The Death of Small Cars?

Small cars may be becoming an endangered species as the subcompact market seems to be declining. Fewer people are spending $20,000 and under on a car according to 2021 figures. These statistics may come as a bit of a shock, given the state of the economy.

People seem to prefer SUVs which are more expensive. Does it mean too many people are following the crowd?

It does mean that those who are after a subcompact are more likely to obtain a bargain, at least until automakers right-size their production.

The loudness of the complaint depends on the share of the market:

Other sources are more scathing, saying that subcompact cars are dead. It’s going a bit far too say Ford, GM and so on. At least publicly, car companies that don’t focus on passenger cars are not noticing the decline the way traditional small car manufacturers are.

Ford for example has stopped sedans and hatchbacks and GM has stopped selling the Buick Regal, leading to speculation.

It cannot be a coincidence that the Buick Regal, though technically a midscale car, has been having problems selling. Marketed as a luxury car the Buick Regal had coupe and sedan versions up until 1997 when the market started to resist spending big dollars on anything smaller than an SUV. The official reasons for discontinuing it altogether has been down to contractual reasons, according to the Gmauthority.com website, but whatever it is, it doesn’t look good.

A Decline in Midsized as Well?

It’s a shame that more wagons or coupes aren’t being made this year. To clarify, a wagon is short for station wagon, a car with an extended trunk that in many ways resembles a sedan, and a coupé is a car with a sloping roof and two doors as well as always having a fixed roof.

It’s disconcerting that something like a Cadillac sedan hasn’t been more successful. In China, they have been selling fitfully, but it’s a different story in the Western world. There’s still the CT4 (compact) and the CT5 (mid-size). There is no longer a CT6 or full-sized Cadillac being produced. There have also been more crossover vehicles which would back up the assumption that if commuters are going to buy a smaller vehicle, they at least want a body style that looks like the larger version.

Around the world

Other areas of the Eastern world bear more of a semblance with the Western world. Hatchbacks are now not as popular as they once were and now only make up a third of the market. The micro hatchbacks with names such as “Kwid” and “Alto” are experiencing a particularly heavy dip. Micro hatchbacks are the Indian equivalent of a compact hatchback. 

Sales for the CT6 peaked in 2017 and have been heading down ever since. Some journalists may have popularized it as a “parent car,” but then again didn’t parents also drive jeeps and pick-ups? Almost certainly, but these are unaffected.

The Ford Fusion is also discontinued do to declining sales. Built in a factory in Sonora, Mexico between the years 2006 to 2020. There have also been a number of different variants from gasoline and various types of hybrid. The last Fusion went off the production line in July 2020, just a few months into the pandemic, so it’s difficult to pin the slump entirely on a change of taste in the market. Manufacturing costs also play a role as importing things became more expensive.

It’s sad that smaller cars are disappearing if the only factor is taste. In the end, the market will decide.

The Difficulties With Rural Roads.

The Department of Transport’s statistics do not look good: 50% of all deaths happen on rural roads. Despite only 25% of all driving being on rural roads. Some of the reasons behind this is that rural roads tend to be narrower, so you are more likely to be run off the road. It also means you are more likely to find a truck or van heading the other way a bit more of a challenge.

Road Conditions

There’s often no center line and no traffic signs. There are inadequate preparations for snow and less likely to be a barrier for a railroad. There are more ditches, streams and so on. Even worse, the road is more likely to be flooded. There are also blind bends and blind dips. Even looking at the scenery can cause distraction.

According to the US Department of Transport, half of all non-highway roads are rated as between “fair and poor” and 13% rated as “poor,” which appears to be the lowest classification.

Obstructions

You are also more likely to encounter speeding or drunk drivers who assume the road to be empty. Then there’s agricultural machinery. Or cyclists. A tree too close to the road can be dangerous. There are problems like cows, sheep on the road.

Texas has the most rural deaths per capita whereas South Carolina ranks as the highest number of deaths as a percentage.

Fixing Infrastructure

It could take decades to fix if it ever gets done, there is more than $200 billion missing in funding. Roads need to be widened, you need rails, lighting and so on.

Bridges may be a greater threat to life than just rural roads. 8% may not be fit for purpose or “structurally deficient” and not suitable for trucks or farm equipment. Over the past few years farmers have increased the amount of farming equipment but the quandary remains how to transport this equipment.

It’s not just farm equipment and trucks, it’s been a prevalent problem for school and college buses. The only solution seems to be smaller buses but again, the price of operation is the key.

So, what can these drivers do?

Either risk their lives or go totally out of their way. If they do travel out of their way it is inefficient and costly.

When the bridge is closed the road itself becomes less useful, so people who live on that road find the road isn’t repaired as often. So, the only solution is to have local residents pay for the bridge or have no transport network at all. If they can’t pay that may cause difficulty in itself with their neighbors.

Even when a bridge is rated fair it could still be prone to some deterioration given a few years, whether it is the suspension part of the bridge or the deck or roadway part of the bridge.

Traffic Patterns

Just because a road is rural doesn’t mean it won’t have pique traffic times. Speeds are higher on rural roads which can disguise the true number of cars that pass a given stretch of road. When a couple new housing developments go into a large area road use can double at certain intersections.

The high crash rates in certain black spots is cause for concern and sometimes the only answer is to build another road but again this requires more money.

The connections between places are key, but the smaller roads are vital for some people too, even if it is a lesser proportion of society. Rural roads can be beautiful and connecting people who choose to live outside the hustle of city life to their jobs, schools, shopping and emergency services is worth doing. But we may have forgotten the old adage, anything worth doing is worth doing well.

The Good and Bad Of The Grand Cherokee

The Jeep brand has recently celebrated a massive 80 years of production, though not all that time has been spent producing Grand Cherokees. Beginning in 1972 Jeep stuck with a simple two seat design based on the Willies Jeep of WWII.

Grand Cherokees

Grand Cherokees were classed as mid-sized SUVs up until 2004 and mid-sized crossovers (also known as midsize crossover SUVs) from 2005.

It’s not exactly clear why they changed as there was a sizable group (of sizable families) who preferred three rows of seats to two rows? At least it doesn’t appear that having too many rows of seats was the cause for any slowing down of sales.

The modern Grand Cherokee works on the unibody chassis, which is short for “unitized body.” This means the chassis was constructed as a single unit as opposed to those vehicles which have a separate body and frame. This tends to make a vehicle more rigid, but it’s less expensive to manufacture.

Although it was created by the American Motors Corporation the actual design was created by three freelance designers. It’s interesting to note that the model of the original vehicle was created in clay, because this has become increasingly less common in the age of computer aided design.

That’s the good news, but what about the bad?

A noticeable part of the design is the metal gear shift. The 2014 and 2015 model of the Grand Cherokee had so much difficulty with the gear shift that they had to be recalled. The shift didn’t automatically link itself to the transmission. But there may also be problems with vehicles which have too many miles on the clock, the gears seem to go. Colder weather also increases the risk of brake failure.

These electronic issues seem to be best fixed by replacing the TIPM (which stands for Totally Integrated Power Module) according to Carcomplaints.com. The most likely time for the engine to go wrong is after 50,000 miles, which takes on average something like seven years to complete. (Or if you’re an editor for the Kicker Blog, 1 year.)

It seems that the introduction of brake booster shields didn’t fix the problem. Drivers of older models, between 2010 and 2013, should beware of water entering the engine. It also affects the Dodge Durango.

When having a Grand Cherokee you could possibly see after a couple of weeks such as the engine stalling, which is exacerbated if you are on a slope. There are also difficulties with the ignition.

A weird problem associated with them is the bubbling or wrinkling of the dashboard. You may have seen leather do this before but may not expect to see it in a vehicle’s interior as it doesn’t look all that pretty.

Better SUVs to go for include the Toyota Highlander of which there was a new 2021 model, which followed on from a fully redesigned 2020 model. It handles fuel better. In addition, it also has a sizable amount of trunk space as well as a touchscreen. Highlander also has a third row, but it’s a bit of a squeeze.

At the Kicker we don’t like to trash on any particular auto maker, and even avoid trashing on a particular model. It’s totally likely that the best of car makers will produce a problem model. But it’s also possible to buy a car against all online warnings and find it’s your favorite vehicle. Beware of vehicles models with a suspicious number of complaints about, but just because we talk about the good and bad of a vehicle doesn’t mean you are safe just avoiding that whole line of cars, or every car by that maker. The only way to tell if a particular used car is a good buy or not is to have it independently inspected by a company like TireKickers.

Individualized Car Designs.

OP-ED by the UK Desk

Ever notice how every car is special, at least according to how its marketed, they are after all mass-produced. So, it’s no wonder that many people desire to make their cars distinct, individualized in any number of ways.

Making your Car Uniquely You: The Basics…

Starting with the common add-ons. Many people add chrome wheels, spoilers and the like. We’ve covered that in other posts. It’s not hard to find an SUV someone has “ruggedized” with spare tires on the back, roof racks, and extra gas cans.

More Extreme…

Some people cover their cars with strange material, whether it’s fur or AstroTurf or wallpaper or whatever.

Some innovators go for a known aesthetic, like steampunk. They use brass pipes and things to add a vintage style to a modernish car.

Other customizers strap something to the car’s roof, like a rubber duck or a hat.

Some go so far as to transform their car into a high-heeled shoes or a permanently grounded UFO or giving them the shade and texture of a gecko lizard. While these cars are uncommon there’s no difficulty finding them in a large city.

Others have jetpack boosters coming out of the rear or have the trunk region being turned into a Wendy House. It seems as if they make their imagination run riot.

The History of Extremely Custom Cars…

But there have always been strange designs. Hardly anyone nowadays has heard of the Special, also known as a Streamliner, named after Norman Timbs. Apart from its sleek streamlined shape what stands out is its strong plum color and the fact that it has no door, no trunk or even hood. A “streamliner” is a vehicle (more likely a railway engine than a car) which has been engineered in such a way to reduce air resistance.

Norman Timbs was a racecar engineer who worked on cars for the Indy 500. Though you might think of it as a concept car and possibly one with a market, only a test vehicle was ever made. Disastrously, it was all but destroyed in a fire in 2018 but fortunately the frame was saved. From these small pieces they managed to recreate the whole car creating a wonderful museum piece.

The Ferrari Modulo

1970 Ferrari Modula

Although many cars in the 1970s took their influence from jet planes, the Ferrari Modulo goes one step beyond and takes its design through the contemporary idea of spacecraft. It was first seen at the Geneva Motor Show in 1970. Adding to the extra-terrestrial appearance are the wheels which are slightly hidden. It could be a bit of a worry to see on a dark night, especially in middle America.

Pinnifarnia designed it, who are well known for designing coaches as well as more regular vehicles. Based in Turin, this design business works in Maserati and General Motors as well as Korean names of Hyandai and Daewoo. They even make other luxury items such as private jets and yachts.

Pinnifarnia’s work is worth going into a bit more. Its first HQ was in Turin in 1920, creating at first the chassis for Cadillacs and Rolls Royce. The biggest success the company made is arguably the Cisitalia 202 Coupé featured as did in the Museum of Modern Art.

Are these vehicles designed to be driven or should they be just treated as works of art? Whatever, they bring some color and joy into people’s lives. Possibly a bit of madness too.

By the time we’re talking about Professional Custom Designers like Pinnifarnia we’re into another class of customizer—one catering to those rich enough to order a truly custom vehicle. The most famous of this class of customizer are the custom Harley makers like Orange County Choppers, Jessie James and the like. They justify their own post…coming soon…

Heavy Duty Car Equipment

Not all car equipment you find in garages and workshops are easily managed, some of them by design need to be massive both in size and in weight. But why are they so large? Let’s see…

An engine hoist is a device or machine to use lift the engine out of the car—some places can only be access with the engine out. And it gives you a look at the engine close up. These machines are not always mechanical in nature, but they always take up room. Although simple ones can raise 2 tons the more complicated chain block hoists can raise as much as 5 tons and go up as far as 78.7 inches, the equivalent of 6 feet 7 inches.

A load leveler is there to hook to something like a crane, or in this case a hoist and helps compensate when the load is off level.

You can remove a car engine without a hoist by parking on a level surface and applying the brake. Next you place a jack under the chassis at the front so the vehicle is high enough to work under it comfortably.

As you may have guessed by the name, a car ramp lifts the car up a sloped surface which makes repair easier – alternately it can just lift the front wheels. If your car has low ground clearance – for example sports cars – they need a special kind of ramp.

A scissor lift creates a platform which can rise almost effortlessly for objects as heavy as 20 tons. You need to make sure it fits all the required standards and may include items such as guardrails. There are also double, triple and even quadruple scissor lifts out there. For longer vehicles you may need to acquire a tandem scissor platform lift.

A more flexible device but still quite heavy is a trolley jack. This can also fit in low level cars such as sports cars. For safety’s sake it’s best to use it in combination with axle stands in case something goes wrong.

Other fairly large items you need include tool chests and cabinets as well as battery chargers or starters – also known as jump starters and electric tire inflators. It could be a problem storing electrical items in the winter as many have problems if there is frosty weather outside and least when you plug them in but if your garage is fully insulated there should be no problem.

Bulky Replacement Parts:

It might seem like keeping enough parts around to account for any part that’s likely to fail or wear out is going to require a lot of storage space, but in reality you can stock a lot of parts in a smallish space.

However, some parts are going to take up room. Radiators can be large and take up space unless you only work on one type of car. Exhaust systems are long and difficult to store in a shop. Best to acquire these as needed.

You can get replacement car batteries for your vehicle if necessary. Most people don’t realize that they tend to last a mere five years or so, hence the need for battery checks.

If a car battery has to cope with extremes of temperature, inactivity or the number of rough journeys. The chemical reactions in the car battery tend not to work. A parasitic drain causes it to wear out before its time.

Batteries don’t seem that bulky if you have an I.C.E. car because you only need the one to start the car up. However, modern electric cars take many which makes for a very expensive service every five years—or less. The disposal casts alone (core charge) is pretty costly.

You may not be aware of what fume extraction is, it’s to do with removing the smoke that comes from constantly starting cars up. Some are fixed in one place while others allow for greater flexibility. Parts such as nozzles and hoses can be replaced if need be.

If you’re running your own shop, say out of your home, space can be an issue. You’ll need a safe place to keep entire cars while you wait for parts you order. While on your property these cars are your responsibility so a good fence is a must. Also, upgraded insurance.

Car Theft & Prevention

From the UK Desk

There are so many awful car crimes out there. The Ford Pickup, especially the 2006 version, was the most stolen car in the US. The car in second place with this dubious honor was the Chevrolet pickup. This may surprise drivers of the pickup as it is not the most comfortable pickup in the world.

The state which has the most theft of vehicles is Colorado with 524 thefts out of 100,000 inhabitants or 0.5%. Overall, in the US a theft of a motor vehicle occurs about every 41 seconds.

If you steal a car from someone by force, usually violence, it is known as carjacking. Carjacking occurs to all sorts of cars; even armored ones.

The British Journal of Criminology in 2003 called the crime of carjacking “under-researched”. In order to rectify that they commissioned a study-it was all to do with the value of the vehicle in the underworld or in the open market.

Ways Cars are Jacked:

Sometimes carjacking is planned but at other times the thieves have no idea what they plan to do with the car or its parts, it’s just opportunistic.

The first action may be bumping into the car and taking the vehicle when the driver leaves the driving seat to exchange details.

Alternatively, it could be faking a car accident and stealing the potential first aider’s car. It may also be pretending that there is something wrong with the victim’s car and taking it when they are distracted–anything that gets your attention. Finally, there are those who block the gate to the victim’s property.

As well as locking the doors, either manually or through an electric lock, it’s advisable to ensure that all windows and the sunroof are closed. The number plates are at risk from theft so make sure the screws are tamper proof. The wheel nuts also need to be secured as they are often stolen.

Steeling Part of Your Car:

It’s a good idea to make sure that items like roof-racks and tailgate racks are secured. Make sure there’s a car alarm and a steering wheel lock. Most would-be thieves will see a steering wheel lock and immediately go elsewhere. But be sure that the steering wheel lock fits the specific type of steering wheel – not all of them are the same.

Rim locks and tire locks secure wheels – whether a car, ATV or even lawnmower. It’s possible to get wheels made of a soft PVC to prevent the wheel from scratching. If you worry about having the engine stolen, and there are such people, you should invest in a hood lock.

Theft of Items from Your Vehicle

There’s a problem too with cell phones, coins, wallets and credit cards – make sure they are well hidden. 39% of all thefts although 39%, followed by 19% with exterior fittings.

There are various discussions on what the car’s most prestigious part is. It could be the catalytic converter or maybe a satnav. A suction pad on the glass may give the idea that there is a hidden satnav in a vehicle.

If you want to use a smartphone app or a remote to open the car you should keep away from the kill switch. When fitting one of these devices it is best to hire a professional, but they are easy to remove when you require the car.

Sunroof Problems

Sunroofs are seen in the most higher end cars and their ability to allow more fresh air to circulate is a desirable quality, but what are the downsides of having a sunroof?

Most people don’t realize that having a sunroof increases the cost of insurance.

Some Types of Sunroofs

Cars like the Honda Civic have a pop-up roof where the window tilts up. Which only seems to be another access point for criminals or water, but the bigger challenges come with panoramic roofs.

A panoramic roof is a much larger roof going all the way from the front to the back where part of it can slide open. There will also be an additional amount of heat on the seats on hot days, so that’s another problem with this type of roof.

Unsurprisingly panoramic roofs aren’t very good in a rollover crash. No one wants to learn this, but your sunroof is another way you might exit your car in a crash if you aren’t wearing a seatbelt, but the moral of that is to wear that seatbelt. Fortunately, only 1% of all crashes are rollovers.

Exploding Sunroofs

An exploding sunroof sounds unbelievable, but it does happen, it’s just the sunroof shattering but it’s traumatic to people who experience it. There’s usually no reason and unfortunately it’s more likely to occur if you own a panoramic sunroof. Several lawsuits have been made against car companies over exploding sunroofs.

This kind of accident fortunately doesn’t happen that often. It’s more common to encounter things like cracks or chips which cause it to be replaced. Just one more window to get hit with rocks and road debris.

Gas Mileage

Driving at speed with the sunroof down creates additional drag and means that the fuel consumption is higher, as bizarre as it may seem.

You may even not use your sunroofs for months on end, especially if they are driven in a cold environment. A panoramic sunroof can even weigh as much as 90Kg.

They can also remove the headroom as cars without sunroofs just have more room for the tops of the seats. 

Regular maintenance of the workings – the electrical components, the glass and so on – is required. The electric problems could be something like a broken motor or a fuse going. The annoying part is that they may be stuck in the open position. Even something like dirt getting into the works can affect it, so it’s best to keep a car with a sunroof in a garage or similar.

Older and Cheaper are more Prone to Problems

They is especially a problem in older cars as they are more inclined to leak. Seals get old over time and the sun ages them. Sunroof seals are in the sun whenever there is sun to be had. Though this is less of a problem with the more expensive cars.

Problems with the rubber rim aren’t too expensive to repair, it’s just time consuming. It’s advisable not to take a car with a sunroof into a car wash. Rust can also form around the sunroof’s rim as it gets older.

To add to the problems, they are also much harder to sell. It’s desirable for buyers to have but it’s not always that desirable.

Lastly, the scientists have wondered if there should be an airbag in the sunroof? The research is mixed on how much it would help.

Truck Racing

From the UK Desk

Truck racing began in Atlanta in 1979. Unfortunately, the speed of the trucks are limited at 160 mph and no truck can weigh greater than 5500 Kg. Before the race the trucks need to be rolled into position. It tries to be a non-contact sport but the odd crash is not uncommon.

The first truck race was on dirt and the truck was not adapted. This has now changed; in the UK there is a special division – Division 1 – where all the trucks, including the braking and suspension, have been especially adapted.

In 1982 a top speed of 132 mph was at the Texas World Speedway. After 1986 the tag axle was removed, getting rid of 2000 pounds. The Bandit Big Rig Series began in 2017. It included the Hickory Motor Prize. Points were awarded in the qualifying rounds and included heat races, shootout races, challenge races and ultimately the final.

The FIA European Truck Racing Championship or ETRC includes events which have been running for thirty years. The championship, which attracts families, according to their website, usually has around 400,000 spectators or so.

The trucks are not supposed to emit black smoke and this will get them banned from the event if it happens twice in a row. The two categories are Chrome and Titan, the Chrome division plays for the Goodyear Cup. There are drivers and team categories too.

Each Competition takes place over two days. A day generally includes half an hour of practise followed by qualifying events and finally the championship race. The winner is the one allocated the most points.

Baja Trucks

A different type of truck racing involves trophy trucks or Baja trucks/trick trucks. Instead of the usual circuits this is off-road racing using high powered engines. The trucks are considered street legal but have been especially designed. There are minimal rules for each truck’s production.

When it began the trucks varied in design so drastically that no truck was the same. Over time a group of engineering firms got involved. The downside of this was that the trucks began to lose their individuality.

It’s weird but for a long period the trucks were two-wheel drive, but they now incorporate an all-wheel drive feature. Ford and Chevrolet engines are commonly most used. An air restrictor is required if the truck uses a turbo engine.

In order to maneuver against the terrain of the desert the minimum weight has to be 1,600 Kg. The gearboxes used have a choice of either being three speed or six speed.

Pickup Racing

Pickup truck racing has modified trucks which are more drivable in racing terms than most trucks but still aren’t as aerodynamic as the usual racing cars.

The NASCAR Truck Series began in 1995 and the electrical equipment and aerodynamics involved have evolved over time.

Whatever type of truck racing you decide to attend you are guaranteed a special event, which despite the size of the vehicle, still has some of the best racing drivers out there. 

Fiberglass Cars and Repairs

Fiberglass is a plastic which is fiber-reinforced using glass fiber. The advantage of using it on cars is that it’s light, tough, inexpensive and rust proof.

The few of the cars with fiberglass bodies include the Chevrolet Corvette as well as the Lotus Daimler and the Rochdale, in addition to several British sports cars.

There are also fiberglass kit cars out there, you will be hard pressed to find a metal kit car.

The Glasper

The cars aren’t completely plastic, they do include items like a metal chassis for example.

Glaspar 2

Using fiberglass has a long pedigree, all the way back to 1951, the first one being the Glaspar 2, built by an engineer more used to creating fiberglass goats, for example the Green Dolphin in 1947.

Fiberglass was known as glass reinforced plastic and marketed as a wonder material so an ideal substance to use.

The Glaspar is a sports car with the chassis of a Willy’s Jeep mixed with a Ford V8. Maybe if it hadn’t gained coverage by Life Magazine it would never have had a run of manufacture by General Motors and have appeared in 1961’s LA Motorama.

Glasper himself went on to create more fiberglass vehicles such as the Lancer and Skorpion, but they didn’t do so well.

Looking for an alternative to Metal

At the time Ford was also looking for alternative materials for making cars such as soya-based products and hemp.

It’s easier to create a car in fiberglass than metal, especially those with complicated curves. It’s biggest selling point is a strong strength to weight ratio, in other words not that strong but strong with it. It’s also harder to paint metal than fiberglass. Applying the layers of fiberglass creates the expense.

There are other selling points in using fiberglass such as the reduction in noise and vibration, which may explain why it was used in sports cars.

Rochdale

It tends to be a product used more by the smaller car manufacturers than the big names out there. It could be possible soon to create a fiberglass car using nothing more than 3D printing.

Fiberglass can be used to create or recreate various car parts; getting a car back after a dent for instance or, failing that, giving the illusion it has. Using fiberglass resin saves an expensive car repair.

Working with Fiberglass

You can adapt a fiberglass mold for various car parts by flattening it slightly or making it taller. It can then be painted. Any particular part can contain up to 3 layers of epoxy resin. After five days the body mold will be cured and is safe to touch.

Any design should start with a drawing so make sure it is done correctly. It’s essential that you don’t pull the mold in only one direction. It’s not an exact science, many people make mistakes.

The disadvantage is that it’s itchy stuff to get on your skin and you don’t want to breath it in—EVER.

Fiberglass is also used in the rubber belts in the engine as well as the brake pads and clutch discs, even the automobile’s insulation.