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Is Smart Car Vandalism the New Cow Tipping?

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 - by Chris Queen


Growing up on the outer edges of Atlanta’s suburbs, I’d heard about cow tipping. For the uninitiated, the idea of cow tipping stems from the (false) supposition that cows sleeping standing up could be knocked over easily. Truth be told, cow tipping is an urban legend – probably what city folk think we do out in the sticks.

Last weekend in San Francisco, a group of people prowled the streets of the city overnight and vandalized Smart Cars by turning them on their sides, hoods, and rear ends.

Hitting four smart cars in a few hours, an eyewitness account indicated that eight people wearing hooded sweatshirts flipped one of the cars. At approximately 1,500 to 1,800 pounds per car, each vehicle had smashed windows as well as significant body damage from being flipped over.

Speaking about one of the car-tipping incidents, eyewitness Brandon Michael said “I thought they looked like they were up to no good and then sure enough they walk up to this Smart Car right here, all huddle around it and just lift it up and set it on its hind legs, like a dog on its hind legs, — that’s pretty much it.” According to San Francisco Police Officer Gordon Shyy, the car-tipping vandals have yet to be identified and will likely face felony charges if caught.

Vandals in other cities have targeted the tiny cars in years past. Three years ago, a group in Vancouver turned a Smart Car over as a crowed cheered them on. In 2009, authorities arrested an Edmonton, Alberta man for tipping a Smart Car.

The police don’t know if the vandals are random thugs going after easy targets or if they are trying to make a statement against the environmentally friendly cars.

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The Cadillac ELR Proclaims: ‘The Emperor has no Clothes!’

Monday, March 10th, 2014 - by Bonnie Ramthun

The new commercial for the Cadillac ELR, a fully electric vehicle, has riled some people with its unabashed American patriotism. They’re outraged that a commercial selling a car would dare to celebrate American exceptionalism.  Some are calling it xenophobic. Twitter feeds erupted with anger at the arrogance and self-confidence of the American businessman portrayed in the ad.  Others called it “hyper-patriotic.”  They did not mean this as a compliment.

The outrage against this commercial is quite peculiar. In the Ukraine right now people are fighting and dying in order to remain Ukrainian and not to become citizens of Russia. Why shouldn’t Americans be pleased to be American?

We have this situation because the idea of loving our country is seen as arrogant by our pundit class and our education system.  My children learned about the Civil War but the focus was on slavery, not the Abolitionists or the Union that fought to end it. They learned the Native American experience as one of oppression and slaughter and America was the villain of every lesson. When history turned to World War II the majority of the class time was spent on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bashing America for using nuclear weapons, leaving Pearl Harbor as a footnote. The Bataan Death march wasn’t covered. Is there any wonder some students graduate from high school after reading A People’s History of the United States by the America-hating Howard Zinn and feel little sense of patriotism and pride in their own country? That is by design, not by accident.

Here’s the danger of this Cadillac ELR commercial that celebrates America: America is a great country, an exceptional one, the grand experiment in self-government that has unleashed unprecedented freedom and liberty to her citizens. This commercial is like the parable of the boy who cried out that the Emperor had no clothes on. Once the boy said this, the people no longer had to pretend any more, or try to fool themselves into seeing something where there wasn’t anything. There are those who wish to “fundamentally transform” America into something else, and a commercial like this one reveals the ridiculousness of that goal.  Well done, Cadillac. Well done.

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4 Reasons Americans Don’t Care About Cars Anymore

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in February of 2013. It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months…

Automobiles are everywhere, so it might come as a shock to some that the culture surrounding their creation and appreciation is dying.  America has a long, rich history with the automobile — to the extent that you could call it a love story. Many a man and woman have been bewitched by the thundering horses under the hood, the smell of rich leather, the pulsing power felt underfoot, and the consequential adrenaline rush from a short spin around the block. The automobile is an essential piece of the cultural fabric of America. We helped to invent it, fine-tune it, unleash it… and, in the end, we fell in love with it. Owning a car became a source of pride, as well as a symbol of success and freedom. What’s more American than the image of a green, 1940s Chevy pick-up driving down a stretch of Route 66, a tan arm resting on the rolled-down window, fingers feeling the wind? It makes you want to yell, “America!” and go drink a Coke on the 4th of July.

Unfortunately, I’m not so sure this vision is a reality anymore. The vibrant love between car and man that inspired an entire culture of auto devotees now seems to be dwindling. The gear-head enthusiasts will always motor on, I am sure, but what happened to the average American? Simple respect and appreciation for the metal beast has shifted to sheer disinterest in cars. The following is the sad, draft-obituary of America’s car culture…

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A Big Toy For Grown-Up Boys

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

Tonka F-150

The 2014 Chicago Auto Show offers the largest selection of production and concept vehicles of any auto show in the country. Like every other auto maker, Ford is serving up some exciting vehicles, including a reimagined 2015 F-150. But the absolute coolest truck at Ford’s show space in Chicago is bound to bring out the little boy in all of us guys: the Ford Tonka F-150.

Based on an F-150 Lariat powered by a 5.0-liter V8, it gets mechanical upgrades that include a six-inch Pro-Comp lift kit, 20-inch alloy wheels, and a Quiet Tone exhaust system. That’s all well and good, but this truck is all about the style, and it has plenty of that.

It features chunky new bumpers, side cladding, step bars, and a redesigned tailgate all embossed with the Tonka logo; stainless steel billet steel inserts on the grille openings; fender vents;  and to top it all off a bulging ram-air hood that’s just short of being cartoony. More Tonka logos are applied to the interior, and the bed is finished with a hard tonneau cover and heavy-duty carpeting.

The Tonka F-150 is available in any color as long as it’s yellow, because anything else would just be wrong. Prices vary by participating dealer, but the conversion listed on the show truck is $22,282 on top of the $50,078 truck it’s built on for a grand total of $72,360.

Ford is collaborating with Tuscany Motors to produce a limited run of 500 Tonka F-150s. The companies produced a handful of the trucks in 2013, and the response to them led to this year’s new run. Sure, they’re a little pricey, but if you can afford to relive your childhood in the coolest possible way, wouldn’t you?

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Will Volkswagen Make The Beetle Cool Again?

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014 - by Chris Queen


My first car was a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle, a semi-automatic in a sort of blue I called “electric powder blue” (clearly not a factory color). It was far from the perfect car – the heat ran constantly, so I had to disconnect it during warmer months and reconnect it when the weather turned cold. The parking brake didn’t work, so I had to carry a chock block with me everywhere I went. When it finally died, it left me stranded on a pretty remote stretch of Highway 78, and I had to hitchhike to the nearest pay phone. But it was a Beetle, and I was proud of that car and look back on it fondly even now.

When Volkswagen introduced the New Beetle in 1997, the company brought out a car that was funky and fun, but it just didn’t exude the same cool as the original Beetle that became an institution. (I honestly thought the car was a bit girly.) The 2011 reintroduction came closer, but it still wasn’t the same.

Now it looks like Volkswagen may be ready to make the Beetle cool again. This week VW has unveiled a concept car they’re calling the “Beetle Dune.”

VW calls the Beetle Dune Concept a “Baja Bug for the 21st century”.  Of course, real Baja bugs were heavily modified rear-wheel-drive Type 1 Beetles, fortified for desert racing in Mexico’s Baja California. The front-wheel-drive Dune Concept is an aesthetic statement only, with no desert-strafing aspirations.

The car on the show stand wears a desert-hued paint VW calls Arizona – a yellow-orange metallic – with matte-finished two-part fender cladding on the wheel arches intended to convey a bolder stance than the base Beetle musters. The larger, 19in wheels have increased offset to visually fill the fender openings and push the wheels to the corners of the car, while a custom raised hood and rear spoiler that doubles as a ski rack round out the appearance changes. The Dune does sit two inches higher than the 210-horsepower Beetle R-Line, on which the concept car was based.

Unsurprisingly, VW says the Dune “looks production ready”, since it is basically an appearance package, but the overt hint suggests a production version may come along.

Doesn’t that car just scream “badass”? The Beetle Dune looks muscular, edgy, and much less feminine than the late 90s Beetles, yet it retains that distinctive funkiness that’s always been appealing. This is a new Beetle I could get excited about, and I bet plenty of other Beetle enthusiasts could too.

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Get Off the Phone!

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard


If you have a phone that’s equipped with a camera, you’ve likely noticed how easy it is to lapse into observing life vicariously, through the lenses of our cameras, instead of truly savoring the moment. Afterward, we regret that we were passive observers and we didn’t fully immerse ourselves in the experience. Be honest, who hasn’t let their food get cold while they scrolled through Instagram filters or “staged” the corned beef sandwich in an attempt to share the goodness with friends and family on Facebook? Even if  you have decided to eschew participating in this Brave New World of head-nodders milling about, you will find yourself accosted on all sides by serial selfie-snappers at family events, restaurants — even at funerals!

In a new video, Buick teams up with “intertainers” Rhett and Link, asking us to take a step back to evaluate our relationships with our phones through the parody song, Get Off the Phone:

Get off the phone now!
It’s gonna be okay
There’s no need to be afraid.
It doesn’t love you
Its gonna die one day.
The government is probably
Spying on you with it anyway.

Rhett and Link’s song, and the accompanying #IntheMoment campaign, turns the camera lens back on those of us with our heads buried in our smart phones — those of us watching virtual life on four-inch monitors while the real world transpires around us — sometimes without us. In one scene, a young dad is shown missing his son’s first taste of birthday cake as he’s busy Facebooking — about his son’s birthday. This hits a little too close to home for some of us.

There’s something tangentially related to a Buick in the ad/PSA/parody (Rhett and Link drive a Buick Regal in the video), but it’s mostly a secondary, subliminal message. As we continue down this road of smart technology and on to Google glass and whatever the Silicon Valley geniuses think up next, Buick asks us to consider some boundaries going forward. Technology shapes us — the way we work, play, and relate to one another as human beings. It’s important to pause now to consider how our increased dependence on technology wreaks existential changes to our relationships and our daily lives.

Should we dial it back at this point? Is that even possible or have we crossed the technological rubicon from which there is no return?

YouTube Preview Image

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Does New Honda Commercial Promote ‘a Culture of Rape’?

Monday, December 16th, 2013 - by Dave Swindle


Just received this morning from a reader via email:

Amid all the problems of the world in India and elsewhere:

Just in time for the holidays, Honda has a new ad trivializing rape for its commercial gain.

In the cartoon, two men are depicted lowers a restrained man, who takes the place of a angel to top a tree. One of two workers  says, ‘we might have to twist him on.’

This is not only tasteless but entertains a culture of rape. Even the most radical feminist should stand against this, as women suffer disproportionately from acceptance of this culture.

Please help take a stand up  against this by taking the lead and cover the story.

I am sure your viewers would applaud taking a stand against this.

What do you think? Should one “take a stand” against Honda’s PG-13 rated double entendre type joke in an effort to reduce rape?

Or are there pieces of media that inspire much more crime and chaos than holiday car commercials? Like the Koran, perhaps?

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Another Blow for the Chevy Volt

Saturday, December 7th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll


“Chevy Volt doesn’t make 2014 list of fuel economy leaders,” the Washington Examiner reports:

The Department of Energy released its 2014 fuel economy guide, complete with a list of fuel economy leaders, and yet again, the Volt didn’t make the list.

In fact, the Volt — a compact car — doesn’t even perform as well by most metrics as some midsize plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, according to the guide.

The Volt gets 37 combined mpg (35 mpg city, 40 mpg highway) using premium gasoline. That’s better than most non plug-in vehicles, for sure. But compare that to the Honda Accord plug-in hybrid, which gets 46 combined miles on gasoline — with no mention of it being premium — and 47 mpg in the city and 46 mpg on the highway. Or the Toyota Prius, which gets 50 mpg combined (51 mpg city, 49 mpg highway).

With a starting price of $34,185 (before the $7,500 tax credit, $26,685 if you get the full credit), the Volt isn’t exactly cheap. Compare that to the Prius, which outperforms the Volt on most measures and has a starting price of $29,990 before the tax credit.

The Volt has a range of 344 miles with premium gasoline. Compared to the Ford Fusion plug-in (602 miles with regular gasoline), the Accord plug-in (561 miles with regular gasoline) and the Prius (530 miles with regular gasoline), and the Volt falls further behind.

Perhaps the Government Motors vehicle simply isn’t as hot as it seemed when it was first envisioned — on the other hand, it can on occasion, get too hot for the wrong reasons. If so, here’s news you can use from car blog, Jalopnik: “What To Do When Your Electric Car Catches On Fire: An Explainer.”

On the other hand, perhaps this California proposal might light up Chevy Volts — or at least their sales:

One longtime critic of federal transportation spending once concluded that it would be less expensive for the government to buy every new transit rider a Jaguar XJ8 than it would be to build certain new rail systems. Unfortunately, California officials may not have realized that the idea of buying people new cars wasn’t a serious proposal as much as a way to illustrate a point about excessive spending.

The California Air Resources Board is now embarking on a program that would help poor people buy energy-efficient vehicles. In one scenario posed by the agency, a “voucher” might even pay the full price for a Nissan Leaf, an electric car with an MSRP above $21,000, or for used cars with lower price tags.

Perhaps the state could even design a low-cost “people’s car” for the masses…


Cross-posted from Ed Driscoll’s blog

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What Is to Blame for Paul Walker and Roger Rodas’ Car Crash?

Monday, December 2nd, 2013 - by Becky Graebner


Actor Paul Walker and racer Roger Rodas are dead. The cherry-red Porsche Carrera GT they were in on Saturday is now a burned-out carcass.

The link between Walker in The Fast and the Furious series and the manner of his death is of course ironic, thus feeding the news frenzy. His claim to fame was portraying an illegal street racer. He broke the rules and lived on speed.

In real life, he was a 40-year-old dad and car enthusiast. He died in a car driven by Rodas, a racing buddy and personal friend. Rodas was an experienced race car driver, but something went horribly wrong.

Humans seek truth. We want to know why. We want to know how. We investigate and piece together clues in hopes of solving mysteries, allowing ourselves to sleep better at night. In this case, two men paid with their lives and we are wondering whom, or what, we can blame.

Joy-riding and Human Error?

Some articles on the fiery crash are suggesting that the existence of rubber around the crash scene indicates that Rodas and Walker were doing doughnuts and that goofing off might have led to the crash. The local sheriffs have also stated that they believe “high speeds” were also a factor.

I am uneasy with the quick assumption that idiocy was to blame (especially since the existence of rubber in figure 8 patterns still seems unconfirmed). We don’t know the cause yet. The car may have failed! Something snaps, something else bursts, and there go the brakes. Even the best drivers are sometimes no match for velocity + a stationary object.

Legendary driver Ayrton Senna was probably one of the best F1 drivers to live and he was killed in his race car. It is believed that his car’s suspension failed and pieces hit his helmet. His visor was also punctured—possibly by a tie rod. Even thought he was one of the greatest drivers, there was nothing he could do to save himself.  In the end, he died doing what he loved.

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The Everyday Porsche?

Thursday, November 28th, 2013 - by Stephen Green


That’s the Macan, Porsche’s entry into the super-competitive (and excruciatingly dull) midsize crossover market. “Autoextremist” Peter De Lorenzo worries:

The Cayenne was one thing, as a sporty entry into a class that already started at a luxury price point, Porsche’s SUV entry found its calling and became an instant player. But with the Macan it’s different. This segment is as mainstream as it gets, and the players in it are decidedly ordinary and for the most part, uninspired. Will it stand out? I have no doubt whatsoever that it will. But I also get the feeling that Porsche is placing itself on the precipice of The Abyss, staring at a product leap that could inexorably alter its future, whereupon it becomes too common and too part of the mindless suburban crawl, or for performance-luxury manufacturers, what’s known as The Dark Side.

That Porsche was once exclusively a maker of sports cars that had a narrowly defined appeal with a hard-core group of enthusiast drivers – both for the brand’s enduring engineering quirkiness and the fact that when driven hard, the cars – the hallowed 911 in particular – demanded a considerable level of skill from its drivers in order to maximize their performance potential – seems like a distantly quaint notion now.

(That link might have gone stale by the time you read this, since De Lorenzo doesn’t use permalinks on his columns until they go into the archives.)

I’m not a Porsche Man. I’ve already owned one five-months-a-year car here in Colorado, and it’s just a silly expense. That’s doubly true since we have two boys to put through college, and I want them to live long enough to get there. It’s one thing to steal the keys to the Mercedes truck one weekend, and quite another to “borrow” the Porsche. But I’ve always been glad to know Porsche Men are out there — guys with the money and skill to buy a challenging sports car and to drive it the way it ought to be driven.

If Porsche ever loses sight of that — their core customers and those of us who are happy just to share the road with them — it’ll be a corporate crime at the capital level.

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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A Historic Ford Mustang Returns

Thursday, November 14th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner


One of the things I love about aimless wandering (both on foot and behind the steering wheel) is that you never know what you might see.  In my case, I’m always on the lookout for cool cars.  Maybe it’s a candy-apple red Alfa Romeo Spider, slumbering quietly on the street. Tucked in among the autumn leaves, most pedestrians pass it not even knowing what it is.  You wonder who owns it.  Perhaps it’s an old-school Ferrari on the freeway, breaking the speed limit, or an ancient Land Rover Defender that you frequently spot chugging around town.  You might be unable to distinguish between the cracks giving away its age and the scrapes broadcasting its adventures, but nonetheless, it definitely has a few tales to tell.

Cars are great storytellers as well as the subjects of great stories. Car enthusiasts and gear heads love a good car sighting or find—in a barn, in a garage, on the street… They remind one of simpler times when feeling the wind through your hair was all that was required to live. You never know what is lurking in the garage of the most unassuming house…

It seems that yet another great tale of an unknown, history-laden car has just been revealed in Chicago, IL.

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Richest Americans Are Going ‘Conservative’ with Car Purchases

Thursday, November 7th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner


Millionaire pop stars, professional athletes, and reality TV darlings may show off their exotic luxury vehicles and souped-up SUVs in tabloids and on TV but America’s richest aren’t interested in those types of cars. The Wall Street Journal posted an article on MarketWatch identifying some of the most popular cars in the wealthiest U.S. neighborhoods.  Clue: it’s not what you think.

Some of the top cars that America’s richest are purchasing are sure to surprise you–they definitely surprised me…

They’re buying WHAT?

The American Classic: Jeep Grand Cherokee

Why it’s surprising:

According to MarketWatch, the Cherokee is extremely popular in posh beach communities.  This is an American classic, yet not what you would expect the 1% to be driving into their heated 4-car garages.  With a price tag starting at $28k, this is an extremely conservative car purchase for the uber-rich.  (The Wrangler was also popular in these communities.)

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Why it’s surprising:

This is the new kid on the luxury block–and it starts at only $36k.  (It’s okay if you did a double take between the name “Mercedes-Benz” and price tag “$36,000.”  Most people do–at the TV commercials, billboards…)  This sedan was created in order to lure younger buyers into becoming Mercedes-Benz-buying lifers.  However, this vehicle isn’t just attracting the younger demographic of uber-rich.  The C-Class also seems to be the “IT” “Sweet 16″ birthday vehicle.  In this case, I’m not sure Mercedes will hook life-time brand buyers, but the swarms of birthday C-classes are, at least, sure to cultivate a taste for luxury in the spoiled teen population.

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The Most Spook-tacular Cars On the Road

Thursday, October 31st, 2013 - by Becky Graebner


Washington, D.C. is ready for Halloween! Row houses have been covered with giant cobwebs, yards scattered with pop-up ghouls, and porches decorated with cleverly carved pumpkins. Our neighbor has a giant arachnid perched above the front door–and when I say “giant,” I mean the spider is half the size of a car. Eek!  Traditional yard and house decorations aside, every once in awhile I see a decorated car (a few pumpkin stickers or a fake bat)– but that’s child’s play compared to some of the die-hard Halloween decorators out there. These die-hard Halloween fans have graduated from the spooky house and yard decorations to the drivable canvases parked in their garages.  Their cars.

I would like to honor these die-hard decorators with an awards ceremony that I’ve created just for them.

Here are the winners of the first annual Automo-BOO-le Awards:

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How to Be a Kick-Ass Female Customer at an Auto Repair Shop

Thursday, October 24th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

No More “Woe is Me! I Paid too Much!”

I got a text from a friend last week regarding her Volkswagen Jetta: “Why is my oil change going to cost me $98?!”

My reply: “Look it up.”

I never did find out why my friend’s Jetta was quoted for a $98 oil change, but her surprise at the high quote did remind me of an article I read in The Atlantic a few months ago.  This article touched on a study that showed women are sometimes overcharged by auto repair shops.  Apparently, most repair shops believe women know less about cars and repairs and, if they are not proven wrong (by the female customer), they will charge the lady more.

Was my friend getting ripped off because she was female? Perhaps–but also, maybe not.

Obviously, not all repair shops overcharge (women OR men), so don’t get me wrong that I’m hating on my buddies at Pennzoil.  However, it doesn’t hurt to make sure you’re being treated fairly whenever you’re out and about—and especially when you’re taking care of an expensive purchase like a car.  It pays to be informed and to be bold — literally.

Here are some tips:

Own that Auto Shop

Women who defy stereotype come out ahead. — The Atlantic

You’re the customer and you’re in charge of the transaction.  If you don’t like what Business X is telling you, you have the option of leaving and trying your luck someplace else.  When you walk into that waiting room or pull into that garage bay, own it.  You’re here because you want to tune up your car. Don’t act meek. You’re in charge.  Be friendly and strike up a conversation with your attendant.  It doesn’t hurt to make the transaction personal.  If you’re relaxed and friendly, they’re more likely to like you—and probably less likely to tack on an additional $15 to your bill because of your gender or lack of know-how.

Case in point: Whenever I go to into a Jiffy Lube or Pennzoil, I always like to hang out in the garage while they do the tune-up or oil change.  (Not only do I get to see exactly what they are doing–I find it interesting–but I also like chatting.)  The workers don’t usually mind–and I think they like giving me the blow-by-blow account of my car’s tune-up.  By being engaged, I come off as informed and less likely to fall for any suggested, unnecessary repairs/parts replacement.

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4 Safety Systems Steering us Closer to Autonomous Cars

Thursday, October 17th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner


Autonomous cars have been creating some buzz in the news lately.  From coverage on their capabilities and advantages to warnings about their limitations and security issues, everyone seems to be curious about the autonomous car.  Something else is brewing within this new-age driving hoopla: a battle for control of the stick shift.  Computer-operated driving systems are quickly infiltrating our beloved cars, crossing the line from “human driver” to “automated chauffeur.”  Are you ready?

A lot of the talk surrounding these systems is acronym-heavy and the names change depending on the car manufacturer.  (I see they are already creating aliases to confuse the human competition!)  Here’s an easy-to-read, short guide to the systems that are bringing us closer to autonomous cars.

1. Park-Assist

This is the system that allows drivers who dislike parallel parking to sit back, relax, and let the car do it for them.  The existence of this system does not indicate an fully autonomous car—the driver still needs to help the car out with shifting.

How does it work? Although the computer takes over to maneuver the car into the parking spot, most systems still allow the driver to press the brake, controlling the speed of the system’s parking throughout the entire maneuver.  To begin, the car will indicate to the driver when to stop alongside the car it intends to parallel park behind.  The driver will need to shift into Reverse to allow the system to back the car into the space.  When the car determines it has finished this procedure, it will notify the driver to shift into Drive.  The car will then pull forward, evening out the spacing.  Finally, the car will notify the driver to put it into park.

Available in: Ford Focus Titanium, Toyota Prius V, Land Rover Evoque, Mercedes-Benz GL350 (just to name a few)

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Driving You to Distraction

Thursday, October 17th, 2013 - by Stephen Green


Windows Phone 8 is getting a nifty new feature:

Something that may appeal to motorists: a new Driving Mode will automatically silence incoming calls and texts so that you can focus on the road. You also can configure the feature to automatically send out a reply to say that you’re driving.

It can be activated automatically when the phone is linked wirelessly with a Bluetooth device in the car, such as a headset. Apple has a Do Not Disturb feature for iPhones, but that needs to be turned on manually.

What the Driving Mode won’t do, however, is block outgoing calls or texts. And there will be ways to override it. The feature won’t stop a teenager from texting while driving, but it will help reduce distractions for those who want that, says Greg Sullivan, director for Microsoft’s Windows Phone business.

During six years of iPhone use over three different models, I had to turn off the “Ask to Join Networks” feature under WiFi — and leave it off. Every time I drove somewhere, it would pick up local WiFi routers for just a few seconds each, and ask me each and every time if I wanted to join them. The popups were a noisy nuisance. The M7 motion chip in the new iPhone 5S tells the phone when it thinks you’re driving, and automatically stops hunting for WiFi networks for the duration of the trip. I like that a lot, and have switched “Ask to Join Networks” back on for the first time since 2007.

But this Windows Phone feature would be a very nice addition to iOS 7.1.

Hint, hint.


Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The 8 Worst Commutes in the World

Thursday, October 10th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner


Washington, D.C. is notorious for traffic jams, road closures (oh, hey Mr. President), and commutes worthy of their own epic fairytale. D.C. has an underground metro, several bus lines, Amtrak, the MARC train, zipcars, and a bike share system.  There are a million ways to get around this little city–which also means there are a lot of ways to get held up.

However, there are commuters out there who love their commute–even if it’s really long and involves a delay.  Some people use the time in the car (aka traffic) to conduct business calls, catch up with the news, or relax to some classic music.  The bus and train crowd usually list one of the positives of “riding” as being able to read or do work. However, despite being able to make the best of their commuting situation, sometimes, the commute just goes bad… That minivan hit that sedan where 395 merges after the bridge and now they’re blocking traffic instead of getting out of the way.  The metro decides to “unload” passengers and now you have to walk 2 miles to work or locate a cab.  The metro is on fire. The metro is malfunctioning.  There aren’t any available bikes at the bike-share. The road is shut down for a parade of circus animals.

This is the day-to-day in D.C.

Yes, it is extremely frustrating sometimes, but we should be thankful for our situation.  Here are a few pictures of hellish commutes from cities around the world.  Thank your lucky stars.

Sao Paulo, Brazil

and you thought the Nats game crowd was bad…


Dhaka, Bangladesh

Can you imagine seeing this as the metro crosses the Potomac?


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How the Government Shutdown Is Fueling Road Rage

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013 - by Becky Graebner


I’ve been getting a lot of emails from family and friends who live in other parts of the country: How is D.C. now that everything is shut down?”

Well, to me, who walks to work and stays primarily around the neighborhood, it all seems pretty normal.  However, this can’t be said for the bike and car commuters. (I feel ya, guys.)

I played the road-warrior role for a year, driving from my home in Alexandria, VA, to Washington, D.C. (and back) each day.  The commute can be brutal. Everyone is mad, the roads are clogged, vacationers are frantically changing lanes (sometimes into your car), and horns are constantly honking. In a nutshell, it’s bad even on a “good day.”

The government shutdown has managed to make the trek in/out of D.C. even worse than usual—and I extend my sincerest condolences to you road-warriors out there.

**Note: I think all D.C. drivers should read this WikiHow article on how to stay calm during road rage. Hey, it can’t hurt…

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How Much Has the World Changed Since the Model T?

Thursday, September 26th, 2013 - by Jean Kaufman


Ever wonder what it was like to drive a Model T?

The great prose stylist E. B. White, famed for his beloved children’s classic Charlotte’s Web, knew what it was like very well. He described it in a 1936 New Yorker essay entitled “Farewell, My Lovely” in which the recently phased-out Model T was the “lovely” of the title.

The car to which White was bidding reluctant adieu had dominated the automobile industry in its early decades, from 1908 to 1927, bringing the joys and travails of auto ownership to middle-class Americans of that era. White himself was born in 1899, which makes him a member of the generation before the so-called “greatest” generation; technically, White and his cohorts were known as the “lost” generation, coming of age during those transitional years of upheaval and cultural transformation represented by World War I and the Twenties.

White’s description of the Model T set me to musing on how much cars have changed since then, and then to thinking about how much life has changed—and about how the differences in products such as cars have been no small part of that change, because they affect us on a day-to-day basis and alter our perceptions of the world and our place in it.

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3 Washington D.C. Drivers Who Deserve Dante’s Inferno

Thursday, September 19th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner


Maybe you take two spots up front near the Best Buy. Or refuse to cede the left lane. Or tailgate, then slow down when we get out of your way.

You, sir, are a terrible driver. And for that, you’re going straight to Hell. We’re not guessing here, we’re just taking the word of every driver in a mile-wide radius around you at any given moment.

Your day of reckoning is coming, but unfortunately for the rest of the netherworld, you’re probably still going to qualify for a driver’s license down there. (Hell is apparently a lot like Florida, minus the wacky elections.) But what are you going to drive? It’d take forever to get your current wheels past their crazy-strict emissions tests.

No need. Hell has its own fleet of cars, and you get one assigned to you. Because it’s Hell, they’re matched to your particular driving sins here on earth. So don’t act surprised when you cross the river Styx, only to see one of these fresh horrors parked in your reserved spot.

This is the introduction to a great article, “The Nine Cars You’ll Drive in Hell,” published by Motor Authority.

After reading, laughing, and shaking my head “yes” to most of the article, I knew I had to explain Washington D.C.’s own, special circle in “car hell.” D.C. is notorious for its bad drivers.  The natives are aggressive, the visitors clueless and unprepared, and the roads are always under construction. It’s a bad mix. If there are nine cars that are driven in Hell, then there is definitely a special circle reserved for some of D.C.’s worst drivers–and their stereotypical vehicle-weapon of choice.  Here’s the short guide…

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Toyota Prius, the Homo Habilus of Hybrids, is Getting a Makeover!

Thursday, September 5th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

A Honda and a Toyota…but who could tell?

We can blame the successful Toyota Prius for the iconic egg-shape that has taken over the electric/hybrid vehicle category. Most manufacturers have sought to duplicate the success of the Prius by adopting its technology—as well as mimicking its exterior design. So, what did the consumers end up with?  Cars like the Ford C-Max, Ford Focus Electric, Honda Insight Hybrid, and the Nissan Leaf hatchback compact—or a dozen EV jelly beans on wheels that are starting to look like car clones.

Well, Toyota might be serving up a new exterior for the Prius in its quest to freshen its image!

Although the Prius was a smash hit, Toyota lost its reign over the car industry a few years ago. A few too many recalls and boring vehicle line-ups cost the mass-market brand some customers. In an attempt to regain their crown, and curb some of Ford and Tesla’s success with EVs, Toyota is hoping to revamp its line and woo buyers. Toyota announced last week that they plan to shed their “frump” and are adjusting their design trajectory so that adjectives for future vehicles include “sporty” and “fun to drive.” Toyota is currently the top-seller of hybrid vehicles, and many of these design changes will primarily impact their hybrid and EV line up. Mr. Toyota wants to “inject energy into designs and driving characteristics in order to appeal to younger buyers.”

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The End Of The Line For A Classic Vehicle You Didn’t Know Still Existed

Friday, August 30th, 2013 - by Chris Queen


During my middle school and early high school years, my family owned a Volkswagen Type 2 Camper Van. We used to take it camping in the mountains or at Disney World, and it was as much fun as a conversation piece as it was as a vehicle. I wanted that vehicle for my own so badly, and my dad told me he’d give it to me when I turned 16. I imagined how great it would be to have a cool drink waiting for me in the icebox at the end of the day, and of course I knew it would be the perfect tailgate vehicle on fall Saturdays in Athens. Alas, my dad sold it when I was 15, and I never got to own one.

Volkswagen introduced the Type 2 (call it the Camper Van, Bus, Microbus, or Kombi if you want to) in 1950, and it was a fixture on American roads until 1967. Other countries held on to it longer, including Brazil, the last country to continue producing and selling them. Brazil began making the Kombi in 1957, an astounding record of longevity that, sadly, will end this New Year’s Eve, when the last van rolls off the assembly line.

As reported last year, the van sold there as the Kombi is finally being discontinued due to upcoming safety regulations that it simply can’t be modified to meet.

To mark the end of its historic run, Volkswagen will build 600 “Last Edition” Kombis featuring retro white and light blue two-tone paint and vinyl upholstery, whitewall tires, white painted hubcaps, a set of curtains and a numbered plaque.

No longer air-cooled, the Kombi is powered by a flex-fuel 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine to accommodate Brazil’s wide use of ethanol, but comes only with an old-school four-speed manual transmission.

The price for the Last Edition Kombi is approximately $36,000, so it’s not exactly the people’s van of old, but with some originals now selling for over $200,000, this limited edition could be a real (as in the Brazillian currency) deal.

Even though rumors abound that VW will introduce a minivan concept with a similar style to the old Type 2 in 2014, it’s sad to know that the last of these funky, kitschy bits of car culture comes off the line this year.

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Hundreds of Drive-In Theaters May Close Permanently at End of Season

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard


There are only 356 drive-in theaters left in the U.S. and the majority of them may close at the end of this season if they don’t upgrade to expensive digital equipment. Hollywood movie studios will stop producing movies in 35mm film in 2013 and a large number of the remaining drive-ins in the country cannot afford the estimated $80,000 to upgrade to digital.

Drive-in theaters are woven into the fabric of American culture — at their peak in 1958 there were over 5000 drive-ins in the U.S. Many couples and families have fond drive-in memories — they evoke images of the past, when Americans were unplugged from technology and the entire family could spend an evening sitting in the fresh air in lawn chairs (or a beat up car) enjoying a movie for a reasonable price. And B.Y.O.S. — Bring Your Own Snacks — no need to smuggle Milk Duds into the theater in your pants!

My parents used to take our family to the drive-in dressed in our pajamas so they could just toss us into bed when we arrived home after the late show. We would feast on huge Tupperware bowls of homemade popcorn and drink Pepsi from glass bottles. I have a vivid memory of the funeral march scene from the 1973 James Bond flick, Live and Let Die.  I was in third grade and our parents — not really the sheltering types —  thought we would be asleep by the second movie that night (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here).  I don’t think I slept soundly for months after that.

Remember the clunky silver sound box that hung on your car window before the theaters converted to FM sound? And the etiquette that all but a few miscreants willingly followed to make everyone’s experience more pleasant — parking lights only, keep your foot off the brake pedal, don’t obstruct the view with your hatch, large vehicles at the back.

I cherish memories of drive-in dates and groups of friends crammed into my best friend’s Chevy Nova to take advantage of the per car rate (it’s still only $18/per car in our area). Later, when we had kids of our own, my husband took our boys to see Spider Man, Iron Man, and a host of other superhero movies for their boys’ nights out. We also joined other families who all parked together — tailgate party style — with coolers full of juice boxes, fruit, cheese, and baby carrots. Those were the years we had to park in the back row because we all had minivans. Fortunately, there was enough adult humor in Shrek and Night at the Museum to make it fun for the adults as well as the kids, despite the minivans and the healthy culinary choices.

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How Sweet 16 Parties Killed the SUV

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

REAL off-roading

I find it almost laughable to look at some of the SUVs that are coming out today.  They are generations removed from their inspiring ancestors: the Jeep driven by the American military in WWII and the infamous British Land Rover.  These first SUVs were made for off-roading in unforgiving terrain.  They were working vehicles.  They were REAL vehicles.

My family has always owned SUVs and pickup trucks. In my opinion, they were the best option for a family that was constantly hauling dogs, kids, wood, tractors, and kayaking equipment — and I guess my family agreed.  Our family history of SUVs included several of the classics: the good ‘ole Ford Explorer (first generation), a classy Jeep Grand Cherokee, and a meaty Dodge Durango that we named “Brock.”  Pickup trucks included the trusty Dodge Dakota and a red Toyota Tundra.

These trucks were high off the ground and cut through the Wisconsin slush and snow like a hot knife through butter. Many of the interiors were basic — everything had a purpose.  This was what a truck was made for: to work and haul. When our Jeep showed up with leather seats, it was a big deal.

The sport-utility vehicles you see today are as different from the original Jeep as an apple from a flank steak. Compare the wanna-be hardcore Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUV and the over-the-top Porsche Cayenne to the military Jeep — or even the first-generation Ford Explorer…posers. We all know the most rugged thing these cars are hauling are faux-Christmas trees…

The purpose of the SUV becomes even more distorted in the super-luxury brand class. Maserati has been teasing the wealthy SUV/crossover crowd with the Kubang for years… and now Bentley is saying they are going to release a behemoth of their own.  These trucks have price tags in the six-digit range. Wh-hat?

The fleets of working SUVs seem to be a dying breed…

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