The Truth About Cars » Mechanic http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 15:51:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Mechanic http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Sunday Story: Shade Tree Redux http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/sunday-story-shade-tree-redux/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/sunday-story-shade-tree-redux/#comments Sun, 11 May 2014 12:00:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=819066 800px-Catalina_Island,_La_Romana,_Dominican_Republic._A_typical_bungalow_nearby_cost_line,_shaded_with_palm_trees_(1)

Image courtesy of Mstyslav Chernov: http://tinyurl.com/k8atv8o

“Cool photo. Is that your grandpa or something?” Mark pointed to the sun-bleached black and white photo that hung on the wall of the garage. A smiling, grease-stained man in mechanic’s overalls stood proudly in front of a 1950s dirt-track racer. Sitting at his feet was a trophy.

Danny nodded. “Yup, that’s him. He’s my inspiration. He used to talk about building motors and fixing up cars underneath the old shade tree. You can see it there in the background.” Mark kept staring at the photo. Satisfaction, thought Mark. That was the only word that he could use to describe it. The pure, unbridled joy of winning a competition, based not only on one’s skill with a steering wheel and clutch, but with a screwdriver and a hammer too. Mark knew that feeling well; he loved winning as much as anybody and he built his own machines too.

This time, however, he needed some help. Danny was the best shade-tree mechanic in the city, and a good friend to boot. Mark knew Danny would be able to fix the reliability problems plaguing his machine, issues that he couldn’t seem to trace. He needed Danny’s skill in order to be ready for the weekend.

“Let’s take a look at what you brought me.” Mark gladly obliged. The candy-apple-red paint glimmered in the garage as Danny let out a low whistle.

“That’s one hell of a machine you’ve got there.” Mark’s pride swelled.

“Yeah, I did the whole finish myself. Two coats of primer, then three color coats, then gloss, then wet sanding, then I hit it with gloss again. Waxed it just to be safe.” Danny admired his reflection in the shine of the surface.

“If it looks so good, then what’s the problem?”

“I think it has a short, or a bad battery, or something. At high speeds it starts blowing fuses and just dies.”

“Well, that could be a lot of things. Let’s take a look.” They gently lifted the hood off and set it aside, careful not to scratch the finish. Danny scanned the chassis code. Using his wealth of knowledge about serial numbers and build orders, he noticed something right away.

“Aha!”

“What is it?”

“See that code there? It’s a 24X97F. You have an early build.”

“Alright, so what?”

“They made a running change late in the year. They redesigned part of the voltage regulator so that the fuse wouldn’t blow when the system was running at max charge. The new part is a lot more reliable.” Mark nodded his head in understanding, but he was worried.

“Can we get it fixed in time? The tournament is this weekend!”

“Calm down, it’s an easy fix. I think I’ve got the part. We have to do a little soldering, but it’s no big deal.”

“Ah, great.” Before long, they’d yanked out the subassembly and had it in pieces on Danny’s workbench. After a good thirty minutes of rifling through various disheveled bins, they finally found the replacement part.

“Got it.” Danny held up the small clear baggie triumphantly. It was a thin piece of metal, barely an inch long.

“That’s it?” Mark was skeptical.

“Hey, I know what I’m talking about, alright? You stick to paint.” He was already plugging in the soldering iron. A couple dabs later, and the new part was secure. Danny proffered the bad bit to Mark.

“You see how burnt it looks in the middle? That’s because they cheaped out on the design. Stupid bean counters, they wound up fixing it anyway. Grandpa used to complain about them too.”

“Huh. Well, let’s get it put back together so I can check your work.” Thus began the laborious process of reassembly. After many more admonishments to not scratch the paint, Danny had successfully put the whole thing back together. A new fuse, and it was ready to fire up.

“Okay, let’s give it a whirl.” Mark’s machine turned over instantly, whirring lustily in the garage. Danny sat his biggest box fan in front of it, and they ran it flat out for a few minutes. It was solid as a rock. A few more checks, and Mark was satisfied. He was ready to stomp the competition yet again.

“Couldn’t have done it without you.”

“No problem, man. Good luck with Battlefield 4 this weekend.” They admired the freshly-repaired computer, glinting there on its stand. Danny looked back up at the photo of Grandpa on the wall. Sure, it wasn’t a car, but he figured the old man would have approved. He always admired mechanical skill of any type. They carried the machine outside and gently sat it in Mark’s car. The color of his lowered Prelude matched that of his computer.

“Now that it’s getting warm again, are you going to sign up for any more SCCA stuff?”

“Yeah, but I need to reset the suspension first.”

“Well, we can work on that next weekend.”

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TDI Troubles In The Land Of The Rising Sun http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/tdi-troubles-in-the-land-of-the-rising-sun/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/tdi-troubles-in-the-land-of-the-rising-sun/#comments Wed, 06 Mar 2013 13:11:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=479921

My TDI in Japan

The engine quit with a sudden un-dramatic snap, and the little Golf TDI began to slough off speed. Reflexively, I bumped the gearshift lever into neutral, flicked on my signal and began moving towards the left edge of the expressway. My exit was less than a mile away and, rather than stop alongside the highway, I used my momentum to coast up the off-ramp and over the small knoll that stood between the expressway and the toll plaza. I stopped there, on the back side of the hill where the road widened on the approach to the toll booths, to avoid blocking traffic and dug out my cell phone to call for a tow truck. I didn’t know it then, but it was the last time that I would ever sit behind the wheel of the little car, never mind the fact that it would follow me again around half of the globe.

I had purchased the dark blue VW diesel new before heading to Jamaica and the car had carried me faithfully, but not entirely without drama, during the two years I lived there. The problems were always small, window regulators, the brake like switch, an air bag light, and a check engine light among other things. They were more of a nuisance than anything else. There was a VW dealership in Kingston and they were quite professional but since I had purchased the car in the States, and then imported it to the island, none of these issues were handled under warranty. It was OK though, I really liked the car and so long as nothing big happened, I reasoned, I could foot the bill.

I check the map at a rest stop near Mt. Rokko in Hyogo Prefecture (2004)

After two years in the Caribbean, I moved to Japan, and the Volkswagen, after a delay that stretched into several months, followed me. It arrived in sorry shape, covered in filth and spattered with baked-on dead bugs from a trip across the USA on a car carrier. After so long apart, I was glad to see it and after a thorough cleaning, an oil change and a new set of tires, the car was road worthy. It was, I was told, the only Golf TDI in the country, and I enjoyed running around the Kansai region trailing a cloud of smelly black exhaust wherever I went. Unremarkable as it may have been in the USA, the car was a hit in Japan. VW fans often worked up the courage to bridge the cultural gulf to ask about it.

Times were good, for the most part. I had another broken window regulator, three out of the four VW logos spun off the center caps and I soon found out that there were no correct replacement batteries to be had, but I let these things slide. The car was unusual and quirky, after all, and inconvenience is the price you sometimes pay for cars like that.

Later when I transferred to Yokohama, I used the car to its best advantage to make the 5 hour drive down the Tomei and Meishin expressways almost every weekend to visit my wife who was at her parents’ house in Kyoto awaiting the birth of our first child. My little VW was not especially fast, but it ran well on the smooth high speed expressways of Japan. For once, it finally seemed to be just where it belonged.

On the Japanese expressway.

The car followed me to Okinawa in 2006 and, once again, it was put to work on my daily commute, a 20 minute drive that included surface streets and a bit of expressway. For the first few months, it seemed to be fine, but then, on one of my regular forays under the hood, I noticed that the coolant was low. Okinawa is hot, so I thought nothing of it and added some more coolant. A week later I got a low water alarm and, sure enough, the coolant was low again. Thus it began.

I have had to replace head gaskets before so I know what the signs are. I looked in all the usual places. There was no leaking water under the car, no sudden increase in my oil level, no oil floating on top of the coolant and no white plume out the back, so the signs were not obvious. It could be a weeping gasket, I thought, a leak small enough to suck the coolant slowly from the radiator without leaving a tell-tale trail of white smoke, so I took it to my local VW of Japan dealership to have them perform a test to see if I had combustion gases in my coolant.

It is a testament to my Japanese ability that I was able to use the language to berate the local VW technician well enough that he actually helped me. When first I arrived, he took one wide eyed look at the car and started to wave his hands. “We won’t service this.” He announced. But I wasn’t having any excuses and, after an ass chewing for the ages, he finally he agreed to perform the simple test I wanted. From the way he sucked air through his teeth as he worked, I knew it was bad news before he spoke. “It’s a head gasket,” He said sadly, “and there is no way I can fix it. We never sold these cars and we don’t have any training on them. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.” This time I didn’t give him any static, his words had the ring of truth.

A look at my garage.

At home that night I got out the rebuild manual I habitually carried and looked at the job. It was nothing I wanted to tangle with, honestly, but I felt confident I could do the work if I had to. The first step was parts so I got on-line and ordered everything the manual said I would need. It took weeks for everything to arrive and, in the mean time, I made sure the coolant levels stayed high and limited my trips as much as I could. Still, unwilling to commit myself to a project of that magnitude, I continued to examine my options.

Most Japanese mechanics are excellent and I was confident that, if I could find one who was willing to work on the car, they could fix it. The problem was none of them wanted to touch it. It was an unknown, and no one was willing to take the risk. There were no Japanese rebuild manuals for the car, and since mine was written in English it was useless to them. Eventually, I learned that my local Marine Corps Base had an auto shop, so I went down to see if they had a mechanic who could work on the car. Fortunately, or so I thought at the time, there was someone.

Photo I put in Craigslist

The kid looked like a typical grease monkey. He told his boss he knew all about VW diesels and that he had worked on them when he was based in Germany. His boss seemed convinced they could handle the job and agreed to take it ,so I gave them the little car, the parts and went off confident that my worries were over.

A month later the car had not been completed and I found myself back down at the shop looking around. The kid was nowhere in sight but my car was over in the corner with its hood ajar so I went to look at it. I raised the hood and found myself looking at the shop floor – the engine was gone and my blood pressure jumped. Unhappily I tracked down the ship manager and asked what the hell was going on.

The kid, it turned out, didn’t have the experience he had claimed and there had been a problem. The manager told me that they had already ordered new parts and the work would be handed over to the lead tech who, with my rebuild manual, would put the car back together correctly. Until then I could use a small Mazda loaner and was assured that when the car was ready I would not have to pay a dime for the work. Free is good, but it wasn’t like I could do much anyhow, so I accepted their offer as graciously as I could and left them to it.

Two months later the Volkswagen came home. There were still a few issues with it, most notably a couple of the vacuum lines had been misrouted, but at least it ran. It did OK on the highway but seemed a little down on power. It didn’t matter, I told myself, I was slated to rotate home in another two months and when I got back stateside, I could get the car sorted and decide then whether or not I wanted to keep it. My plan worked for three weeks.

After an uncomfortably long wait, the tow truck arrived, carried the car home and dropped it in my driveway. The VW remained there for the rest of my time in Okinawa and, a day or two before I headed back to the States, another truck came to haul it to the port. While I completed my move and enjoyed a vacation back at home in Washington State before heading on to Buffalo, the little car was put into a container, sent across the Pacific, through the Panama Canal and up the east coast to a port in New Jersey. The first I heard of its arrival was when the shipper called to inform me that one of the world’s best traveled car had arrived with a major case of mold on the interior.

Nice and clean inside!

Although I offered to sell the car to the shipper for a reasonable cost, they elected to clean it prior to delivery and three weeks later the Golf rolled off a ramp truck at my apartment in Buffalo. It looked pretty good for all the trouble it had been through and, together, the tow truck driver and I pushed it into a parking spot. The next day, I took some photos and prepared a brief Craigslist ad explaining that the car had a blown engine and was being sold “as is.” I figured it was a long shot, but I asked $3,500.

Long shot or not, my phone rang off the hook all day long and a guy named Hank was waiting for me when I got home from work. He looked the car over quite thoroughly and offered me $2,500. We dickered for a while and then met in the middle at $3,000. The next day he came back, laid down the cash and put it on a trailer. As he rolled away, I realized that the car had become just another unhappy part of my personal history. I was happy to be rid of it.

Hank called again in mid-December. My exportation and subsequent re-importation of the little car and wreaked havoc on the title process but since I had given him the Certificate of Origin we could sort it out with just a couple of signatures. We met at a local bank and while we waited for the notary he told me the rest of the story.

My TDI back in the USA – One of the photos that went on Craigslist

The un-dramatic snapping sound I had heard had been the catastrophic destruction of the engine. One of the valves, which had probably been damaged when one of the Marine Corps’ mechanics had turned the engine over without ensuring the timing was perfect, had broken off and fallen into the cylinder bore. Once there, it had wreaked all kinds of havoc. It gouged the cylinder walls, ruined the head, broke the piston into pieces and sent metal shards out the exhaust port and into the turbo where they destroyed that part as well. According to Hank, the engine was in such poor shape he had purchased a replacement drive train for the car.

The process had been expensive, Hank told me, but the little car, with less than 30,000 miles on it, would bring good money when he went to resell it. Someone, he explained happily as we shook hands on parting, would pay good money for it. Too true, I thought, and if they have the same kind of luck I had with it, they will keep on paying for a long, long time. I hope they like lemonade.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Piston Slap: Do We Have ALL The DATA? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/piston-slap-do-we-have-all-the-data/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/piston-slap-do-we-have-all-the-data/#comments Mon, 01 Aug 2011 15:58:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=404543 mazda6interior

 

TTAC Commentator Supaman writes:

Hey Sajeev, remember that Mazda 6 that had the headliner problem? The dash storage problem? Got another one for ya.

From what I understand, the 2006 Mazda 6 V6 manual is fitted with 3 engine mounts: left, right and (dog bone) lower. The lower mount was replaced last year (on my birthday coincidentally) and less than a year later, I noticed it had gone bad again after feeling the engine rocking a bit in the bay. I carried my beloved back to my mechanic who replaced the lower mount (under parts warranty) and asked him to check all the mounts. According to him, all were ok. But just last week while I was doing my oil change, I noticed the lower mount (which is right behind the oil pan) was already going bad.

This baffled me and also caused the mechanic to again scratch their heads. One of them noticed, believe it or not, a FOURTH mount located directly above the lower unit. They took the car off the lift before I could look at it but a quick internet search doesn’t turn up anything regarding this mystery FOURTH mount. Any ideas?

Sajeev asks:

While this isn’t an easy question to answer for yours truly, I don’t have access to something like an ALLDATA account. But I am (and never proclaimed to be) a real mechanic. Then again, I wouldn’t say no if the kind people at ALLDATA or their competition decided to hook a brother up. It seems like a better shill than being in the pocket of the automakers with free press cars and pointless/lavish vacations.

But seriously, does your mechanic use an online repair manual like ALLDATA or Mitchell? This information is stupid easy to get from any mechanic with a $500 (or less) computer and a monthly subscription to this service. Get back to me, I think this is a good for a common sense automotive analysis in the Information Age.

Supaman answers:

Well…you wouldn’t believe the conversation I just had with my mechanic.

After a week of leaving him to search for this 4th mount and hearing no answer I called him just now. Apparently because my car is so rare (V6/manual…points?) the mounts are different than they would be in an automatic version and the parts aren’t usually stocked.

So I asked him about that online database you mentioned where I’d imagine the car’s specs would pop up and he didn’t have an answer to that.

He eventually found the part through a Mazda dealership and has to special order it. I’m still haggling him on giving it to me for free since I really consider the previous repairs to be incomplete and negligent on their part. He’s treated me well over the last 8 years (and 3 cars) but this latest stunt has me questioning the garage’s integrity (the store manager in particular). May need to start shopping around for another mechanic or ratcheting up my auto repair skills. I’d love to hear what the B&B have to say about this.

Sajeev concludes:

(facepalm)

Honestly, I feel that access to these databases is absolutely necessary for any automotive wrench that hangs out a shingle and wants to earn your business. Computers are cheap. The monthly subscription will pay for itself after a few hours of farting around “the old fashioned way” to get information. Best and Brightest, is this a fair conclusion?

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Piston Slap: A New Wrench, A Good Wrench http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/piston-slap-a-new-wrench-a-good-wrench/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/piston-slap-a-new-wrench-a-good-wrench/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2011 22:39:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=399506

TTAC Commentator sastexan writes:

Hi Sajeev, I have to find a new mechanic – my former mechanic is permanently disabled (bad shoulder – he can’t even hold a gallon jug of milk with his right arm) and his old shop is just not responsive – or as competent as I demand. So, with great heartburn, I have to find a new shop for those repairs I am either unable or unwilling to perform myself: which is most since I do not have a garage or even a driveway, much less a lift or even jack stands as the street in front of our house is pretty well sloped.

The cars in question are my resto-mod 3.0L Contour SVT, my wife’s Camry and probably my mother in law’s Millenia S (with the weird miller cycle engine). I can tackle basic repairs with my car, but sometimes it’s just easier to have someone else do it.

How should one go about finding a new mechanic / shop? What questions do you ask to determine competence? I proved a long time ago that I knew more than my local Ford dealers (including causing service advisers to get fired due to my complaining about their ignorance – including yelling at one standing underneath my car on a lift arguing about the rear sway bars), but I am not opposed to company shops if I know the mechanics are competent and the rates reasonable.

Sajeev answers:

When it comes to modified cars outside the parameters of a factory catalog (Toyota TRD, Lexus F-Sport, Ford Motorsport, BMW + DINAN, etc) run like hell from dealerships. Not that they can’t do them right, it’s not their core competency. And that eats into their profit margin. I already know the details of the 3.0L swap in a 2.5L Contour, so I can imagine the headaches involved for the uninitiated. Neither party wants to take risks, it hurts quality and the department’s reputation.

The other two cars mentioned can go anywhere, but once you find a “big block” Contour worthy mechanic, those guys deserve the easy money generated from working on a normal car. So let’s take a look at some of my tips for finding a good mechanic. It involves getting off the computer and doing an actual site inspection.  With this criteria:

  1. Technology: WiFi in the waiting room wouldn’t hurt, but that expense isn’t necessary. What is mandatory is a decent computer with access to an “online service manual” service like ALLDATA or similar.
  2. Labor Rate: shop on price, don’t be afraid to pay a hefty rate for a premium service and hassle-free dealings if the problem isn’t fixed the first time. Especially if you own an import brand and are looking for a specialist garage that caters to your car’s specific needs.
  3. Self-purchased parts: this is huge, especially for the super-unique Contour. If they bat an eye, that is a bad sign. Shops can easily mark up the cost on a part: it’s an easy way to make a huge profit on a single repair. If they don’t want high quality, brand name parts procured by the vehicle owner, ask why. I’ve never heard a good reason, something that didn’t sound like a cover up for the aforementioned truth. Not that I expect you to buy your own parts on a regular basis, but there will be times you need to. So it’s best to learn how they do business right now.
  4. Facility condition: how organized is the place? I couldn’t care less if the shop floor is clean enough to eat from, but are tools and parts in their right place? Do you hear upbeat music playing, selected by the mechanics (Tejano tunes are commonplace ’round these parts)  themselves? Is the lobby zooty enough to make you wonder how much the overhead is at this joint? The place doesn’t have to be great for you, it just needs to be great for the staff and owners.

Off to you, Best and Brightest!

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Adventures Under the Hood http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/adventures-under-the-hood/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/adventures-under-the-hood/#comments Sat, 17 Apr 2010 16:18:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=353016

I’d been wondering if I’d damaged the fuel pump when I ran out of gas a couple of months ago, for the only time in my 350,000-400,000 lifetime miles. Sometimes, after coasting in gear I’d feel the Accord 5-speed subtly hesitate as I gently pressed the gas. But this morning, the engine seemed to be gasping for fuel, and the check engine light–a species which is well known to cry wolf–was blinking at me as if it really meant it. Instead of to the espresso joint, I headed to the local mechanic.

On the way I pressed the codes button on the scan gauge. It was a 304. Carol, the garage’s owner, told me that was a misfire code, and not the fuel pump. She didn’t have an opening in her schedule until tomorrow. As for the problem’s cause, she said, it could be plugs, plug wires, injectors, the fuel filter…

The last time I’d done more than change an air filter, a headlight, or a battery had been in the summer of 1993. I’d sold Bryant the ‘77 Corolla a month earlier, after I’d bought the new Saturn, and early one morning he’d limped the car over, and banged on the door. I think he wanted his $200 back. For reasons I didn’t understand, the points had always needed gapping about every 3,000 miles. So I dragged myself out of bed and gapped ‘em one last time.

I’d learned auto mechanics in Mr. Smeltzer’s class during senior year at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, 1970-71. Although I’d understood the mechanics of internal combustion before my voice had deepened, I was not gifted with a wrench. I did manage to do the tappets, to tune my‘62 Falcon, and to pack the bearings, and on the way back to Boston the following summer I’d given the car a lube and oil change in Omaha, where some gas station had graciously allowed me to use their lift and their grease without even charging me. But in another auto shop incident, I’d stripped a screw hole while inverting the transmission cantilever spring, which I was sure had been upside down. Then I’d struggled painfully with knurling a new screw hole, and widening the hole in the cantilever spring to accommodate a wider screw, and I’d shattered the relevant drill bit, and Mr. Smeltzer had sent me to the hardware store to buy a new one, an embarrassing episode.

Then there was the incident of the worn idler arm. Back in Boston, at Tufts University where I was now a student, and where my parents taught, one afternoon I failed miserably to dislodge the thing while lying cramped beneath the car. I took it to John, my Dad’s mechanic, a big, serious southerner with superb skills. He put the Falcon on a lift and whacked the thing hard, five or ten times with what I swear was a sledge hammer before it went flying, while his colleagues stood by discoursing on the need for appropriate education in order to work on cars.

After the Falcon died the following summer, I went carless for nearly a decade and a half, until I bought the Toyota in ‘85. The first time I tuned it, I lost a couple of screws down the distributor shaft. That little mishap cost me $150 about six years thence. My mechanic, Adrian, of Northeast DC (whose last name I never learned) saint that he was, had searched several junk yards to find a distributor that would fit my by then 14 year old Corolla. But I figure my skills saved me at least five or six times that over the 70,000 miles I drove that car, what with tuneups every 10k and several point gappings in between each. My skills also gave me immense satisfaction when the little 1.2-liter-that-could would sing happily after each tuneup. Oh, how I loved that sound, even if Greg, my best friend, hated that car’s noisy exuberance.

After I bought the Saturn, I hadn’t missed Zen and the Art of Beater Maintenance as much as I’d feared I would. And now, contemplating Carol’s advice, I wasn’t missing it even more as I considered my options. Nonetheless, I knew my skills might save me some tsuris. The Accord, a ‘99, has 172k. I didn’t think the injectors were bad, because I’d been using only top tier gasolines for years. I knew my plugs should still have life in them, as I’d had them changed around 100k, but I thought the plug wires might be original. (I’d bought the car with 67k.) Changing plug wires was something I could do. So off to NAPA.

New wires in hand, I opened the hood and carefully examined the old ones, remembering that I needed to change them one at a time so I would not mix them up. I saw that they were different lengths, and that I would need to use the correct wire for each connection. I lined the new wires up so that I could see their relative lengths. As I carefully replaced each old wire with a new one, I could feel the strain of my brain activating atrophied connections concerning both the conceptual (putting the wires in the right places so the cylinders would fire in order) and the physical (pushing each female part over the corresponding male part until the fit of wire to plugs and distributor was snug). I was not facile.

Now it was time to start the car. I braced myself for failure. “This engine’s probably still going to missfire,” I warned myself. But the engine was so smooth it felt new. Elated, I ran back into NAPA and told the guy behind the counter. I drove to the espresso joint and told Jamie, the barista, a 20-something woman whose multiple talents include racing cars and working on their innards. It’s really no big deal to change the spark plug wires, even after nearly two decades, but for that brief morning I felt a little of what the Red Sox must have felt in ‘04.

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Piston Slap: The Threat Of Going Audi 5000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/piston-slap-the-threat-of-going-audi-5000/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/piston-slap-the-threat-of-going-audi-5000/#comments Mon, 18 Jan 2010 17:20:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=342137 Sweat the details (courtesy:vintage-original-ads.com)

Michael writes:

Sajeev, you always hear the advice to have a used car inspected before purchase by a reputable mechanic. But how do you implement that advice at your typical car lot? Dealer or independent, I can’t imagine they are excited about having someone drive off for several hours.

How does the B&B make this work? Leave your existing ride? Partially fill out a purchase contract? Leave your kids the showroom? Ideas, please, on how I phrase this “request” and what is reasonable to guarantee my return with their vehicle.


Sajeev replies:

There are several ways to skin this cat, but one phrase clears through the crap, “I’ll buy this car for such-and-such price after my mechanic looks at it.”

If the dealership wants a sale, that conditional statement is a non-issue. Personally, I’ve mentioned third party inspections as possible objections at many used car dealerships. And they’ve never cared. (Probably because they want my money.) And if they don’t budge, go Audi 5000 on their asses.

Remember, the customer is always right.

Then again, there are mobile car inspection services in many large cities. So if a dealership loves their iron more than the lure of cold, hard cash, get the mechanic on wheels and save yourself the drama.

(Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com)

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