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October 2008

Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog

October 30, 2008

Snow Tire Shortage

Snow_tire A recent law in Canada requires all vehicles have snow tires installed by Dec. 15th or their drivers will face a stiff penalty.

I called City Tire in Williston, VT to see how the shortage was effecting us locally. It turns out the increased demand north of the border has in fact caused a snow tire shortage here. Each day it's getting a little tougher to find tires, though so far they have managed to keep up with demand. I asked if there was any price increase caused by the shortage. City Tire has not raised their base prices, but have had to pass on recent  price increases of 10% from Bridgestone, Firestone and Toyo.

In Canada prices have as much as doubled and so Canadians are traveling down here to get reasonably priced tires, further impacting the local supply.

If you haven't gotten snows yet and you need them you better get going!

Here's a video of multiple car crashes in the snow to remind us of the fun to come this Winter. Check out the knuckleheads who get out of their moving cars! Never a good idea.

October 29, 2008

How Does A Cabbie Fare?

Taxisign Jernigan Pontiac is a full-time cab driver and the author of Seven Days’ long-running “Hackie” column and two book compilations. You’ve probably read his stories about the interesting people he drives around Vermont. This week I turned the tables and interviewed him about his life on the road as a cabbie.

BOB KILPATRICK: What do you think of Vermont drivers? Does anything frustrate you about their driving habits?
JERNIGAN PONTIAC: To be a cab driver, you can’t get too upset about other people’s driving habits. Why? Because you’d go nuts. I drive four or five thousand miles a month, and if I let that bother me I would have ulcers on top of ulcers. To really get my attention, you’d probably have to pull out an Uzi and aim it at my gas tank. Short of that, I give people a lot of slack. I anticipate people are going to do really boneheaded things, and then if they don’t, great.

BK: Do you think roads are getting worse, or is it cyclical?
JP: I think it’s cyclical. In and around Chittenden County, they keep them up pretty well. Given the conditions of what you’re dealing with in Vermont — the salt, the freezing and the frost heaves — I think they do as good a job as can be expected. I’ve been in other parts of the country and the roads are way, way worse.

BK: Burlington traffic seems to get worse every year. Would you agree?
JP: It’s just amazing. You think one year it can’t get worse and then the next year it’s even worse. But there are still shortcuts — which I really can’t reveal.

BK: But that was one of my questions! What’s the best shortcut?
JP: I’d have to kill you. Off the record, between me and you I might, but I can’t publicly. By and large, there are ways to zip around town, but these are the tricks of the trade.

BK: Your vehicle is crucial to your livelihood. How do you take care of it?
JP: Probably if I would drive my taxis nice and easy they would last a lot longer, but that boat sailed for me a long time ago. I brake hard, I accelerate hard, I turn hard. All the things you’re not supposed to do. I go over speed bumps like Smokey and the Bandit. But there’s a practical reason. You’ve got to zip around as a cab driver to get the maximum number of fares per hour.

BK: Who does your repairs?
JP: I have a really good mechanic, I trust him. I go to Dave at Ethan Allen Citgo on North Avenue. The best craftspeople have a real humility, and every auto repair is like a little mystery to figure out. In the numbers of years that I’ve run a taxi I should be a master mechanic, but I’m a complete ignoramus. So I really depend on my mechanic, and this guy is really, really good. I never have any worry that he is going to do an unnecessary repair.

BK: How many vehicles have gone through over the years? How often do you have to replace them?
JP: I generally go through a car every two years. There might be a better way to do it, but what has worked for me is that I get a car with about 60 or 70 thousand miles. I’m completely disinterested in what year the car was built. It’s totally about the condition of the car. And then, with any luck, I run it to about 150 to 200 thousand miles. At that point, you’ve got to know when to cut bait and fish — or swim, or get off the pot, or whatever that expression is. And I usually get rid of it before it starts entirely falling to pieces. It has to be dependable at all times, because the last thing I want is to break down in Montréal, or Bennington.

BK: What was your best cab ever?
JP: My best cab ever was the wet dream of cab drivers everywhere, considered the perfect taxi: the Chrysler New Yorker. It’s classy but tank-like. It was the greatest taxi I ever had, but I only had it for four months. One day at the fair out in Essex I picked up a fare. I was waiting at a light and I looked up in my rear-view mirror and there was a small truck bearing down on me. I remember my thought was, "That guy is not going to stop." And he didn’t. He plowed into the back of the New Yorker. They never caught the kids who ran out of the truck. They had stolen it. I remember the sound of the tinkling glass and the dripping liquid and I almost felt like crying. I wasn’t hurt at all. I had two guys in the back who were completely hammered drunk, which totally helped them in that instance. They walked out of the vehicle and I never saw them again. You would have thought they would be dead if you took a look at the back of the vehicle. I actually wrote a “Hackie” story about that event. It was tragic.

October 27, 2008

Mt. Philo Hillclimb

Ed. note: Seven Days Intern Will Ives went to his first Hillclimb last weekend and wrote this post for Good Carma.

Hill3 Every October the Sports Car Club of Vermont sponsors the New England Hillclimb Association’s Mt. Philo race. For anyone unfamiliar with a hillclimb, it’s essentially a car race where each car, one at a time, races up a narrow mountain road with victory going to the person with the best track time. With cars whipping around the winding course at speeds averaging 60+ miles per hour, this autumn tradition is not for the faint of heart.

This past Sunday I was given an opportunity to experience my first hillclimb. As a college intern from out of state, I had no idea what to expect when I first arrived at Mt. Philo. Needless to say the October foliage of Vermont is not the normal backdrop to enjoy a car race, but it served as an aesthetically pleasing way to spend a flawless Sunday morning. Racers take their finish times seriously, but when the racing is not going on there is a real sense of camaraderie. Telling jokes, sharing pointers and comparing improvements made to their vehicles is all part of this tight knit community of passionate racing fans.

Hill1 I was excited when I was given a chance to ride as a passenger in one of the cars during a “fam run” or familiarization run. I was a little uneasy about the idea at first, but I thought better of it and realized that it was too cool of a chance to pass up. We only hit about 50 miles per hour on our way up Mt. Philo, but it was enough to raise my blood pressure a little and give me an appreciation for the excitement the sport has to offer.

After the fam run, the actual racing was getting set to start and I was assigned to help work one of the checkpoints on the course to see the action up close. I have to admit that it seems the car is going much faster riding in the front seat in comparison to watching them pass by the checkpoint. As one club member explained to me “racing is a lot like sex, it's fun to watch but a lot more fun to participate in.”

Hill2 The best part about the hill climb was the sincerity of the racer's motives. With no prize money awarded to the winner, the biggest reward is bragging rights. The uncommercialized hillclimb subculture gathers racing fans of all types to share their enthusiasm for the sport they love.

Bob Sr.'s Weekend Racing Highlights

Editor's Note: Bob Sr. is my dad. He has been racing cars for almost 50 years. If he's not racing on the weekend you'll find him watching auto racing on TV. Every Monday he'll post an update with highlights and the inside scoop on the previous weekend’s big races.


Atlanta Motor Speedway

Carl Edwards drove a great race to finish first, capped by his spectacular back flip in Victory lane celebrating the win. He thought for sure his main rival for the Chase title, Jimmy Johnson the current points leader, must have been mired back in the field. Earlier in the race Johnson received a pit row penalty and was put way back in 30th place.

Not so... Jimmy steadily, but not too carefully, had fought his way back towards the front hoping to get up close enough for at least a top ten finish. During a caution for debris on the track with only 13 laps to go, Jimmy's crew chief Chad Knaus pulled the defining move of the race. He called Jimmy in, put on four fresh tires, told him to "put on your Superman cape and GO!" With only 8 laps left Johnson passed nine cars to finish an astonishing 2nd place. The drive of the race I thought.

No one was more surprised than Carl Edwards, who thought he had eaten into Johnson's point lead in a big way. Instead he found Jimmy had actually lengthened his lead by finishing second! Carl had aggressively passed Hamlin to take over first place with just a few laps to go and had no way of knowing where Jimmy had finished. When he was told in Victory Lane of Johnson’s feat he was at a loss for words. He told the interviewer "I didn’t want to hear that, you've really rained on my parade" shaking his head in disbelief.

Barring some sort of bizarre circumstances Jimmy Johnson is headed for his third straight championship. Over the final three weeks of the season the team is unlikely to have a complete breakdown. Not with crew chief Chad Knaus pulling the strings.

NIKON Indy 300
Surfers Paradise, Australia

In the last Indy car race of the year the three drivers from down under, Ryan Briscoe, Will Power and Indy Champ Scott Dixon, put on a great show for their loyal fans at this tight street circuit. Powers was the early leader and looked like the sure winner until an inexplicable mistake found him up against a barrier and too badly damaged to continue. He was the pole sitter. With Powers down Dixon and Briscoe were pretty much in their own race. Briscoe had to work hard to hold on to first for rest of the day with Dixon all over him. Dario Franchitti in his first drive back in an Indy race since returning from his NASCAR experience showed he has lost none of his open wheel expertise by finishing third. All in all a fitting finish for the 2008 season.

Danica early in the race spun her car on cold tires colliding with Helio Castroneves.  She probably did not appreciate the closeup camera coverage of her all too familiar tantrums when her car would not restart. Time to grow up.

October 24, 2008

What's Your Carfun Footprint?

Mini_red_threequarter Mini Cooper is running a new ad campaign with the title "What's your carfun footprint?" Their play on words is used to illustrate their efforts to produce a car that is both fun to drive and gets good gas mileage (37 mpg city, not too shabby) thereby reducing your carbon footprint.

Another effort to create a car that is both fast and energy efficient is being undertaken at UVM by their Alternative Energy Racing Organization with Operation GreenSpeed. They are preparing a race car for entry in the annual International Formula-Hybrid competiton.

Aero_team_portrait Want to learn more? Stop by the Vermont 3.0 Creative Tech Jam at Champlain College tomorrow and you can check out their vehicle and meet some of the students involved in this activity.

See you there!

October 22, 2008

How to Buy a Car: A 5-Step Plan

Vw_2 Whether you’re thinking of purchasing a car now, during end-of-year sales, or sometime down the road, you’ll do well to have a game plan to help you make the best decision. First and foremost, don’t fall into the trap of letting your emotions — or your ego — interfere with the selection.
Here are the primary steps in choosing the best vehicle for you:

1. First determine what you actually need.
Try not to start by choosing the car you like best. Approach the task with a utilitarian perspective and think about the attributes your new car or truck should have to meet your requirements.
    For example, perhaps your kids have grown up and you can now downsize from that minivan to something smaller. But if this will be your family’s primary vehicle you have to consider how many adults you may need to transport comfortably.
    Speaking of space: Do you have pets that need to ride along? You’ll want to make sure there’s room in the back of a new vehicle for Fido. Or you might haul other large items around on a regular basis like musical or sports equipment, or tools. Can it all fit in the trunk or cargo area or would a smaller car with a roof rack do the trick? If so, figure in about $500 for the rack.
    An important consideration these days is your carbon footprint. The same car that meets your other requirements might come with 4, 6 or 8 cylinders. Are you more interested in performance, or fuel efficiency?

2. Decide whether a new or pre-owned vehicle will better suit the needs you’ve identified. Are you looking for the best warranty available, or simply the “most car” for the money?
    A new car will generally have a much better warranty, so can hedge against unforeseen costs down the road. There’s also a pride in ownership when buying new that can’t quite be matched by buying a car someone else drove for a few years. More importantly, how did the previous owners treat the car?
    On the flip side, a new car depreciates faster — typically at least a grand or two as soon as you drive it off the lot, and in some cases up to 50 percent of the value within three years. That can mean some great bargains in cars from 1 to 3 years old.
    Used car makes and models have a known record. Depending on their reliability over a couple of years they receive ratings from consumer guides that can help steer your choice. Many used cars are now sold with excellent manufacturer certifications. In short, you can often get more bang for your buck by choosing a used car.
For comparisons, I searched Seven Days Auto Finder for both new and used vehicles with a price range of $24K to $26K. I found that for about $25,000 you could get a new 2009 Subaru Outback AWD Wagon or a used 2005 Volvo XC70 AWD Wagon with 21,000 miles. Or, you could consider a new Honda Accord versus a used 2006 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Luxury Sedan with 20,410 miles.

Honda 3. Pick two or three models that fit your criteria and research the reliability, safety and resale value of each. If you need help, email me at [email protected] and I’ll be glad to assist with that research.

4. Test-drive each of the vehicles you’ve identified. Take notes on what you liked, or didn’t, about each one.

5. Finally, decide which vehicle is right for you and negotiate the best deal possible. As always, email any questions you have to [email protected].

October 21, 2008

Tesla Hits A Bump In The Road

Tesla Tesla the electric car maker (named for Nikola Tesla, one of the most important scientists and inventors of the modern age) is undergoing layoffs, restructuring and office closings in the face of the current economic crisis.

The Tesla Roadster is a high-performance electric vehicle with sexy looks and an incredible 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds. It will run for 244 miles on a single charge and burns no oil or gas.

Though it has been a very difficult year the company is not entirely in dire straights with a year-long waiting list for the $109,000 Roadster and operation of a profitable power-train supply business. If they can control costs and get their act together they will do well.

Tesla has delayed the release of their Model S, which is expected to sell for $60,000, until mid-2011. This gives General Motors a good six-month lead with sales of their Chevrolet Volt beginning in 2010.

Tesla2All alternative fuel and energy initiatives, in all sectors, are being challenged by the recent drop in oil prices. Even though science suggests we are facing a Global Warming crisis we have seen that real efforts to find alternative energy sources are only seriously considered when they are cost effective. Cheaper oil driven by a stalling economic engine around the world will have a negative effect on clean energy development.

This is an interesting and concerning challenge for our times and one I hope Tesla weathers through.

October 20, 2008

Bob Sr.'s Weekend Racing Highlights

Editor's Note: Bob Sr. is my dad. He has been racing cars for almost 50 years. If he's not racing on the weekend you'll find him watching auto racing on TV. Every Monday he'll post an update with highlights and the inside scoop on the previous weekend’s big races.


American LeMans Series
Laguna Seca, Monterey, California

Audi takes the LMP1 Overall Championship once again! Marco Werner and Lucas Luhr took a first overall victory for Audi Sport North America making it a perfect 1-2 with Emanuele Pirro in 2nd. Werner passed Pirro in the dark with just 26 minutes left after a restart.

Tony Kanaan in the Andretti-Green LMP2 Acura had led overall briefly several times but the superior torque of the Audi was not to be denied. Kanaan finished  3rd overall and first in the LMP2 class just ahead of Simon Pagenaud in another Acura. They had a great race passing each other several times in the last 15 minutes. Though Acura won  the final race of the series the Porsche team of Timo Bernard and Romain Dumas were able to take the LMP2 title for Penske Racing by just one point by finishing 3rd in class.

In the GT1 class the Corvette Racing team took honors once again, this time with Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin over Johnny O'Connell and Jan Magnussen, but Johnny and Jan won the season championship. All season long it was the two Corvette C6 teams fighting each other, no competition from the Aston Martins this year.

Mueller and Farnbacher took the GT2 victory for the fourth time this year in their Ferrari 430 GT but the championship was already won at Road Atlanta in the last race by the Flying Lizard Porsche Team of Jorg Burgmeister and Wolf Henzler. Finishing a series 2nd to Porsche in just their first year makes Ferrari look very strong for next year.

The 2009 ALMS season starts this March at the 57th running of  the 12 Hours of Sebring. That will be the 100th race of the very successful Le Mans series. I'll be there, only 90 minutes from my digs!

Formula One
Shanghai, China

This is the penultimate F1 race. It was no surprise when Hamilton took the pole and did all but take the title staying well ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in 2nd and Massa in 3rd. Late in the race Kimi gave way (a beau gest) to allow Massa to garner 2nd place points and remain in the championship hunt. Massa has 87 points with Hamilton at 94.

Continue reading "Bob Sr.'s Weekend Racing Highlights" »

October 19, 2008

Some Tips For Negotiating To Buy A Car

When you sit down to negotiate the price for your next car or truck the more cards you hold the better position you will be in. Financing is a key component. Get pre-approved for a loan so that you know what you can afford and don’t have to rely on the dealer to provide financing for you. Sometimes a dealership can offer you better terms than you can find from your local lender, sometimes they’re worse. By all means consider what the dealership has to offer, but if you are pre-approved you take control of that portion of the negotiation. This allows you to focus on the price.

When you’re ready to buy it’s easy to get over excited and just go pick out a car and want to buy it right away. Force yourself to take the time to compare at least two or three different makes and models with comparable features that meet the criteria you have decided will meet your needs. When you decide to make an offer keep your options open. Don’t just focus on that one car. If negotiations aren’t going your way have a plan “b” car and be ready to step back and logically consider your choices.

October 18, 2008

Auto Finder At The Burlington Brawl

Med_rect If anybody out there is wondering what to do tonight you should check out the Burlington Brawl. Many of these fighters have proven themselves in the ring before and there are going to be some very exciting and well matched fights. I'll be heading down with my crew to launch some Auto Finder t-shirts into the audience. Hope to see you there!

October 17, 2008

Crazy Multi-Car Car Crash

It was a busy Friday. Here's a crazy-ass car crash for your entertainment.
Be careful out there!

October 16, 2008

Should You Buy A New Or Used Car

There are great deals available out there for both new and used vehicles. Each have their benefits.

Picture_13 New Car Pros
A new car will typically have a much better warranty. Hyundai has made a name for themselves with a 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. Now US manufacturers have finally brought their vehicles up to standards that meet or beat their foreign competitors and can offer even better warranties in some cases. New Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep cars and trucks offer a lifetime powertrain warranty for the original owner of the vehicle. Got that? As long as you own that car or truck the major mechanical parts are guaranteed. That is close to amazing. So to hedge against unforeseen costs down the road a new car can be the safest bet.

There’s a pride in ownership in buying a new car that can’t be matched by buying a used vehicle someone else picked out and has driven for a few years. And more importantly how did they treat the car for those years?

New Car Cons
A new car loses value faster, typically $1-2k in value as soon as you take it off the lot and in some cases a loss of 50% of value within three years after you bought it.

If it’s a new model or the model has undergone significant changes since the previous year the long-term reliability is somewhat of an unknown. It's not uncommon for a popular car to get a redesign that diminishes some of the key features that made it popular in the first place. It can take a year for that kind of information to circulate. So there may be unanticipated problems that make your life difficult.

Picture_14 Used Car Pros
Used cars as a group have a known reliability record. Individual makes and models have been out on the road for a couple of years so you can better gauge which will be most reliable and maintain their value.

Many used cars are now sold with manufacturer certifications. You can protect yourself with a great warranty by buying a certified used car. On Seven Days Auto Finder you can target your search specifically for cars that are certified.

If you can find a used vehicle with complete service records, whether it's from a dealership or a private owner, that will remove many unknowns and also indicates that the car was well cared for.

You can get "more car" for your money with a used car. Car and Driver recently created a list of 9 cars they think are the “Most Fun for $25K.” This may not be your most important criteria, but it really makes the point that you can get into a higher-end vehicle if you’re willing to buy used.

The first two cars were new, the Mazda MX-5 Miata and the Volkswagen GTI. Both great cars, but modest in comparison to the rest of the list. The three top used cars were the 2001-04 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, 2002-06 BMW M3 and the most fun for $25k was the 1991-94 Acura NSX.

Hmm… a new Volkswagen GTI vs. a slightly used BMW M3. Makes for a difficult decision doesn’t it?

Picture_15_2 On Seven Days Auto Finder I did a search using the price range sliders to target vehicles from $24-26k. Here are some interesting comparisons I found.

- A new 2009 Subaru Outback AWD Wagon vs. a used 2005 Volvo XC70 AWD Wagon with 21,000 miles.

- An mid-level Honda Accord vs. a used 2006 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Luxury Sedan with 20,410 miles.

So should you buy used or new? First start by considering what kind of car you need and then figure out what you can afford. Take all of this into consideration and the decision might make itself for you.

October 15, 2008

Going Fast, Taking Chances

Joey Kale is a local Motor Sports enthusiast who has recently gained attention on the hillclimb circuit for coming out of nowhere and executing a serious beatdown on the perennial favorites of the sport. His efforts are even more impressive because he builds his own cars at his small business, Kale’s Custom, a shop in Essex, Vermont, where he specializes in building rally-style Subaru Imprezas. Last week, Kale put down the tools and gave me some face time.

Joey_kale BOB KILPATRICK: Who is Joey Kale? How old are you and what brought you to motor sports?
JOEY KALE: I’m 26 years old. I enjoy driving, driving around Vermont, dirt roads, winter driving. I just love breaking traction and sliding all over the place. In high school I started doing body work, working for a small shop in Essex. I worked there for five or six years, and then I took over the space. I was always building cars in my spare time. I got introduced to racing and hillclimbing. This is my first season racing, and I hope to take the King of the Hill trophy, which I don’t think a rookie has ever done before.

BK: Is the interest in cars a passion you share with your family?
JK: My Dad introduced me to the mechanical side of things. He helped me to do my first engine swap when I was younger. It was an engine swap in a Honda Civic, and that’s what started it all. I was 15; it was before I even had my license. It was the fastest car at Essex High School.

BK: How would you categorize your profession?
JK: General motor sports, any kind of competition by building a car and using what you built. Go fast, take chances. That’s a quote I use.

BK: I’m sure you’re familiar with Vermont SportsCar and what they’re doing. It’s a similar model to yours, but at a national scale.
JK: I know a few of those guys and actually just built a car and sold it to one of their guys. It was the first car I built purposefully for racing and sold. It has a full chrome-moly cage. I seam-welded the whole chassis, so it is very structurally safe. He’s going to be hillclimbing with us. I took it down to the bare frame. [The process is:] Weld it, cage it, put it back together with newer drive train parts, stuff from an ’02 or newer model, turbocharged, three times the power.

Joey_kale_car BK: Is that your business model?
JK: It didn’t make me a lot of money, but it helps get my vehicles out there and shows people what I’m capable of. He drives it to Vermont SportsCar every day and parks it in front of all of them and they all love it. They don’t build custom cars for people on the street. The kids over there saw that and they said, “He’s going to put Lance [Smith, president of Vermont SportsCar] out of business.” It was kinda cool hearing some of their reactions.

BK: Tell me about your hillclimb experience.
JK: This year I have participated in all of the [New England Hillclimb Association events]. At Mt. Ascutney, Okemo and Burke Mt. I placed first in class and second overall. Just a few weeks ago I finally won — by nine seconds — in this year’s second Mt. Ascutney event. I just wanted to compete with some of the fastest guys out there. Arlo Cota, the owner of Imported Car Center, a guy named Don Taylor, who does tech inspections for Rally America for all the national rallies. The guys that were the quickest guys on the hill. I really want to compete in the X Games.

BK: Is there a recognized path to get to the X Games?
JK: There are two options: You either race the entire season and earn your way into it by being one of the top six nationwide, or you can go to the Maine Forest Rally [now New England Forest Rally]. It’s the final qualifier before the X Games, and if you are the fastest non-invited contender, you’re immediately in. So that’s got to be my option. I have to got to Maine Forest Rally and kick some ass.

BK: Your goal is to get to the Maine Forest Rally and win, but you’ve never actually driven in a rally event. It sounds like you better get out there and enter some events!
JK: There’s a school in New Hampshire, Team O’Neil Rally School. I pretty much have to do that. It’s $4000 for a four-day course. You drive and sit in a classroom and he teaches you techniques — what to do, what not to do. You come out of it with coefficient points that you need to be able to race an all-wheel-drive turbo vehicle. Then I need to do two more rallies in a naturally aspirated car and just finish. I don’t even have to place, just make it across the finish line, and then I’m in.

Check out this video of Joey Kale tearing it up at the Burke Mt. Hillclimb

October 14, 2008

How To Buy A New Or Used Car Or Truck

This is the first in a series of posts on how to buy a new or used car. Yes the economy is in rough shape and yes the auto industry has been taking a beating lately. The good news is that if you need to buy a new or used car or truck there are opportunities to find good deals out there.

First you need to figure out what you need. If you just go out and start shopping you’re liable to end up with a car that doesn’t meet your needs. There are a number of considerations you should take into account.

Chrysler_town_country When we recently replaced my wife’s vehicle here are some of the things we thought about before we started looking around.

Living Creatures
Our kids are grown up and living their own lives at 21 & 24 so we didn’t need our Chrysler Town & Country minivan anymore. It had the capacity to seat 7 people. We do still occasionally all ride together, for instance to concerts in Montreal or Bruin’s games in Boston, and sometimes there’s an extra friend tagging along. So we decided we needed the ability to haul 5 adults comfortably for up to 4 hours.

Do you have large dogs? In some instances our 90 lb. lab Arlo and two small terriers needed to fit into the same car we were hauling those five adults in. The terriers could fit at our feet or in our laps if necessary. Arlo needed his own space. We brought each vehicle home and gave Arlo his own test drive. To meet our (his) needs it was necessary that he could get in under his own power and then have enough room to be comfortable.

Volvo_c30 Utility
Play in a band? Or do you haul large recreational items like skis or tents & coolers? Will they fit in a large trunk? Be sure to test fit anything you want to haul around with you. Also consider a roof rack. You might be fine with a smaller vehicle if your gear would fit on the roof. Figure in an extra $500 for a roof rack with carrier if you go this route.

Do you need to tow anything? If you have a boat, snowmobile or utility trailer you will need a vehicle that has a tow kit and the power to move whatever you’re towing.

Efficiency and/or Performance
Are you interested in reducing your carbon footprint and saving money on gas? The same car that you have determined meets your size requirements might come with a choice of 4, 6 or 8-cylinders. Are you more about performance or efficiency? If efficiency is very important consider one of the many hybrid models now available. Seven Days Auto Finder has the ability to just search for cars that get 30 mpg or better.

Mini Personal Expression
Maybe you don’t care what your car looks like, but let’s face it, no matter what you think, the rest of the world sees your car as an extension of your personality. What kind of car are you? Sporty, luxurious, thrifty, cute or tough as nails?

So that’s where to start your quest. Did I miss anything? What other things would you consider important?

On Thursday we’ll compare the value of  new versus used vehicles.

October 13, 2008

Bob Sr.'s Weekend Racing Highlights

Editor's Note: Bob Sr. is my dad. He has been racing cars for almost 50 years. If he's not racing on the weekend you'll find him watching auto racing on TV. Every Monday he'll post an update with highlights and the inside scoop on the previous weekend’s big races.


Japanese Grand Prix
Fuji, Japan

Hamilton2_2 McClaren's Lewis Hamilton took pole position for the sixth time this season but really botched his start. In an apparent move to make up for that miserable start he sharply cut off his teammate, Heikki Kovalainen, on the long straight before the first turn. Then Hamilton over-braked into turn one forcing Kimi Raikkonen in the overtaking Ferrari to take evasive action.

Still in lap one Hamilton fell back to fifth where Filipe Massa, his arch rival for the Championship, was trying to make up for his own surprisingly poor starting position. They put on a good battle for fifth until Massa body slammed him causing Lewis to spin to the back of the field while Massa was able to continue. Massa was given a drive-thru penalty for his stupid action and Hamilton the same for trying to take Kimi out in turn one. Hamilton could have been given another for chopping off his teammate on his mad dash to the first turn. Clearly not the best of moves for the two potential World Champions.

Kubica smoothly took over first with Alonso, the previous race winner at Singapore, tagging along closely in second. Renault's pit crew got Alonso out in front after their series of pit stops and Kubica was not able to match his pace.

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen meanwhile had been slowly moving up in the field after his altercation with Hamilton. After several failed passing attempts on Kubica he resigned himself to the 3rd place podium finish. Kimi, the current F1 World Champion felt his car was capable of winning having led into the first turn before contact with both McClaren drivers, Hamilton and Kovalainen, which caused some problems with his front suspension.

Hamilton still ends up retaining his championship lead with 84 points, Massa 5 behind with 79, Kubica with 72 and poor Raikkonen at 63 having scored ZERO points five times this year because of uncharacteristic mechanical failures often while leading.

Renault and Alonso are on a roll and with less than ten points between the first three drivers he could still cause some trouble.

McClaren lost the lead in the Manufacturers Championship to Ferrari with Kimi and Massa picking  up 8 points for Scuderia Ferrari.

Next stop for the traveling circus known as Formula One is Shanghai, China on October 19th.

October 11, 2008

GM and Chrysler Consider A Merger

General Motors and Chrysler announced that they have been in negotiations for about a month trying to find agreement on terms for a potential merger. This would reduce the US Big Three to a Big Two.

It sounds like the chances are still about 50-50 that they will come to an agreement.

Last week Congress and the President quietly signed off on a $25 billion dollar bailout for US automakers. What's clear is that US taxpayers will foot that bill. What's not clear is if it will be enough to save them. I first reported on the bailout early last month.

Automakers are being hit by a perfect storm. They rode the cash cow of pickups and inefficient cars right into the current thrashing of our economy and the specter of global warming. Now they are dealing with the wrong inventory, tight credit and far fewer car buyers.

Both companies have strong developments coming in efficient electric vehicles including the highly anticipated Chevy Volt, but vehicles won't be ready for sale until 2010. Too little to late? Only time will tell.

October 10, 2008

First Visit to Vermont SportsCar

I just got a quick tour of Vermont SportsCar in Colchester, VT from their Marketing Manager Chris Yandell. Their primary mission is keeping Subaru Rally Team USA up and running. They were busy prepping cars for the Lake Superior Rally October 17 & 18. It's more than a full-time job to keep their stable of Subarus race ready for the likes of drivers Travis Pastrana and Ken Block. It's relatively unknown that Colchester, Vermont is a hub of Rally activity, but with both Vermont SportsCar and Rally legend John Buffum in town it's practically the epicenter.

Thunder Road Rookies Take Honors

Thunder_roadThree stock car drivers from Barre’s Thunder Road have been named Rookie of the Year in their respective divisions.

Matt White of Northfield won top rookie honors in the American-Canadian Tour Late Model division by a slim margin over Tony Andrews of Middlebury. White won two 50-lap main events in his Chevrolet Monte Carlo this season. Wayne White, Matt’s father won Rookie of the Year at Thunder Road in 1984 in the Flying Tiger division.

Twenty-one year-old Bobby Therrien of Hinesburg was awarded his second consecutive Rookie of the Year award this time in the NAPA Tiger Sportsman division. Second was Cody Blake of Barre and in third Mike Ziter of Williamstown. Another family connection here: Therrien’s older brother Tom Therrien won Rookie of the Year in the Sportsmen’s division four years ago.

Eighteen year-old Mike MacAskill of Williamstwon had been leading the Allen Lumber Street Stock division’s rookies since May. He clinched it against strong competition at the Milk Bowl, the final event of the year. Following on his heels were Bunker Hodgdon of Hardwick and David Whitcomb of Elmore.

October 08, 2008

Around the ’Benz

Last weekend, my wife Christine and I headed south from Burlington on Route 116 on a combination foliage tour — the trees started showing peak color around Starksboro — and an extended test drive of a Mercedes C 300 Luxury Sedan, courtesy of The Automaster in Shelburne, Vermont. Over the course of the day we would traverse the Green Mountains twice, visit three ski areas, cross four covered bridges and travel more than 150 miles. A picturesque Vermont road trip if ever there was one.

The Mercedes C-Class line presents the most accessible models of this carmaker’s offerings. The C 300 Luxury model I was driving has a 3.0-liter V6 with seven-speed automatic transmission and 4MATIC 4WD system. It puts out 228 hp with a 0-60 mph time of 7.1 seconds. The starting price of $35,400 is reasonable given the advanced German engineering of the engine and drive train, and the high level of comfort and design of the interior.

It was a chilly morning, and the coziness of the eight-way-power, heated seats was almost as good as an onboard masseuse. Seriously.

The controls, which put everything within easy reach, have a feel reminiscent of a high-end audio system. Speaking of audio, the eight-speaker sound system achieved a nice sense of balance. I felt evenly surrounded by clear, quality sound, something I always look for but rarely find in a car.

For those who prefer a more performance-oriented vehicle, the C 300 Sport model is available with six-speed manual transmission, lowered sport suspension and a handsome, aggressively designed grill. From there you can step up to the C 350 Sport, which has a 3.5-liter V6 that adds 40 hp and shaves one second off the 0-60 mph time. Want the ultimate in performance? The C 63 AMG has a 6.3-liter, 32-valve V8 that produces 451 hp and a blistering 4.3-second 0-60 mph time! This bad boy is a street-legal version of the C-Class AMG that has won more races in Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) racing history than any other car.

A mile and a half past the intersection of Route 17, we took a left and headed towards Lincoln. The first geographic highlight of our trip was the beautiful falls in the New Haven River, just off the right side of Lincoln Road.

The Mercedes C-Class engines all employ variable intake and exhaust valve timing. What does that mean? Valves in an engine allow a fuel-air mixture to enter and exit the cylinder. In old-school engines the valves allowed in a fixed amount of fuel and air regardless of conditions. With variable timing, intake and exhaust are adjusted and optimized, allowing the car to get significantly better gas mileage and provide power, or torque, over a greater range of engine speeds. This increased performance was evident, whether I was scaling Lincoln Gap or pretending I-89 was the autobahn.

We had lunch at Sugarbush’s Timbers Restaurant in the new Lincoln Peak Village. As we ate, young daredevils zipped by the windows on an 800-foot zip line. The food was good and the leaf-peepers were plentiful. Every trip should include some exploring, and so from there we headed out Moretown Mountain Road toward Northfield. This turned out to be a nice choice, with far fewer photographers jockeying for that perfect foliage shot.

From there it was north on Route 12 and then west on I-89 to Waterbury. On the Interstate, as Christine gazed out the window at the trees, I pressed the pedal and accelerated to a speed that significantly exceeded what would normally worry her. But the ride was so smooth and quiet, she never even noticed — I totally got away with it! Other cars ticked by in succession until we exited and headed north into the eye of the leaf-peeper’s perfect storm: Ben & Jerry’s, Cold Hollow Cider Mill and Stowe. Needless to say, our momentum was significantly diminished.

Once out of Stowe, we headed up over Smugglers’ Notch on Route108. This is where I first played around with the Touch Shift manual shift mode. Tap the gearshift left or right and it engages, giving you greater control over shifting. Though it didn’t give me quite the feedback of a manual transmission, it was fun and more responsive, and allowed me to further test the performance of the car on the winding road ahead.

The car performed very well for us in all conditions. It’s what you would expect from a Mercedes, but with the redesigned C-Class, I think the automaker has achieved a combination of style and ride that will intrigue a lot of people. After 50 miles in many vehicles, I’m ready to get out and walk. I emerged from the Mercedes feeling good and ready for an evening of fun in Burlington.

October 06, 2008

Burke Mt. Hillclimb Video

This morning I'm in Essex, VT interviewing Joey Kale of Kale's Custom auto shop. The story will run next week, but for now I can tell you that Joey races and specializes in tuning Subarus. Check out the video below that shows him screaming up Burke Mt. during the hillclimb event there on 8/24/08 in his 600 hp Impreza. Tip: The car takes off at 26 seconds in on the video. Do yourself a favor and jump ahead to that point.

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