel-efficient trucks at a Mahindra dealer near you. While I cannot give you a firm answer on timing, I can tell you in my estimation, trucks will arrive in the spring of 2011.

Mahindra has applied for and received their EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) certificate, which means the vehicles have passed emission requirements. They also filed with (NHTSA) National Highway Safety Administration, which handles US standards for safety.

With these hurdles completed, it would seem production is imminent, but other factors may hinder the US launch. India's car sales are on a dramatic trajectory upward. The sales pace combined with an industry wide parts shortage is impacting home market sales, which will have an affect on the United States introduction.

In closing, I know each of you anxiously await the arrival of the Mahindra trucks, and I am confident that you will see a launch announcement in the next few months.

If you haven't seen the Specsheet on the trucks yet, please click on the link below to see it.

Click here to view Specsheet

Or copy and place the following into your browser:



John A. Perez
Global Vehicles USA, Inc.
1720 Windward Concourse
Suite 400
Alpharetta, GA 30005


They Want Trucks!

Well, not just trucky trucks, they also want crossovers.  But still, Americans are not buying increasing numbers of small cars, which may force some very interesting discussions in Sacramento and Washington.  From AP:

The category – known as light-duty trucks – made up 54 percent of all new U.S. vehicle sales last month, compared with 46 percent for cars, according to industry tracker J.D. Power and Associates. It's the biggest difference since December 2005, when trucks accounted for 56 percent of sales.

Which continues to show that Americans want large cars and cheap gas--not small, fuel efficient cars.   If Washington forces the automakers to push small cars in a market that doesn't want them, there will be a strong political backlash.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Review: Dyson DC31 Animal Vac

The Dyson company recently sent me a Dyson DC31 Animal vacuum to review, as part of "Clean Your Garage Day", a made-up holiday dedicated to cleaning up garages.

The DC31 is a handheld vacuum with a 22V Li-on battery. It has Dyson's signature industrial/colorful design, and comes with a motorized brush attachment. It has a high power button on the back, which increases the suction but reduces run time. The DC31 Animal has an attractive metallic purple and gunmetal color scheme, with controls clearly marked with red.

The DC31 takes about 3 hours to charge, and will run for about 10 minutes in normal mode without the motorized brush, and about 6 minutes in high output mode. Using the brush probably costs some run time, but I didn't bother to measure it.

I used the DC31 to vacuum out my very crummy car. It didn't last long enough to do the front and back halves, I was only able to vacuum the (very dirty) front floor and seats before the battery ran out. That is in part because I was using the high suction mode, and I also used the motorized brush to get some stubborn crumbs out of the seat cushions. As we always say in this business, your mileage may vary. While it lasted, it did quite a good job.

I would have liked if Dyson had a plug-in mode, to allow the machine to run off of a car's 12v power supply through the accessory plug. Perhaps a module which replaces the battery, and includes a DC step-up transformer to generate the needed 20v for the motor? There also isn't an easy way to recharge the unit in a vehicle, you would need a DC to AC transformer to do it.

The vac is not very small, but it isn't terribly heavy, and with the
battery well balanced at the end of the pistol grip. I give the ergonomics a mixed grade, it is natural to hold and point, very much like a cordless drill, but the long overall length means that it is ungainly to maneuver in tight spaces, unlike a more traditional vacuum with a flexible hose.

The Dyson uses what they call a "digital motor", which from what I can tell is a high speed brushless DC motor, to spin the impeller and create the vacuum. It has a built in digital controller. It is smooth, with very little vibration, but it is quite loud, making a high pitched whine and whistle sounding similar to a cordless drill. I found the noise to be annoying because of its high pitch.

The other main issue I have with the Dyson DC31 is that it is expensive. Retail price is around $270, or about what you would pay for a good quality cordless drill. Dyson argues that they are offering a premium product, and I don't disagree--but not everyone is ready for a hand vac that has the Apple treatment, innovation at a high price.

  • Excellent suction for the size
  • Nice motorized brush attachment
  • Easy to empty
  • Good ergonomics
  • Dyson's hallmark design
  • Long 2-year warranty

  • No wall-mount feature
  • No way run off of vehicle power or recharge in vehicle.
  • 3.5hrs of charging only gets you 10min of runtime
  • Trigger must be held down continuously, no way to keep it running
  • Can be awkward to maneuver in tight spaces
  • High pitched whistling sound
  • Expensive

In conclusion, the Dyson DC31 makes a very good car vacuum if you are quick about your cleaning, and would like to own a premium product. It makes quick work of small, dirty jobs.

Engineering School Q&A

A student emailed me asking about how to go about getting into the automotive engineering business. Here are my answers.
I stumbled across your blog through an internet search and found your writing to be very interesting. I am a 24-year-old Mechanical Engineering student, and I have plans to go into Automotive Engineering.

Some advice on the best way to become an Automotive Engineer would be very helpful. I spent 6 years out of highchool as a diesel/auto technician before going back to school. Is this going to be a help for me as an engineer later on?
It depends. If you are going into part of the business that is service related, such as service and diagnostics (the guys who write service manuals, develop procedures, etc.) this is very valuable experience. And it is valuable in general if you are going to be involved in hands-on vehicle work.
Is there any drafting software I can get to experement with on my own time in order to put me ahead of the game later on?
Again, it depends what you are going into. If you are going to be a designer, or a release engineer who releases parts that someone else has designed, CAD is very useful. If you aren't going to be dealing with part design as much, for example you are in the vehicle testing side of things, it is less useful. The concepts among different CAD programs are probably similar, so I wouldn't sweat it too much--it is the thinking in 3D, and the craft of drawing up designs which matters. You can get a cheap copy of TurboCAD and go to town.

And most importantly: I've almost finished up my basic courses and plan to transfer to a 4-year university to finish my education. What qualities do I need to look for in an engineering program?
Look for engineering programs that have relationships with industry. You want to get into an internship, or co-op type situation if you can. This will give you invaluable experience and may line you up for a job later, if they like you. Look for schools that have good placement records--how many students go on to get jobs in their field? Look for schools that offer hands-on activities such as Formula SAE or similar competitions. Look for schools that have lab facilities for engineers where they can actually build and test things.
How much does the university matter to prospective employers?
Not super much. I have met brilliant engineers from smaller, less exclusive schools. I have also met idiots from places like Cornell. If you go to a decent school which has a good reputation in industry, and you do well, you will be looked at.

Some other advice. If you can hook up with an engineering professor who is running a lab and working on neat stuff, especially if it is grant funded neat stuff like military research, do so. Being on a project, doing real work, is always a plus.

Volt: Quicker With Gas

Edmunds did a track test on the Chevy Volt.  One interesting result is that the Volt is nearly 1s faster from 0-75mph when using the gasoline range extender than in pure EV mode.  Hmmm... could it be because some gasoline torque is going to the wheels?  Just asking.