Our small family has gotten by for years with only one car. We are fortunate that I enjoy bicycling, and that we live in a city with enough density, and with a good enough public transportation system, to make this possible. It’s been a challenge, but it got a whole lot easier this year when we joined car2go. This is a car-sharing service that rents Smart cars by the minute. You pick up a car where ever a previous user left it, drive it to your destination, park it on the street and you’re done. You use a smart phone app to find a car, and you can reserve one 30 minutes in advance. Reserving a car costs nothing, and there’s no penalty for canceling a reservation (or for just letting the time rut out on a reservation). Driving the car costs about 40 cents per minute, but you never have to pay for parking. This can often make it cheaper than driving your own car. It can also be more convenient; even in crowded downtown streets there are always little parking spaces that only a Smart car could fit into.

The service has some drawbacks. There are times when you want a car and none is available nearby. Smart cars’ limit of two people, and their limited cargo space, may make some trips impossible. While parking is usually easy, there are some restrictions. You have to park in a space that allows at least 2-hour parking, and it can’t be one that will become a no-parking zone within 24 hours. (Please note that these parking rules may vary by city.) Lastly, though you can drive the car anywhere, you can only leave it within the local car2go service area. If you run an errand in a neighborhood on the edge of city, you may have to continue to pay for the rental while the car is parked, until you can drive it back into the service area.

As I mentioned above, the per-minute cost is about 40 cents. They limit the per-hour cost to $15, and the per-day cost to $85. Drive it over 150 miles in one trip and they tack on 45 cents per additional mile.

The alternative car-sharing service, ZipCar, is cheaper and provides larger cars. However, it doesn’t have the flexibility of car2go. Each ZipCar has its own parking spot to which it must be returned, so you can’t make one-way trips. Also, you may have to reserve, and pay for, more time in a ZipCar than you really need, just to make sure you don’t return it late.

I’ve found that a small folding bike (with 20-inch wheels), car2go, and the local bus system are the perfect combination. I use the bike as my primary vehicle, extend its range with the bus, and combine both with car2go to make trips that require more flexibility. The bike also greatly increases the radius in which I can find an available car.

-- Tom Sackett  

Honda Fit

I’ve been driving 4×4 trucks for over 30 years. The trade-off for the weight and truckiness being that I could pick up firewood, haul lumber and sacks of concrete, and go anywhere, any time. I spent 12 years 4-wheeling in Baja. Many trips to the American Southwest (always in spring). Three long trips to British Columbia, shooting pics for Builders of the Pacific Coast. 4-wheeling it across the river to my friend Louie’s house in Mendocino county. I’ve been a truck guy forever. The latest, for my last 10 years: a 2003 Toyota 4-cylinder, 5-speed Tacoma 4 X 4 with metal camper shell, pull-out canopy, all-time classic tough, dependable vehicle. 140,000 miles, good for another 140. Desert Roamer. (I may sell it, and get a beater truck for local hauls.)

But there came the time, several months ago, when I realized I was through with the long truck hauls, the 3,000-mile trips, and hauling the truck over the windy roads homewards from my weekly trips into San Francisco was a chore.

I embarked on a study of cars, and ended up settling on a Honda Fit. Other contenders (in this field of scaled-down, aerodynamic SUVs) were the Toyota Yaris Liftback, Mazda 2, Scion XD, Prius C model, VW Golf diesel. The Cube too cartoony, the Scion xB too boxy. I didn’t do extensive reviews, but in the end settled on the Fit largely because of its ingenious cargo space in the rear: 4 x 5 feet with rear seats folded down. 20 cubic feet of space vs. 15 for the other cars. 4 doors and a hatchback so you can get into the rear from all sides. Like a small truck bed. (I could get into my truck bed camper shell on all 3 sides.)

I wanted to see how the Fit did on curves, since a winding mountain road is about half of my driving. I talked salesman Murray Cherkas of San Francisco Honda into letting me take a Fit across the city and then down the winding block of Lombard Street, “crookedest street in the world.” I took the 8 hairpin turns fast, and the car behaved beautifully. Sold.

I picked up a Honda Fit Base model yesterday. OMG!! It made me think of driving a Beemer 2002 in the ’70s. The 2002 was different! Like a rabbit. And I guess things have come a long way, because this very efficient little car reminds me of that. Going from a truck to this car is like going from logging boots to running shoes. Like a 250 pound guy losing 60 pounds.

360-degree visibility, automatic windows, a USB connector (country boy with vacuum cleaner here). There are a dozen things that delight me about this car. Biggie is it isn’t as tiring as truck driving. With the Beamer, I could drive all day and arrive rested — er, we–l — not wasted.

With taxes, fees, everything, it was just under $18K. 3 years, or 36,000 miles, they’ll fix anything that goes wrong. Five years, they’ll fix a lot of things.

I’m in auto heaven. Can’t help it. California kid. Driving since age 14. As evil as it is, I like rollin down the road. Good music. Thoughts rolling in. Cruising country roads looking for barns, indigenous, tuned-in buildings of all types to photograph. Arriving rested when I drive somewhere on assignment. Easy parking. Twice as good mileage as truck.

Poppa’s got a brand new rig

-- Lloyd Kahn  

Honda Fit
2013 Model

Manufactured by Honda

The Autoline

To find the best deal when buying a new car I use The Autoline. I can’t recommend them highly enough. For $200 they will find the car you want (or recommend the car you should buy based on your budget and requirements) and call you back with the best no-haggle price they can find. (They also do leases.) I’ve used them four times now and am very happy with the results. Each time they’ve arranged for dealer to deliver the car to my house, so I never have to set foot in the dealership or hassle with the guy who pressures you to buy useless “clear coat” and other pure profit add-ons.

UPDATE: I just remembered that I interviewed Patrick Schallert of The Autoline for a few years ago.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

The Autoline
$200 per vehicle purchased or leased

2-Gauge Jumper Cables

I’ve had these jumper cables for over a year. At least four times I can recall, (and probably more) when someone was already being jumped and all they could get was a click or it barely turned over but wouldn’t go far enough to start, I’ve just put these on instead of the wimpy cables they were using and the engine fired up instantly. Even from a smaller car to a larger one.

If you need to get hundreds of cold-cranking amps over several feet of cable, the voltage drops by the resistance times the current. So even a tiny fraction of an ohm matters when you need that many amps, since you can halve the voltage at the starter. You might barely get enough to the point of connection of the other car, then there are thinner wires to the alternator and a thirsty battery. Your battery and alternator probably provides more than enough but it doesn’t help if it doesn’t get there and instead just warms the jumper cables. Once when I didn’t have these I managed to get a car to barely start by putting a second pair of the thinner cables in parallel.

Forget anything under 6-gauge. 4-gauge can work most of the time. These 2-gauge cables work every time even though they are 20 feet long.

-- Thomas Z.  

2-Gauge Jumper Cables

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by FJC Inc

Sea Foam Motor Treatment

I’ve been having a “ghost in the machine” on and off with my motorcycle for a few years. It’ll start idling more roughly, run hotter than usual, give less power than usual, and have these significant non-linear jumps in engine noise / effort at around 7k RPM. While it was still under warranty, I brought it in to the shop where I bought it and they replaced some jet seals (or something like that), because it was a common issue with the model (2007 Yamaha YZF600R). It seemed to get better, and then came back. Brought it in again, and they cleaned the carbs, changed the fuel, and things got better. And then it came back. They started blaming old / crappy fuel, but I ride the bike at least a few times per week. I tried switching to fancy gas for a while (Shell / 76 instead of AM PM), and it still came back.

Anyways, after all this it came back again a few months ago, but the shop where I had originally bought the bike had closed. I was about to look into cleaning the carbs on my own, but I had heard that Sea Foam had a great reputation, so I thought I’d try that first.

I had about one gallon left in the tank, so I put an ounce or two in and flogged the bike on the back roads a few days ago. I noticed an immediate improvement after that ride. I finished that tank, put in another 4-ounces during a fill (it’s a 4-gallon tank), and it’s continuing to get better. I haven’t even needed to do the direct injection / smoke fest treatment – just a simple gas additive that has effectively cleaned up all the residue that had been causing problems. If you’re interested in learning how exactly it gets rid of gum and varnish residue, or you’d like more technical information head over to Sea Foams website where they’ve laid it all out. 

It’s nice to have a healthy bike again – and for only $10!


[Here is the MSDS for Sea Foam Motor Treatment. --OH]

Sea Foam Motor Treatment

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Sea Foam

HandStands Sticky Pad

sticky pad.jpeg

Several years ago, I bought one of these for its ostensible purpose: keeping my items from sliding around in my car. While it does that well, I’ve since found these stickypads to be incredibly useful for a number of household jobs.

Unlike some no-slip pads, these are extremely thin, allowing them to be unobtrusively placed under any object you don’t want sliding around. My keyboard no longer slides around my desk, my speakers are now much more securely perched atop their speaker stands, and various items on shelves are much less likely to be dislodged by clumsy humans or cats.

The pads are easily trimmed and are very sticky, so a single pad is enough for quite a few jobs. If a pad accumulates dust or dirt, it can be instantly restored to “full stickiness” with a squirt of window cleaner and a quick wipe.

A strength and weakness of these pads is that they don’t permanently attach to objects, like rubber “bumpons.” Unlike bumpons, these pads are re-usable and won’t leave a sticky residue, but they don’t semi-permanently attach to an object either.

-- John Booty  

Handstands Original Sticky Pad

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Handstands

Hella Car Reading Lamp

Car Reading Lamp.jpg

This is one of my all-time favorite and most-used vehicular tools: a hard-mounted interior reading light on a flexible stalk. This one is manufactured by Hella. I installed one in my first car, and used it for 12 incident-free years. The one in the Jeep is now 13 years old, and is still going strong. Both were/are mounted on the center of my dashboard, right above the radio.

Very handy in an infinite number of situations. Reading, obviously, but the directional nature of the light means a passenger can read in such that a drivers eyes are not blinded by glare. There’s even a version available with red and white lighting, for night-vision preservation. The new versions are LED. Havent used the new one, but Hella makes amazing stuff, so I’m very confident about a recommendation.

-- Todd Lappin  

Hella Car Reading Lamp

Available from Buy Auto Truck Accessories

Manufactured by Hella

Valentine One Radar Detector


I carry a Valentine One radar detector in my day bag. I drive multiple cars, so I can I transfer it from one car to the other, and I use it for rental cars as well. A radar detector may seem a wholly unnecessary item for a law-abiding citizen, but as police departments see their budgets threatened, they have become more active in pulling people over for small infractions such as failure to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, or even driving just a few miles in excess of the limit. Modern police radar is designed to be kept in standby mode, activated only when the officer points-and-shoots, but in my experience, many police are lazy and leave their radar guns active all the time.

Since I like to know where they are, the Valentine One is the only detector that shows me the direction of a radar source (whether ahead, behind, or either side). It’s very expensive at $495, but can easily pay for itself, depending on your driving habits. The after-sale service is remarkable; when my detector’s frequency setting drifted after about 8 years, I sent it in and they fixed it and sent it back without charge. They will also upgrade older models for a small fee.

-- Charles Platt  

Valentine One Radar Detector

Available from Amazon

Also available from Valentine One

Nylon Oil Filter Wrench


This is the only oil filter wrench anybody will ever need. I’ve used one similar to the one available at Amazon since a mechanic friend suggested it to me over 20 years ago. There’s no adjustment necessary. It doesn’t slip. The tighter you turn it with a ratchet, the tighter it grips. And you don’t need to keep several sizes of socket around, unlike the previously reviewed Oil Filter Sockets. Best of all, it’s cheap and it will last practically forever.

-- Michael Farris  

Nylon Flotool Oil Filter Wrench

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Hopkins

Torque Engine Diagnostic App and OBDII Reader


For years, every time I had a “check engine” light pop up I thought about plopping down $100 or more for an OBDII code scanner. I could never rationalize the cost of the the device and the limited benefits that it could give me (being limited to simply reading and perhaps resetting codes).

However, that’s all changed. Now if you have an Android phone or tablet there is a much less expensive and much more useful alternative. An app called Torque Pro available in the Android Marketplace provides an amazingly customizable dashboard of information. Among others, and depending on the vehicle you own, it can display transmission temperatures, 0-60 speed timings, and track CO2 emissions. The application is capable of graphing all the analytics, or outputting to a PC. Recently, the things that I have been using the most are instant and average fuel economy statistics.

The OBDII interface that connects your car to the Torque app can be used by any bluetooth enabled code reader (Torque has provided a list of all compatible devices). The one I use and recommend is the ELM 327 bluetooth OBDII scanner that I picked up on Amazon for around $20, but most compatible units will work just as well.

-- Karl Hafer Jr  

[If anybody knows of an equivalent iOS, Windows Mobile, or Blackberry application, we'd love to hear about it. --OH]

Torque Pro
Android application
Available from Android Marketplace

ELM 327 Bluetooth Scanner OBDII Car Diagnostic Tool

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Elandpower

Sample Excerpts:

torque screenshot.jpeg
The application has a customizable dashboard that can be used to track horsepower, CO2 emissions, and transmission temperatures among other variables.