First of all, the “poor” in the title indicates that I do not own any vehicle, and my family change a car every 15 years, mostly not even a new one. Therefore, beside few occasions to drive or ride on a friend’s car, I have almost no opportunity to test cars in person. My main information sources to cars are internet and magazines. Sometimes I visit car mechanics and other related vendors to get some first hand comments.
So how do I start to like cars? When I was little, my mom taught me to recognize different cars when we drove on highways just to keep me from feeling bored and crying on the long journey. My parents then found that I was surprisingly interested in memorizing different cars, so my father tried to teach me more. We have subscribed a magazine for more than 20 years, and that is my learning material. Through the years, I know more, and always try to learn more.
Given the relatively scarce access, how can I get to know cars? I do not dare to say I am knowledgeable, but I am certainly more than passionate to all car things. Here are some methods of mine to learn about cars:
This is the most basic method for all up-to-date researches. Normally I check about three websites on a daily basis. For some larger incidents, Google is always good at gaining more insights. The news can be a direction into certain topics. If I see something new or strange, I will search for more details and try to realize it.
- Specification table from magazines
I check the table quite often, and I sometimes gain interesting facts from it. For example, given a similar engine layout, the one from BMW tends to have more power, and the Mercedes one tends to have more torque e.g. F30 328i vs W205 C250. Also, if two models share a same wheelbase number, then they probably share a some chassis structure. However, a platform can actually be flexible in wheelbase. For instance, Audi A6 allroad has a shorter wheelbase than a normal Avant version, same case for Subaru Outback and Legacy. Under the trend of module platform, though, design is much more flexible in all dimensions.
- German Wikipedia
This is mainly for German cars, which are my favorite. Editors of German Wiki just seem to be relentless in updating the specifications and providing as many details as possible. The German entries for engines are also more than other languages.
- Photo comparison
Let me ask a question: How do you tell the interior of Mercedes-Benz C-Class from GLC-Class at first glance? The answer is: the glove box shape! This is what I do whenever I find something too similar. Also, this would help to recognize cars on the road.
- Official websites
Although official websites will not say anything negative about their cars, they provide the most accurate model lineup and configuration. By visiting the websites of a brand in different countries, one can also find out how car makers cater to local needs. What I love the best about official sites is the images download. This is a great joy to me!
- Annual reports from car makers
I do so annually, of course. Annual reports provide sales figures and financial data as well as the firm structure and marketing strategies. The numbers offer something that is not so intuitive but interesting. For instance, though BMW AG had more unit sold than Daimler AG in passenger car in 2017, Daimler AG earned more revenue. Part of the reason to this was that S-Class and E-Class were sold more than 7-Series and 5-Series and thus the ASP of Daimler AG was higher. Another interesting fact is that 3-Series still outperformed though W205 C-Class has been a hit since its debut.
Thanks to technology progression, more high-quality videos about cars are now available for free than ever before. These videos include animations of mechanical operation of power parts, acceleration recordings, and test drive reviews. I can now see something “dynamic” rather than images and text. Although some comments might be biased and the video could actually be deceptive, the Youtube still provides considerable useful info.
- Car mechanics
Visiting the mechanic factory with my father is a joy to me. In the factory, the engine and even the body are sometimes dismantled, and that allows me to see the inside parts e.g. cylinder block, crankshaft, supercharger cooler. I would then ask the mechanic for something I do not know. The comments (and complaints) from him is sometimes insightful (and hilarious). His experiences on repairing different models are the most valuable part.
- Auto show
This is the only chance for me to get in touch with those expensive cars. In my last visit to IAA, I waited in line for more than 10 minutes just to get inside the backseat of Mercedes-Maybach S600. However, the dealers in Taiwan are not that generous in the auto show. They would lock all expensive models, and open them only for some “potential buyers”.
These are the normal ways for me to get in touch with cars. However, I did once get an “abnormal” access to luxury cars. That was an interesting internship experience in an German subsidiary in Taiwan. Although I encountered many strange problems during that time, I still miss the time when those cars were accessible to me!