Popular Mechanics November/December 2020

Discover the latest in technology, engineering, and tools with Popular Mechanics. Plus, get essential advice on your home and car, useful DIY ideas, in-depth explanations on how things work, and more!

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10 Issues

in this issue

3 min
my pop life

ROY BERENDSOHN Test Editor Tester, editor, writer. More importantly, husband, dad to five kids: two born to me and three by marriage. BEST THING POP EVER TAUGHT ME Take your time. Do it right. Do it once. I’ve edited countless stories where you see the author apply those three simple principles to get the job done. It’s a compact motto for life. Best Money I Ever Spent $6,500 for the 1979 Chevy truck that I bought after working a year between high school and college. That pickup was transportation into the middle class, and I drove it for the next 25 years. My Favorite Products to Test Hands down: chainsaws. Once you know how to disassemble a tree, it’s amazing how fast the job gets done with a saw that has high power-to-weight ratio and good balance. LIVING MY…

2 min
the best cars for long road trips

WE NEED TO VISIT MY IN-LAWS, WHO live roughly 1,200 miles away, in a state with a ton of COVID deaths. So, in the name of minimizing the likelihood of any of us requiring intubation, we’re driving there, probably in my 2004 Volvo wagon. The weeks before any road trip, I’ll involuntarily daydream about which money-no-object cars I’d choose for that drive and why. My current top pick: the new Mercedes-Benz Metris Getaway ($70,000, more on p.14). It’s an unofficial successor to the VW Vanagon, down to the pop-top sleeping space, and the ideal tool for traveling by land in a pandemic, at least until I’m comfortable driving a full-galley RV. My second choice: a two-seater, one with butt-numbingly stiff suspension, and a pretend jet fighter cockpit interior. Impractical, yes. Also, tiring.…

4 min
the f-15ex is a worthy remix of a classic american fighter

THE U.S. AIR FORCE HAS OFFICIALLY gone back to the future, placing an order in July for eight F-15EX fighters. The Boeing-built jets are the first of what could be as many as 144 new fighters to supplement older models of the F-15, which took to the skies in 1972 and has maintained an astonishing string of 104 air-to-air kills and zero losses. The F-15 may have seemed destined to collect dust with other Cold War relics, but the twin-engine aerial powerhouse has proven too capable to retire. McDonnell Douglas built the F-15 from hard lessons learned from the Vietnam War, when fighters like the F-4 Phantom were designed with the assumption that the increased range allotted by air-to-air missiles had rendered dogfighting obsolete. P-51 Mustang and F-86 Sabre pilots left…

4 min
the beloved volkswagen vanagon’s true successor is a pop-top benz

BACK IN 1951, A BRITISH MILITARY officer asked engineers at Westfalia, a storied German coach and trailer maker, to turn his Volkswagen bus into a camper. Westfalia installed a rear sofa, cabinets, and hand-sewn curtains to create a charming, self-contained rig they called a “camping box.” The little wünderbus was neither powerful nor reliable, but it was simple to work on, and would make Westfalia a household name. A couple of decades and generations of Westfalia-modded camper vans later, VW debuted the Vanagon. It possessed a sharp, boxy, Millennium Falcon-esque aesthetic all its own. When Westfalia turned the Vanagon into a camper, the result was utilitarian art, comfortably seating and sleeping four. Its 1992 successor, the Eurovan, was fast and safe, but lacked the Vanagon’s quirky mojo. North American sales…

1 min
the best camper van rental services

Not ready to commit the tens of thousands of dollars on your own rig, or don’t need a camper van full time? Borrow a loaner. ‣ Outdoorsy (outdoorsy.com) and RVshare (rvshare.com) both function as Airbnb meets Vrbo for camper owners, with a variety of rigs. $134 average per night on Outdoorsy, $150 on RVshare ‣ Peace Vans (peacevansmodern.com) loans Getaway Metris campers along with its own “full camper” (read: full galley) Metris. $225 per night ‣ Though it’s more set up as a peer-to-peer car rental company, Turo (turo.com) and its owners offer plenty of Vanagon- and Microbus-based campers. From $75 per night ‣ If you’re traveling to Southern California, Vintage Surfari (vwsurfari.com) is a good, reliable source for a Bay Window, Vanagon, or Eurovan camper. From $149 per night.…

3 min
how to become a scotch supertaster

FOR A SPIRIT THAT ONLY REQUIRES three ingredients to make, Scotch gets surprisingly complex. Like wine, each glass hails from one of several distinct regions that forms its final flavor. That terroir primarily comes from the turf-like material that makes Scotch smoke, but it also shows up in the barrels used for aging. Knowing your Macallans from your Lagavulins takes some science, a bit of history, and plenty of tasting. Scotch’s story starts with peat, a decomposed plant matter that accumulates over time and compresses naturally. One-fifth of Scotland’s land mass is covered in peat bogs; for centuries, thanks to the country’s lack of forests, Scots used peat to heat their homes, cook food, and especially make whisky. Peat comes in during the kilning stage of production. Distillers place barley—the grain in…