Tag Archives: Cars

More Than I Bargained For…

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know I bought a new car last year.

I hate it more and more every day.

Right now I hope it bursts into flames, gets crushed by a collapsing skyscraper, then has the remnants stolen by scavengers preferably while still smoldering.

I don’t want to deter anyone from buying a Mazda3 but I’ll now share a little bit of how a perfectly amazing car could be so despised that I hope and pray the children of the designers all become unhappy and disgruntled little brats with a complete lack of toilet training

First, it’s not a stick shift. Personally, I believe that if you’re not capable of pressing a clutch pedal with your left foot, shifting gears with one of your hands, and using your brain power to help you maximize the forward momentum of your motorized object, you should be forced to take public transportation where you’ll be happier at your ability to stay completely glued to your smart phone. The car I purchased did not even have a manual transmission available, a further sign that corporate marketing and development teams for modestly priced automobiles steer products toward the lowest common denominator.  Now that the 2015 version has an available manual, at least I know the manufacturer has changed a bit and is willing to build one now, as an insult to those of us who decided that it might be time to just suck it up and deal with no longer shifting for ourselves. I’d rather employ someone with at least one arm to follow me around and wipe my mouth every time I eat something.

To add injury to that insult, and I mean a sharp thrust-kick to the knee type of injury, most dealerships will never have an actual manual transmission car on the lot even if the company builds them. Or they’ll have one, that’s gets test driven to death so that when you buy a “new car” you’re getting one with a couple hundred miles of abuse on the clock.

Secondly, in my rant against this new car, I find the infotainment system on the Mazda3 poor at best, and outright abysmal on most days. I forget what I’ve typed about it before, but after four or five trips in to a dealership to have the system updates installed (or re-installed in my case,) I still have a stereo system that simply fails to deliver what it promised. The Mazda3 has a genius design– instead of an iPod cable sticking out from the dash, it has two USB ports for connection of just about any audio device. It’s vague as to which ones are actually compatible, but I assumed my Apple iPod would work. Sure enough, it did.

Here’s where it goes from pushing me past “annoyed” straight on to “get the straitjacket.” When the iPod is connected, it automatically plays the first song alpha-numerically that’s on the device. For me it was the single song I had from the band AFI, called ‘Miss Murder.’ While once an acceptable track, hearing it start over EVERY SINGLE TIME the car was started got old after about 15 minutes of car ownership. It didn’t matter that I’d just stopped to fill the gas tank, or that I had previously selected something else. It went right back to the start of the AFI tune. Well, that wasn’t going to stop me. I recorded a track of complete silence in my studio and called it 00000001 AAAAAAAAaaaa. Seriously. That way, at least my stereo started out with NOTHING and gave me a few moments of silence in which I could select another track. Then the iPod died. It sustained a complete hard drive failure.

Now repeat that exact same paragraph only with a newer iPod. Again, a completely failed hard drive.  Coincidence? Most likely yes, but two in a row? I’m good that way.

Fast forward several months. I had wised up and loaded my entire music library onto a USB flash drive. Of course, I deleted the AFI song out of everything. It’s gone forever. I hate it so much now I hope AFI turns into BFE or something. The biggest difference is that it takes a lot longer for anything to start playing, as in about 90 seconds.

When it does start, guess what song plays maybe 85% of the time? If you said Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady,” you’d be wrong. It plays that blasted AFI track.

Now I’ve had the OS reinstalled or updated on that car at least 3 times since the iPods died, and they have completely failed to remove that track from the system cache. The scary thing is that now it really is completely random. Some days, the USB drive might remember where I left off. Most of the time, it does not.

Here’s where it goes from straitjacket territory onto something that would make Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining look like a viable candidate for a preschool teacher. This infotainment system has no power button. When it fails, (did I mention which is every single day I drive the car?) you have to just let it go or hit the mute button until you can stop, shut off the engine and restart it. Once on I-75 between Lexington and Cincinnati, I actually had to exit the freeway, stop the car, restart it then wait for it all to start up again after it froze up. I have since found a 3-button combination I can hold down for 10 whole seconds in order to relaunch the system. That’s wonderful, in a modern car that wants so much for me to keep my hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

There are buttons on the steering wheel that I don’t use because the same ones are only 14 inches away from my leg. There’s a HUD so I can see my speed without looking down at something so cumbersome and awkward as a speedometer. I have a nice big tachometer that is useless because the car shifts when it wants to, not when I want it to. The mirrors light up and blink at me if I use my signal and a car might be in the blind spot. Never mind that I know how to look quickly over my shoulder first. There is a camera in the back that lets me see what I’m about to back into when in reverse, rendering my ability to actually look behind me with my eyes as inconvenient for once. Actually, that reverse camera is kind of cool.

In the end, this rant is about a car that is about 97% perfect in every drivable way. The sad thing is that that last 3% are the very things that are most important to me in a new car. You never can tell straight off the dealer’s lot. You need a few months with a car to really get to know it’s flair. So a good internet deal ended up being more than I bargained for. Every review raved about this car. All the magazines said it was great. No one noticed the lack of the power button on the infotainment system. (I even ran that past the rep at the Detroit Auto Show in January)

Couple all that with the fact that this car was dinged in a fender bender after one week of ownership, and you can see why I just want to start over. Yes, that first month where you really start to learn your new set of wheels, the thing was in a shop having the entire rear suspension replaced. It’s factory brand new and in perfect specs, but the Carfax seekers won’t care about that.

I think the time has come to embrace the fact that I’ve been screwed, jump ship and buy something that just screws you in the repair & maintenance dept.  You can at least prepare for that and you know ahead of time how much a timing belt replacement costs.

I hope people from Mazda read this, and I hope they all are forced to drive Reliant Robins for the rest of their lives. That’ll show ’em why you pay attention to details to the nth degree!

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Buying a car… Part 5?

DAY 38 – May 5, 2014

It’s Monday, and I don’t have to go anywhere until tonight. My lesson student broke his arm the other day, so no guitar lessons today. No matter, because I still have a loaner CX-9 that gets about 18mpg. I’ve put $40 worth of gas into this thing since last Wednesday, and I was supposed to only have it overnight. So we’re on day 5 of a 1 day repair. Oh that $40? It only filled the tank halfway.

I have had actual possession of my month-old Mazda3 for a total of 11 days. It’s been a downhill slide of bad luck since I signed the papers, and I really want my old car back. 

No, that’s stupid. 

These things happen. I realize that in five blog posts I’ve ranted about my misfortune, played what seems like a “Oh poor me, please feel sorry for me.” card. Wrong. 

The truth is, this string of events was completely coincidental and random. What some might call a string of bad luck is actually a series of events that occur based on previous events. There is no point asking why all this happened. It did. It was nothing compared to the suffering some people go through every day without a word. It’s why I tagged some of these as ‘First World Problems.’ 

We all have something inside of us that calls for attention. The social media age makes this worse, because we’ve replaced human interaction with computers, as I’m doing right now. But do you know what this string of “bad luck” has done for me? It’s forced me to face my own stupidity, my own fears, and my own childishness. Real men will rise up and lead with courage when the chips are down, and I’ve used this time to do my best to get there. I’ve decided that I can no longer be the grown man-child I was before, making fart noises and faces… um… er, OK so I still make fart noises and make faces. I’m working on it. 

Triumph over adversity comes from taking what you perceive as a crisis and remaining calm and collected as you step back and plan a response instead of taking the knee-jerk reaction the flesh desires so much. Some people lose their lives in an accident. Others lose the ability to walk. I lost time and that’s about it. 

At any moment, this life could end. None of us are promised tomorrow. Now I’ll put the computer down and go do something constructive or helpful . Thanks for reading! 


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Buying a car… Pt. 4 or 40 I forget.

DAY 21 – April 18 2014

So the car isn’t done and I’m without a vehicle. It’s Easter weekend so maybe it won’t matter. 

DAY 22 – April 19, 2014

I was called by the collision center shop manager and told that everything looked perfect on the car but it would not align properly. Seeing as I prefer a car to steer in the direction I turn the wheel, and I can control it better if the tires are NOT worn out, I told him that I’d be patient and they could do whatever they needed. They overnighted a new lower control arm which would take about 3 days to get there, naturally. That puts the completion date to Tuesday. Not bad, I thought. I could use my wife’s car early in the week. As long as I had it done before I had to go back to the school building. 

DAYS 23 – 26 April 20 – 23 2014

I have a new appreciation for families who get by on one car. We have two boys and my crazy odd job schedule of multiple employments makes the mix exhausting after only a few days. My heart goes out to larger families who have to get around with only one set of wheels. In case you’re wondering, my car isn’t done yet. 

DAY 27 – April 24, 2014 (Thursday)

I had to cancel my after-school piano lesson because I had no way to get to the student’s house. I had plans to watch the boys while Kelly went out with a friend. Since we had a packed schedule, it was natural for the shop to call and let me know my car was finally done. Sure enough, double the original estimate in cost and add almost 7 extra days and that thing was as perfect as the day I saw it come off the truck. I love my wife. She altered her plans to help me get this thing back. If she hadn’t, I would have had to leave my finished car in their possession for an entire weekend. I drove the car home, and it felt as though I was getting a new car all over again. 

DAY 28-33 – April 25-30 2014

For the first time in the month since I let go of my old car, things seem normal. Oh wait, I forgot. The antenna is still a tad loose and there are paint swirls in the top left by the dealership. I better return the salesman’s call he left me a few days ago. 

DAY 34 – May 1, 2014

I have a loaner car. The dealership set up an appointment to repair the paint damage and firmly secure that loose antenna. My salesman set up an appointment and hooked me up with a loaner car. This time it’s a 2013 Mazda CX-9, a massive turbocharged SUV with all-wheel drive. It’s not my cup of tea, but it drives better than those Subarus I test drove. It better with a sticker price of about $42,000.  He told me it would take about a day to get the work done. I nodded as if I believed him. 


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Buying a New Car, Pt.3 Yada, yada, yada…

DAY 12 – April 9, 2014

I think this is where I left off. The rental car was a Honda Civic LX, one of the worst cars I’ve ever driven in my life. The design was terrible and it felt like it had a lawnmower engine powering it. It was good on gas though, as I think it had a lawnmower engine in it. Not being smart enough to have rental reimbursement insurance on my own policy, I decided to use a discount coupon and pay for an up to 10-day rental. That’s all I needed anyway. Even with the waiting, the damage estimate came in at about $2000 and 5 days to repair.

DAYS 13 – 20 April 10-16, 2014

During this time period, I learned to hate the rental car even more and wonder why anyone would ever buy a Honda Civic, then I realized that many people don’t have to drive as much as me, and they aren’t willing or able to buy anything nicer. Besides, most people are less of a lunatic than I am and don’t put much into what their cars do. Personally, I want the thrill of having to control a machine that could kill me. I really wish I could drive a car that really does want to kill me, and force it to submit. That’s why I’d really want a Lamborghini someday. eh, the insurance and maintenance on one of those would break many a hedge fund so I’ll listen to the small bit of sensibility I have and believe that a fantasy car is just that. 

DAY 20 –  April 16, 2014

The collision center called and said everything looked great, the repair was coming along well, and that I’d be done on Friday the 18th. PERFECT, as that’s the day I have to return the rental. 

DAY 22 – April 18, 2014

I decided to check in with the collision center and I was told it was still good to go and that they’d call me when its done. I sensed they don’t like customers badgering them to rush a job, which is why I was fine with leaving them alone. I knew they closed at 6 so I went back to the rental shop, turned in my crappy Civic (Note to Honda owners, I’m complaining about a fleet vehicle. I’m sure real Hondas ae much better than this) and got a ride back to the shop. They told me they needed a bit more time and I could hang out or wander around. I decided to go grab some dinner. While I was having a killer burger, I got the call that the car would not be done. I was about 4 miles from home. Man, that long of a walk after a big juicy burger wouldn’t be easy. Thank God my friend Isaac came through and gave ma ride home. This part turned out better than it looked. 

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Buying a New Car; Pt. 2

DAY 3 – March 31, 2014

After a few hours at the dealership, seeing the exact car in question arrive on the back of a truck, and after declining all of the dealer’s extra costly options, I signed the papers to purchase a 2014 Mazda3 sGT. While I waited to have the car prepped, I was making mental notes of every bit of inconvenience thrown in front of me, and how I would fill out the precious “Dealer Survey” that would be arriving in the mail. (note, It’s May and I’ve never gotten that promised survey form) By the end of the business day, I was given a thorough overview of the car and sent on my way. I got home just as it was getting dark, but that’s when I noticed the damaged antenna.

DAY 4 – April 1, 2014

Went to get the title for my old car which I traded in. Did you know that Ohio title offices close at noon on Mondays? The dealership sure didn’t. My credit union took my original title certificate when I borrowed against it, and converted it to an e-title, which exists only in ones and zeroes. I had to go pay for another paper title. When I returned to the dealership, with about 34 miles on the odometer and a total of an hour behind the wheel, the salesman saw the damaged antenna. It’s a sharkfin design, supposedly to be more aerodynamic, and to prevent damage when going through a car wash. Well they blamed the damage on the car wash, The thing was lifted up off the roof which had a slight dent in it. They said their carwash pulled up on it. They also noticed about an inch long smudge of residue from the factory protective membrane that new cars are covered with before transport. They promised to buff that out. They gave me a 2-y-o loaner car and sent me on my way with a promise that it’d be done in about 2 days. 

DAY 5 – April 2, 2014

Got the new car back, but the antenna was still a bit loose. Dent was fixed and no more smudge. OK, things were starting to look up.

DAYS 6 & 7 – April 3 & 4 2014

Rain. Lots of it. I was still on spring break so I did not have much driving to do. 

DAY 8 – April 5, 2014

This is my third full day of ownership and there are now about 150 miles on the odometer. It’s supposed to be a nice weekend, so I’ll drive to KY to show my family.

DAYS 9 & 10 – April 6 & 7 2014

Had a nice visit in KY. It was sunny out so I was finally able to see all the paint swirls buffed into the roof. One tiny residue smudge that would probably have worn off in the rain was converted into an entire roof of half-assed rubbing compound damage, typical of a 13 year old waxing a go cart and forgetting how to do the job correctly. I thought labor laws prevented young, untrained people from working on new cars.  Meanwhile, I’m growing frustrated by my car’s infotainment system, which never remembers where my iPod left off, but constantly restarts the first track every time. It’s OK, though. nothing to let myself get frustrated over. I drove home on the 7th and came closer to the 600 mile mark, which the owner’s manual says is the break in period. 

DAY 11 – April 8, 2014

I finally feel like this is for real, that I have my car and I’m going to enjoy the next 10-15 years of ownership. I’m starting to think it was a good decision instead of second guessing my trading in the old car. I mean, less than 170k, only needing a clutch and struts, the ’02 Protege5 could have lasted me another decade. But the new one is nicer, safer, and I had saved money for about seven years toward an eventual car purchase. I was even able to keep that held back when I went through unemployment. Maybe it was a good decision. It was a beautiful day and I felt good, so naturally it was time for me to have a car accident. 

DAY 12 – April 9, 2014

My brand new car has a smashed right rear corner. In Ohio, if you’re in an intersection waiting to turn left, and the light turns green, you’re supposed to wait for everyone who runs the red light in the opposite direction. I did, and when I had the gap, I turned, seeing nothing. It was only halfway through the turn when I could see one more car gunning it to beat the cross traffic and blow the red light. Never mind. He hit me, but I was the one turning. This is one more reason why witnesses need to come forward instead of texting “OMG, I jst saw a car crsh!” to their friends. The car was barely drivable, so no need for a tow, but I could tell it was messed up pretty bad. 

The adjuster came out, I set up the appointment at the collision center and secured a rental, all before I had to go to work. No wait, I didn’t get all that done until well past 3:00 in the afternoon. 

In the next post, I’ll give you… I have no idea. Just read on and you’ll see.



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A Tribute to a Really Great Car

In January 2002 I bought my first brand new car, a Mazda Protege5. I have kept it for these twelve years but racked up only 158k miles on the odometer. That’s only half its life at a minimum. I’ve spent enough time behind the wheel in that car to have it feel like an extension of my home. So selling it has been… strange.

I’ve been researching new cars since October of last year, just checking out what was available and pricing. I read many reports and reviews hoping to find the one magic bean in the mix, the car that’s SO great, you’d be stupid not to buy one.

I did not find that vehicle. So why did I buy a new one this weekend?

I’m a driving purist. If I have to operate a motor vehicle, I expect it to do exactly what I want it to do. I want to be in complete control over every aspect. I don’t want a car that shifts by itself, I want a third clutch pedal and a stick to row through the gears. Manual transmissions are going the way of cassette decks in cars. No one else seems to want them so almost no one makes a good one anymore. I want it to handle well and steer exactly where I point it. No play in the wheel, just instant response to every bit. In short, I should be driving a $400,000 supercar. Right.

I don’t give a rip about car technology other than how good the stereo sounds. Now you’ll find cars that park themselves, will stop if you get too close to driving through your garage wall, and will warn you that you’re drifting out of your lane because you just couldn’t wait to make that text. There is technology available on cars now that when added to the lack of manual transmissions, enable drivers to get worse and worse.

I absolutely hate the idea of willingly spending large sums of money for a new car just to get something new. It’s partially why I never was interested in anything new over the past dozen years. It’s partially why I intend to keep my next car even longer. I had even set in my mind that I’d never EVER buy another new car simply because they can’t convince me anything is better than what I have.

So what did I go and do? I bought a new car. With an automatic transmission. I feel like I just sold out. I feel as if I betrayed an old friend, stabbed them in the back so to speak, in order to go with the new flashy trend setting post-hipster to a new kind of party, one that will last just as long, but be a bit more subdued, mature if you will. But there’s some practicality in there. A car is an inanimate object. It has no feelings. My old car is starting to need repairs that will cost as much as its worth. Even though it’s always cheaper to keep repairing an old car, it makes little sense to keep putting good money into something that will not retain value any longer. Besides, I’ve already done that. I’ve put more into routine maintenance and repairs than I ever expected to tolerate, based on my first few cars when I was younger. So what’ interesting about this purchase?

I bought the exact same car as I got in 2002. Only this time it’s called a 2014 Mazda3 hatchback s Grand Touring.

Here’s the stupidity of it: It’s the top trim level, with everything except the tech package, and it outperforms my old car in every way, even in the automatic transmission. It approaches the cost of an entry-level BMW. It has standard features that I’d never buy outright but are cool to have. It looks like a work of art and drives like a car that costs twice as much.

Here’s the smart of it: After thorough homework on my part, I was able to tell the dealer was more interested in selling the car than screwing me over on price. I was so dumbstruck by how his price actually came in lower than I expected, that I didn’t even attempt to haggle. I just said, “Duhhh, dat’s a good price!” Then he went on to offer me more for my trade in than it was actually worth by a few hundred dollars. I completely abandoned my rationale which was to collect the information, go back to the internet and use it as leverage between dealers. You know, get them to compete. Instead I decided that since this guy was playing straight, I’d buy. And aside of a backup camera and a heads-up display, there’s no idiotic technology to get in the way.

Most people drive away in their new car. I did not. Mine has to come from Cleveland because they didn’t have the right color. It has to be black, and I don’t like paying extra for that great-looking Mazda red. I’ll take delivery later today, and turn over the oldster. Weirdly enough, It’s after 4 AM and I’ve been awake since 3:30. I can’t sleep for some reason.

Eventually this will all be water under the bridge. I’ll be comfortable in the new car, I’ll eventually forget what it was like to need the clutch pedal, and I’ll grow a little older. I’ve been learning that life is best lived by taking calculated risks, looking forward and not dwelling on the past. I have always failed at the latter, becoming far too sentimental about trivial things.

Ultimately despite the nature of what’s going on here, this car purchase will be helping me be a little less selfish. My wife will be able to share this car instead of having to learn to shift. My son will come of age and learn to drive on this one. I’ll be less likely to drive like a complete maniac, which I’ve been known to do when I can shift precisely and hit the corners hard on twisty roads.

And the stereo sounds phenomenal.


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