Thursday, September 15, 2011

HHR Report

I rented a Chevy HHR for a trip to Saratoga this week. The Audi was in the shop for some diagnostic work which necessitated the rental. The choice was between the HHR and an Impala, which was slightly more lame than the HHR. So I took the latter.

Overall, it was a good example of why companies like GM got themselves in trouble. Without doing any research, I am thinking that the HHR basically uses the Cobalt platform and drivetrain, so you're starting off with a fairly crappy base. To that, it adds a retro body that is supposed to reflect some sort of '40's Chevy truck, maybe an early Suburban. Of course, it is like 1/4 scale. The look is okay, but it means you have gun-slit windows when you shrink it down. With the side windows tinted, the inside looking out is very Sherman-tank-like (disclaimer: I have never ridden in or driven a Sherman tank) but I actually liked the feeling of the base of the windshield being closer to you than many modern cars, with their dashtops that can hold a large pizza box. Almost an original 'Beetle' feeling to it with the closeness and verticality of the windscreen.

Dynamically, the HHR sucks. Granted, I had a base rental fleet version with 14" wheels and tires, but I can't imagine a top-line version with larger tires would challenge the Corvette in a gymkhana. The ride is okay except for the clunks in the suspension. The gas pedal has about 3 inches of dead travel before the engine deigns to weigh in and move the car (slowly) forward. Hard to tell how many gears the transmission has (and between Drive and Low is a strange setting called 'I') but suffice it to say it is somewhere between a 2-speed Powerglide and a decent 5-speed automatic. I'm guessing 4. There was also a strange sound when you first start the car, almost like a waterfall, or one of those African 'stones in the sealed wooden tube' instrument things. Very cool in nature or in a percussion instrument; not so much in your car. The steering wheel also had a very strange rim, with a cross-section that felt triangular and wasn't very comfortable to grip.

I guess the HHR's raison d'etre (besides being supposedly cool to look at) is carrying capability. But I had to fold down one of the rear seats to put my golf clubs in the back, as the car isn't wide enough to put them sideways or deep enough to even carry them diagonally in the back. The floor is very high as well, effectively starting at mid-thigh level (and I'm short). There is a very shallow tray under the cargo floor (about 4 inches deep) and the spare tire is under that.

There were actually some things I did like.... For a base car, it was decently equipped with automatic headlights and cruise control. The single CD stereo was pretty decent sounding, had an auxiliary input (mini-jack line, not USB) and there were power seats and lumbar control. Also, the computer was pretty good, with lots of the usual info (instant and average mpg, average speed and - a really nice touch - air pressure which indicated the actual reading for every tire, versus an idiot light with no indication of which tire is low, like in our 2007 Honda Odyssey minivan). And for a small car with a high beltline and low roof, the seating position was nice and upright.

Maybe it would be a little more peppy with a manual transmission (Save the Manuals!), but I doubt that a stick would transform the car into something that a person who wants more than Point A to Point B transportation would be willing to buy. Certainly not me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tools Explained

1.DRILL PRESS: A tall upright machine useful for suddenly snatching flat metal bar stock out of your hands so that it smacks you in the chest and flings your beer across the room denting the freshly-painted project which you had carefully set in the corner where nothing could get to it.

2.WIRE WHEEL: Cleans paint off bolts and then throws them somewhere under the workbench with the speed of light . Also removes fingerprints and hard-earned calluses fingers in about the time it takes you to say, 'Oh shit!' or worse.

3.SKILL SAW: A portable cutting tool used to make studs too short.

4.PLIERS: Used to round off bolt heads. Sometimes used in the creation of blood-blisters.

5.BELT SANDER: An electric sanding tool commonly used to convert minor touch-up jobs into major refinishing jobs.

6.HACKSAW: One of a family of cutting tools built on the Ouija board principle... It transforms human energy into a crooked, unpredictable motion, and the more you attempt to influence its course, the more dismal your future becomes.

7.VISE-GRIPS:Generally used after pliers to completely round off bolt heads. If nothing else is available, they can also be used to transfer intense
welding heat to the palm of your hand.

8.OXY/ACETYLENE TORCH: Used almost entirely for lighting various flammable objects in your shop on fire. Also handy for igniting the grease inside
the wheel hub out of which you want to remove a bearing race.

9.TABLE SAW: A large stationary power tool commonly used to launch wood projectiles for testing wall integrity.

10.HYDRAULIC FLOOR JACK:Used for lowering an automobile to the ground after you have installed your new brake shoes , trapping the jack handle
firmly under the bumper. Always pays to have a second one to get out of trouble with.

11.BAND SAW:A large stationary power saw primarily used by most shops to cut good aluminum sheet into smaller pieces that more easily fit into the
trash can after you cut on the inside of the line instead of the outside edge.

12.TWO-TON ENGINE HOIST: A tool for testing the maximum tensile strength of everything you forgot to disconnect.

13.PHILLIPS SCREWDRIVER: Normally used to stab the vacuum seals under lids or for opening old-style paper-and-tin oil cans and splashing oil on your shirt; but can also be used, as the name implies, to strip out Phillips screw heads.

14.STRAIGHT SCREWDRIVER : A tool for opening paint cans. Sometimes used to convert common slotted screws into non-removable screws and butchering
your palms.

15.PRY BAR : A tool used to crumple the metal surrounding that clip or bracket you needed to remove in order to replace a 50 cent part.

16.HOSE CUTTER: A tool used to make hoses too short.

17.HAMMER : Originally employed as a weapon of war, the hammer nowadays is used as a kind of divining rod to locate the most expensive parts adjacent the object we are trying to hit.

18.UTILITY KNIFE:Used to open and slice through the contents of cardboard cartons delivered to your front door; works particularly well on contents
such as seats, vinyl records, liquids in plastic bottles, collector magazines, refund checks, and rubber or plastic parts. Especially useful for slicing work clothes, but only
while in use.

Hope you found this informative!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cheap New Car?

Just came thought a period where I thought we might have to get a car to replace AJ's... It would not start unless jumped, and even then, when jumped, would not start if shut off and left for a few minutes.... I thought it might be the alternator, but turned out is was a bad battery. Had it replaced and it seems like it's okay now, which is good. He needs it to get back and forth to work.

So the tentative plan was to either 1) get a cheap lease on something for AJ, like around $100 a month, for 3 years or so, and then turn the car over to him when the lease expired or 2) give AJ my car and get something for me. I was leaning towards #1, simply because I wasn't sure how reliable my car would be and I didn't think I wanted to downgrade my car into something I could get for #1 above...

But the process got me thinking about some of the great cars available that you could presumably get for around $20k and certainly for under $25k - Ford Fiesta and Focus, Mazda2, Mazda3, various Hyundai/Kias, a pretty basic MINI, Jetta, Honda Fit, etc.... They are all good cars, with plenty of features, and in the case of the Fords and Mazda2, cool cars. Of these cars, I would have considered a MINI, Focus or Jetta if I had had to go with option 2 above. They are all neat cars and newly designed or redesigned, and can be had for about $25k very nicely equipped (top of the line, in the case of the Focus). Oh, and all are available with a manual transmission....

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Draining Just Fine

Well, I cleared out the sunroof drain on the Audi today - it was quite a pain, as I had to remove the felt wheel well lining to access the bottom of the drain. But cleaned it out with a wire coat hanger, and enlarged the opening a bit, and it flows nicely now.

But the blob is growing.... It now looks like a centipede.....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Audi Aches

The instrument cluster information display (Driver Info Display, or DID) on my 2004 Audi A4 has a 'pixel blob'. This is a relatively common occurrence on older Audis, but with under 100k miles on my car (okay, by 400 miles or so, but still...) I would not have thought that I would have this issue now. Basically, some of the pixel remain lit at all times, and start to encroach upon the info in the DID (the DID shows, from top to bottom, radio information on the top 2 lines (and autocheck info when starting the car or low fuel when that occurs), the outside temp in the middle, and on the bottom, the computer readout, like instantaneous MPG. Here is what the blob looked like a couple of days ago....

At that point, it kind of looked like the profile of a girl with a ponytail, who was looking to the left.... Now it looks like a Rorschach blob. The fix is to have the unit rebuilt/replaced, which is about $200 (not including the removal of the instrument cluster). This will have to get in line behind the following -

1) The glovebox door hinges have broken for the third time. The first 2 were replaced under warranty. Not this time.

2) I still need to clean out one of the rear drains on the sunroof. The dealer blew some air through them, but the rear one on the driver's side still backs up into the seatbelt reel well on that side. Short-term fix is to park the car in the driveway facing downhill when it rains, so any water drains through the front drains...

3) The driver's side window is inconsistent and is not making a terrible grinding sound when used. I try not to use it.

4) The sunroof will randomly close itself. hasn't done this in a while. I just hope it doesn't start randomly OPENING itself.

5) There appears to be a slight oil seepage from the front, that's only evident when I park the car downhill in the driveway (see #2 above).

6) The fuse for the cigar lighter blows whenever I unplug the portable GPS unit.

I just had 2 separate coolant leaks fixed - one was on the rear passenger's side, the coolant flange that is where the heater take-off is, the other the electronic thermostat sensor which is on the drive's side, under the intake manifold.

Ah, the joys of owning a well-engineered German car....


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Real World Review - 2010 Buick LaCrosse

I rented a 2010 LaCrosse for a 2-day trip from Dayton to Orono, ME, on a visit to the University of Maine with my son Rob. It was a basic version, the CX, with cloth seats, no sunroof, standard wheels, etc. It was also kind of a blah color, a light gold with same color interior. We put about 1,000 miles on it in the 2 days, 95% of it highway miles, and also had about 2 hours of severe stop-and-go traffic on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut (my 'most hated' state).

The LaCrosse rides extremely well on the highway, as you'd expect from a large American car. It is extremely quiet, with no wind noise at all, even though it has large side mirrors. On freshly-paved surfaces, the only sound you hear (besides the decent audio system) is some tire noise. The engine does moan a bit when pressed, not an unpleasant sound, but not something to cherish, either.... Minimal sound comes from the dual exhaust.

Outward vision is a bit problematic, especially to the front angles - the combination of large side mirrors, which seem to be mounted high up on the body, and think A-pillars cause a lot of craning of the neck when initialy turning into parking spot or during low-speed maneuvering. And vision to the rear is terrible, a result of a short (vertically) rear window and high trunk lid. A car 12 feet behind you appears to be driving into your trunk! The front corners of the car are difficult to see as well.

The key fob is a cool switchblade, just like my Audi. But the remote buttons seem very sensitive. After stopping at a rest area on the Mass Turnpike, we came out to find the trunk popped open. And after stopping for lunch on Saturday in Newport, ME, someone came into the restaurant to ask who owned the LaCrosse, as the car alarm was wailing! Turns out I had the fob in my back pocket both times, so I am assuming that sitting on it caused the trunk to open and the panic alarm to go off. On the flip side, the range of the fob seems to be very good!

Exterior and interior styling is very nicely done, IMHO. This car would look great in a dark exterior color, as it has enough chrome accenting to really set off those darker colors - a dark blue with tan leather interior would be really sharp. The character line that dips down in the rear doors - kind of Austin-Healey-like - is very distinctive and the whole car is kind of canted forward, making it look like it's moving even at rest. The interior has cool blue lighting in several spots - along the upper edge of the dashboard, along the lower sides of the console, inside the door handle wells and around various points of the center stack. Very nice and subtle. The controls have a nice tactile feel to them, and the blinkers - which blink 3 times when you partially depress the stalk, again, just like my Audi - have a very subtle but solid sound to them as they flash. The trip computer is a little clunky to operate - a combination of 3 separate stalk-mounted switches have to be operated to move through the menus - but the visibility of the display is excellent - right between the 2 big chrome-trimmed dials. The cool blue lighting circulates around the speedometer and tach. And the needles of all 4 gauges (speedo, tach, temp and fuel) swing around their dials when you start the carm before settling back to 'normal' when you start the car, a neat touch.

Unfortunately, I found the seats a little uncomfortable. They were a little soft and narrow - I had to take my wallet out of my back pocket after a while, as my right leg would start to feel like it was losing circulation. Perhaps the leather seats are a little better and more firm.

One strange item - according to my navigation system, the speedometer was actually 1 - 2 mph LOWER than actual speed. I've never seen that before - most cars are optimistic with their speedos by 1 - 2 mph.

Mileage was good for a large car - we averaged just under 26 mpg for the trip, with the cruise set at 73 mph (except for the 2 hours in stop and go traffic mentioned above).

Here are my pictures -

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Car Choices

The lease on our 2007 Honda Odyssey van expires on December 1 (Thank God!). We are currently 500 miles over our total allotment of 36,000 miles, so we will be close to 39,000 miles by the time the lease expires, in all probability. This sucks. We've been trying to figure out what we're going to do. We can buy the car for something around $16,000; we can turn it in (after paying for the excess mileage, probably around $300); or we could probably trade it in on another Honda and not have to pay the mileage. The problem with the third option is that Honda doesn't really have anything I am interested in right now. We don't think we want another van. Kathleen doesn't really like the Pilot - I do, but I don't think I want another vehicle that size. And the Accord is ugh-ly and a another sedan isn't really going to cut it. Honda does have a crossover coming out in a week or so - the Crosstour - that I will look at. Could be interested in that.

Other cars we are going to look at -

o Chevy Traverse - meh, but going to look at it.
o Mazda CX-9 - bro and sis-in-law just bought one, very nice...
o VW Jetta SprtWagen TDI - I would love to get one of these - 41 mpg, DSG. But
probably too small, about the same as my A4.
o Ford Edge, Flex - I really like the Flex, and the Edge is nice too although I think
I'd like the extra space of the Flex.
o Toyota Venza - pretty neat but expensive when you add a few options.

So we'll probably start test driving these vehicles in the next couple of months. THAT part will be fun!