Cuttin’ It Close

25 01 2011

(Now, y’all overlook the picture quality, I’m not up to speed on my new phone yet)

See that little “2” up in the upper right? Right under where it says “Range”? Yep, that’s the number of miles til empty. And, yep, I cut it way too close for comfort today.

The Death of Manual Transmissions

22 10 2010

I learned to drive on a stick shift. I hated them at first…anyone who has tried learning can no doubt appreciate the lurching, stalling, and peeling out that I experienced behind the wheel of Dad’s red Subaru station wagon.

But once I learned, I loved driving a manual transmission. Four of my eight cars have been stick shift. The other four would have been too, if I’d had my way. Two of the automatics were purchased because there were no manuals available without special ordering them, one automatic was a pre-owned so I had less choice in terms of specific equipment, and my latest car is an automatic because it can’t be had with a manual transmission in the United States. (Buy the same car in Europe, and a stick shift is standard.)

Stick shifts have given way to “tiptronic” transmissions–you’ve seen and probably driven those–the tranny has a mode where the driver can click the shifter to move up or down through the gears with no clutch. These are a joke. I can’t imagine anyone ever really using them. My BMW had it, and I think I tried it out once. Darling’s convertible has it, too, and I doubt it’s ever been used.

Manual transmissions have largely been relegated to stripped down, basic cars now.  Some of the luxury makers still offer a manual transmission, but when I was car shopping recently, I searched the entire east coast for a Mercedes C-class with a stick shift and found NOTHING. Those wanting a stick shift will have an easier time finding a BMW with one–those cars are known to appeal to driving enthusiasts, and seems there are enough out there who want to be fully engaged with their car to justify keeping a few on the lots. But even the Corvette, the perennial American sports car, is outfitted with an automatic transmission the majority of the time.

Many of my friends and family members don’t see it my way–that a stick shift is just more fun to drive. My roommate in college was such a person–she never learned to drive one. I gave her a few lessons and she did fairly well, but it basically came down to she just didn’t care to do it. This led to hilarity one weekend morning back in my college days. The roomie and I had company over, and had decided to make a quiche for breakfast that morning. We needed a few ingredients, so I ran out to the store to get them. For whatever reason, I took her car–leaving behind the stick-shifted Dodge I had the misfortune of owning at the time.

When I got to the store, I slammed part of the key ring in the door. My roommate had one of those type with multiple rings on it, an assortment of frequent shopper cards, plus keys to various cars and homes. One section of keys was caught by the door and broke, sending keys all over the interior of the car. I’d already locked the doors, and hoped I had not just locked the one to the car inside. A quick glance at the keys remaining in my hand showed a car key, so I breathed a sigh of relief. I went in and got the things I needed and came back outside. It was then that I discovered that the car key I was holding was to MY car, and the one to my roommates was lying on the dashboard, locked inside. I went back in the store and to use the phone…the extra keys to my car were at the house, so she could drive up to the store with her spare set.

But she was worried about driving my stick shift. She was particularly afraid that she would stall trying to exit our complex and get into an accident. A legitimate concern, as the entrance to our apartments sat in a curve, and you really had to hit the gas to join traffic.

She and the friend who was with us for the weekend decided to WALK to the grocery store with  the spare keys. It runs in my mind that all of this occurred near Thanksgiving break, and so the idea of being able to call anyone else in town for a ride must have been out of the question. Our apartment was about four miles from the grocery store–almost all of it UPHILL.

After pacing the grocery store and reading magazines for about a half hour, I happened to run into a professor of mine. I explained to him what was going on, and he and his friend offered me a ride. I thought my friends might have opted to walk the interstate, since it was somewhat flatter and had a wide shoulder to walk on. So the professor went that way..but when we didn’t see them, I realized they must be walking the steeper, two lane road. As we rounded one corner, I spotted them. They’d made it barely a mile, and not even halfway up the first of two steep grades.

“Hide down there,” the professor suggested (he was a big prankster), “I’ll mess with them a little.”

I ducked into the floor of the back seat. He rolled down the window. Bear in mind, my friends had no idea who this man was. “Hey there, need a ride?” he asked. I expected my cautious friends to refuse a ride from two strange men, but without missing a beat one of them shouted, “Oh GOD YES! Thank you!”

I cracked up laughing, they got in, and all was well. My friends were so exhausted from their climb that they would have gotten in if the car had said “Rape Wagon” down the side and the driver had been carrying a butcher knife. We all had a good laugh, and it turned out fine.

But the moral of the story is that a lot of trouble could have been saved if one of them had just known how to drive a stick. And sadly, fewer and fewer people will have the experience.

On Cars, Prestige, and Perceptions

27 08 2010

The post I made last week  brings up something that has sort of  bothered me since I bought the car I drive now. I wonder, had I parked a Chevy in the handicapped spot that day, would that  nosy woman even have taken note? Now, I have always LOVED cars. My parents tell me that I could name anything on the road from the time I could speak. I’ve traded cars like kids trade baseball cards, (do they still do that?) and I have resigned myself to the fact that, contrary to every piece of financial advice I’ve ever gotten, I will always have a car payment and I will never drive a car til it’s wheels fall off. I just like cars, and I like getting new and different ones. Everyone has their vices.

The car I have now is, to most anyone you asked, the nicest I’ve ever had. It’s a BMW–fully loaded, shiny, and beautiful. I love how it drives. I love how smooth it is, how fast it is, and how quietly it purrs toward 100 mph (which it will do very easily if the driver isn’t careful.)  I even thought I’d like it’s “snob appeal”–after all, I once felt my life would be a complete failure if I didn’t have a Mercedes by the time I turned 30. Maybe I’ve grown up, reprioritized, or simply realized that a person is a lot more than the size of their house, the cost of their car, or the balance on their bank accounts. But having this car makes me uncomfortable.

I’ve mentioned to several people recently that I’d just as soon have myself another Honda. I’m met with blank stares. Darling is aghast that I would even consider “trading down” and my friends laugh at me. But it’s about perceptions. In my mind, if I cut someone off in traffic in this car I’m not just a jerk, I’m a jerk in a BMW (there is a difference, isn’t there?) If I pulled into a tight space in a Honda, those parked next to me might (in my mind) remark that the damned spaces just aren’t wide enough, but in the Bimmer they are saying “Hmmph…guess they think they can just park that thing anywhere they want!”

I feel the need to make excuses for this car. Now, I always get good deals on cars. But for some reason I feel the need to underscore that fact with this one. I’m quick to point out that A. I bought it pre-owned, B. I got a helluva deal on it, and C. my monthly obligation is actually less than I was paying on my previous Honda. I’m fully aware that no one cares if I won it in a raffle or paid 50 grand for it.

The first time I took this car in for service, the dealership gave me a ride back to the office in their shuttle. My conversation with the driver turned to a recent headline I’d read that BMW sales were up last year. He went off into a speech about “our customers aren’t as affected by the downturn.” I was thinking, “Buddy, I’m one of your customers, and I guaran-damn-tee I have been!”   Then he went off on a tangent about the renaissance American car makers are having and how he thought it was wonderful because “blue collar workers need something to drive.” At which point I was thinking “Is a damned shuttle driver an executive position now??”

A new acquantaince remarked that “I’ve got a totally different opinion of you now” when he saw my car. Why? Am I not the same person whether I’m on a moped or being chauffered around in a limo? But, he was probably right, all of us form opinions of people based on what they drive, where they live, and what they are wearing. I guess we just can’t help it. I guess I’m just more comfortable in something a little more down to earth.

I Drive a Hard Bargain

12 01 2010

Yes, I do. I will not give a car dealer one thin dime more than I want. I walked away from the deal on my new car for a matter of less than $1,000. And, as predicted, they called me back the next day. Therefore, gentle readers, I am now driving THIS:

For less than I was paying to drive THIS:

Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved my little Honda (up until the engine blew up two weeks ago). But…this new car is just in a whole other league!

Bad Car Karma

29 12 2009

It’s been a bad week for cars for myself and those around me.

On Christmas Eve an old friend from high school posted this pic of what was left of her car following an accident she had on the highway:

Then, on the day after Christmas, my old Honey and my old mother-out-law had a crash in her big ole Lincoln when someone pulled out in front of them:

(not her actual Lincoln. Nobody thought to take a picture of the real crash scene.)

Then, while off with his family for Christmas, a storm sent a tree crashing onto a carport that another friend’s car was parked beneath.

Then last night the bad car Karma caught up to me, when my car started making some horrible noise on the highway. The temperature gauge reached the boiling point, and the heater quit working. No word yet on how bad the damage is, but there wasn’t a drop of coolant in the reservoir, so I fear the worst.

Get any Closer, and I’ll Flick a Booger on Your Windshield

5 05 2009


Does it make me a terrible person to wish that every tailgating, text-messaging moron would get into a car crash? Nothing bad…just their car, a minor injury or two, and enough damage to really hurt the ole wallet? Just to teach them a lesson, ya know?

I wish the same thing for the speeding-in-the-rain, lights off, lane changing fool who was behind me on the highway this evening. Does it mean I’m evil that I really and truly wished that he would hydroplane into the guardrail, not hard enough to kill him or anything, just hard enough to knock some sense into him?

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

29 04 2009


After I got home from my unexpected $600 tire change last weekend, I was fuming. Why on Earth would the exact same tire have a warranty if I bought it from the tire store, but didn’t have one because it came on my car?

I got back on Bridgestone’s website, found their customer service contact, and let me evil little fingers do the walking–rattling off a polite, but affirmative email to them letting them know how disappointed I was with their product, and how I was flabbergasted at their reluctance to stand behind the product.

And what do you know? They actually answered!

I got a phone call from a very helpful lady in Ontario. I explained the whole story to her (finding out, in the process, that the tire shop I used was NOT an authorized dealer after all). She explained that the car manufacturers buy the tires in bulk and do not pay or ask for a treadlife warranty. (Whatever)

Any-hoo, she wanted me to get the worn out tires and take them to one of their authorized places. I told her, even if they still have them three days later, all of them aren’t going to fit in my trunk, and I’m not sure I want the greasy things in there anyway. (I mean, my dry cleaning goes back there!).

The lady puts me on hold to talk to her supervisor. Comes back and offers me $175 worth of gift certificates to any Bridgestone/Firestone store. I would have preferred $175 in cash, but, hey, I’ll take what I can get. The gift certificates can be used for anything they offer–which means I can just have them do the 30,000 mile service I’m going to need in a week or two.

And that, my friends, is what customer service is all about. I was so disappointed in those tires that I would have NEVER given them another penny of my money. But they did what they could to make it right–despite knowing that I had already purchased replacements from a competitor, so next time I need a set, Bridgestone is back on the list.

Alls well that ends well.

It’s Always Something

28 04 2009


If you’re like most people, the only thing you know about tires is that they are the black rubber things on the wheels of your car. You might have some vague notion about snow tires, and if you’re lucky, some clue on how to change one. (I do not…that’s what the auto club is for…I tried once, and my first car ended up on the back of a flat bed being hauled down to the dealership.)

I was once like most people, but unfortunately I now know a little more than I ever cared to know about tires. There are reasons for this. My very first car, a hand me down from my parents, came to me with mileage in the low six digits, a whole host of dings and dents, a tape player that didn’t work, and a cigarette burn or four. (It just dawned on me that my stepmother, that cars FIRST owner, was MY AGE when she got that car. And I got it just a few years later. Freak out moment going on. Breathe deep. In through the nose….out through the mouth.) Any-ole-how, that first car ate tires like Elvis ate a pork chop sandwich. I had it aligned. I always had the service done. But it was wrecked a time or six, and I think it was just never quite right after the first two or three.  At it’s worst, I literally had to get new tires every other oil change. Lucky for me, it took the most common tire size known to man, and a new pair of fronts could be had for under $100 bucks–installed.

After that car went on to the great dealership in the sky, I had two more cars and neither of them ever needed a tire replaced. Then came the first car I bought as a young professional. I bought it because it was cheap, nice looking, and a friend of mine had a great experience with the same model. Had I known anything about tires, I might have recognized that the car’s snazzy 16″ wheels were wearing Z-rated “performance” tires. The “Z” standing for “zillion” which is how many dollars you will spend keeping tires on such an automobile. Imagine my shock when my first set wore out when the car wasn’t even a year old. And in the 60-some thousand miles I put on that car, I had to get FOUR SETS of tires. At a minimum of $400 a change. And they always wore out at the worst possible financial time.  When I traded up to my next car, I budgeted that even though the payment was higher, my monthly outlay would decrease by the shear fact that I wouldn’t have to get new tires every year. And I was right. The tires had over 50,000 miles on them when I replaced the set, not because they were worn, but because of a flat.

The next car was a convertible. Not only did it take the dreaded “Z” tires, but the front tires were a different size than the rears, meaning they couldn’t be rotated. I got rid of that car before it ever needed a tire change, but I understand it would eat a set in 12,000 miles and leave you with a $700 bill for replacement. That dreaded expense was part of the reason I swapped the convertible for my current car, which rode on “normal” looking Bridgestones–similar to the ones I’d gotten over 50,000 miles out of on a previous auto.

Last week, I turned into a parking space, got out, and noticed that my front tires were BALD. Down to the tread-wear bar. “That can’t be!” I told myself. Not only were they “normal” tires, they had spent their lives inflated with nitrogen, been rotated three times, and never driven aggressively. I called the dealership.

I don’t think they have a warranty.” the guy told me, “‘Sides, we aren’t a Bridgestone dealer, you’ll have to take it down to one.” (Howthey were not a dealer when I purchased a single replacement from them is lost on me.) I did some internet research. According to Bridgestone’s site, such a tire should carry a 50,000 mile tread-life warranty. I hustled down to the local tire shop. They agreed the tires were shot, called up Bridgestone to open a claim, and were told the warranty didn’t apply when they were installed as original equipment. What???

Sure enough, in the fine print of my warranty materials, the treadlife warranty only applies if the tires were installed by a one armed, one  horned, flying purple tire eater. (That may as well have been the case). So the tire shop fella shows me two options for replacement–one just south of $500 and one just north. I didn’t have time to get them changed then, but brought the car back the next day. A second guy pulls up my information.

“I don’t know why he offered you these tires, they aren’t gonna work on your car.”

Fan-friggin-tastic! What will then? The answer of course, was more expensive. And as usual, such an expense occurred at a completely inopportune time. But an hour later,  I rolled off with safe, new tires that carry an 80,000 mile warranty, an empty bank account, and some seething words for all parties involved.

Needful Things

31 03 2009

I’ve wanted one of these classic Mercedes since they were available new off the showroom floors. I think both represent some of the last timelessly beautiful automobiles ever built. From time to time, I run across  a low-mileage, showroom condition one for sale online…generally at a fairly reasonable price. There’s hope yet to have one of these!

First, the Mercedes S-class (model designation W126) was the top of the line from 1979 til 1991.  I think it’s just as handsome now as it was then.


And for those Sunday drives, I’d love a classic Mercedes SL convertible. This basic body style, designated as the R107, had a tremendously long run–from 1971 to 1989. A crisp white one would probably be my first pick, followed closely by a silver blue one with a dark blue top, but it’s an elegant car in any color.


Let’s Take a Drive Back to 1982

4 02 2009

Auto sales are apparently at their lowest point since 1982. Sad news for the automakers…but it got me thinking. What were we driving back in 1982? So let’s take a cruise back in time:

One of my favorite all time cars, for reasons even I don’t understand: The 1982 Cadillac Seville. Nevermind it’s bustle butt, I thought it was pure class.


Since I am a big Honda fan, here is what I would probably have been driving around in this 1982 Honda Prelude:


I think my mom had one of these, a 1982 Chevy Chevette (hmmm…I’m beginning to see why 1982 was a bad year for car sales):


In 1982, these were probably slowing down traffic. And I imagine you can still find one that’s only been driven to church and back, a 1982 Oldsmobile:


Or maybe you were on the cutting edge, and bought the new Renault (introduced as a 1983 model). I’m nearly positive my stepmother had one identical to this:


Or how about that perennial best seller, the Ford F-150?


So, what was everyone else riding around in back in 1982?


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