Piston Slap: Push On Steepstakes, Take In Financial Burden?

Steve writes:

Hi Sajeev,

For those of us who have entered the OnStar “Push On” contest that is giving away 10 GM vehicles of the winner’s choice and who feel lucky (yeah, right), we have a potential problem. You get a GM vehicle of your choice and $25K to cover taxes, delivery, dealer prep, added dealer markup (in the spirit of the GTO, G8, Camaro…don’t put it past them), etc.

Here are the choices and my first thoughts:

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Super Piston Slap: Subaru's Marketing of Fear

Dan writes:


I don’t know if this adds up to material for one of your columns but here you go if you want it. I am shopping for a new WRX wagon. These are pretty rare around here, hunted to extinction. I’ve been checking around and the number in inventory at the typical dealership is between zero and two. The local dealership wants to charge me MSRP, as well they might, but they have a new narrative to go with this: the factory was shut down in Fuji and there’s going to be a gap in deliveries. Is this hooey?

Sajeev Answers:

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Piston Slap: That One!

Kiwi writes:

Howdy Sajeev. I’m looking to the general crowd of enthusiasts and experts here to give me some advice. I am most assuredly not a car expert myself.

We have three cars, two of which are a 2000 Toyota Camry (177k miles) and a 2000 Chevy Blazer (78k miles). The Camry is my daily car, and I drive 55 miles round trip to work five days a week (sometimes more as I have night school twice a week). The Blazer is my mother-in-law’s car, and she drives very little, mainly just to pick up my daughter from school a couple of times a week (less than 10 miles round trip), down to the local shops, etc. We are up in the PA/NJ area.

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Hammer Time: The Next Flat Tax

I hate politics. Neither side of the extremes can do math and everyone in between ends up paying for it all. I don’t care if you’re a Rep, Dem, Lib, Con, Tea, or the apathetic majority. Putting faith in political solutions when it comes to money is never worth the effort. With that said, my home state of Georgia is money crunched. They see an asset worthy of their financial portfolio and yes, it is the automobile.

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Piston Slap: Extreme Jack Baruth Makeover

Elorac writes:


Not sure if this is an appropriate Piston Slap question, but here goes. I’m the owner of a 2009 Infiniti G37S coupe, manual trans, approx 30,000 miles. I’m very happy with the car (aside from a touchy clutch that gets tiresome in slow traffic), but ever since I bought it I’ve felt that I won’t really have gotten my money’s worth until I do some real hooning. I recently received a track day package as a gift, consisting of five half-hour sessions, the first with some manner of instructor. I’ll be attending next week, with just about equal parts excitement and trepidation.

Having never done anything of the sort before, and with little experience with truly “enthusiastic” driving, I’d like to ask you (and the B&B) for any advice you might have, in all aspects of the experience but with a particular emphasis on potential damage to my car’s powertrain innards. As laughable as it may seem, given the context, I do actually care about the long term health of this car, and I’d like to avoid doing anything too grievous to it. A fool’s errand?

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Hammer Time: The 'Keeper' Culture

My pants still fit me from college. Well, they are sweatpants after all. They were given to me by a friend of mine who is known as a ‘Datsunaholic’. He keeps a few old cars. A few of those models have been written up by Paul Niedermeyer who now keeps a lot of houses along with his new web site. He invariably finds ‘keeper folk’ from all walks of life. But most of the people he finds are not car enthusiasts at all. Why do they ‘keep’ these cars then? Are they perhaps hoarders? Do they suffer the afflictions of the wantless? Or is this just another write-up inspired by Kevin Bacon?

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Piston Slap: The Poverty Penalty

Louis writes:


I recently got involved with helping a female friend who is going through a divorce get a car (in Phoenix, AZ), and it seemed to me that the basic economics of used cars have shifted (“Cash for Clunkers”?) Old used cars with high miles and no warranties appeared to be so expensive that a new car would yield a lower cost per mile driven (as well as a much lower level of risk for a single woman with no mechanical skills). I ended up lending her the money to buy a new 2010 Hyundai Elantra SE.

Still, I’m wondering if it is still possible to achieve a significantly lower cost per mile with a used car than you can get by buying a new one and driving it into the ground. Or, is there now a “poverty penalty”, where people without the cash or credit to buy a new car end up paying more per mile driven?

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Hammer Time: A Time To Sell

Mark writes


We will be buying a new car soon and that will leave us with an extra one. My experience selling a car myself makes me think we don’t really have the motivation to do it ourselves this time around.

The car is located in CT and is a White 2007 Hyundai Sonata SE with ~73k miles on it. The only option is the Sunroof. For whatever reason the side mirrors seem to attract having the outer housing broken, they sre still functional but the housing rattles.. I’ve replaced one, unpainted grey , and will be replacing the other shortly. There are no other issues with the car as I can tell. The emissions test is due next month, so I’ll have to have that done.

Any tips?

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Piston Slap: Mo Money, Mo ...Panther Love?

TTAC’s twitter friend, Ethan, writes:

Hi Sajeev,

You probably remember my original query but this indecision is compounded by my second problem: I love the aforementioned Volvo, but with 185K ticking past on the odometer, the steering rack and other things are letting go.

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Hammer Time: The $20,000 Question

Have you ever been made an offer you couldn’t refuse? You never know when it might happen, so a little practice can’t hurt. Here’s the scenario: thanks to one of my old friends from New Jersey who has an amazing collection of Louisville Sluggers, 200 thousand dollars has been allocated to TTAC’s writers. $20,000 each. You’re welcome.

There is one catch.

The writers at TTAC have to buy a new car. That’s right. One new car (no BOGO free deals for a leftover Aveo). It can be anything they like. Hyundai, Toyota, Chevy… Jaguar? Fat chance! These fellows can go a little over the $20k mark on the MSRP. But the real world price before tax, title, bullshit fees etc. has to be no more than $20k.

So what car will they get? Will they follow the bleating herd of Billy Joel fans and buy something more milquetoast than a Milan? Perhaps a beige Camcord with an off-creme interior? Or maybe a Jetta that’s been as thoroughly decontented as Christina Aguilera’s last album? Or will it be something a bit more in your face? Like a… well… let me get to that later. I have to go move some mink coats. Just remember, when you’re taking favors from guys in a certain line of work, every decision has consequences…

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Piston Slap: Ranger of Motion, Part II

W.B. writes:


My ’05 Ranger 4wd w/5spd manual (35K on the odometer) does something strange indeed when I get ready to drive after it’s been parked for several hours. With the parking brake off, I shift to first and lightly engage the clutch. The truck strains against some kind of resistance, as if there were something obstructing the tires or as if I were starting on an incline. Neither of these are ever the case. With a little more gas and a little more clutch engaged, the truck “breaks free” with a loud “clunk,” and then drives normally afterward.

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Piston Slap: Self-Conscious About Your Rack?

Ronald writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Just about 2 years ago, the steering rack failed on my 1996 Lexus SC400 at 132,000 miles. Reconditioned rack #1 went bad in 3 weeks, and replaced with another. Reconditioned rack #2 also failed in about 2 months, and was replaced with a brand new rack.

Every time I got the car back, the steering feel was horrible even though they claimed they did an alignment (which they ended up doing every time I returned with the car). The last straw came when I was driving up a freeway entry ramp that had the pavement scraped in vertical lines, and the steering felt like a snake undulating left and right. Pissed, I finally took it to a Lexus shop where they performed an alignment and the car seemed to handle better. While satisfactory, it still was not the same as before the rack went bad. However, 2 weeks later the steering wheel was cocked to the left and the car was out of alignment. It went in yet again for an alignment at an independent shop and everything seemed fine – it was done better than by Lexus. Now two weeks after the latest alignment the steering wheel is cocked to the right and I’m beginning to feel the snake undulations again. What is throwing the car out of alignment? I live in Tampa, and the roads where I travel are in good condition, no potholes, I’m not running into curbs, and my wife doesn’t drive the car.

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Piston Slap: New or Used? Neither.

James writes:

My wife and I are considering replacing one of our cars. I drive a 2007 Honda Fit Sport (125k miles) and she drives a 2002 Subaru Forester (135k). We both have long commutes and I drive 30k per year and she drives over 20k per year.

Her Subaru is well cared for but aging. While is overall has been a pretty good vehicle, we’ve had to make the following, fairly typical, repairs over the last few months:

• New ball joint

• New CV joint.

• Timing Belt/Water pump/Thermostat/Camshaft and crankshaft seals.

• New tires/battery

Recently the CEL has come and gone, reporting that the catalytic converter is not operating optimally. This has been replaced once already in 2007. Thankfully, we’ve had no transmission or head gasket issues thus far with her Subaru.

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Hammer Time: Charity Then, Charity Now

My memories of ‘charity cars’ are not fond ones. Back in the late 1990’s the dirtiest public auction in metro-Atlanta would line up about 50 of these vehicles for the beginning of their sale. The acrid smell of blown head gaskets and leaking oils of every type would soon emanate the auction as most of these vehicles were pushed past the block. Back then you could buy a non-running car for about $20, and a running one for no more than $250. The high bidders were usually dealers, who would then bring back the same vehicles the following week and try to sell them for huge markup’s.

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Piston Slap: The Corolla and the Khadda Factor

Raghav writes:

While searching Internet I saw your replies on Toyota Corolla. I too have few problems with Toyota Corolla 2007 model purchased in India, it has 37,000 Km on the odometer. The vehicle is serviced regularly every 10,000 km. The problems are:

1. Engine growling noise steadily increases with the RPM beyond 3,000 and this happens on all gears. What could be the reason?

2. One of the rear shock absorber was leaking and the dealer replaced just the faulty one (under warranty, car had done 27,000 km) and after that I feel the ride quality is poor. Do you think changing only one shock can cause this?

I have taken it to the dealer but their response is vague like (a) sound insulation from engine area must have become weak (b) change tires because side walls have a crack.

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Piston Slap: Duratec Oil Leak, Explained

TTAC’s resident gasket engineer, gimmeamanual, shares some thoughts on a previous Piston Slap. For starters, let’s go back to the original problem. In his own words:

In the last post, the OP says that they have tracked the leak to the interface between the block and the oil pan. He also mentions a “spacer” as well as RTV. The Duratec 3.0L (D30) engine variants have used two different gasket designs for the oil pan, but I can’t remember which for which years; one design uses metal-backed gasket referred to as an “edge-bonded” gasket (no groove on either the pan or girdle), and one design uses a “press-in-place” design (groove in the oil pan).

Fidgeting between multiple designs for something as “not customer facing” as an oil pan gasket isn’t a very smart move. Then again, perhaps one design is more cost effective, and not likely to draw attention to itself until well past the warranty period? Think about that, next time we talk Corporate beancounting. But wait, there’s more:

The D30 is a split-block design where the oil pan is attached to the girdle, which is in turn attached to the block; the oil pan also bolts into the bottom of the front cover. The block-girdle interface is indeed sealed with RTV, but the girdle-pan interface is sealed with a gasket. Sounds like the metal spacer he is referring to is the metal backbone of the edge-bonded design, but hard to tell without pictures. For the RTV, it’s unclear where this RTV is, but there is RTV at the block/girdle/pan-front cover interface at what is called a T-joint, so named because the vertical “seam” of the front cover-girdle/pan runs into the horizontal “seam” of the pan-girdle-front cover.

Clear as mud? Here’s the punchline:

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Piston Slap: Celica Support Infrastructure

Jeremy writes:

Dear Sajeev, I am currently in possession of a 1985 Toyota Celica GT, with a clutch that is perpetually engaged. I originally bought the car when I moved across Canada, as a means of securing a cheap ride until I could save up some money for a down payment on a new car. I paid about $1100 for the car about 6 months ago, which had 165 000 verified kms and now has about 180 000. The car is actually in decent shape with very little rust, a clean interior, new front brakes and wheel bearings, new exhaust, spark plugs, bushings, and drove quite nicely up until now. It was not a problem when it moved because my girlfriend would use it for the day, then park it in our condos ‘visitors’ spots which are to be used for no more than 12 hours, a time limit that is strictly enforced.

I purchased a new car well before all of this, a 2011 Ford Focus (don’t laugh, it was a good price with all the options I wanted compared to the other cars I shopped for), so needless to say driving the Celica was a fun place to go on the weekend after a week of econoboxing. I would love to fix the clutch and keep this car, but I have nowhere to work on it, and don’t really want to pay what a garage would charge me to take it apart and fix it.

What do I do with it?

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Piston Slap: Sensible Shoes, in Need of Blue Suede?

Rich writes:


My New vs. Used dilemma was posted on 2/4/10. Based on your advice, TTAC member feedback and other research, I have made my decision. Last month I purchased a 2007 Ford Five Hundred SEL 2WD from the local Ford dealer. The car is just off lease with 28K miles, mechanically excellent, interior almost cherry and exterior very good. The dealer was asking for $14K, I offered $12.5K and we agreed to the Edmunds price of $12.7K. It drives pretty much as the critics say, great handling for a large car though a bit short on power. The power deficit is not terrible for everyday driving, I just need to rev it a bit. The motor isn’t tuned for low speed torque; something like GM’s or Ford’s 3.8 would be a better match for this car than the Duratec. The car returned 21 MPG in suburban driving on my first tankful.

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Hammer Time: Tax Season

When should you not buy a used car? Try right now. From mid-February thru early-June, the auto industry goes through an event called tax season. Folks receive their refund checks from the IRS, which in turn creates a nice little bubble of activity in the used car industry. Which is a good thing. Except that bubbles always have nasty repercussions down the road.

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Piston Slap: Re-write Destiny, Re-Love The MR2

Tae-Moo writes:

Sajeev! Your bottomless well of knowledge and practical opinions has turned me into a huge fan of TTAC. With all your knowledge I hope you can answer a very broad but basic question of mine:

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(Sledge) Hammer Time: Get Out of My Life!

Sledgehammers aren’t a common mechanic’s tool. Yet there it was. In my neighbor’s hands as he sought to knock some sense into his old Saab. The trunk had leaked from day one and the wiring harness made the rear lights as helter-skelter as a Charlie Manson jailhouse flashback. The cops pulled him over for the third time in a week and as a special, “Thank you!”, to his car, he decided to give it an early Christmas present. Jersey style.

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Piston Slap: ...and Behind Door Number Two

Sean writes:

I am looking to purchase either a 2002 Acura RSX automatic with 105,360 miles for $6995 from a dealer or a 2005 Scion tC manual with 86455 miles for $7986. Which car do you think is better and a better deal?

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Piston Slap: Diesel Love, or The Fuel of the Devil?

Steve writes:

Hi TTAC, long time follower here with a 2006 VW GOLF Diesel 1.9L.

The car was one of the last batch Mk.4 Golf’s with a diesel engine purchased in Canada where I live. Since then, it has had small and large repairs galore including temperature sensor replacements, an entire transmission (Automatic Tiptronic, 09A, a big regret) replacement at 21000kms, rear hatch wiring adjustments (I noticed the hatch will not lock), front door hinge adjustment because the front 2 doors were rubbing against the top tips of the rear two doors and chipping away paint with eventual rust setting in. Later on, suspension bushings up front were replaced, the left front headlights went out a few times and then came back by itself, the dealer could not find any fault.

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Hammer Time: The Enthusiast Bent

I bought my house 14 years ago. It has 1800 square feet. Or maybe 1600? I honestly don’t know. From post-college corporate climbing to an endless string of automotive pursuits, it has remained my only ‘home’. I went through a lot of history here. Roommates. Marriage. Parenthood… and now I’m finally paying it all off. I supposedly missed a lot as far as homes go these last 10 years. The real estate boom happened all around me in northwest Atlanta. But I never missed it. In automotive terms, my house is a Toyota Corolla… with a hot tub, and I’m happy. Which makes me realize…

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Super Piston Slap: BMW Lawsuit, Direct Injection Hatred, Walnut Futures?
Hammer Time: Of Snakes and Charms

We had to move 10 cars in 1 day. 75 miles each way. Five at the lot. Five at the auction. Atlanta was going through it’s 16th cold spell of this season and I had my wife, two seniors, and a Honda Insight enthusiast who came in all the way from Florida for a spare battery pack. Yes, I could have hired a hauler for this. But that would have cost me over $700 in the end. Doing it this way would cost less than $100 and with this being a Wednesday, it was worth the four hours. Or would it be eight?

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Super Piston Slap: Kickstarting a Porsche IMS Lawsuit?

Robert writes:

I just replaced the engine in my 2005 Porsche 911 due to the failure of the INTERMEDIATE SHAFT. I would like to know just how widespread the problem is with 911’s and other Porsche models too. Why?

I am considering filing a lawsuit against Porsche to recover the costs associated with replacing the engine. If you have had an INTERMEDIATE SHAFT failure and have an interest in joining in my lawsuit or simply sharing your experience please contact me: westsidetravelmedicineATgmail.com

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Piston Slap: Where's the LH-Love?

Randy writes:

Dear Sajeev, I’m a middle-aged man in love with a cranky mistress. My 1999 Concorde LXi has developed a thumping sound from the right front going over bumps with the wheel slightly turned to the right. It currently has around 94k miles on the ticker. I enjoy this car for no other reason than it is a large fwd American sedan that can cruise the interstate all day long and returns decent mileage with the 3.2 liter engine.

I bought it three years ago from an elderly couple in Topeka. They claimed it didn’t run well and I being slightly mechanically inclined determined the belts were bad and a failed a/c compressor was the main culprit. At that time it had 36k miles on the odometer. It looks good, no rust, original paint and wheels. I have had all the services done including the timing belts, tensioners and water pump replaced for preventative care. The transmission fluid has been changed twice now under my care.

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Piston Slap: Ponder On Proportions, Please

TTAC Commentator jrominski writes:

Sajeev, re: New Or Used article a while ago on rust belt engineer relocated to Saltillo with $45k car allowance from first tier supplier employer to drive whatever he wants to drive for work.

Fast forward: 1 year in, he is handing in his employer’s used-up 1 year old V6 cayenne and taking a new GTI with the new engine next weekend. He drives hard, which is OK from destructive testing point of view. He asked for, and receives VW factory 17 wheels, unlike US public. They fit. (Cue old racing adage about brake size and wheel size)

His job prospects include offer to go to Mongolia – new plant there. Who knows what he’d drive there.

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Hammer Time: You Lost The War, Dude!

We used to call Logandale Auto Auction the red light district. In the auction business, when a red light flashes above the auction block, that means the vehicle is selling AS/IS. Once you become the high bidder, you own it. Along with any and all parts that may fall off the vehicle once it exits the auction barn. I have sold vehicles that literally gave up their last gasp right in front of the auction block, and Logandale was the absolute king of these “crap auctions”.

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Piston Slap: Licenses: Not Just For Driving Any More!

TTAC Commentator David Holzman writes:

Sajeev, among the many inconveniences of winter: the frequent need to scrape snow and ice off of the car windows. You should be glad to be down there in Texas where you don’t have to deal with pieces of solidified atmosphere that congeal on the windshield. Is there any device or method that takes the tsuris out of window clearing?

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Piston Slap: More Honda Slushbox FAIL...

Jonathon writes:

Sajeev, my just post-college daughter is driving our 2003 Honda Accord EX – V-6, leather, Navigation, all the sweet bells and whistles. The bulk of 175,000 miles have been highway-easy, and the vehicle has been well-maintained during its life. . . except the transmission. After an early flush-and-fill at 30K, it didn’t see fluid change until something north of 95K, and is now waaay due for fresh fluid.

It doesn’t whine, and up- and downshifts when expected. My daughter mentioned a “shudder” in the car when she backs from her parking space and shifts into Drive. She took it to the dealer and — guess what? — they recommended she replace the tranny for a cost of $4,000. “We give you a three-year guarantee,” they cheerily promise.

Uh, not gonna happen. But, she plans on keeping the car for at least another year or two. Maybe longer.

That’s the windup and here’s the pitch: Considering the age, mileage and mostly highway-driven wear, when I have the transmission fluid replaced next month, should I have it powerflushed to make it squeaky clean or do a simple drain and topoff (out of fear of “dislodging” some clearances that have been built over thousands of miles)?

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Piston Slap: The Terminal Beater

Chuck writes:

I have been an avid reader of TTAC for roughly a year and a half, and I love this site! I really like the advice articles. I have come into an automotive dilemma concerning a inherited 2004 Honda Civic VP.

My mother recently passed away, so i inherited her Honda. I need to sell the Civic as quickly as possible for as much as possible. There is a issue though- The front bumper is damaged, I put the car into KBB for value assessment and KBB in “Fair” condition says the Honda is worth $7,000 I would like to get as close to 5K as possible. Our friendly neighborhood watch has given me a notice with a $44.00 fine to remove the car that doesn’t have plates from the driveway ASAP!

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Piston Slap: Bustin' a Nut in a Big Six

TTAC Commentator Modest Holdings writes:

Sajeev may have once read the primer on my truck but for everyone else, here’s the brief: short-box, regular cab 1994 Ford F-150, 300-six, Mazda hand-shaker. Four wheel drive, 133K, yadda yadda yadda.

Some time ago – it must have been before last winter, because my toes still haven’t recovered – the radiator fan clutch seized and the engine has consistently run cold. Fuel economy has sufered – three recent 1,600 mile interstate runs averaged 12.2, 11.5 and 11.9 mpg on a combination of hi-altitude 85 straight gas and what I suspect was E-10 87 octane through Nebraska and Iowa.

I was going to replace the damn thing back in…January?… but couldn’t get the nut busted free and gave up. It did nothing for my ambition when I changed a friend’s water pump for her on the 3.9l in her Dakota and needed both acetylene and eventually a plasma cutter to get the fan off her old pump. So, what suggest ye to bust nut free? I’ve tried the obvious things: heat, thrice-a-day WD-40 applications, cheater bars, swear words. Many bloody knuckles resulted. I briefly considered dynamite.

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Hammer Time: Q&A

Now that Atlanta is shut down, I can answer at least a few recent questions from the Best & Brightest. Over the weeks there have been emails sent to me that didn’t a require a five paragraph essay. In fact the answers would reflect the quick and easy answers preferred by the bridgekeeper of Monty Python fame. So before I decide to ponder the differences between an African or European swallow, here’s a few car related queries and quips.

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Piston Slap: The Terminal Lease

Peter writes:

My question is about getting out of a car lease.

Last night I was speaking to a recent widow. A few months before her husband died, he had taken out a lease on a 2010 car. She still has 14 months to go on the 36-month lease for a 2009 Toyota RAV4. She doesn’t need to carry the lease on two vehicles and wants to hold on to the newer one.

The RAV4 has 18,000 miles and the lease is $359 a month, which is high (there’s no deposit). That leaves about 18,000 miles for someone to take it over before it expires in Feb. 2012.

She’s listed it with Swapalease and isn’t getting any interest there. I’ve also mentioned Leasetrader.com, CarLeaseDepot.com, and EasyRelease.com as alternatives, but don’t know their reputations. And of course there is Craigslist.

Can you think of other alternatives that might be helpful for getting out of this, including negotiation with Toyota Financial if such a thing is possible? Thank you.

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Hammer Time: Choose Your 20 Year Sentence

You’re 20 years old. At least for this exercise, you have been able to implant your current wisdom into that once wonderful body of yours. You hit the jackpot! Well, sort of… A genie popped out of a bottle of Colt 45 and granted you the chance to relive your life from that 20th birthday forward. Except there’s a catch. You must live out the next 60 years of your life drinking malt liquor and sporting bad hair.

Actually, it’s not that bad. You can buy only 1 new car for the next 20 years of your life. Tough break huh? The car you choose must be owned and maintained by you, and only you, for the next 20 years. Why? Don’t ask questions. This genie’s been stuck in a malt liquor bottle for decades and it wouldn’t grant you a wish without messing with your head at least a little bit.

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Piston Slap: Five Points of Light, Winter Driving Edition

TTAC Commentator Craigotron writes:

I recently moved from Wyoming to Washington D.C. (and I grew up in northern Michigan) and have been tasked with preparing a brief five point “Winter Driving Tips” article for a local news outlet feature. I was asked since I’m the resident automotive enthusiast and my winter driving credentials (I don’t think I’ve ever owned anything that hasn’t been RWD…) here are pretty good; this is the first warm place I’ve lived in… well… ever. They thought I’d be a good person to help prepare the neighborhood for the next Snowpocalypse.

I’d love to ask the best and brightest for some input. I’m making sure all the obvious stuff is there: keep up on maintenance, understand how your car works, jumper cables, keep your tank full, kitty litter. What would you add to the mix?

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Piston Slap: The Case For Saving a 4th Gen Jetta

Scott writes:

Sajeev: I am 31 years old, married, no kids, and I have a 1999.5 VW Jetta, 2.slow, 150K miles. The 5-speed deserves at least a nod. Dealer-installed lowering kit and rims another. Bought in 2005, sunk $1000 into it that year (timing belt, ABS) then another $1500 in ’08 (CV joint, wheel bearing, etc), plus the odd $100 or $200. Or $300. Well, since last year I’ve let it go south. Window fell into the door so I propped it up with a stick. Check engine light and ABS light are annoying, so black tape on the dash. Keyless entry, heated seats, interior lights. The dings have turned into little rust spots on the body. Things I can live with (yes I’d like ABS but the mere thought may cause me to go postal).

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Piston Slap: Save Me From My WRX!

TTAC Commentator PG writes:

Sajeev, my 2008 Subaru WRX is like a hot girl with a coke problem – lots of fun, but I can’t keep up. Now a few months back, Piston Slap gave me some great advice on my parents’ BMW X5. They haven’t unloaded it yet, but I think they will soon. Thanks again! Now, I was wondering if you and the Best and Brightest could help me out.

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Hammer Time: Unwrapping Presents

Christmas 2010. Baseball cards have been replaced with Pokemon cards. An Army knife that could have made my mom faint back when, is now part of my son’s Boy Scouts arsenal. We even did a scavenger hunt for their last present. Which lead to a ‘paper guitar’ that I know has more computing power than my old Colecovision. Here I am counting my blessings while pecking away in an ‘open’ office where I get to hear and see everything. The kids have their games. The wife has enough wine for 2011, and my gas and electric bill was less than $100 for two months straight. What can I say, life is good. I also got me a present.

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Piston Slap: Patience, Head Gaskets, Subaru Labor Rates

Janet writes:

Please be patient. I know nothing about the internal workings of cars. Is there a difference between a head gasket and valve cover gasket or valve gasket cover? My mechanic tells me my head gasket is leaking slightly and needs to be watched: I was down 1/2 gallon of coolant since August. Back in 2008 a different mechanic replaced the valve cover gasket (or valve gasket cover?) because the car was hesitating and running rough: I had tried Dry Gas thinking it was a bad tank of gas but that did not alleviate the problem.

Are we talking about 2 different parts? Would you please explain the function(s)? Is it/are they visible when I open the hood of my car? Thank you.

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Piston Slap: A Decided Pulsation, A Tough Decision

Steve writes:

My wife’s beloved ’04 Lexus RX330 has a decided pulsation when the brakes are applied at highway speed coming down from the mountains. Do understand that I try not to overuse the brakes in mountain driving– I will downshift the 5-sp AT whenever it will help. I figured it has warped rotors. It did this at about 30k and they replaced the rotors under warranty. I’ve not noticed this on flat ground, but given the car I’m not into aggressive driving with this vehicle.

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Hammer Time: Tricking a Birddog

Every few months I get an unwanted creature in my life. It smiles. It makes nice conversation, and for as long as I’m at the auction it almost never leaves me alone. “What did you think about that car Steve?”, “How’s business going Steve?” “Are you going to bid on that car Steve?” Rarely do I get sick of hearing my own name. But when it’s said for the sake of a one sided relationship, my mind wanders to deviant thoughts.

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Piston Slap: Eibachin', I Bitchin' About Zerks

Andrew writes:

I’m a 21-year-old college student with a 2001 Chevy Cavalier with the 2.2L and 5-speed. I bought the car when I started college with 40,000 miles on it and I have driven it to 70,000 miles without any problems, despite not always being nice to it. But now the suspension — I think it’s coming from the front — is starting to make a good bit of noise.

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Piston Slap: Another Impending Coupe D'etat?

Alex writes:

I have a 2000 Honda Accord Coupe EX-V6, 253k miles, original automatic transmission. I’ve had 2 motor mounts replaced, a heater core, and otherwise just standard maintenance (transmission service every 50k miles, new belts every 100k, along with new water pump; new alternator whenever I burn the old one out). Last year, the tranny started whining, giving the inevitable death wail of the Honda slushbox. But it’s still going strong, the wail has stopped, and the transmission fluid looks and smells as clean as ever. My wife and I are looking into buying a 2009 Honda Fit Sport to replace it. The question: do I sell this bad boy or keep it, and do I wait till it dies to buy the Fit (or Pontiac Vibe, or something else)? Full disclosure: my father in law is a GM mechanic, who would love it if I bought a GM.

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Hammer Time: 10 – 20 – 30

About 5% of the population buys a car out of love. The rest are just balancing the checkbook. Maybe I’m nuts for writing this since cars are seen as an embodiment of freedom in many cultures. But even with the halo of “freedom,” true hardcore auto enthusiasts are still a very small portion of the entire population. Consider how many people would own a car if they didn’t need one? Ever?

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Piston Slap: A Leaky Rear Goes Unnoticed

Drake writes:


I have a 2007 Fusion with the 3.0 Duratec V6, with 83,000 miles on it. I have owned it since new and 90% of the miles are long highway drives. I have recently discovered that there is an engine oil leak. I have put the engine oil dye from Ford in it to try to pin point where the leak is coming from. It is a small leak, takes a while to get noticed (when the oil finally makes it’s way to the exhaust and smokes a bit).

Local Ford dealer does not have a clue, I have called other larger dealers in the area and had them check for service bulletins and asked if anyone has come across a similar problem and what it may be. No luck. Best that I and a couple of very good mechanic friends can figure is that a head gasket might be leaking.

So, I have traversed the Internet looking for and information about this problem when I came across one of your articles. Thanks!

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Hammer Time: Keys

$2, $20, $200. $2000. Which one of the four would you like to pay? I always liked to opt for that simple $2 key. A crafted piece of metal cut to fit another crafted piece of metal. Turn the key for 20 years and enjoy a simple solution. But not everyone thinks that way.

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Piston Slap: Sulphur Farts

TTAC Commentator dastanley writes:

Well here I am again on Piston Slap about my 2006 Corolla w/ about 44k miles. This isn’t a burning question (no pun intended), I’m just curious. This time it’s the exhaust – it stinks. I know that the rotten egg smell comes from the catalytic converter, but why? Is the engine running rich and overloading the converter?

The check engine light isn’t on and the gas mileage is about the same, so the computer (apparently) hasn’t detected a problem. I use regular 86 octane fuel (high altitude), mostly Conoco-Phillips with “Pro-Clean”. I’ve been told that the fuel in this region of NM has a high sulfur content, although I can’t confirm that.

The exhaust odor doesn’t bother me when driving around (I’m not following my own car), but every time I pull into the garage, it smells pretty obnoxious and my wife thinks I’ve farted. WTF?

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Piston Slap: Have You No Sense Of Decency Sir, At Long Last?"

TTAC Commentator Jems86 writes:

A question for the B&B: Is the test above rigged?

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Hammer Time: Cruisin' In The Wintertime

What is white, powerful, a ton of fun, and comes with a ‘retractable’ top? If you said the author well, you’re mostly wrong. My top happens to be aerodynamic and I only have powerful eyeglasses. But when it comes to cars we’re talking about convertibles in the wintertime. This week there are a massive amount of convertible trade-in’s at the auctions. A lot of folks here in Atlanta want to forgo the delayed gratification of a spring day for a winter shopping spree. Black Friday shopping sometimes requires divestments and some folks have decided that the least favorite toy must be exchanged for the most recent shopping season. Is this the right decision? Well, it depends on how you measure value.

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Piston Slap: Mercury's Final Mistake?

TTAC Commentator SupremeBrougham writes:

Hey Sajeev, I decided that I want to try my hand at throwing a Piston Slap topic your way: my grandparents gave me a 1995 Mercury Mystique LS that has been passed around our family since new. The car has 121k on it, but the motor (V6) has about 40k fewer miles and the trans (auto) now has around 15k total.

Here is my issue. When pulling out from a stop, the engine revs to almost 5000 rpm before shifting gears, regardless of how gentle I am with the gas. I want to have it looked at, but here is where it gets tricky for me. My grandfather, who worked for Ford in Transmission Engineering, and my uncle decided to take on the task of replacing the engine and trans in this car four years ago, as a final hurrah for my grandpa, as he is getting up in years. It took them six months, but they did it. The car went on to two more uncles before coming back to my grandparents, and then on to me. My grandpa gave me the car with the stipulation that I was not to put any more money into it. And if anything was to go wrong with it I am to bring it back for repairs. But I live almost 200 miles away, so that isn’t so easy.

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Piston Slap: A Gassy Problem From a Hibernating Audi

Todd writes:

Hello Sajeev, I have a 2001 Audi TT (225hp) that cranks but wont start, not even a sputter. Thus far I’ve checked for fuel and spark and both seem to be in working condition. I verified fuel by unplugging the return line and watching fuel come out as the motor was cranked. I can hear the injectors ticking so it seems they’re working as well. I popped off a coil pack and grounded it to a screwdriver to verify that I also have spark. At this point I’m thinking the fuel in the tank has gone bad because the car has not been significantly driven in 18 months. I literally haven’t started or driven it in nine months, and when I did drive it nine months ago it was for about 3 miles. There was less than a 1/4 of a tank of gas in it while it sat for those 18 months and I just added about 3 gallons of premium to the tank with no result. There also seems to be an odd smell coming from the exhaust when I crank the car, almost like a paint remover or super glue smell. Is this bad gas? I’m really stumped here because I feel like even if the gas is bad it would at least sputter or run rough.

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Hammer Time: Value

What makes a vehicle valuable? Most folks chose to invest in the myth. A given brand a ‘Supername’ alone can save them from a Kryptonite’s worth of expenses and maintenance issues. I work backwards. The name alone doesn’t tell me very much. The owners do. When I find an owner who has been a good steward of their vehicle, I take the plunge regardless of the name involved. Does this always work?

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Piston Slap: Design Talk On the Wide Track

BG writes:

Hi Sajeev! I am a big fan of TTAC and visit it almost every day. I have a question for you, so here it is:

We’ve heard so much about the goodness of wide wheel tracks, where the wheels are pushed to its corner. And the benefit of this seem natural and easy to comprehend for me, better handling, better looks, perhaps even better interior room if the wheel wells can be made less deep. It’s the other end of the spectrum, the narrow wheel tracks, that I can’t understand. What could possibly be the benefit of having a narrow wheel tracks? For some reason it used to be so popular, nearly all cars featured them. Even after the wide tracks was popularized by Pontiac in the 1960s, most cars still came with wheels that are placed well inside its openings. The only reason for them I can think of to justify that is if you want to use wheel skirts or low, “barely there” wheel openings, the Bathtub Nash being a good example. But most of these cars with narrow tracks have full wheel openings, at least in front. Why the narrow tracks then, I wonder?

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Hammer Time: Black Friday 2010

What can you do with a $20 bill these days? Lunch with a friend? Movie tickets? Perhaps a newfound garden weasel that is being sold on national TV. If you’re cheap enough, you can actually take care of your car’s routine maintenance for quite a long time. Thanks to the consumerist Christmas known as Black Friday the season to be cheap is upon us. For instance…

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Piston Slap: Design Talk On the Bench

TTAC Commentator Halftruth writes:

Hey Sajeev, maybe this has been covered before, but as I read thru new car reviews here on TTAC I see that every car maker has left out one of my fave features: the bench seat! I see these huge, gaudy, dust collector consoles in between the two front seats taking up leg and knee room! Am I the only one that misses the bench seat? And column shift? Say it ain’t so! I know they still exist on trucks to some degree but for me, my pref is a good ol’ bench seat. I prefer the 60/40 split and do think they are quite comfy (I am reminded of my years in a 96 Intrepid). I am sure the manufacturers are simply responding to market demands but what do you think? What does the B&B think? Am I sounding like a dinosaur here?

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Piston Slap: A Beast of a Reaction Shell

TTAC Commentator Azure Ape writes:

I’ve got an odd one compared to the normal repair/fix stories. I’m a twenty-something in the Midwest with his first real job and a mountain of graduate student debt who is currently driving a 2002 Chevy Tahoe LT 4WD. I’ve been borrowing it from my parents because I couldn’t afford my own car and they just gifted it to me as my own. It currently has 72,000 miles and has been in the family since 24,000; I’ve been driving it since about 52,000. I recently had leaking front axle seals and a lower ball joint boot replaced. I change the oil when the oil life indicator says so and otherwise maintain it well.

I’ve read that the transmission on these is prone to failure. Should I have the transmission fluid changed before the recommended 100,000 miles? How often thereafter? Anything else I should keep my eye on/do preemptively? Oh yeah, my current commute is 120 miles round trip every day (when I’m not able to carpool or it’s my turn to drive). I’d like something more fuel efficient but it’s hard to argue with a free car, even if it is one that swills gas.

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Piston Slap: The Kid's Got a Point, Dear

TTAC Commentator Silent Ricochet writes:

Hi Sajeev, I am the owner of a 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 (has the 2.4L LDR motor in it) with about 128,000 Miles on it. I being a teenager, have my fun with it, but also baby it when it’s cold out, let it warm up plenty, even in the summer, and give it an oil change every 3000 Miles; no excuses. The car has a 5-speed Manual Gearbox, and I’m trying to figure out this awful noise that comes from my car when shifting from time to time. In any gear, other than first, if the RPM’s are too low for that gear (usually under 2000 RPM), the engine is kinda sluggish (that’s expected). What isn’t expected is this weird metallic vibrating sound that comes out of my car. Happens often when being in too high of a gear when going around a turn (even in 2nd gear, and I can’t put the car in 1st around a turn unless I’m doing under like 5 MPH). Pressing the gas harder to raise my RPM’s quicker does nothing, if anything just amplifies the sound, so What I must do is either downshift to a lower gear if possible, or just lightly hold my foot on the gas until I get back into my Torque band around 2400RPM. The noise can be hear well outside of the car, as I get looks from people walking by when the noise is made, and I can even hear it reverberate off the houses in my neighborhood when my windows are down. What is this noise and is it a cause for concern?

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  • FifaCup Loving both Interior and exterior designs.
  • FifaCup This is not good for the auto industry
  • Jeff S This would be a good commuter vehicle especially for those working in a large metropolitan area. The only thing is that by the time you put airbags, backup cameras, and a few of the other required safety features this car would no longer be simple and the price would be not much cheaper than a subcompact. I like the idea but I doubt a car like this would get marketed in anyplace besides Europe and the 3rd World.
  • ScarecrowRepair That's what I came to say!
  • Inside Looking Out " the plastic reinforced with cotton waste used on select garbage vehicles assembled by the Soviet Union. "Wrong. The car you are talking about was the product German engineering, East German. It's name was Trabant.