Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cars can be such a nightmare

In my early years, when I could stand, my adoptive dad had me in the driver's seat, so I seem to be pre-disposed to driving a car.  My parents owned several, including a few new vehicles.  I've mostly had new vehicles.  I'm not one to buy appliance cars--like Honda and Toyota make, although they've made some interesting cars from time to time.  However, the interesting cars always seem to go wrong, and require more maintenance.

Here is a list of the cars I've had, in order:
  • 1967 Pontiac Firebird, 3.8litre engine 1 barrel carb.
  • 1974 Mazda RX-3, 1.1 litre rotary engine, 4 barrel carb. (new for Dad)
  • 1980 Ford Mustang, 2.3 litre turbocharged engine with 2 barrel carb. (new)
  • 1985 VW (Golf) GTI, 1.8 litre with mechanical fuel injection (new)
  • 1986 VW (Golf) GTI, 1.8 litre with mechanical fuel injection, missing weld (new)
  • 1990 VW Corrado, 1.8 litre with supercharger and fuel injection (new)
  • 1985 Mazda RX-7 GS, 1.1 litre rotary engine with 4 barrel carb.
  • 1999 VW Golf GLS, 2.0 litre with fuel injection (new)
  • 2012 VW Golf TDI with DSG automatic Tiptronic

Four VWs, 2 Mazdas, 1 Ford, and 1 Pontiac.  The only reason I would consider another U.S. vehicle is because I like Chrysler/Dodge minivans, as my parents' Plymouth Voyager proved reliable--like an appliance.

Volkswagen is on my negative list, for various reasons.  I've replaced a number of their alloy wheels because they bent easily.  Their fuel systems weren't modified for U.S. fuel and had major problems with vapor lock.  Their brakes didn't last very long.  In other words, they were high maintenance.  I can say that the 1999 has proven that a lot of things have changed for the positive.  In exchange, I had 30 or so visits for the power window regulator clips, where the window would go down but would not go up.  The interior has had wardrobe malfunctions where the fabric pulled away and the centre arm rest came apart.  If these things had happened on a 13 year old car, I'd not have a problem with it.  That they happened on a 3 year old car--that's the problem.  The car now has 132,000+ miles on it and is enduring, though it doesn't seem happy at the moment.  U.S. cars just seem to go whether they have maintenance or not.  VWs don't do that very well.

Equally, the 1974 RX-3 had a problem with the rear main oil seal leaking and the car was dead but under warranty.  The engine was replaced at some point in time, but it took the proverbial forever.  On the other hand, I bought the 1985 RX-7 with 102,000+ miles on it and ran it until 156,000+ miles with almost no trouble.  I have little doubt that the engine is working quite smoothly still.  It was also a source of amusement at the Mobil Oil change place, as the salesperson told me how their product would lubricate the valves, the crankshaft, the camshaft, the lifters, etc.--all parts a Wankel rotary engine does not have.

I'm looking again for a new vehicle and I'm not sure what is good for me.  In the long term, I'm not sure where I'll be and I think I should be buying in California to make sure I don't have to switch cars, if I move there.  I thought to buy a Subaru Outback because of the all-wheel drive, if I stay in a snowy area.  I considered a Suzuki SX Crossover/station wagon for the same reason.  I don't want a bigger vehicle, so a Mazda 2 with 4 wheel disc brakes would be convenient, but they don't make such a car and the bigger Mazda 3 might have to do.  A Dodge minivan has been on the list occasionally, but the new Alfa Romeo (inspired) Dodge Dart seems more like my kind of vehicle.

If you haven't guessed, I'm slow to cross the US$20,000 barrier.  That mainly puts VWs and South Korean cars in my sights, both of which are not high on my list.  Kia and Hyundai produce a car or two that seem okay, but driving a long distance, where are the dealerships?  I drove my VW Golf GLS across the country and I asked myself the same question then.  It was rare to see a VW, KIA, or Hyundai dealership.  Dodge, Mazda, and Subaru seem to be everywhere, and Suzuki is many places.  Being that Suzuki is a GM affiliate, Chevrolet dealerships might be able to help.

In any case, I'm due to have the oil dipstick holder replaced today.  Yes, it fell apart.  132,000+ miles and it fell apart.  That was a first for me but the clutch is still original and I only just replaced the front struts, so touch wood/knock on wood, it will continue to function well.  Oh, and there was that ignition switch failure where the car was on but not on--all night.  They removed the steering wheel, and the air bag warning lamp is still lit, just to get to some tiny parts.  That was major money that could have been put toward a tune up.  Then, there were the three under-body air management plastic pieces that fell apart and were dragging.  What do you bet they will be $1000 to replace?  I almost wish I was back in Philly and able to take public transportation.

Update: At the dealership, I requested a diagnostic.  They found a hydraulic hose needed to be changed, as well as an evaporation valve.  I agreed that the hydraulic hose should be ordered and they would call me when they got it.  I took a trip further east of there, along the Ohio River.  Part way through the day, that hydraulic hose, and another, split, taking away all the hydraulic pressure in the braking system.  Somehow, it happened when I was stopped and it had been sitting in the parking lot rather than out on the road going 70 mph.  There happened to be a tire place in the same lot and they took generic brake hose and replaced both split sections and the car is going again.  That's a bad coincidence that it was noticed one day and failed the next.  Also, the dealership noticed that the radio antenna was gone, but they didn't notice the side marker light just hanging.  I'm giving them a positive rating for now, but that could change in an instant, especially, if they knew how bad the hose was.

Update 2: Back at the dealership, they replaced the sections of hose that failed with the specific VW part.  They didn't mention a thing, as if there was no problem, but I was already suspicious.  They did a smoke test and found no leaks.  As well, they replaced the serpentine belt without incident.  As they were backing out to do a road test, the gear would not engage.  The service advisor comes to me and gives me the spiel that it's about $150 extra, but the car isn't going anywhere.

After the door closed, I asked aloud "Did they just break it?" and someone in the waiting room replied "I was just thinking the same thing."  I didn't want to start something but it felt too coincidental.  Two visits, two rather major problems.  The service advisor talked to me later and said that they pared down the prices so it cost me about the same as the original estimate, which was also stretching me a bit from what they told me the previous visit.

The car runs better and more powerfully than I remember but no more VWs.

Update 3: I had other issues with the car since July, including a broken ignition switch, which left the car completely disabled and required a disassembly of the steering column at quite a cost, plus a coolant distribution point broke on one of the coldest days possible, disabling the car.  After several thousand dollars, I bought a new (demonstrator) 2012 VW Golf TDI.  It was around US$27,000 new but there were discounts because it was last year's model and had some 5000+ miles on it.  I broke above the US$20,000 mark.  It's better at 10,000 miles than the 1999 was at any mileage.

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