Tag Archives: cars

Cars and automobiles

I wrote about buying cars a while back cause I am absolutely mad to get a car that I can say is mine (so to speak). Since then I’ve been doing a ton of research and wotnot – there are some cars that I’ve considered but are now off the list (BMW 3 series – I really like the current gen. look but it’s way expensive). The Audi A4 only makes an appearance as an outsider as I really like the new look… but again I don’t know if this isn’t out of the price range atm.

Also as a surprise is the Audi TT MK1 – introduced in 1999 it’s getting long in the tooth perhaps and also burnt my bum when the engine blew up on me when I owned one. That being said I would go for a 2003 onwards model which has more reliability … they really are great cars when they work! The A5 is aspirational.. still expensive but what a gorgeous car!

I’ve also marked down some SUVs which would be potential replacements for our current SUV – Rach likes the Ford Edge, which I have to agree is pretty funky, but I also like the Nissan and Infinit – the latter being a pricey number so unless we get a good deal is unlikely to feature.

I’ve also included the Civic Si – the Type R equivalent in the US – based on the fact I owned one previously, I continue to be impressed by the Honda’s quality…. Other outsiders are the Mitsi Eclipse – great car, pretty good performance, but when you pit it against the Civic Si… difficult one.

So here it is… the list so far….

Type MPG HW MPG TN BHP Cost/25m Notes
Audi TT (Mk1) Coupe 29 21 225 5.13
Honda Civic Si Coupe 29 21 197 4.68
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT Coupe 25 16 265 2009 model gets a facelift
Audi A5 Coupe 27 18 265 5.39
Ford Mustang Coupe 28 19 210
Nissan Maxima Sedan 25 19 255 4.3
Nissan Altima Sedan 23 32 198 3.26
Mazda 6 (6 cyl) Sedan 18 25 212 156bhp 28/21 MPG
Honda Civic Si Sedan 29 21 197 4.68
Audi A4 Sedan 30 21 200 4.49
Mitsubishi Lancer GTS Sedan 28 21 168
Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Sedan 235 Not avail until 2009
Nissan Murano SUV 24 19 240 4.51
Infiniti FX35 SUV 20 15 275 4.99
Ford Edge SUV 24 17 265 5.67
Lincoln MKX SUV 24 17 250 5.37
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Homage to the Audi TT – and an expensive lesson in owning a car.

Audi TT mark 1Those of you who know me, know my love/hate relationship with the Audi TT. I owned one for 2 years – originally a standard 180TT 4WD that I spent time making it the car it should have been – changing the ECU to bring the horsepower from 178bhp to 237bhp, changing the turbo inlet hose to allow better airflow, fitting twin exhausts from the single to improve exhaust gasses exiting, changing the 16″ allows to 17″… looked pretty much like the car you see here.

And then at 70,000 miles the engine blew.

A hate then love affair

Before I talk about that whole scenario, let’s just cover why I bought the TT and spent 2 years being ridiculed as owning a hairdressers car by my friends – who would all privately admit they really liked it. Yeah – you know who you are! 🙂

When the TT was first launched in 1999 I felt the design was aesthetically challenging to the point that I wanted to put a paper bag over every TT I saw. Those early TT’s did not have the rear spoiler, which was added later as a safety precaution but also (I think) improved the look.

The defining moment when I realised I wanted one was when I was being visited by one of my web clients – he turned up in a silver TT with red leather interior. I sat for 5 minutes in the driver seat and was totally hooked from there on.

In Denial

There’s a price to pay for everything – and when it came to looking for my next car it was between a Civic Type R (197bhp), Seat Leon Cupra R (180bhp) or a 180 TT. Thing is, the TT price was so much more that I would have to get a second hand car that was a little older than I wanted – at that time a new Civic or Leon ran to about GBP16-17k; A new TT ran to about GBP27k. You see my predicament.

So basically was I prepared to pay the same money for a second hand car that has similar attributes in performance to other cars I could buy new outright? Was it even worth putting myself in debt to get a newer TT?

Well, after much soul-searching I decided to suck it up – you only live once (except buddists) – and so my purchase of a year 2000 Black 180TT 4WD came to fruition in April 2003. I remember driving home full of excitement and grinning like an idiot, mixed with panicking that I’d just spent GBP18k on a car and was now in the world of debt (which I detest being in).

Living the Dream

Asides from being obsessed with keeping the car clean using quality products, I loved to drive the car. It’s not the fastest or most responsive in its’ field, but for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole driving experience. The car seemed to wrap around me and the positioning for a tall bloke like myself was just great – it was a goths dream – black car with black leather and silver trim (although I am not in the stage of life to yet appreciate silver trim…).

That being said, I did feel it could deliver more “oomph” – let’s face it, the 225 TT was the same engine but with (shock) 225 bhp, so I duly investigated my options to help the TT get the best performance – this came in the form of the modification I mentioned before.

Now I had a TT with kick and I *loved* the driving experience. However, that had come with its’ set of problems:

  • A knocking sound when going over bumps turned out to be something in the suspension linkage broken (10.00 for the part, 90.00 to fit it)
  • The indicator relay failed (150.00 to fix) – the garage (Audi garage in Kidlington) then broke the seat warmer dials, so those were replaced gratis.

Dead not dreaming

July 2004, around 8am; I am leaving my home town (Bicester) and doing 40mph – just letting the engine warm up before I open her up. I accelerate up and then ker-chug-chug-chug-chug…. chug. Long story short, the piston rods are going through the engine as the piston heads on two valves have shattered. This required a new engine costing GBP4k plus GBP2k for labour.

This car has been serviced in April by AmD and they had told me that it was immaculate and the engine was in great shape and should last many more miles, so needless to say, 3 months later and 3000 miles, an engine failure completely blindsided me. Prior to this AmD had serviced the car – every 6 months at least and it never needed anything major.

Here’s an except from their site about the Stage 1 remap:

Your vehicle will be checked for fault codes and then road tested to make sure that the car is in good health for the upgrade. The modification to the software is then carried to achieve the AmD remap. A final road test is performed together with full diagnostic test.

Up to + 30-35bhp and 30-40lbs/ft
Asking around on the UK TT Forum I suddenly realised (should have sooner!) that the Mark 1 TT is renowned for going wrong – if you compare that forum for problems with vehicles against say, the Ford Focus or Honda Civic forums, it’s quite ridiculous how much grief mark one TT owners go through.

Subsequently, a few months after getting the car back (and also back in more debt), I get more problems

  • Mass Air Sensor (MAF) failure – replaced with reconditioned unit for 150.00 under the Audi MAF exchange programme.
  • Bushes worn – cost to replace = 100.00
  • Anti-rollbars corroded – cost to replace = 240.0
  • Dashpod Failure – cost to replace = 1000.00

Subsequently it was acknowledged by Audi that the TT Dashpod can and will fail and they are now replacing them under an extended warranty (unless your car is older than 3 yrs). A video is available via this link : http://www.tt-forum.co.uk/ttforumbbs/viewtopic.php?t=56080
Needless to say I could see things only getting worse, so I dumped the car for a Ford Focus ST170 which required nothing other than regular servicing to make it work…. and then a Honda Civic Type R which was gret fun.

Audi Customer Service – an Oxymoron.

I bought the car from a non-franchise dealer (one of the UK’s larger Independent Audi dealers) and got the car serviced by AmD, who service Audi vehicles for Audi themselves. Calling Audi Customer Service and writing a letter of complaint that a vehicle’s engine life is 70k miles is unacceptable. Their response was “you were not loyal to our dealership (not servicing it through them) and we do not have the engine (that broke), therefore we do not consider ourselves liable” – Hands wiped clean. Even though AmD by proxy are an authorised service company… And even if I had a warranty (which I didn’t), it wouldn’t have covered me enough for this catastrophic situation.

Although they were polite at all times, my experience with Audi Customer Service was that they were not happy to engage in helping (a customer) in any discussion – unsurprisingly when the whole Dashpod fiasco kicked off (which Audi now admit is a quality issue only after the BBC show “Watchdog” hounded them (‘scuse the pun)).

Conclusion About TT’s

Needless to say, this all left a bitter taste in my mouth about the quality of Audi TT’s – no car I’ve had before or after has had such problems (Honda, Ford, Renault) and they’re not exactly top line marques that Audi masquerade as.

I since discovered that VW/Audi had build qualities between 2000 – 2003 that affected other models, so my advice in general is to avoid any VW marque between these years. If you think I’ve got sour grapes, check out the UK TT forum and see just how many problems people had – btw my username is p4ul, if you’re looking for my posts. Here’s a great example of such issues

To run a TT was obviously more expensive than the Ford or Honda; Audi garages run at a pretty penny per hour, but you don’t want to scrimp with that because not everyone knows the cars’ peculiarities – saying that many TT forum owners refer to them as “Stealers” instead of Dealers because there are dealers who think they can rip you off cause you can afford a TT – and some mechanics who work for dealers that haven’t a clue. So research your dealer is the watchword.

Insurance for me – at the time 32 yrs old, 9 years no claims, GBP17k value was about GBP650 – the insurance company let me get away with the modifications but I doubt that’d happen today. Servicing cost about GBP500 per year (using AmD – probably run to GBP700 if I’d used the regular Audi dealers). Fuel economy was around 26-27mpg highway before the ECU remap; around 30mph after. Common TT problems are dashpod failures, coilpack failures, indicator relay failure, oil burning, sticking accelerator, MAF air sensor failure… that’s from memory!

Do I still want a TT? Yes and No. “WHAT?!” I hear you shout as you put down your seventh glass of old tawny. Absolutely do because of the drive – it was the best I’ve experienced to date overall – I just don’t want the issues with reliability. It wasn’t the most practicle car going, but just like bagpuss, emily loved him.

A New Hope…?

Now Audi have released the TT mark 2 ( Audi TT Mark 2 ) , the jury is out as to what this means. I like it, but it’s lost it’s uniqueness and gained the Audi corporate look… good and bad.

Given my experience with Audi CS (and others documented experiences), I am still not convinced about Audi… not that I can afford one at those $45k prices especially.

Kudos to the TT Community

If you own or are thinking of owning a TT can I recommend the excellent TT Forum – http://www.tt-forum.co.uk/ttforumbbs/index.php – it’s a great community where a bunch of genuine car and gadget enthusiasts who have years of experience with the TT meet both virtually and physically and can offer lots of advice and words of wisdom.

Finding the perfect (regular) American Car – Part One point Five

I was just browsing on some of the makes and models and two brands were struck off the list:

Volvo

Their cars are safe, reasonably performing but comparitively expensive and also importantly, dull – especially the US models which seem to have their balls removed.

Scion

Nice idea by Toyota, and I like the tC, which is their old Toyota Celica rehashed for today, but their other models aren’t quite sitting great in my mind; The xD is good, but a little small for our needs, the xB is a bit too much like the Chrysler Hearse. Not withstanding it’s got no charisma, slow beyond slow and is target to the old and infirm.

Finding the perfect (regular) American Car – Part One: Enter the Dragon

What is it that makes a car desirable? I guess it depends on how important you think looks or performance, or any one of many criteria. Maybe you feel your dangler ain’t what it used to be so you want something that says “hey ladies, I still got it going AWWWWWN”. OK, maybe not.

Round #1 : Mazda, Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Saturn

For this first one we have the Mazda 6, Honda Accord, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima and Saturn Aura. The Mazda is a current forerunner, whilst the Mitsu & Saturn are lagging behind, like the left-handed cross-eyed twins taking part in a three-legged race.

Fallen at the first!

mit-galurd.jpgThe Mitsubishi takes one for the team at the first hurdle. The vets are approaching and the glue factory anticipate a bumper harvest.

Now I DO like some Mitsu’s but this one was in the UK and really is seen as a one to avoid – unless you’re old or enjoy collecting sawdust and keep a collection of interesting toe clippings. AOL’s auto site described it as having “aggressive styling”. The only thing that makes this car aggressive is it’s ability to overwhelm you with the feeling you should be wearing beige slippers. It’s so mundane I almost fell into a coma when staring at the image. Basically this is good for nothing except the rental companies – no fear of revving the crap out of this car – it will induce a coma before the rev counter reaches 5000 revs. Yawn.

It’s a flippin’ Vauxhall!

Saturn AuraYes folks – anyone in the UK knows that if you buy a Vauxhall (Saturn in the US) that you’re buying a car that does a good impression at being one of the “in” crowd, but when you get to own one you realise you’ve been had and wake up the next morning with a sore ass, administered by the salesman who is now laughing all the way to owning another shell suit. Vauxhalls are renowned for being great for 2-3 years and then things start falling off and going a bit Pete Tong. GM are introducing many of the models the UK has had (Aura = Vectra; Astra) to the US to reinvigorate things …. there’s a FWD 220bhp Astra for instance which even made me look at in the UK – but upon closer inspection I realised that aside from the amazing power output (which is actually too much for a FWD in this class), it’s really not going to be a long term giver.

So really what I’m saying is… Saturn – you’se been kicked to the curb. You’re outta here!

Nissan Altima get’s a look in.

Nissan AltimaI was once driven in an Altima. At first I was thinking “Pffft. Whatever.” But then!… but then it blew me away with performance, with style, with comfort, with ride… Very impressed. But what’s the low-down around the ‘net?

Well it’s not all good – but it’s not bad; Now I would *love* the Coupe version (which would win no popularity points with (a) my back when I have to put kids in the car (b) my wife – and life has told me you never piss off a woman where possible (and if you do, apologise for whatever it was, was your fault – even if it wasn’t).

So I’m going to keep the Nissan in the picture for now. Well done sir.

Honda Accord – Damn Skippy!

Honda Accord I think people forget about this one… it’s been likened to a Japanese BMW 3 series and, let’s face it, is a Honda! I owned a Civic Type R and that thing was build solid. Honda’s reputation is fantastic. Nothing funny to say, except it’s on the list… but the older models don’t look quite so good.

Mazda6 – We like! You like! It likes sex.

Mazda6Great car. Rach and I both like it. Get your coat love, you’ve pulled.

So there we have it – the Nissan, Honda and Mazda are all the Kings of the Castle whilst the Saturn and Mitsubishi are the Burger Kings. These three worthy contenders move forward to die another day and other cliches.

Next car post we’ll look at some more. In the meantime here’s a picture of a pair of perky tits.

Finding the perfect (regular) car in America – Intro

cars eh?Since I’ve lived in Chicago I’ve never had want of a car, other than the welcome arms of a taxi to take my drunk ass home…. well, I wouldn’t call it a real driving (sic) desire, but I have found myself thinking how it would be nice to have something to get from point A to B without the need for public transport – especially when traveling in the ‘burbs.

Currently I rely upon the Brown and Red Line El to get me around the City for most of my needs; This is a cheap ($1.75 per trip but $0.25 for the first subsequent trip within 2hrs of the first), frequent service. The El is renowned for its’ ability to join the corporate commuter with what appear to be the scum and villany that Obi Wan said lived in Mos Eisley.

Actually it’s not as bad as that – you get the odd weirdo or stinky but your attention is mainly on what not to step on – there are some sticky parts of the floor you’d rather not think about… and if you do think about them, there’s always the guy talking to himself to distract you.

Because the El only takes me so far, if it’s really crappy weather I’ll also take the 76 Diversey Bus (same price/setup for cost) which drops me 200 yds from home (if the weather’s OK I’ll walk the 1.2 miles), usually wearing my backpack like a Jehovah’s Witness – which is great ’cause no-one bothers me.

Getting to work in the morning, Rachel drives me downtown first and then takes herself to her work (about 30miles away) using our Buick Rendevouz – a 4.2ltr V6 SUV which has crappy fuel consumption, crappy performance, crappy looks, crappy driving experience, crappy crash safety and is generally crappy. A picture of it is here if you’ve not seen one. Yeah… impressive eh? Impressive like a fart that clears a room impressive…

(by the way, Rach chose the car for good reason at the time – and to be honest it has served us well on many an occasion, but we’re both of the opinion now that if we’d been together when she was looking for a new car, this wouldn’t have been it – oh well).

Recently I had to take a trip out to Scumburg for work; I was able to get a lift with a co-worker (a la colleague for those in the UK) but had to make my own way back. For this I used public transport, being the eco-friendly’ish person I sometimes attempt to be. This involved waiting 30mins for the bus to arrive (the stop being conveniently outside the office) which took me on a 45 min ride to the Blue Line El at Rosemont to join stinky and his friend, the artful twitcher. From there I had to wait 20mins for a train to arrive (due to lack of stink on the train they had to let the floor ferment a little) and then a 40min ride to Logan Square where I and my fellow Chicagoans try and look either tough, student or retarded – or sometimes all three – and took the 76 Bus east for 20mins. So let’s say it took around 2 hours to get home … If I had a car it would be 45mins on the expressway… you see where I’m going…

It’s also true that when I lived in the UK I loved my car du jour. Some would say I was obsessive about them as every car I’ve had has been spotless … much like my license (TV license, not driving license). There was nothing more enjoyable than opening up the throttle and doing speeds well within the legal limits … that is, if you live in Germany and drive the autobahn. Sadly the Chicago Police, sticklers for the letter of the law and devoid of corruption, don’t take too kindly to speeders – they sit and wait for you, instead of actually dealing with the crime in our fair city – especially when you’re in the ‘burbs, so having a sporty car here is kind of pointless.

And so to the point of this post (ohthankyougod! I hear you cry) – and future posts on this subject; I’m going to document my research on what cars are available here – and I have to tell you, I have an open aversion to many American models (GMC et al) based on my limited experience – however I am quite prepared to give them a look, so if you have a recommendation, please comment!

Whew! There we have it… I’m not sure WHEN I’ll buy the car yet… lots to think about, but I certainly want to give it lots of thought. My criteria are:

  • Fuel consumption in the 30+mpg
  • 0-60 in sub 8 second
  • 2 door
  • Proven reliability

However as Rach reminds me that we are trying to expand the Morgan empire and as such need a 4 door car unless I want a bad back from hoofing the kid(s) over the front seats. Therefore my modified requirements are:

  • Fuel consumption in the 30’s
  • 0-60 in sub 10s
  • 4 Door
  • Good crash safety rating
  • Absolute reliability
  • 5 people min. capacity
  • Not an SUV or Estate (station wagons to you yankie doodles)
  • Reasonaby priced

Of course I’m flexible around some/all of these – I actually like some SUV’s (Infiniti FX-35, Nissan Murano) but they have higher than many price tags.

So! Next post we’ll start looking at some cars. Fuck yeah!