December 16th, 2009:
American Auto Makers, Build A Car That I Want!

What the hell, Ford? (Same goes for you GM and Chrysler…) What do you have against people that know how to drive a car? Seriously! I don’t need auto assist lane change backup sensor stability control heated bum wiping! It’s quite simple: a touring car (sport sedan or coupe) with all-wheel drive, taut suspension, peppy performance and A MANUAL TRANSMISSION!!! I spied a car that I was truly interested in: a Ford Fusion Sport AWD. Ford doesn’t offer a manual transmission on any of the more powerful engine options for the Fusion. Step up to the new Taurus and you get a bloated car with soft suspension and poor fuel economy… still without a real transmission. GM, what do you have? Crossovers and luxury cars. Chrysler? The same. Sure, there are plenty of rear-wheel drive offerings that I would love to own. However, I live off of a county dirt road and even if I didn’t most of the options cost more than I could justify spending. I drive a Subaru daily. I love it. The recent economic climate has made me think twice about driving a foreign car. (Though the entire Legacy and Tribeca lines are built right here in the USA at a “green” facility that is officially a protected natural asset.) I can get any Impreza or Legacy with All-Wheel Drive (of course) and a manual transmission, including the potent GT, WRX, and STi variants. I could buy a Mitsubishi Evolution or Lancer. I could even step it up a notch (into the Taurus and LaCrosse price ranges) and get a well-equipped BMW 338xi or Infiniti G series. It’s not that the “Big 2 1/2” aren’t capable of building a sporty AWD car. They’ve done it in the past and offer several in Europe (Ford Focus RS, anyone?). America just doesn’t want to buy them. For most drivers on the expressway, it’s too much work to check one’s blindspot before changing lanes. Why would they want to have to row through gears as they enter and exit the highway? Come on America! Wake up! Pay attention! Put down that cellphone and cheeseburger and learn to drive! That’s the only way we’re going to get cars worth driving in the showrooms.

- Duane

September 29th, 2008:
Car drama, disk drama.

Our tow vehicle, a 1996 E350 van, needed a battery and starter. This became painfully obvious when it would not start after filling up at a gas station. Luckily (or unluckily, as you’ll soon read) the gas station had a service bay. The resident “mechanic” swapped in a new battery and eventually installed a new starter. However, when he attemped to move the van, the brake pedal went to the floor and it ended up needing a few new brake lines. After installing the brake lines, he began to process of bleeding the air from the brake lines, and discovered that the bleeder screws on the calipers were seized. So, we’ve just invested in a batter, starter, brake lines, and front calipers. When he was “done” he asked me if I ever had trouble shifting the van into drive. I answered “no”, and he continued to explain that I do now. I had enough and refused to pay any more, driving my crippled van back to the lot at work. The speedometer, radio, headlights, brake lights, and transmission control module were all obviously not working. I eventually (and gently) drove the van home (with Gina tailing me to provide brake lights and a GPS for speedometer). Chris Childs (from Angry Sheep Motorsports had pity on me and came over to have a look. After removing some “bonus” wiring from a 2-way radio and lighting system, he identified a single misplaced wire on the aux. starter relay. A few minutes later and the big orange van was back in business.

During the week-or-so that the van sat dormant in our shop, I lost 3rd gear on my Subaru. I called Chris in a panic and he suggested I shop around for a replacement that he could swap. Using the forums at NASIOC, I learned about Millennium Auto. I also learned that early 2002 model year WRXs had very weak gear sets (check the trans code on the driver’s side strut tower, if it ends with “AA” you have the weak trans). Millennium Auto specializes in STi engine and trans swaps, but they also had a nice beefy 2005 WRX trans. After a little strategic coordination with Chris at Angry Sheep my old trans was out, swapped with the new trans (for a great price) and installed just a few days later. It now shifts smoothly and the gear engagement is precise and clean.

While the other cars were out of commission, I had to take my Camaro out of storage and deal with the crazy insurance rate for a while. However, the fuel level sensor is not working and it constantly reads as if the tank was empty. Enough is enough. I deal with that next spring. The car is back in storage now and I’ll be pulling insurance on it as soon as possible.

The last bit of fun for the past few weeks was the loss of our network storage system that housed our music and movies at home. It looks like the main logic board is toast. I’m hoping that the data can be recovered. Updates will come soon on that front.

- Duane