Today I have the opportunity to work on another old car. While it isn’t exactly a “classic” like an Alfa GTA or ’55 Chevy (the ‘57s are just too gaudy for me) it is very near and dear to someone’s heart, so I am taking great care with it. I am cautious when I drive it and try to let the wrenches caress the fasteners, rather than just man-handle them. In reality, the car isn’t worth much to most of the world, but after spending some time with “Nellie” I have come to a conclusion: they don’t make ‘em like they used to.
The beautiful thing about Nellie is how she is the last from a bygone era. She’s not a big German luxury barge, nor is she powered by an American small-block V8. She’s not even rear wheel drive. (the horror!) She’s just a humble baseline 1990 Honda Civic, but a completely capable car. She’s as basic as they come—a reminder of simpler times before power windows, power door locks, power steering, and power outlets became necessities to get from Point A to Point B. It makes me wonder what we’re doing wrong as consumers.
Over the years we have become lazy. We have forgotten how to drive. We’ve demanded the fastest, quietest, most coddling cocoon to wrap ourselves in. We need air conditioning. We can’t live without cup holders. Our arms ache at the thought of having to exert effort while parallel parking. The wheels beneath us cannot slip. Brakes mustn’t lock. A haunting voice will guide us to our destination (or not). Wind must be seen but not heard. And in the event of a collision (who allowed that to happen, anyway?!) we want to be surrounded by pillowy curtains on which to rest our weary heads. (never mind that those same pillows explode with such force that they will take your head clean off if they hit at the wrong angle) Read more
I enjoy getting together with a good group of motorheads. I’m not sure if it is the comradery of carburetors that draws us together or the simple fact that most of us are so passionate and opinionated about our transportation choices, that sooner or later blood will be drawn (like the pending horror of a train wreck that simply must be watched. Or the pain of Bobby Unser on television). Whatever the reason for getting together, the conversation always seems to flow without pause (and often without purpose, point, or poignancy, according to many onlookers) as we dive into the history, present day, and future of mechanized transportation.
Try as we might to come to an agreement on what makes a car “great,” the segregation inevitably happens: as the discussions continue the group breaks into smaller and smaller subcomponents, a sort of reverse-assembly line. Eventually, everyone finds themselves grouped in with one clique or another. This is not a choice that can be taken lightly, nor made at that very moment. Rather, it is the culmination of choices and attitudes that one exhibits over years of development. Some may even declare it to be genetic.
The Japanese fans quietly keep to themselves, presumably in an attempt to grasp the concept that cars might actually vary in character and personality from, say, a baseboard heater. Read more
How to actually change the oil
Keep in mind that this is only a guideline for the actual procedure. This is where you should check a service manual to be sure you’re not screwing anything up. (Honestly, my Land Rover is the only vehicle I’ve had that is very specific about the operations procedure, but you never know) Failure to follow the factory instructions can result in the oil pump losing its prime and, thus, its capacity to pump oil. Remember: oil serves as a much better lubricant than air does. The same principle applies if you forget to purchase all your oil and filter prior to getting started. It is tough to drive to the store with no oil in the engine*so be sure you have ENOUGH OIL and the PROPER FILTER and the PROPER TOOLS before you proceed. Got it? Good!
Step 1: Get the oil flowing
The purpose of changing the oil is to get all the worn out oil and dirt out of the engine and replace it with clean, fresh lubricant. Draining cold oil isn’t recommended, as you will be leaving all kinds of dirt inside the engine. By driving your car a few miles before draining the oil, you’re stirring up all the sediment into suspension so it will flow out of the sump with the old oil. Plus, as an added benefit, hot oil running down your arm will warm your extremities if you are forced to service your car in sub-freezing temps. Read more
The question I get asked almost more than any other is: “How do I change my own oil?”* This always makes me smile because I am eager to help those who want to get their hands dirty under the hood. So, I will attempt to help others with similar desires to discover their inner-mechanic with a quick and dirty How-To guide.
When to change your oil
Step one is to determine if it is even necessary to change your engine oil. Answering a few quick questions should give you a good indication of just how much time you have before your next service is due. Read more
It happens so fast. One minute life seems a place of nearly unbearable normalcy, the next you are turned on your head (sometimes literally). It’s a difficult position to find yourself in: the forced decision to purchase a vehicle in a short time frame.
Sometimes the cause is a faulty head gasket; other times it is a faulty head. In my friend Gordon’s case, it was the latter. He was waiting patiently in his Mazda Miata for the traffic light to turn green (he has no other method of waiting, as he’s been accused of having “no concept of urgency” by some very close to him) when he was rear-ended by a Nissan Pathfinder (whose driver evidently had a very real sense of urgency). They both climbed out to assess the damage, went to the back of the car, and quickly realized that it did not look good for the little roadster. That’s it. Done. Game over. In an instant, he had to find a replacement.
I sensed what was coming next. He, in a momentary lapse of judgment, asked me to help him seek out another car. (I blame undiagnosed head trauma from the accident.) This tends to happen often when you’re pigeon-holed as a “car guy.” I’ve always found this a bit unfair since I also consider myself a guitar guy, motorcycle guy, dog guy, coal stove guy, Greenland kayak guy, and–most certainly–an boutique/vintage amp guy. Somehow people always seem to focus in on the car aspect of my limited knowledge base and attempt to employ me in their quest for The Perfect Car. Read more
As I climbed into my beloved BMW E30, the guilt trip began before the journey started. It happens every time I walk past. Rarely does it escalate into anything more than a slight nag, but occasionally we’ll have it out.
“Why are you ignoring me?”
“Ignore you?! How can you even suggest that?”
“I don’t feel loved.”
“I drive you. I wash you. I completely rebuilt your suspension. AND interior! I just flushed your brakes. I changed all of your fluids. I even put Swepco in your gearbox and Amsoil in your differential, for crying out loud!”*
“I know. And I appreciate all of your work.”
“So why do you say I’m ignoring you?”
“When was the last time you touched me?”
I pause and try to remember. It has been too long…far too long. When I wash it, I take it to the local car wash. It is not that I’m lazy; it’s just that my home has the water pressure equal to that of an elderly man at a rest stop urinal. I attempt to justify my choice by using the foaming brush, but it never gets the car as clean as washing it with a bucket and sponge. The intimacy is gone.
It happened again. I left my driveway and started down the ¾ mile long gradual hill that leads down my road to the highway. (I use those terms loosely, since I allow others to use my road and the highway is just two lanes’ worth of crumbled concrete.) For whatever reason, I’ve gotten into the habit of giving my brakes a gentle squeeze test when I reach the slight flat before the final downhill grade that ends with a stop sign and heavy traffic. I feel better knowing that my brakes are slightly warm before asking them to pull hard duty. Either that or I’m just super paranoid about losing my life. I’m glad I became addicted to this behavior, since I had the wonder of complete brake failure during this test.
The first time this happened was in my BMW. When my foot went to the floor I was going slow enough that I could easily slow the car with the handbrake. (I always baby my vehicles when they are cold. I’m a softie.) The crisis was averted, and I could return home unscathed to switch into a “safer” vehicle: the Rabbi (1981 VW Rabbit Turbo-diesel). While many will argue that they’d rather die in a BMW than drive a Rabbit, I was in a bind and, frankly, I have low standards. The Rabbi has been a faithful (if not trying) partner over the years, and it responded to the call of duty and got me to my dinner date that evening. Read more