Monday, June 23, 2008

Got a Small Car? Drive Carefully.

If you are the owner of a small, fuel efficient vehicle, here's something you may not have thought about. If you are involved in an accident that ends up totaling your car, you may not get enough insurance money to replace it.

Here's why: When the insurance company "totals" your car (decides it's cheaper to replace it than repair it), they will cut a check for the Blue Book value of the car. But, as the demand for these cars continues to rapidly increase, so does the "street" value (the amount the car is selling for today, on Ebay, for example). Since the Blue Book value of these cars is assessed using a fairly bureaucratic process, this value hasn't been calculated recently enough, and is therefore under the actual cost involved in acquiring an exact replacement.

Cost is only the beginning. The headaches of purchasing a fuel efficient vehicle are many- if you are in the market for a new car, you'll probably end up on a waiting list. When you do finally get your car, you'd better hope it comes the way you like it- because your other option is to wait some more.

If you're buying a used car, watch out. There are plenty of snakes out there who realize the inflated prices of fuel is the opportunity to fleece the public. They'll sell any small car they can get their hands on, knowing that SUV owners are bailing out and looking for something small to drive to work. They will gladly sell a car on its last legs for a few thousand dollars.

The worst case scenario is that you are driving a "banned" car. This includes highly efficient, diesel passenger cars such as the Volkswagen TDI. Despite their ability to achieve mileage in excess of 50 mpg, most of these cars have been banned from new sales due to high nitrous oxide and smog emissions. Replacing these cars will surely be a chore, as they are being retired from the road every day. On top of that, replacement parts are expensive, and knowledgeable labor is extremely hard to find.

The bottom line: drive carefully. Your car may not be insured to the extent you think it is, and even if it is, replacement can be more complicated due to our rapidly changing transportation economy.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Got a Samsung SCH-i760? Don't use an external antenna!

If you have a Samsung smartphone, such as the SCH-i730 or SCH-i760, you may or may not be aware that there is an external antenna jack on the back of this phone (you have to pop off a small round cap to see it).

It is possible to use this jack to plug in an external cell phone antenna - an incredibly convenient option for road warriors who can't afford to drop calls when traveling through spotty areas, etc. However, I have this cautionary tale to share with you.

This is the 3rd time I have had my cell phone replaced because the internal antenna performance degrade to almost nothing. It started with my Samsung SCH-i730, and then when I upgraded to the SCH-i760, it happened twice. I have decided that the issue is likely one of the following:

1. Samsung makes a flaky and weak connector, which breaks the internal antenna connection when used (doesn't really make sense, as the external antenna still works)

2. I have been unlucky enough to get 3 defective phones (yeah, right.)

3. The external antenna is BURNING OUT the internal antenna, due to a design problem with the Samsung phones.

4. The internal antenna is BURNING OUT, due to a design problem with the external antenna.

In circumstance 3 & 4, a little bit of radio theory applies here: When you plug in an external antenna, it doesn't take the internal one out of the circuit. Rather, the 2 antennae are in parallel, and untuned. This creates a high SWR (standing wave ratio) situation that the fragile internal antenna (probably a just a "coil" drawing on a circuit board) can't handle.

If this is the case, Verizon should do a better job of notifying users that this jack is for the testing bench only, and not for use with an external antenna. After all, it's pretty easy to come by an aftermarket adapter that fits this jack, advertised for use with an external antenna. Verizon sales people will not warn you against using this jack with an external antenna.

It could be a problem specific to my external antenna, but when searching I found 2 posts indicating others have had this problem:

Post #1
Post #2

Finally, I just found a blog post with a definitive link to a faq on Samsung's website about this. The jack is not for use with an external antenna!

Monday, June 09, 2008

GM Decides to Use Radical "Turbo" Technology to Make Fuel Efficient Car

GM has always answered the call for more horsepower by trying to find ways to shoehorn bigger engines in their large cars and trucks. For some reason, this wasteful practice has made Americans happy, as long as the fuel prices were low. However, now that its pickup and SUV sales have been obscured by a new demand for fuel efficient cars, GM finally has decided that it might be a good idea to give Americans a 120-140 horsepower vehicle, that still gets over 40 mpg!

Why wasn't this vehicle developed when gas was $2.00 something a gallon, and had every indication that there was no end in sight? Heck, why hasn't this vehicle existed for years as an American car choice?

Because the technology didn't exist? Wrong. Consumers of foreign manufactured autos have enjoyed lightweight, fuel efficient, and fast sport compact cars for years. How do they do it?

Turbochargers: They have been in use for over 80 years. By forcing air into the engine, power output can be significantly raised, or fuel efficiency, or both.

Why are GM and other American car manufacturers only now giving conservation-minded Americans the option of cake + eat? Because our economy has never rewarded anyone, manufacturer or consumer, for making fuel efficient choices. The only check built into our economy is the cost of gas.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Electric cars coming to the rescue in 2 years or less (No thanks to America)

Foreign auto manufacturers such as Nissan and Mitsubishi have responded to high oil prices by making small, 100% electric cars, slated for release in Japan (and even the U.S., in Nissan's case) by 2010.

GM has responded to high oil prices by closing 4 plants, laying off 30,000 workers, and leaving dealerships all over the nation to try to sell the Chevy Volt hybrid, with a $40,000 price tag.

Reportedly, the Th!nk City EV, now owned by a Norwegian company, will be coming back to the U.S in 2009. The car was originally developed by Ford, and dumped as part of its 2002 total abandonment of the electric car venture.