Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vending Machine Cheaper Than Grocery Store

I noticed today that the Jack Link's Beef Steak Nuggets in the vending machine at work are actually cheaper per ounce than the full sized bag from the grocery store. I paid $1.66/ounce for the large bag and the 1 ounce bag in the vending machine is only $1.50 ($1.50/ounce). This is remarkable because most of the items in this vending machine are significantly more expensive than they would be from a grocery store.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

DIY Turbo Intercooler Water Spray System

The idea behind the project is to reduce some of the heat soak on the SAAB 9-5. I think every 9-5 owner in a warm climate has exited the highway in the heat of summer and found the car lacked power once they tried to enter street traffic. It's especially scary when making a left turn and finding the car will barely move. This is a simple and cheap project that only takes an evening to install and can hopefully reduce or eliminate the heat soak symptoms for many of the 9-5 owners out there.

To be clear, the better solution is to replace the stock intercooler (located behind the radiator) with either a drop-in performance model or a custom FMIC (front mount intercooler). I understand that both options are expensive and could be mechanically difficult  for some people, so I looked into this easy and low-cost water spray system.

The cost of this intercooler water spray system is about $50.

You will need:
Trico Products 11-102 Windshield Washer Pump
ScanTech Windshield Washer Check Valve
Toro Blue Stripe Drip Fogger, 3.0 GPH Model # 53651
Toro Blue Stripe Drip Starter Kit Model # 53724
Cable Ties

You'll have a lot of options on this project. Feel free to experiment with other parts and see if you can improve on this basic design. Leave a comment on this post if you discover something that might help others.


You can purchase all of the Toro "Blue Stripe" parts separate, but I found it costs less to just get the "starter kit" and the fogger heads. If you don't get the starter kit you will need some blue stripe tubing (maybe 10 feet worth), four "Blue Stripe" fogger heads, and five of the "Blue Stripe" T-connectors. The heads that come with the starter kit will not work in this project because they are designed to drip and not spray.


The washer kit listed gets you all the parts you need on that end of the system. You could pick up used parts and save some money. You'll need the water reservoir, a pump (able to create 10-30psi), a switch, related wiring, and some extra tubing if you decide to buy the parts separate.


These instructions are for a four spray-head system. It could be adapted to a two head system that only shoots water on the lower part of the radiator and intercooler. This could be a good option if you have trouble getting to the area behind the front grill of the car. I don't have first hand experience with the 2003 and newer 9-5s, but they look like a pain when it comes to grill removal. On the '99-02, you can just pop the entire grill off with a little pressure.

Instead of the momentary switch that comes with the washer kit, you could use a mercury switch attached to the accelerator pedal or a Hobbs-type pressure switch that will automatically activate the spray at a specific turbo pressure. One issue I can see with more automated switching systems is the amount of water in the reservoir. I get about 1 minute worth of spray per 2-quart tank. You'd quickly run out of water if you weren't careful.

The Instructions:

Lift and prop the hood

Detach the battery during installation. We're working with electricity and water here.

Remove the front grill or whatever it takes to get get access to the area in front of the radiator.

Roughly measure the length of tubing needed to go across the front of the radiator, down both sides to the lower part of the system and across again. For me, I cut two 1'6" lengths of tube and two 1' lengths of tube. This left me with plenty to trim for an exact fit later.

Cut four tiny 1.5" lengths of tubes. These will connect the fogger heads to the T-connectors.

Gather the four fogger heads, five T-connectors, the check valve, and some zip-ties

The check valve works as show below. Be careful that you have the flow going the correct way or the water won't move when you press the button.



What you're going for is something similar to the above. The tubing is in tan, the foggers are "O", the T-connectors are "T" and the check valve is the "L" shape.

Start at one fogger, attach the tubing and zip-tie it to the car, then work around to the next fogger. I tried to do all the plumbing and then install, but I had to trim just about every piece of tube once I got it behind the grill. So I recommend building it in place and only trimming the tubes once.


I placed the top two sprayers beside the horns, using the horn brackets to hold the sprayers in place.


The bottom two sprayers I attached to the lower grill area.

Once all four foggers are in place and connected to each other, you can roughly aim the heads where you want the water mist to hit. You then fine tune the aim once everything is up and running.

Follow the instructions that come with the washer kit on how to plumb the reservoir to the motor and connect the wiring.

Now is a good time to install the switch. The location and whatnot are up to you, obviously.

There is a nice space for the water tank between the battery and the headlamp. Use your favorite method to secure the tank into place.


Run a length of tube from the check valve to the washer motor and then fill up the reservoir with water. The system should be complete. I found that I had to run the washer pump motor longer than I expected the first time to get water flowing into the system, but the check valve will keep the water in the tubes once it's there so you won't have to prime again.

You should see something like this:

The videos doesn't do justice to the amount of water being sprayed. It's a very fine mist, so you're only seeing the largest drops in the video. I plan on putting butcher paper on the radiator and recording the spray again so you can see where all the water is going. It sprays at about 2-quarts per minute.

Fine tune the direction the water sprays and check for leaks. I had to zip-tie the tubing where it attaches to the pump because it shot off from the pressure the second day I tried it.

I haven't used the probe thermometer to check for exact changes in temperature, but I can get the radiator water temperature gauge down to what should be about 195 degrees* with the spray system (9 o'clock on the gauge), this at highway speeds on a 100+ degree day. It'll take a real thermometer to find out what is truly going on, but the basics are there.

*I had the dealer change the sensitivity on my stock water temp gauge with the use of a Tech II a few years ago so there should be little to no dead spot in the gauge reading. Still not ideal for real data, but gives a rough estimate about changes in temperature.

Special thanks to a certain SAABCentral member that helped me with this project, but wishes to remain anonymous.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Intercooler/Radiator Water Spray Experiment

I've just installed a turbo intercooler / radiator water spray system on my SAAB 9-5. I want to see if it reduces the heat soak that the 9-5s suffer from in hot weather and after a spirited drive (sometimes even when the weather isn't that hot). I think every 9-5 owner has at least once tried to make a left turn and found that the car suddenly had a total lack of power. I hope to correct that issue cheaply with the water spray.

The setup cost me $45 and took one evening to install. I want to test it out before I post a detailed how-to, but I thought I would show a couple of videos as a teaser.

There are many people online that said they've cured the heat soak by upgrading the intercooler, either with a larger one in the OEM space behind the radiator or a smaller FMIC behind the lower grill of the bumper. This would be the ideal solution if you are having real trouble with heat soak, but it's expensive and takes mechanical knowledge many people do not have. I hope after I test this system to have a simple and cheap way of combating the heat soak in the SAAB 9-5 specifically for people not looking to drastically modify their car.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Voluntary Price Discrimination of Batteries

Time for another "voluntary price discrimination" post. I feel like I should be posting on really hard hitting economic topics, but I keep running into these crazy pricing situations and I can't help but share them.

Target sells single packs of  the "2032" size Energizer brand button batteries for $4.99 on the battery aisle. They sell double packs  of the same Energizer batteries at the camera kiosk for $5.99.

How many people must run to the battery aisle and grab a couple of the single packs with no suspicion that a cheaper alternative is two aisles away? If I had to guess (just my speculation), the $5.99 two packs are at the camera kiosk to reward people that could be spending a lot of money on new electronic devices and the more expensive single packs are for the people just buying replacement batteries on a device they already own.

It almost worked, they almost got me. I was about to voluntary give Target an extra $4. I first went to the battery aisle and grabbed two single battery packages (~$10). Something told me to look closer. I made my way past the cameras and there it was, two for ~$6. I needed to buy two of these batteries for a little digital scale anyway, so the choice was easy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Movie "Home Alone" and Pizza Prices, 20 Years Later

I watched Home Alone this past week and noticed something that I think is interesting. Pizza prices have gone down over the past 20 years.

In the movie the family has ten pizzas delivered and the total is $122.50. It's noted that it breaks down to "ten pizzas times twelve bucks" in the dialog. Later in the movie we are told the cost of a pizza again. Kevin orders "a whole cheese pizza" just for himself and the delivery guys says it costs $11.80.

Today I can buy large pizzas and have them delivered for $10 each, plus a $2 delivery charge. When you look at the prices with the CPI Inflation Calculator you can see that $11.80 in 1990 (the year Home Alone came out) has the same buying power as $19.70 today (2010).

-P. Econmancer

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Paying Almost Double for Pre-Sharpened Pencils

A 12 pack of unsharpened Ticonderoga pencils in a cardboard box - $2.14 ($.18 per pencil)

An 18 pack of pre-sharpened Ticonderoga pencils in a plastic package- $5.99 ($.33 per pencil)

You are spending $.15 -per pencil- to have someone sharpen it for you. The 18 pack should cost closer to $3.24. That's a $2.75 premium for pre-sharpening.

I moved the two boxes next to each other to take this photo. They are actually placed on different levels of the aisle so a side-by-side comparison can't be made immediately. It took me some time to believe that these could be the same pencils, but the exact same words appear on both packages (just in different locations).

-P. Econmancer

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ford Motorcraft Shrinks Oil Filter Size

This is really disappointing. I just got done changing my oil and I've had an unpleasant surprise. At some point between oil changes the FL400-S oil filter by Motorcraft has been reduced in size. I'd say there is about 3/4 of an inch less filter material than previously. That's a big reduction in surface area inside the filter.

My car is turbocharged and these engines have a tendency to get oil sludge. I want as much protection as I can get so I use the FL400-S size filter. I've sent my concerns to Ford and will update with any information they care to provide about this.

I'm assuming it was done to keep the price from going up, but I personally don't buy Motorcraft brand filters to save money and I'd bet there many who are with me on this. It's one of those things I'd rather pay more for and get the best I can instead of having the potential for increased engine wear so I can save a few cents.

So for anyone who has been using the Motorcraft FL400-S filter on their car, take a ruler along with you next time you're in the oil aisle and be sure you're getting the most filter for your car by checking out the other brands available. I'll size these up as I have time and post my results.

Alternatives filter brands to check out-
Fram (xx)3600
STP S3600
Bosch 3422
Mobile M1-209
K&N HP 2009

-P. Econmancer

Monday, May 17, 2010

Organic Beef Jerky

Organic beef jerky. Maybe I just don't appreciate this niche market, but is there really that much demand from beef jerky consumers for an organic alternative to beef jerky?

You could argue that it's gluten-free, but so are an number of the (Cheaper!) Oberto brand beef jerky flavors. I guess it's for if you are really worried about the hormones and antibiotics they typically put in cows? I'd think if you're the kind of person who worries about that, you'd probably also have issues with some of the features of beef jerky this organic alternative doesn't address- the sodium level is an example that come to mind. Personally, I love beef jerky but I'll stick to the non-organic brands.

-P. Econmancer

From Amazon:

Golden Valley Natural Organic Beef Jerky

Monday, May 3, 2010

Price Discrimination and Self-Incrimination

I just got done reading The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford. It was an enjoyable book and I wanted to post about the part I found to be the most interesting- price discrimination by businesses and self-incrimination by consumers.

Harford explains that there are people that, for countless reasons, are willing to pay more than the general population for goods and services. He then shows three ways stores encourage certain customers to pay more for the products they buy; Unique Targeting, Group Targeting, and Self-Incrimination.

I admire the Self-Incrimination method the most and I've searched out local examples since reading this book. Price discrimination is everywhere and you can save money by looking out for it. I have, as an example, included two photographs of food taken at Target. Target has ramen noodles in two spots inside the store. On the pasta aisle you can purchase one brand of ramen noodles for a little over $.10.

On the Asian food aisle (only one aisle over from pasta) you will find a different brand of ramen noodles for $.70 per package.

I see two things happening here, Target gets people that don't take time to search for the cheaper noodles elsewhere in the store, and Target gets people willing to buy a “premium” brand of ramen noodle at a higher price (7 times higher!). I purchased both brands, just to make sure the expensive brand wasn't lined with 24k gold foil, and I couldn't tell a difference in quality or taste.

From Amazon:
Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup - 36/3oz

-P. Econmancer

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Narrow Aisles in Stores

Top: Pasta/soup aisle ~8.5 feet across | Bottom: Cereal aisle ~7.5 feet across

The next time you are at Target, count the number of floor tiles across the cereal aisle or candy aisle and then count the tiles on any other food aisle. The candy aisle and cereal aisle are a foot narrower than the other food aisles. I'd assume it's so parents can't keep kids from grabbing items on those aisles no matter how centered they set the cart. The parents are then more likely to buy the item to prevent a tantrum from the child when the child sees the item being taken from then and put back on the shelf. That's all well and good, but Wal-Mart doesn't narrow these aisles. I've measured.

Why wouldn't Wal-Mart take advantage of this if it is to increase sales? Why does Target do this if it doesn't really increase sales? Maybe my theory is wrong and it's not about increased sales, but nothing is random in store design. What advantage does Target get from this and why does Wal-Mart not want/get that same advantage? I don't have answers, but it sure is annoying when you have more than two people going down the cereal aisle at the same time.

The frozen food aisles are the widest in the store, but that makes sense because it leaves room for the doors to be opened on both sides and still allow people to pass.

(the difference in angles on these two photos adds to the narrowing effect, it doesn't look that dramatic in person, but there is a physical difference you can see when you are there even without measuring the width)

-P. Econmancer

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Brake Pad Replacement on the SAAB 9-5

Replacing the brake pads on the SAAB 9-5 is easy. I'd suggest 2.5 hours for this job if you aren't in a rush. Most of the time seemed to be spent jacking up the car and removing the wheels.

The first step is to raise a wheel like you are changing a tire. Be safe and set the parking brake, block the wheels you aren't raising, use jack stands, all that good stuff. You'll then need to remove the wheel. On the front brake pads, it helps if you turn the wheel so you can get better access to the back of the caliper before you raise the car. Open the brake fluid reservoir and put a rag around the fill hole to pick up any fluid that may spill as you work on the calipers.

Once the wheel is off, you should see something like this-

The metal spring clip on the front can be removed with a screwdriver. There are two bolts holding the caliper. You can access these bolts by removing the plastic dust caps with the screwdriver.

The bolts are E-20 torx size. It might take some pressure, but they should loosen without too much fuss.

You can see in the above image where the top bolt is unscrewed and ready to be removed. Once both bolts are removed you can work the caliper loose. You'll want to push the piston inside the caliper a bit to give you room to wiggle the caliper free. You can do this with the screwdriver. Once freed, the caliper can be rested on a box or step stool to keep pressure off the brake line. The old pads are wiggled off and the new ones are installed. Push the piston inside the caliper all the way down to make room for the new pads. I used an oil filter wrench to do this and it worked perfectly, but they make a tool designed just for pushing the caliper piston (if you want to get fancy). Installation is done in reverse and the metal spring clip is installed as seen in the top image.

The rear brake pads are replaced in the same way. I found the clearance tight because of the rear suspension, but an extension on your socket wrench should give you room to remove the two bolts from the caliper. My rear pads still have plenty of material when my front pads were nearly bare, but I still replaced all four at the same time.

The tension spring is installed as seen above. Check the brake fluid level and replace the lid to the reservoir before you drive away. The new pads will need to be bed-in. There are several techniques to doing this and they are found on the internet. It'll be several hundred miles before brake performance is maximized. Be careful a give yourself plenty of braking distance while the pads are getting settled.

From Amazon:
Brake Pads

-P. Econmancer