Posts Tagged ‘automobile’

Britax Marathon 70 Convertible Car Seat

April 2nd, 2011 No comments

5 Stars- techdad

Britax Marathon 70 front

Britax is one of the most trusted car seat manufacturer’s around. They have been making convertible car seats for the US market since 1997. Never satisfied, Britax continuously improves their products to make them safer, easier to use, and more comfortable. In August of 2010, they released their new line of convertible car seats with many improvements. Having been a Britax customer since 2007, I was excited to see the improvements they made.

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TomTom XXL 540TM 5-Inch Widescreen Portable GPS Navigator (Lifetime Traffic & Maps Edition)

December 9th, 2010 No comments

4 Stars- techdad

I have been using a 4.3″ Garmin nüvi® 260W for almost a year and a half and really enjoyed it’s usefulness. It was a cheaper model at the time but it was just what I wanted. It didn’t have Bluetooth, traffic, or other multimedia capabilities that I didn’t need. When I was offered the TomTom XXL 540TM, I was excited to try it because my Garmin recently began to alert me to purchase a new map because it was out of date. A new one-time map update would’ve cost me $70.


  • Lifetime map & traffic updates
  • Crisp 5″ screen
  • Slim, attached mount
  • Spoken streets & directions
  • Includes car charger and USB cable
  • Lane guidance
  • Large database of POI (points of interest)
  • Informative display


  • Computerized voice pronounces street names very poorly
  • Traffic receiver attached to car charger
  • Poor battery life
  • User interface not as easy to read at a glance as Garmin’s

I have been using the TomTom XXL 540TM almost exclusively for the past few weeks now but hadn’t taken a major trip until recently. The 4 hour, round-trip drive really allowed me to get a sense of how the 540TM worked. It shined in most respects and we were very happy to have it along for the ride.

The 5″ display made a difference in the vehicle we drove because the distance from the windshield to the driver was greater than in some vehicles. Mounting it on the dash would have made it even easier to read but I like attaching it to my windshield so I don’t have to mess with a beanbag mount.

The 540TM sort of superimposes the name of the street you need to turn next on top of the map. I have decent eyesight so I could make out the streets ok, but the Garmin is definitely easier to read. The Garmin displays the street name very clearly at the top of the display, taking an entire row at the top. On the flip-side, because the 540TM displays the street name on top of the map without pushing the entire map down, you can view more of the map.

The status bar also has lot of useful information as you are driving, including speed, speed limit, direction, distance to next turn, total distance remaining, time, time remaining, and more. The cool thing is you can configure the status bar so you can add or remove most of the information to suit your preferences.

I found the 540TM’s default computer voice to be rather annoying. First, it was horrible at pronouncing street names and it was very choppy, not fluid like the Garmin’s. Changing the voice to a non-computerized one warns you that certain alerts would not be read if not using a computer voice. I also found that it repeated the same directions a little too often when approaching a turn or exit.

One of the major benefits of the 540TM is the lifetime map and traffic updates. This is great because Garmin charges an additional $120 for lifetime map updates. That is a significant portion of a shiny new navigation unit so it’s unlikely I would’ve paid for that. For the TomTom, lifetime really refers to the useful life of the device. It’s not forever and it really isn’t clear what the “useful life” is either. If it is at least 5 years, then I’d say it’s more than enough. One design letdown is the fact that the traffic function is dependent on the car charger. Other navigation units, including some from TomTom, include the receiver on the main unit. I have to admit that the traffic updates were not as useful as I had hoped. Mainly, when there was a traffic incident, it was too slow to notify me (basically it told me as I was nearly in the midst of the incident) and it was completely inaccurate in the estimated delay due to the incident. Traffic probably won’t be something I rely on much, if at all. If you’re looking for accurate traffic updates, I would probably keep looking.

The included EasyPort mount is pretty good and easy to use once you get the hang of it. You have to make sure you turn the mounting dial entirely to the locked position to make sure the mount does not fall off. I like how it folds in and stores easily in my car’s console or a backpack. A beanbag mount would probably bring the action a little closer to me but the EasyPort is hassle-free.

The battery life on the 540TM is probably less than 2 hours. It’s probably not one of those devices you are going to charge, use, and recharge. You’re better off just plugging it in all the time.

I like how you can set “Home” to a point between two streets, rather than having to put in your actual home address. This provides a level of safety in case the 540TM or your car is stolen. No need to give the thief, turn-by-turn directions to your home.

The lane guidance was very useful on my long trip, however, it failed to display sometimes. It actually caused me to miss an exit once because I became dependent on it displaying, but it failed to do so. It did however, reroute me quickly and accurately.

In my opinion, GPS navigation companies are in big trouble. I own an Android phone that offers FREE turn-by-turn navigation from Google with no need to update maps. It’s easier to carry just one device around than 2 and you’re more likely to bring your phone with you when you exit your car than you are your navi. GPS navigation devices are notorious window-smashing-thief magnets. That said, if you do happen to need a stand-alone navigation device, the TomTom XXL 540TM is pretty darn good. My wife does NOT have an Android phone so she finds the TomTom to be very useful to her. I wish the traffic worked better on the 540TM and that the computer voice performed better as well, but overall, it is quite a bit nicer than our older Garmin. If you can live with some of the drawbacks I mentioned, then I think you’ll be generally happy with the TomTom XXL 540TM. We are and we’ve already given our Garmin away.

Available from

* Review unit provided by TomTom

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FRAM PPA7626 Air Hog Panel Filter

December 7th, 2010 1 comment
5 Stars- techdad
I am a car guy in the sense that I love cars, love driving them and love looking at them.  I DON’T love working on them.  That said, I’ve been a lot more mindful about doing simple maintenance myself to save money on our out of warranty vehicles.  The shop I go to wanted to charge me $40 for a new air filter.  I declined because I figured I could save at least $10 if I bought and installed my own.  After a little searching, I came upon the FRAM PPA7626 Air Hog Panel Filter.  I wanted to pull the trigger on a K&N but couldn’t justify the immense cost difference.  Some of the research I did ended up confusing me as to what a performance air filter could do for my car.  I could not find a definitive answer on whether or not I would observe increased horsepower as well as gas mileage.  To be honest though, I wasn’t expecting either of those things.  I just wanted my 2002 Toyota 4Runner to run properly.  As it turns out, I got more than I expected.

The installation is as easy as replacing a 9-volt battery in a smoke detector.  Just take out the dirty filter and slide the new one in.  I did clean up the filter housing of debris just to make sure the filter got a clean start.  Both sides of the filter were identical so it didn’t seem to matter which side faced in.  I fired up the engine afterwards and all was well.  I’ve been flipping my trip odometer on my cars for years after each fuel fill-up so I have a good idea of the mileage range on a full tank of gas.  Imagine my surprise then when I started getting between 20-40 more miles out of a full tank after I installed the Air Hog.  At first, I wrote it off as an anomaly.  Perhaps we had driven more highway miles than normal.  But after almost 5 months now, I can confidently say that my mileage has improved and that the Air Hog filter was the only thing that changed.

The only bummer about reusing the Air Hog is that they recommend you use their filter kit, which is impossible to find anywhere.  I notice some people are buying the K&N kit but it costs more than the filter.  I’m considering stocking up on these and just tossing the dirty filter rather than messing around with cleaning and oiling them.  An amazing buy that saves me money each day.

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3M Headlight Lens Restoration System

December 6th, 2010 No comments
4 Stars- techdad

I have an 11 year old Jetta and the yellowing and hazing on the headllight lens was pretty bad.  After all the glowing reviews on Amazon and the incredible before and after photos, I was sold.


  • Good results
  • Inexpensive
  • Clear instructions
  • Could use 2 more sanding pads in the kit
  • Left faint scratches
The entire process, from prep to washing took me about 90 minutes or so.  Here’s what you’ll need before you get started:
  1. Terry cloth towels
  2. Spray bottle of water
  3. Soapy water
  4. Power drill (with at least 1 hour of battery run time)
  5. Tape

I started out by taping off the body of the car around the headlights.  I then opened the Restoration System package and inserted the disc pad holder to my drill and placed the first sanding disc on it and got to work.  I was being conservative with my use of the sanding discs at first but realized afterwards that this is probably the most important step in the whole process.  The first sanding discs are what remove all the yellowing and major imperfections.  You get 6 total sanding discs so if you’re doing both headlights, you have 3 per light.  I guess my 11 year old car was pretty bad because I really could’ve used 4 discs per light as the pads get clogged pretty quickly.  The instructions were very clear and you can even watch an instructional video online.

The remaining steps involved finer sanding with the last step being polishing.  My drill ran out of juice after the first headlight so I had to swap batteries.  While the headlights turned out looking much improved, I noticed that there were tiny scratches and swirls, only noticeable from within a few inches of the lens.  If I had ordered a second set, I probably would have repeated the procedures for even better results.

I probably wouldn’t use the 3M system on headlight lenses that are just slightly discolored, only because of the inevitable scratches left behind.  But for older vehicles, this is a pretty cost-effective way to restore the lens.  I just wish it included a couple more sanding discs.  Regardless, now my headlights are able to emit more light through the lens and looks a whole lot better.  I have uploaded a before and after photo for those interested.

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Sylvania 9007 XV BP TWIN XtraVision Halogen Headlight

December 6th, 2010 No comments
4 Stars- techdad

Due to tougher economic times, I decided that when my 1999 1/2 New Jetta’s passenger side headlight went out, that I’d replace them myself. I’d never replaced headlight bulbs myself before so I had to look up the proper model and these Sylvania XtraVision’s seemed to have the right balance of performance, price and longevity. I was excited to see the difference between the OEM’s and the XtraVisions.

Unfortunately, my old mechanic must have liked these too as the XtraVisions were the ones already installed. I don’t remember when he replaced them so I don’t know what the lifespan was. I’ll update my review should they go out in the near or distant future. My Jetta has daytime running lights so it should be interesting to see what impact that has on the lifespan. I also want to note that since I didn’t even know that I had different bulbs when they were changed out, I did not notice a difference in visibility.

Still, if my VW mechanic who also services Audi’s, chose to use the Sylvania XtraVision halogen bulbs, I’m pretty confident that these are more than acceptable for my use

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Bosch Icon Wiper Blade

December 5th, 2010 No comments

5 Stars- techdad

The Volkswagen dealer recommends using their OEM blades and arm assembly for my 1999 New Jetta, but I never have due to their just dumb expensive cost.  Not too long ago, I had replaced the wiper blades with Trico’s that I got from Costco.  They never really performed that great to begin with and I had to cut the ends, even though they were supposed to fit properly.  With the rainy season starting up in Northern California, I decided to go for broke and buy the best non-OEM blades available.  The Bosch ICON’s are it.

The installation was more simple than I had imagined.  No adapters or figuring out how to open the brackets.  It took me more time to remove the old blades than to install the new ones.  The first thing I noticed about the ICON’s was that they were not straight, but were slightly curved due to the tensioned springs.  Ingenious!  They fit nice and snug against my windshield.  The next thing I noticed was that it was bracketless.  Apparently more and more new cars are coming with bracketless wiper blades.  Aside from being more visually appealing, the design is supposed to perform better.  The last thing I noticed after installation was that they fit perfectly!  No more cutting the edges off with scissors.

Right after I installed the ICON blades, I fired up the wipers and shot some wiper fluid out.  WOW!  Whisper quiet and clear as crystal!  I don’t ever remember my windshield clearing so well, not even with the OEM VW blades.  My wife drove it in some heavy rain recently and she commented how great they worked.

The price for the Bosch ICON is pretty steep, but still cheaper than many OEM blades.  I am actually keeping track of my install date to determine how long they actually last.  For the moment, I could not be happier with them and am waiting for the blades on my other car to go bad so I can replace those with the ICON’s too.  In foul weather, arguably only your brakes are more important than your visibility.  The ICON’s are well worth the investment.

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