Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The new car adventures

My car got 36.9 mpg on the way up this trip. I filled up right after I arrived so the mileage wouldn't be diminished by any city driving. I suspect that not running the airconditioning for any of the trip may have made a significant difference.

On the way up, I had another rest area adventure. Some woman approached me and asked if I had jumper cables. I said yes, and then her male companion said they were over in the Pontiac further down in the parking lot.

He said it was a new battery and he didn't know why it had died over night, but it might be loose cables, because he had jiggled one the day or the week before and the car had started right up after it seemed like it wouldn't.

When I got over there I pulled out a couple of box wrenches I have in the trunk to see if they'd fit the battery terminal attachment. These, however were the small bolt posts that go into the battery. I had to get my socket set. After trying about eight sockets (because I could see that it was a small size, but I had no idea what size that really meant for a socket--the first few I tried were too small, the next were too big. Finally I narrowed down to the right one.

I'm sure any real mechanically inclined person with an adequate sense of depth perception would have got it in one or at the most three. I also looked at the water level as long as I was there and found that four of the six battery cells were low on water. I told him that would need to be fixed, too.

Anyway, tightening the battery terminals had no effect on the starting of the car. Next I attached my battery using the cables. We did it the safe way--negative cable on my negative battery pole, positive on my positive and then negative on metal of his car and positive on his positive battery pole. It still didn't start. Sooooooooooo I went ahead and put the other negative on his negative battery pole. The car headlights came on at that point.

"Oh! The lights were on all night," he said, shocked. "That's why the battery died over night!"

As he smiled and continued to watch his headlights, I said, "Turn your lights off."

Then with my car set to revving a little higher than idle, I told him to get in his car and start it. I stood by the jumper cable to take it off his battery as soon as he started (in hopes of not destroying nor damaging either his nor my electrical system).

His car started. I pulled away the cables. I told him: don't let it die--it won't start again. I left him and his companion to do whatever they planned next.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

New month, different car.

I go through cars like some people go through rolls of paper towels. I was driving back from a day trip to the Oregon Coast when the KIA Rio went---jerk, tat-tat-tat-tat-tat.... I pushed in the clutch as right away as I could and coasted several hundred yards till I finally found a turn out on the forest road.

I didn't try to re-start the car because I feared (rightly as it turned out) that the timing belt had failed. The KIA was at 63,500 miles, give or take, and the 60K required service includes a timing belt change. I really was going to get it changed at the end of the month, but it seems that I didn't have 4000 miles to wait to get it done after all.

This was on an isolated two-lane high way between Pacific City and Highway 18. I had a cell phone but no signal. So I started walking to get to civilization or cell phone service, which ever came first. As I walked, from behind me (on the opposite side because I was facing on-coming traffic), a police car went down the road. I tried to flag him down, but he must not have seen me in his mirrors, or just didn't want to stop, because the car went on around a conveniently located curve in the road and was gone.

Finally, I came to a gated driveway, and since they had signs about woodcrafts for sale, I figured it wouldn't be inconceivable that some stranger might knock on their trailer door. I knocked and an older man and woman were inside along with an amazingly noisey dog. I explained that I had broken down and asked if I could use a phone. This being an isolated home in 2008 America, I said I didn't need to come inside if they'd just make the call for me, and they handed me their wireless phone to use on the porch.

I called AAA (life saver, that), and they actually had a tow truck out in just over half an hour. Then we drove back the quarter-mile to the KIA and hooked it up and towed it back into Newberg and dropped me at home and the car off at my usual mechanic.

The next day I called the mechanic and told him the story. After he looked at the car, he said the engine was ruined. Replacing it would be around $5K to $6K, so we really should look for a different car.

I did look and ended up buying a Ford Escort ZX2 from a private party. The previous two cars bought from private parties have been surprisingly excellent. This one turned out to need another $600 dollars of work right away when the mechanic looked at it. Still, considering his first check up of the car made him think it might need a clutch and some variable valve work that would have run up the costs to possibly $3.6K, we were pleased and relieved.

The engine rough running that the mechanic thought might be sludged valves (an $1.8K job), turned out to be healed with a software update to the engine from Ford. The clutch that he thought might need to be replaced (a $1.1K job) turned out to be worn linkage and a bunched up floor mat on the driver's side. The wheel bearing that he thought needed to be replaced and repacked (because of a noisy ride) ($700 or $800) turned out to be healed by the software update smoothing the engine running and filling all the tires to even pressure.

So all that left was the (expensive) maintenance of flushing the engine cooling system, flushing the transmission fluid, and an oil change. Still, it should be gold for a while now.

While I'm glad it didn't need the more expensive work, I've got a little niggling concern about the mechanic thinking it did until he started getting in there. If we had done his initial inspection as a "pre-buy inspection" as he and everyone recommends, I likely wouldn't have bought the car, and yet when it was all done, the car wasn't much worse than the two used cars bought before were at the time of their purchase.

KIA has gotten some bad press about reliability, and in one way I can agree--the cursed belt giving way in 3500 beyond its 60K service seems a bit picky to me. If it was going to be likely to fail at that mileage, they should have had it scheduled for replacement at 50K or 55K. But I feel bad about me, too. I mean I knew there was a risk waiting until I had the money (planned for the end of this month) to do the timing belt replacement. The KIA was a 2003 car, making it the newest car I've ever owned. The Ford which has 59K miles on it now is a 2001. So everything about the KIA was newer than this except that the KIA engine is trashed. Still, the Escort is more comfortable to ride in, so that's an improvement.

Also, the Escort has working cruise control. So, while I can't drive speed limit without cruise control (I can't. I just can't. I keep edging more and more above speed limit until I look at the speedometer and get scared that I'm going to get pulled over) I can set it for a smidgen above speed limit and leave it alone. Gas mileage seems to be about as good as the KIA Sephia that I owned which was totaled in an intersection, but not as good as the RIO: 32 and a quarter MPG, as opposed to 34 and a smidgen in the RIO highway.

Well, that about catches us up for this interval. Hope your doing well. Sorry I've been so long in writing