By on May 21, 2014

Wade writes:

Hey Sajeev,

This is going to take while to get to the point. For those with logophobia, skip to the last paragraph. Those people who think How I Met Your Mother was too rushed, keep reading. Sajeev, you have to keep reading too. You do say to “spare no details”. (Fantastic. – SM)

I was laid off in early 2011. That was because my specific job was transferred to the plant in Mexico. Due to the Trade Act of 1974, this qualified me for several benefits. The most relevant benefit to my question would be the training program. If you can prove that a training program would increase your employability and that there is a projected demand for workers with that training, the government will pay for it. Since I was laid of in Las Vegas and unemployment was well into the double digits, I thought for a bit and decided to go with an Aviation Maintenance Technician program. There wasn’t an approved program in Nevada at the time, so I found the program at Midland College in Midland Texas.

At the time, my wife and I owned a 2000 BMW 323i and a 2001 Pontiac Aztek. Since housing was scarce in Midland, we decide to purchase a FEMA trailer. Neither of our vehicles could tow such a trailer, so we sold the Aztek and bought a 1989 Ford F250 cheap because the dealer was just about to sent it to auction as he couldn’t manage to sell it. In the week between buying the pickup and loading up the crap we decided we had to keep, I replaced the faulty alternator harness and did a few other simple maintenance tasks. We headed out of Las Vegas heading for Dallas to pick up the trailer and drop our crap off at a storage lot in Midland. All went well until I blew a rear tire in Eastern Arizona. We lost a day since it blew 30 minutes after the nearest tire shop had closed for the day. It even hauled the FEMA trailer with no issues.

I don’t especially like pickups unless they are a 1960 to 1966 Chevrolet. Those truck seem to be the last ones with character. Anymore, you can lop off the portions of a pickup ahead of the front wheels and behind the rear wheels and you can’t tell the difference from one to another. But the F250 had a ZF 5 speed manual and I was starting to be impressed. The more I drove it, the more I liked it. I started school and all was well until a moron in a new Toyota Tundra decided that he had to dart across 4 lanes of traffic to avoid having to wait for the semi in the turn lane to get by. I was hidden from his view on the other side of semi accelerating in lanes the semi was vacating. The F250 was killed on impact and I think I cracked a rib. I did get 3x what I paid for the truck just 4 months earlier.

I took the insurance money and again found an idiot at a dealership. This one had a 1st gen Honda Insight with battery pack issues. He had been told by his buddy at a Honda dealership that it was out of warranty and to replace the pack would be about $5000. I did my own research and found that it was still within the extended service letter age and mileage range and thus paid less then half of blue book. After which I took it down to the local Honda dealership and had them replace the battery at their cost.

I thoroughly enjoyed that little Insight. I wasn’t your typical hybrid driver. Green means go so when it lit up, I nailed the throttle. I only lightly braked for corners. And still I got 40 MPG. Soon I was nearing the end of my training program and started to look for work. Since I didn’t want to work for an standard airline, it seemed that I would end up either in the panhandle of Alaska working on floatplanes or down on the Gulf Coast working on offshore helicopters. Both would require moving the trailer and that Insight just wasn’t going to cut it. My wife had decided that the BMW was too had to climb in and out of on a daily basis and so was had traded it off for a 2007 Suzuki Grand Vitara. That also wasn’t going to move the FEMA trailer. So we began to look for pickups, again.

Now back in 2005, Hurricane Katrina had chased out of Long Beach Mississippi and temporarily up to Tunica in my 1984 BMW 528e. My wife’s work on a helpdesk for a large casino chain had offered us shelter in one of the casino hotels there so she could keep working for them. After a short time, they offered her a position in their Memphis office or the casinos in Las Vegas. Having spent a bit of time in the Memphis area, we decided to go for Las Vegas. We had already accumulated more crap then could fit into the BMW, so we went looking for a cheap truck and trailer. A couple days before we left, we found a Ford Bronco II from a dealer who had repo’d it and it was just out of it’s waiting period and eligible for sale. After buying it, found some knucklehead had run the trailer wiring between two metal panels and that had shorted out the brake lights. Got that fixed, bought the last small trailer in Memphis, loaded up out crap and we headed out. In the middle of the night, while going through the mountains of New Mexico in I40, one of the CV joints gave up. That cost us a couple days in a motel as the local mechanic (who was a retired Ford service tech) replaced the driveshaft.

I had to tell you that little flashback so you would under stand this next part.

So having had moved twice using trucks bought within a week of the move, my wife started to push me to find us a truck early so we could take our time getting things fixed before entrusting it with all our worldly possessions including our house. Finding a medium duty truck for sale in West Texas isn’t hard, they make up 50% of the vehicles on the road. The hard part is finding one that doesn’t have over 200,000 miles, half of which weren’t spent on a maintained road. Finally managed it and traded off the Insight for a 2004 Ford F250 with the 6.0 diesel 2 months before the end of classes and the deadline for moving. A month later I had found my 1st job as an A&P. 50 miles away from school and home. 2 months after starting work, I was tired of driving that truck. It was just a cold hunk of steel barrelling down the road at 65 MPH (any faster and the MPGs go down in a hurry). 50 miles in the morning, 50 miles in the afternoon, up and down flat and straight roads. And all it was doing was hauling my bored ass.

I needed to find me something different. I decided I needed something RWD and a manual. Didn’t really matter to me what it was as long as it wasn’t a pickup or an SUV. I’ve had my fill of those. I looked for several months and finally scooped up an RX8 at a local Subaru dealership. They had just taken it in trade. I got an extended warranty on the driveline instead of getting the compressions checked. My mood improved, especially when I ran it up to redline in 1st or 2nd. The previous owner had replaced rotten mufflers with plain exhaust pipe. It makes a glorious cacophony when you rev it and pops so prettily when you let off. The commute instantly became bearable and I really didn’t mind the drive. Even if the only real fun were the 4 or 5 intersections where I turned.

Then the landlord told us she was putting the property up for sale and we began to look for a new place to park the trailer. It took us a couple months, be we ended up finding a nice fenced in space in a mobile home park. It’s right around the corner from my job.

Literally: 0.7 of a mile. I measured it.

I walk or ride my bicycle to work now since .7 of a mile doesn’t even get my RX8 out of fast idle. It gets driven once a week 70 miles (35 miles each way) on the grocery run. Straight down the flat straight road from our little town of 1 independent grocery store to the nearest city where the prices are better and so are the choices. Even when it gets out on the road, it doesn’t get to have any fun.

It hurts me to not drive the RX8. I start my day off with a frown as I push my bicycle out the front gate and by it on my way to work. I have no idea how people can buy a “weekend” or a “summer” car. It sounds like auto abuse to me. Someone should call APS (Automobile Protective Services) on y’all.

So I’ve been thinking. Should I trade it off for an EV? I liked that Insight. A lot. Of my 40 years of life, trading it off is my only real regret. And I can’t really go back to it or one like it. The ICE is required and that’s the whole problem with driving my RX8 to work. The only vehicles that make any sense for me right now are EVs or EVs with range extenders. And EVs would be hard to live with out here in the middle of nowhere. Most of them lack the range to get home from the dealership. I’d have to buy them and ship them home.

I won’t get much for the trade. It’s a perfect 15 footer. It gets exponentially worse as you get closer. There is an exhaust leak at the manifold. Alignment of the left rear is off. The front splitter and under tray have seen better days and need rebuilding. Pretty sure it’s lost a couple apex seals. The transmission whines a bit in certain gears and I think the synchros are ready for replacement (or I’m not as good with a stick as I think I am). Road construction on my previous long commute have all but shattered the windshield. There are cracks on both the inside and outside glass layers and one cuts right through the driver’s vision. It’s need new vacuum valves and ignition coils. Paint chips abound. The sunroof doesn’t work right, I think one of the drive cables has snapped. I should think about getting at least some glass packs to quiet it a bit. Maybe. It’s a nice drivable project car.

It’s going to be hard to part with. In the last 24 year of driving, I’ve already parted with a Sirocco, a couple of BMWs with automatics, an RX7, a 924, a 300ZX, an ex-Fire Department S10 Blazer, and an old 70’s Datsun (I think. I was young, stupid, drove it once and scrapped it after it overheated).

But it would be nice to ride inside a car to work when it’s raining. Or snowing. Or the wind is whipping by at 30 mph. Or it’s 120 outside. Or when it’s 20 outside. Or go to lunch now and then instead of nuking something to eat at my desk.

Finances currently prohibit a new acquisition as that would mean 3 car payments at once.

TL/DR:
My current commute is .7 mile long and that won’t get my RX8 even out of fast idle. Should I trade it in on an EV? I love that RX8. You’ll have to talk me out of it.

Sajeev answers:

Oh my damn, Son!  I sure hope you’re aware of the irony of your lengthy letter and the remarkably short commute behind it.

More to the point, I don’t care!  Care about your ICE, that is.  You admitted the RX-8’s cardinal sin to internal combustion is already experiencing apex seal failure, so who cares if a 0.7 mile commute makes it marginally worse?  For the love of all that’s right in the world, it’s a rotary motor and it’s gonna take a premature dump no matter what!

Keep the RX-8 until it implodes.  But it won’t: you’ve lived quite an intriguing life, and you’ll be ready for a new machine well before the RX-8 forces you into a more reliable, more lifestyle befitting mode of transport. Enjoy the ride, you’ve done pretty damn well so far. And I must say, hat’s off to you, sir!

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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58 Comments on “Piston Slap: Verboseness and The Brief Commute...”


  • avatar
    TEXN3

    I for one enjoyed the read! I have a slightly longer commute and do it by bicycle but I also work in a small downtown where there are choices for eating. We have 1 car, a sedan, and I’m starting to consider a used tow vehicle… something like a 20 year old F250.

    You might as well keep the RX, the difference between what you’d get at this time vs down the road is probably not much different. Maybe make a full circle of town as your commute… At least have a smile as you’re getting out of the car. Then when it goes, it goes.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    I skipped to the last paragraph and my response to you is “bicycle”

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      .7 miles? (Like a rotary engine, my legs don’t even start to get loose and warm in 7/10 of a mile.) Bicycle is probably the right answer in this case, however. Though I know plenty of people who have a longer walk to their bus or train stop than .7 miles. Which means “sneakers” would work equally well.

  • avatar
    Toad

    How about an electric golf cart? Seriously. The top will keep the rain off you and they sell clear plastic roll down sides to use if it rains. There is not HVAC but a cars heat or a/c does not really kick in on a .7 mile commute anyway.

    You get your EV and it will cost next to nothing.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    PHEV! Can you find a used Volt? Every other PHEV is too recent for there to be much in the way of used inventory.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    No offense but your RX8 sounds like a POS, and even in perfect condition they are not really worth much these days. A beater is going to be hard to even give away. So why bother?? You clearly love it so keep it. I read to long version and I still don’t understand the point here. You have essentially no commute, you simply want a car to drive when you feel like driving a car instead of riding a bike. And you have one. Its all messed up, so why would you worry about messing it up with an insanely short commute?

    An EV is ridiculous for you, you won’t save any gas because even with an RX8 that gets 12mpg you aren’t spending any money on gas. You live in the middle of nowhere so an EV isn’t going to get you to the city and back. Though a hybrid will functionally work for you… but for the same reasons, why?? With such a short commute you can drive practically anything so why be practical? Keep the RX. Get a giant F350 dually. Or a classic muscle car. Or a motorcycle. If you have 3 car payments already your wife must drive something practical already so go crazy.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      This. It was a TL;DR but the TL bit didn’t really need to be there.

      • 0 avatar
        Domestic Hearse

        Wade tried to take a look under the FEMA trailer, which had been sitting, parked, unmoved for the better part of a decade. However, the weeds had grown half-way up the sides of the mobile temporary government housing unit, obscuring his view to the dark underside.

        He lowered himself to the ground, and on all fours, parted the weeds and grasses until he found himself under the trailer. Fishing in his pocket, he found his Bic lighter — not as good as a flashlight, but it’d have to do. Now to check the wires, pipes, tires.

        Ffffssssk! Fffffssssk! Went the lighter, failing to ignite. Finally, on the third try, a flame sputtered then grew steady. Slowly, he eyes adjusted to the dark, dusty, murky confines of the trailer’s underbelly. Both the left side tires were flat, he observed immediately, with cracked, dry-rotted sidewalls. Wade then turned his attention to the starboard side of his potential new home, and that’s when he noticed four sets of glowing red eyes, intently observing his every move….

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Agreed ;

    The RX8 sounds terminal and they’re worthless on re sale even when in VGC so enjoy it then junk it .

    Thanx for the detailed post , it made for good reading .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    This is a crab spirits fiction piece – right?

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    Nothing to say except you should go hug your wife!

    After putting up with you she’s a keeper!

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Aye, I’m going to say, “save your money” as well. You say you’re already making two car payments; you need to clear at least one of them before you even consider trading. I’d highly recommend getting both of those payments off of you and start putting money aside for things you REALLY want–like a home; that FEMA trailer isn’t going to last you forever.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      No sh*t. Having lots of cars (and car payments) while living in a used FEMA trailer strikes me as having really strange priorities.

      “You can sleep in your car but you can’t drive your house” is not a good rationalization for two car payments and living in an old RV.

  • avatar
    jfbramfeld

    I would have gone with “verbosity.” Think Woody Allen and “heaviosity.”

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    Warm, dry climate + 1.5mi round-trip commute = 250cc motorcycle. Cheap to buy, cheap to own, and on those odd rainy days, drive the beater RX8.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    IMO, a 0.7 mile commute calls for the most ridiculous fuel thirsty car which can be acquired in a hundred mile radius. Try to find a 460 Lincoln or 500 Cadillac with working A/C and have at it!

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    I’m thinking, um….. go get a house(?)

    Unless you love living in a trailer. I have a trailer too, it’s loads of fun to haul up to the mountains on the weekends…..

    .7 Miles I would walk or ride a bike. That’s really nothing. Seriously, I just don’t get why you’d be thinking of buying a new car, when you live in a Fema trailer with a .7mile commute. Nothing about this makes any sense to me.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    I’m thinking, um….. go get a house(?)

    Unless you love living in a trailer. I have a trailer too, it’s loads of fun to haul up to the mountains on the weekends…..

    .7 Miles I would walk or ride a bike. That’s really nothing. Seriously, I just don’t get why you’d be thinking of buying a new car, when you live in a Fema trailer with a .7mile commute. Nothing about this makes any sense to me. Save up about $20k to put down on a house; you’d be amazed what a $700/mnth mortgage can get you, especially down South.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    Pre-2009 rx-8’s are poison. Any small amount of research would have told you that. Best thing to do now is keep it and try to fix it as best you can.

    • 0 avatar
      George Herbert

      Pre-09 RX-8s with extended 8 year / 100k mile engine warranty are fine, just drive enough to get the new engine core before the warranty expires. 45-55k should do it.

      Replacement engines are post-09 standard.

      Also, it’s usually side seals on the RX-8, not apex. The side intake and exhaust ports go with the side seal wear-out.

      Just make sure to keep the oil full and change it quarterly or every 3-4k.

      Proud owner of two ’04s… With new engines.

      • 0 avatar
        kvndoom

        Yeah if he’s got the generous 8/120 warranty he should try to milk that for all it’s worth. Don’t get me wrong, I had one for two years and its the best driving car on earth, but it only worked for me when it was my second car, not my only mode of transportation.

        Part of me still wants to pick up a 40AE someday just to scare the pants off my girls. Ah we can dream…

  • avatar
    sproc

    Depending on your weight, a 1.5mi walk might burn off a nice 200 calories or so and cost absolutely nothing. Worth it no matter how fit you are to begin with. Drive the beater in the rain.

    +1000 on Vulpine’s comment, too. I lived in NOLA during and for a couple of years after Katrina. FEMA trailers are the Tata of mobile homes. I can’t imagine anyone with stable employment not trying to find someplace better to live.

  • avatar
    Wade.Moeller

    A couple people have mentioned getting a house. That’s a bit difficult in West Texas these days. One room apartments start around $1000, for a dump of a place, require a year or longer lease, and have a 6 month waiting list. All that oilfield cash is bringing in droves of suckers for the landlords to fleece.

    Getting a piece of land and building a house is on the long term plan. That would fix the short commute since the land won’t be inside the city limits. It’s the short t term issue and the allure of an EV that’s causing all the pondering.

    Since a few people missed it in the letter, I do have a bicycle that I ride now. Ialso have a couple chainsaws with motors of unknown condition that were given to me. I’m also pondering mounting one of those motors on the bike for a little extra fun, and some assistance with the fairly regular stiff headwinds.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    I walk .8 miles to my gym in 10 minutes briskly, 15 minutes slowly.

    This trip could be 2 minutes (less?) with a 50cc moped.

    if it rains, drive your car. If it’s hot or cold, take the moped. 2 minutes of hot or cold isn’t going to kill you.

    i suggest a Honda Ruckus…. or christ any $300 moped on Craigslist.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Fitness is overrated. I’d go for malaise era luxury, like a ’73 Dodge Monaco with the 440/Torqueflite. Let’s see, .7 miles each way divided into 9 MPG equals… a gallon a week!

  • avatar
    Jason Lombard

    Wait, so the OP actually owned an Aztek? Not to go off topic, I’ve just never heard of someone who actually owned one.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Come to Detroit. On a daily basis, I see more Azteks than Sentras.

      • 0 avatar
        Jason Lombard

        Employee Pricing FTW?

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        “Come to Detroit. On a daily basis, I see more Azteks than Sentras.”

        If you weren’t sure if Detroit was completely f’d up, that comment seals the deal.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          During the Aztek years GM/Pontiac had a brilliant idea that more would sell if people got used to seeing them on the road and got their sensitivity to the styling dulled. The result is that a bunch of Pontiac employees got forced to drive Azteks.

          After a few years they were all dumped on the used market. That is why Michigan is thick with them.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Actually, the Aztek was a good idea, BUT…

            They made several mistakes that had nothing to do with the shape of it–in all honesty it looked like a grown-up Honda CVCC. The mistakes had to do with what was under the hood and under the body. Wheels and tires too small with an underpowered engine and a weak automatic transmission. The things could have been a much better vehicle, but they had to ‘cheap out’ on the potential of the design.

          • 0 avatar
            vcficus

            Calling Chrysler Crossfire… NEVER seen one outside of Metro D.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Got at least three in my general area (Wilmington, DE).
            (Crossfires, that is.)

    • 0 avatar
      Wade.Moeller

      Yes, we picked one up in Las Vegas. It suffered from being a crossover before they were really cool. It was a minivan with SUV doors. I once put a whole 50cc scooter in the back and closed the hatch.

      It had just a couple big issues.

      It was a GM product and the post where the front door hinges attached wasn’t strong enough. A gust of wind helpfully opened the door a couple times and bent the hinge and/or post resulting it the door and latch being misaligned so that it whistled at speed.

      GM chose the wrong head gasket material resulting in a high rate of blown head gaskets. This was the case for all vehicles using the 3800 V6.

      Due to packaging, it was a pain to work on. I didn’t change a failed thermostat because the housing was under the exhaust crossovers which were too had to access. When the alternator went out, it took me a full day, removing the upper engine mounts, and a couple ratchet straps to change it.

      But it ran well, carried a lot, and was fairly dependable once you had the head gaskets replaced with an updated design.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I think you’re referring to LIM issue on the 3400, not 3800 which does not suffer from head gasket maladies.

        also

        “It suffered from being a crossover before they were really cool.”

        Those things were never cool, nor are they now.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        The Aztek did not have the 3800 engine, it had the 3400 engine in 180 or 185 HP same as the Gen 1.5 U-Body minivan it was based off of.

  • avatar
    HiFlite999

    0.7 miles? Walk! It’s good for you.

    I have both a 2006 RX-8 and a Chevy Volt. It’s a wonderful combination!

    And yes, both are on their first engines.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    My first thought was Golf Cart – they’re super popular amongst the retiree communitees here in AZ and it ought to be possible to pick one up for a soing at an estate sale somewhere closer to TX. Toad beat me to that suggestions so I figured I’d take a pass.

    Then it struck me. What is needed here is something that can also offer some additional entrpreneurial application. Depending on budget and availability, anything from a ride-on mower to a small yard tractor or a UTV could be used to generate extra cash on the side.

  • avatar
    319583076

    o_O

  • avatar
    otter

    Damn son, I think I could walk your commute in less time than it took me to read that. 0.7 miles isn’t even far enough for me to get on a bicycle. Walk to work, or bike if you like, and keep the RX-8 for whatever driving you want to do, or still have to do. Enjoy being able to use a car as a choice rather than a necessity.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      +1. I walk to work most days unless the weather is truly nasty. One of the bonuses of the housing I have is that the house abuts the property that the school sits on. There is even a handy gate to walk through.

    • 0 avatar
      bludragon

      This exactly. Bike for fun and walk if the weather is particularly bad.
      The RX8 is actually the perfect car for you as you don’t need a first car. Change the coils and plugs and then take it for some fun at the weekend. An autocross or track would be perfect :)

      YouTube.com/carsashimi

  • avatar
    -Nate

    ” APaGttH
    Comment:
    I’m 35 years old. I’ll soon be divorced, and I live in a FEMA trailer, DOWN BY THE RIVER! ”

    No worries , your good life is about to begin .

    -Nate


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