If you don't get that reference, watch this, and then watch more classic Simpsons episodes. Upgrade your life. Speaking of which, I just did that! As of this week, my wife and I are now proud owners of a real, actual, genuine garage. What a thrill. What a stunt on all you poor, lesser, garage-less fools. I am now a member of a superior race of beings, the garage-havers. Our main distinguishing characteristic is that we have garages.
My garage is a 2.5 car, which is a genuinely astounding size. It has concrete floors, it has unfinished walls, it has siding on the outside, it has some weird kind of metal thing on the front up by the cornice that's low-key rusting on the siding, it has a recently-new roof, it is, in a single word, monumental. Because something dawned on me as my wife and I prepared to do the final walkthrough of the garage and the other thing nearby and "yard": I've never had an indoor place to regularly park my car. As has been regularly chronicled here on the website and on the podcast, I've been driving for nearly 15 years, and I've never had the opportunity to park my car under something even so humble as an awning. It's just been straight-up parking lots, driveways, and streets the whole time. Yes, there were the rare times where I'd get to park in a garage at a parent's home, the slightly more common occasions where I'd bring my car into the garage to do an oil change or brake work, but that was it. When I moved into the apartment phase of my life, there were garages near to where I parked my car, but they all had years-long waitlists, and I never even sniffed a chance of getting one. So through rain and snow and hail, through falling leaves, branches, and those little clumps of brown shit that drop from that one kind of tree all spring, my car has sat outside.
I guess I got used to my car being outside at some point, because I really was very struck by the realization that owning a garage has improved the basic quality of my life, though I've never been obsessed with garages, not even during our house hunt. Or at least I wasn't obsessed with garages until I noticed a tiny dent in the roof of my new car, then having a garage became a top-5 priority! All joking aside...it is just better to park in a garage, isn't it? Sure, there's the safety aspect, being inside keeps the weather away from your car. There's the security aspect too, one more door between the robbers and your car. But a garage is really more than those two basic things. A garage is also potential. All those little car repairs, the oil changes and tire rotations and brake jobs, a garage makes those possible. Tools, pegboard, assorted hardware and that little jar of screws I'll never find a use for, the garage is the natural home for all of those things. It's the home of the workbench, the sawhorse, and the circular saw and after I build my new workbench inside my garage using the circular saw and the sawhorses, I'll put that workbench in that garage, then store the saw underneath it, and the sawhorses next to it.
The garage has become a space of its own in recent years. No longer are epoxy floors and finished walls hung with art just for the premiere car collectors. That's a dream everybody can realize for themselves with a bit of money and a good bit of work. I already have the epoxy mix ready to roll, and I'm hoping to use the garage as a classroom in home remodeling. In theory I know how to insulate, drywall, and finish a wall. I've helped my dad and others do it a few times, but I've never done it for myself. I know the general concepts behind installing recessed lighting, but now it's time to do it for real, and I honestly can't wait to do the work. A great garage honors the things that are kept inside it by creating a regular, dependable, and above all accessible space for everything that needs to be stored. That's what I want for my life, and that's what I'm going to create in my garage. Because I own one of those now.
I mean, that's pretty much it, folks. I now own a garage, and I'm going to make it awesome. I don't really have any words of encouragement for you garage-less paupers, but I do need to reiterate how much better I feel about life in general now that I have a garage. It's a weird thing to be proud of, I suppose, but that's where I'm at. I think my main desire is to appreciate the space back for all that it's already given me, and all the opportunity it offers for the future. Obviously, that kind of personal pride is typically reserved for the main house, but as a first time garage owner I gotta say, if you're lucky enough to have one, show your car hold some love. It's been there for you and your cars, so return the favor.
Hello dear fans of the Check Engine Podcast,
Today, I have a simple question. Have you ever loved a car? Now, we’ve discussed the outcome of ACTUALLY LOVING a car during one of the Pace Laps on the podcast. You end up in the news and the subject of much hilarity on amateurish automotive podcasts… ahem. However, that particular kind of love, in the carnal or biblical sense, is not what I mean. I mean have you ever loved a car like a really good friend who became family? Or maybe like a family pet? I know I have, and that is what I’d like to take a look at for this week’s blog.
As you may have heard in our most recent podcast, Nick is putting his car (or truck, as it turns out) future in the hands of you, dear listeners. This means moving on from his beloved Trail McBlazer, and he mentioned that it is bound to make him slightly misty-eyed. I too have had to move on from several cars. I’ve let three early-2000s VW group cars enjoy their well earned rest as well as a Toyota 4Runner. Those cars were all victims of accident or unrepairable mechanical issues. Last year, I decided (much as Nick has with the old TMcB) that repairs on my Jeep had become a losing proposition and it was time to move on. To me, that felt like pulling the plug on a relative. That choice rested with me and me alone, and I gave it the Caesar’s thumbs down. The action of retiring the Jeep hit me so hard that… I didn’t. I still have that Jeep as a project vehicle. I just couldn’t let it go.
All of this was despite the fact that it wasn’t a GREAT car. It wasn’t a FANCY car. It wasn’t even the best at what it was purportedly designed to do. But man, I loved that car. Why? That is the question that I’d like to explore. As far as I can tell, it’s linked to experiences. As evidenced by some of the stories we told in our very first episode, the stories you make in cars stick with you. They go with you wherever you go (in fact, they take you there) like a loyal dog. They carry your stuff like a loyal… pack animal of some kind. What? I’m NOT a farmer, despite some previous job titles. They shelter you from the elements like a house. They allow you to live your everyday life AND your dreams. I lived in that Jeep for almost two weeks. Tropical storm, heat, thousands of miles, on-road, off-road, and waaaaay too much dirt in the cargo compartment carpets… To me, that is the crux why the human/vehicle relationship is so strong.
Now, for those of you without a long commute to work or a strong road trip game, a lot of those things may not apply. I fully understand that some people out there may read this and find me patently insane to be in love with a car. Others who are more “numbers” driven than I may point to 0-60 times, off-road clearances, interior cargo space, MPG, or any number of other… numbers to point to why they love cars. Aesthetes may point to the color, the wheels, the design language, or even the sound of a car as to why they love it. A lot of these criteria are on my list for why I may lust for a car from a distance. They may also be why a car can be an object of “love at first sight” (or drive).
However, much like the relationship between people and other people or that between people and animals, the relationship that we describe as love comes from something deeper. It’s cheesy, but it comes from a history of shared experiences and needs being fulfilled that only arises after you’ve had a history. It lets me live my life and I take care of it. I know it’s a machine, but in those who are setup to love cars, the relationships between car and owner pull all the same levers as other relationships. In fact, they can be key players in other relationships and major life events. The “just married” car trope? Your car is there for you. Going to college and cram the car full of stuff? Your car is there for you. Long way to say, I love my car. I’ve loved all my cars. Just like I’ve loved all my dogs. And all my good friends. Let us know in the comments or on social media why you love YOUR car. Or why I’m crazy. Or both. I’m not opposed to both...
I am a patient person.
At least that is what I keep telling myself in the car, every time I feel like driving my Trail Blazer off a bridge out of sheer frustration with what I’m seeing on the roads around me. In all honesty, I really do consider myself to be a pretty tolerant human being. It takes a lot to get me upset. I avoid all conflict like the plague and am, in general, very easygoing. But that’s when I’m NOT behind the wheel. When the seatbelt goes on, it’s a pure Jekyll and Hyde situation. Behind the wheel, you can’t say that I have a short fuse, because my fuse doesn’t exist at all. I nitpick and point out flaws like your most annoying in-law and the thoughts that run through my head, and sometimes escape my lips, sound like they should be straight out of an “NC-17” movie. Now, I’m not saying that I’m ready to bust out someone’s window at a stoplight and throw down with anyone, but I am amazed at how often I notice travelers doing dumb shit behind the wheel. I have something to say to all of you, dear readers, but before I make my statement let me lead with this: Tristan, Andrew and I are all deeply grateful for you taking any interest in The Check Engine Podcast , our blogs, or social media, or anything else. We can’t thank you enough. That being said, a lot of you out there are HORRIBLE drivers!
The reason I am so passionate about this subject comes down to 2 things: 1) My mom worked in a town hall/police department for over 20 years, and 2) Since I was old enough to walk, my summers have been spent almost exclusively at race tracks. Because of that history, I have seen and heard of countless situations where things have gone horribly wrong with, in, and involving cars. Remember, these are 2,500+ pound pieces of metal that are capable of very quick speeds and are literally only able to move because (except in electric vehicles) there are thousands of controlled explosions happening under the hood. If you are not careful, you’re toast. Simple as that. My friend Tristan recently blogged a blog about Driver’s Ed in America, and he couldn’t be more correct: it’s a joke. Sure, they teach you things like “stop at a stop sign” and “if the shift lever is stopped next to the letter ‘R’, you won’t go forward.” But they don’t teach applicable common sense situations, and they shouldn’t have to! That’s why they call it “common sense”, right? But maybe times have changed, because apparently none of these dipshits are capable of any of that common sense stuff. But in addition to being a nice guy, I am also a helpful guy. So let me go through a few situations to help you, possibly a dipshit, with your future travels.
Let’s start with what I like to call “lane discipline”, which is simply being aware of the lane you are in and the traffic around you, but which also, sadly, does not exist in any form in the state of Wisconsin. One thing they certainly do teach in Driver’s Ed is that the left lane is for passing and for cars that are moving faster. But this isn’t all about speed. If you don’t want to go over the speed limit, or even want to drive under the limit, fine. That is 100% your prerogative. But then get the FUCK out of the way when you do that! If you haven’t noticed, cars and trucks have been equipped with this cutting edge new technology called rear view mirrors. Heard of ‘em? No? WELL, if you look through them, you can actually see what’s behind you!! If you utilize these little pieces of black magic and notice a vehicle so close to your rear bumper that you can’t see the grill or headlights, odds are they are faster than you, and would like to get along with their day, if you don’t mind. If you are of the idea that “it’s their job to find a way around me,” you couldn’t be more wrong. Forcing the cars moving at a higher rate of speed to make extra lane changes and other maneuvers that they shouldn’t have to increases the level of danger for everyone. How do I know? Because science. Because probability. Look it up. But you shouldn’t have to look that up, because…you know, common sense. I repeat: You do not have to go as fast as anyone else on the road if you don’t want to, but please kindly move yourself into the right hand lane(s) so those who want to go faster can do so in peace. Oh, and when you change lanes, FOR THE LOVE OF JESUS, MARY, JOSEPH AND ALL THINGS HOLY USE YOUR GOD DAMN TURN SIGNALS!!!!!!! (Editor's note: Yeah! And If you're getting the high-beam flash from the person behind you, they are preparing to murder you. MOVE, SHITHEEL!)
Which brings me to my next point: turn signals. As much as municipalities try to control the road environment, a public road is a very unpredictable place. Between mechanical failures, lane closures, detours, accidents, or idiots who happen to be going the same direction as you, on the streets there are far more things beyond our control than we’d like to admit. The turn signal is God’s little way of bringing a tad more comfort to the situation. All they do is allow those around you to know what your intentions are. You see, if you just slam on your brakes or jump over to the next lane with no signal, we may think you are trying to avoid a hazard on the road that we can’t yet see. We may be startled and jump on our brakes harder than we needed to and if there’s a car behind us that isn’t prepared, the accordion effect starts to take place and…well…insurance companies get called. If you decide to change lanes and not tell anyone, there may be someone in the lane you are trying to get to that would’ve slowed down had they seen your signal. But with no signal, that person is going to keep driving as normal and you will either run into them or simply run them off the road. Extreme example? Yeah, possibly. But I wouldn’t bring it up had I not known it to happen. Please, be courteous and let us know what you’re up to while you’re driving. It’s that little lever off of the left side of your steering column. Easy to reach, easy to use. We thank you in advance.
After you’ve discovered the turn signal, you idiot, you can ecplore the opportunites they offer by using them as you travel down on-ramps entering the freeway. And as you merge into traffic, yielding to the freeway traffic which has the RIGHT-OF-WAY IN ALL SCENARIOS, PLEASE try to be at highway speed when you get to the end of the ramp. If you can’t (or don’t want to) get up to the posted speed limit, you deserve whatever happens to you. I’m sick and tired of numb nuts out there who think it’s okay to enter the interstate doing 40 miles per hour. YOU ARE WHY ACCIDENTS HAPPEN, YOU FLAMING PILE OF PURE DUMB-ASSERY! If you don’t want to drive at or near 70mph, take the back roads. There’s always more than one way to get to a place. By entering a highway going that much slower than the flow of traffic, one will force the others on the road to make quick reactive decisions, often without time to use the aforementioned turn signals. This person is essentially a moving chicane and poses an immediate threat to everyone else on the road. If you don’t see anything wrong with doing “whatever speed you feel like” on the end of an on-ramp (I’ve heard that phrase before), then you don’t deserve to be wasting the air that belongs to the rest of the smart human beings out there. Again, you don’t have to be comfortable doing 70mph. But if you aren't, then don’t use the freeways with the good and morally correct people that are comfortable at that speed. Just leave the freeways to us well-adjusted, intelligent folks to handle, and bend a wheel on a pothole while you're at it.
My last gripe involves traffic jams…and no, not the traffic jams themselves. There’s really no way to avoid those. There could be an accident or construction anywhere, so the idea of a traffic jam is nothing to get worked up over. My problem is with traffic jams that COULD BE AVOIDED, but aren’t because of people who may not be stupid, but are big enough assholes to think that their time is more important than the time of everyone else. You know who I’m talking about...BUT if somehow you don’t, next time you are approaching a lane closure, look over towards the orange barrels in the lane that’s about to be closing and you’re bound to see them: a German sedan with a driver that has a Bluetooth device lodged in their ear. Yeah, that dick bag. Them, sitting over there, waiting until the very last second, then making a dangerous maneuver to cut someone off to get in the only open space left in the last open lane. I hate this person more than anyone else alive today. Not because of the car they drive, I’m not jealous of that. But it’s because of the status that they “think” they have by driving the car that they do. “I paid more for my car, so therefore I’m more important.” Fuck yourself. Here’s the thing: before a lane closure, those responsible normally give ample warning. Left lane closed 2 miles. Left lane closed 1 mile. Left lane closed ½ mile. Left lane closed 1500ft. You get the idea. If someone makes an attempt to move over into the clear lane at ANY point in that time frame, I’d be happy to back off and let them in. But there are some people who just don’t bother. They want to wait until they are about to punt a barrel across the median before they even THINK to change lanes, and at that point I have no sympathy for you. Hit the barrel then, it’s your own fault. Try to jump over and side swipe my car. Also, your fault. You are either too stupid or too much of a douchebag to be on the road, and I have no patience for either…I’m sure there are some of you out there thinking “Errmagerrhd, what about the zipper merge?!?!?!” One of my co-hosts is probably thinking that right now as he reads this (it's Tristan), because he talks about it all the time. But here’s the thing about the zipper merge: it only works if EVERYONE buys in. And unfortunately, humans aren’t programmed like a computer or some robot on an assembly line to think “left, right, left, right, left, right” ad nauseam. We humans have free will, and the right to think for ourselves. So there will never be a time where everyone buys in to that theory, at least not as long as some dickhead in a BMW or Mercedes with “important business to tend to” shares the roads with the rest of us. My proposal is this: you normally have, at MINIMUM, over a mile to make your lane change. I’m not saying that everyone has to jump over as soon as they see the first orange diamond road sign, but a mile provides ample time and distance for everybody to find their gaps and move over smoothly. And to those of you who are already in the proper lane and see someone trying to move over before the construction barrel minefield arrives, be courteous and let them in. I can guarantee that everyone will get along with their day in a much smoother, timelier manner if we all just act a little more intelligently on the road.
I’m not going to sit here at my laptop and type this blog like I’m perfect behind the wheel. I’m not. I’ve had my fair share of speeding tickets. My Trail Blazer needed a new front bumper because I knocked it off in a parking lot. I was the one who told the story of racing a Mustang with my Tahoe through a residential area in our first episode. I have done my share of stupid stuff. But my time growing up around police officers and race tracks has taught me that moving vehicles can go from a nice amenity to a mobile death machine in an instant. I always make sure that I’m not impeding anyone in the fast lane, I always use my turn signals, I always make sure I’m at highway speed at the end of an on-ramp, and I always try to make my move early when there’s a pending lane closure. Let’s face it, everyone: As much as we take it for granted, public roads can be a very treacherous place. Just keeping these “common sense” ideas in mind will make the daily commute better and safer for everyone, the world over. Thanks for reading, thanks for listening to CEP…and if this offended you, you need to be a better driver. Period.
You see that car up there? The BMW 2-Series? That car starts at $34,950. As shown, the price is $45,450 - minimum. The car comes packed with technology, power, beautiful design, luxurious accoutrements, that famous BMW driving sensibility...and some ass-looking wheels. Seriously, they're appalling. Nearly 50 grand can't even buy you a good-looking wheel? Come on! Today, we aren't going to be talking about hubcaps, those are always ugly. No, we're talking about wheels that are factory spec. Wheels that, theoretically, were designed to GO with the car they are on, and yet most of them are just hideously ugly and a blight on the road. BMW is extremely far from alone in the practice of phoning it in on the wheels, as I will now demonstrate with an image orgy. Here are some super-ugly wheels:
-The Chevy Spark
-The ENTIRE range of former car manufacturer and CEP punching bag Ford's Taurus line:
-Every single Chrysler and Fiat except the Abarth 500 and the Non-Abarth 124 Spider:
-The Hyundai Tuscon:
-And the Subaru Crosstrek
All of those wheels are ass. They are ugly. I mean, I could go through every nearly single brand sold in America, I'll bet you that more than half of their cars would have ugly wheels. I have a huge problem with this, because if the wheels on your car are ugly, then everything else looks terrible as a result. Car manufacturers not putting good-looking wheels on their cars is akin to not knowing which sneakers you can dress up, and which you cannot. For example, Ellen grasps this concept. So does Odell Beckham Jr. and pretty much every other athlete. You know who DOESN'T get it? Masterchef judge Joe Bastinanich. I mean LOOK AT THIS DUDE! (he's, uh, the bald one, if you don't know.) Look at that picture on the left, and compare it to the picture on the right, which is of NFL Wide Receiver Antonio Brown rocking a World Hall of Fame-level sneakers and suit game.
This isn't a sneaker blog (yet), but here's my point: Bastinanich, on the left, looks like a dunce. Brown, on the right, looks like a king. Both are wearing custom-tailored suits from premiere designers, but only one guy looks good, and it's the guy who went with the eye-reaming patterns. It's all down to the shoes. The same thing applies to cars: Bad wheels ruin good design, they ruin good colors, they ruin otherwise good cars. Take another look at the BMW in the top pic. That's a good-looking car! It even looks good in that hard-to-pull-off metallic orange. But the wheels ruin it completely. They make the car look like it's standing on baby giraffe legs. And those are the upgraded wheels! The Super-Secret-Special Package wheels! You have to pay BMW extra money even above the extra M Package just to ruin the look of your new 2 Series. Now, here's the exact same car, the BMW 2 Series, with the normal M Package. The same car, the same color, and (near as I could get it) the same angle:
Instantly, the whole car is different. It looks classy, it looks like a real car instead of something from DUB magazine, it looks refined, it looks impressive. That's the power of a wheel. Man, I really wish I could make one of those little photo comparison slider things, it would be SO helpful right now. Who knows a web dev that works completely for free?
ANYWAYS. I don't really know when the general public became alerted to wheel design. Maybe it was when the F&F car trend rammed the concept of "Alloys" into the zeitgeist? Maybe it was even as far back as the 50s, when kids discovered that the family Mustang was secret race car? Maybe people have always been keyed into wheel design, I just don't know. But small credit where it's due: Modern car manufacturers clearly pay more attention than ever to the wheels on their cars. Only the most base models come with hubcaps in 2018, and most models have their own unique range of wheels for consumers to choose from. If a manufacturer makes a performance car of any kind, you can bet that it either has its very own special wheel, or even several bespoke versions to choose from. Heck, I think the Porsche 911 has like 7 different wheel designs, some of which can be painted to match or contrast the car itself. Some makers even go so far as to source top-quality wheels from premium fabricators. Wheels matter. But they are also very prone to what's "trending" at the moment.
For example, remember when every vehicle had chrome-looking wheels? That was awful, and so is the most recent trend. Most of the wheels I take issue with are these new-fangled "dual-tone" wheels, like the BMW up top. While I don't know who started it, dual-tone rules the streets right now. I also not quite sure how they're made, but at some point during machining, parts of the wheel are differentiated so that some portions or spokes appear darker, and others appear lighter. Hyundai is extremely guilty of this, and the worst offender is the Elantra Sport.
GAAAAAAAAAAAAAH WHY! It's like the designer couldn't decide between five-spoke and multi-spoke and just went "Fuck it! Both!" It just looks BAD. The Elantra Sport is otherwise a very nice car, and it even looks quite good from the outside with the lowered ride from the more aggressive suspension and the little Sport tier design tweaks like darkened headlight accents and larger grille...except the wheels are hugely ass. The car is basically ruined because the wheels are so ugly. I'd love to recommend the car, but I can't, because you already look like an idiot if you drive a car with wheels like that. I would know! My Veloster has dual-tone wheels!
Dual-tone isn't the only factor in whether or not a wheel is ugly. The shape and design of the wheel obviously plays a role too. Electric and hybrid cars tend to have big, chunky wheels with wave-like designs, and all of them look horrible. Tesla, notably, doesn't do this, opting for a twisted multi-spoke design that looks excellent. Truck wheels are just all over the map, but most of them tend to be decent, usually some kind of roided-up take on a five-spoke design. Five or six spoke wheels are the most common, but if you look around the market, there are plenty of way to screw those simple designs up. Yes, I understand that brands need to produce wheels that are unique and "speak the design language", and "move the brand forward" and whatever other dumb hot-button terms are out at the moment, and that requires a bit of hopping on trends, but basic wheel design hasn't actually changed all that much in the last 60 years. Cars that stick closer to more traditional designs instead of chasing trends tend to look better not only five and ten years after their production year, but in the moment as well.
Here's a perfect example of a timeless wheel: American Racing's Torq Thrust. This wheel was originally introduced in 1950s, and it looks exactly the same today as it did the day it was introduced.
Over and above being just a five-spoke design, the Torq Thrust is THE American five-spoke design, cutting a truly iconic silhouette. So iconic, in fact, that Cragar, a different wheel company, claims an almost identical "iconic" design for their Supersport wheel which was released nearly a decade later, in 1964. When Dodge re-released the Challenger in 2008, they even made a factory-spec wheel for the R/T trim that transparently copied the Torq Thrust, and it looked fantastic! You can take this wheel in the size, color, and tone that best matches your scheme, put it on any American muscle car, pony car, or truck that's ever been made, and it looks like the vehicle came out of the factory that way. That is what any manufacturer would want in their wheels, right? Iconic, trendsetting design? I'm not saying every car needs to have a Torq Thrust on it, obviously more designs are good, and more good designs are even better, but I do think that manufacturers should take a second look at some of the wheels they are pumping out, because too many of them are ass, and not enough of them are good. As far as I can tell, there are only three manufacturers that already look twice. A precious 3 who have far more good wheels than bad in their lineups: Toyota, Mazda, and the VW group, inclusive. In fact, the VW group might have fewer than 10 bad wheels across their entire international range, counting all 12 brands from Scania to Bugatti. Now THAT is some seriously impressive hustle.
And so, automobile manufacturers of the world, I call upon you to...uh, you know...make your cars look better by putting some damn effort into the design of the wheels for once. Because when your wheels are bad, your whole car suffers, and the world is made poorer as a result. You are all capable of being so much better than you are, the evidence is right there, in your own lines already! Just make it happen! Oh, and while I'm decreeing: Everybody out there wear nicer shoes. With the great stuff that Vans is putting out these days, there's literally no excuse to wear ugly shoes and your shoes are probably as ugly as the wheels on your car. Just ditch the Sketchers, man. They make you look like a huge tourist.