Car Breeding Gone Wrong

If a Honda Accord Wagon mated with an AMC Pacer you’d end up with the Honda CrossTour.

Pictures alone can’t describe this Frankencar, but it’s the ugliest car I’ve seen since the Pontiac Aztec. I came across one in person last night and had to stop, catch my breath and take it all in because it’s far worse in person.

If you paid the nearly $30,000 asking price for this car, run, don’t walk to your nearest optometrist to have your eyes examined.

Someone at Honda has a very sick mind. Or very good sense of humor.

 

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The iPhone 5 and the Porsche 911

Every few years Porsche rolls out a new 911, arguably the most iconic sports car ever created. Yet, like clockwork, the new 911 looks a lot like the previous version. In fact, unless you’re a Porsche aficionado, you may not  recognize the differences even if you knew what to look for.

The first 911 was released in 1963 by Dr. Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, and its teardrop shape looks remarkably like the 2012 model available today. That’s nearly 50 years in which the basic design hasn’t changed.

911Generations

With each new generation, a number of small, incremental design tweaks have been made to the 911. The fascia continues to evolve giving the car a more aggressive stance. The rake of the windshield has become more flat while the rocker panels have become more pronounced in later models.

Although these and many other seemingly minor design changes are debated at length by the enthusiasts, they are often overlooked by the rest of us. Dr. Porsche flat out nailed the design at conception. But he didn’t rest on his laurels. He continued to make changes under the hood, often implementing new materials and technology into the car as long as didn’t detract from its purpose and soul.

After using air-cooled engines for 32 years, Porsche switched to water-cooled units found in today’s models. Powerful engines, ceramic brakes and Xenon headlights were added. New models run on a wider track, and offer a mind-numbing array of safety features. Aluminum is now used in place of steel to reduce weight and increase fuel economy.

But the essence of the 911 hasn’t changed. Dr. Porsche infused the first model with a soul that can still be found in today’s 911.

I liken the Porsche 911 to the new iPhone that was announced today.

Some of my friends were disappointed that the iPhone 5 isn’t doesn’t look dramatically different from the iPhone 4/4S. The iPhone 5 looks like someone stretched the older model just enough that one more row of icons will fit on the screen. If that were the only change Apple made I would have been disappointed as well.

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But that’s not the case. Apple made a number of Porsche-like under-the-hood changes that will prove to be more important than a major design change would bring. The new iPhone is lighter, thinner, includes a new “twice as fast” chip, higher resolution screen and upgraded camera. But the biggest change is support for LTE which is geek for “it downloads data so fast it will make your head spin.”

The iPhone is a fraction of the age of the 911, and I don’t expect the design cues of a portable computer to remain as consistent as those found in a sports car. But Jonathan Ive, the designer of the iPhone, got so much right in his initial creation that wholesale changes are not needed.

"A coherently designed product requires no adornment – it should be enhanced by its form alone."

That’s not a quote from Steve Jobs, although I could see him saying that. No, that’s from Dr. Porsche and it’s as relevant today as it was in 1963.

Meguiar’s Headlight Restoration Kit

Both of our cars are a few years old now and their headlights were looking cloudy and a bit yellowish. When I took our Honda Odyssey in to have its oil changed last weekend, the cashier recommended Meguiar’s Headlight Restoration Kit.

That night I checked out the few reviews on Amazon. Most were positive so I decided to give it a try.

The kit contains two sanding disks, a hand pad (on which you attach the disks), buff pad you attach to a drill, microfiber cloth, a bottle of polish and a bottle of plastic restorer.

The entire process is quite simple. I filled a small bucket full of water and used the sanding disks to remove most of the oxidation on the headlights while keeping the disks and the surface wet. I then used my drill and the buffing pad to polish the lens for a few minutes before wiping everything clean and applying the plastic restoration solution.

In less than an hour I had cleaned four headlights. Below is a picture of the first lens I completed on the Odyssey. I can actually see the bulbs through the lens now. The results were even more dramatic on our Nissan Maxima where both lenses had turned yellow. They look nearly brand new now.

Highly recommended.

*I do not use affiliate links.

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Replacing the Final Stage Unit

Up until two weeks ago I’d never heard of a “final stage unit” (FSU). And this is one reason I love the internet, because my car needed a new FSU, and I didn’t know it.

But the tech geeks on the BMW forums knew about it. Even better, they could describe a car’s behavior when the FSU needed to be replaced. For months, my car’s heating and cooling system has been erratic. Most days it worked just fine. But every so often it would turn itself on and off while the car was parked which drained the battery. FSU

I asked a number of gearheads at work. Could be the electrical system. Or maybe I needed a new battery. But nothing specific.

Google to the rescue.

I was about to take my car to the dealer when I searched the internet for heating and cooling system problems for my car model. Within a few minutes, I found a number of owners describing the same problems my car was experiencing. Nearly every post pointed to the FSU or the “blower motor resister”. It took me a while to figure out the the FSU and blower motor resister are the same part.

The BMW dealer wanted $400 to replace it. One independent shop would do it for $300. But several forum members had installed the part on their own. Using a link to an shop that carries OEM parts I bought a new FSU for $67 shipped. Once it arrived, I followed the detailed instructions from the same forum. That helped. But it was the pictures member had posted of their own repair job that helped the most. I was able to see the best way to get at hidden screws. I learned that by removing one vent, I’d have better access to the FSU, which was positioned awkwardly under the passenger’s side of the dash. Dozens of tips made the difference for a rookie mechanic like myself.

Most forum members were able to complete the repair in two hours or less. But those estimates came from owners who do a fair amount of work on their own cars. I’m good with computers, and those skills don’t translate well to cars. So I doubled the time and figured I’d need at least four hours.

At one point, I was sitting on the floor of my garage surrounded by my glove box, screws and other parts I can’t begin to describe let along tell you what their purpose is. I took special care to keep the screws close to the parts that fell off when loosened by my Torx 20. At one point, I felt overwhelmed and went inside to stare at my computer screen until I regained the confidence that I could put everything back together. It’s one thing to have a few screws left over after assembling a bookcase from IKEA. It’s an entirely different scenario to be dropping car parts along the freeway.

After a number of Diet Coke breaks, a few pep talks, and timely encouragement from my son, I replaced the FSU and put my dash back together. My prediction was right: it took just over four hours. My heating and cooling no longer acts like it’s possessed by demons. Every screw found a home, and I didn’t have to explain away any left over parts to Kim.

This is one reason I love the internet.

Whatever You Do In Life

Occasionally, I’m asked to help a friend with a computer problem. Or the friend of a friend. Or just random people who come across my blog.

But I don’t mind it. I enjoy working through problems, and I always learn something new.

When I worked at one of the first internet service providers in Seattle, I got to know a guy who had endless problems with his computers. This was back in the days of dial-up internet, and he could not get any of his new Windows 95 computers online.

After trying to walk him through the problems over the phone he asked, “Could I hire you to come to my home and fix all my computers?”

I stalled.

Up until this time, I’d only made one house call, and that was to a woman who was the friend of a friend. I spent more time looking for her home than I did repairing her computer. In fact, I spent so little time at her home that I refused to take any money. I felt good about myself and the service I rendered until I found five twenty dollar bills shoved into my coat pocket a few days later.

I eventually decided I could use the money and told this man I’d be willing to come to his home. He was happy and asked, “What’s your rate?”

What is my rate? I’d never thought of it in those terms. That makes it sound like a job. Computers were more a hobby, and it felt strange to ask people who needed help for money. He could sense my hesitation.

Finally, I told him, “Let’s see if I can fix your problems before I take anything from you.”

He gave me his address and directions to his home on Mercer Island. I’d never been to Mercer Island which is one of the most expensive zip codes in the US. All I knew about Mercer Island was that it was home to Paul Allen, who hung out with Bill Gates before they started Microsoft. A coworker told me that it wasn’t uncommon to see Allen’s helicopter taking off or landing on the island.

That weekend, I left my one-bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill and drove over Interstate 90 to Mercer Island. The island is flush with vegetation which makes it difficult for outsiders to find their way around. I eventually found the address I was looking for, but all I could see what a giant gate. Where was the house?

I noticed an intercom near the the gate, and was told to pull my car through where I’d be greeted and told where to park my car.

By now, I’m thinking, “What did am getting myself into?” followed by “Why does someone need to show me where to park my car?”

I didn’t have to drive far to realize why I’d need someone to show me where to park because the first thing I noticed was a lineup of red and yellow Ferraris in the driveway. Surely, he didn’t want me to attempt to parallel park my VW Passat between his Italian beauties. 

We spent more time talking cars than I did fixing his computers which didn’t need a lot of work. I spent at least four hours at his home. He explained that he was the owner of luxury car dealership in Seattle that focused on collectable autos. He was incredibly kind and accommodated my numerous questions about his cars.

I don’t recall much of that conversation because I was in a giddy daze.

I do recall telling him I knew more about German cars because I’d lived there for a few years. And then he said something that’s stuck with me for nearly fifteen years:

“The Germans make solid machines. But the Italians create passion! Whatever you do in life, do it with passion”

I left his home that night with a check made out for far more than I deserved.

But it was his advice and friendship that night that enriched my life.

Signs of the Economy

When I moved to Auburn, WA just over three years ago, one of the main roads leading into town was filled with new and used car dealerships.  Today a few of the largest dealers along auto row remain such as Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen, but many of the smaller, independent ones are empty.

But today, I noticed one of the larger and newest dealers had stopped selling cars. The Nissan dealership couldn’t have been more than a couple years old. The building and sign look brand new. But not a sign of a single new or used car for sale. Not to mention the jobs that just disappeared.

According to the sign in the lower left corner, the service department is still open although I don’t know if that’s still the case. It wasn’t open when I took this picture this afternoon.

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This next picture was taken across the street from the main Nissan building that sold new cars. This is the used car lot for the same dealer. All the cars had been removed, but they left the blue sign on the grass that says, “SALE”. 

No Nissans for sale here. But the yellow sign hanging off the adjacent car dealer said something about getting a Suzuki for $189/month. I’ll pass.

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I wonder what auto row will look like in 6 months or a year from now? Will the Honda, Toyota and VW dealerships survive? As I drove back home I noticed a couple browsing cars at the Honda dealer. I didn’t see a single person looking at cars at Toyota or VW. Many dealerships displayed banners touting low interest rates or large rebates. One said, “YES, we have money to lend!!”

Hoods were opened, parking lights were illuminated on and balloons flew from antennas attached to new cars.

It’s hard to imagine these tactics will attract many buyers in this economy.