Tag Archives: cars

360 NB to MoPac NB

360 to MoPac On-ramp

360 to MoPac On-ramp

When heading north on 360 and connecting to MoPac northbound, you head downhill and hit the bottom near the MoPac overpass. Then you have to drive uphill to get onto MoPac. This hill isn’t a challenge. If I can get up to highway speed in a 22-year-old sedan with a 114 HP 4-cylinder, then your V8 pickups and POS Corollas are more than capable of getting there (maybe if you have one of those 70 HP Smart cars, then you have an excuse). I mean, seriously, you need to be AT highway speed at the end of the on-ramp! It does give me a good excuse to blow out the carbon though. It is quite satisfying to floor it up the hill in third gear while flying past them while still way under the speed limit once we’re all on MoPac (because these idiots are going 40 MPH once they get on the highway). These slowpokes have no business driving.


Bird Poop

Two hours under a tree

Two hours under a tree at midnight.

Birds are the enemy. They sit on their perch looking for clean cars and then once they observe the owner walking away it’s time to make it rain (not in a good way). Pray to your favorite deity that you didn’t park near a Tex-Mex restaurant because your car would be covered in red and black splotches instead of white. It doesn’t matter the time of day, these birds will poop on your car. I parked in downtown Austin for two hours between 10:00 PM and midnight on a freezing Friday night. It had to have been around 40 degree Fahrenheit. You’d think that given the weather and time of day that these birds would probably rather be in Florida or sleeping, but nope! They’re just as alive as Sixth Street on a Friday night! I come back with my car covered with bird poop. Oh how I wish I had a gun so I could shoot these birds, but given my aim, people should be thankful I don’t own a gun. This called for an emergency car wash! I have not had to do an emergency car wash in the middle of the night in years. Thank goodness for 24-hour DIY car washes! Popped some quarters in and some brushing and rinsing later, it’s good as new!

I swear birds are just waiting to poop on cars. Especially at Wal-Mart. I saw a poor Chevy Lumina covered with birds and bird poop. The driver had parked away from the store in the area where nice cars park (you know, towards the end of the parking isle). It was the only car parked within a 100 foot radius. It was like an island of birds and poop within 20 feet of the car. Yeah, they know they’ve struck satisfaction against the man. I’m sure they don’t just have a hatred against Chevy Luminas like man. The birds don’t discriminate against make. They’re just dicks. Damn, I hate birds.


Headlights

Headlights are better on new cars.

Headlights are better on new cars.

It’s amazing how headlight technology has improved over the last 20 years. The biggest improvement seems to be with the lenses themselves. Sure HID and LED headlights are super cool these days, but they are still pricey to replace and aren’t quite in every car yet. Both cars in the image above use regular old halogen bulbs. The car on the left has factory bulbs, which are supposed to be long-life (ie- cheap, low output bulbs). The car on the right has aftermarket Sylvania Xtravisions, which are 25% brighter than the standard bottom-barrel bulbs. The difference is the car on the left uses reflector optics (clear lens with disco ball reflectors) and the car on the right uses lens optics (prismatic lens with curved reflector).

What does the techno-mumbo-jumbo mean? It means the car on the left has better light output with cheaper bulbs because of the clear lenses and mini-mirror reflectors bouncing light exactly where it needs to go. The light diffuses better to show a brighter pool of light. The prismatic lenses on the car on the right will concentrate the light into a straighter beam and also block some of the light since it has to pass through a lens of varying thickness. The more premium light bulbs can only do so much with light output. It still better than the cheap bulbs that were in there before being swapped out.

Halogen bulbs are cheap safety upgrades. Buy a nice set of premium bulbs, aim them correctly, and your night drives will be fun without blinding anyone.


The Volvo You Know

Volvo’s new ad campaign for the S60 features a comparison with the classic 240 as shown in the clips below.


I like the ad, but the S60 just doesn’t compare to the 240. The 240 is a classic because it’s a simple, stoic sedan. The S60 is a sexy-looking computer on wheels. The two cars are on opposite sides of the spectrum which appeals to two different types of people. The ones that are attracted to the 240 aren’t going to be cross shopping with the S60 and vice versa because there are different ideals with the two demographics. The 240 has an audience that values modestly-priced solid transportation while the S60 has an audience that values safety at any cost. The S60 isn’t a terrible car, but I find that Volvo has priced themselves out of the market they should be aiming for. The 240 must be the best car Volvo ever built if they’re using it as the benchmark to compare their latest offerings. Volvo needs to bring to market a car that has the same philosophy the 240 had: modestly priced, solidly built, and angular aesthetics. They don’t need to bring back the 240 as it has never left in the first place.


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.


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.


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!


I Got It Up

Window is in a bad state.

Window is in a bad state.

A couple weeks ago I put down my driver’s side window and it never went back up. I was told it would get stuck down occasionally when I bought the car and given its age I should have suspected it was time for the windows to stop working anyways. Doing some research on the internet yielded me some answers. Apparently, the power window switch goes bad in Volvos of this vintage so that’s the first place to look instead of taking the door apart to look at the motor and regulator. Lucky for me, it was just the switch. The switch can be disassembled and cleaned to make it work again! I made a video documenting the task below.