Autocross Buying Guide – Select the Right Car

In my experience, autocross can be a very fun and exciting sport. I have participated in several events in my local area. I found the hobby to be very addictive as well.

Out of all my other hobbies, I think this one is the best “bang for the buck” as far as thrills go with your car. Everybody can participate. Every car (some clubs have exceptions to this though like no SUV’s, no Trucks) can race. The nice thing about this kind of race is that you are competing against others in your class usually defined by the SCCA, however, you are on the course alone so there is minimal chance of hitting other cars.

The hardest part about autocross (aside from learning how to race) in my opinion is finding the right car. Sure, you can use a daily driver, but that is not recommended if you are going to participate in several events a year. Autocross can create wear on the tires and other components very quickly and can get expensive very fast. I would recommend to get a vehicle that you can use for autocross. This can be a “trailer car” or a car that you can still drive on the road, but use only for this hobby.

There are 4 key components to consider when selecting a car for autocross:

1) What type of car to get
2) The Price of the car
3) The overall condition of the vehicle (if used)
4) Aftermarket upgrades/modifications

WHAT TYPE OF CAR TO GET FOR AUTOCROSS:

For autocross racing, some people would assume that the car has to be very powerful, small, 2 doors and modified. This is not entirely accurate. While that type of car would be nice, it is not required to be competitive in autocross.

Remember that most autocross events and clubs have the cars grouped in to some sort of class. The club I participate with follow the SCCA Class guidelines. The classes help group the cars so the same “level” of vehicles can remain competitive within each class.

This is done to avoid the “biggest and fastest is best” state of thought. It would be unfair to put a heavily modified Porsche GT3 up against a stock Ford Focus. This is why they do that.

So, to pick the right car for autocross, you would probably want a coupe or convertible FIRST if possible. Sedans can work well too, but some sedans are not geared for modifications, although, the sport sedans of today are really starting to take over.

Manual transmission would be recommended, however, if you have an automatic that is OK too. You may want to consider trading it for a manual in the future to remain competitive. Again, there are still “sport shift” type automatics out there that are getting better and better each day.

Ideally, you would also want a rear-wheel drive car for autocross. RWD cars typically provide better control and handling in most cases. I know some enthusiasts out there will disagree with me, but that’s OK. On the other hand, I have used several front-wheel drive cars that run with the best of them.

PRICE:

The price of buying a car for autocross is always the factor for me. I, like many others, cannot afford an expensive vehicle for autocross. There are, however, those that can afford it and price is still something for them to consider.

The $0-$5000 range:

This is the range most of us beginners want to start. Of course, free is GOOD, but consider the 3rd component (overall condition) when this option comes to mind. Several cars that can perform well and have a lot of upgradable options are the following:

1989-1997 Mazda Miata – Very nice power to weight ratio. It is VERY popular at autocross. 1979-1991 Mazda RX7 – Fast small car, handles well. Many upgrades available. 1989-1998 Nissan 240sx – Several aftermarket upgrades, handles very well. 1990-1999 BMW 3 Series – Very versatile car. You can find very nice models in this range now. 1988-2000 Honda Civic/CRX – I have seen several models compete well in autocross. 1984-1999 Toyota MR2 – Low center of gravity, great performance, mid engine. 1990-1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse/Eagle Talon – Many upgrades, some models Turbo AWD. 2000-2007 Ford Focus – Very competitive cars. SVT models available in price range. 1997-2003 VW Golf – Hatchbacks always like autocross. VR6 models available in range. 1990-1999 Acura Integra – Like the Civic, very competitive with many upgrades out there.

There may be a few more cars that I missed that fall under this price range. The method I use to hunt for cars can vary depending on the type I am looking for. I will use local classified ads, Craigslist. I will also use the bigger car searches and expand my general “hunting” area. I have successfully found great cars using VEHIX, AutoTrader as well as Government Auction Sites.

But what about the autocross cars above the $5000 range? Well, I am glad you are think that because I am about to list them below.

If you have some money to work with and want to get something newer, you can consider the following cars:

The $5,001-$20,000 range:

This range can include newer cars as well as pre-owned cars that are no more than a few years old. Remember, cars usually depreciate very fast, so as the years go by, some of the newer cars can be within reach for less money and are great for autocross. The cars below come to mind in this range:

1998-Current Mazda MX-5 – Still same basic car, but more power as they got newer. 2003-Current VW Golf – Even more modified than the previous versions, compete well. 1992-1997 Mazda RX7 – 3rd Gen is twin-turbo and can compete in autocross. 1992-2006 BMW M3 – M3′s are designed for racing. Some newer models will fall in this range. 1998-2003 BMW M5 – M5′s are very powerful and compete in their class well. 1994-Current Ford Mustang/Cobra – Very versatile car. Competes well in class. 1994-2002 Camaro/Firebird – Competes well in class. Many autocross upgrades. 2007-Current Mazda Mazdaspeed3 – Turbo, hatchback, competes well in autocross. 2003-2008 Nissan 350z – Great autocross car, very popular on the track. Special Autocross Kit cars such as the V6 Stalker fall in this range as well.

Now, this price range can vary in vehicles. A lot of these cars are still new and may require loans to purchase them.

The $20,001 spectrum will consist of some of the current-day models as well as the obvious “super cars” we all respect such as the Corvette, Viper, Porsche, Ferrari, Lotus and others. I will not include a list for those because if you are buying one of those for an autocross car, you did your research.

OVERALL CONDITION OF THE VEHICLE (USED):

When buying a second car for autocross, treat it like when you are buying your daily driver car. You want the car to be relatively free of major problems. Autocross racing can put stress on the car’s frame, the suspension, the brakes, the tire and the overall body of the car.

You want to be sure that the car has not been in any major accidents. Frame repair or frame damage can be very dangerous mixture when you autocross. That is the MOST important thing to check for when buying a car for autocross. I have experienced and used the service by Experian called AutoCheck. They offer an unlimited number of VIN checks for one of their service options and the price is way better than the other services out there. I have used it when shopping and comes in very handy when you are checking the history of a vehicle.

The next important item to check on the car is major component problems such as smoke coming out of the back of the exhaust, major oil leaks (small leaks are expected on most used cars) slight/major overheating of the engine. Autocross is outside and you push the car to the limit. You want the major components to be in the best shape they can be. The mentioned problems can leave you stranded at the track if you do not look out for them.

I usually have some expectation to do minor repair or preventive repairs on my vehicles when I am buying to autocross them. As I stated above, small oil/fluid leaks are “OK” and can usually be fixed very easily. Small leaks tell us that the car is just used and may not be suffering from the leak as a result. Large/major leaks tell us the car may have been neglected by the previous owner and may carry residual problems unseen at the moment. When looking at a car, start it up, drive it around with the A/C engaged (even if it doesn’t work). When you are finished with the test drive, leave it idling while you walk around the car continuing to inspect it. If the car has an overheating problem, often this is the time it will show. This tip has helped me avoid several beautiful autocross cars that had an overheating problem.

Belts and hoses are my most frequent “preventive” repair I do, even if they are not a problem. It is always best to know when an important component has been replaced rather than to “guess” and trust the previous owner. Water pumps, too, fall in this category sometimes.

One thing people always check when buying a used car are the tires. Yes, this is important for an autocross car, but not to see how “good” the tires are, but to see if the car needs an alignment. Autocross is about handling and you need to be sure the car’s stock “handling” ability is where it should be.

Why not worry about the tires? Well, tires should be one thing to consider buying for your autocross car to begin with, so the existing tires should be removed anyway. Tires are probably the most bought wear item an autocross member will buy. A lot of autocross racers will bring a set of tires for racing, one for driving home (those who do not use a trailer) and some will even bring spares for the racing tires. This is so common that Tire Rack offers tires just for autocross. I have used them and they are the best place to get tires for this.

AFTERMARKET MODIFICATIONS FOR AUTOCROSS:

If you ever look into the aftermarket world of the auto industry, you know that there are literally thousands of places to look and buy. I will list a few spots that most people do not think to look, but surprisingly have things for the autocross fans.

First and foremost, autocross cars do NOT always need major upgrades to be competitive. A driver can use a stock vehicle and compete against fellow stock vehicles and remain competitive. Once you start to modify or upgrade heavily, you may start to move into different classes and compete with other cars that are equally modified. Keep that in mind when you want to change something.

Usually, I say modify the easy things first: Intake, exhaust and general tune ups. Most autocross drivers do not go far from that. These should be the first things you try to upgrade while you participate in autocross to get the most performance out of your vehicle.

If you decide to go further to be more competitive, my next recommendation would be suspension and body roll modifications. Please remember, certain upgrades in this area may change your class. Be sure to check your club or groups rules with these modifications.

Usually, the fastest upgrade to an autocross car would be front and rear strut tower bars/braces. They are usually inexpensive to buy and easy to install. They are also very modular meaning that when you buy these, they will work with other suspension components in place (usually). This modification helps stiffen the car’s suspension and frame and helps with cornering.

The next modification recommendation would then be the front and rear sway bars and links. These parts also help the body roll while cornering and handling and can sometimes be modular to the suspension system as a whole.

The final suspension upgrade is usually the most expensive: The struts (shocks/springs). This upgrade usually works well with the above items, but ads more stiffness, more response to the handling and sometimes lower the car overall for a lower center of gravity.

Once you have modified the entire suspension, my next recommendation would be to upgrade the brakes (at least the pads). This will help your stopping ability for those moments where a tap of the brake is needed during a lap. Please keep in mind that high performance brake pads usually wear much quicker than OEM.

One of the last things I recommend to upgrade is the tires. Now, I’m not saying that you should not FIRST buy new tires when you autocross, but I am saying not to UPGRADE them to an autocross/race tire just yet. Most autocross enthusiasts will tell you to get used to the stock/regular tires on your car first.

Once you get used to stock type tires, modifying them to a race tire or softer tire will actually improve your lap times (that’s the theory anyway).

One last note. I recommend replacing the fluids in your car with as many synthetics as you can. Synthetic fluids have higher heat resistance and can take the intense moments you will be putting on the car during the autocross laps.

Some of the places I have bought aftermarket modifications and upgrades are from the following: Tires- Tire Rack, General maintenance items/Oil/Filters/Performance, MyAutocross Store, Auto Warehouse

Model and make specific forums are also a great place to find parts for your specific car. Usually people on those forums are experts with that model and are constantly modifying it and selling the used items.

Now that I have provided this information, I hope it is useful to at least one person out there interested in autocross racing. I know when I started I had to learn my lessons the hard way and ended up buying cars that either were no good or were not “for” autocross. Please keep in mind that these opinions are based on my experience and knowledge. I am open to changing or adding items I may have missed. Please comment if you’d like.

Car Night Driving Tips (Tricks, Tips and Driving Guide for Beginners)

STAY CALM AND FEARLESS

Have a relaxed mindset, and never panic during your night driving. Being fearless and sticking onto the road rules would make you half a way through the journey. We have seen some new drivers, who panic in some situations causing them to applying break forcefully, shaking the gear leaver to know in which number of gear they are in or clicking the viper blades or indicators coming in action when they panic. Try not to be that, stay calm and do your actions.

Keep your windshield clean. Remove off the stains, dried drops, smudges, finger prints, dust and greasy matters to have a clear vision of the road in the night driving glare. First, lift the vipers from the bonnet using your hand and de-dust it, then pour a sufficient amount of water all over the windshield and allow draining. Now, use your viper gear to clean the windshield by squeezing the detergents stored under the hood. Following these steps will make you to avoid mild scratches on your wind glasses and have a clear vision on the road.

Applying the viper as such to clean the windshield may swipe up the dirt and mud particles accumulated around the blades and can cause permanent scratches on your windshield.

GLARY NIGHT VISION AT NIGHT DRIVING

Additional care should be paid for car driving, especially by the beginners to moderate skilled drivers during night times, than during the day. Driving the car at night times seems to be a scary part for many drivers due to the glary vision of the opposite vehicle that leads them blind for some microseconds when passing by. Keep in mind, glary visions are the main dangers of driving at night.

For this, avoid seeing the light beams of the opposite vehicle and concentrate on the road space required for the lively movement of your car during the exact crossing time of the opposite vehicle. While crossing, if you are not sure about the road, don’t apply, but be ready to pedal on the brake, particularly when you travel on the road where you handled some patches and damages already.

LOW/HIGH BEAM LEVER

Use your high and low beam indicator wisely. Use high beams at night driving only when you see no cars on the opposite side. Flipping from low to high beam for a while can actually help you in finding the pot holes, humps, broken ridges and the damaged roads even at long distance with a shadowed vision.

Pull down the high beam to low level to make your nearby road visible while you pass the opposite vehicle on the same road. This on the other hand, indicates the opposite vehicle driver to do the same, so that both the drivers may have a better vision in low beam (some drivers don’t obey this and no need to worry about it). If you head other vehicles coming opposite continuously, try to be in the low beam position. This will help the opposite driver to have his vision properly without your high beam.

KEEP YOUR VISION LONG

Keep your eye sights long to the end of the road covering almost all the area of your road. Try to understand this. When you drive in dark, try to keep your sight sticking to the regions as your car head lamps explore new areas of the roads. Actually, this will help us to have some time to react when we find some abnormalities on the roads like, humps, potholes, speed breakers and etc.

PARKING LIGHT FOR ROUGH ROADS

Roads are always associated with patches and damages contributing to small to large damages to the vehicle. In some bad cases, a neat, smooth road ends all of a sudden and continues to be a bad, damaged roads with pits and hard rocks. This is often faced during the night driving time causing the car more vulnerable to hurt, especially when you drive at a constant high speed. When you face such situation, slowing your car immediately may harm your car, as the vehicles following you don’t expect this from you. In such cases, switch your parking light in one hand and this can indicate the drivers coming behind you to control their speed without hitting your car’s back.

I have tried this many a time where I felt safe.

Especially, when you lead on a road followed by three or four vehicles behind you at constant speed wouldn’t expect you to stop or slowing suddenly for a bad scenario in the middle of the road unexpectedly. Sometimes running your car on the damages roads is better than getting hit by the rear following vehicles.

If you want to stop your car crisply in such cases, cut down your speed from 100 km/h till it reaches to 60-50km/h and release the brake and re-press the brake pedal hardly once again will make your car stop safely. Not to harm your co-passengers, give signal to your passengers on emergency braking.

SLEEPY DRIVERS

Sleepy drivers are really the dangerous giant in the roads of both day and night driving whom we need to get rid of. But more often, the vulnerability is higher at night times due to less traffic and perfect time to sleep, especially for those who are tired of driving from long distance. Even research has been done on this and found that tiresome drivers take micro sleep for 6 to 10 seconds without their knowledge.

Giving a short horn during overtakes, particularly for long vehicles like trucks, lorry, buses and etc., would add another layer of safety for you. Pressing the horn for twice would make the truck driver to have a notice on you and your activities.

OVERTAKE USING OTHER CAR WINDSHIELD

Sometimes we see groups of vehicles flocks together on overtaking heavy loaded or long vehicles. In such situations, based on the chance of crossing one another, you may have to remain in the flock by driving at slow speed for a while. Later the group gets disperse as vehicles move ahead overtaking one after another. In such cases, we might continue to stay in the same lane, while one or two other vehicles of same lane direction would move to the opposite lane to overtake. If you are among the one behind the vehicle travelling in the opposite lane, it is more responsible job for you to have your safety.

Sometimes the overtaking vehicle would come back into its own lane, while heading another vehicle on the opposite lane. Also, the overtaking driver may have time and space only for his vehicle to pass on, where you might end up in trouble following him on the opposite lane. This generally happens to many drivers when they lose their patience in staying in the flock of vehicles for some time. During overtakes, as you have a vehicle before you, try to see through his windshield to get an idea about the opposite lane vehicle. This can actually help you to have some extra time to decide to slow down or coming back to your lane again

SHORT HORN SOUNDS

Give short horns at regular intervals (pom pom pom) than pressing the horn to give a long press (poooooooom). This might sound funny, but it actually works. Especially, when we get in contact with other roads passing across or the road that connects to the highways. Giving such short horns would make the people to notice about your car coming being ready to cross the road.

Some roads are broad for long distance and later divides into two roads, while a short half a meter height divider separates two roads which has blurred marking or with no reflector stickers. This type of dividers is risky specifically when they start after coming down from a bridge. All kinds of such problems are not such a big problem in daylight, however, in the night driving, especially when we travel on the new roads, it is highly important. So beware of short divider.

TURNING ROADS AND BAD CURVES

Turning roads are actually a trap for us, it seems simpler than they actually appear. This is not about the hair-pin bending where we would not be at a pace of speed.
When you don’t get the vision of the bending road, for sure be alert and bring the speed down is on the safer side. Never misjudge the road curve for our safety measures. At times, some open land roads have some treats like, that we might not know whether the road bends to the right or left until you reach closure. Make sure you stick on to the lane and pull down the speed in such situation without being panic.

EMPTY WATER BOTTLE

Having juices and beverages on travel might add a great value for the journey, however small bottles of less than a litre may cause some trouble if it is on the floor unnoticed in dim light, as they may run in between the three pedals. But no need to remember a horror scene whenever you see a pet bottle in the car, rather just keep an eye on them when you are handling them.

BE A REAL HERO

When you feel sleepy, never hesitate to leave the driver’s seat for the sake prestige or fame. A real driver never takes chances in collapsing the whole happy journey or the fun of driving a car. Feeling tired and sleepy after a long continuous drive is actually a human nature and some of us really feel shame telling we feel sleepy and handing over the car to our spouse or friends. Most accidents happening at night time are higher due to lack of sleep of the drivers which is bad for us and others too.

Upgrade With an Android Navigation Head Unit – Say Goodbye to the Factory Car Stereo

Does your factory car stereo look plain and boring or maybe it lacks important features such as navigation? Outdated car stereos don’t serve much of a purpose. Most of them don’t have navigation systems and play only radio and CD music. Upgrade your factory car stereo with an Android aftermarket navigation head unit to experience the best of today’s technology.

Replace your outdated head unit for more high-tech functionality. Automotive navigation systems are an essential part of today’s modern vehicles but don’t worry, you don’t need to buy a brand new car for these commodities. The aftermarket offers a variety of multimedia Android head units, which are convenient devices and allow you to connect your Android phone to your dash and control some of the most important features. With an Android head unit, you can play music, use Google Maps navigation which is far more advanced than the basic BMW navigation, make calls and send messages.

Having an Android head unit has tons of advantages.

This is not just a typical car stereo, we are talking about a multi-functional device that will make your car rides pleasant and relaxing. Your Android phone is connected to the dash via USB which does not mirror every app you have on the device. Only the apps that are authorized by Google Play can be visible on your unit because of drivers’ safety regulations. You will be able to use Google Maps as a reliable navigation system as well as play music from your phone’s database.

The audio goes through the USB which does not damage the quality of sound like Bluetooth does. The second most important feature after navigation is the hands free phone calls. Making calls while driving is not recommended, unless you have an Android head unit which allows you to talk hands free. This is important for your safety as well as the safety of others on the road.

The downsides and how to deal with them

The aftermarket offers a variety of Android unit models with phone interface that is easy to navigate, even while driving. Replacing your factory car stereo might cause you to lose some of the factory features such as steering wheel audio control, satellite radio, Bluetooth integration systems and rear seat entertainment systems.

The key is to choose a compatible head unit off the aftermarket that will provide you with the features you want to keep. Depending on which feature you want to keep, you will need to get an appropriate adapter. We can take steering wheel audio controls as an example because it is one of the basic features that everyone wants to hold on to. In this case, look for a steering wheel audio control adapter and a navigation unit that is compatible with this adapter. In today’s aftermarket, you will find plenty of head units with the SWI (steering wheel input). It is important to look for this specific feature because otherwise your head unit might cost you a few commodities. Other than that, there is not a single reason you should not upgrade your vehicle with an aftermarket head unit.

It is certainly more affordable than buying brand new wheels and with the aftermarket you can get a high-tech Android head unit at a fair price and say goodbye to the old factory car stereo.