What’s that cabrio haulin’? Part 2

Given that I have two kids, the MINI cabrio is much more practical for my family than a two-seater would be… but that doesn’t mean it’s totally practical. While we can – and have – packed everything we needed for an overnighter in to the boot, if we’re going to be gone for more than one night, this just isn’t feasible, given how much my family loves their “stuff”… See? not much room in there…

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For last year’s trip to MOTD, I installed a MiniDoMore hitch and used a Cargo Buddy platform and weatherproof cargo bag. This is a great setup for a couple of nights, or for longer trips when we can pack light. But this year we were going to MOTD for five days and four nights, and I wanted to take LOTS of MINI-related stuff, and car wash / detailing supplies, and beer, and…. you get the point. So I needed a more voluminous option….

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Passport G-Timer GT2

One of my friends – another car fanatic and gizmo junky – pointed me toward the Escort Passport G-Timer. It’s an accelerometer that can measure cornering G’s, 0-60 and quarter mile times, braking, even HORSEPOWER with nothing but a power connection (gee whiz!). They make two models: the “basic” GT1 model, and the GT2 with quite a few additional features. Seems like a really cool “toy” – but $180 isn’t exactly “toy” pricing. There are much more sophisticated units available in that price range. Then I found a GREAT deal on Amazon – $54! I couldn’t pull out my credit card fast enough…

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This thing is a BLAST. Setup is pretty easy – you suction cup mount it to the center of your windshield, and plug it in. If you want accurate horsepower readings, you need to do a bit more setup and enter vehicle weight, coefficient of drag x frontal area, drivetrain loss factor, etc. And you can tweak some factors for suspension stiffness to fine-tune acceleration sensing. It has easy-to-use control buttons on the unit, and also has a “remote” button on the lighter plug that’s easier to reach for changing display modes and starting timing runs.

It has a ton of different display modes to watch G-force readings as you drive. You press the “Start” button to put it in “run timing” mode – it calibrates for a few seconds, then tells you it’s ready for the run. The timer starts automatically when you start your run, and measures until either you stop accelerating, you travel 1/4 mile, or you go 30 seconds. It stores up to 10 runs and remembers your best run data. After the run you can see many statistics about the run: 0-60, 1/4 mile time and speed, maximum horsepower, and other times. The horsepower reading (adjusted to BHP) seems pretty accurate based on my mods (I haven’t done a dyno test yet…). It has some limited data logging capabilities, and you can buy an optional data cable and computer software for downloading run data to your computer.

It’s like a drag-strip-in-a-box… very cool…

These have been out for a few years, and there are other similar units now that have more features (the G-Tech Pro is excellent, and offers “dyno-style” graphing and torque calculation), but the G-Timer GT2 is a “no-brainer” for about $50…

ScanGaugeII

I wanted to know real water temp, and intake air temp, and boost – after looking at a number of options, I decided that the most cost effective way to get this – and more – was to buy a ScanGaugeII. The ScanGaugeII is a cool little computer with a digital display that plugs into your ODB-II port under the dash. It combines ODB-II scan tool, trip computer, and digital gauge capabilities in a single unit that’s insanely easy to install, portable to move between vehicles, and costs only $159 (from the company, on eBay – note that if you contact Way Motor Works, Way often will sell these for a bit less if you ask for the NAM discount). I had been planning to buy a simple ODB-II code reader for quite some time, and the ScanGaugeII does that and much, much more for not much more money.

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The ScanGaugeII comes with a 6ft cable, a couple of velcro stips, and a manual. That’s it. And that’s all you need. Neat installation takes less than 5 minutes. I copied Josh Wardell and others, and velcro’d the unit on the left end of the dash, just forward of the little “step down” – it looks really clean, is easy to see, is mostly obscured from the outside by my vehicle inspection sticker, and doesn’t impede my vision out of the car. The cable runs along the edge of the dash, then in behind the removable dash endcap and out under the dash, where it plugs into the OBD-II port. Very simple, and very clean.

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Setup is very easy and menu driven. First you turn on the car – the ScanGaugeII automatically powers on and off. You set your engine displacement and fuel tank size to calibrate the trip computer functions. Then you can enter “gauge” mode, and select any four digital gauges to display at once. You select the gauges by pressing the button next to each of the the “slots” to cycle through the available gauges for that slot. The unit remembers the settings until you change them. Options include:

  • Fuel Economy (MPG)
  • Voltage
  • Coolant Temperature
  • Intake Air Temperature
  • Engine Speed (RPM)
  • Vehicle speed (MPH)
  • Manifold Pressure
  • Engine Load
  • Throttle Position
  • Ignition Timing
  • Open/Closed Loop

The ScanGaugeII also has an “Add-A-Gauge” feature that enables you to program the unit to read and display any other car-specific data available via the ODB-II interface. Their website has instructions for setting up gauges for calculated horsepower, fuel trim, and O2 sensor readings. I found on an Internet forum instructions for setting up a gauge to calculate and display boost (instead of Absolute Manifold Pressure, which is a standard gauge). The HP and boost gauges work great!

The unit is very easy to read in the daylight – even with the top down! At night, the unit is backlit in one of many user configurable colors. I like orange, to match my other instruments.

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The trip computer is very full featured, and offers:

  • Maximum Speed
  • Average Speed
  • Maximum Coolant Temperature
  • Maximum RPM
  • Driving Time
  • Driving Distance
  • Fuel Used
  • Trip Fuel Economy
  • Distance to Empty
  • Time to Empty
  • Fuel to Empty

Each of these is calculated and tracked for the current trip, current day, previous day, and current tank. You tell the unit when you fill-up, and how much you paid per gallon, and it does all the rest. It resets the current trip any time the unit is off for more than three minutes. I didn’t think I’d use the trip computer since the MINI has several of these functions built in, but was surprised by how useful and easy the trip computer has been!

I haven’t needed to scan any codes yet, but this capability is pretty simple and I expect it to work fine.

I’m typically displaying the Boost, Horsepower, Water Temp and Intake Temp gauges, and it’s fascinating – I have to make myself ignore them while driving… 🙂

Has Al Gore banned Halon yet?

After seeing how HOT MINI’s get… at least compared to, say, Hondas… I’ve gotten a bit paranoid about spontaneous Blimey combustion. So I broke down and bought a 2.5 pound Safecraft Halon extinguisher. Then after experimenting for a while and determining that there just plain isn’t a good place in the cockpit to put this thing otherwise, I broke down and ordered the Brey-Krause seat mount to put it on the front of the passenger seat. And because the standard wire-and-strap mount for the thing just seems flimsy, I ordered the Safecraft billet mount. I’m still waiting on the billet mount, but here it is on the standard mount…

Brey-Krause mount and Safecraft Halon extinguisher

While it looks like it might be in the way for the passenger, it really isn’t – it’s well behind where your feet typically go when riding or entering/exiting – and it still allows unobstructed access to the seat adjustments. It slides fore-aft with the seat. Very solid and very cool.

Why not just a plain old cheap red fire extinguisher in the boot?

1) “Plain old” fire extinguishers contain corrosive chemicals that can ruin the parts of your car that aren’t damaged by the fire…

2) I want it QUICKLY accessible in case I need it (and I hope I NEVER do).

3) Would make a pretty good glass breaker or weapon in a pinch…

4) BLING!

Oh yeah, and I know that production of new Halon 1211 has been banned since 1994 as an ozone-depleting substance. But you can still buy “reclaimed” halon… kinda like “carbon credits” – you can have all the halon you want, as long as you don’t manufacture any more of it from scratch… actually, that’s a lot better than carbon credits, which don’t really do anything except redistribute wealth.

Griot’s Oil Extractor

So today I did the second “unnecessary” oil change on Blimey – I changed oil and filter at about 1500 miles the “old fashioned” way – and refilled with Mobil One. Now I’m at about 6000 and once again feel compelled to break with the fluid waste saving, service included money saving service interval recommended by BMW… So I have 5 quarts of my newly-found German Castrol and a filter at the ready. And the engine is still warm – but not hot – from an earlier drive. I checked the oil level with the dipstick first – full.

I also have my shiny new Christmas gift – the Griot’s Oil Extractor. I’ve read generally good reviews of this thing – and thought it might be the ticket for neat, easy “in between” oil changes. It comes with the pump extractor and three pieces of semi-rigid tubing – a “main” section that plugs into the extractor, and two interchangeable sections of different diameters for inserting into the dipstick tube. For the MINI, I determined that I needed to use the smaller of the two. So thread it down the dipstick tube. It meets the same resistance that the stock dipstick does on the way down (which is a topic of concern for me…) but with some gentle twisting and tapping it passes that point and goes on in. Takes a little more careful twisting, etc. until it seems to reach the bottom – won’t go any further. I pull it back out to check, and it DOES have oil for a good distance up the bottom of the tube. Cool. I put it back in and hook it up to the “main” tube of the extractor. I give it ten easy pumps and the oil starts flowing. It’s steady, but not fast – I’d estimate it’s pulling out about a quart every minute or two… the unit has rings around it that I later determine are at about 1qt increments – so you can see how much you’re getting.

Meanwhile, I break loose the filter and leave it attached to drain back into the engine. After a minute or two I remove the filter completely, discard the old element, clean out the housing, insert the new element and re-attach the filter assembly and torque to 23 lb-ft.
By now I’m up to about 4 quarts and it starts gurgling a little. I maneuver the tube in and out a bit (like searching for that last bit of Slurpy in the bottom of the cup), but can’t get any deeper. Eventually it’s just sucking air and the unit continues to suck until the vacuum is depleted. So I replace the dipstick and add 4 quarts of German Castrol. Then check with the dipstick. Full. Hmmm…

The extractor has a pour spout, so I pour the old oil back into the quart containers. Probably just a smidgen more than 4 quarts. So this thing left about a pint of oil in the pan. Not the end of the world – especially since the necessity of this change is questionable anyway – and since at 10,500 I’ll have a full drain done. But I wish it had pulled out at least 4.5 quarts of oil…

The upside – this thing is EASY and NEAT. No ramps, jacks, skidplate removal, power steering fan duct removal, dealing with oil plugs, sloshing oil out of the drain pan, etc. I’m curious if I would have gotten more oil with the car on a bit of an incline one way or the other… next time I’ll try that and see if it makes any difference… but I think the tube just isn’t making it to the lowest part of the pan. Maybe because of where the dipstick tube enters the pan? Just speculating…

So I remain a believer in periodic full plug-pulling drains of the oil pan to get any nasties that may be hiding down there. But for “in-between” changes at home, this thing is pretty nice. I’ll use it again.

Ode to the Valentine 1

I’ve had my Valentine 1 radar detector for about a month and a half and have driven a couple thousand miles (most highway) with it. I’m LOVING it. It’s definitely an information overload appliance – if you don’t like analyzing raw data and drawing your own conclusions, this might not be the unit for you. But if you want the detector that the guys who get paid to drive fast on the highway use, this is it…

If you’re not familiar with Valentine, here’s the short version: Mike Valentine invented the Escort radar detector and worked for many years at Cincinnati Microwave. He left CM and sold his stock for many millions of dollars. He then patented two features that, at the time, were not in radar detectors: directional indicators and digital bogey counter. Then he started a company to build the best detector on the market more or less as a “retirement hobby”… which he’s been doing for about 10 years. The physical appearance of all his detectors hasn’t changed much since he started. But he constantly upgrades the electronics and firmware, and offers an upgrade path for every unit ever sold.

The only kind of test that makes sense between different brands is sensitivity and anti-falsing and how pretty the lights and sounds are. Sometimes the V1 wins these tests, and sometimes other detectors win. But in any test of what really matters – situational awareness – there is only one patented unit that delivers. V1.

Most modern detectors advertise “front and rear protection” – what they really do is use a single detection device and channel signals into it from both the front and rear of the detector. The V1 actually uses 2 separate radar detectors and 2 separate laser detectors built into one box. This allows the computer inside to understand where the signals are coming from – front, rear or both – and light up directional arrows to pass this intelligence along to the driver. The unit also tracks EACH SIGNAL it is receiving at one time, and tells you via a digital readout how many “bogeys” it is tracking at any moment, as well as the location of all of them and the one it believes to be the greatest threat. These patented features make using a V1 quite different than any other detector – it has a learning curve to get the most out of it…

The key thing is knowing where the bogey is in relation to your direction of travel. Imagine being a fighter pilot and the computer says a bogey has radar lock on you and you ask where and the computer says “I dunno – it’s around here somewhere…” That wouldn’t be good. Likewise, it’s quite useful to know where a potential police radar source is coming from…

With most dectectors, if you get a signal and then it goes away, what just happened? Was it a side transient from a door opener off the exit? Was it a weak police radar passing you on the other side of the interstate? Was it instant on somewhere behind you? Or was it instant on ahead – which is the REAL threat…

A lot of people without V1’s say “doesn’t matter – when I get an alarm I slow down just in case”. But in my experience, when the alarm ends, you tend to speed back up. And that’s what that instant on trap is counting on. The additional situational awareness the V1 provides lets you know when it’s best to slow down and stay slow for a few minutes, and when it’s best to SPEED UP. It’s a different animal.

BTW – you’re playing a different game when you install jammers, etc. I’m just talking about standalone radar protection.

Some people claim that the V1 has too many “false positives”…

I’m not sure what a false positive is…

Radar detector detects radar = positive.

Radar detector ignores radar = false negative.

I have seen no indication AT ALL of my V1 thinking there is radar where none exists… it absolutely tells me about every REAL radar source – which includes door openers, etc. I would MUCH rather know about EVERY real source of radar, than have the box more or less arbitrarily deciding what is and isn’t a threat. With most detectors, “city mode” means “ignore weak signals”. Which might include the instant on that zapped on for an instant a half mile ahead of you. “Hey, it’s not illuminating me, so it must be a “false” signal, I’ll just ignore it… “

It’s kinda funny sometimes reading that the V1 doesn’t have good enough X range, then reading that it falses too much… these are, for practical purposes, opposites. Lots of X band here in NC, too. Hell, they still use tin cans with string here.

I DO believe in the personal preference thing. To each his/her own. I’ve read posts by a very small number of folks who have tried V1’s and decided it wasn’t for them – which is cool. But I’ve read a lot more posts by folks who really don’t understand it because they haven’t used it, and they cite review x or y that do the classic range and “falsing” comparisons because that’s the only way you can compare a V1 with other units that can’t do what the V1 does. I’ve driven thousands of miles with “traditional” detectors, and with the V1. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, even without this experience. And I’m not trying to disparage anyone’s choice – if you have another unit that’s getting it done for you, that’s GREAT!

One factor that I do think matters a lot is WHERE you’re putting in the miles and using your detector. If 90% of your driving is in the city – or in populated areas with lots of door openers on every corner, and your driving habits in this setting lead you to feel you need your detector on all the time, then I can definitely see how the V1 could drive you batty.

But on the open interstate in rural areas where it’s very much a cat-and-mouse game between you and the Smokeys, the V1 is an awesome advantage…

Update 3/22/07:

I received my customized V1 remote display today – I had someone replace the red band indicator LEDs with green/yellow/red/blue ones (for X/K/Ka/Laser) – so it’s easy to tell what band it is  visually. This is the only thing I think is “lacking” in the stock V1. The remote display is velcro’d to the top of the steering column, between and in front of my tach and speedo. It’s connected with a black curly cord to the wiring tap under the dash. It’s REALLY quick and easy to grab it, yank if off and toss it into the parcel shelf for complete stealth. I also have the remote audio unit in front of my right knee in the parcel shelf, so I can control volume and power there. I TAPED OVER the face and bottom of my V1 with black tape (leaving the windows open) – so you don’t see indicators on the front, or knobs, or anything. And you don’t see any labels on the bottom. And I taped and zip tied up the power cord, so you don’t see that. It’s very stealthy now. If someone is looking for it, they’ll see it. But it does NOT draw attention to itself, and if you don’t know what you’re looking at, it doesn’t look like a radar detector. I’ll post good photos of it in stealth mode later…
V1 - Right side V1 - Left side V1 - Front