Sorted by Category: Car $ense: Adolf's Auto Tips

  • Classic cars are Great to Look at, but be Glad We Don't Drive Them Anymore

    Common Car $ense

    By Kathryn & Sybren van der Pol

    Classic Cars are Great to Look at, but be Glad We Don’t Drive Them Anymore

    This past weekend was our 7th Annual Oldie & Goodie Car Show. We had over 25 cars and the public really enjoyed seeing the wide variety of cars and trucks. The oldest vehicle was a 1932 Model A. And we even had a classic Harley.

    I found myself comparing these cars to what most people drive today and discussing with Sybren the general evolution and improvements that car engineers have made over the past 80 years.

    Did you know that the lifespan of an average 1930s vehicle was less than 80,000 miles? Even 30,000 miles was considered a high mileage vehicle. In those days, people drove very little. The Great Depression was in full swing during the entire 1930s. This was a time when there was massive unemployment, soup lines, homeless wandering the countryside, and the dust bowl. People did not have much beyond the necessities, and most cars were not designed as the luxury mobile that they are today.

    During the first few years of the ‘40s, the United States did not produce cars at all.All car factories were retooled to manufacture war materiel for the fight against the Nazis and Japanese. Even rubber and shoes were rationed! When cars were put back in production in the late 40s, they utilized pretty much the same technology from before the war until the end of the decade. For example, Ford didn’t design a new car until1949!


    So, cars really advanced in the 1950s, right? Well, no they didn’t. Their shape certainly changed, but they still used the basic engines and transmissions of the 1940s. The metals and paints did not stand the test of time either, and rust was a major problem.  Below is a receipt from our shop in 1954 on a truck. To replace brake pads was $6.80. To replace a rusted funnel for the oil tube was $2.50. Autostates aren’t even used anymore.  Try to google it, and you won’t find it. Now, that’s amazing.

    This receipt also from 1954 shows a tune up costs $17.79 including a $1.10 tail light lens.

    Car engineering and design took a major leap forward in the 1960s. New engines and transmissions were designed; new suspension was invented that created smoother rides; and working air conditioning set a new standard.

    Controlling pollution became a theme of the 1970s cars. Unleaded gas replaced leaded fuel and catalytic converters were mandated. So, now cars had better engines, transmissions, rode better, were air conditioned and were less harmful to the environment.

    In the beginning of the 1980s, you may remember this was a time of high inflation, the economy in the 80s in Houston was in the tank because the price of oil had collapsed. All the car manufacturers were suffering, and they pretty much built universal crap. Cars still didn’t last much past 100,000 miles. This was when Lee Iacocca saved The Chrysler Corporation by building the K car. That car was nothing but trouble for the poor souls who drove them, but it saved Chrysler.

    Even the lubricants were poor by today’s standards. If you were to put the oil developed in the ‘80s into a modern car, it wouldn’t make it to the next oil change. Yet somewhere in the mid to late ‘80s, another big leap forward occurred for engine longevity and that was fuel injection. Instead of carburetors, cars had little injectors that sprayed the fuel into the cylinders. This allowed more efficient burning of the fuel-air mixture and eliminated the rich running mess of a carburetor. 

    So by the 1990s, manufacturers started to improve the paints and coatings and creating lighter weight vehicles for more fuel efficient vehicles. 

    Of course, today we are in the age of computers, where cars are more complex than the Apollo that landed on the moon. Cars talk to you; they play your cell phone through the speakers; they provide codes for technicians to help pinpoint part-failure; they have adaptive cruise control and navigation systems; and, pretty soon, you the driver will no longer be needed or wanted to man the wheel. (See my blog from last week about Driverless Trucks). Much of the fancy technology that you see in today’s high end vehicles has been developed to create the future driverless car.

    But because cars, engine oils, and other lubricants have improved so much, it is not uncommon for an engine to have 200,000 miles on it. In fact, most people should expect to get to 250,000 miles out of their Fords, Hondas, Chevys, and Toyotas. Trucks are good for 1,000,000 miles. Of course, all this is based on performing preventive maintenance and using good quality oils at a sensible frequency. I drive a Ford Fusion, and I have had no engine or transmission work performed, and still have the original brake pads at 155,000 miles.

    Sybren likes to joke that he would love to have a bunch of 1980 models running around. “Do you know how much work we would have?  We would be replacing spark plugs every 15,000 miles and brake pads at every 25,000!  In those days, you considered lucky if your brake pads made it to 30,000.”  I am sure you as the consumer are glad not to be driving a 1980s mobile.

    Here is a photo of one of those 1980s invoices from Adolf Hoepfl Garage. Note the price of spark plugs ($30.80 parts and labor), a state inspection ($10.00) and the price of an oil change ($12.50). The total bill in 1989 was $454.59, a hefty bill for those days. You can see the main expense was the price of a mass air flow sensor ($310.00).  What’s fascinating is that some mass air flow sensors are less costly today than 30 years ago!

    So, while the old cars are great to look at and great reminders of our history, modern cars are much safer, run better, ride better, are more fancy, more durable, less likely to rust, and will outlast their classic counterparts. Now, if only they could look as great as these beauties!

    1965 Oldmobile Cutless owned by Tomas Yelverton.

    Joe Gonzalez won the Grand Prize in our 2017 Oldie & Goodie Classic Car Show with this 1957 Bel Air.


  • Driverless trucks treading our highways soon


    1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

    Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, taken from the book I, Robot (1950)

    What will shock many people is that within five years we may see 18 wheelers with no one at the wheel driving along our highways between cities.

    The technology for driverless vehicles, which are in reality just giant robots, is speeding up, and the first convoy of this technology will likely be big trucks. Why?

    Experts like Daimler Mercedes claim driverless vehicles create safer travel conditions for other vehicles, will be more efficient both in terms of personnel cost, wear and tear on the truck. One way that trucks will save money is that they will be able to draft off one another to save fuel, one of the trucking industry’s biggest expenses. They already have a verb for this type of drafting.  It is called platooning. See the photo below.

    Initially, when we see the first generation of trucks, don’t expect them to drive the speed limit. They will probably be designed to go more slowly. The optimal fuel economy for large trucks is around 45 mph.  The reason trucks don’t drive that slowly right now is because truck drivers are regulated in how long they are allowed to drive, and many are compensated to make or beat a deadline, by being paid by the mile. So, they just speed along.

    Ryan Petersen, the CEO of Flexport, a national transport company, recently wrote for Crunch Network, “Shipping a full truckload from L.A. to New York costs around $4,500 today, with labor representing 75 percent of that cost. But those labor savings aren’t the only gains to be had from the adoption of driverless trucks.

    Where drivers are restricted by law from driving more than 11 hours per day without taking an 8-hour break, a driverless truck can drive nearly 24 hours per day. That means the technology would effectively double the output of the U.S. transportation network at 25 percent of the cost.”

    Mercedes is one of the leaders of this truck technology and has already utilized driverless trucks in Germany and the Netherlands. Daimler says these trucks are safer than conventional trucks because the computers have faster reaction times and better “senses” than human beings. Daimler says that human drivers have a typical reaction time of 1.4 seconds, but these wirelessly connected trucks brake in less than 0.1 second. To make the journey even safer, each automated truck has a driver ready to take the wheel if necessary—at least for now.

    A year ago more than a dozen large driverless trucks traveled in platoons leaving from Sweden and Southern Germany to Rotterdam. They were produced by six different manufacturers:  DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania and Volvo.  They arrived safely without incident.  In this event, the trucks had drivers, just in case.

    Now for some fun facts. What you may not realize is that most vehicles on the road today are already equipped with basic driverless vehicle technology. One advance is the adaptive cruise control (patented in 1990 by General Motors) which automatically senses vehicles travelling in front at a slower speed and instructs the car to reduce speed. The way it does this is through a radar system in the front grill that measures the speed of the vehicle in front. 

    Adaptive cruise came out at in the early 2005 models on high-end vehicles, but it is now a common feature on most new cars.

    Another technology that has been around for years that makes driverless vehicles and trucks a possibility is the ABS system. The Anti-lock Braking System is a secondary braking system that is activated in dangerous slick road conditions. It prevents your car or truck from sliding when you slam on the brakes. It helps a driver who is less skilled control the car in those terrifying driving conditions, but it also is an important step to the driverless vehicle. So, driverless vehicles may be safer in many respects than human driven vehicles.

    So, that brings us to the next question. Will driverless vehicles have personalities?  Think of all the driverless cars from the movies: Herbie in The Love Bug


    Or, who can forget the adventurous Chitty Chitty Bang Bang


    Crime-fighting Kit from Knight Rider


    or God forbid, the demonic Christine



    In case you were wondering if there was ever a driverless truck movie, there were at least two.

    Dennis Weaver starred in a 1971 film named Duel where a menacing 18-wheeler tailgates him in the Southwest desert. A young Steven Spielberg directed.



    Another driverless truck movie was produced in 1986 based on the Stephen King novel titled Maximum Overdrive. In this horror film, machines are zapped by an outer space phenomenon that imbue them with terrible destructive abilities.


    So what will the real driverless trucks be like? Just mobile smart appliances with no personality?  Will they be unfailingly polite like R2D2? Or will be able to be hacked and become demonic like the truck in Duel? 

    Hopefully, all this technology will be built to observe Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.  

    No matter what, when driverless trucks or cars hit the road, the technicians at Adolf Hoepfl Garage will be able to fix them.

    Just get ready! As Volvo says The Future is Ahead of You.



  • Car Tip : Flood Damaged Cars

    If your car flooded while it was parked, don't start it! Check the air filter first and make sure it is dry. Otherwise the air intake system will suck up water straight into your engine and lock it up.

    We can fix flooded vehicles and work with insurance companies. If your car is flooded, please call us. We open today at 7:30 a.m. Our emergency number is 713 516-4282. Remember, if your believe there is any possibility that your engine has water in it, do not attempt to start your car.

    After the rain stops, if you have wet carpet, it is vitally important to pull the carpet completely out of your car.  Most of the time, it can be cleaned and deodoorized and will be as good as new.  We do this work as well. If you leave wet carpet in your car, it allows moldy smells to accumulate.  It can also damage the electrical components that are under the seats and floorboard.

  • Car Tip: Check your oil no matter how often you have it changed

    Check your oil level on your next refueling. Lately, we have seen some new clients whose oil level is not registering on the dipstick. Even though, they may be following the manufacturer’s recommended oil change intervals, they are losing oil. Why? Well, after 3,000 miles, oil is quite used up even if it’s a high quality and even if it’s a full synthetic. Engines burn a little oil naturally. It’s not uncommon for cars to burn a quart of oil every 1000 miles. So, imagine if your car has five quarts and you go 5,000 miles between oil changes, you might be two quarts low by the time your bring your car in for the next oil change.

    This is very hard on your engine. What happens when your engine is running on less oil than designed? That oil has to work a lot harder and becomes even more contaminated. In the worst cases, oil gets so contaminated, it’s thick and sludgy. The really bad part is that the next time your oil changed, the thick sludge might not even drain out and it will settle in your engine. This makes your pistons and crank and cams and all those engine parts work a lot harder. It makes your cooling system work harder as well. People who drive over their oil change intervals can do permanent damage or shorten the life span of the engine.

    So, this is why you should be in the habit of checking your oil when you fill up the tank especially after 3,000 miles. Carry an extra quart of oil with you in your car. It’s important to plan and be prepared. Caring for you car will help extend it’s life.

    How often you change your oil is dependent upon a lot of factors and that will be the subject for another day.

    We have 100s of customers with over 200,000 miles and going strong. We are perhaps the only repair shop in Houston that makes a personal phone call to remind customers that it may be time to have your oil changed.

    We also have solutions so you can have extended oil change intervals safely. That’s our May car tip!

  • Check Your Air-Conditioning

    Before the weather starts heating up, we recommend having your air conditioning system checked. It’s inexpensive and can prevent a more costly repair. If your air conditioning refrigerant* is even slightly low, your vehicle will not cool properly. Most vehicles hold less than 24 ounces of refrigerant.* If your vehicle is even 10% low (it could be 2.4 ounces), the air in the passenger compartment will not feel as cool as it should–especially on a hot day. If you notice this symptom, bring your car or truck in and have it serviced promptly. Even at 5% less than full capacity, you may feel cool inside your car, but you are shortening the life span of one of the most expensive systems to replace in your vehicle.

    Running an A/C system that is not cooling properly is like turning the air conditioning on in your house with the front door wide open. You are adding wear and tear on the compressor. In addition to refrigerant, the A/C system uses a special lubricating oil. When the system is low on refrigerant, it is also low on oil and the compressor is running hotter than designed. If the A/C is not cooling properly, we would recommend not using it until you have it serviced. Running the A/C low is like running your engine without oil.

    When we check your A/C system, we check to make sure that the system is completely full, that it has A/C lubricating oil and we add a dye. If the system is not full, we immediately let you know and we add a lubricating oil that contains an ultra-violet dye. This dye can help us find a leak in your system. Usually, if it’s a big leak, it’s immediately obvious. If it’s a small leak, we may ask you to come back in a day or two so we can recheck it. Some leaks are the size of a pin hole. That’s why you may have your refrigerant topped off and feel in the cool for a few days or even weeks and then suddenly on the hottest day of summer, all you feel coming from your vents is hot air. There are also situations where cars may have more than one leak. They may have a big leak which is obvious and a tiny one which is not. Leaks can come from hoses, A/C compressors, A/C condensers, expansion valves–just about anywhere. If you have your A/C system checked annually, most of these problems can be detected before you really are counting on the A/C to keep you comfortable.

    We post these car tips because we believe at Adolf Hoepfl Garage that you should have safe and reliable transportation. We can help you extend the life of one of your principal investments.

    We can fix anything. We just choose to fix cars.

    *Some people call A/C Refrigerant Freon. Freon is a brand name for R-12 that has been banned in the U.S. The current refrigerant in newer vehicles is called R-134.

    By Kathryn van der Pol