Thursday, February 08, 2007

Le Grand Content

Okay, it's cheesy to drop YouTube stuff on your blog, but I just really really like this one...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Rant: Car shopping on the web

Let's ignore for a minute the fact that I'm at the office and should be working, and discuss the matter of car shopping and automotive web sites. A friend asked if I'd checked out the Civic 2-door coupe and in fact, I hadn't. (Sunday was only my first day of what will probably be a lengthy car shopping process.) So I opened a browser window for a quick surf on over to to see what it was like.

It didn't take me long to select Automotive, Civic> 2007 Civic Coupe, but that leads me to this stupid page: Okay, a forced perspective shot of the car from behind that gives me no idea if it tingles my senses or not and a bunch of marketo-blab. Fine fine fine... so I click on photos. More fricking forced perspective shots that don't reveal the roof line so that I can tell if it might have a decent back seat... Are these people even trying to sell me a car, or are they trying to sell me their marketing department? Ugh.

So I take a look at the interior shots... just like the Buick there is no standard DIN hole for the radio, just a stupid molded-in thing like I hate so much on the inherited Allure. How the fuck am I supposed to replace this? I whined to my friend about this in chat and he countered with "Factory stereos are more theft resistant." Okay, straw poll, who the hell would want to steal a factory deck? Nobody, THEY SUCK! Why do you think I want to pull it out to put in my Alpine? Argggghhhh!

Edit: Okay fine, friend in chat also points out that there are kits that let you replace large portions of the factory dash to get a standard radio hole. But they cost extra and it shouldn't have to be this way! I see no consumer value in these ugly molded-in factory stereos, though I'm sure for the slimy car makers it encourages more customers to buy over-priced upgrades to equally poor equipment with more bells and whistles, instead of going with high quality after-market like Alpine or Pioneer for the same price. Today I hate capitalism...

Edit: doesn't even show you what they fucking sell! Clicking Vehicles gives you a drop down menu where you can click Cars, then that gives you a submenu where you have to pick them out by name. I don't know what I want, that's why I'm going to your web site! Whatever happened to using the website as a fucking show room people? The web was more useful when I bought my Avenger in April of 96! Seriously people... are you even trying to sell me a car???

Now they've gone too far!

About a year ago a guy at work brought his glue gun in for me to use on a widget I was building, I couldn't help but notice the label:

This ambulance chasing lawyer fad has gone too far!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Learning to love again

I once read somewhere that only 20% of people love their cars (or maybe it was 30, or 27, but I digress), the rest just consider them to be transportation. My opinion is, if you don't love your car you bought the wrong fucking car! If you only count the hours that I'm awake I actually spend more time in my car than I do in my home, so why shouldn't I love it? Here then, is my car story...

Last April, my beloved '95 Dodge Avenger needed it's emissions certified so that I could renew my plate. The exhaust had had a puffing/rattling noise in it for several years but always passed emissions, but this time they said no go; I had to get the flex pipe fixed first. I went to Nick, my regular mechanic, who forwarded me to Meineke (they build systems from generic stock, Nick would have had to order costly OEM parts), but not before giving me 'the talk'. Essentially: "Kevin, it's really time to let go of that car."

I gave him the same story I give everybody... 1) I love my car and 2) there's nothing else made today (in my price range) that I consider to be worthy of replacing it. It's true; for only $18,175 I got a two door coupe that's well engineered (I've had it for 11 years and 323,000 km!), fun as hell to drive, and that has a decent back seat. I cannot downplay the whole back seat issue... at the age of 26 I wasn't ready to buy a four door, yet I loved to drive and didn't drink, making me the designated driver whether my friends and I were destined for a bar or not. Whatever I bought at that time had (*HAD*!) to have a back seat that would sit anyone comfortably. It came with either a 2.0 liter dual overhead cam four that made 140 HP, or a 155 HP V6, but the six only came with an automatic transmission that made it feel worse than the four with the manual. I wanted stick shift anyways so four cylinders it was... and I have never regretted it.

Though it says Dodge on the front, the car was actually built by Diamond Star Motors (a.k.a. Mitsubishi), which is the only reason I even considered buying 'North American'. The interesting thing though was that unlike every other foreign built domestic, there was no direct equivalent to it in the foreign brand. The wheelbase matched the Mitsubishi Gallant but the mechanicals, doors, dashboard and windshield all came straight from the Eclipse. In a lot of ways it was a stretch Talon, and enjoyed the nimble shifting and handling you'd expect from that. The only downside has been the turning radius, the Eclipse/Talon's wasn't great, and adding 4.9 inches to the wheelbase of the Avenger made it even worse. A bit of an embarrassment in tight parking lots, but other than that a truly awesome car:

So with dad's passing and the fact that mom doesn't drive, I've now inherited the 2005 Buick Allure that's behind the Avenger in the picture. When dad got this car I was thrilled, it was much nicer than the '99 LeSabre he had before that. Mom was resistant and didn't think that dad needed a new car, but he said he'd give it to me if anything happened to him and that seemed to bring her around. This complicates things, because I was thrilled *for dad* when he got that car, but it's never been anything I can picture myself in. I've driven it several times this past year and so many things about it annoy me. I can't feel the road, it's mileage is 13.6l /100km to the Avenger's 8.6l /100km (11 years old, ha!), the seat's practically a bench, the stereo's molded into the dash so it'll be hard (if not impossible) to put in my Alpine, the steering wheel's a stupid egg shape instead of round and feels weird as hell when you crank it around, it locks me in when I shift into gear, and it's got hideously styled lights on the dash to let me know if the passenger airbag is armed or not. (Although that's probably required by law these days, I've been in plenty of other vehicles that make it far more subtle.)

It even totally pissed me off once. I was dropping somebody off and it wouldn't let me pop the trunk. I figured that's because the engine was running so I shut it off but it still wouldn't pop the trunk. I tried to take the keys out to open it manually, and it wouldn't release the fucking key! I was livid! It turns out that all that bullshit was because I hadn't put the thing into park, but goddamnit I'm a thinking adult and I don't need a car that treats me like a fucking child. I'll agree with not releasing the key until it's in Park, but not even letting me pop the trunk? Come on!

And then the fact it's a four door is also a major consideration. You wouldn't think a two door sports coupe is an ideal car for carting around somebody in Tammy's condition, but those long doors make transferring her from wheelchair to car a breeze. I've shoehorned Tammy in and out of four door cars before; like her mom's Civic when we went to Fern Resort; and it was absolute hell. There's just no room to get both her and I between the wheelchair and the door, stand her up, turn 90 degrees, then sit her down again. That was two years ago when she could still use her legs to take some of her weight; now she can't do that and I fully expect that getting her into a four door is an impossible task. Yes, I could book wheelchair transit and just roll her on and off, but you have to book 24 hours in advance and I'm just not capable of that kind of commitment in my current 'motivationally challenged' mental state. Not to mention that they require you to be prompt which just can't be guaranteed with Tammy -- sometimes you can get her ready in 15 minutes, sometimes it takes 45.

So yeah, I told mom that I'd rather sell the Buick and use the money to buy something else when the Avenger dies, or just use it as a trade in (less work; though I'm sure I won't get nearly the same value for it), and she got very offended. Since dad bought that car unannounced (he only said that he was going out shopping), the only thing that made it bearable was him saying that it would eventually go to me. So of course when I told her that I didn't really want it, she practically started to cry. Though unintentional on her part, talk about a guilt trip! I've had talks with her since about how rough dad's last year was, and how the previous car was suffering from so many expensive problems. With all the appointments he had to keep it really was a good thing he had a car he could rely on. That thought's made it easier for mom to accept his purchase without focusing so much on the car going to me, now even she's beginning to admit that the Buick and I are not a good fit... whew!

Alas, all too late. To clean up the estate's books I finally had to take possession of the Buick last week. It's insured and plated and I could drive it at any time, I just soooo don't want to; only now the Avenger is suffering from multiple failures. Months back, body rust denied a ground to the left headlight cluster with the low beam grounding itself through the two high beams, resulting in three dim bulbs instead of a good left one. I got Nick to run a new ground at the next oil change and it's been fine since, right up till last Friday when the right headlight burnt out. I replaced both on saturday (when one goes the other's not far off) but while contorting my hand to fit the new bulbs in, I managed to yank Nick's replacement ground. So I'm back to one headlight and three dim bulbs again... fack!

That's the least of the Avenger's worries though. Years ago on a cold day, the clutch pedal sank to the floor without completely releasing the clutch. It's a hydraulic system and the fluid was low enough that an air bubble got sucked in; I topped it up again and got another year out of it. Then next year during a cold snap it did it again, only when I went to top up the fluid it was still full but all slushy and gross, hmm. I figured there's a seal that shrinks in the cold and took it to the dealer for warranty repair, since it was still within the first 5 years. They told me what I really needed was a new engine! Come again? "There's a problem in the thrust bearing and the whole crankshaft moves whenever you clutch in. Oh, and since your mileage is over warranty that'll be at least $3,000 please." Right. So I took it to Nick, told him I needed it flushed and filled and that I even had fluid already. He did the flush and fill, with my fluid, for under $30. I fucking love Nick! I've had 6 years out of that car since with no new engine required. (Incidentally, in the Club DSM web forums dealer service is often referred to as 'Satan'.) Since fall though I've been topping it up regularly and it's now down to about a week between fill ups... the seals are at their end of life.

But there's more... The MacPherson struts in a front drive car have pivots allowing the wheels to turn when you steer. The right one seized last fall and began making a god awful groaning sound whenever I turned the wheel. As near as I can figure it the coil spring actually twists as I steer, which is embarrassingly noisy and considerably affects handling. After a few weeks it un-seized and the noise went away, but then the left one started doing it. That too went away but this past week they've both started up again, and now the car sounds like two teenagers going at it on a rusty bed whenever the road is anything but smooth. You can't replace just the pivots so the car needs two new struts.

To top it all off, the body's now rusting out badly all over. I'd initially ponied up the extra cash for the premium undercoat, which includes free annual touch-ups for as long as you own the car, but only if you continue getting them annually. Miss one year and the free inspections and touch ups are over. So of course when Tammy's care needs went up, my diligence for car care went down, and the car hasn't had an undercoat touch up in at least five years. That stuff really worked too, it's only been the past three years that the car's shown any appreciable rust.

So now what? I still *LOVE* the Avenger, but the clutch and struts will be at least $1,500 to replace, the rotors are so warped that the car pulses and shakes whenever you even look at the brake pedal, the body could fail catastrophically at any time (the windshield creaks ominously whenever I pull into a driveway, a sure sign that the whole body is twisting), and I already own a 2005 Buick Allure. A year ago when Nick gave me 'the talk', I was sure that I'd keep the Avenger running forever (do you know how much work you can have done for even half the cost of a new car?) but the reality now is that that's a pipe dream. BUT GOD HOW I LOVE THAT CAR. I always said that I'd buy it all over again if I could, only they stopped making them after 2000. There's a 2008 Avenger coming out in March, but it's four door and will actually be built by Chrysler, and I'm vehemently anti-domestic -- I just can't see Ford, GM or Chrysler building anything as well engineered as the foreign cars, certainly nothing that would last as long as the Avenger did.

Today I began to look at new cars in earnest and my old refrain actually turned out to be true; there is nothing made that replaces the Avenger. There's literally no reasonably priced two door coupe with a decent back seat. (And yet there are all kinds of Saudi Utility Vehicles in every price range, what the fuck?) If I'd only known this 11 years ago I could have bought two Avengers and had the second one stored in a nitrogen filled room... alas. So now what?

For what it's worth; I'm getting quotes on an Audi A4 (four door), a Volkswagen TDI (four door, turbo diesel = wicked mileage!), a Mazda 6 Sport (four door), and on a lark, a BMW 328i (two door coupé, yay!) It's hard to say until I'm done the test drives, but the only one I think I actually want is the BMW, and the funny thing is that if I get $15,000 trade-in on the Buick (they go for $17,500 on auto trader with 70,000 km on them, and dad's has only 19,300 km) with three year financing and a lump pay-off at the end, it's only about $350 a month. Three years from now my Visa and line of credit will be completely paid off (I've already got aggressive automatic payments that will easily manage that) and the lump pay-off can just go back onto the line of credit. Shiiiit... this is doable.

So can I learn to love again? With a BMW 328i, perhaps I can...

* Damned flash-driven websites... I can't get direct links to half these cars on the dealer pages!