Car Maintenance Blues

Last Thursday, my car’s air conditioner compressor gave up a few times. It seizes up and stalls the engine. I didn’t mind it much at first because I was just going slow and straight the first few times it happened. However, on the last stall, I was turning and since I’m on power steering, I lost all steering and my only recourse was to use the brakes in order to avoid running into the center island. Once stopped I turned off the AC and did not turn it on for the rest of the evening.

On Friday, I immediately had the car checked and fixed at a highly recommended car air conditioning shop. They confirmed what I suspected: I’ll have to replace the compressor. My choice is a surplus compressor or a brand new one. The drawback of the surplus compressor is that it’s a 50-50 deal. You may get a good one or a bad one. And in the case of a good one, it usually just lasts a year or two. So I chose get a brand new Sanden SD508 compressor. Of course it has a big drawback: price. And also the belt kept squealing :(

I had also decided to finally fix my brakes as it is one of the best defenses against accidents. So on Friday, I went to Cruven to have my brakes checked and fixed. Again they confirmed what I knew: my front brakes’ rotor discs were grooved and are already thin so replacement was the only option. My brake pads were also worn thing, mainly because of the grooved rotor discs. To save on labor costs, the mechanic advised me to also renovate the front shock absorbers. So I agreed. They replaced the rotor discs, replaced the brake pads with Bendix brake pads, and renovated the front shock absorbers. And I ended up with a hefty repair bill :(

But that’s not even the end of it yet. I’m planning to also get the rear brakes fixed soon. Of course, it would also make also sense to save on labor costs and renovate the rear shock absorbers at the same time. Even more expenses! Argh!

F**k You And Your H2

F**k You And Your H2 is the home of the official Hummer H2 salute. So…why all the fuss? Well, it breaks down like this:

* The H2 is the ultimate poseur vehicle. It has the chassis of a Chevy Tahoe and a body that looks like the original Hummer; i.e. it’s a Chevy Tahoe in disguise.

* The H2 is a gas guzzler. Because it has a gross vehicle weight rating over 8500 lbs, the US government does not require it to meet federal fuel efficiency regulations. Hummer isn’t even required to publish its fuel economy (owners indicate that they get around 10 mpg for normal use). So while our brothers and sisters are off in the Middle East risking their lives to secure America’s fossil fuel future, H2 drivers are pissing away our “spoils of victory” during each trip to the grocery store.

* The H2 is a polluter. Based on G.M.’s optimistic claim that it gets13 mpg, an H2 will produce 3.4 metric tons of carbon emissions in a typical year, nearly double that of G.M.’s Chevrolet Malibu sedan.

* The H2 is a death machine. You’d better hope that you don’t collide with an H2 in your economy car. You can kiss your ass goodbye thanks to the H2’s massive weight and raised bumpers. Too bad you couldn’t afford an urban assault vehicle of your own. Or could you…?

* The H2 is a tax loophole. Under Bush’s new tax plan, business owners can deduct the entire cost of their $55,000 H2. If you are in the highest tax bracket, that’s a tax savings of nearly $20,000! The government rewards you more savings for buying an H2 than you’d get for buying an electric car.

Gasoline Blues

Fuel prices are rising like crazy. To you and me, that usually means gasoline. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as the the evil cartel called OPEC choking the oil stupply. There are also other factors such as fuel refiners’ capacity, huge demand from China, etc. During times like these, as during the Oil Crisis, there is a great interest in alternative fuels. So what are the alternatives to gasoline?

The first thing that would come to mind is diesel. It got a bad rap before for being unreliable, noisy, and dirty. This is unfortunate since diesel is actually much more efficient than gasoline: It can go further per liter. Consequently, it also produces less greenhouse gases. The new generation of diesel engines are even cleaner. This was accomplished by improving the combustion process and by improving the quality of diesel fuel. The good thing about diesel is that you don’t have to wait, it’s here now. In Europe, 40% of the vehicles are diesel powered.

Then there’s the environmentalists’ wet dream: Bio-diesel. Not only is bio-diesel renewable, it is also much cleaner than dinosaur derived diesel (aren’t they also bio?). Bio-diesel is made from a variety of renewable sources: vegetable oil, rapeseed oil, coconut oil, etc. And you can often just pour them directly into the fuel tanks of most diesel engine vehicles without modifications. They will probably be widely use in 5 to 10 years’ time when awareness spreads and production ramps up. That’s about the same time the US leaves Iraq.

Hybrids are a combination of electric vehicles and gasoline vehicles. When running slowly and in stop-and-go traffic, the electric engine is active. When running at high speeds, where gasoline becomes more efficient, the gasoline engine takes over. The battery is automatically charged during braking and when the gasoline engine is active. There are no hybrid diesels yet but it’s only a matter of time before those come out too. Then you can use bio-diesel in hybrids too. They will probably be in widespread use in 5 to 10 years’ time.

Finally there’s fuel cell technology. It is the environmentalists’ thunderous orgasm. The ultimate in forseeable fuel technology. Fuel cell technology is actually an alternative to batteries as a power source for electric vehicles. Batteries have been lagging badly in terms of energy density and the search for a better energy source has led to it. Fuel cells rely on the reaction of hydrogen from the fuel and oxygen from the air to produce electricity and form water vapor, the byproduct. It is the cleanest and most sustainable fuel. It’s is also the most expensive and least viable at this time. My guess is that we can expect widespread fuel cells only in 15 to 20 years’ time.

So what does this mean to us? If you have a gasoline-powered vehicle: nothing much. Just have to keep your vehicle well maintained and drive as fuel-efficiently as possible. If you have a diesel-powered vehicle: use bio-diesels which are being marketed mainly as additives. And of course: WAIT.