Category Archives: Cars

Spark Plugs

The “Check Engine” light in our 2002 Subaru Legacy came on a while back. The symptoms were a sputtering, jumpy engine only on cold or wet mornings. The symptoms went away after the car had been driven for a few minutes. An OBD check revealed that the issue was a cylinder misfire. My mechanic said that it could either be bad spark plugs or bad wires going to the spark plugs. It would have cost several hundred dollars to have him do the replacement, so we put it off for a while. The spark plugs are the cheaper of the two parts to replace, so eventually, I decided that I’d like to try replacing them myself to see if it fixed the problem. I have the Haynes manual for our Legacy, which details the procedure, so I felt like it was pretty do-able. In additional, I also found this video that details the entire process on the exact same engine as we have.

The process went pretty smoothly overall. I had to remove some unrelated parts from under the hood in order to get access to the plugs, which are mounted on the sides of the engine. The air intake had to come off completely, and the wiper fluid reservoir had to be disconnected and moved out of the way. Other than that, it was pretty straightforward.

New spark plug

New spark plug

It was a bit nerve-racking as I prepared to turn the engine on for the first time after the replacement. I wondered what would happen if I hadn’t installed things quite right. But I had nothing to worry about, as the engine started up just fine. I took a test drive and everything ran smoothly. That was a week ago, and the car has been running great ever since! No bad starts, and the check engine light turned itself off. The cost for the spark plugs was only $10, and I also had to buy a longer extender for my ratcheting wrench so that it could reach far enough to grab the spark plugs, but other than that it was pretty cheap and a good investment of my time.

You can see some more pics from the procedure in the gallery.

Crash

On Wednesday, March 25, around 9:30pm, Rebecca, Esme and I were on our way back from Ikea. My parents were up visiting for the week, and that evening they were watching Catherine so that we could shop and browse in relative peace. We had a wagon-full of new dining room chairs and were just about to take the Route 128 part of the 128/95 split familiar to anyone who travels on the North Shore.

I had just pointed out a new revision to the Route 128 exit sign (a new yellow label that said “LEFT”) when we heard a horrifying, loud sound from the back of the car. It felt as though we were driving over an enormous rumble strip, and I found it very difficult to control the car. I tried to steer left and right to no avail. Suddenly, we seemed to break free, and it was at that moment our car began to spin.

The spin seemed to happen in slow motion, even though we were traveling at close to 60mph. We spun around so that I could see the headlights of cars that were rushing towards us. I swung my head around behind us to check on the most important thing: Esme. Her car seat was held securely in place, so I breathed a sigh of relief. In what I can only describe as a miracle, as we continued to spin into the left-most lane, not a single oncoming car got even close enough to hit us. I had time enough to pull off to the left side of the road. I am positive that it was by God’s grace and protection alone that we avoided any further damage.

I didn’t even see who or what had hit us, but Rebecca told me that it had been a tractor trailer.  We did a quick check in the car, and everyone was fine, with no injuries. Esme was just starting to wake up, I think only because the car had stopped.

At this point, we got out of the car to assess the damage. In the photo below, you can see how the semi’s hubcap slammed into us and opened up the body “like a can opener,” as Rebecca described it.

Damage from the crash

Damage from the crash

I don’t want to think of what might have happened if the impact had been a few feet further forward, on the wheel, or on the rear passenger door, which Esme was sleeping behind.

At this point, a friendly motorist stopped to help us out. She called the State Police and provided some comfort while we waited for them to arrive. After they arrived, the officer escorted us over to the right shoulder of the road to get our side of the story and information.

According to the officer, as the truck driver described it, he attempted to change lanes and “met with some resistance,” which of course was us. He gave us some paperwork, and did a quick check of the car to see if there was any damage that might impact our safety. He said that it looked to be mostly body damage, and after confirming that I didn’t notice any problems while driving across the highway, he sent us on our way.

In the weeks that have followed, I’ve worked with our insurance company (first time I’ve dealt with MetLife, and I’ll say that their customer service could use some help), the auto body shop (the excellent Auto Body Clinic in Beverly, MA, highly recommended from this and past experience), and the car rental company (we got a 2009 Nissan Altima Hybird from Enterprise, cool for the hybird, but not cool for the lack of trunk space), and we finally got our beloved Subaru Legacy Wagon back today. As we suspected, the driver of the truck was found at fault, and his insurance company covered the complete cost of the repairs and car rental.

Overall, the psychological and emotional terror of the accident was much worse than any physical damage. The damage to our car was not structural or mechanical – all body damage. And the impact and accident itself were both relatively minor, all things considered. We’re just glad that everything turned out okay.

See a few more photos of the crash site and damage.

New Wheels

There are some of you, dear readers, who may remember Hedwig, my white Subaru Legacy Wagon. Purchased in September 2001, her time with me was cut short by a drunk driver who smashed her late one night that following December. I barely had time to know her.

The insurance check covered the cost of a replacement and Stewart (the 95 Golf) entered the picture. Stewart served me well for a good 5 years. While he looked small on the outside, he had an ample amount of space inside. I loved that he got great gas mileage and was small enough to fit in most parking spaces.

Time, however, took her toll on Stewart. At 12 years old he was showing some wear. He got tired, he got rusty and the speedometer died…mostly. After much deliberation, some repairs and a little juggling of the budget we decided to replace good ole Stewart.

I really wanted a Subaru Outback Wagon. I love the way they look- outdoorsey, hip, spacious… So we looked…and as much as I wanted one there were none that fit our criteria. I was forced to put aside my car vanity and widen my search and I found my newest set of wheels.

Hedwig’s niece (or nephew, I’m not sure yet) is now parked in the driveway. We got the 2002 Subaru Legacy L last night and so far I’m quite happy with it. Truth be told, though, it wouldn’t have taken much to satisfy me. I’m giddy over having a glove box, working speedometer and room to take a friend along on some adventures!

Kudos to Town Fair Tire!

I’ve been having some issues with the left tires on the Corolla recently, and this culminated yesterday when one of them went entirely flat while I was at work. Luckily, I had a compact spare tire, so I was able to get home. Today I drove over to Town Fair Tire in Danvers on the recommendation of a co-worker. They checked the flat tire in front, as well as the tire in back that had been slowly leaking air for a while. Turns out that the front tire had a bad valve, which they fixed, and the rear tire had … a NAIL stuck in it. They removed the nail and patched the tire. I’d say they spent about a half hour or 45 minutes working on my car. How much did all of this cost me? Not one cent. I was incredulous when they told me I was “all set”, but it’s true. I had seen on their website and store signs that they did free flat repairs, but I assumed that was for existing customers. Nope! They’ll do it for anyone. I guess the idea is that you’ll be impressed by their service level and come back when you actually need to purchase new tires. Well, it certainly worked for me! I’ll definitely be heading back to Town Fair Tire for my next tire purchase. Their tire prices are very good, and they offer some very nice services.

Kudos to Town Fair Tire! Highly recommended!

Bumper Sticker Downgrade

So, I decided it was time to downgrade the bumper stickers on my car. Here’s what it looked like before:

ggg|camry_outside_shots/200205061717732_G|Lotsa Stickers|ggg

And here it is after:

ggg|2001_toyota_corolla/P1040810|No Stickers|ggg

As you can see, the only way I could get rid of the stickers was to get a new car… 🙂

It’s a 2001 Toyota Corolla LE. It has about 58,000 miles on it. It’s not an extravagant or terribly exciting car by any means, but it’s in much better shape than my old 1994 camry with 210,000+ miles. It also gets much better gas mileage:

2001 Corolla vs 1994 Camry

  • City: 30 mpg vs 21 mpg
  • Highway: 39 mpg vs 28 mpg
  • Combined: 34 mpg vs 23 mpg

That should come in handy considering the constant increase in gas prices.

I’m sad to see the Camry go. We’ve had some good times in that car. Becky and I drove on some of our first dates in the Camry, and it has taken us down to Florida and back, out to Ohio and back, and all around New England. It’s taken me to and from work every single day that I’ve been at CBD … except, of course, on the various occasions it was in the repair shop. Becky’s dad has taken it upon himself to fix up our car and to try and sell it, so hopefully it will be useful to someone in need of a car.

Check out my goodbye Camry album, and some initial photos of the Corolla.

Compressor Installation Lessons

fff|ggg|camry_compressor_installation/P1040531|Alternator and Compressor|ggg|fff

On Friday, Northeast Autolab finished up the process of installing the new compressor. The air conditioning works again, blowing nice, dry, cool air. Naturally, this would be the week that the temperatures start to drop… but at least it’s fixed!

Here are some things I have learned in the process of fixing the compressor:

  • To remove or install the compressor, you must remove the drive belt. This is accomplished by moving the alternator, which is mounted on a pivoting arm, thus loosening the belt for removal.
  • To move the alternator, simply loosen the pivot bolt, loosen the adjustment lock bolt, and turn the adjustment bolt. Tightening the adjustment bolt moves the alternator up and tightens the belt. Loosening the adjustment bolt moves the alternator down and loosens the belt.
  • As tempting as it may be, it is not necessary to whack the alternator to get it to move down further.
  • The compressor mounts to the engine block with three bolts. Two of these are fairly easy to get at, one not as easy.
  • There is a plate attached to the old compressor that must be swapped over to the new compressor after the refrigerant has been evacuated.
  • This cannot be done when the new compressor is already mounted. So if you went ahead and mounted the new compressor yourself, the auto repair shop will need to undo everything you did and redo it after they have recharged the system.
  • Luckily, if you have the work done at Northeast Autolabs in Beverly, Massachusetts, they will do very efficient work and not charge too much for the repairs.

Northeast Autolabs also installed some dye in the refrigerant so that if we have any future A/C problems, they can easily look for a leak in the system by using an ultraviolet light.

I am feeling pretty good about my current level of knowledge of car maintenance. I like knowing what exactly is going on under the hood, and I’m glad that I no longer feel the need to just nod and cough up the cash when a repair shop says “Your car needs to have this fixed” and “It’s going to cost this much”. Too many people are under the unfortunate impression that when a mechanic tells gives them a diagnosis and a cost estimate, they have no choice. If I had taken the Camry to the dealer, I could have paid well over $500 just for the factory new compressor they would install, not including labor and the cost of recharging the refrigerant. Instead, I bought a rebuilt compressor (which will be more than sufficient considering the age of my car) for $150, and paid $110 for the labor and refrigerant recharging services.

Adventures In Auto Repair

fff|ggg|camry_outside_shots/200205061717085_G|The Camry|ggg|fff

I enjoy driving. I like to get in the car, hit the road, and drive anywhere. Down to the corner store or across the country, it’s all good. As long as my car is working, that is. For you see, as much as I enjoy driving, I do not enjoy dealing with the mechanical side of owning a car.

When I first received the Camry from Pop-Pop (happy birthday!) in the spring of 2000, I would simply take it to the Toyota dealership and have them take care of all of the repairs. After a few years passed, it became readily apparent that they are overzealous in their estimation of needed repairs, and that they greatly overcharge for parts and labor.

The next step was to find a trustworthy local mechanic. I found a few good places in Beverly – Northeast Autolabs and Auto-Dyne, both within walking distance of our apartment. They charged less than Toyota, and were honest in their appraisals and estimates of the work that needed to be done. But even the local mechanic can be expensive, particularly if they’re installing factory-new parts.

Thankfully, my father-in-law Ken has stepped in within the past year or so to advise me on matters of auto repair, and in fact to do many of the repairs himself, as long as he has some free time and the necessary parts. Along the way, I’ve picked up a few bits of knowledge and have developed enough confidence to start fixing things on my own. What follows are some of my recent experiences and ‘adventures’ in auto repair. Continue reading

My Six Apart + LiveJournal FAQ

So pretty much everyone has heard the rumors that Six Apart|http://www.sixapart.com/, makers of the Movable Type|http://www.movabletype.org/ software that we use here at prwdot.org, was going to buy LiveJournal|http://www.livejournal.com/, a community blogging site. Well, those rumors are true|http://www.sixapart.com/log/2005/01/six_apart_acqui.shtml. There are plenty of good links to be had elsewhere, so I figured I would provide some unique content here.

Q: What does this mean to prwdot.org? A: Not a whole lot. The blogs at prwdot.org are powered by Movable Type, which is a product of Six Apart, the company that purchased LiveJournal. We won’t be switching to LiveJournal, and from the other FAQ’s that I’ve read, LiveJournal won’t be integrated into any other Six Apart products. It remains to be seen what type of ripple effects this acquisition will have on Six Apart and their other products. I know that acquisitions are often quite expensive for the purchasing company, and can set them back significantly in terms of their overall financial strength. So hopefully they can make the most out of this opportunity.

Q: Does World Wide Wood know anyone who would be affected by this? A: Well, our friend Jenny Rainville|http://www.livejournal.com/users/raingirl3179/ is a LiveJournal user. From what I understand, the benefits will be mostly positive for her. Six Apart does not have any (announced) plans to get rid of LiveJournal. From what I’ve read, they have only the best of intentions. So Jenny’s blog should stay around for the forseeable future. Maybe there’s a chance that she and other LiveJournal users would get some cool features like the ability to accept comments from people outside of LiveJournal without jumping through hoops, or other things like TrackBacks. But I don’t know about that.

Q: Where does Xanga|http://www.xanga.com/ figure in to all of this? A: Though they aren’t involved in the current Six Apart + LiveJournal deal, one can only hope that Six Apart will, in the near future, buy them out and kill off their god-awful blogging product. Seriously, with very few exceptions (e.g. Laura and Johnny|http://www.xanga.com/home.aspx?user=DimbyRVin), Xanga is just a dumping ground for crappy teeny-bopper blogs that look absolutely hideous.

Q: Did this buyout affect your ability to get to work this morning? A: Most likely yes. When my car stalled out on the on-ramp to Route 128, and I couldn’t get it to come back to life, Six Apart was the first company I thought to call. Unfortunately, after dialing their offices numerous times, I received only busy signals. I guess they were pretty busy. In any case, my second choice, AAA|http://www.aaa.com/, was able to come and tow my car to Auto-Dyne|http://www.auto-dyne.com/ within 15 minutes. If there’s anything seriously wrong, though, I’m sending the bill to Six Apart. If they can afford to buy LiveJournal, they can certainly afford to repair my car.

Q: Should I take this entire blog entry with a grain of salt? A: Just a pinch will do!

200,032.5

Well, now that Becky’s home and the Camry has returned, I’ve taken an official photo of the 200,000 mile odometer, with the additional 32.5 miles she put on it today.

ppp||ppp

Hooray!