Summer Surfin' Vacation
The information highway is loaded with traffic
By Marc Stengel
JUNE 29, 1998: You can argue in this gender-sensitive age whether a man's home is indeed his castle, but there's no denying that the computer of an auto buff--male or female--has become his or her virtual garage. If you haven't taken a Sunday cruise along the Web lately, you might be excused for thinking that new- and used-car "virtual dealerships" are all the Internet has to offer auto buffs. After all, these are what the general media seem to be making the most fuss about. In the interest of correcting this misperception, what follows is an admittedly random but certainly multifaceted selection of auto enthusiasms that have found their own, special parking spaces along the shoulder of the information superhighway. Now that summer's red glare is upon us, there's no better time for a surfin' vacation with the thermostat set to "frosty-freeze."
"Who's been sitting in my chair?" That's not just Goldilocks and the three bears' concern anymore, now that Davis Instruments has brought its DriveRight auto monitor to market. DriveRight is a do-it-yourself "plug-in" installation that monitors such data as speed, acceleration rate, mileage, and time/date driven. It will even "alert" the driver (via an annoying alarm) when his or her car reaches--or exceeds--a certain speed limit. For businesspeople, the DriveRight Trip Computer keeps track of trip data (destinations, mileage, etc.), separates business from personal mileage, and "remembers" accidents. For car owners, DriveRight may well be the Big Brother you've been looking for to protect your property interests; for car borrowers, it's just another opportunity to exclaim, "Oh, brother!"
Bob Hewitt's Autorepair Pagehttp://misterfixit.com/autorepr.htm.
Part of the comprehensive (if sometimes eccentric) MisterFixit Web site, the Autorepair page is a helpful and chatty collection of "what-to-dos" for a vast number of automotive maladies and irritations. The site is fairly homespun in character: There are anecdotes about other people's travails (usually concluding with successful fixes), and there is a long directory of "failure modes" and appropriate treatments for most vehicle components and accessories. Even better, the entire site is searchable for specific problems or cures. If your question is a real stumper, you can even post an e-mail query that will eventually draw a response. You may have to wait a while for a personalized answer, but at least the advice is free--although it's never guaranteed.
Many predict that the eye-in-the-sky will be the next great leap forward in automotive technology. If so, two firms--Datus and Navigation Technologies--have already accomplished one mighty big jump. Route Finder is a portable, hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS) designed specifically for vehicle use on real-world streets. It's Windows 95-compatible and features a unique and massive geographical database that calculates travel routes over interstates, highways, and surface streets. Services such as banks, gas stations, stores, and restaurants are also identified and are searchable as well. There's even a voice-announcement component that "tells" you when to expect your next turn or arrival. The Route Finder Web site features interactive demonstrations, product descriptions, and technical explanations of this dizzying new technology.
The Speed Trap Registryhttp://.speedtrap.com/speedtrap.
Get out your GPS and take good notes: This much-ballyhooed Web site provides accurate and comprehensive lists of infamous and diabolical speed traps for almost every state in the union. And it pinpoints them not only according to their highway location, but by their satellite GPS coordinates as well. It's the brainchild of Vanderbilt University alumnus Andrew Warner, who has been cataloging the nation's "bear traps" since February 1995. By his own admission, "the Registry is not a tool to undercut the efforts of law enforcement. The Registry is a resource to help drivers know where they might encounter speed enforcement so they can adjust their speed to the conditions. Many law-enforcement agencies agree that when used properly, the registry can make roads safer and drivers more alert." In other words, if you want to get where you're going faster and cheaper, don't leave home without it.
LoJack Vehicle Recovery Systemhttp://.lojack.com.
LoJack, whose pioneering auto-theft-prevention system employs satellite "homing" devices to direct police to stolen vehicles, debuted a novel Web-site concept last October with true tales of the lost and recovered. The site serves up a smorgasbord of real-life accounts featuring vehicles successfully recovered by LoJack in the face of incredible odds. The promotional hype, in fact, says it all: "Don't miss the one about the 80-year-old ballroom dancing queen in Miami who has had her Honda Accord stolen and recovered nine times--make that 10 times--it was just stolen and recovered again recently."
Derek Daly Performance Driving Academyhttp://www.speedcentre.com.
If you're tired of just sitting there like a wannabe, maybe it's time you "been there, done that." Former Formula 1 and sports-car ace (and current race commentator for SpeedVision) Derek Daly has established a Performance Driving Academy that will put you on track and behind the wheel at the spiffy new Las Vegas Motor Speedway. There are several "class" offerings from which to choose, from half-day affairs to three-day extravaganzas. One of the Academy's most unique features is its cars: Daly has designed a 135-HP, open-wheel formula car, the Nemesis SC99, specifically for his programs. Built with special considerations for ultra-safe design, the car is capable of 135-mph speeds and 1.5-G turns. If this Web site doesn't get your juices flowing and your accelerator foot itching, you better just go back to weaving potholders.
G-Tech Pro Performance Meterhttp://www.gtechpro.com.
Of course, another way to deal with an itchy accelerator foot is to scratch it yourself. The G-Tech Pro performance meter plugs directly into your cigarette lighter to become an all-in-one acceleration, braking, and g-force meter for your car. The folks at Tesla Electronics have apparently outdone themselves with this easy-to-use, full-featured alternative to the complicated hard-wire devices and fifth-wheels of yesteryear. This Web site is well-designed and informative--nothing fancy, just the facts. If you want to judge the effects of all your performance tweaks--or if you just want to tweak the pride of your rivals--Tesla's G-Tech Pro gives you a clever plug-and-play opportunity.
Big 3 Employee Vehicleshttp://www.big3vehicles.com.
Employees of the Big 3 automakers are selling "futures" contracts for their "almost new" vehicles on a new Web site. This curious, potentially innovative service offers "program cars" owned by employees of GM, Ford, and Chrysler for specified prices at future sales dates six to 12 months away. Big 3 employees receive special and sometimes significant discounts on purchases of vehicles manufactured by their employers. They are generally prohibited, however, from reselling their vehicles for several months to discourage profiteering. Big3vehicles.com is apparently hoping to capitalize on the sales-blackout regulations by creating a unique "futures market" for domestic used cars--which are like new and, typically, low-mileage. The sales pitch is that Big 3 employees can "presell" their program cars at a fixed, future price. Buyers, on the other hand, can lock in purchase prices six to 12 months ahead of time, encouraging saving for down payments and reducing financing costs.
To comment, recommend, or blow off steam, your e-mail is welcome at Autosuggestive@compuserve.com.
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