Category Archives: Cars

A belated Father’s Day Post

I have a cool Dad.   This is beyond debate – he played Marathon, Quake 2 and Half-Life with me, let me watch PG-13 and R rated movies with him before I was old enough, introduced me to the glories of playing music way too loud, gave me a cache of classic comic books to read when I was pretty young, stuck me to the side of the car sweeping curves “about 10 to 15 mph above the recommended speed is the sweet spot”, came or took me to midnight movie premiers (I think the first seven midnight showings I saw in my life were with my dad in company, regardless of other friends I went with) and even now is a sure bet for seeing movie that is loud and fast but maybe isn’t the best thing ever.  There is more, but that was getting to be a pretty epic run-on sentence.

One episode that recently resurfaced in my mind was the stereo for my ’89 S-10, the trusty (and only slightly rusty) truck that I had for my first couple of years of high school.    I had recently discovered Metallica and wanted a CD player in the worst way, walking to the back of Wal-Mart and looking at the head units wistfully.  If you know me, you know that I was drawing up a mental shopping list and figuring out how to maximize my purchase based on the current contents of my checking account.  I didn’t have a ton of income at that point, and when I brought up my shopping plans, Dad said “No.”  You know, in that firm, brooks no debate way dads have.  I think I mentioned that I was freshman in high school, right?  Well, I got one of my buddies who was sixteen to drive me Wal-Mart where I bought an entry level Pioneer head unit, some truck boxes for 6″ * 9″ speakers, wire and an install kit.

Of course, Dad saw me sneaking these bags of goodies down to the lower (my) garage and in typical fashion it all went *boom*.  I am sure I was in tears of frustration and he told me to take it all back, and back it went.  I am not totally clear on the timeline now, but here is the punchline to the story.

He said, “This is the sort of thing a father buys for his son.”  True to his word, he took me to Wal-Mart and fixed me up right.  The truck boxes were re-purchased but this time the nicest Pioneer 3 way speakers were bought for them instead of the cheap Jensens I had brought back.  He bought 6.5″ speakers for the door and head unit that was a couple steps up – it even had a color display!  Then we went to Norby’s and bought a hole saw to make room for the speakers 🙂  That was the best sound system I had until my most recent car.   Thank you, Dad.

The pioneers are still in their truck boxes in that garage when I refused to leave them in the mini-me S-10 when I traded it in.  I hope that someday they will be pounding out the tunes in the Chevelle.

Oh yeah, my dad bought a muscle car for us to restore and didn’t say a word as I stripped it down to the frame as much out of curiosity and the desire to make it all new as it was mental therapy.

Yeah, my dad’s the coolest – and I don’t think he even tries that hard.  It’s just who he is.


Oil Change & More

I took the Passat in for routine 45k mile maintenance yesterday which is just an oil and filter change (still ~$60…) and got a little more than I wanted.

There are a couple outstanding recalls on the car, but I waived them off until another time.  We had an ultrasound/OB visit at 1PM I couldn’t be late for despite my morning oil change.  The recalls required removing the steering column and rewiring the front side airbags.  It was a “minimum” of three hours of work and not the sort of thing I would have wanted rushed.  Not too mention that a “minimum” time required at a mechanic tends to be pretty conservative.

Working away on my laptop on the complimentary wireless, a service associate found me in the nice waiting room and informed me that the rear brakes were worn to the point of needing to be serviced.  New rotors and pads, he informed me, would cost ~$430 for OEM or ~$350 for third party.  I elected to go with the VW parts at this juncture (brakes are important, the brakes are good now, and third party could mean cheap organic pads which should be banned for city driving) and he promised me the car would be done in an hour.  About an hour and half later it was 11:30 and I was getting concerned about the timing of the days events.  He looked grim and said he needed to show me something on my car.  I seriously doubted this meant that they had found a wad of Benjamins in a wheel well and braced myself for the worst.

He began to explain to me that there had been an incident with the parking brake.  You see, my Passat has an electric parking brake that is automagically engaged in park (clamping down the rear brakes) and in order to service the rear brakes you need to have VW service computer or special software to back off the rear calipers so they can be serviced.  I had investigated rear brake servicing after I had been given the quote quickly to make sure I wasn’t being completely ripped off.  Given the special equipment required and the consequences of even slightly flubbing it up – the ECU of the car throwing an error and refusing to start the car – figured the dealership had to be the safest place.  The service advisor told me as much again while we walked back into the garage area, which must have had some 30 lifts and a small army of mechanics swarming all over the place, and then he “broke” the news.

While the pads were off, one of the mechanics had noticed that the headlights of the car were still on.   He then reached into the car and did something, this wasn’t made clear to me, and that caused the car to engage the parking brake.  This drove the pistons through the calipers and destroyed them.  When I was shown the car, it looked like they were still trying to figure out how to disengage the parking brake at that point.  In any case, they stocked no calipers and and had to order them in.  I was given a loaner and promised “the best possible deal” on the brake job.

What’s funny is that the guy seemed very relieved that I wasn’t getting angry at all and said as much.  Getting angry wouldn’t have fixed the problem was my reply – and there was more to it than that.  I think the worst thing you can hear at an import dealership is “there is something I need to show you on your car” – something so bad they get you out of the service waiting area where you have other customers watching before they break the news.  You might as well figure $1k and go from there it seems.  I was so relieved that they had just messed up and that in the end I would be paying less – well, it was all good.

Now I am driving a loaded CC and that is a pretty swanky ride – essentially a re-skinned Passat with a much lower roof line and nicer curves.  It’s got some hail damage but has the sport package, man I would love to steal those seats!

The final thought I have on the matter is that these are the same guys who are going fix the recalls on the car – including pulling out the steering column and rewiring airbags!  Great…


HHR – The Rental – Alaska

After leaving the rather hostile Hostel we went and picked up our rental car which was an interesting experience as always.

Enterprise Rent-a-car

We were picked up by Enterprise, which honestly was one of the big reasons we chose Enterprise as it saved a us a cab fare and some transit time.  When we dropped the car off it was handy to have transportation as well, they took me to the central bus station so I was able to get on the route that headed to the airport with a minimum of fuss.   The drivers were personable and professional each way.

The car we were picked up in, which was supposed to be our car for the trip, was a Dodge Avenger.  I am not a huge fan of Chrysler/Dodge so I wasn’t too excited about it in general but was willing to give it a shot.  Turns out that it was a moot point as its tires were worn to the tread indicators and so we refused to drive that out into the Alaskan countryside where travel books advise taking two full size spares.

Saturdays are a crazy day to rent cars in Anchorage in the summer, I had tried to rent a car in Fairbanks so that we could have flown into Fairbanks and out of Anchorage and in April they were all rented already.  Point being, there wasn’t anything really cleaned up and ready to go – but there was an  Chevrolet HHR that had just been returned.  Brad W. had told me to avoid this car at all costs, but hey, we wanted to get going and it had to be better than an Avenger, right?

Edmunds is OK on the HHR and we found it to be OK too.


  • A ~20 Gallon tank and 30+ MPG was exactly what you would want in Alaska where you can see signs posted that say “no gas stations next 85 miles.”
  • Passing power was sufficient at 55-60 MPH.
  • It does look pretty nice.
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System independently displayed each tires pressure and this is all viewable.  Due to past experience we are paranoid about wheels and tires on rental cars and this provided some great piece of mind.
  • Visibility was great out of the windshield when navigating rough terrain, etc.


  • Cup holders that managed to be as bad as what the old ’99 Mustang had.  They were hard to use, adequate to get to and there were only three.  We are used to the Honda CR-V or Passat where we have about 10+.  Having room for empties so they aren’t just rolling around in the car is something we are just used to.
  • Stock stereo was weak despite its plethora of input options.
  • More stiffness in corners would have been great.  Taking many long, blind sweeping curves on Alaskan ridge lines at ~70MPH was a little nerve racking.
  • Passing power with the small engine at 65-70 MPH took a little longer than was comfortable.
  • Abysmal storage space.  We had to keep putting things in the back seat as there weren’t good places for books, cameras etc in the front seat.  Again, our larger personal cars have likely spoiled us.
  • Use the side mirrors as the view out the back is constrained.
  • You have to look down at the center console shifter to see what gear you are in.  Since you are frequently using Low gear etc. when descending mountains, this was striking as pretty ridiculous.


Everything you want in a rental car (thrifty, easy to drive) with some traits that might make it an excellent commuter/secondary vehicle.  The HHR SS might be an interesting little ride with improved handling, performance and interior features with barely reduced fuel efficiency.


“The” car in progress, pt. 1

The Chevelle lives!  Here are some pictures of it looking a lot more like a car than it has in recent memory…

There will be more updates in the not too distant future.  Exciting 🙂


RIP Northstar


According to Edmunds the Northstar V8 found in many Cadillac models will be done in July, finished.  I remember fondly the two STS sedans my parents owned.  They both had the optional, powered up 4.6 Liter engines and while they seemed to drink some oil they were a joy to put your foot into.  As gracefully as any engine I have had the privilege to run hard it would pull to redline at some 6,000 RPM  and then slip into the next gear, pulling you forward to speeds that were well in excess of the speed limit.  Those were a nice pair of cars.

What I think is most intersting is that they are almost the same engines being discontinued today.  That picture, on the left?  That was available in 1995 and they still sell it in $50.000 luxury cars today.  Evidently there was a replacement, but the whole GM going under and being baled out shelved it.

Perhaps the funny thing is that GM has so many good engines today they don’t even need it.  With the advanced V6 engines available like the 300HP+, 30MPG+ one in the new Camaro and the good ol’ super-evolved (~400HP, upper 20’s MPG) small block V8 from the Corvette GM has the gamut of power trains locked up without the Northstar.  GM can certainly make some excellent engines, in this case, too many.

It is intersting that for just a couple grand more when I bought the ‘stang I could have had a SVT with its Northstar clone, a DOHC 4.6L hand assembled V8 with nearly the same power ratings and power band of the GM equivalent.   Give the GT some extra love in July Dad, its SOHC 4.6L is as close to a Northstar as we are going to be for a while 🙂


Washing the car…

Well, as much as I like to avoid it, I washed the car by hand tonight.  It was getting pretty bad looking, parking under trees on the street by Liz’s place and then again yesterday at the park and ride it was clear that birds were offended by the shiny blackness.  I fired up the trusty fifteen year old Altec Lansing speakers that sound 10x better than what I use at my desk and spent $40 on last year and went to work.

  1. Spray car off with power-washer.
  2. Take the cleaning mitt and soapy water, and clean one quarter of the car at a time.
  3. After washing each quarter and when it is all done, spray it down with the power washer.
  4. Wipe dry with micro fiber cloth.  Make sure to stand around so that the neighbors think you are obsessing.

To my surprise, the car actually got pretty clean.  The Mustang was always so horrible that it was pretty discouraging to even try.  That yellow just attracted flies and fly-spots at rate that was impossible to keep up with.  Of course Dad keeps that guy pretty clean these days, but he’s has always been better about vehicle maintenance than I have.

It wasn’t traumatizing, so I guess I should do it a bit more frequently.  Black is a horrible color to keep clean, but it looks nice in the garage right now 🙂


The ‘stang gets some wheels!

When it was time for me to move on to a more adult car it was fantastic that my dad happened to be looking for a car that was less practical.  Earlier this year, my dad bought my 1999 Yellow Mustang GT 5-Speed for what the dealer wanted to pay for it on trade in.   It was a good deal all the way around (I think), and my dad now has something to spend some money on 🙂

P275's upfront on 17*9 wheels, P315's on back on 17*10s

P275's upfront on 17*9 wheels, P315's on back on 17*10s



They look pretty darn cool.  I don’t know what he’ll improve on next, but that was a pretty awesome first move!  😀