Saturday, May 30, 2020

Mercedes E350 4matic 150k miles

I wrote a review of this car when it hit 100k miles back in December of 2017.  It now has 150k miles and there is not much new to report.  I did upgrade the headlight bulbs to LED.

Here is the things I did to the car in the last 50k miles.

12/27/2017 105k mi drivers seat cover. This is a known issue on these cars. I bought the part and replaced it myself.
1/20/2018 107k mi drivers front tire road hazard warranty replacement
2/25/2018 109109mi blower motor. This had a very minor intermittent squeak. Very simple to replace.
3/13/2018 new windshield
6/17/2019 117,715mi front brake pads. This was the first pair of front pads!
7/8/2018 119,869mi spark plugs.
8/5/2018 121,555mi belt. Although it was still fine. It just seemed like a long time to go on a belt.
11/18/2018 129,401mi Thermostat and PCV cover. Both a simple job.

The car was hit in the back by an inattentive driver in December.

But Banishek and Will fixed it back up again.  Good as new.

This car drives pretty much the same as when we got it.  Runs and drives great, never uses oil, no issues really.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Kohler Engine Noise

I have a 2001 GT3000 Craftsman mower with a Kohler 23HP 2 cylinder engine.  I bought it used back in May 2009.  It has many hard long hours on it.  I had a 5 acre place I used it on for many years, and my lot now is over half an acre. 

I went to mow the lawn and heard a knocking sound.  I heard it while cranking as well as running.  Engine load made no difference so I figured it was not a main or rod bearing, or a piston issue.  It was an odd sound actually.  I listened with a stethoscope and narrowed it to the crankcase area, not the top end.

I removed the engine and as a drained the oil I could see the metal in it.

Once I took the engine apart, I checked the rotating assembly to find the source of the knock but it all looked good.  Everything was nice and tight still.  Piston skirts looked good too.  This was expected since the knock did not change with engine load.  I had to look deeper.  Finally I found where the crank had worn into the lower case (oil pan) which also serves at the lower thrust bearing.  Strange they have the crank go right against the end case aluminum to serve as the thrust bearing.  I could feel the crank end play was excessive too.  The knock was from the fact that the crank had worn so deeply into the end case that the crank throw was actually grinding into the oil pump gear and bolt.  

I measured the crank end play and found it to be 0.080".  That is ridiculous!  

You can see in the photo below how worn down the oil pan is on the thrust surface. This is supposed to be flat.

Notice the wear on the oil pump gear.

Here is what it should look like.

When I think back to the way it sounded it was not a pure knock.  It also had a grinding sound element to it.  Now it makes sense.  By the way, the photo above is a used part listed on eBay at the time I wrote this.  It had a buy it now for $45.  There were several others around the same price.  Far less than the over $200 for a new one.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Driving Exotics Racing in a Porsche GT3 RS

First person there in the morning

I drove a Ferrari 488 GTB at Speed Vegas last year.  This year I decided to try something totally different and drive the Mustang GT500 at Exotics Racing at the Las Vegas Motorplex.  I booked it the night before but when I got there, the car was in the shop so they asked me what other car I would like to drive instead.  I already had 2 at the top of my want list: The Porsche GT3 RS and the Porsche GT2 RS.  I was able to upgrade to the 991.1 GT3 RS for no additional cost so I went for it.  Exotics Racing does it a bit different than Speed Vegas.  The biggest difference is the 2 laps ride in a Macan to orient you with the track.  That is a nice touch.

The track

Satellite view of the track (Google Maps)

The track is 1.2 miles long with some small elevation changes and banking on turn 2.  The longest straight is still short (1800ft) but it is enough to have a great time and get a good feel of the car.  The mild elevation changes give you a feel of the cars balance under dynamic loading pretty well.  There are 2 turns that are well over 90 degrees.  This track was a bit easier to learn than Speed Vegas since all the corners are very unique.  It is very helpful to have an easy to learn track when you only get a few laps on it.  The drift car leaves a bunch of rubber on the track and much of it is off-line and that can throw you off as your eyes tend to follow it and not the true line.  The section of the track up near the building can get confusing too as the track appears to have been shifted but the old route still shows.  Here again the drift car makes a bit of a mess of it as it takes a different route out of the pits.

Comparing the tracks at Speed Vegas (1.5mi, 12 turns), Exotics Racing (1.2mi, 7 turns), and Dream Racing (1.2mi, 9 turns), Speed Vegas is the longest and you will hit the highest top speeds.  These are all short tracks.

The car

Instructor and I getting ready for the track
Out on the track

This is one of my favorite cars.  I am a big Porsche fan and the GT3 RS is the most engaging drivers car in the lineup.  I suspect the GT2 RS is even better in some ways (power obviously) but the GT3 RS just fits perfectly and does everything you want with no effort.  The sound from the high revving naturally aspirated flat 6 is one of the best engine sounds out there.  The engine response is very crisp too.  Being used to my Cayman S on tracks really helped as this car felt very familiar.  On this track we only shifted up on the main straight and back down in turn 2.  Of course I was plenty sloppy not being at all familiar with this track, or the car.  I never got the car to even squeal a tire.  The grip was fantastic with the Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.  I looked at my ranking compared to other GT3 RS times at this track and I ranked 1500 out of about 3382, and 6451 out of  43165 for all cars.  I think the GT3 RS times included both 991.1. and 991.2 GT3 RS as they don't show them separately.

Full video of my run on YouTube

My time and rank on the day I ran 

You may recognize some of these folks at the top in the GT3 RS

This car is amazing.  Even with my sloppy 5 laps around this track I got a good feel for what this car may be capable of.  I was never at the limits of grip at any time.  I had plenty of room for more speed everywhere.  The 5 laps were over real fast.  In retrospect, more laps might be worth it.  I think I could easily trim 5 seconds a lap off my least bad time with just a few more laps (and a less nervous copilot).  He had me braking early and corning slow which I suppose makes sense until you get used to the track. I don't envy these instructors sitting in the passengers seat in a very fast car at speed on the track and no idea what kind of nut they have behind the wheel.  I highly recommend this, or Speed Vegas, next time you are in Las Vegas.  Next time I might try out Dream Racing so I can compare these three. 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The future of aftermarket performance

I have been modifying cars since I was a teenager.  My first was a 1972 Ford Bronco where I rebuilt a 351W engine, upgrading the camshaft, installing a larger carburetor, and headers, to replace the 302.  I installed nitrous oxide on my 1968 Mustang, along with many other mods.  I helped a friend develop a custom turbo system for his Fox mustang.  I installed many superchargers at the Ford Dealer I worked at for 15 years.  I also was a dealer/installer for Allen Engine Development and Explorer Express superchargers.  I developed a low budget custom turbo system for my BMW 318i.  I have also done engine performance tuning on many cars.  I have worked with most types performance enhancements over the years.  I know the pros and cons of the various aftermarket power adders.

I am becoming more and more convinced that the future is in aftermarket hybrid systems.  I am not talking about plug-in hybrid focused at fuel economy here.  I am talking about performance focused hybrid performance enhancements.  Think F1 KERS for the street or track.  This is by no means a new concept.  Think back to the Porsche 918, Ferrari LaFerrari, and McLaren P1.  All three were hybrids.  In the supercar space, more hybrids are coming too.  There is even a company, Vonnen, that has developed the first aftermarket hybrid system for Porsche sports cars now.  While that system has a huge price tag, I expect this approach to eventually go mainstream and the prices to come down quickly.

There are many opportunities once you have a high-voltage electric system in the car.  The Vonnen system eliminates the old heavy starter motor, and replaces the heavy lead-acid 12V battery to reduce the weight penalty down to about 100lbs.  While the Vonnen system puts the motor/generator between the engine and transmission, the motor/generator could instead (or also) be placed at each of the axles which would allow for torque vectoring.  You can also electric drive superchargers to boost the engine performance as well with no back work of traditional supercharging or turbocharging (more net power with less boost).  Unlike superchargers or turbochargers, hybrid drive will not affect the engine durability, tuning, emissions, or sound either.  Performance focused hybrid systems do not require a large heavy battery pack.  Instead, the Vonnen system uses a 1kWh battery pack (versus the 100kWh battery pack of a Tesla Model S 100). Ultra-capacitors can also be used to augment these performance oriented hybrid systems with a low weight penalty and very high power rates in and out.  The battery and/or capacitor weight can be strategically placed in the vehicle too, optimizing balance and handling. Other features can be added such as silent drive for short distances (depending on battery capacity) so you don't wake everyone up in your neighborhood when you start your performance car.  Large capacity electric heaters can augment the HVAC in cold climates to give instant heat before the engine warms up, also making the defrost work better.  Speaking of HVAC, the belt driven AC compressor can be replaced with an electric compressor and be more strategically placed in the vehicle. Hydraulic power steering can be replace with efficient electric power steering, which can include advanced features such as Porsche's advanced electric power steering.

Motors are getting better all the time too.  Equipmake for instance, recently developed a 295HP motor that weights only 22lbs. With all kinds of advanced motor technology, higher voltages, and advanced manufacturing techniques, motors will continue to become lighter, more powerful, and once they show up in volumes, less costly.  Leveraging this development from mainstream manufacturers, the aftermarket can adapt these motors to the aftermarket performance sector to make a cost effective performance enhancement system. Most of these modern motors can also generate electricity to charge the propulsion batteries and/or capacitors.

Motors can be placed in many different areas to provide power where desired and to enable enhanced stability and traction control strategies such as torque vectoring, stop/start, anti-stall, and more.  A motor that drives the engine crank can also be used to stabilize very high performance engines with large aggressive cams to make the car more drive-able.  A great example of that is the Aston Martin Valkyrie.  Hybrid assist is used to make this 1000HP naturally aspirated engine street drive-able.  Motors that are connected to the engine can also assist in changing engine speeds, making the engine rev much quicker.  Motors used in generating mode can be used as retarders for descending hills and decelerating, saving brake heat and wear.

Looking at trucks and off-road vehicles the advantages grow even more.  Drive motors can be placed to drive each wheel independently (or assist) to allow precise torque control for rock climbing and advanced traction control.  High-voltage electric winches will be far more compact, light, and powerful than their 12V counterparts. Trailers can also be equipped with drive motors so an off-road vehicle can tow a trailer and still have all wheels driven to get through very poor traction conditions.

One of the challenges facing aftermarket performance systems and kits is dealing with the implications to emissions and associated regulations.  Hybrid systems would be far easier to deal with here as most would not impact emissions, or would favorably impact emissions, especially in grams/mile impact.  The Vonnen system for instance does not change any engine or powertrain tuning. 

Hybrid and battery electric vehicles have now been around in volumes for over a decade.  More vehicles will go hybrid and full battery electric going forward.  As hybrid and electric drive go mainstream, the cost of this technology will drop substantially.  In some cases, the factory components could be incorporated into aftermarket hybrid systems which will really help reduce cost while also using proven, validated components.  Hybrid drive is not the doom of performance cars but rather the next level.  The future of performance vehicles and aftermarket performance enhancements has never been brighter.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Engine Sound and Cars for Enthusiasts

We all have different needs and opinions about many things in life.  Even among car enthusiasts we have many different things we like about them.  If you narrow down the car enthusiasts to a specific brand and type of car, you still have significant diversity in what people want from the car.  Owners of the same car model still have this diversity.  Some enjoy detailing their car and showing it.  Some like a fall drive down a twisty road.  Some like driving full out on the track.  Even within one of those more narrow groups we still have many differing opinions about priorities.

One thing that can come from the Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman flat 4 engine experiment is Porsche found out what a priority engine characteristics are over performance.  This also happened with the PDK only GT3 years ago.  While in both cases Porsche made a car that outperformed it's predecessor, many fans were unhappy.  If you just look at the performance numbers, the cars were better so what was missing?  The term "experience" may get overused these days but that is what this comes down to.  Even for the track crowd (which I am part of) the cars soul really matters.  While lap time is the measure of driving skill there is much more you get from track time that making the quickest laps.  It is the experience from the drivers seat.  The driver and car become one.  If you have never driven full-out on a road course it is hard to understand.  When you are there though, it is the very definition of living.  Your heart rate goes to an aerobic pace.  The adrenaline kicks in.  The feel and response of all the drivers inputs to and feedback from the car are critical to this experience.  The feel of the g-force as you and the car accelerate, brake, and corner give the driver the information needed to make time critical decisions that optimize lap time.  When you get it right it is very rewarding.  You may not think the engine sound should be very important to this experience but it actually is.

Take a listen to the GT3 RS in this video (starting just after the 4 minute mark).  Also notice the comments of the driver and instructor.

Porsche now makes electric cars.  By the way, I am a fan of electric cars.  I love the direct response to throttle command.  I love the fact there is no shifting interrupting the power delivery.  It is by far the best way to make a commuter car.  I would like to have one for my daily commuting.  No more gas stations, oil changes, spark plugs, filters, belts, etc.  Far less, almost no maintenance really.  One pedal driving significantly reduces most brake wear. No cold engine operation.  It can warm up or cool off the interior while its sitting in the garage.  More luggage space.  However, when it comes to a track car I don't want all-electric.  The Porsche 718 is supposed to get an all-electric version in the future.  I may actually want one as a commuter car but it will stay home when I go to the track.  I want the flat 6 engine for that.  The electric 718 would probably put down quicker lap times, but still I want the flat 6.  It may seem odd for a logical engineer such as myself to say these things but even us logical engineers have things we are passionate about that defy pure logic.

Daniel Pink wrote a book called Drive that gives insight into human behavior.
This starts to explain some of this behavior of why we do some irrational things.  He describes three key elements of human satisfaction: purpose; autonomy; and mastery.  This passion that drives High Performance Drivers Education (HPDE or track day) participants is here in these elements.  I think the strongest correlation is with the mastery element.  Mastery is the desire to be good at something.  This is "practice makes perfect" that we have all heard.  It's our desire to achieve perfect and the thrill that comes with it.  So, what does engine sound have to do with this?  That sound, and the non-linear, high RPM power-band of a high performance naturally aspirated engine, give an extra element of feedback and challenge to achieving mastery.  Even more, the same is true for the PDK versus manual with a clutch pedal.  Mastering these extra challenges are part of achieving greater mastery.  If it was easy, the challenge would be gone and mastering it would mean nothing.  I actually like the PDK but I certainly understand those who prefer a clutch pedal.

There is something more to the sound of a great engine though.  It is certainly a much wider crowd than just track people who love the sound of a great engine.  To a real enthusiast it is better than music, or maybe a form of music.  The sound of a great engine is very hard to replicate with audio equipment since you feel it as much as you hear it.  Also, from the drivers perspective it is synchronized with acceleration which is a big part of this experience.  Even the experience between driver and passenger in the same car at the same time is quite different because of this.  I actually was not a huge fan of the sound of a Porsche flat 6 until I drove one.  From inside the car it is quite different.  Driving it is even better.  If you never had that experience, the flat 4 718 would be great.  But those of us that have experienced a Porsche flat 6 at full throttle redline know what I am taking about and that is missing in the flat 4.  I actually love the combination of induction and exhaust sound.  In fact, full throttle induction sound is even sweeter than exhaust sound in my opinion.  Put them together and it is blissful. 

Other manufacturers are understanding the importance of engine sound.  One great example is the Aston Martin Valkyrie.  Check it out on the dyno.

They could have easily turbocharged a V8 to get this performance but instead they went a much harder route of building a naturally aspirated V12 with a very high redline.  Obviously this car is not just about quick lap times but rather driver engagement.  Another is the Shelby GT350 with the Ford Voodoo engine.  The list is starting to grow.

I think the future of performance drivers cars will be more hybrids.  Porsche made the 918, Ferrari made the LaFerrari, and McLaren made the P1 years ago showcasing what street performance hybrids can do.  The Valkyrie is also hybrid, as are many other performance cars.  Now Vonnen has made a hybrid conversion for many Porsche models.  These are very different hybrids than the economy focused ones.  These use hybrid drive that is focused on performance.  The batteries are small so as not to increase the weight.  Just enough battery to add the extra power when you need it, and where you need it.  The hybrid drive augments a high-revving often naturally aspirated performance engine very nicely filling in power down low where these engines lack it.  Yet you still get all the sound and engine characteristics you like, just with more power.  Formula 1 went hybrid (KERS) back in 2009.  Most of the top Le Mans race cars have also been hybrid, such as the Porsche 919.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Moto Z4 Review

A few months ago I upgraded my aging Moto Z2 Play with the new Moto Z4 (unlocked).  I chose this device for several reasons:

  • Industry best total battery life (when used with battery mod)
  • Supports Moto Mods
  • Reasonable price and value for the money
  • They also threw in the Moto 360 camera with it and I always wanted one of these
  • Decent cameras with good features
I would consider this an upper mid-range phone.  It's not a true flagship device but it is not priced like one either.  My daughter got one a couple months before I did and she liked it too.  My experience with it so far has been very good.  I have been impressed with the cameras, and overall performance is good.  I like the in-display fingerprint sensor even though it is much slower than the one on the Z2 Play.  It is nice having almost no bezels and the larger display.

I did have to open up the headphone port and charging port on this rim with a file bit other than that it works great and lets you use most mods while this rim is in place.  It also fixes the minor annoyance where the Z4 body is just a bit narrower so the mods slightly hang over the edge. The only mod that does not work with it is the 360 camera.  I just modified the 360 camera (quick job on the table saw) to make it fit.

I would like to discuss battery life as this is one of the most important features for me.  Moto Mod batteries have a mode called "efficiency mode" that optimizes maintaining the phones internal battery to keep it at 80% extending its life.  I have 2 Moto Mod batteries: The Moto Power Pack and the Moto Turbo Power Pack. I always have one of them on the phone.  For normal daily use, I use the smaller Moto Power Pack.  When I go on trips or will be using more battery, or going longer between changes, I will use the larger Moto Turbo Power Pack.  Switching is of course super easy and does not require turning OFF the phone.  You simply pull one off and snap the other one on. These batteries also protect the camera since the battery has a hole leaving the camera recessed.  The batteries also have a great rubbery back surface making it easy to hold the phone securely and they don't show finger prints at all. I never really need to charge during the day.  Even with heavy use I can go all day no problem. I generally have 80% phone, and 50% to 80% of the mod battery at the end of a typical day. When traveling, I will sometimes carry my other battery so it is available just in case I do get low.  The mod batteries are super thin and fit easily into a pocket.

When I went looking for a new smartphone my top considerations were this Z4 and the new Pixel 3a XL.  The deal breaker for the Pixel for me was the small battery.  The Z4 by itself has 100mAh less battery but then you add the mod with 2200mAh to 3500mAh to that and the capacity is much more.  The pixel also lacks expandable memory that the Z4 has. The Z4 has a very slightly better processor too.  The Pixel is only $25 less (comparing full original retail prices).  The Z4 also has a slightly larger screen.  One of the things that interested me in the Pixel over the Z4 was the cameras, which are rated very well on the Pixel.  Here is an article comparing these 2 devices, and another here, and yet another here.. Another family member got the Pixel 3a XL at about the same time. I will be honest both phones get great pictures and I can't see a big difference between them.  Motorola phones have almost completely stock Android too so even that is very similar, mostly identical really. 5G support was not even a passing thought for me.  I live in a smaller town that does not have it anyway and I get crazy fast speeds on 4G already.

I may add some more details later....

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Things for car folks to do in Las Vegas

I visit Las Vegas often to visit family.  I am not a gambler, it's just not my thing. I am also not into the night life.  While there are the biggest attractions in Las Vegas, what can non-gambler car people do when in Las Vegas?  I have found many very fun things to do so I thought I would capture some here.

Drive high-end cars on the track

There are several great venues to drive supercars and sports cars in their natural habitat, on the track. By track I mean a proper road course and you drive them at speed. While there are also places to rent them and drive on the street, this would be a frustration for me as you would be stuck in traffic and not get to experience even a fraction of what these cars can do. I wrote a blog article here: describing some of the main experiences at the track.  I also went to Speed Vegas and drove the Ferrari 488, and Exotics Racing and drove a Porsche GT3 RS.

There are others.  You can drive off-road or NASCAR experiences too.  The Las Vegas Motorplex is a center of much of this.  This is my favorite car thing to do in Las Vegas by far, but it is also the most expensive.  Plan to spend a few hundred dollars but it is well worth it.  Many exotic cars are ridiculously expensive to buy and own.  Once you spend that much, most people don't want to risk that investment by taking them to the track and driving them hard.  Here you are just renting the car (insurance included) so no worries.  You can really have fun in them and give them back when you are done. You get an experienced instructor to show you the line and how to get the most out of these cars at their track. It's the best way to experience these cars.

Drive Go-Karts

There are many places too drive go-karts as well, both indoors and outside.  Exotics Racing offers both supercars (above) and go-karts.  I have driven the electric indoor go-karts at Pole Position which is close to the strip.  It's inexpensive and fun and since it's indoors and the karts are electric you don't have to deal with the weather.  There are many others.

Visit a museum

Here is a great article highlighting some of the car museums. I have been to the Shelby facility, both at the old location near the speedway, and the new location South of the strip.

Shop for car related stuff

Being a Porsche fan I found a rare Porsche Design outlet shop.  I think there are only 2 of these in the country, one being at the Las Vegas Premium Outlets mall North of the strip. Porsche Design merchandise is not cheap so finding it at a discount is great. Of course the Shelby store is a great place to shop.

Go for a road trip

While Las Vegas is in a desert, it is close to mountains and lakes too.  

Hoover Dam and the Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

It's a short drive (about 40 minutes) from Las Vegas to Hoover Dam.  There is also a great view from the bridge to the South of the dam. You can walk across the bridge.

Mount Charleston

Mount Charleston is a short drive (about an hour) from Las Vegas where you can get away from the desert and enjoy the mountains and pine trees.  In the winter it is often snow covered.  In the summer it is much cooler than Las Vegas.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is less than 3 hours away.  There are great hiking trails and camping as well as hotels and lodges.