Author Archives: Matt

Heat wave brings out unscrupulous opportunists

Seasonal snake oil … If this product actually kept refrigerant oil from clinging to the walls of the components in the AC system, the compressor would promptly seize up causing repairs in the $1000 + range. Most likely, it simply does nothing. When it gets hot the snake oil salesmen hawk magic AC system additives, when gas prices surge they hawk all manner of gadgets and substances claiming to improve mileage, reduce emissions and increase horsepower all at once. Of course, health issues are such an intrinsic part of our existence that they are responsible for the lion’s share of snake oil marketing. My personal trainer has heard it all regards ways to drop 100 pounds of fat and gain 50 pounds of muscle in no time and with minimal work. None of it works, but wishful thinking and gullibility are universal human traits. I know better re’ automotive products with extravagant and implausible claims, but I am sure I have been duped in other areas at various times in my life. It is pretty pathetic how often advertisements for a scam product are presented as news.

Trendy restaurants in Austin: buzz is usually total BS

I don’t know if Franklin’s Barbecue is pretty good. It may well be, but I am not going to wait in line three hours to find out with the risk that they will be sold out just before I get to the counter. I am 65 years old and gradually retiring, so I have some time on my hands — but not that much time to waste! One of the reasons for the long lines at Franklin’s is a recent article in the well-known gourmet magazine, Bon Appetit. The author heaping lavish praise on Franklin’s knows nothing about barbecue brisket, absolutely nothing! The following quote makes this painfully obvious: “Whereas most places smoke brisket for seven hours at a blazing 500°, Franklin cooks his for about 18 hours at 250° to 270°.” Nobody in Texas smokes brisket at 500°, not even Bill Miller! 18 hours might be a little longer time in the smoker than some establishments allow, but it is hardly unusual.

All over town there are recent popular burger places that boast “organic, grass fed, locally sourced Black Angus beef.” OK, nothing wrong with that, but the burger costs 2-4 times as much as one from McDonald’s or any other equally wretched fast food purveyor and the beef consists of a generic, thin, machine-made patty that could not be distinguished from one from McDonald’s or Wendy’s in a blindfold test.

Thanks to my wife, I dine so well at home I rarely eat out except for a convenient lunch. When I do, I avoid the new places everybody is talking about this month as I find them inevitably over-priced and over-rated.

Don, what do you think about this F1 racing?

Many people know that while now unofficially retired, I was involved in 1/4 mile dirt-track stock car racing since the early ’90s and drove my own car since 1996 — with some occasional success, including a track championship in my class in 2008. Its an understandable assumption that I would follow NASCAR and eagerly anticipate the F1 track coming to Austin. Nothing could be further from the truth! I find the worship of billionaire sports superstars very distasteful. F1 racing epitomizes that. If you attend an F1 event, you get to pay some huge amount for the privilege of seeing some aristocrat zoom down a track at 200 mph+. NASCAR — ditto. And, unless you are also an aristocrat, you don’t even get to see it up close. The experience is 100% vicarious — totally lacking in any participation or community with the racers and the racing effort. Sad that sports to so much of the public means watching from a distance — TV being the ultimate distance — and NO participation. Here’s a contrasting example: I am racing at a dirt track south of San Antonio and there is a wreck resulting in a flat tire and possible other damage. I pull into the pits where I am greeted by three generations of the Mares family. My buddy and fellow racer Abraham Jr., is a warehouse manager at Acme Brick — hardly an aristocrat. Father, son, grandson, cousins — you name it — swarm my car. They change the tire, quickly pry out a fender, do a quick inspection and gesture to me to get the hell back out before the track goes green. Later Abe Sr. gets a feature win in the Super Stock class and I would like to think it is in part because I helped tweak his carburetor earlier. THIS is what I call exciting and real! You can be directly involved with grass roots sports regardless of physical condition. I am far too clumsy to attempt roller-skating, but I sure get a kick out of sponsoring two TXRD rollerderby teams. School teachers, nurses, barmaids, state workers, students, they get to be local heroes on a banked track every 2nd or 3rd Saturday night, while we go wild for the jammer who just took the lead. Many league members have become my personal friends, many are customers at my shop. Seeing these ladies kick ass is a thrill.

Everyone has choices in their involvement with sports. You can sit in some seats that cost you hundreds of dollars, drinking too much beer and eating junk food, while the wealthy do their thing in the far distance and laugh all the way to the bank. You can get a similar totally vicarious experience much cheaper through television. But you can also get involved with you child’s, or your grandchild’s, or your godchild’s little league team. You can become a roller derby sponsor, you can help set up the roller derby track, as my stepson and one of my other employees do. You can go bowling with your co-workers. You can participate in the Capitol 10,000 — it doesn’t matter at all if, like me, you are not a front-runner but walking is your speed. You can get together with a bunch of bubbas who race riding lawnmowers! Instead of passively expecting to be fed entertainment, invest something besides the cost of tickets and beer and get a real payback.

Speaking of which, since I recently started taking Thursdays off, I really need to ride my bike over to The Driveway and check out some local bicycle racing! I have a friend who sometimes bike rides with us in the evening and is also a Don’s Automotive customer who races there.

“I already had it checked out, but they want way too much. How much would you charge?”

If I never hear this again it will be to soon for me. With rare exceptions, the premise this question is based on is intrinsically flawed. Is the other shop trustworthy or not? If the other shop is trustworthy then just let them fix what they have already inspected, diagnosed, confirmed by testing etc. An old cliche’ about switching horses in mid-stream comes to mind. If they are NOT trustworthy, then their repair recommendations beg a second opinion far more than their prices. In fact, when money is spent on car repair with poor or no value received, an excessively high price for a well-advised choice of repair procedure is almost never what happened. In the overwhelming majority of cases, poor value is received because A: The suggested remedy did not address the problem, or B: Unnecessary repairs were sold.

This question is also highly insulting to the repair facility who essentially is told, “I went to the high-dollar experts to find out what needs to be done, now can you do it cheap?” When dealing with independent business people, I find I receive the best value in the long term by being respectful.


YEAH!!! Its been a good season so far despite the fact that the two TXRD teams that Don’s Automotive sponsors don’t look good for the championship this year. The Rhinestone Cowgirls have a captain that goes by the track name of “Kategory 5.” She is a former speed skater from Norway and lightning fast and nimble. But a superstar skater can’t score her team points without the team being there to help her through the pack and block the opposing jammer. The word is she has had her team on an extreme training regimen with no down-time since last season. It sure looks like it. They beat the Putas Del Fuego by 16 points Saturday night and are probably on a fast track to the season championship.

On July 23rd the Cherry Bombs — proudly sponsored by Don’s Automotive for the last few years — play the Hellcats at Palmer Events Center. The two teams should be about evenly matched, so expect a real nail-biter. Starts at 7:00, over before 10:00. If you find it boring just let me know and I will reimburse your price of admission!

Segways, why??

Recently a customer commented to me that he works downtown where he frequently has to dodge Segway tours that seem intent on running him over. He identified with sentiments I expressed in a letter to the Statesman a couple of years ago where I described the Segway device as brilliant technology serving little or no purpose. I should have known the Statesman would edit out my disclaimer regarding those with certain specific disabilities for whom it could possibly be a godsend. Such cases are probably uncommon because if you can’t walk you probably can’t stand for a long time and likely have balance problems, but is my understanding they do exist. So I received indignant e-mails accusing me of insensitivity towards disabled people. Well, nobody can edit this rant but me, so here we go….. My disdain for Segway tour members is strictly for those able-bodied individuals, and teenagers of most of all, who choose this mode of transportation over walking or bicycling. What in the hell can you see piloting a Segway that you can’t see walking? In this era of rampant obesity and type 2 diabetes — 10% heredity and 90% lifestyle induced — choosing not to walk when it is so obviously appropriate is downright pathetic.

Gas prices going up, why should you pay even more for higher octane?

Let’s start by understanding what octane means, and what it doesn’t mean. It is not a rating of fuel system cleaning ability. Gasoline has detergents. This renders fuel injector “flushing” as a maintenance item almost always pointless, but that will be another topic. Octane ratings do not define the quality or amount of detergent additives. Most everyone has heard of the practice of occasionally running a tank of premium in a car to “clean it out.” This serves no purpose. Octane ratings do not define the energy load in a gallon of gasoline. There is no automatic correlation between increased octane and increased power. So what does octane mean? It has been taught that the gasoline engine produces power by gasoline/air mixture explosions. This is not strictly correct. The burning should not be a violent explosion, but instead a very rapid flame front should travel across the combustion chamber. But under certain conditions, before the flame front has completed, all of the remaining fuel/air mixture will spontaneously explode. This hammers the piston top and the phenomenon is known as “pinging” due to the noise it makes. Pinging reduces efficiency, and, in excess, is damaging to a gasoline engine. This is more or less how a diesel engine always burns, and why diesel engines are so noisy. It is also why they are built with much more massive and rugged pistons, rods, crankshaft, block etc. than used in gasoline engines.

Whether or not an engine pings depends on:

A: Combustion chamber temperature. Higher temperature means more tendency to ping.

B: Incoming air temperature. Higher temperature means more tendency to ping. Hence pinging is more prevalent in hot weather.

C: Ignition timing. The earlier in the cycle the fuel is ignited, the greater the peak pressure developed and the more tendency to ping.

D: Density of the air/fuel mixture. The greater the throttle application, the more tendency to ping. You might hear your engine rattle and ping going up a hill, but not idling or coasting downhill.

E: Compression ratio. The higher the compression ratio, the greater the mixture density and hence tendency for the engine to ping.

F: And…OCTANE RATING OF THE FUEL. The higher the octane, the more the molecular structure of the fuel is RESISTANT to pinging. That is what octane means and all that it means — the fuel’s resistance to burning in a violently explosive mode.

So, traditional informed wisdom has been that one should use the lowest octane where little or no pinging is heard. Possibly lower in the winter than in the summer, possibly lower for getting groceries than for towing your boat. Modern computerized engine controls make this not so simple. For the sake of maximum efficiency — that is to say maximum fuel mileage and horsepower, minimum emissions — the compression ratio and ignition timing of a modern engine are pushed close to the point of producing ping. The modern engine has a “knock sensor.” This is a microphone on the engine tuned to “hear” pinging. If pinging occurs, it sends a signal to the engine computer that says “Whoa Nellie….back of the ignition timing!” Pinging is controlled, but fuel mileage and power suffer with the less efficient timing setting.

So my advice is consult the owner’s manual. You rarely need more than the recommended minimum octane rating. If the owner’s manual for your car calls for higher than 87 octane, but the weather is cool or you drive gently, try using a fuel with less than the recommended octane. If fuel mileage doesn’t suffer and it doesn’t rattle and ping going up a hill, save yourself some money. Buy the octane rating you need and no more. Gasoline is expensive enough without spending extra to no purpose.

Rollerderby one week from today

We have the Holy Rollers (sponsored by Don’s Automotive) vs. the Rhinestone Cowgirls. These are teams in TXRD, which is the banked track league in Austin. We also have a fine flat track league — Texas Rollergirls. As their sponsor, I wish the Holy Rollers the best, but don’t have high hopes for them at this bout. A lot of their players retired recently. They placed well enough last season that they didn’t get first choice drafting new girls. The word is Kategory 5, captain and easily one of the league’s top 5 jammers, has been seriously cracking the whip training the Rhinestone Cowgirls and they will be very hard to beat this year. Sunday, Feb 20th @ Palmer Auditorium. Parking is easy, show starts at 7:00, out by about 10:00. Be advised many TXRD bouts sell out these days, so you had best buy tickets ahead! Come say hello to me, Tony, Brandon, Torf and whoever at VIP seating. Tony and Brandon from Don’s Automotive are valuable track setup and maintenance workers, as is our family friend Julio. Hard core brutal competition with a healthy dose of Austin weirdness.

Ha!! I thought so — NASA and NHTSA find NO evidence of electronically induced runaway acceleration in any Toyota

See this article. Yes, Toyota had a problem with floor mats that were too thick and a dubious gas pedal in certain cars. But what happened after that was media-induced hysteria with help from some obvious publicity hounds and people looking for a scapegoat for their own driving errors. It became the Audi 5000 phenomenon all over again — but even more out of control due to the power of the internet. Brakes are stronger than engines and a car won’t runaway if you take it out of gear or turn off the engine — end of story.