--smart for whom? A lot of cars today have keys with an embedded chip that shakes hands with the car's computer before it lets you start the engine. You can't replicate that with a cheap key machine
and a $2 blank, which stops some thieves in their tracks. But it might also stop you cold when you see the bill for a replacement car key. I recently had to get a new smart key for one of my cars, and it cost $250, took two days, and made me feel real dumb. So I have some rare sympathy for the Center for Automotive Safety's (CAS) petition to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for car key-pricing relief. I don't think carmakers should be forced to lower the cost of keys, but there is something wrong when they design cars that may require having the whole computer replaced with the key to the tune of a couple thousand dollars. And I am equally unamused by the fact that they don't release codes that could allow the aftermarket to compete with the dealer on keys. The CAS has peppered its appeal
(PDF) to the FTC with a number of good anecdotes that ring true and painful. Good reading--even if they do hate cars.
No smart key will help in this case:
A TV station in Sacramento, California, just did a piece on rampant catalytic-converter thefts
. In many ways, it's the same old story: Thieves steal the most expensive parts from the most popular cars; that's where the face value lies. Over the years, we've seen thieves focus on batteries, wheels, air bags, and now cats. So it's no surprise this report points out a particular danger to cat converters in Toyota trucks and SUVs. It seems a lot of Toyotas have their cats bolted in and not welded on, making for a particularly easy snatch. You might want to take that new Sequoia of yours to the muffler shop for a few spot welds.
I think I have to sell my car. It's a 1998, and it's immaculate. I love it. But it has 92,000 miles and it's not a Lexus, so a major breakdown is becoming imminent. Since it's one of those cars that only dealers have the parts and diagnostics for, I can't justify keeping it. If that timing chain skips even one tooth, I'll be facing an engine failure that costs more than the car is worth, largely because it's not the kind of engine you repair; you just replace it with a $12,000 crate motor. Such is the direction of the modern, high-tech car, and that's bad news for the old-car hobby. Today's flagship cars will never be 50-year-old collectibles--just memories.
Howard Stern in a cornfield. That's the promise of a new ruggedized satellite radio from Delphi intended for farm vehicles, buses, and dump trucks (though I suspect it would also be ideal for that Hummer H2 of yours as it prowls that tough Target parking lot--grrrr). This radio meets the SAE J1455 spec for durability, which means it can get all jostled around and still not scramble its little satellite brain. What's interesting is that it doesn't use a remote antenna, which I think is a nice feature for any sat radio. It's ugly as sin, but it comes in versions that work with either XM or Sirius and have an MP3-compatible CD player and a seven-band NOAA weather reception. Hey, can we civilians buy this rig?
Speaking of satellite radio, XM and Clear Channel are doing an odd little dance. First, XM announced six new regional news and talk channels, powered by major Clear Channel news/talk outlets around the country. That strikes me as wrong: I thought sat radio was supposed to be an alternative. Well, that's not as odd as Clear Channel's major investment in XM. But this is--Clear Channel has pressured XM to run commercials on the handful of music channels that Clear Channel already runs on XM. Is Clear Channel trying to make money off those channels, or is it trying to make XM look bad by running spots?
Speaking of Volkswagen--OK, so I wasn't, but last week, I was. Remember that slick Google-powered navigation system? Well, that same VW lab has also cooked up this in-dash interface dubbed Gypsy. It feels like an OS desktop. Take a look at it. With so much OEM and aftermarket technology available today, it's starting to seem absurd that we can't pull it all together in one interface, so systems such as these can't come to market soon enough. But without interoperability standards, they'll just be a tease. VW says it gets it, but can the company make it happen?
Have you been burned by today's advanced car tech?
Toss your GPS nav unit. Sprint and InfoSpace have announced InfoSpace Find It, which may make you rethink that $2,400 in-dash nav system. Find It is one of a new breed of services that lets you use your phone to locate nearby restaurants, movies, gas stations, and so on with great precision, thanks to the GPS chip in your late-model phone. Then, using that same GPS technology, the phone guides you, turn by turn, to your selected destination. TeleNav is another provider to watch; its phone-based GPS nav is getting a lot of attention. For a few bucks a month, companies such as these are turning your phone into a very useful GPS nav unit and local directory, all mashed together. It easily hops from car to car, you can use it while walking, and you already own the hardware--nice.