The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

July 17, 2014

At Least I’m Going Somewhere

Filed under: Cars — Brian Lutz @ 1:17 am

Is it just me, or does it seem sometimes like owning a car can be more of a hassle than it’s worth?  Of course, being able to move around freely whenever and wherever I want (traffic notwithstanding) is nice and all, but the things have a pesky tendency to generate shockingly large quantities of various expenses when you least expect it.  My current car is a 2007 VW Rabbit/Golf (for some reason they decided to bring back the Rabbit name for a couple of model years before switching back to the customary Golf name) that was purchased new right around the time I started this Blog (I think either the second or third post I made here was about buying the car.)  For the most part, it’s actually been pretty reliable, and I haven’t really had any major mechanical problems with it in the 7+ years and roughly 73,000 miles I’ve had it for.   And yet, even without any major repairs to deal with, the thing still has a way of throwing shockingly large expenses at you on a regular basis.

Granted, I am driving a German car, an actual Wolfsburg-built car, not one of the notorious “Actually made in Mexico” ones that made a shockingly large number of people swear off Volkswagens forever back in the MkIV era.  Even though it’s not a particularly fancy or expensive car (by German standards at least) it still comes with some of the infamous German parts and maintenance costs.  The short version is that every 20,000 miles or so the scheduled maintenance is somewhere in the range of $500-600 (at least based on the prices at the dealer, your mileage may vary) and even the lesser services run you somewhere between $75-100.  And that’s assuming nothing goes wrong.  If something breaks or needs replacing (currently my car is due for a water pump replacement, which isn’t an overly expensive part but is a rather involved installation) then things can get even more expensive in a hurry.  Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with any of the really big repairs… yet.  Oh, and did I mention that I’m just about due for a new set of tires?

Of course, it’s not just the maintenance and repairs that will get you.  There’s also insurance, which will put a nice little dent in your wallet every six months or so.  And that’s assuming that you never have to actually use it for anything.  Unfortunately, “stuff” has a tendency to be unavoidable at times, especially when you have a car that spends a lot of time in narrow parking garages.  A couple of days ago I managed to accidentally scrape one of the concrete posts I park next to while trying to pull out of my space, resulting in this lovely little gouge on the right rear quarter panel.  The good news is that insurance will cover it, the bad news is that based on my past experience with auto body shops they’ll figure out some way to make this a $1,500 repair job, even though I’d only be on the hook for a $500 deductible plus whatever rate increase they decide to throw at me for the next three or four years.  Either way, it means that I’ll be without my car for a few days, and just in time for the nice little trafficpocalypse that WSDOT has planned for I-90 next week when they reduce the whole thing down to a single lane for a whole week right in the path of every possible bus I might take to work.  And working from home isn’t really an option for me either, since 95% of my job requires having access to the very specialized hardware I test on.  The ironic part is that even though the stuff I’m working on is intended for use in cars, unless it’s actually installed in said car it isn’t exactly the most portable thing in the world (you should see the ridiculous lengths we have to go to if for some reason we need to test the non-navigation model under driving conditions.)  So basically, it’s going to be a serious pain to get to work for the next week or so.

And it’s not just getting to work that’s the issue either.  I think that for the most part I’ll probably be able to make it through the weekend without too much trouble (I’ll be with my friends for most of it, and there’s a good chance someone else will be doing the driving) but it does mean that I will most likely need to walk to church on Sunday.  Fortunately I’m close enough that it’s an option to do so, and if I can get past that I can probably hold out until I get my car back, whenever that happens to be.  One of the advantages of living in the Downtown area is that there’s quite a bit within walking distance, and a lot of other things aren’t too much further away.  Even so, you don’t realize how much you actually use your car until you have to go without it for a few days.  Either way, I don’t recommend scraping concrete posts with your car.  It seems to be a bad habit to get into.

June 10, 2013

Just Another Sunday on the Couch Watching NASCAR

Filed under: Cars, Sports, Wanderings — Brian Lutz @ 12:19 am

Auto racing has always been one of those things for me that I tend to enjoy watching (and participating in the very limited occasions when I get to do so, mostly in video games and the occasional go-karting outing) but that I’ve never gotten myself particularly involved in.  This comes mostly from my Dad’s tendency to spend Sunday afternoons on the couch watching races while we were growing up, a habit which continues to this day.  Although we got exposed to all sorts of different types of races and different series over the years, it was NASCAR that tended to dominate the Sunday afternoon viewing, mostly because that what was on most of the time.  Over time we did tend to pick a few favorite drivers on the circuit (mostly the Roush drivers, and Mark Martin in particular) but mostly we tended to end up rooting more for certain drivers to lose and/or end up in the wall or in the pits with a blown engine.  Originally Dale Earnhardt was by and large the chosen bete noir in the Lutz household, but he was soon replaced by Jeff Gordon, who then eventually gave way to Jimmie Johnson and the other Hendrick drivers…  Basically whoever happened to be ending up in Victory Lane a lot driving a Chevy.  Needless to say, we ended up disappointed a lot.

As for actually going to the races, I have only been to two of them previously, both at Phoenix in the early Nineties when we still lived in New Mexico.  On one of those occasions, we actually ended up getting our tickets from a member of Dale Earnhardt’s crew who was handing out some of their extras while we were waiting in line to get a ticket for one of my friends who had joined us at the last minute.  We already had tickets, but when we saw that the freebie ticket was in a prime location on the front stretch that was much better than ours in the Turn 3 grandstands, we were able to trade our other tickets for ones in the same location.  Sure enough, Earnhardt won that race, but I don’t think we complained too much about that one.  Since then I’ve been meaning for a while to try to attend another NASCAR race, but the opportunity hasn’t ever really presented itself.  Until now.

Thanks to a surprisingly large number of coincidences, me and my parents just happened to find ourselves in the right place at the right time to get a rather unique opportunity to watch the recent Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway from a condo overlooking the track in turn 1.  First of all, we happened to be in the general vicinity, thanks to my brother’s wedding the day before the race.  Second, we happened to be in Charlotte the day of the race, since my brother’s return flight was there.  Third, my friends were already there with their parents, who own the condo in the first place (my friends’ father has a business that involves working with NASCAR teams on a regular basis,) who extended the invitation for us to join them to watch the race from their condo.   Thanks to their invitation and all the various coincidences that had to happen to get there in the first place, we had the privilege of experiencing a NASCAR race from what just may be the best seats in the house that are not traveling at over 180 miles per hour.  Naturally, I took plenty of photos.  After the jump, a look at some of the sights of a NASCAR race, as seen from on high (and down low.)


April 17, 2012

Just Another Carnage-Filled Day at the Races

Filed under: Cars — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:14 am

Of all the things that the Pacific Northwest is known for, auto racing isn’t one of them.  Sure, there’s an NHRA event that takes place each year down at Pacific Raceways in Kent, and Portland International Raceway was an annual stop for the now defunct Champ Car World Series back in the day (and is now an annual stop for a slightly less prestigious imitator,) but by and large there isn’t much in the way of professional racing around here.  That’s not to say there isn’t racing to be found, just as long as you’re not too picky about what type of racing you’re watching.  Nestled in a (usually) quiet corner of rural Snohomish County about 33 miles northeast of Downtown Seattle lies the city of Monroe, a town of about 17,000 people that serves as host to Evergreen Speedway, a 5/8th mile NASCAR-affiliated oval track which also includes smaller 3/8th and 1/5th mile ovals, a 1/8th mile drag strip and a figure-8 track, and finds frequent opportunities to make use of all of them.  Throughout the Spring and Summer there are races held at Evergreen Speedway every Saturday night.  Just don’t go expecting any fancy big-budget racing, because you aren’t likely to find it here.  What you will find is a fine evening of mindless entertainment, with a side of metal carnage thrown in for good measure.

A couple of weekends ago, me and a friend of mine spent the evening at Evergreen Speedway’s season opening demolition derby night, which also featured a stunt jump, Figure 8 races and more.  After the break, you will find some of the highlights of the evening,


February 26, 2010

A Tiring Ordeal

Filed under: Cars — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:42 am

 Of all the various parts of a car that an automotive enthusiast might like to talk about, tires tend not to be all that high on the list.  Sure, you’ll hear plenty about the stuff inside the engine, upgrades to suspension and handling, and you’ll probably even hear about the wheels, but chances are that you will rarely hear more than a passing mention of the rubber wrapped around those wheels.  Although the importance of having a good set of tires on your car cannot be overstated, tires are, for the most part, boring.  If you’re sitting next to some hot little sportscar at a stoplight, chances are you’ll pay attention to the wheels, but five seconds after the light turns green you probably wouldn’t be able to tell someone what kind of tires the car had on it if you were asked.  After all, from a purely aesthetic standpoint they’re pretty much just big black donuts of rubber that happen to go around the wheels.  In earlier years, whitewall tires were a common sight on many cars.  In fact The earliest rubber tires were all white rubber (as seen on the 1898 version of the Michelin Man above,) and black tires came later as carbon came to be added to the tread portions of the tires to improve wear.  Ultimately, as tires improved, the whitewalls became purely aesthetic (although desirable for luxury cars,) and eventually fell out of favor entirely, now being virtually nonexistent except on classic cars which originally used them.

For the most part, drivers don’t pay much attention to the tires on their cars until they stop behaving they way they’re supposed to.  Being stranded on the side of a busy freeway tends to have that effect on people, but more often than not tires will wear out long before falling victim to some random road hazard (in 13 years of driving, I’ve only had it happen once.)   It is in this situation that I recently found myself as the factory-installed tires on my car recently began to approach the end of their useful life, and it came time for the ordeal of shopping for a new set of tires.  I’d like to think that I have a reasonable amount of knowledge concerning cars and the stuff that makes them work, but I have to admit that when I started this, I was pretty much lost when it came to tires.  From the very beginning of the process you’re confronted by arcane sets of numbers and letters like 195/65R15 91H and 215/75R16-95v that, at least until you have the good sense to write them down somewhere, you will probably need to go back to the car, bend over and read off the tire again every time you get asked for your tire size.  Once you’ve got that, and figure out the 3 or 4 possible tires that a place has which will fit your car, you get to take a look at a bunch of big black things with seemingly random tread patterns on them, and pretty much no information to figure out which ones are any good.  A few particularly dedicated car junkies or tire design engineers who just happen to be out shopping for new tires might actually have some clue what they’re doing, but there’s a pretty good chance you will be neither of those.  If you aren’t feeling all that ambitious you do have the option of picking the one with the coolest looking tread pattern, at which point you might be able to skip a few steps.

So after a bit of random wandering around town trying to make heads or tails of all this stuff you can head for the Internet and figure out that for the most part, the good tires are the ones that no store  within 100 miles of here carries (at least not in your size, which you probably had to go out to the car and look up AGAIN.)  You’ll also find them a lot cheaper than you’d find them locally…  Well at least you would until you figure out that you need to add 40 bucks worth of shipping to the price, making the whole thing just a tad pointless unless the local places are really gouging on their prices (but at least sometimes they’ll throw some free beef into the deal to make it up.)  Usually you’ll also find out that those tires with the cool looking treads tend to suck pretty badly once you actually try putting them onto a car. 

Eventually you’ll find some reasonable compromise between price, performance and ratings, find some place that actually has the things in stock (or bite the bullet and get them shipped) and settle on a set of tires.  This doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods yet, because you still need to get them installed.  This usually involves a process of handing over your keys to some random guy with his name on his shirt and sitting around in a dingy waiting room with a staticky 15-inch TV playing college basketball for two hours (or three if you go on a Saturday.)  It seems that tire installation is one of those tasks that requires all sorts of deep voodoo that ordinary humans could not hope to comprehend (or at least a whole bunch of equipment that very few people are going to happen to have sitting around the garage at home.)  Even if you know the inside of a small block Chevy like the back of your hand, it is highly unlikely that you’re going to be able to mount, balance and align your own tires at home.  Even for the most dedicated of car nuts, there are still some tasks that are best left to the professionals.

And what do you get for all that effort?  Well, for one thing, you’ll probably have a wallet lighter by at least the better part of $500, if not much more (if you’re lucky enough to own a Bugatti Veyron, you can look forward to paying upwards of $38,000 for a set of tires, and more than $11,500 each for a new set of wheels at every fourth tire change) and you’ll quickly go back to not noticing the tires on your car for a while.  If you got a set of high performance tires, you might also be able to zip around the corners with slightly less risk of incinerating yourself or others in a horrific fashion while doing so.  All in all, it’s one of those things that has to be done eventually, kind of like going to the doctor and getting shots.  Not much fun now, but it prevents stuff that would be a lot less fun later on…

As for my car, I ended up with a set of these when all was said and done.  The tires that came on the car when I bought it (Continentals) actually handled reasonably well for the most part, but they were pretty much worn out after 30,000 miles, and they were also a bit on the noisy side.  So far, I think I have all of about five miles on the new tires, so I haven’t had a chance to really try them out yet.  If I get really bored and/or short on Blog material, I might post a bit more on this later…  And yes, that’s probably a threat.

December 13, 2009

A Tale of Taillight Trouble

Filed under: Cars — Brian Lutz @ 12:31 am

Back when I used to drive around my old beater Camry, I would usually find out that I had a burned out taillight when one of the local police officers pulled me over to point it out (and presumably also to figure out how many outstanding warrants they had on me.)  I can’t say I blame them (after all, there’s a good chance I was lowering the property values of the neighborhood just by driving through it,) but I never actually got ticketed for any of the times I got pulled over for this.  I suspect that the car’s tendency to burn out taillights on a regular basis probably wasn’t helping matters much though.   Changing the bulbs was a pretty serious pain too, as the unopenable tailgate, tight spaces and even tighter sockets made the task far more trouble than it should have been, a problem which became most evident when I managed to have the burned out bulb break in my hand and leave a nice  little gash in my pointer finger, from which I still have a nice little scar. 

So when the time comes to replace a burned out bulb on my current car, the job should be a whole lot easier, right?  First of all, a handy (read: annoying) warning light on the dash tells me when I have a burnt-out bulb somewhere, a feature which removes the need for the participation of law enforcement agencies in the process.  Unfortunately, it also proves decidedly unhelpful in telling exactly which bulb is the one that has failed.  If it isn’t something obvious (you’d probably notice pretty quickly if you didn’t have a turn signal) there’s always the option of hooking up the car to the computer via a somewhat expensive diagnostic cable, but my Dad happens to have one.  Assuming you can navigate your way through the slightly convoluted software it’ll tell you exactly which light happens to be burned out, plus half a zillion other things that might be wrong with the car (hopefully not all at the same time.)  Anyway, I had managed to figure out which bulb was the one in need of replacing, and I knew I happened to have one around the house somewhere from a previous bulb replacement, but a rather thorough search through my apartment failed to turn up the location of this bulb.

At this point, I could have easily wasted half my Saturday trying to find the bulb I had, but I had other things I needed to get done, so it was off to the auto parts store.  I find that I rarely have reason to visit any of these since I got my current car a couple of years ago, partly because it’s under warranty (and has been pretty reliable, at least in terms of engine/mechanical parts during that time)  and partly because I seriously doubt any of the auto parts stores in town would stock anything more complicated than windshield washer fluid for my particular vehicle.  After all, even though my car isn’t anything too fancy, it IS still red and European, so it comes with all the parts costs with only half the prestige.  Normally on the rare occasion I would need to visit the parts store, I’d go to the one on the other side of town, but since I was trying to get this done as quickly as possible.  so I decided to try the one that’s a little bit closer. 

Normally at the auto parts store, there’s a number of books hanging off the shelves that contain self-serve information on the various maintenance parts one might need for their car (stuff like filters, wiper blades, lights, and other things like that.)  Although it does take some digging through the book to figure out the right part number, it makes it relatively easy to find this.  It turns out that the store I went to apparently doesn’t believe in these things, because there wasn’t a single one of the things anywhere in the store.  I suppose if I had any clue what I was actually doing I would just know this info in the first place, but even then, the part numbers in this store seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with the part numbers used anywhere else in the civilized world, so it probably wouldn’t have done any good anyway.  The only way I was going to be able to figure out anything would be to have someone look it up.  Two wiper blades, an alternator and a semi-lengthy discussion on the merits of particular snow chains later, I was finally able to get the part number, and $2.18 later, I was finally out the door, having spent much longer in the process than I would have if I had just gone to the other store in the first place.  Lesson learned, I suppose.

Once I returned home, I set about the task of replacing the bulb.  Sure enough, as soon as I went to grab the necessary tools, the bulb I had on hand mysteriously appeared in a place that I probably would have looked if I had been paying attention in the first place, upgrading the whole parts store trip from “misadventure” to “fiasco”…  Or so it would seem.  The actual bulb replacement is relatively straightforward on my car, but there are a couple of tools needed, and a bolt that needs to be extracted from a tight space.  A little bit of tinkering around and several trips back into the house for different tools later, the taillight assembly came off the car, and the replacement bulb went in.  I got everything put back together, put the key in the ignition to check, and…  The bulb warning was still on.  Double-checking to make sure the connector was reinstalled correctly, I went back to check, and found that the other bulb in the assembly had decided to choose that particular moment to burn out, thus making it necessary to remove the whole assembly again.  Fortunately the other socket takes the same bulb, and for some odd reason I just happened to have a couple of extras on hand. 

Finally, the second time around both of the bulbs decided to work at the same time (although I did plug in the assembly by itself to test this BEFORE reassembling everything again) and I finally managed to get the annoying warning light off the dash for the time being.)  Of course, as you’d expect for any halfway decent car these days, the manual recommends just letting the dealer take care of this.  If not for the fact that they’d probably charge some particularly horrendous amount of money, I think I’d be half-tempted to just let them go ahead.  It’s not necessarily a complicated job to do this… At least not until I manage to find half a dozen ways to complicate it unnecessarily.  Still, I do suppose that I managed to avoid maiming myself in the process this time around, so that’s got to count for something, right?

April 29, 2009

Out of Context Ad: Some Things You Just Have to Plan For

Filed under: Advertising, Cars, Recycled Newspaper — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 10:55 pm

This week’s out-of-context ad comes from a 1968 issue of the Sammamish Valley News (which is also what this week’s Recycled Newspaper post will be looking at,) and shows a happy little family relaxing in their presumably groovy home, blanketed by the plans for…  well, we don’t exactly know for sure, but whatever it is, it was presumably groovy.  Apparently, the creators of this ad would like you to think that it wasn’t just the Age of Aquarius dawning at this point.  Anyway, as usual, feel free to speculate wildly on what might be going on here.

Also, for those of you looking for the solution to last week’s Out-of-Context Ad (scroll down a few posts if you missed it,) you can find it after the jump on this post.


January 2, 2009

Can’t Find a Parking Spot? Make One.

Filed under: Cars, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 5:56 pm

Although things have now mostly returned to normal from all the snow we got here here a couple of weeks ago, a lot of the parking lots in the area still have a number of  big half-melted piles of plowed-up snow and dirt left over from the cleanup after the storms.  In some cases, the snow piles are actually still blocking parking spots, making it impossible to park in those locations…  or is it?

One enterprising local SUV driver apparently didn’t get the memo, and decided to park in one of these spots anyway.   Whoever was riding in the passenger seat might bot be so thrilled with it, but you just need to be a bit more careful getting out and you’ll be fine.  After all, it’s just a little pile of snow, no big deal, right? 

Well OK, maybe it’s just a bit more than a little pile of snow.   It’s a little bit hard to tell in this photo, but the right rear wheel here was actually hanging in mid-air with nothing under it.  It’s not like this was the last parking spot in the whole place or anything like that either, but who wants to walk an extra thirty yards just for the luxury of being able to park with all four wheels on the ground?  Either way, as I was leaving this parking spot was empty, so apparently the driver managed to get out of there with no problem at all.  Not that I intend to try this with my own car anytime soon, of course.

May 12, 2008

Off to the Races

Filed under: Cars, Wanderings — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:52 pm

Edit 5/13:  Added a few more pictures from the race below.

As I’ve discussed before, pretty much everyone in my family enjoys watching auto racing in its various forms (after all, what other reason would my parents have for naming their dogs after an Italian City known primarily for its racetrack and a defunct Formula One racing team?)  Unfortunately, the Pacific Northwest in general and the Seattle area in particular is something of a wasteland as far as high-level racing is concerned.  The NHRA does make an annual stop up here for drag racing, and the now defunct Champ Car series raced annually in Portland for many years, but beyond those two series professional racing has been basically nonexistent around here (amateur racing, on the other hand, is alive and well here, although that’s another post I’ll get around to making at some point.)  This means that going to see a race requires a road trip.  For the past couple of years, we have made the trip down to Miller Motorsports Park about 30 miles west of Salt Lake City in Utah for the American Le Mans Series race that takes place there, and will be taking place this weekend.  The bad news is that for a number of reasons, we’re not going to be able to make it to the Utah race this year, but the good news is that this means that we will have an opportunity to go see the final ALMS race of the year in October at Laguna Seca, one of America’s most famous racetracks and home to the famous Corkscrew turn

After the jump, a look at some of the photos I took at last year’s Utah Grand Prix. 


November 3, 2007

Highlights from the 2007 Seattle Auto Show

Filed under: Cars, Seattle and Vicinity — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:43 am


Compared to the big auto shows such as the ones in LA, New York and Detroit, the annual Seattle Auto Show is nothing to write home about.  Sure, it does give you a chance to check out all sorts of new cars without the pressure of some salesman breathing down your neck, as well as an opportunity to see all the luxury and exotic cars that would melt your bank account if you wandered too close to the showroom, but aside from a smattering of leftover concpets from the Detroit show earlier in the year, there’s not much else to see beside the stuff that’s already been on the dealer lots for months now.  Nonetheless, every year I  make the trip into downtown Seattle to check out the show.  Usually I go to the show with my younger brother, but since he now lives 900 miles away (and sells Lexuses, which gives him an opportunity to actually drive some of the nicer cars you might see here,) I’m on my own this time around.   Also this year, for the first time in… well, ever, I am not driving a way-past-its-prime rustbucket that was in dire need of replacement years ago.  This meant that rather than going through everything with the proverbial fine tooth comb, this year I could just skip right to the interesting stuff.  After the jump, some of the highlights from this year’s show, complete with a lot of pictures.


October 11, 2007

Oh! What a Failing

Filed under: Cars, Games — Tags: , , , , , , — Brian Lutz @ 9:51 pm

Automotive marketing seems to be a rather tricky business to be in these days.  In a crowded field of largely indistinct small cars, marketing is one of the few ways in which one can attempt to distinguish their products from the competition.  To that end, Toyota’s latest effort at capturing the hearts of the much vaunted 18-25 male demographic (or attempt to make their annual quota of loan defaults, I’m not sure which) has just been released on Xbox Live Arcade in the form of Yaris, a  free downloadable piece of advertising with achievement points attached to it, which will probably be the only reason anyone bothers playing the game for more than five minutes.  On the other hand, for those people who might actually consider purchasing a Yaris, the game is packed with all sorts of  useful information.  For example:

  • A hood-mounted laser cannon is standard equipment, but you’ll have to pay through the nose to get the car in any color besides red;
  • The Yaris is capable of defying gravity and driving on ceilings, climbing sheer vertical walls, and maintaining a speed in excess of 150 miles per hour;
  • The car comes equipped with a shield system, and depletion of the shields will cause the car to spin out of control but otherwise remain unharmed;
  • The Yaris will be the perfect car for your daily commute, once the highways have all been replaced with giant danger-filled halfpipes with inexplicable sheer vertical drops, hazards deliberately placed in the roadway, and roving packs of roller-skating toasters bent on your destruction;
  • Oh yeah, you can also get 15″ aluminum wheels as a factory option if you want them..

I will refrain from going too deeply into the relative (lack of) merits of the game itself, as I’m sure other people more qualified than myself will begin ripping it to shreds soon enough.  A far greater issue lies in the fact that the game does absolutely nothing to tell someone why they should buy a Toyota Yaris, as opposed to a similar car like a Chevy Cobalt, a Honda Fit or a Nissan Versa.  In fact, about the only things in Yaris that have anything to do with the actual car at all are the character models used and the paint colors.  Granted, there are some cases (for example, where you can throw a little bit of branding into some game and call it good, but there’s one major difference:  On that site, they’re trying to get you to spend a buck on some candy next time you’re at the grocery store.  Toyota is trying to get you spend as much as $18,000 on a  car, which you’ll probably be driving for years. 

Most people I know wouldn’t ever buy a brand new car on impulse, even if they had the means to do so (at which point, I seriously doubt a Yaris would be anywhere near the type of car they’d be considering.)  Before I purchased my new car a few months ago, I spent hours on and manufacturer websites going through just about every detail I could possibly think of, in order to make sure I knew all about what I planned to buy, and what I would be getting myself into.  In theory, this would put me into the target audience that Yaris is supposed to be reaching.  The problem with this is that if I had encountered something like Yaris while I was shopping for a car, it would have told me absolutely nothing that I wouldn’t already have found out previously, nor would it have provided anything even remotely resembling a realistic simulation of how the actual car drives.  Am I supposed to believe that a car with a 1.5 liter 4-banger with 106 horsepower and 103 ft/lb of torque can hit 200 miles per hour, while driving up a vertical wall?  In the end, the result is that the game bears more resemblance to a rail shooter than a racing game.

That isn’t to say that this completely ficticious and unrealistic approach to advergaming should be avoided entirely, as long as some means of providing actual useful information on the product is included.  Yaris simply doesn’t do this.  There is little to no information about the actual car included, and I couldn’t find so much as a link anywhere in the game to even tell me where to find such information.  As far as I can tell, Yaris appears to be an attempt to salvage a marginal game concept by sticking a licensed car into it and giving it away as a freebie.  If someone who was shopping for a car were to come across this game, play all the way through it (no mean feat, given the frustratingly broken gameplay) and see everything the game has to offer, by the time they were done about all they would have learned from the experience is that Toyota makes a car called the Yaris, and that you can get it with aluminum wheels and upgraded energy shields to protect you from flying MP3 players and flaming snakes. 

With downloadable games finally reaching the mainstream of console gaming in this generation of systems, I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty more advergames like this before we know it.  With any luck, marketers and developers alike will look at the example of Yaris and learn some valuable lessons on how not to make an effective advergame.

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