Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Car Hobby Hiatus

This has been a bad year for my car hobby. The Monterrey sits untouched—covered at least but decaying. The Falcon, safe in the garage, hasn't been touched or started in months. Half my garage is taken up by my wife's crap and beer bottles (I've started home brewing again so half of that is my fault).

What car work I've done has been maintenance, not restoration. Brakes for my car, the wife's car. Repairing an AC. Oil changes. New tires. Making a brake line to replace one that developed a leak on the truck. All stuff that needs to be done to keep my little fleet chugging along, but not really blog-worthy.

I'd like to say the fault was work, and while that has played a part, it's really been my “hobby ADD.”

I've got too many hobbies. Coupled with a desire to get healthier and lose the large amount of excess weight I have put on over the years, I've been focusing on hobbies that are, for lack of a better word, active. That means things like kayaking, fishing while kayaking, archery, and fencing. And once September hits, hunting. The fixation on eating healthier means a lot more time spent cooking and cleaning and a lot less quick meals.

We're spending weekends at SCA events, swimming in the pool, boating on the lake, fishing, or hunting. When the weather is nice we're outside being active in it. When the weather is crummy I've got too much crap in my garage to do anything, and brewing some beer is more fun than trying to clean it.

Happily, the “activity” has been somewhat effective. I'm 16 pounds lighter than I was when I started my “eat less, exercise more” plan. I can run up the stairs without getting winded now. And my blood pressure is lower than it's been in years. I'd like to make it to old age, and I'm more confident that I'll be able to do that now.

But all this means not a lot to blog about, at least not on this blog. I expect more things to come, because my daughters have started asking when we're going to do more car stuff. I don't want to lose their spark of interest. I don't want to lose mine either, but right now there's so much to do, and not enough hours in the day to do it.  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

That Moment When...

I found out that I paid off my car. It's not something that has happened to me all that often. Only twice before in fact. I've had my share of vehicles but I've either bought them used or traded them in before paying it off (not a smart practice by the way, but I learned my lesson).

The first vehicle we paid off was the truck. We bought it in 2001 and paid it off early, so it didn't have the impact that paying off my wife's car had. I had a feeling we were getting close and my wife and I thought we might try and pay it off early. It turned out we were about ten bucks more than a normal payment away. It was a pleasant surprise, but we knew we were getting close so it wasn't exactly a shock. There is something reassuring about driving and working on something that is all yours. Everything you do is an investment of sorts. If, for some reason, you decide to trade it in towards a new car, then all the value in the car is yours. No loans to worry about paying off.

Of course, we tend to keep our cars. I'm no longer the type of person to by a functional but soulless econo-shitbox whose claims of great mileage are intended to cover the fact that it sucks to drive. What we buy are things that we like and intend to keep. We still have the wife's car and the truck, and we intend to drive them until they just won't go anymore, or rather, until I can't keep them running anymore. We take care of our cars, so that date is hopefully a long ways off.

If you've bought a new car anytime in the last few years, you've probably gotten junk mail telling you that your warranty was likely up and you could buy an extended warranty. We've gotten these things for years, including things for cars we haven't owned for a long time. It was normal for me to spend a few minutes ripping up the week's extended warranty mailings on a Friday and throwing them out. But for some reason, when I started getting them last month, it worried me. I have gotten them for my Mustang before, but this time one of the mailings was from Ford and not a random “extended warranty department.” They quoted the exact mileage my car had when I took it to the dealer for new tires. It seemed more legitimate than the previous mailings, but I was fairly sure that I had a year left before the car was paid off and I was certain that we had made sure the warranty ran the length of the car loan. That was one of the requirements when buying it and we had made sure the paperwork stated that and that the time frames for the warranty and the loan matched.

Nothing irritates me more than making payments on something that isn't covered by a warranty. That happened on my wife's car and it was an irritating two years. With the seemingly legitimate mailing from Ford, I got worried, and the only thing to do was to double check the paperwork, but I couldn't find the paperwork. My wife had “put it away,” meaning it was in a box somewhere in the basement, but since there was nothing that needed to be fixed I figured I didn't need to worry about it right then.

Then, last week, I was going through the mail when I saw an envelope with “Vehicle Services Department” stamped on it in red letters. It was a bit thick but it looked a lot like one of those extended warranty junk mail letters, so just I set it on the trash pile and continued looking through the mail. After some more trash and a magazine, I came to an envelope from Wells Fargo with a check in it for “Overpayment Refund.” That was it, no explanation. I had finished working for the day but my brain still had a bit of fuel left, and after a slow start I was thinking. Overpayment. Why wouldn't they have just credited it to the next month? And how could it even be an overpayment since we had the car payment set up to go automatically the same time every month? Then I thought about that “Vehicle Services Department” letter. It was a bit thick and I thought I caught Wells Fargo somewhere on the envelope. I opened that to find a letter informing me I had paid off the note, and it had the title stapled to the back of the letter.

I suppressed the excitement. I was positive we had another year before it was paid off. Perhaps there was a mistake. I decided to call and make sure that the loan was indeed paid off before I began to celebrate.
It only took three people before I got to somebody that could answer my question. I'm not sure why the first two couldn't help me—after all, I gave them all the information—but the last person, a nice sounding woman, told me that I had indeed paid off the loan and that the title and letter were the confirmation. Once it was all verified, and the now unnecessary car payment deleted, it was time to celebrate. I cracked open an obnoxiously overpriced beer and reveled in the freedom.
My baby is all mine now!

Of course, it isn't all fun and games. Paying off the car meant that the warranty was indeed expired, and any future mechanical issues were all my responsibility. But it also meant I was free to add a few performance enhancing modifications I was holding off on because I didn't want to void the warranty. There is a camshaft and a tuner I've been waiting a few years to buy, and now is the time!

Now, since I received the title to my car, I view my driveway with extra pride. Five cars, all mine. Well, mine and the wife's, but that's true for all “my” stuff.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Detail Work

The cars have been neglected. Summer time was work, lots of outdoor activities (camping, historical fencing, archery...the usual). Life since last August has been work, kids' school activities, kids' after school activities, and more work. As Girl Scout stuff and camping gear invaded the garage, it took over the spot where the Mustang used to sit, and then began to spread like a disease onto the Falcon. It got to the point where I couldn't even open the damn doors to the Falcon, and doing any work on it at all would require herculean like labors before I could even begin. So I did what any guy would do, faced with similar obstacles. I procrastinated and focused on my other hobbies (historical fencing and archery, both of which my kids enjoy as well).

Beyond changing the oil and a brake job for my wife's car, I haven't gotten grease on my hands much at all. Despite driving it to work most of the time, I haven't even put 3000 miles on my Mustang in the past year. Ditto for the truck. Neither of them is anywhere close to an oil change. My wife's car needed an oil change along with a brake job in the fall, but that has been the extent of the wrenching I've done.

Seeing my poor classic with piles of toys and other crap all over it bugged me, but the dam finally burst after Christmas, when my lovely wife and adorable kids bought me what became the most used Christmas present of the year, beer glasses with Ford logos on them! Every time I had a beer, it reminded me of the mess in the garage. I resolved, with my wife's help, to recover the territory in my garage for the cars.

It has taken several weekends but I can finally see the end in sight. The Falcon has been freed and I can actually get into it to start it. Accomplishing what we've done thus required us to redo the shelving in the basement; I'm not entirely sure why these things were connected, but my wife said they were, so they were.
While I still have a bit of work ahead of me to get the Mustang back into the garage, I can start working on the Falcon again. I figured I would start with something easy and get some of the details like replacing worn or broken pieces of trim.

I decided I'd replace the dome light lens, which was cracked and in bad shape. It was off to the Internet to find a correct replacement, and a couple of days later, I had my lens, and I headed out to the garage to learn an important lesson. Pay attention to the details.
It started out small and simple...

The dome light lens in the Falcon is indeed cracked, but replacing it wasn't going to be as easy as taking out the old lens and popping in the new. The bezel, the piece in which the lens sits, was also pretty beat up, and before I could replace the lens, I'd need a new one. I would have known this had I actually looked at the part I was replacing to find out what all was involved, but I didn't, and now my easy job was going to have to wait another week while I tracked down and obtained a replacement bezel.

I'm lucky that the consequences of my lack of attention to detail was just a little frustration on my part and having to wait a few more days for the other part to arrive. I've experienced worse, like the time I started a brake job on my wife's car without having an essential tool to do the job, or nearly trashed the rotors on my truck because I didn't bolt a bracket on correctly. Each time, proper attention to detail could have saved me much pain.

I only hope that this time the lesson sticks.