Why I think E-ZPass is Useless

Back in July 2020, my wife and I finally decided to get an E-ZPass. We do frequent trips where we cross bridges, tunnels, and roads that utilize it and with the world wide condition, we were thinking it would be faster, easier, and cheaper just to get an E-ZPass for all of our future travels.

To make a very long story short, it really did not do what we thought it would. When we pulled up to booth after booth, the device would not register. At one point, we stopped at an E-ZPass station in Delaware, and they said that while they felt bad for me, they could not help me because they can only assist customers with a Delaware issued E-ZPass. Mine was Virginia issued. I was absolutely livid.

Upon returning home, I decided to look into a tip my brother in-law shared with me during our travels. He remembered reading somewhere that certain vehicles, and more specifically, my 2003 Buick Rendezvous has been known to have a windshield that does not work well, or at all, with E-ZPass. I researched into that more and in fact found that to be true. There is a list of vehicles that I found on a document from the E-ZPass website that listed the Buick Rendezvous as a “Special Vehicle.”

There is apparently something in the windshield of a Buick Rendezvous that prevents the E-ZPass transponder from being read by the booths. That is really weird, because I do believe before I owned the Rendezvous, my dad replaced the windshield. I guess even replacement windshields have that same issue?

My biggest beef with all of this is the following. When I walked into the E-ZPass store (I didn’t buy online), WHY DID THEY NOT TELL ME MY CAR WAS ON THE SPECIAL VEHCILES LIST? They knew what vehicle I had because they manually entered it into the computer. The system should have red flagged that immediately. It is very frustrating.

To add insult to injury, the E-ZPass rate for the Cheasapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, which we travel across frequently, is no cheaper than if you were to pay by cash or card at the booth. Yes, they take card. But the rates are all the same. The only advantage to E-ZPass is you don’t have to stop for the length of time to exchange money. Not much of a real time saving if I’m honest. I do find it humorous that on the CBBT website they use the silhouette of a Nissan GT-R as the reference vehicle and they show it can apparently tow a three axle trailer.

Overall, I do like when we use our Ford Focus to go on trips. The E-ZPass makes traveling in that car a breeze. But, 50% is a fail. E-ZPass, you really should let people know.

Thankfully, most of the time the booths just run the plate and charge me through the E-ZPass that way, so I still get the possible discounts, if applicable. Which leads to a whole new point. Why is the device needed at all? Just scan plates and bill. And at that point, E-ZPass is just the middle man. Stupid E-ZPass. Absolutely useless.

The next big car thing

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What could be the next big automotive trend? There are so many out there and there can be so many ahead of us. Some might transition into something different, some might go away, and some new things might spring up. Here are two quick things that I think might happen within the next 3 years.

Safari outfitting seems to be picking up in popularity. Having that process done to the most normal of cars, like a Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, or Ford Fusion, that would be something that might happen, but it isn’t an every person common thing to do, so if it were big, it would be only within the automotive community enthusiasts. Similar to that, the YouTube channel B is for Build is creating an off-road Lamborghini. That reminds me of the battle cars/baja/safari movement that is around and seems to come and go. But as customization pushes its limits in downforce and speed, a whole new door is opening up in the off road segment.

The other trend that might go big, as crazy as this sounds, is retro micro car comeback. Swapping high horsepower motor cycle engines or just straight up beastly car engines into 1990s Ford Tempos, Geo Metros, and other insanely small cars from the 80s, 90s and early 00s. I just get that inclination from seeing not one, but two Ford Festivas and a Geo Metro lately. It makes me think that these will come back around again. Then people will give them high horsepower, combined with retro charm, and light weight, it is a recipe for insanity, which is exactly what the internet thrives on.

Need For Speed

My brother and I were recently talking about the game Need for Speed, and how after many iterations, it has lost out fans because of one specific game in the franchise. Apparently, that game, required internet to play. There was no way to play offline, which would be a huge deterrent. Since then, the franchise has struggled to get into gamers good graces.

As my brother pointed out, Forza and Grand Turismo are basically simulators rather than play for fun games.

So what would a new Need for Speed look like? Both gamers and car guys are, I think, the overlap in a venn diagram.

Right now, from a car guy standpoint, you have to put cars that are super popular in real life on the cover. A Datsun 510 would turn enough heads. If you want to really throw in a spark, put a GMC Syclone or a Porsche 944. Of course exotic cars are always a draw, but hyper cars tend to be the real show stopper now days. Cars like a McLaren Senna, Pagani Huayra, Koenigsegg Regera, are a bit more attention grabbing to enthusiasts, and still just as appealing to non enthusiasts.

Although, mentioning the GMC and the Porsche got me thinking that an expansion DLC for a Radwood edition would be REALLY popular.

I also recently read an article about how Road & Track had a hand in the original Need for Speed game. Back then, they pioneered the driving connection to the car. As the games increased, Road & Track parted ways. But ever since 2005 when Need for Speed Most Wanted came out, the game has gone down hill. I started to ask myself why.

I think that the game needs to get back to two anchors that made the game what it was. First, as debuted in Underground, they need to allow major modifications to the cars. For example, 2JZ swap a Lamborghini or safari a 94 Acura Legend. Let people get really creative with body kits, engine swaps, colors, lighting, interior, etc. A computer can swap out interiors and engines on a whim. Make it happen.

Second, and most importantly, is to have the ability to race and/or be pursued, at any time, anywhere in the game, in a semi realistic way. The original game was all about fast racing. Hot Pursuit was all about being chased. Suspension of disbelief is hard to achieve in a racing video game, especially if you are not making a simulator. But if there are options, like turning on and off damage, having a speed ratio to what is equipped on the car, and factoring in environmental effects like weather, are all things that have to have a delicate balance to give game players an extremely fun experience, but also have it be somewhat believable. To accomplish this, get a small group of strictly gamers, strictly car people, and people who know both, to accomplish the right balance for the game. If those things could be accomplished, Need for Speed can make an awesome comeback.

Many iDenties

Recently I began watching Initial D. It is a cool anime about a high schooler who unknowingly is the best drifter in his region of Japan. While I can do without all the high school drama, the cars and drift scenes are awesome.

The cars are a huge factor in the show, obviously. Watching it nearly 20 years after it was made, it is entertaining to see how the characters ogle the vehicles that were for their time, absolute monsters. They have Mazda RX-7s, Nissan Skylines, and many others.

Then there is the lone hero car. He drives a 10 year old car at the time, a Toyota AE86. In the United States, that car is known as an “A E 86”. The eight and six are said in numeric form as “eighty six”. In the show, they constantly refer to it as an “eight six.” They do the same for other cars as well, like the Nissan GT-R 32. In the States, we refer to it as an “R 32” or again, numeric format of “thirty two”, where as they refer to it as a “three two”. That fascinated me enough to write this blog.

Maybe it all comes down to region. In the United States, “pop”, “soda”, and “Coke”, all mean the same thing, a carbonated soft drink. It just depends on where you are. I’m curious, what other things in the automotive world are referred to differently in different countries or regions? Please let me know all the cool stuff from where you are from!

How hard is it to buy and sell?

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Not too long ago, heading to eBay and Craigslist were the two big ways to find a car online. As fees go up, and sadly Craigslist now has them, where do you go to find a good used car, especially from a private party seller? As a seller, where do you go to post a car to find a buyer?

I am not versed in this area at all. I simply have a quick opinion about it. When Craigslist came out with the fee to post a vehicle, the next free option was Facebook Marketplace. That was a great option until recently. Now, Facebook has all sorts of filters that make it very difficult to find a vehicle. For example, two vehicles that I like to look for are Jeep Grand Wagoneers and Porsche 944s. Neither are an option to filter by when you select model under those makes. When you do an open ended search it doesn’t pull up very relevant stuff. I am not sure if those models can be entered. It just gets frustrating. eBay Motors also used to be glorious, but that is also not the best way to find cars either. At this time, the best way I have found to find cars is AutoTempest. But, while the results are satisfying in quantity, it can be tedious to go through them. A note to make as well is that while you can filter for all sorts of features you want, there is actually no way to filter out features you DON’T want. If you are trying to find something without heated seats, there really isn’t a good way to find a car that doesn’t have that. You have to go one by one. Lastly, as if trying to find a car isn’t hard enough with all these factors, there is the issue that you are never going to find the correct car from the start. According to Jalopnik, an issue appears to be happening with Toyota Supras that are showing as 6 cylinder cars on AutoTrader, when in fact they are 4 cylinder cars. A website can only display what information is entered, at least…I think. At the time of this writing, there was not a response as to why this was happening.

Then, you have the buying side of things. Oh my goodness. As if it wasn’t hard enough to FIND the vehicle you want, now you have to deal with PEOPLE. Egos flair, information is withheld, paperwork is tedious, time is wasted, it is seriously just the most aggravating process ever. I’ve never bought a car from a dealer, but I’ve heard it is an absolute drain. But, I am almost certain that sometimes dealing with private party buyers or sellers is just as insane.

What really hit me as an eye opener to how even as a car person, I am now not interested in buying or selling cars, was a conversation I had with a friend the other day about buying and selling cars. This friend indicated that their car was getting older, it has miles on it, and they would potentially be in the market for a newer, but still used car, in the very near future. They said they would simply shop at CarMax and trade in their current vehicle for the newer one. Now, almost all car enthusiasts would suggest against this. I have grown up being taught to drive your car until the wheels fall off, or to private party sell your car because you can get more money. But…after I started thinking about it, from all the points I have mentioned above, I realize why that is a bad idea. Especially for a non car person to try to private party sell their vehicle.

I was tasked to sell a friends vehicle one time. They gave me a price they wanted to get and told me any price above that, I could keep. I also had roughly a 30 day time frame to sell. Let’s just say I am not a salesman. I did manage to sell it. However, it was only at the price that the friend wanted and I barely got rid of it in 30 days. While there are factors that can be part of that, like the car itself, I still didn’t do nearly as well as I had hoped I would have done.

In the end, I think CarMax and trading in your vehicle is a great idea. It can save you time and headache. You might think you are doing yourself a favor by trying to sell your car yourself. But, think of all the time, effort, and materials you are putting into that, to create the listing, prepare the car, deal with calls and emails and texts with stupid questions and non showing interested parties, and absolutely insulting low offers. Do you really want to deal with all of that? Just…think about it.

I Like My Cars Medium Rare

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After a year like 2020, I started to ponder things for 2021. Most particularly, what makes a car rare? Is it production numbers? Is it trim levels? Who cares about trim? Options? Price? Brand? Color? Where it was made? Number of units sold? Number of units intended to have been produced? Perceived popularity?

Does anyone care about any of that? What do people care about when it comes to a rare vehicle?

Everyone wants a chase car. That is more than likely why Ferrari and Lamborghini will always be highly sought after rather than some bizarre 2004 Buick Regal GSX stage 3 with a supercharged 6 cylinder engine and front wheel drive. But, some of those cars can have far fewer numbers produced than a six figure priced car. So what is more rare? What is more desirable? As the Tootsie Pop commercial says, the world may never know.

I recently saw a 1999 Dodge Durango Carroll Shelby edition for sale on Facebook Marketplace. It is number 53 of only 300 ever made. In your opinion, how impressive is this? The 1999 Dodge Durango is not exactly the most amazing vehicle every built. In the normal world, people do not know who Carroll Shelby was, so is having a Durango built by his shop really that impressive? Is that a flex to normal people? Is that even a flex to automotive enthusiasts? It really is completely up to the individuals. Both the one who owns it and the one or ones who are observing the vehicle. Personal taste is everything and I like all cars, no matter what. I like my cars medium rare.

Hunting on the Range

Electric vehicles have created a new problem for commuting. That issue is called range anxiety. Essentially, it is the worry that the cars battery will die before a charging station is able to be found. While Tesla is the most well known electric vehicle, this blog is about is the Porsche Taycan.

A video on YouTube by Shmee150 shows his journey of taking his Taycan from London to Birmingham, which is roughly a 250 mile round trip. In the video, he says that the charging is not always the most quick thing to do. Not only did he wait over an hour, but he said it is a very social event. Part of that hour wait was waiting for the charger to become available. So, that is something to consider if you are going to drive an electric vehicle. The other part of the hour was trying to get the charger to work. Once it was working, it was not able to fast charge, so he spent over a half an hour to gain only 15 miles of range. In my eyes, that sounds like a waste of time. In regard to the social event, he said while charging his car other EV owners or just people in general come up to talk about their vehicles or experiences, or want to ask him about the Porsche. This does not sound like a car for people in a hurry or those who are introverts.

The other big story about the Taycan was published in Road & Track magazine. There, they took a cross country trip of the US from New York to California, and stopped 19 times to accomplish the trip. What most surprised me is that the chargers they preferred to use and the ones most accessible, were located at Walmart. While they were struggling to kill time at all the Walmarts they stopped at, because face it, we are not used to the idea yet that road tripping involves stopping for 30 minutes or far more at a time and gas station atmosphere is far more convenient in terms of travel foods, beverages, and accessories. The Road & Track drivers made it sound like the Walmarts became monotonous and boring after the first few.

This comes to my main point. As a Hot Wheel hunter, it sounds like a Taycan in the US would be the ultimate Hot Wheel hunting vehicle. You have more than one reason to stop at every Walmart now! Not only do you get to look for Hot Wheels, but you can charge your car as well! That is a win win situation! Although, paying the base model price of $103,800 for a Taycan can buy a lot of Hot Wheels and the waiting time to charge is still too much when on the hunt for the little cars. I like to get in and get out as fast as possible. As cool as the Taycan and the social event of charging sounds (I’m an extrovert), I think I’ll stick to Hot Wheel hunting in my Buick Rendezvous.

Should Models be Brands?

 

The subject of should models become brands has been relevant and important lately. I have had conversations with family and friends about the subject since some have texted me wondering why certain car manufacturers are doing certain business decisions. So, here is my take on should car models become brands.

In 2009, Dodge/Chrysler/Daimler/FCA split off the Ram pickup truck from Dodge and created their own brand from that model. That has been a very successful decision. Hyundai has split Genesis off into its own luxury brand, copying a page from Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti recipe, but also making a brand from a model. Chevrolet has rumored that they might consider making the Corvette a brand in itself. Manufacturers have split models into brands in the past, some have success and some were a failure.

Now, Ford wants to make a Mustang a brand, starting with the all-electric SUV, the Mach E. There is also a rumor that they want to make the Bronco a brand as well. Although, what doesn’t make sense is how they use the Raptor nameplate. They utilize that name for the F-150 Raptor, and Ranger Raptor, but apparently that name will not be utilized to distinguish a more powerful Bronco. A beefy Bronco is rumored to be called a Warthog. Confusing, but whatever.

What Ford should learn though, is they have almost been in this situation before. They had Mercury, that they closed because they couldn’t seem to explain to buyers why they should pay more for a car that is identical to the Ford equivalent. Lincoln almost had the same fate. Hopefully, they have learned from those experiences and don’t mess up a new Mustang or Bronco brand. Toyota and Subaru are also the same boat. They had the Toyota 86, the Subaru BRZ, and the Scion FRS all on the market at one time. And now they are almost doing the same thing, but instead of the Scion available, the Supra has taken that slot. We will have to see how this goes. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if Nissan does this with their Z car. Especially with the launch of the new 400Z. The Z name is known by people both with and without automotive knowledge so that would be a good start for them.

What do you think? Should auto manufacturers start making separate brands from their successful models?

Speed enforced by “aircraft”?

Speed enforced by aircraft sign on the side of the highway in Suffolk Virginia.

The thought crossed my mind the other day that it is surprising law enforcement is not utilizing drones to enforce speeding.

Recently, a record for the fastest production car was attempted by SSC in the Tuatara. While there is a lot of drama behind the run, what I want to focus on is the use of time and markings on the road to gauge the speed of a vehicle. A few YouTubers, most notably one that I watch, Shmee150, questioned the top speed run based on the time it took for the car to reach certain points on the road according to the video.

That concept is what is used by law enforcement to track speeding cars by aircraft. They set up lines on the road a particular distance apart and then time how long it takes the car to go from line to line. It should not be difficult for a State Highway Patrol officer to deploy a small drone to fly up and hover over the highway to watch traffic cross from line to line. And now days, with technology being as it is, it could possibly even catch license plates to mail the driver a ticket. Either that or they have the drone send them the results and the trooper can be further up the road to catch the speeding culprit. The drone would relay the proof to the officer of the culprit speeding. Drones would also be hard to spot by those trying to get away with speeding. Planes and helicopters are pretty easy to spot in the sky, and if you knew what they were doing so close to the road, you can keep your right foot in check. Drones are much smaller making them almost unnoticeable until it is too late.

Drones are significantly cheaper to fly and maintain than the standard aircraft that is/was used to monitor speed from the air. Granted, here in Virginia, they have not used aircraft to monitor speeds in quite some time. (A whole side blog could be how much road signs cost which is probably a reason these haven’t been removed.) But, it wouldn’t surprise me that if in the near future drones will be used to catch speeding motorists. They can fly themselves pretty much, are easy to transport, deploy, and are inexpensive to build and maintain. They could provide a large return on investment in a very short period of time. I wonder what why this has not happened yet? At the same time, I am glad it hasn’t happened because I think the freedom of the open road is still free. Drones would begin to drastically cut in on the freedom one feels on the road.

Why We Still Need Auto Shows

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As the world in 2020 has become one of social distancing and avoiding large gatherings at almost any cost, the automotive world has had to resort to almost entirely of virtual auto shows and vehicle debuts. The trend of not physically participating in auto shows has been a steady trend over the last 5 years. However, this year has given manufacturers an easy out, with no excuse necessary of why not to attend, because there is nothing to attend.

When the internet became really big, and information was almost instantaneously communicated to millions, that started the clock on the end of auto shows. Auto manufacturers have started pulling further and further out of auto shows. The time and money it takes to set all of the sensory stimulating displays and participate in them is expensive and time consuming.

Even with all of those reasons, I think that auto shows should remain. If the world can get back to some sort of formal normal large group gatherings, there is a benefit to an auto show that there is a captive audience that wants to be there. They are there to experience everything about the vehicle and the display. Those things are very valuable. Auto manufacturers throughout the years have created displays with specific lighting, colors, ergonomics, sounds, and even smells to distinguish their brand from all the others at the show and draw people to their booth for the experience! Buick one time even went so far as to hire a chef and did a live cooking show at their booth where they fed a select number of attendees!

Auto shows are nice as well, because you can sit in vehicles and try them out and compare them to other vehicles in the brand, or others, in a NO SELL ENVIROMENT. That is one of the biggest reasons to have an auto show. Potential customers can compare your vehicle to others all at once, without having to feel like they are prey for sales department workers to cash in on.

Along with that, I am 6’4″ and it is very important for me to sit in cars to make sure I can see out of them before I would ever consider purchasing them. I don’t buy new because I do not have the funds, but even still, I would sit in brand new cars at auto shows, to know what I might want to get in the future on the used market.

Although the internet is cool, virtual debuts can be confusing! The Ford Bronco debut was a bit of a mess. There were supposed to be 3 short films debuting it on 3 different cable channels, at roughly 8 pm, but then Ford debuted a “live” video at 7 PM. But, it was simply just a video. There was nothing “live” about it. It was a pretty big let down to me.

The Ram TRX went, although it was a virtual debut, took a more traditional auto show approach, having product specialists speak about the vehicle live on a stage in Detroit while the truck was being demonstrated both on stage and in video. It was a good combination of blending new virtual technologies, with traditional auto show elements. I wish I could have been there, and hopefully someday automotive media can once again return to these debuts.

Maybe I am just a collector of experiences and never got to be a circuit automotive journalist flying from auto show to auto show to be impressed by manufacturers so their vehicles would get better reviews. I am slowly trying to work on becoming an independent automotive journalist through All Out Octane, so maybe someday I will get to review brand new vehicles!

I did enjoy many auto shows in Detroit, New York, and Hampton Roads as I possibly could when they were still around. They will be memories I will cherish forever. Hopefully I will be able to attend and experience them once again because there are so many vehicles I want to see in person. But, with the way things are going, that time might not ever come.