License plate bulbs

W5W bulb = Sylvania 2825

W5W bulb = Sylvania 2825

The license plate illumination bulbs in the Volvo burned out. You’d think it was a trivial exercise to get new bulbs, but apparently part changes happen and screw you up. Accessing the bulbs was no problem: two screws for each of the two lenses above the license plate. Easy enough. I head over to AutoZone to buy some bulbs. I would have thought they had a book with the bulb listing on there, but they didn’t have such book. Their system pulls up a round base bulb for the license plate illumination, but they are wrong! The 940 sedan uses a wedge base bulb while other Volvos of that era (240 and 740 sedans) used the round base bulbs. The owner’s manual (and the lens) indicated that the illumination bulb was a W5W. I really should have taken the bulb out and took it to the store in the first place.

I remember I bought W5W bulbs years ago, and I don’t remember these bulbs being hard to find. AutoZone didn’t have the bulbs and neither did Wal-Mart. This was not something I wanted to special order because I knew there had to be an alternative. It turns out W5W bulbs were relabeled as 2825 at some point and this bulb was available at any place that sold car parts (because this is a common light bulb for license plate illumination on foreign cars). Go figure.


Like-minded drivers

Look how nice this drive is!

Look how nice this drive is!

I went home for the holidays and driving around I felt like I was around courteous drivers. When I was growing up I thought everyone around me were terrible drivers cutting people off or speeding. It wasn’t until I moved to Austin that I realized I was terribly wrong and haven’t seen bad driving up to that point. Austin traffic is a mix of drivers from metropolitan cities that have to be somewhere fast, laid-back hypermiling hippies, and new residents who have never driven before. This complete chaos results in people who can’t merge properly, can’t maintain the speed limit, don’t care about other drivers, etc. Whenever I go out I put on my battle helmet to prepare for the onslaught of slow drivers. It doesn’t seem right when I’m doing the speed limit and I’m passing cars like they were standing still! It was a breath of fresh air when I realized how much nicer people were on the roads back home. I would be going 5 over the speed limit and still get passed. People would move over if you were coming up the on-ramp to merge. People would move over to the right lane when you came up behind them in the left lane. People would accelerate from the stop light quickly because they knew the green light was a finite resource. It was just so pleasant to drive again! I seriously want good public transportation in Austin only to take people who don’t want to drive off the roads.


Come at me bro

Servers you right!

Serves you right!

The other day I’m driving to work and I’m driving on a residential street that is pretty wide and has a double yellow line down the middle. As I approach an intersection I see a pickup truck (an early to mid ’90s Dodge Ram 2500) decide to make a U-turn in the middle of the street. Since the truck was pretty long, he had to make a K-turn. He was totally blocking the other lane and was about to reverse into my lane. I had zero fks to give that morning and decided to stay my course. I won. I figured if I hit him, I would say that he was making an illegal U-turn and sue the pants off for injuries. I mean, come on!

There was a church nearby that he could have driven into to make the turn around without blocking traffic. He could have also waited patiently for traffic to die down before attempting the illegal U-turn. But no, he decided he needed to make a U-turn NOW! Like I said, I just had zero fks to give and a $1500 beater with airbags. I have nothing to lose. Come at me bro.


You must be new at driving

Genius!

Genius!

The other night I was driving home when I was behind a Toyota Corolla. It was about 10:00 PM and this person didn’t have any taillights on. This means that the headlights aren’t on and they’re probably driving with the daytime running lights only. The driver stops at the red light at the MoPac frontage road. I assume the driver wants to go straight as the turn signal wasn’t on and the car wasn’t moving. After a few seconds I see the right-hand turn signal come on, but the driver still isn’t moving. Right-on-red is allowed at this intersection and there was no other traffic. The driver scoots up a little, but still doesn’t make the turn. I see on-coming traffic coming and a Jeep with it’s left-hand turn signal on. He has the right-of-way at this point, but what does the Corolla driver do? Drives out leisurely into the path of the Jeep that’s already turning. The Jeep driver hits the brakes and has to follow the pokey Corolla up the MoPac on-ramp. I follow suit to see this show. Nothing really happens other than another driver getting behind the Corolla and flashes his lights to indicate to the Corolla driver that the lights aren’t on. It must have been the Corolla driver’s first day driving ever with no clue what is happening. That has to explain it, right?


Baby, it’s cold outside

Thank you, car, for telling me it's cold outside.

Thank you, car, for telling me it’s cold outside.

Ever since it’s gotten cold outside my car likes to tell me it’s cold outside every time I start the engine by flashing the temperature, a little snowflake icon, and dinging for a few seconds. It’s as if I couldn’t tell that it’s cold outside during my walk from my front door or from work to the car. It appears this feature is common on a lot of newer cars. I’m thinking, why? I already know it’s cold outside. I suppose new cars are so well insulated and contain many safety features to prevent sliding that people will get the illusion that nothing is wrong outside? That is a dumb reason, but I guess that’s why they call it an “idiot light”. I don’t mind having the temperature display on, but it really doesn’t need to ding and flash and be obnoxious every time it falls below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.


Wheel Alignment

Not a scary human-killing robot.

Not a scary human-killing robot.

A few weeks ago after I changed out the front struts and strut mounts on the Volvo, I had to go take the car in for a wheel alignment. I could have tried to do my own wheel alignment, but I was too tired and sore from the strut job to do anything with the car so I took it to a brand-name tire shop (the one that made tires that went on Ford Exploders in the late ’90s) to have them align it. Every time I’ve gotten an alignment on any of my cars in the past, the steering wheel was never set straight. You would think with their computerized alignment machine it would be done right the first time. Nope! The steering wheel was a few degrees off to the left. I figure it is probably so far out of alignment before that the tires wore in a specific way so it would take some time to sort itself out. Nope.

I went back a few days later to get the alignment fixed. I probably shouldn’t have gone an hour before closing, but it’s hard to get stuff done during the work week. An hour later, I left with the steering wheel moved further over to the left! Driving straight, the wheel was at the 11 o’clock position! This was totally unacceptable! I was definitely pissed that I had to go back a third time to get this sorted out, but luckily the alignment had a 12 month/12,000 mile warranty. I went back the next morning with a level and watched the tech perform the alignment. When he was about to do the alignment, he let me set the steering wheel straight with the level and then set the alignment. Now the car pulls slightly to the right but the steering wheel is straighter than before (at least now I have it cranked to the left proportionally to the pull to the right). It’s not right, but I wasn’t wasting my time going back a fourth time.

So what did I learn from watching the alignment being done? It pretty much depends on how the car is driven onto the alignment rack and it’s best to have the owner set the steering wheel because the tech doesn’t know how bad the steering is. The alignment machine uses cameras and flags to measure the alignment, but it’s up to the tech to adjust the toe/camber/caster into the correct range and if he doesn’t care it will be off or pull even if the alignment is in specifications. So yeah, if the alignment isn’t correct, go back and get it fixed under warranty and observe the alignment job. And if it’s still not right, look up a video on YouTube to do your own alignment at home using string and a tape measure. I’m going to have to do my own alignment because the pull is annoying me.


Rear-wheel-drive and rain

Slippery when wet

Slippery when wet

It rained the other night as I left work. I wasn’t expecting it to rain, but I figured it would be fun to play with the Volvo. I didn’t think the tires were that bad, but it seemed like it would break loose every time I got on the gas. It’s amazing how that little 4-cylinder can overpower the traction so easily. I did a few benign fishtailing around some corners as I went home, but nothing too crazy until I got onto the MoPac frontage road.

It’s very oddly designed intersection as it’s a T-intersection that goes under MoPac, but as it approaches the southbound frontage road, it curves slightly to the right so making that left turn is roughly a 100 degree change in direction. I usually just cut the corner to keep the racing line so I don’t lose too much speed. Yeah, too much Forza Motorsports or Gran Turismo does that to the brain. Unfortunately, unlike a video game, driving your car recklessly has much higher consequences.

As I approach the turn like I’ve done a hundred times before, I start drifting as I hit the apex of the turn. I think I might have lifted my foot off the throttle and it induced lift-off oversteer causing the rear end to come loose. In a video game, I’d let go of the gas and drift around. This is no video game. Having only owned front-wheel-drive cars since I got my license I’ve learned that punching the gas usually straightens out the car if the rear end comes loose. Bad mistake!

I instinctively punch the gas pedal and boy did that make things worse! As soon as I touched the pedal, the whole car just spun like a top! I only remember a blur of the car spinning 360 degrees around like it was on a turntable and coming to a stop facing the wrong way of the one-way frontage road. I was now staring at the grille of the Escalade that was previously behind me. Suffice to say I think everyone in this situation felt a bit awkward.

It took me a couple seconds (which felt more like minutes) to realize WTF just happened because it happened so damn fast and unexpectedly. I was also partially in awe that the little Volvo managed to do a stunt like that. I’m surprised that traffic in the other left-turn lane just kept going after seeing a car spin 540 degrees in two lanes of traffic! I’m probably sure that the person driving the Escalade was glad they didn’t get wiped out by a beater Volvo that looks like the many uninsured beaters roaming the city (don’t worry, I’m insured). I definitely drove a little more carefully the rest of the way home!

It’s amazing the technological advances in safety that have made cars safer because my other car has traction control and electronic stability control which prevents the car from spinning (it’s also front-wheel-drive so it’s less likely to spin out like this in a turn). On the other hand, because the newer technology shields the driver from danger, he won’t know what the true dangers are out there. I immediately knew the roads were slick when driving the Volvo because it spun the tires fairly easily so I knew I could get into trouble. With my other car I would drive the wet roads as aggressively as I normally do on dry roads because of the safety features. It’s funny how technology makes us safer, but act more foolish because of the hidden dangers.


Why the Prius is so slow

Excessive acceleration detected!

Excessive acceleration detected!

My coworker received a Toyota Prius for a rental car while his car was in the shop. We both agreed that the Prius is pretty boring, but it was entertaining because we both knew that it was a mind-numbingly boring little car and we decided to see how dismal it was. The gas engine makes 98 horsepower alone and 135 horsepower with the help of the electric motor.

We started out in electric mode and then romped on the gas to see what it would do. Once we hit 30 MPH, the computer displayed the message “EV Mode Deactivated, Excessive Acceleration.” The message means the electric motor is disabled and the gas engine is working full-time. So yeah, it’s a 3000 pound car being accelerated by a 98 HP/105 ft-lb engine. For reference, my worn ’92 Volvo weighs 3200 pounds and has a 4-cylinder engine that makes 114 HP/136 ft-lbs (when new) and the Volvo feels faster. Obviously, the Prius is not a race car, but when the only thing it has going for it is 51 MPG, it’s kind of a sad little car. Yes, comfort, carrying capacity, driving dynamics, and material quality all suck on this little car.

I’m also certain that given the whole unintended acceleration debacle, the demographic who buy the Prius are going to panic when the “Excessive Acceleration” message is displayed causing them to drive slower. The only excitement that it has going for it is the feeling of whether or not you’re going to be pancaked by a semi while merging onto the freeway. It’s a great for the city where you don’t have to go very fast, but otherwise it’s a dreadful little car.


Power Steering Fluid

One of the systems that is most neglected in a car is the power steering system. Almost every car sold today has power steering and was designed to have power steering from the get-go. If the system ever failed, it is extremely difficult to maneuver the vehicle. Now some old-timers might go “we didn’t have power steering back in my day and we made due without it.” Cars from the olden days were designed without power steering so they had different gearing and bigger steering wheels to allow the driver to turn the car with ease. You really don’t want the power steering to fail because you probably won’t be able to turn the wheel without some help from a buddy.

Luckily, it is extremely easy to do a fluid exchange without making a mess. All the cars I’ve performed this task on resulted in a quieter and easier to turn steering wheel (this is more true in Fords since they are notorious for loud and whiny power steering systems). You will need a soap dispenser, an empty bottle to catch old fluid, and new fluid. Some manufacturers require special power steering fluid so check your manual to what type of fluid to use. I always use transmission fluid in my cars (which is usually what the manual specs) because the red color allows me to see if the fluid is clean or dirty real easily.

Soap pump and trans fluid

Soap pump and trans fluid

All you have to do is find the power steering reservoir under the hood. It is either going to be on the engine somewhere or mounted near the fender. Your owner’s manual will usually tell you where it is. Make sure the soap dispenser pump is cleaned out well with water first. You don’t want soap in the system. Then just stick the dispenser tube in the power steering reservoir and pump all the dirty fluid into the empty bottle (Gatorade or water bottles are the best for this because they’re clear).

Pump out that old fluid

Pump out that old fluid

Icky power steering fluid

Icky power steering fluid

Try and get as much old fluid out of the reservoir as possible. The soap dispenser pump may not reach the bottom, but that’s okay. Once you pumped out as much as possible fill the reservoir with new fluid to the MAX line. Drive the car around for a week and make sure at some point you turn the wheel from one extreme to the other extreme to get the new fluid circulated.

Now doing this once only gets half the fluid out of the power steering system. The theory is that you’ll drive around and let the new and old fluids mix. This will gently rinse all the parts. Just repeat the procedure once a week until the fluid stays red (or whatever color new fluid you put in). The second time you pump out the fluid, it will be just as dark as the first time, but it should start being less dirty after the third time. When you’re done doing the entire system, just take the old fluid to any auto parts store or your mechanic to dispose of it properly. The total cost of the new fluid and the soap dispenser is usually $10 to $15 compared to a flush at a shop costing over $60. Go ahead and do it already!


No parking

You can't park there!

You can’t park there!

The other day I went to a meetup and I parked at this corner (pictured above). There was an opening where the Jeep was parked and I was thinking to myself “Sweet! I’ll have an easy escape route when I leave!” After the event was over, I walked back to my car to see a car parked where the Camry was parked. Seriously? The “No parking” sign indicating no parking from the sign to the street corner wasn’t your first clue that you shouldn’t be parking there? Now my easy escape route has been foiled! I hate people.