Category Archives: automotive

Ponderings of the day…

Traffic has set me so far behind schedule that I’m taking a brief air-conditioning break before heading back into the shop (garage) to resume my fiberglass preps. But hours spent staring at brake lights around me left me to ponder these thoughts and more.

Why is it that people chose to drive very pricey high end automobiles, yet ignore that those vehicles are driving on bald tires?

Why is it that various drivers neglect to look under their hoods until after they’re stopped on the shoulder of the highway with the family and a week’s worth of luggage packed into their car, temperatures have hit triple digits, and a mushroom cloud is rising from what remains of their engine? (At which point they still have zero idea what they are staring at or why, only that it is not good.)

Why is it that people fail to realize the moment their vehicle, which is not accustomed to idling with the air conditioner cranking in triple digit temperatures in a parking lot of traffic backed up behind aforementioned breakdown will now join the Over-heated Car Club.

Why is it that Audi drivers with uni-directional tires often have a single rear tire mounted in reverse of the direction it is meant to rotate. They call them ‘uni-directional’ for a reason. Your mechanic/tire place should know better, and so should you. It bugs me whenever I see that.

Why is it that people driving cars worth four times that of my Jetta can’t seem to Blue-tooth their cell phones? If my car can talk to my phone, I’m sure yours can, too. Read the manual. It’s that little book in the glove box.

Okay. That’s my five minute rant. I’ve cooled off, and I’ve much work to do. Deeper ponderings to come on Monday. Everyone, have a safe, fun, pre-4th weekend. But please, look under your hood before you hit the highway, and check your tires, damnit!


Sometimes it can be the smallest of things…

I suppose I have to laugh. It is pretty funny, actually, how the strangest, most unexpected things can bring you to a halt, or at least pretty damned close.

Editor Dave and I have been working practically non-stop at wrapping up the edits on No Wake Zone, and we’re closing in on the finish, so Hooray! But Sunday afternoon I had to step away from the computer for a brief time to run some errands, one of which put me out on Route 80, cruising along in the fast lane, when all at once my dashboard lit up like it was Christmas. Specifically, the ‘Check Engine’ light, along with the glow plug indicator, which was blinking away insistently.

WTF??? Everything felt okay. Fortunately my exit was coming up, so I slowed and looped onto the Parkway, rolled through the EZpass lane, then downshifted to pull into the next exit, right after the tolls…. and…. meh. Worse than meh. We’re talking about my little turbocharged diesel Jetta with a sport-tuned suspension, which normally drives like a rocket, but the most it could do was putter along feebly with the anemic performance you’d expect from something that gets 45+ mpg, while traffic whizzed past. To say I was distressed would be a bit of an understatement.

Long story short, it was still under warranty, so straight back to the dealer it went, and was returned to me hours later in its proper, feisty, tire-smoking order. And the cause for this brief lapse into anemic performance? MICE! Apparently, still displeased about being evicted from my basement last summer, they decided the cozy warmth of the little diesel in the driveway would serve as housing, and while they were nestled in and keeping warm, one industrious rodent decided the wiring to my turbo seemed like a tasty snack.

Mice. Really. Now I have to figure out how to keep mice out from under the hood! Any ideas, anyone?

Okay, it’s back to work for me. In the coming weeks there will be a number of updates – things are starting to happen in a big way. But before I go, here’s a link to last Thursday’s Write On The Water post:
The K.I.S.S. approach to Cruising…

Yet more bearings…

Dodge on jacks? It must be Saturday.

Driveshaft bearings of one sort or another have been an ongoing theme this summer, and in each case what seemed simple and straightforward has been anything but.  First came the boat, and I’m happy to report the special-order bearings from Fort Lauderdale Propeller have been machined to our specs and are currently in transit. But in the meantime a quick inspection of the Dodge revealed that after 19 years, the main driveshaft bearing was due for replacement. And since the truck is essential for hauling tools and parts back and forth to the boat, we really can’t work on the boat unless we work on the truck first. But this one should be quick and easy… or so we thought.

In truth, we have no one to blame but ourselves. When we bought this truck back in 1992, we ordered it with a few non-standard features. Rather than the V8, which only came with an automatic, we went with the V6 and 5 speed manual. Four-wheel drive seemed an unnecessary expense, but we opted for the posi-traction rear. We added the heavy duty tow package, which beefed up various parts to handle the additional load. Anti-lock brakes were just coming on the market, and we went with that as well, along with cruise control and a few (very few) amenities.  Little did we know we had created a monster.  All these years later, whenever we need to replace some standard part, nothing matches what a 2 wheel drive V6 Dakota of this vintage should contain. Our little Dodge is a hodge-podge of parts intended for the V8, the 4 wheel drive, and in some cases, a full-size Ram.

Below: Exhibit A. Note the original driveshaft bearing, (Bottom) slightly toasted and mis-shaped after utilizing a torch and chisel to separate it from driveshaft. Notice that the ‘identical to original’ replacement in the box bears no resemblance to what we removed. Further investigation revealed the old bearing matches those used on the much larger Ram.

Exhibit B.  The driveshaft universal joints were getting stiff, so we figured we’d swap them out while the driveshaft was out. What isn’t immediately apparent in this photo is that while they should all be the same size, they aren’t.

Original universal joints – not what the parts books claim. By now we should be used to this.

Coming together at last, though not without the usual modifications. Of course, a job we thought would be wrapped up by lunch dragged into Sunday, at which point it was pouring on a biblical scale that had roads closed and rail lines shut down due to flooding.  (Update: the news reported 11 inches of rain fell over a 24 hour period. ELEVEN inches!)  And where are we? In the driveway, on our backs under the truck, reinstalling the driveshaft. But the truck is once again back together, which means we can now turn our attention back to the boat. And now that the engine room is wide open, we can pull the transmission, strip down and clean the engine, replace the motor mounts, belts, hoses, thermostat, fuel lines, oil lines, oil cooler, trans fluid cooler, heat exchanger,  solenoids, zincs,  drive damper plate, relocate the fuel-water separator, replace the cutlass and rudder bearings, rebuild the steering yet again, and by time we’re done with all that it should be cool enough to start rebuilding /fiberglassing  the salon ceiling/ bridge deck.

This, kind readers, is the fun of life with an old truck and an even older boat. And it is why ‘weekend’ and ‘relax’ are not synonymous in my vocabulary.

Can’t leave well enough alone…

But it’ll look so nice when it’s done! Really!


There seems to be an issue with pins.

Foglights! (pending completed wiring/module issues)

Who knew?!

One of the things I love about my old Dodge pickup is the familiarity. I’ve been driving that truck since I was in my twenties, and I know every inch of it so well I often joke I could drive it with my eyes closed, though that isn’t really an advisable approach. All the same, lately  it was getting pretty dark inside the cab. Over the last few years more and more bulbs within the dashboard were burning out, which is understandable after eighteen plus years of illumination. But it was getting downright dim, so we finally decided to open the dash and replace the dead ones.

Ultimately we replaced all nineteen, burned out or not, considering the likelihood that any still operable ones were probably on their last days.  But aside from finding a loose screw between the gauges that appears to have fallen in there before the truck even left the factory, the Dakota had one more surprise in store. I’m driving along today and somewhere around 2000 rpm I see a green triangle light up on the tach, apparently to inform me it was time to shift.  In eighteen years, over 118,000 miles and more shifts than I could ever begin to calculate, that arrow had NEVER lit. Perhaps that bulb had been bad since day one, or perhaps it wasn’t in its socket properly. All the same, the Dodge has an ‘Upshift’ light.

It just goes to show, new surprises can lurk in the last place you’d ever expect them.

Top Secret Project Revealed – But NOT Complete!

Years ago Frank needed a commuter car, something that would get decent mileage, and he didn’t want to rack up the wear and tear on the family truckster. Searches of lots for a candidate eventually narrowed down to a low mile Mustang V6 convertible that for 6 months had served as a Florida ‘rent-a-car’.  The price was right and it seemed like a fun and reasonably logical choice, as logic went at the time. He gave the car a little extra by adding cat-back H-pipe oversized stainless true dual exhausts with glass-packs, which made the car rumble quite nicely, as well as lower profile GT rims, fog-lights and a chin spoiler, and the car looked sharp as hell. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before Frank found that at this point in life, comfort won out over looks or fun, and he’d regularly opt for driving the wagon over the Mustang. I preferred the old manual Dodge truck over the Mustang’s automatic transmission and rarely drove the car. It sat in the driveway collecting spiders, and it seemed we had a mistake on our hands, one we were seriously considering selling at a loss. However…

It was around the same time that Felicia got her driver’s license, and the first day of senior year was also her birthday so I tossed her the keys and let her take the Mustang with the agreement that she could drive it so long as her grades stayed high, which they did. And when she received a scholarship that equaled what we’d likely sell the car for, we upped the offer. So long as the good grades continued and she kept the scholarship, upon graduation we’d sign the car over to her.

Yesterday Felicia graduated with a triple major and honors in all three. She’s stayed Dean’s list through her entire stay, in some semesters making Provost List, which requires a 4.0 average, even as she’s managed to have a life beyond the text-books.  We’re all extremely proud of her, and as graduation approached we wanted to give her something extra-special… but what?  We already had a nearly mint barely used and very lovely looking Mustang convertible waiting for her. But we felt she’d earned more, and we figured the best way to show it would be to give her ‘Precious’, as she calls the car, a bit of updating. So, over the last weeks we’ve been working away on something I couldn’t post lest she check my blog, as she often does.

Out went the stock Mach 460 stereo, replaced with a Bluetooth enabled Kenwood that will talk wirelessly to her Ipod and her phone. Many sources claim radio swaps on the Mach 460 system are supposed to be all but impossible, but Frank did a beautiful job of adapting a harness and it’s working perfectly. Using the American Muscle kit, he rewired the 3-lens tail-lights to blink sequentially,  which is such an appropriate modification it makes you wonder why they didn’t leave the factory that way. For the interior, we planned to brighten things up by switching the gauges from stock to the white face reverse glow gauges surrounded by chrome bezels. Unfortunately the mounts on the instrument bezel frame were brittle and cracked on removal, which stopped us in our tracks. I’ve already ordered a replacement bezel frames, (again, American Muscle)
There’s also new ‘Bullitt’ style stainless steel pedals and new floor-mats embroidered with the Mustang logo. But the change we most hoped to have completed before she came home, the cold cathode halo projector lens headlights, which were supposed to easily swap out from the originals, required much modification to make fit. And unfortunately by late Saturday night we were so tired that we knew it wasn’t worth trying to get done and screwing something up. I wrapped the nose of the car in kitty-cat print wrapping paper to disguise the missing lights, encircle the entire car in an enormous pink ribbon and bow, awaiting Felicia’s return. At one point during dinner she remarked about her car and the looks she got from everyone alerted her that something was amiss, and the whole ride home she grew more and more nervous as we assured her she’d be getting her car… just in pieces. But when she arrived home to see what we’d done and what awaited completion, she was delighted and looking forward to helping finish the project over the coming days. Pictures will follow.

High score on the highway…

I achieved my highest score yet the other day, and no, I didn’t take out a list of pursuit blockers. But while driving from north Jersey through Manhattan, Queens and out to Long Island, most times in the hammer lane and passing much traffic (including several Prius…. what is the plural of Prius? Priuses, Prii?) I exited the Meadowbrook to Hempstead Turnpike and… 51.6 mpg!  That’s in real-world driving, often downshifting to weave around some minivan plodding along at 50 when the flow is 60 and higher.

Once I stopped at the first traffic light I grabbed my camera and snapped a quick shot before the light went green again.

And one other amusing note. In this photo you can see I still have a half-tank of fuel remaining, despite already loggin 301.4 miles since the last fill-up. With a 14.5 gallon tank, that comes gives me a combined average of 41.5 mpg. Not bad at all for something so truly fun to drive.

UPDATE – 06/10/11:   I can’t say what my highest score has been since the 51.6 pictured here, as I’ve really stopped watching the ‘consumption’ reading.  I just calculate each time I fill up and I’ve seen tank-averages of 46.3 mpg on multiple occasions, and that’s with me driving in my usual ways, not puttering in economy. I’ll be posting some upcoming pics showing the latest mods, but in the meantime, for anyone seeking more information on these wonderful cars, be sure to check out .