4
Nov

Poll Time!

Simple poll at Survey Monkey. Please rank what you would like to read about on the site. If there is something else you think is interesting, aside from memes, drop me a note.

 

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MYX7JJS

 

 

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4
Oct

Car Care 201

The automatic car wash. Most people do it, even car people. During the winter months it can be a real pain, literally, to stand out in the cold and clean. The problem with automatic brush type washes is they manage to scratch the hell out of your car. The newer automotive staged paints have a clear coat on top of the base color to protect it from various things. It isn't magic though. Magnets are magic. After 10-20 washes, those brushes start imparting swirls and scratches into that clear coat. If you have a black car, or darker colored car it starts to make the car look aged and not well cared for even when fairly new.

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Luckily, some of the newer products out in the market today allow you to prep your car for those nasty, salt filled winters to keep that time to a minimum while providing protection from scratches. The newer coatings also have anti-static and hydrophobic properties that really help to keep dirt, dust and other contaminants from sticking to the paint. These contaminants are what get embedded in those car wash brushes and then (at high speed) scrape across your car.

So, the good news is you can significantly change the way the car holds up to these harsh environments. The bad news is it actually takes real hard work to make it all look good and stay looking good. If anyone says there is a simple, cheap method for this just walk away. At your own home, or in some place covered with access to a water source you can spend the better part of a full day taking a car from nasty to amazing.

Before doing any of this, one needs to determine what sort of paint they have. There are a few different types and sometimes require different methods. Also, each manufacturer uses a different paint and they have a different hardness to them. This determines the method one would use to get a perfect shine. Find some forums relating to detailing and I am sure someone can answer these questions about your specific car. If all else fails, head down to your local dealership or body shop and ask. If you have a hard clear coat found regularly in newer German cars, it will take you over to some more abrasive cutting pads for polishing. Yep, you are going to need a polisher. Before you do any of that though, you need to clean the car first.

If you have never polished the car before, it has a load of contaminants embedded as indicated earlier. You have to get them all out before you can polish. Otherwise, you are just grinding the dirt into the clear coat and possibly making it worse. How should you start?

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The first obvious answer is to wash it. With what? In 99% of cases I would never recommend using any sort of dish soap to wash your car. However, you are trying to completely remove any oils and contamination from your paint. First step is to wash it with Dawn or equivalent. Regular car wash is fine, but if you have a car that hasn't been cared for in a long time there may be some things that wouldn't come out with regular car wash soap. What should you wash it with? Any sort of wash mitt specifically meant for washing cars. Recently, a new trend is to get a bucket that holds a dirt strainer where the wash mitt doesn't actually touch the bottom of the bucket. I'm not 100% sure this works all that well, but the principle makes sense. I have found you can use the wash mitt 3-4 times depending on how dirty the car is before you need to wash it at the sink with some Dawn soap.

So, the car is clean, relatively. It isn't really clean though. Living in a state where construction happens a lot there are inevitably times when you drive through a freshly laid patch of asphalt and little pieces fling up onto your car and stick to the paint. Something like Goo Gone or equivalent works really well on these parts. It may take quite some time to get all the parts off, but it will be worth it in the end. After finishing up with the Goo Gone, the car needs to be wiped down with an oil/wax remover. Car Pro makes a good one. This absolutely needs to be done before the next step, otherwise the clay bar will stick to the paint.

Next up is the clay bar:

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Newer inventions include the clay towel. I haven't had much luck with them and prefer a regular bar, but they are pretty cheap if you want to try one. Most of the detail supply places sell a type of no rinse car wash that can double as a lubricant for the clay bar. Otherwise, you'll probably be stuck buying the standard clay bar kit, which still works pretty well. Using a clay bar just takes some practice. You have to fully wet the surface before starting with the bar. After that, it is simply working the bar across the paint. Some imperfections and debris in the paint will take longer to remove. On some parts I would spend 2-3 minutes just removing some stubborn debris. Some come out and some are just stuck on there. If you try 2-3 times to get it out and it won't go, just move on and understand it may come out with the buffer, but not likely. Do one panel at a time. Your arms will be tired. Before using the clay bar, some prefer to use a product called Iron X  (or similar) to remove oxidized iron deposits on the paint. It can be a good step if you have heavy oxidation of the paint. Many times you can recognize them as little orange dots.

After they clay bar process, the car needs one more pass with the oil/wax remover. THEN, the car is clean. At least it should be. Now, the polishing can start.

As I mentioned at the beginning, you need to figure out what type of paint you have to determine what sort of plan you should have for polishing. This is the most complicated and confusing part, as there doesn't seem to be many standards on this one. Each company that makes polish has a different nomenclature for each product and what it does. Then there are the pads for the polisher. There are at least 30-40 different pads and types I could find. How do you pick?  When I first started into this I enlisted the help of a good friend that has been detailing for a few years with some really impressive results. We decided I should pick up a Lake Country Hybrid Orange pad and some white finishing polish pads. I bought 6 of each. Depending on how dirty the car is (or how large) you may use all 6 of each type. Since most of my paint issues were just swirl marks and imperfections, I chose to start with Menzerna FG (fast gloss) 4000 for the orange pads and Car Pro Reflect with the white pads for a finishing set.

So, which polisher should you buy? If you can, don't. Borrow a friend's polisher if they have a nice one. Anything that is a dual action polisher will work. Though, you can go super high end and get some really nice equipment that will likely last a lifetime. Any detailing supply place will have a few options. The options range from about $100 up to about $600 and that doesn't include the cost of pads.

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Now, you have the polisher, the pads and the polish. Start with taping off a small section of the hood or panel that has the worst issues. Start with the most abrasive set of pads and polish. As a side note, there are a LOT of Youtube videos on how to properly use a polisher and the way to work it into the paint. I typically use a criss-cross pattern and go over each part twice. Twice up/down and twice left/right.  If the polish starts to "spit" or send dried bits off it has probably dried and you need more polish. It will take some time to figure out the exact way and amount you need to use.

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After finishing up the test section, wipe off the excess with a microfiber cloth. Shine a light on the paint and see how well it worked. As many people have said, you may not be able to remove all the imperfections without burning through the entire clear coat. If some swirls are still there, go for a second round of the cutting polish/pad. Typically I use the medium speed on my polisher and light to moderate pressure. Go slow with the passes and make sure you are working the polish into the paint.

When the test section is how you want it to look, there is a good path to do the rest of the car. Obviously, do one panel at a time. If you have single stage paint, be careful at the edges as the paint is thinner there.

There are two parts left. After finishing up with the heavier polish, you can move to a finishing polish. This type really brings out some shine and reflection. Use the same procedure (minus the test section) and go over the whole car again. After finishing with this stage, use the wax/polish remover to get all the last bits of polish off the car. Now, the car should be looking really good and you are done except for the coating/wax.

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Coatings are fairly new to the consumer market and they continue to evolve quickly. These are very different from a standard wax and tend to last a lot longer while also providing much more protection. However, they are a lot harder to apply. Temperature has a large effect on how the coatings apply and buff. Also, they take time to cure. Many of the coatings take at least 24-48 hours to cure after application. Cquartz, what I used, can't have rain hit it for at least 24 hours. That can be a pain if you don't park your car in a garage. Full curing time seems a murky subject. I have heard they take anywhere between 48 hours and 2 weeks. When I used this on a car recently, there didn't seem to be any issues after 24 hours, though I did try to wash it right after driving on any dirt roads for a week. Many of the newer coatings boast a 1-2 year durability. It does seem the Cquartz allows for super easy washing. Dirt doesn't seem to stick to the paint as much as it used to.

That's it! If you take your sweet time and have some delicious beverages it will likely take two full days. However, it will be a long lasting car care endeavor that you can be proud of. I am sure I am missing a few details and feel free to comment/post about any additional helpful items.

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27
Apr

Dealership Stereotypes

I haven't written a post in a while. Shame on me. The life situation has been a bit busy with multiple new people in my life. On April 9'th 2014, my wife gave birth to my two twin sons, Jay and Cameron. We are both very happy and very exhausted. At the same time this is all happening, I have been trying to sell my 2007 Dodge Ram 3500. Autotrader finally rounded up some suspects to purchase said vehicle. I was happy that people were interested, but my timing to put the ad up may have been squeezing a few too many things into my life. The day after we brought our newborn sons home, I had someone come over to take a final look at the truck.

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They were happy and made me an offer, which I accepted. This managed to lift a fairly large weight off my shoulders. However, now began the process of looking for another truck. I sold the Dodge because it was a manual and we now have 3 used cars in the family. If one breaks down, someone will have to drive the truck. To be honest, the stick shift diesel wasn't the easiest truck to drive and the wife would be much happier driving a gigantic truck with an auto instead of trying to manhandle a G-56. It also had a dual plate clutch, which made all kinds of racket if you didn't know how to deal with the quirks.

So, the search begins for me as it usually does; look at autotrader, cars.com, ebay, and searchtempest. Looking at all the offerings in my price range my choices were:

1. Another Dodge Ram (with automatic)

2. Chevy Silverado

3. Ford F350

Why not buy another Ram? Well, the one I had required some "modifications" to get any sort of decent gas mileage. This made the truck smell pretty awful. Lots of people suggested I just go with an older 5.9L Cummins instead of the newer 6.7L with all of the fuel economy robbing emissions equipment. Well, if I was going to get another stick shift, I would agree. However, the older 5.9L trucks only had a 4-speed automatic and I have owned one before. Let's just say it wasn't the preferred vehicle in the stable. The newer 6.7L trucks came with a 68RFE 6-speed automatic, which is much preferred. To find the modified truck with the 6-speed automatic was difficult. This was mostly difficult because I wanted a 2wd truck.

At this point, most people stop and furl their brow at why anyone would want a 2wd truck. I do, and don't want the extra maintenance and cost of 4WD. I could give quite a few more reasons, but most of the time it doesn't make sense to anyone who likes 4WD anyway.

The Silverado. As a stock truck, it offers the best gas mileage (of a giant truck), and seemingly the best transmission. However, it is a V8 diesel and they have problems with earlier Duramax engines. The best years appear to be 2006-2007 which moved to the 6-speed allison automatic and the Duramax LBZ engine. Late 2007 moved to the LMM engine which also was accompanied by the DPF filters and decreased mileage. The interiors of these trucks is less than ideal. Old GM is all I can say. Switches that look like they came from a early 80's concept car and plastic interior bits that remind me of cheap cordless phones from Wallmart. Also, the wheelwell gaps on these trucks are obnoxiously large and appear as though at the last minute GM decided to use Radio Flyer wheels.

The Ford F350. Of them all, I think this is the best looking truck from the outside. All the proportions look right. The interior is proper crap though. Ford's automatic transmissions don't see many complaints from what I can gather, which is a great thing in my book. Unfortunately, the Navistar developed 6.0L diesel was a large black eye for Ford. From all of my research the problem was the EGR cooler. Condensation would form inside the cooler and block the passage, which would eventually lead to cooler failure, and likely head gasket failure. It can be easily remedied by removing the EGR system and reprogramming the ECM/PCM. The largest problem is finding someone who has done this already, and if they have done the modification, have they already had gasket problems? On top of that, the Fords appear to have the worst fuel mileage of the lot. A shame, since if the engine was a bit better, I would be looking strongly at Fords right now.

At the end, I decided a 2006-2007 Silverado 3500 dually, with 2 wheel drive,  and 4 doors would do it. Let the search begin!

Normally, when I get a chance to search for new cars I'm excited. This is Christmas to me. This situation was no different at first. I used my search criteria and found a decent lot of trucks. The problem is almost none of them were in the state of Michigan. Normally this wouldn't bother me, but with 2 new babies in the house this one was going to be different. If I did buy something out of state, I would have to buy it literally sight unseen and have it shipped up to Michigan. It already feels like bad mojo. I prefer to buy vehicles from down south for the simple fact that the don't have salt rot. Most people don't care for their cars so looking at a 7 year old Michigan truck looks a lot different than a Texas truck.

But wait! I found one in Michigan that seemed to meet all of my criteria. A 2007 with only 80,000 miles. I had previously brought my truck to them when I first saw the Silverado for sale to see what they would give on trade in. Exactly as expected, I was lowballed and they also refused to move off of asking price. I let them know the truck had basically all dry rotted tires from sitting in the sun, there was a clunk in the steering, and the brake pedal was scary (read: very mushy).  We definitely did not work out a deal then, but (key point) Mike indicated that they stand behind all their vehicles and if anything were to go wrong within 3-6 months they would pick it up from me and fix whatever went wrong. I thought this was a departure from the normal dealership stereotypes that all dealers were scum. Having worked as a dealer tech for years, I know this mostly to be true. There are lots of guys with good intentions, but it just seems to be full of guys that would screw their own mothers over for a quick deal. Right after I sold my Ram I received a call from Mike at Cook Chevrolet letting me know that the truck had been all fixed up and had been inspected. He asked when I could come up there, take a look and drive it home.

So, I very carefully let my recovering wife and mother in law know I was taking the day to go look at a new truck. The drive up there was nice. Vassar is a little town just outside of Saginaw. When I got there, Mike came out to greet me and handed over the keys. I took the truck on a nice drive to shake down any remaining potential issues. As the extensive list of used cars I have purchase grows, the list of items to check off when getting ready to purchase is becoming a bit long. Many places say these cars/trucks have gone through a 1,000,000,000 point inspection and they never catch everything. In many cases, they dealerships even know of issues, but refuse to fix them. This was one of those cases.

When I got back from the test drive, I noted to Mike (who was a nice guy at first) that the truck had a vibration on deceleration and after looking under the truck it had a very clear oil leak at the back of the oil pan. Now oil pan leaks on this truck specifically can get very expensive very quickly. That fact also should have been disclosed when it was inspected at the dealer. Mike let me know that their best price was $1,000 off retail asking price, which in reality wan't a bad price for a flawless truck, but not one with current issues. After some discussion, Mike and I parted ways as they were seemingly unwilling to fix anything else. I drove home fairly upset since I thought this was the truck. As soon as I walked into my house, I realized I still had the truck keys in my pocket.

After a couple of calls, I headed off to return the keys via UPS. They were closed at that point, but I called again to ensure Mike the keys were in fact shipped and he would get them on Monday morning. I said basically if he were willing to fix the last remaining issues I would buy the truck. Mike said they would look into it on Monday and let me know.

It was agonizing to wait all weekend just to hear I could go pick up my new truck. It was the exact truck I was looking for. I was so used to seeing all the white fleet/work trucks and this one was victory red. How ironic will this be? Quite a bit actually. Mike called later in the day about 5 hours after he said he would and the final story was that yes the truck is leaking oil, but they aren't planning to fix it and wouldn't take any money off the price. He indicated the technician said, "they all leak," and it is a solid truck.

Let's stop right there for a moment. No, they don't all leak. Poorly maintained vehicles leak. There is also a certain expectation when buying any car from a dealer that it won't have glaring mechanical issues. In this case asking $25,000 for a 7-8 year old truck would generally have folks assuming it is flawless mechanically. Sure, I understand the seats won't be perfect and it will likely have some scratches with other imperfections. What the type of attitude does is perpetuate the well known fact that most, if not all dealership sales guys are pure scum. Now I know a couple that aren't and they do well for themselves. However, the VAST majority of the sales guys I have run into are horrible people. What is even more concerning is the comment from Mike about the truck as we were parting ways....he says, "I know we can sell it."

I'm sure you can buddy. You will wait for that guy to come in who doesn't look under the truck. You'll sell it to him and he'll be pissed when he finds out. That person will bring it back and you will tell him you won't fix it, because that is exactly what you told me. Since I had been told previously that Cook Chevrolet stands behind their products and if there was a problem they would even pick the truck up and fix it; I thought for sure a new truck leaking oil on my driveway would be an "issue." Mike says, "No, we wouldn't be able to fix something like that after you purchased it."

This would not be a dealership I could ever recommend doing business with, nor would I be back there myself. Thanks Cook, here is your free press.

After another week or so, I did find a truck and can cover that disaster as well. After asking all the correct questions I had flown out to Iowa to pick up a truck, only to check the vehicle out and find issues with things they said were fine. Is there ANY dealership you can actually trust? I haven't run into one yet. Part 2 coming soon.

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11
Jan

1994 Buick Roadmaster Estate

The 1990's marked what I view is the resurgence of fun cars. A few from the American market that make the short list are: Toyota Supra, GMC Syclone, E39 BMW M5, Dodge Viper, Mazda Miata, McClaren F1, Corvette ZR1, and the list goes on for some time. All of these cars have huge performance in a time where the car makers were still recovering from the 1980's where cars sucked for the most part. The one car on that list that doesn't seem to fit is the Miata. Many jokes have been written and punchlines have been thrown around which poke fun at this great car. However, it marked the beginning of an era for Mazda, racing, and mainstream convertibles that actually handled well. Grassroots Motorsports named this car the most important sports car built in the last 25 years.

A car that is most definitely not a sports car is the Buick Roadmaster. 1994 marked the first year that GM offered the LT1 V8 engine in this land yacht. This is the same engine as offered in the Corvette and the Camaro. It was backed by a newer at the time 4L60E 4-speed automatic and was the only choice. The power was transferred to a tried and true solid axle rear end. The car bring back memories of station wagon and sedans from many moons ago since the frame was separate from the body, like a truck. The only cars left today that still have this type of construction is of course, trucks. Trucks use these types of frames because they are rugged and can tow heavy loads. The body of the Roadmaster may actually qualify as the heavy load itself, as the vehicle curb weight is about 4,400lbs. in wagon form.

Handling was never a talking point on the roadmaster. It was supposed to waft its way to and from without giving the driver much to think about other than how comfy the seats were. The front suspension was an upper and lower control arm setup, and the rear was a 4-link. Many of the estate and upper level models came with load leveling air suspension in the rear. The steering was the old school type with the recirculating ball, idler arms, and drag links. Many of the models came with variable effort steering that helped to make the car less nervous on the highway.

The brakes were fairly old school as well with single piston calipers up front and drum brakes in the rear. It did have 3-channel ABS. For the non car people, that means each front brake had its own ABS channel and both rear wheels had a single channel. The tires were comfort rated with a giant sidewall of 75 series riding on 15 inch tires. The holy grail of B-body cars was the 9C1 package that came on the Chevrolet Caprice. The 9C1 was the code for the "police" package, which included a plethora of other goodies. The 9C1 package included rear disc brakes, which also made their way into the Impala SS, which was basically a modded up Caprice Classic. 

Inside the car most were treated to leather seats with plenty of adjustments for the seats. Some later models had heated seats with lumbar support. The model I purchased had automatic headlights, auto dimming rear view mirror, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, 8 way adjustable power front seats, intermittent wipers and cruise control. The front seats are comfortable, even in my old, tired car. However, leg room for passengers is definitely not good if you are over 5' 10" tall. The dashboard sticks out far enough to where moving your knees below the dashboard is almost impossible and creates an uncomfortable sitting position. Oddly as well, for a car this large the back seat has much less room than anticipated. However, many folks will remember the flip up 3'rd row seats. Years of traveling with mom and dad facing out the back of the hatch window and making rude gestures to other motorists burns an imagine into your head. Sometimes these images bring feelings of joy. In some cases though, it can bring about discontent and anguish. Anyone who was required to ride in the 3'rd row during a hot summer would fit in the latter category. The HVAC system in this car only has front controls. None for the rear. Basically, the people in the 3'rd row would boil. GM did decide to make tiny flip out windows for the rear, but they didn't do much.

The big question is why.......why on earth would I buy another one after the last bad experience?

Basically, there isn't another car I am aware of that: costs this little, seats this many people, gets this decent of gas mileage, has cheap parts, and is as comfortable. I did say car and not minivan. I do want to preserve some sort of idea that I drive something worth looking at, whether that be to laugh, cry, or sneer at. Unless  you are a car enthusiast, none of that makes sense. Some say it is dumb to buy this car. It has too many miles and will break down. Remember, I worked on cars for a living and don't have too many issues with cars I can't fix. A good example was the oil leak I recently had with the car. Largest oil leak I've ever seen. It leaked 2.5 quarts in 30 miles. I have another vehicle to drive, so leaving the wagon in the garage for a few days while I fix it wasn't a big deal. The problem; an oil seal on the distributor. It was so old, the rubber/teflon seal had actually separated from the metal seal casing. A whole timing cover gasket kit cost me a whole $14. The kit came with more seals than I needed and after about 5-6 hours everything was fixed. I did have to buy coolant, due to the requirement of removing the water pump to get to the distributor. The labor guide (depending on what you use) says that job is about 3.8 hours. Dealership labor rates are around $95 per labor hour so I just saved myself about $360 in labor. If a person can't do these tasks in their garage without it having to be their primary vehicle, I would totally agree this car makes less than no sense.

Back to the review. In terms of driving dynamics, this car lacks in just about every way. To start, almost any car that is over 4,500lbs. isn't going to handle well. There are some rare exceptions to this, but usually those cars are built by specialty sections of OEMs and dedicated tuners. This car does not fit that category. The steering originally came with variable effort. Over time, these sensors start to go bad and that makes the steering become really strange. The common fix for this is not to replace the sensor ($175) but just to disconnect it. Unfortunately, this gives overboosted steering at all times. Even when this was working properly, the idea of having any connection to the road was lost. Why is having this feeling so important? Why would anyone care? Well, when the car is gripping the road and never pushing the adhesion limits it doesn't matter all that much. The only time it matters in normal driving conditions (dry road, straight lines or small curves) is when you are on the highway and making steering corrections. When the steering is numb and disconnected many drivers typically make a lot of tiny corrections because they don't know exactly what the front wheels are trying to do. There are other factors that play into this feeling as well. Where this steering feel actually matters is when the grip isn't there, say on a snowy or icy road surface. Just a couple of degrees of steering input can make the difference between sliding and not sliding. Roadmasters don't have any of this feeling, especially in the rear suspension. The 4 link rear axle is the most nervous rear end I have ever driven. Throughout the latest snowstorms and ice here in Michigan, confidence in grip was something I definitely did not have with this car. It has snow tires as well as sand bags in the rear cargo area. Still, I always felt the rear was going to let loose long before the front ever would.

Breaking the rear end loose can be fun though when you aren't in rush hour traffic and driving on a sheet of ice. The LT1 engine feels like a great fit for this car. It has plenty of torque for cruising around and has enough grunt up top to make it feel a bit lighter than it actually is. The rear end here is the weak link in the current configuration. The car came equipped with the 2.56:1 rear ratio, which is the lowest gear ratio you can get. It does not have a limited slip and was meant for cruising on the highway. The problem is it doesn't even cruise on the highway very well. If the road is flat, the car runs great. Give it some hills to manage and the transmission hunts in and out of lockup while also downshifting to 3'rd gear constantly. However, for a 20 year old whale with a tired 200,000 mile V8 it isn't bad at all. Mileage was rated at 17 city and 26 highway. Right now, the car is averaging 17.4mpg. Just before it got really cold outside, the car was averaging 18.5. I would guess the snow tires with the winter fuel had something to do with that. This mileage occurs over my typically 60 mile daily round trip to work. I try to change up the route to get city and highway mix. While I can't say I am happy with that mileage, my diesel truck got the same mileage and diesel is $0.60/gallon more right now. At 25-30 gallons per week, that's about $60-75 per month of savings. The car does appear to be running rich and is something I will be addressing once the temps warm up a bit and my garage is dry.

Currently, the pool of good b-body cars is dwindling. Junk yard cars are even getting sparse. If you wanted a highway cruiser that will comfortably (really comfortably) 6-7 average sized people I could definitely recommend this car even with its shortcomings. I went with the ultra cheap option and it shows. There are plenty of really well maintained examples out there, completely rust free for around $5,000. For maintenance, plan on about $1,500 per year including repairs.

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I have been hearing, unbeknownst to me that I bought a project car. I completely disagree. Yes, it will break. It won't ever be perfect. It does save me cash and for what I paid, it does the job quite well. The car has yet to leave me stranded or not transport me somewhere. The car is so ugly, it's kind of cool. Most guys I know think its cool, and most women think the car is stupid and ugly. I will be looking forward to modifying the car to my personal taste and getting many more miles out of an old classic. 

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29
Dec

Having Someone Else Turn The Wrench

When I was younger and working as a beginning technician, things were a bit difficult in the job world. Starting at the bottom consisted of following a senior tech around and having them tell me what do remove or replace. There were many oil changes and tire rotations. It was a great learning experience. After a short time, it was suggested that I go and get some certification. In the state of Michigan that consists of state certification and ASE certification. When I took those tests, the ASE pamphlets indicated I was looking to become certified in a field that had less than 400,000 members for automotive repair. I can't remember the exact number...it was a long time ago. Of those certified, there was even less that were master certified. These guys were the gurus at the dealerships and independent shops. This was a person one could take their car to and they could literally fix anything short of horrible body work.

I had attained 5 ASE certifications within the next two years and I was learning every day. However, there were still so many repairs that I just did not have the knowledge to perform. One of those examples was automatic transmission repair. I could have learned it, but there were infinitely more interesting topics to learn about in my mind. This example is one reason I never wanted to own a car with an automatic transmission. I have no idea how to fix it. The repairs to them are expensive as well. A large percentage of manual transmissions have no electronic pieces inside them, nor do they have crazy fluid paths that require precise flow and pressure to work correctly. See below for the complexity.

Another topic I never really got into was rear axles, and the gears. Most of the cars I worked on were front wheel drive. The axles on those cars were pretty simple to replace and did not require setting gear lash/spacing. I also rarely saw these cars/trucks come in for service with something wrong requiring the replacement of the rear gears. I never needed to know, until 3 weeks ago.

Another car had joined my stable recently. Some of you may remember my last experience with Buick Roadmasters (The Thigh). Determined to right my last mistake, I found another one from down south for a great price. I drove it home from Alabama without incident. When I got it home, I began the standard "new used car" inspection. It meant checking literally everything.

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First problem noticed was the driver's side rear wheel was wet on the inside. There are only two things that can make a wheel wet like that: gear lube or brake fluid. Taking off the brake drum brought that ever so familiar smell of gear lube. Why do I keep running into that? Long story short, the car is old and has a lot of miles. The seals in the rear axle that keep the fluid in had actually worn a groove in the axle shaft and was allowing fluid to escape past the seal. There are two ways to fix this: put a new axle shaft in or put in a "repair bearing." A repair bearing has a bad name attached to it and can actually come in many forms. The one used here was a terrible option, and the seal had failed again in very short time. Oddly, the passenger side had a brand new axle shaft. I'm still not sure why only one axle was replaced.

Digging through the paperwork netted me the receipt from a Midas that had done the work. Granted, the shop was in Alabama, but Midas is a national chain so they should be able to look at the car and fix it if something was done wrong. I added some gear fluid and the next day limped it to a Midas near my work in Plymouth. Sometime in the afternoon on Monday, they had called to inform me that the previous owner had opted for the repair bearing instead of the new axle due to the cost. I would be required to buy a new axle at the low low price of $280. They also indicated the labor to install the axle was 2.5 hours at $95/hour. I was in a real rush that week and didn't even think about haggling with them. I got the car back in good shape and went about my business. Everything was fine until I noticed fluid leaking again. This time it was the pinion seal.

The pinion seal is the 3'rd note from the left. It also keeps fluid from pouring out the front of the axle. Again, the pinion flange (1'st note in picture) had rotated enough times for the seal to wear a groove in the flange (GM calls it a yoke) and just let the fluid have a party outside the normally sealed differential. At this point I decided to figure things out on my own and not take it back to be worked on again. After some long hours/days I found a new yoke kit and had it shipped to the house. In the process of doing that, I just checked the price of the axle shafts to see how much it would have cost me to do it myself. Yes, this was the point where I started throwing things in my garage. The axle shipped to my house, from the same manufacturer, was $94. It even came with the same new seals and bearings as the Midas one (same brand). I have an old guide book that tells me how much I should charge for repairs. I immediately began scouring it for the labor rate for an axle repair. It was 1.5 hours.....I was charged 2.5 hours. Rage. The end of that story was not pleasant, but the owner did agree to refund at least 1 hour labor, though he still stands by the ridiculously overpriced axle. I should have taken more time on my end to look up prices before just saying yes, and also haggling on the labor charges. It is pretty rare I take my vehicle in to be worked on. This would be the first time in a while that someone tried to bilk me for cash like that.

Going through that wasn't fun, but I thought the situation may provide an opportunity to help some other people in similar situations. Tips:

1. If your car is under warranty, it will be a free repair. Many times, even towing is covered. There ARE caveats to this. The problem has to be due to a manufacturer defect and not abuse/misuse. If you drove through a mud pit and now your brake calipers are sticking and you have a horrible highway vibration, that isn't covered.

2. Even if your vehicle is still in warranty, do the maintenance (even if leased). As a tech, I ran into more than one engine that failed before 36,000 miles due to owners who didn't change the oil....ever. That is not covered under warranty. Read your owners manual and do what it says on the pages. Do not give the dealer ammo to deny your warranty claim because you didn't do the minimum service. If it sounds expensive and you can't afford the simple maintenance, don't buy that car.

3. Keep all of your receipts. Did your own oil change? Keep all those records....just in case. If you are doing your own repairs, many times chain stores like Auto Zone has lifetime warranties on the parts. If you saved the receipts and the part fails, it could save you a lot of cash.

4. Cars that are out of warranty typically have a diagnosis fee when you first bring it in. This fee is normally covered by the car company under warranty, but outside of that this is a standard fee for the technician to look at your vehicle and figure out what is wrong. Remember, that fee is usually incorporated into your total bill as labor. As an example, if the tech finds you have a part that requires 1.5 hours of labor to replace, the 1 hour diagnosis fee should be applied to the total and you should only be charged an additional 0.5 hours of labor.

5. Develop a relationship with a good, local dealership. Yes, the prices may be higher in many aspects. However, the service managers typically have leeway outside of warranty to cover costs for customers. This means if your engine explodes at 45,000 miles and you have been getting all of your maintenance done at the dealership they can cover all of the repair and labor, split it with you or whatever they feel like. This leeway period usually lasts until about 60,000 miles, but with warranties lasting 100,000 miles now this may have changed since I was a technician. Also, if you keep taking it to the same dealer, you are likely to get discounts on labor rates, reduced labor cost (hours) and the techs will get to know your car and possibly find problems before they become issues that leave you stranded on the side of the road.

6. If you don't have a long standing relationship with someone, get multiple quotes for the same job. This may be difficult if your car is stranded someplace. When you get the quote from someone, look the price up online for the part. Go to a place like AutoZone, input your vehicle, and enter the part name you see on the quote/bill. All of the prices are negotiable, almost anywhere you go. 'Murica.

7. Labor rates and times are also negotiable. Sometimes, the labor rate can be reduced by as much as $15/hour for the same repair. If a service advisor tells you "the book" says 2 hours, that is a guide, not the final say in everything. Many techs can do those jobs in half the time. If you have a rust bucket, don't expect to get any favors though. The tech and advisor can refuse you any deals, so it may be best to tread lightly. If you are an ass, you aren't getting anything either.

8. Join a forum. There are likely lots of people just like you that own the same car you do. Many times, they like to talk about it. Sure, there is a lot of ridiculous junk on the forums, but there is also usually a gold mine of information. Anything from recall notices to full repair procedures. Did you ever want to install your own car stereo? Many forums have dedicated forums for audio with forum members taking the time to post step by step threads on how to take everything apart and install. They also usually go through the headaches first so you won't have to. The best part is many common problems are discovered where you can understand how much it may cost to own the car down the line. These forums are valuable tools when looking to purchase a used car.

9. As in my example at Midas, if you aren't happy with something go talk to someone about it. Bring evidence that you were treated unfairly. Many times you can speak directly with the technician and he can explain why something may have cost more, or took more time. In a dealership, the caste system goes: technician, service advisor, service manager, general manager, owner. You can work your way up however you want. Again, it helps when you are nice, but firm. I've been yelled at by unruly customers before. Many times I'll deal with it, but there were a few times where they were just asked to leave and we wouldn't work on their car, warranty or not.

10. If you do work on your own cars and you know this process, go look up the part from multiple sources (Rock Auto, Auto Zone, GM Parts Direct, etc.) and get a feel for how much the part cost is. Same goes for labor. Many times you can call other shops and ask the labor times for specific problems.

11. Lastly, have someone get technical with you in explaining what went wrong. The only thing this does is tell you how competent the place is. If they give you a story like, "Um, it broke," that may not be the place you want to keep taking your car to. Remember, a car is likely the second most expensive purchase you make in life...over and over again.

Using some of these tips may help to make you a more informed consumer and spend less money when having someone else wrench on your vehicle.

 

 

 

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17
Nov

Autobahn Part 2, Third Race Of The Season

The NASA points series says that your best 10 races count toward the championship. There are a decent amount of small contingencies available to Spec E30 racers. Toyo has the largest sponsorship of the series, but we are required to run their spec tire. James Clay at Bimmerworld has set up a very generous program where the saturday race awards 3 different finishing positions with cash or prizes. So far, I had 3 wins and one second place which put me in a decent spot for the championship.

Autobahn is a very temperamental track. If the weather is not perfect, the track varies wildly and lap times are all over the map. At least this is the case with my old BMW. It was hot this weekend, but the old coupe just didn't care. The car never manages to run perfectly, but it never actually breaks down on track to the point of leaving me stranded. One of the lessons learned on older cars like this is leave as much alone as possible. Wiring harnesses and connectors on 25 year old cars tend to be a bit brittle. Jostling these wires around usually leads to breaks in the wires and intermittent issues on the track. This would be one of the main reasons I have not remove the engine from this car yet. The engine in this car doesn't make much power. The best guys are making over 160hp at the wheels, and the dyno told me 146hp. However, the car didn't blow smoke out the rear and didn't eat that much oil.

Toyo had started offering a new tire, the RR for this season. This is the replacement for the RA1, which had been used for spec series cars for just about a decade now. The old RA1 came as a full tread high performance street tire with super soft rubber. Part of racing on these tires was getting them shaved. I would literally pay someone to shave rubber off the tire. As strange as that sounds, that's what was required to be competitive. I liked to shave mine down to about 4/32" of tread. This gave me a decent balance between tire life and grip. The RA1 was notoriously slow out of the box and gradually got faster as they wore until the tire was ready to wear through to the steel cords.

 

Toyo RR

 

 

 

Toyo RA1

 

The new tire was a good step in the right direction, but there was one small issue that seemed out of sorts. The old RA1 required a grooved mold, and required me to pay separately to have them shaved at the tire supplier. Personally, I use a place in NY (http://www.philstireservice.com/) to shave the tires and ship to my house. The new tire clearly does not have the added complexity of the cut-groove street tire and has two simple deep grooves. The RR also has the added benefit of not requiring shaving. So, why on earth is it the same price for the new tire as a shaved old tire?

We all asked the questions of the Toyo guys and they assured the racers that the RR compound was the same as the RA1. I can understand tooling cost differences, but it can't be that expensive to justify a price increase of $20/tire. Aside from that bit it is a decent tire. The lack of tread blocks squirming around makes the tire feel a bit more planted and grip has gone up by a decent margin. Lap times have dropped by about 1.5 seconds over the older RA1. Unfortunately, due to budget restrictions this year I only had the cash for one set. I had hoped that winning some races would allow me to purchase another set with contingency dollars and not have to come out of pocket. On to the rest of the weekend.

This was my third weekend using these new tires and they required me to "flip" them. This is basically me paying someone to take the tire and rotate it 180 degrees so the outside is now the inside. Due to the suspension geometry of the car, the outside edge wears unevenly, even with 3 degrees of negative camber. For qualifying and practice on Saturday, I had decided to go with the old RA1 tire so I could save the RR's for the race. I did not end up qualifying all that great, but was still on the outside of the front row for the start of the race.

AutobahnRaceApril2013

The beginning of the race had Tom Tiede out front by turn 1. I settled in about 5 car lengths back from Tom to judge his corner speeds and figure out a good time to pass if the chance presented itself. By the 3'rd lap Tom and I were in a pretty good battle for the lead. By lap 4, the gap was extremely tight and any mistake by either driver could make or break the race. I was struggling a bit with the car having a slightly loose rear end, which could have been due to the tires being flipped on the rims. On lap 5, I managed to get a great run coming out of the 9-10 combo and had enough steam to pull along side Tom and make an attempt for a pass in turn 11. I made it stick, but with Tom stuck to my bumper. During laps 6 and 7 I managed to pull out a decent lead and stayed there for the remainder of the race. Great battle with Mr. Tiede.

That Saturday night, someone had brought a projector and everyone was hooking up laptops to the projector to download GoPro race videos for all to watch. Beverages were consumed, many a hot dog was burned and a lot of lies were told.

Sunday was even hotter. For practice I went out with my RA1 tires, and realized the old RA1's were at the end of their life. This meant I would have to qualify on the RR's. The best race lap time from Saturday was a 1:42.2 and the qualifying session produced the exact same lap time to take the pole for Sunday's race. Tom had entered as a team and his teammate drove on Sunday. The start of the race was another standing start. Kyle Burkhardt (our series regional director) had qualified 2'nd next to me on the grid. The first lap was a bit of a mess, with cars from other classes getting mixed up in the madness. Midway through lap one, I was slightly in front. I could see Kyle battling with 2 other drivers for second place. For someone in the lead, watching people battle behind you is the best thing you can see. If the two cars behind you are battling side by side through corners they get slower.

I have no had a chance to see the in car video from Kyle's car, but I understand it was a hell of a battle. There were 3-4 position changes and some very close racing without any body contact. I did manage to pull away from the group and cruise on to another win for the weekend. I was hoping for more of the side by side action, but I'll take the wins any way I can get them. That made 5 wins on the season and inching closer to the championship.

 

 

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12
Nov

Declaring War On New Car Buyers

It's a thing of beauty. This F150 (not this exact one) is the best selling vehicle in America. In my search to find out how many F150's Ford has sold in 2012, it appears they sold almost a million. For the month of September this year, they are at about 60,000 trucks. Those are really big numbers, but who cares?

The prices range from the low 20's all the way up to above $60,000. The average selling price appears to be in the mid 30's. It is difficult to be exact on this. The lowliest truck of the bunch is the work truck option. Cars direct (www.carsdirect.com) says the most popular option is the XLT 4x4 crew cab. It starts at $30,000. A lot of people today don't mind a $30k price tag on their cars. This is interesting considering the average household income level isn't much more than that.

According to CNN Money, the average household income was about $51,000 last year. Whether that be one or both people working in a household, the total is $51,000....on average. From what I understand this means gross income and not take home. The tax rate on this income level is pretty low. Let's assume a family fits this bill and they file jointly, which puts them in the 15% bracket. For simplicity sake and assuming they actually pay taxes (another subject) the take home pay would be $43,350. Depending on where you live that number can mean the difference between doing alright and barely putting food on the table.

In 1989 (25 years ago) the average price in today's dollars was about $15,000. Just doing some simple math here, the price of a new car has doubled. Why does this matter? It matters because the average median home income hasn't doubled.

Source is Wikipedia

 

Now I don't like using Wiki articles due to the unknown nature of the sources. However, this graph was the most well put together and matches a lot of other graphs without other data confusing the discussion. As is plainly viewable, the household income hasn't even close to doubled. In terms of affordability, buying a new car is becoming less and less of a viable option.

Add in the fact that insurance premiums continue to rise at an alarming rate and you have a really poor value proposition for anyone from the younger generation. I have been reading article after article about how millennial aren't buying cars and don't care about driving. It isn't surprising that these folks wouldn't want to drop the coin on a new car when the price is skyrocketing.

If the average price is a cool and even $30k at 0% interest that is $500/month. That is not an insignificant expense.

I've read that baby boomers are the ones buying the cars now, since they have the money to buy them. This makes sense as they get closer to retirement age with a whole lot of them cashing in on old school pensions and great 401k matching plans. A lot of that doesn't exist for younger workers anymore.

I will say that I do concede a bit of sympathy for the auto manufacturers. The government has done a wonderful job (sic) of requiring the continued addition of safety components. This has been one of the major causes of vehicle weight gain over the years. The geniuses at the OEM's have done a great job of spinning the safety requirements as a sort of marking positive.

The idea that car companies may be specifically targeting the baby boomers does not surprise me in the least. It is a huge cash cow considering the level of income many of these folks are making currently. I would guess that this trend will continue for at least the next 5-10 years until the boomers get old enough to not think about buying a new car since many in retirement do not drive as much, if at all. The rub here is leaving the rest of the younger crowd out of the game. My wife and I are already there. We have no plans to buy a new vehicle and are strongly considering a used CPO vehicle. We were shocked to find that the price of a decent minivan is well into the 30's and the majority of the new ones on the lot are mid 30's to low 40's.

Just a simple walk through on a decently equipped Honda Odyssey is shocking. The middle of the road EX-L STARTS at $37,000. Let's walk through the "out the door" price:

Purchase price - Assume you get a $1,500 rebate and haggle for another $2,500 off the MSRP. You also added $750 in options. Total purchase price is $33,750. Tax in Michigan is 6%. Total price is $35,775. Add in the ridiculous dealer fees of about $1,000 (destination, title, plates etc.) and your real "out the door" total is $36,775.

Loan - Here is the tricky part. If you understand car depreciation the longest loan anyone should be comfortable with is 4 years. That allows you to always be ahead of the depreciation curve. Most people don't do this. The standard appears to be a 5-6 year loan now. Using a 5 year loan at 4% interest rate, the monthly payment is $677/month for 5 years.

This also assumes a $0 down payment. If you had the exact same vehicle that is now 5 years old with average mileage, your trade in value will likely be the Kelly Blue Book "fair" trade in value. That value is approximately $10,000. If you added that as a down payment the payment drops to right around $500/month.

Are we going to see another huge automotive recession in 10 years when the boomers stop the car buying boom? One thing is for sure, if the trend continues, there won't be a whole lot of people lining up to purchase new vehicles. How high does the average car price have to rise before buyers stop coming to the table.

 

 

 

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6
Nov

First Race Of The Season At Autobahn

Each year I grapple with the idea of attending a race in April. Almost every time I have attended races this early in the season, I have been met with freezing temperatures, snow, freezing rain, or just misery in general. In the true spirit of being a racer, I ignore all previously learned mistakes and click the registration button. It is February and my car isn't done, but I know that by clicking this button I have committed to doing this.

During the winter months I had decided to shy away from doing a complete engine rebuild in favor of just changing out my clutch. I knew the stock clutch was still working well, but I knew after about 10 laps it started to slip and was costing me time on the track. I also knew that reducing my slip time with a stout clutch is free time. If each start to finish gear shit event takes 0.2 seconds, I might possibly be able to reduce is by potentially 1/4 of that (0.05 seconds). If you shift the car 10 times that is a half second per lap! Thankfully, my very understanding family had finally given up trying to buy me new clothes for christmas and came together and purchased a lovely Spec Stage 3 clutch.

Right around that February date that I signed up for the Autobahn race, I decided it was time to get my lazy ass into the garage and actually do something about the clutch that has been sitting on the hood of the car for 2 months. It was a great Saturday afternoon. I took my sweet time, drank some Miller Lites and maneuvered the transmission and associated parts out of the car. I felt pretty good about this since everything went pretty smoothly considering this was the first time removing the transmission on the Spec E30. If you don't know what Spec E30 is, or what car I am talking about, head over to:

www.spece30.com

I also decided since the transmission was out, I might as well replace the rear main oil seal. It is held in place by a simple bolt in aluminum carrier. I would normally show pictures at this point, but this is all in retrospect so if you really want to understand, google all of this and there are likely hundreds of forums posts/threads on this very subject.  The carrier was out and I was searching the garage for a large round object that vaguely represented the size of the original main seal. The seals are pressed in. I have a press, just not the right tool to hook onto the edges of the seal to press it out. I tried everything from paint cans to rolls of duct tape, to layers of wood I cut with a jigsaw. The seal was an immovable object. I gave up for the night.

The next day was met with more of the same. Sometime in the afternoon, I finally gave up trying to press out the seal and grabbed my trusty cutoff wheel and VERY slowly started cutting through the seal. That definitely worked, however I did manage to nick the sealing surface, which usually means there is a banshee scream in the distance. After googling for a few minutes I quickly realized that getting a new carrier was out of the question (monetary and time wise). So, I pressed the new seal in. One thing to note for pressing in a new seal to a crankshaft is that you never press the seal into the same spot. That would open you up to leaks since the original seal has been wearing in the same place on the crankshaft for however long it has been there.

So, GREAT! Everything is moving forward again. I get the carrier back in place, put the flywheel back on, and bolt up the new clutch. Putting the hex heads on the pressure plate reminds me that it has been way to long since I have purchased a new set of allen sockets. I don't have any at the moment, so I'm tightening the new bolts down with the standard allen wrenches. What a frustrating thing to do. At about this time I realized I could put the transmission back in. It isn't heavy, but it isn't light either. I don't have a car lift, so this transmission has to be slid back in on a jack and then basically bench pressed back into place. For the next 3-4 hours, the thought of burning the car to the ground crossed my mind several times.

The transmission would NOT go in. I tried every trick I knew. Nothing worked. It appeared to be hanging up on the pilot bearing and not properly seating. I was also wondering if the transmission input shaft was binding on the clutch disc, or maybe I had failed to align the disc with the pilot bearing. Honestly, I've never had this problem before. The transmission came out and went in at least 7 times before I gave up, completely exhausted. I refuse to pay anyone to do this type of work for me, and I knew I had to figure it out, which was depressing since I had just thrown the kitchen sink at this and nothing worked.

I let it sit for a week.

The next weekend I came back into the garage with a couple of new and fresh ideas of how to get this transmission back into the car. Without divulging every detail, the entire day was met with the exact same frustration and insanity inducing repetition. I felt a bit like Homer Simpson grabbing the electrified Butterfinger bar. Completely exhausted again, I went soul searching for ANY ideas and motivation to actually go back out in the garage. The season was quickly approaching and the stress level was mounting.

On a Wednesday night I came back out into the garage, with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. It was going in, one way or another. I had contacted a friend who has worked on these cars before and his advice was, "I know you don't want to hear this, but just start running the bolts in if you can."

As a former mechanic and now engineer, this is not the advice I was hoping for. However, since everything else had failed, WHY NOT?

I then gorged on the pain and suffering of the poor Getrag 260 until I could get one bolt threaded. I just started cranking down on it until I could get a second one started. Then........it thunked. Normally, that isn't a good thing to hear, but this time it was the most glorious sound in all the world. It meant the case had seated against the block. Time for a celebratory beverage. This time I broke out the Kracken.

Feels good man.

The rest of the car went back together nicely and I made final progress in getting ready for the race weekend.

There were supposed to be 6-7 other Spec E30 cars at Autobahn for the race weekend, but in true racer fashion people flaked out one by one until we had 3 total racers. I took the day off work on Friday to drive out, since it was the first race of the year and I wanted to relax. I arrive and am immediately met by a nice 20 mph wind and snow flakes. This is not racing weather.

I had never raced with the NASA Midwest guys before, so everyone was new. Both of the other racers noticed the E30 and came over to say hello. There was Rob and Rich. Both really nice guys. As we went on about how crappy the weather was, we agreed that everyone staying in my trailer for the night was the best option. Rob was going to sleep in a tent (which he hadn't set up yet) and Rich was going to sleep in his truck. I have a decent trailer and extra beds, so it seemed the obvious choice to have them just stay with me and not freeze to death.

Autobahn is an interesting place. It clearly is marketed toward the rich. There are enormous condos/garagemahals that line the outside of the race course. I have always wondered what some of those look like on the inside. Autobahn is really spread out into two courses, north and south. Most NASA weekends are run on the south course. I have never had the opportunity to run on the north course. There are decent facilities, but it still baffles me why race tracks don't offer power hookups for campers/racers. I realize you would have to pay for it, but almost everyone there has to bring a generator to recharge power tools, air compressors, RV's, etc. Seems they could make easy money providing the hookups. Gingerman Raceway is the only place I am aware of that has full electrical hookup. I heard Road America and Miller Motorsport Park also have it though.

The south course is pretty flat and forgettable. However, there is definitely a high technical aspect about the course that throws a lot of people off. The markers (natural and otherwise) are not clear and there are quite a few compromise corners. There are plenty of videos and maps of the track if one were interested in understanding the south course layout.

Saturday morning was still freezing cold. Temps had dropped into the 20's overnight. The first practice session was very green, cold, and slippery. I decided to scrub in my first set of new Toyo RR tires. These are the new replacement tires for the RA1 and are supposed to be the same compound as the old RA1, or so the rumor goes. Times were not fast. Somehow Rob had not made it out to practice. Rich was brand new to the series and racing in general. He was also learning a new track, so his slower times were expected.

Qualifying was meet with snow flakes and drizzle. Times did not improve for anyone, but Rob did manage to make it out on track. The car seemed to be holding together. The new clutch is profoundly different from the old one in many ways. Some good and some bad. The car definitely goes into gear now with a solid shift and ZERO slip. I like this. However, using a puck style clutch doesn't allow you much slip when touring around in the paddock area. At speeds below 5mph, it can be quite unwieldy. I was on pole for the race.

The race was decent. I ran on old RA1 tires due to the weather and not wanting to burn through my one set of RR tires I had for the season. If I won enough races, I might have enough to buy another set of tires with the Toyo contingency dollars. Although, with only 3 racers there a win only pays out $40 for each race and there are only two races during the weekend with a total payout of $80. Hardly enough to cover costs. I managed to pick up the win. In the process of heading back to the paddock area, I noticed the car making a bit more noise than I was used to. Creeping up on the scales for the post race weigh in, the car was now clunking quite noticeably. After tech inspection, I headed back to the paddock area to put the car up on jack stands to have a look.

I am a one man show for track duty, so off came the racing suit and on went the mechanics clothes. After poking around for a while I found that even though I had paint penned the bolts for the driveshaft center support bearing, I had not actually tightened them. This left my driveshaft flopping around. I was pretty surprised that it did not fly out of the car and cause massive damage. I believe the only thing that saved me from impending doom was that I left the massive BMW heat shield in place, which kept the bearing and shaft from having too much movement. You could see marks where the bearing support was smashing into the heat shield. I patched everything up as quickly as possible since the last race session was ending and I knew that dinner/drinks were next on the schedule.

Racing at Autobahn does have its perks. NASA throws a party every Saturday night to award winners, provide food, and..........beverages. I am partial to the beverages after a long day of wrenching and racing. Typically, I'm exhausted and have a large adrenaline headache. Beverages take care of that. The part about autobahn that makes this really nice is the building where it is hosted. It's just a nice place and they typically have race cars inside the facility. You can't sit in them (of course), but every year I go there a Radical is tempting me. Specifically, a SR8. If you know what car this is, you know why I would likely sell body parts to drive one.

After dinner, the fun begins. Aside from the actual racing, watching the videos and bench racing while enjoying....beverages is the best part. Some of the guys bring projectors from their respective places of business and project the race videos onto the sides of the trailers while everyone sits around and judges. Close calls, contact, and power slides rule the night. About 12:30 I call it a night.

UP AND AT EM 6:30AM! YEAH!

NO!

I stepped out of the trailer to find that the clouds had dissipated and the sun made an appearance. I went out on the RR tires to see if they felt any different after letting them sit for 24 hours. Not much feel change, but I believe the track was faster and not the tire. Times dropped by about 2 seconds. Qualifying was more of the same, posting a time within .2 seconds of practice and a handy 5 second per lap lead over 2'nd place.

The race:

NASA likes to shake things up and allow the racers/groups to decide what types of races to do. This is one of the best parts about NASA. You can run inverted grids, do standing starts, etc. Spec E30 typically decides to do standing starts for the second race. As a former drag racer, this is really cool. They split up the race group into waves and the green flag is given to the groups in front of us. We quickly drive up to the start/finish line and we get a street racing like drop of the green to start our own race. Yes, we catch other class traffic and they catch us during the race. It makes race craft a tricky beast if the race is close. I managed to keep a solid lead throughout the race and take home the 2'nd win of the weekend.

It was a great start to the season, even though there weren't many other Spec E30 racers. I took home $80 in Toyo bucks and a $100 Bimmerworld gift certificate. Bimmerworld has been supporting Spec E30 for a few years now, and I greatly appreciate the support they give. Not many people support road course racing in the US and these guys really step up to the plate.

The end to the weekend brought me back to the happiness I seem to get from staying in racing. There really isn't anything else like it to me. I know it is expensive. It keeps me from doing a  lot of other things, but as I mentioned before, I can't get away from it. If I don't participate in some way, it eats at me and I look for it anyway.

Next up, Gingerman.

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6
Nov

Re-learning How To Merge Onto A Freeway

The faint sound of a car horn, high beam projector lamps shimmering off a rear bumper, and the rustling of jimmies through time and space. These are all things you may encounter on any freeway throughout the country. All three of these happened to me recently while traveling to work one morning. Each morning I make my 33 mile drive into metro Detroit which is filled with the usual suspects. This time, my inconsiderate nature caused the ruckus. I had failed to change lanes or put on the brakes in heavy traffic to allow a gentleman to merge onto the freeway. As I motored along at 70mph, the silver Acura was approaching me from the right. No turn signal was used and the nice guy must have been on an important phone call. There was clear space in front of me and he could have easily motored away from my truck. Instead, he waited until the very last second and decided the best course was to attempt to merge into my Ram 3500. Except, he didn't see me directly next to him for some reason. As he realized he could not merge into me, he then chose to slam on his brakes and merge in behind me. This caused the car that was fairly close to me to have to slam on their brakes as well. It was about that time the horn sounded and his high beams came on. He rode about an inch off my bumper until he found a spot in the left lane. At this point, he cut off other cars and pulled up next to me to express his displeasure at the situation. After fully convincing me that he was in fact a good natured human being, he sped off at about 90 after holding up traffic in the left lane to let me know how awesome he was.

I have found in many different ways that knowing the actual law can be somewhat important when traveling. Now, of course, not everyone follows every single law to the letter. Leaving the road rage aside for a moment, what should he have done?

Let's start with the law in Michigan. I'm not excited about this jargon, but it does make a point:

MICHIGAN VEHICLE CODE (EXCERPT)
Act 300 of 1949
257.649 Right-of-way; rules; violation as civil infraction.

 

Sec. 649.

(1) The driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection shall yield the right of way to a vehicle which has entered the intersection from a different highway.

(2) When 2 vehicles enter an intersection from different highways at approximately the same time, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right of way to the vehicle on the right.

(3) The right of way rules declared in subsections (1) and (2) are modified at through highways and otherwise as stated in this chapter.

(4) The driver of a vehicle approaching a yield sign, in obedience to the sign, shall slow down to a speed reasonable for the existing conditions and shall yield the right of way to a vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the driver would be moving across or within the intersection. However, if required for safety to stop, the driver shall stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if there is not a crosswalk, at a clearly marked stop line; but if there is not a crosswalk or a clearly marked stop line, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway.

(5) The driver of a vehicle traveling at an unlawful speed shall forfeit a right of way which the driver might otherwise have under this section.

(6) Except when directed to proceed by a police officer, the driver of a vehicle approaching a stop intersection indicated by a stop sign shall stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if there is not a crosswalk shall stop at a clearly marked stop line; or if there is not a crosswalk or a clearly marked stop line, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway. After having stopped, the driver shall yield the right of way to a vehicle which has entered the intersection from another highway or which is approaching so closely on the highway as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time when the driver would be moving across or within the intersection.

(7) When a vehicle approaches the intersection of a highway from an intersecting highway or street which is intended to be, and is constructed as, a merging highway or street, and is plainly marked at the intersection with appropriate merge signs, the vehicle shall yield right of way to a vehicle so close as to constitute an immediate hazard on the highway about to be entered and shall adjust its speed so as to enable it to merge safely with the through traffic.

(8) A person who violates this section is responsible for a civil infraction.

Number 7 is what we are looking for here. It also only applies (in the eyes of the law) when you are going at lawful speeds. I believe the basics here are that if merging onto a highway the car entering the highway yields to the traffic that is already traveling on the highway. Common sense would say that does not mean to bring your car to a complete stop, but I have seen that as well. This would be a pretty simple process, but for some reason folks want to make it difficult. A few simple steps will make the merging a much better experience for all:

1. As you enter the on ramp, put your signal on. This may seem silly, but it lets everyone know you actually understand you are entering the highway and not engaged in witty banter with your therapist on the phone.

2. Either look in your mirrors (http://gearlubesociety.com/adjusting-mirrors-avoid-road-rage/) or turn your head and look at the traffic already on the freeway. Hopefully, your depth perception is decent enough to judge if your car is going faster or slower than the traffic.

3. Adjust your speed accordingly to avoid crashing into other cars

4. Merge onto the freeway

As a side note, this is Michigan law and if you live somewhere other than Michigan, your laws may be different. Please check your state laws to see any differences. 

Occasionally traffic is really backed up. In this case, the merging vehicle may have a hard time finding a spot. This is when the responsibility falls to the traffic already on the freeway. Should you move over to the left/other lane? If you can, sure. If you are going to cut someone else off and make the traffic worse, probably not. The people driving on the freeway may have to make a small adjustment in speed to allow enough space for the people trying to get on the freeway to safely merge without causing worlds to explode.

Another interesting caveat is construction zones. There have been quite a few on Michigan roads where there is a yield sign on an on-ramp. These really do mean yield! Typically, I see them posted on the on-ramps that are too short to allow vehicles to safely get up to speed before needing to merge. For the love of cheese danish coffee cake, do not merge onto the freeway in one of these areas without yielding if traffic is congested. You may even have to stop and wait. If you merge and cause an accident, it will be your fault and you will get a hefty ticket even in our "no fault" state. If you don't merge and someone hits you, yes your vehicle will be damaged. However, you won't be getting a ticket for it.

Lastly, if there are 2 cars attempting to merge onto the highway and there is nobody in the left lane I will frequently move over to avoid an issue. Once you have successfully merged, either speed up or slow down so I can get back over. I don't want to travel in the left lane unless I am passing and it is unlikely you want to go exactly my speed. I moved over as a courtesy. Please return the kindness.

This was a PSA brought to you by The Gear Lube Society.

 

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5
Nov

Automotive Forums

Inevitable. This is one word that can be used to describe a very specific moment when working on a car. It is the moment when you realize there is something wrong with the car that you don't readily know how to fix. There have been many moments like this throughout my time in automotive. Many times, this moment comes at the point where I had removed the part to replace or repair and had suddenly realized there is a special tool required or one I don't have.

With modern automotive this problem can be even more complicated. With the dizzying array of modern electronics and design for manufacturing, many newer vehicles can be extremely difficult to work on. The OEMs are getting better at designing systems that can actually be worked on after assembly and replaced, but many of these pieces require dealer specific tools to recalibrate, which means even if I want to work on it at home, I'll be making a trip back to the dealership to get it completely fixed.

Some of this frustration is, as formerly mentioned, inevitable. However, there are sometimes ways to get around the dealer and avoid time consuming repairs. One of the ways is to join a forum. For almost any car, there is an automotive forum associated with it. Getting involved with one of these forums can not only help you understand common issues with your car, but there may also be recommendations from local forum posters who know of reliable shops in the area if you don't work on your own car. It can also provide a valuable resource for finding replacement parts. If there is a hard to find part, someone on the forum may know where to find it and post a link to the website where to order it.

3b4

 

 

A good example of this is with my 1989 BMW 325i. I've been racing this car for a few years now. It is an old car and things wear out. While working on the car I needed to remove the driveshaft and noticed that the u-joint in the rear of the shaft was stiff and notchy. I needed a new one. The price for one from the dealership was close to $1,000. No thanks. Searching around on the internet revealed used parts and some rebuild units, but from places I had never done business with before. Things were not looking up for finding a replacement at a reasonable cost. BMW designed the driveshaft to be non-serviceable (of course), so it was a must that I acquired a new one.

 

Enter, my savior....

 

BFlogo

 

 

 

 

Bimmerforums has been around for over a decade. There is an incredible wealth of information on this site related specifically to BMW vehicles. After searching on the site about topics related to my driveshaft woes, I found at least 20 different threads. One of those threads led me to a website of a company in Texas. Apparently the old tooling for making these driveshafts is available and only a few companies have bought the old tooling. They were extremely nice on the phone and the price was fantastic ($380). Shipping wasn't even bad, plus they included a return shipping label that was prepaid for me to return the old driveshaft.

Finding a source for cheap parts isn't the only reason to join the forum.

 

Bimmerforums pages

www.bimmerforums.com

 This particular forum covers all of the models that BMW makes currently and even the older models that have been discontinued. Want to talk with other owners of a 1974 BMW 2002 tii? This is your place. Many forums I have joined over the years never lead to any meet and greets with other forum members. It can be that casual and detached. It can also be very involved and generates a sense of community with the same members. There are also local/regional sections of forums where one can get involved locally with other forum members if one so desires.

I get a lot of question from people asking what kind of car they should buy. This situation is the only time I have ever felt some sympathy for dealership car sales-people. Many times when giving a suggestion, I am immediately met with every excuse as to why my suggestion won't work for them. I can imagine this is true with the dealerships as well. My advice is go look for reviews on the cars you think you might like and then go looking for a forum about that car! There will be plenty of people who are willing to share their riveting tales of car ownership, along with the highs and lows of that particular vehicle. The only thing you have to remember is the internet is full of BS.

The last part is about the safety aspect. Many forums have avid car enthusiasts that tinker around more than you can imagine (maybe some of you can). These people usually post related recalls and technical service bulletins. OEM recalls usually notify the owner by mail of something you need to bring your vehicle in for to have repaired. Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) are different. These are not recalls. However, they are notifications sent out to dealerships on how to repair specific issues that arise during vehicle production. They are likely not safety related, but that is a separate topic.

Here is an excerpt from a random TSB for a Nissan Rogue:

NTB10084 - SB 2008-2009 Rogue; Noise When Turning 

* IF YOU CONFIRM - There is a noise (clunking, popping, or bumping) when the steering wheel is turned. AND - The noise is coming from the top of the front strut assembly. ACTION Replace the left and right Strut Mounting Bearings with the ones listed in the Parts Information section of this bulletin. - Refer to section FSU, chapter FRONT COIL SPRING AND STRUT in the appropriate Electronic Service Manual (ESM) for Removal and Installation instructions. See this bulletin for further detail.

Have you been wondering where that clunk is coming from? The dealer, nor Nissan will ever contact you about this. Sometimes the dealership networks are so crappy that even the dealers don't get these TSB notices. However, you CAN print this out and present to the dealer to have it fixed if your symptoms match. Where did I find this? A forum. 

Maybe you've moved recently and Ford doesn't have your latest address to send you a recall notice. With all my vehicles I try to check at least once a year for TSBs and recall notices for anything I own. Also, if you own an older vehicle, these TSB's still apply. They won't be fixed for free at the dealer, but at least if you have the same symptoms you can either order the parts and fix it yourself, or be more knowledgeable when taking your car in for service.

 

 

 

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