WEEKLY CAR GUIDE: May 14, 2004

TCC Drives: 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid

2005 Ford Escape HybridHow do we escape from our dependence on high-cost foreign oil? With petroleum prices surging to record levels and turmoil wracking theMideast, that's a question that has moved from the fringe and into the mainstream of debate.

A growing number of motorists are taking the issue into their own hands. Demand forToyota's Prius hybrid-electric sedan has surged so dramatically that in some parts of the country, dealers are reporting an eight-month backlog of orders.

That could be good news for Ford Motor Co., which in August will belatedly launch sales of its the world's first gasoline-electric sport-utility vehicle. Ford has dubbed the new Escape Hybrid a "no-compromise hybrid," promising that the SUV won't sacrifice comfort, convenience or utility in the bid for higher mileage.

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid (5/14/2004)
Can you have it all with this "no compromises" SUV?

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DCX Weekly Car Guide

This Week's Car News

Porsche shows off new 911

2005 Porsche 911 Carrera SThe 2005 Porsche 911 arrives in the second half of this year sporting more power, new gearboxes, and an updated chassis. Porsche released these pictures of the new flagship sports car on Tuesday with a brief release. According to Porsche, the new 911 comes in two flavors. The 911 Carrera comes with a 325-hp, 3.6-liter flat six engine, while the Carrera S sports a 355-hp, 3.8-liter version of the same engine. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard; an active suspension will be optional on the S model. Porsche says the Carrera will retail for $69,300 and the Carrera S, $79,100.

Gas prices could average $2.03

Gas prices are still rising - and the government's gas experts believe the nation will hit an average price of $2.03 a gallon in June. The Energy Information Administration reports in its monthly energy forecast that the increase in prices is the result of higher crude oil prices; oil recently touched on the $40-a-barrel mark. Over the course of the summer, the agency expects gas prices to average $1.94 a gallon, rising to the high of $2.03 a gallon in June. That ceiling is 21 cents higher a gallon than the agency originally had predicted. The agency also expects oil prices to recede to an average of about $37 a barrel for the year.

Oil Prices, Gas Prices Hit Records by Joseph Szczesny (5/10/2004)
If $40 a barrel doesn't shock you, maybe the pump will?

Benzes, Chryslers recalled by DC

DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes-Benz unit said Tuesday it is recalling some 680,000 E- and SL-class vehicles worldwide to examine potential problems with a brake control system. Mercedes said it is asking owners of the vehicles to visit their local service centers for a precautionary check of the so-called Sensotronic Brake Control system. Meanwhile, Chrysler Group is recalling 320,188 Dodge Durango sport utility vehicles and Dakota pickups because of a potential safety hazard involving the windshield wipers, federal regulators said Tuesday. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said water could get into the windshield wiper motor on some vehicles, causing corrosion and malfunctions of the wipers. Vehicles involved are 2002-2003 Durangos and 2002-2004 Dakotas, NHTSA said. Dealers will replace the front windshield wiper module, the agency said. -Jim Burt

Mustang waves goodbye to Rouge

Ford's oldest manufacturing plant has finished building its last Mustang - and is headed for demolition. The 86-year old plant at the Rouge complex in Dearborn, Mich., assembled the final 2004 Mustang as Ford switches the new, '05 Mustang to a new line in Flat Rock, Mich. Ford has redeveloped other parts of the Rouge complex to be environmentally friendly - the new F-150 truck plant on the site has a grass roof and other "green" features meant to reduce its energy consumption. The plant was originally opened in 1918, and had produced everything from Model As to Thunderbirds to Mustangs, which were first produced at the plant in 1964.

Museum Hawk: Ford's Rouge Plant by Mike Davis (5/3/2004)
Open to the public again - and much transformed.

NHTSA nearly mandates side-curtain airbags

New regulations proposed on Wednesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mean that automakers will be all but required to equip new vehicles with side-curtain airbags by 2009. The agency will set new side-impact crash standards that have separate standards for head protection in addition to thorax and abdomen protection for more passengers in the vehicle. It's expected that most manufacturers will meet the new rules by adding curtain airbags to the increasingly hefty safety equipment mandated by federal rules. The agency estimates some 700 lives could be saved each year once the technology is implemented to meet the new rules. The proposed changes to existing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard rule 214 could become law as soon as 2005.

Sierra Club, UAW United Against NHTSA by Joseph Szczesny (2/23/2004)
New fuel-economy proposal draws the ire of some unlikely allies.

TCC Tip: Run-Flat or Not?

Of all the major automotive safety developments of the past decade, run-flat tires might not immediately come to mind, but they're one of the most important. Over time, they'll make being stranded along the side of the highway with a flat a thing of the past - welcome words to anyone who's ever tried to figure out the instructions for their jack and install their spare in the pouring rain on the side of a congested highway with a narrow shoulder!

Run-flat tires have extremely strong sidewalls, so strong that they're capable of supporting the tire in an "inflated" position for extended periods - within a limited speed and distance. With no air, it's important that the driver corners gently, but we've been told that run-flats with no air still perform better than the skinny, hard-compound temporary spares typically in new cars.

But if the tires perform nearly as well with air in them as without, how do you know when their inflation pressure is normal, dangerously low, or even when they're flat?

Shopping Tip: Run-Flat or Not? (5/14/2004)
Are run-flats worth the cost?

Ask The Mechanic

Flushing your money

Q--My Buick dealer has recommended an engine flush for my 2000 LeSabre which has 18,000 miles on it. It costs more than $100. Is this something new and what does it actually accomplish?

A--It accomplishes an improved bottom line for the service department. You don't need it if you change your oil and filter regularly. In fact, GM has issued a technical service bulletin saying that engine flushes should not be performed. The bulletin states: "General Motors is aware that some companies are marketing tools and equipment to support engine crankcase flush procedures. GM does NOT endorse or recommend crankcase flushing for any of its gasoline engines." It goes on to state that engine damage might even occur.

On-Site Mechanic: May 14, 2004 (5/14/2004)
Auto service and maintenance advice from TCC's resident gearhead.

Get more of Bob Weber's advice in the On-Site Mechanic

Letters to the Editor

Please, please, please, verify for me whether the BMW 5-Series is coming out with an all-wheel-drive model in 2005. I read in one of the car books about a year ago the 5's AWD version was imminent in 2004. No luck. I asked a sales rep in my local BMW dealership the same for the 2005 model year -- he assures me they'll be in showrooms in October. I then asked BMW themselves via the Web, and received one of those classic say nothing responses: maybe. I'm looking for certainty, some precision; no is not the preferable answer but one I can accept. So, can you tell me for certain, is the 5 coming out with an AWD version in the 2005 model year? If so, what month will they appear in the showrooms? Facts are hard to find. It appears the truth is even more elusive.

You're telling us facts are tough to figure out! Have you read Hilary's book? As for the BMW, we've heard rumors like you have, but we don't have any confirmation that the AWD 5er is actually on the way. Stay tuned here and in TCC's Daily Edition for more info as it erupts.

Send your letters to us here at letters@thecarconnection.com. You must include a subject line to have your letter read.

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