Category: Surfwrenchonomics

Gas V. Diesel: *Not* Truck Edition

There are hundreds of debates within the automotive world: foreign vs. domestic, manual vs. automatic, and so on. As far as trucks go, the gasoline vs. diesel debate has been going on since the beginning of time. Here in North America, the debate has been markedly one-sided, with gasoline holding sway.

In Europe, however, it is a different story. On a recent trip to the U.K. and Ireland, a family friend was able to sample some cars similar to the ones he could get here in the good ole US of A. In his mind though, the cars over there were significantly better. Most of the cars he rented whilst on holiday were manual transmission and diesel engine configurations, giving him loads of economy and control over every aspect of the car. We’re not going to go into the manual/automatic debate right now, but we do want to dive into the diesel/gasoline debate by comparing some cars that have the option for diesel and gasoline engines.

A Quick Note About Our Process

Please note, we started with the diesel options because honestly, they were way harder to find. We then piggybacked a gasoline model in a similar price range on the secondary market and took it for a test drive. The results were fascinating. The diesel engined vehicles were quite a bit more expensive (in most cases), however their fuel economy was noticeably better. Being that they were all turbo diesels, there really wasn’t any noticeable lack of power between the two, and in fact, the torque figures were often heavily sided towards the oil burners.

2009 BMW X5

Image via Wikimedia, By IFCAR, Public Domain
With any powertrain, the BMW X5 is hands down one of our favorite people movers. Its combination of roomy interior, sharp exterior, and sure footed AWD makes it a favorite of many Northeasterners. For the purposes of this head to head comparison, we are going to be looking at the 2009, E70 model.

The X5d, as it is known, is an absolute masterclass. Quiet, refined, extremely comfortable, and with enough torque to jumpstart a dying star — this twin turbo oil burner is exactly what we look for in a SUV. Despite weighing in at over 5,000 pounds, this panzer knocks down around 25 mpg when you’re not driving it like an ape. The resale value on these cars is nuts, and if you find one for under $10,000, there’s probably something quite wrong with it.

The X5 with a 3 liter, turbocharged gasoline powered engine is also pretty fantastic. It doesn’t have the astronomical torque of its diesel brethren, but it is still a very good SUV. They have similar get up and go despite being a few hundred pounds lighter (not that it matters in something that weighs 2 and a half tons). These are a lot cheaper on the secondary market, with some solid examples being found well below $10,000. The only word of warning we have is with the V8 models. We’re not saying that they are bad cars, were just saying they are a lot more expensive to keep on the road than their straight-6 counterparts.

2015 Chevy Cruze

rear view of black chevy cruze
Image via Wikimedia, By Bull-Doser, Public Domain
This one was hard to find. When doing the due diligence for this article, we looked for literally anything that wasn’t a Volkswagen because the TDI such a staple of the diesel community. We wanted to go out of our way to get into one of these. Turns out all I had to do was walk down the street for a test drive because my neighbor has one. In all honesty, I never knew it was a diesel. It looks like a normal Cruze, it sounds pretty much like a normal Cruze. Either way, this car is thoroughly out of place here in the states. With its manual transmission and torquey inline 4 diesel, this configuration is basically seen as witchcraft here, but is commonplace across the pond. Finding a gasoline Cruze with a manual transmission for posterity’s sake in this review was actually harder than finding the diesel.

The weird part here is the branding. The diesel Cruze is billed as an upscale version of the normal one. For the most part, I totally agree with that, they’re a lot less common, the interior was nicely appointed and laid out, and the power was noticeably more present over the gas powered one. The diesel is a smart little car. It easily goes toe to toe with its TDI counterparts. It appears that the engineers over at GM have come a long way since their last attempt at a mainstream diesel sedan, by turning a 350ci V8 into an oil burner with absolutely horrendous results.

The normal, plain jane gasoline powered Cruze is not one of our favorites. Its competent, and significantly better than the Cobalt that it replaced, but it lacks the endless “chuckability” of the Sunfire or Cavalier. It’s a bigger small car. The biggest thing that you notice though after driving the diesel is how the gas version has much less torque it has than just about everything else in the segment. After driving the diesel, it really felt anemic, and while the manual transmission makes up for a bit of that, the powerband is still quite narrow and in desperate need of an iron lung of some sort. Compared to something like the Fiesta, it didn’t feel as solid.

2014 Volkswagen Beetle

With Dieselgate still a bit of a meme in the automotive community, I’m sure everyone was wondering when a Volkswagen would make it into the mix. This puts me into a weird position though, because even after Dieselgate, I like Volkswagen TDI’s. They really do get great gas mileage and perform well under just about any conditions you can throw at them. When I studied economics at Brockport the one thing I noticed was that about 90% of my professors in the subject drove Volkswagen TDI’s. These are people who are cheap for a living, and they all had one thing in common: TDI Passats and Jettas.

When this redesign came out, we all had different feelings on it. However, to this day the best line I’ve ever heard about it was that it, “looks more Ferdinand Porsche and less Hitler”. If that doesn’t sum it up, I don’t know what will. I like the redesigned bug. I think it’s sharp with bits of 911, Scirocco, and Cayman in the design. As for the ride, it’s classic Volkswagen TDI — 4 cylinders, 2 liters, a turbo, and a manual transmission. With 246 ft pounds of solid low down torque in a ton and a half package, you can find these on the secondary market in the $12-15k region. Oh and it gets in the mid 40s for mpg.

For the gas powered one, we picked a price competitive gasoline model. This one was a lot better appointed, with nav, heated seats, and all of the accoutrements that you would expect in a mid level BMW 5 Series. This model was the 1.8 liter turbocharged model, and where the apparent diesel dominance of this article starts to go away.

Considering that the entire drivetrain in this car is basically the one that you find in a Golf GTI, it wins. It’s about 200 pounds lighter than the diesel model, and in something that weighs only about a ton and a half, you really notice it. The GTI is a masterclass in fun, small car building, and the Beetle picks up the mantle magnificently. It’s a little bit less functional than a 4 door GTI, but it’s just as much fun, and sometimes that’s all it needs to be. The gas mileage is significantly poorer than its TDI counterpart, but in all honesty, no one buys a little VW for the fuel economy. You buy it for the fun.

2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee

beige jeep grand cherokee
Image via Wikimedia, Courtesy of M 93, CC BY-SA 3.0
This was easily the hardest car to find on this list — and after driving it, it was readily apparent. I actually had to call up a rental car service to rent it for a few days to get my hands on one. When this car was new, it cost right around 60k. Now this isn’t horrible in the luxury SUV market, but when you consider that the eco-diesel option accounted for $5,000 of that sticker price, you really start to wonder. Considering that the Dodge Ram Ecodiesel is basically the same vehicle underneath, I thought about cheating. Then I remembered that the Grand Cherokee isn’t body on frame and had to go the long way.

Right away the thing you notice is the mountain of torque. With 420 foot pounds of it, it’s hard to ignore. Paired with its 8 speed gearbox, it stays on the power quite well, and when it settles down into a cruise it knocks down 28 or so mpg. Considering this car isn’t mine or owned by a private seller, I took it offroad and found the terrain response system quite intuitive and fairly sure footed. But let’s be real, not a lot of people are going to ever take this through anything other than a snowbank. I like the interior quite a bit as well. They have truly come a long way since their heyday of the late 90s and early 2000s where literally everyone in my neighborhood had one and it was nowhere near as nice to ride in as my mom’s Navigator. That comparison actually works a lot better than I would like to admit. It feels like the Navigator, with everything being wood, leather, and very spacious. As for finding a used one — good luck.

The gasoline powered ones are much more abundant, considering they sold 212,000 or so of them in the 2016 model year. We tested the 5.7 liter Hemi powered one against our diesel competitor. Right away the thing you notice is the noise. The Hemi does make a lovely burble at idle and when you get on it it roars with the ferocity of your budget absolutely exploding. It’s so much more a traditional luxury SUV, with abysmal city gas mileage, but ample comfort and charm. If 5.7 liters isn’t enough, you could pick up the 6.4 liter SRT model that is way more fun. Either way, they’re both easier to find than the Ecodiesel. Also, if the trend of this article is the same, they should be cheaper. And how can you not like a 6.4 liter SUV that can go anywhere and do just about anything.

2011 Mercedes Benz E350 Blutec

Image via Wikimedia, by OSX, Public Domain
The Mercedes Blutec brand is…interesting. Going back, diesel Mercedes have been known to do half a million miles or more really without too much thought going into it. The 300d and 240d are still a staple of hipsters, hippies, and diehard Benz fans the world over. That is a big part of their charm- you can hit them with a panzerfaust and they really dont give a shit. These new ones though- I don’t know. They’re a bit too sterile, a bit too precise, a bit too boring. It’s like an accountant, it does its job, it goes home, and it never really makes a fuss. It’s technically a sports sedan, but we can’t really get behind that. The 400 ft/lbs of torque is omnipresent with its 7 speed gearbox, but the 210 hp really stunts the top end. That and the 2011 was RWD only, with the AWD being reserved for the gasoline models.

If there is one place where the E350 Blutec shines, it’s in range. With its massive fuel tank and ability to comfortably average 33 mpg on the highway, this thing has some range. It is also very comfortable and well appointed. The only wrench in the cog is the piece of meat driving it — it’s tank is bigger than yours. While it’s not the sensory orgy of its AMG brethren, or even as fun as a gasoline E-class, or as good looking as the coupe version, the E350 Blutec is a very comfortable, very competent, long range bomber, much like the B-17. There’s something weird about these though. They do not hold their value like just about every other diesel on this list. You can pick them up, in decent condition, in the 10k range. However, there is one major caveat. This is easily the least reliable diesel on this list. The list of complaints that Surfwrench Technicians had on this engine was as long as the barge that spawned them. So needless to say, buyer beware.

The gas powered E350 is a pretty middle of the road, mid-sized executive class German barge. This was the hardest to tell apart from the diesel model as Mercedes Benz has refined their E class to the point where you could put a nuclear power plant under the hood and it would probably be hard to notice. Unless you’re rocking the AMG, they’re all pretty good. We argue that the AMG soundtrack and torque takes a competent car and makes it spectacular. Again, if i had to have one, it would be the coupe.

The General Motors Hunger Games

Hindsight is a funny thing. With hindsight we gain a forced perspective of all of our actions through the clearest looking glass of them all: time itself. This becomes especially potent when it comes to business decisions, as profit and loss and all of the other financial indicators will tell you exactly where you messed up. Literally, business schools are churning out thousands of cheap suit wearing peons who will tell you exactly where you messed up. Realistically, the bigger the company, the more eyes are on you, especially in times of upheaval.

10 Years Ago, the Games Began

In 2008, General Motors put all of their American Brands through the business equivalent of the Hunger Games, killing off the likes of Saturns, Hummer, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Saab — while maintaining GMC, Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac. At the time this was seen as necessary cost saving measures and was used to propel the stricken company through the sales doldrums that were the late 00’s. With 10 years of hindsight though we are here to ask, did they kill the right brands? We weren’t sure, so we talked to a whole bunch of GM consumers, employees, mechanics, and dealers — and their answers might surprise you.

First we are going to look at the American brands — specifically based on the year 2000 — and their position within GM itself. How did they overlap with other brands in the company? Which makes had the best brand loyalty, and could that loyalty be turned with another brands nearly identical product? Where should have these companies positioned themselves within the greater marketplace in order to create a more monolithic car company? More importantly, did the short term survival decisions of GM potentially limit their overall reach in the future?

Continue reading “The General Motors Hunger Games”

Saturn: That Awkward Moment When GM Started a Japanese Car Company

Saturn: America's Japanese Car Company

Starting a company isn’t easy. Trust us — we’ve been there. Starting a car company — well that’s damn near impossible. The amount of capital, both human and physical, that is required is absolutely daunting. Since about the midpoint in the past century, few upstarts have been able to cope with the stringent regulations and vicious marketplace that is the automotive industry. This is why the seeming ethereal emergence of the Saturn company is so impressive, and why it caused more cocked eyebrows than Leo DiCaprio’s performance in Django Unchained.

In this article, we are going to be looking at one of the most fascinating companies to ever grace the automotive stage. A company that didn’t make the most innovative or even interesting cars, but a company that was built from the ground up to be new, innovative, and inherently competitive — and how it all went terribly wrong. Continue reading “Saturn: That Awkward Moment When GM Started a Japanese Car Company”

Sending Your Kid Off to College?

Our App Gets Them There & Back Again

So, your child is going to college.

This often conjures up images of loading up the family car, and slowly unloading it in a non-parking spot on a warm early fall day in a small town that you have never even heard of. However, there are different options. More kids have their own cars these days, so they now have the option of bringing themselves. We just made a guide for students on weather or not to bring your car to campus, so now we’re going to tackle the other side of the equation.

Should you encourage your child to bring their car to campus? The short answer is yes, however there is a lot of uncertainty. Oftentimes, the car that your child uses is an older, higher mileage age vehicle. Oftentimes this means that it is less than reliable. Luckily for you, there is a new solution. Even if you are dropping your child in a strange land, there is a service that can get them home in one piece.

Surfwrench is a new crowdsourcing application that allows people to post their car, their car problems, and have local, independent technicians and auto repair shops bid on their work. They choose based on price, availability, and previous feedback- so they are always getting the most trustworthy technicians at the best price. This allows young people, especially broke college students to get to where they need to go with less drama, less hassle, less stress, and by paying less money. This service was built by college students, for college students- because we know that you need to get where you’re going and don’t necessarily want to spend all day on the phone figuring out how.

So…does your kid really need a car?handing over the keys

Do they need it? Are they going to be safe with it? Is it going to be wrecked? Is it going to be more trouble than it’s worth? These are all some of the common questions that the parents of incoming students have had. Once again, the answers are as diverse as the students.

Does your student need their car on campus? The most basic answer to this question is probably not. Odds are they can get around fairly well, and most colleges are extremely accommodating with their public transport. However, if you want them to be able to do thing on their own terms, a parking pass is a good back to school gift. One of our marketing operators had an interesting solution. “That is what my aunt did for my cousin every semester. He would buy books with his part time job savings, and my aunt would front a parking pass.”

Is your child going to be safe with a vehicle on campus? This depends entirely upon how they were with it while they were in high school. If they were reckless and foolish with a car while you had your eye on them, why would they act any differently when there is is less personal surveillance, and way harsher legal ramifications? Seriously, University Police and small town cops make their living off of careless college students. Conversely, if they are responsible drivers, this will allow them to go on great adventures and give you great stories for the Thanksgiving and Christmas family get togethers.

Is your child’s car going to get wrecked if they are driving it around campus? Yes. In our experience, a lot of the people on a college campus are in a major hurry. When you are in a major hurry in confined spaces, you’re going to run into stuff.

As our Marketing Director put it, “every single car that I had in college had dents from being backed into, bumped into, door dings, spray from plows, and a myriad of other body damage. But, that’s ok in my case, because I didn’t care. I never paid more than $1000 for any car that I had in college, so it was all good.” However, if you plan on sending them with something nice and newer, you might want to make sure that they’re not duking it out over on street parking — fork over a little cash for a parking pass.

Is having a car on a college campus more trouble than it’s worth? This is something that parking services will tell you is gospel, but don’t act so quickly. Having a car on campus is having the ability to have adventure at your right foot. It is also the ability to get home on your own terms. For many parents, this isn’t the first thing that they think of, but it is important. Having a car on campus for some students is a silent reminder that despite being quasi on their own, they still have the ability to return to something they find familiar. It also gives them the ability to do the right thing in being a designated driver, or visit friends and family not near enough to walk. Overall, despite the cost, most people that we have talked to who have brought their cars on campus have found that the benefits far outweigh the cost.

So overall, we feel that you should encourage your son or daughter to bring their car on campus. It will open many doors of friendship, employment, and adventure: which is what college is all about. Moreover, if your worried about them having problems with their car, there is now a simple and cost effective solution — your friends at Surfwrench. We keep college students on the road to success, and keep more of their precious few dollars in their pockets.

Back to School, Get Your Ride Ready

Count on Surfwrench for Your Car Repair Needs

Around this time every year there is an audible buzz around some of the small towns of Upstate New York. Towns that have been lying dormant since the end of spring suddenly burst forth with a nervous energy that starts with a whisper, but soon grows into a familiar chant, “the college kids are coming back.” These tiny towns: Brockport, Fredonia, Geneseo, Oswego and many others have their entire calendars punctuated by the arrival and departure of several thousand young, semi-nomadic minds. Minds that come to their towns to better themselves, spend their money, and embark on lifelong friendships and adventures that will be remembered for a lifetime.

Rest assured, this is still a car blog — just wanted to let you know how people feel. Most “townies” as we call them, genuinely don’t like the college students. They prefer the peace and solace of the town during its hibernation. However, businesses and service providers who make a living off of helping these young people on their journeys love the college students. They love the fact they are there en masse, they love the fact that they have to spend money, and they love the fact that repeat business is often in a 4 year cycle. We fall into the latter camp.

How Can We Help?

You see, when it comes right down to it, college students typically don’t have a lot of money for nice new cars that are still under warranty. That means when they break, they are going to want them fixed with the smallest budgets humanly possible. Luckily for them, we are really good at that. Our system lets people post their cars, what problems they’re having, and allows independent shops and technicians to bid on their jobs in order to give our customers the best prices, choices, and overall customer experience. They then provide feedback on their shops and technicians so other customers know if they are going to get good service.

Our technicians often have kids, family or friends that are or were until recently, broke ass college students. Our system allows them to give them a break where possible, which is a lot of the time. We had a recent grad tell us about a Surfwrench Technician that waived all but $50 of a labor bill that, at a shop, was quoted at $2500. We have had examples of students designing new signage and business cards for our Surfwrench technicians in exchange for repairs. Rest assured, this is the sharing economy pumped full of amphetamines. However, one of the major questions that students still have is, “should I bring my car to campus?” And the answers are as varied and situational as the people who walk the halls of these institutions.

Slumming it in the Res Halls

Should you bring a car to school if you live on campus? Well that depends entirely your school. Some campuses have ample access to public transport and specialized student transport that will allow you to get around pretty much wherever you need to go, whenever you need to get there. Additionally, parking passes can be more expensive than books (pending you don’t buy used through Amazon, in which case Surfwrench really isn’t for you).

Other campuses, it’s a four mile hike, uphill both ways through the frozen tundra.

Your Friends Off-Campus are Your Best Friends

girls lounging with laptops
We wish our dorms were this cool…

Many campuses don’t let freshmen bring cars to campus for simple numbers reasons, but let’s be real, that makes them more likely to bring one.

However, if you have friends off campus more than likely they are going to have some sort of parking available to stash your car. This is a go-to for many freshmen and on-campus students who don’t want to pay the extortion that is a parking pass, for what is sometimes only a few week stay. However, it is prudent to make sure that the alarm doesn’t randomly go off at 3 AM, while they are letting you park for free.

Despite being in a self-enclosed ecosystem, realistically you’re going to have to go off campus once in awhile. Social life, shopping, and skipping school are all completely valid reasons for bringing a car. Realistically, it’s only going to take you a few weeks to get cabin fever and need to get off campus to go exploring. Yes, a lot of student governments do a good job of getting you out and about to events, but let’s be real — the world is more interesting when you’re off the beaten path. Ask anyone who has been there.

Plus having a car in a dorm really helps build camaraderie. It means that you escape the surly bonds of campus and go on better adventures with your friends. Let’s be real, riding a bus with 15 Wegmans bags isn’t anyone’s idea of a fun afternoon. However, piling 4 of your friends into your beater, blaring some of your favorite music, and buying everything except the paper towels that you needed isn’t just practical — it turns something mundane into an adventure. That’s really the whole point of college isn’t it? Taking learning, which you’ve been doing for the better part of 15 years, and making it more interesting.

Off Campus (Non-Commuter)

Old BMW 5 Series
This is actually 100x cooler than 99% of cars we’ve seen on college lots….

These are the people who we really identify with. They are a bit older and a bit wiser than their underclassmen comrades. Often times, they are driven off campus by the absolutely insane price of housing and have sought refuge in the lower-end apartments of their given municipality with a small squad of their closest friends. For most of our team, this is the part where college went from routine to insane overnight.

Because you don’t have so many people watching over your every move, your moves are more at your own pace. This is the part of life where you find out exactly who people really are. This is also the part of college where you need your own transport the most. Because you’re no longer functioning on anyone else’s schedule, your logistics need to be able to reflect that.

Oftentimes by this point in a person’s college career, they have external pull factors as well. Part time jobs require a way to get to them, and most internships are off campus as well. This means that your vehicle has to work on someone else’s timeline, so needless to say, it has to work. We sympathise with these users the most because it’s where a lot of our marketing team was not so long ago. With the way that we use interns as well, it is a constant reminder of the uncertainty of life at this point in a person’s college career. While a lot of your friends are starting to become flakes, we know that you have one friend that has to work and has to get you where you’re going: your aging, brittle car.

You want to make a good impression at your jobs and internships. Showing up late because your car didn’t start isn’t a good way to do that. Ask anyone who works for us, if they miss a meeting because of car problems — we fix their car for them free of charge, but we rip on them the entire time that we’re under the hood. We do this all in good fun, but simple problems can cause massive headaches if left untreated.


You really, really need your car. Commuter students are our bread and butter. While public transit is a completely legitimate option for many, for some its really just easier to use their car. This is especially true in the SUNY system, with the notable exceptions of the downtown campuses. However, many schools offer only limited classes at their metro centers, and it falls to the main campus to pick up the slack.

We love the practicality of commuter students. This is a waste-not, want-not way of operating that we have embraced as well (we still work in a garage for f**k’s sake). The only downside of this is, while if you’re off campus on your own, the fun can come to you. If you live with your parents it’s quite hard to throw a raging toga party, unless of course you have REALLY cool parents.

So yes, you should bring your car to campus:

Whether you live on campus, in student housing off campus, or you’re commuting – – a car is a useful tool. It can get you to class, get you around your small college town when the public transit isn’t as good as it could be, or all of the extemporaneous adventures along the way. While they are fun, we know that car problems in college are very stressful. Luckily, we are here to help. We built a site specifically for college students to be able to keep their cars on the road and get where they’re going.