Monday, September 13, 2021

I Guess I Like Cars Now?

So there was a slight omission in our last annual "are we on track for FIRE" post. Okay, two small omissions, that totaled twenty thousand dollars. Unintentionally following a trend that swept America while we were cooped up in a pandemic, we bought not one, but two, used cars: a 2015 Lexus RX350, and a 2006 Saab 9-3 2.0T wagon (or "Sportcombi" for Saab nerds).

What would have possessed us to buy two additional cars, mere months after writing an ode to the Matrix and the happiness of making one car work?

As always, I blame our children. Our Matrix was the most reliable car we've ever owned. Being as light as it was and having a five speed manual, also was surprisingly fun to drive (even if it did only have 130 horsepower). 

But rear facing car seats posed a problem. The Matrix is a small car. With just one car seat squeezed in the middle, both front passengers were fine. But if we tried to fit two car seats in the back, both the front seats had to be pulled forward a good bit to make it all fit. It wasn't exactly a dangerous driving position, but it wasn't a comfortable one either.

So we went shopping for a bigger car, one with good safety ratings and some reliability. There were a lot of contenders: a Prius V station wagon, Rav4, Highlander, maybe a similar Honda like a CRV or Pilot. We ended up settling on a Lexus RX350, because it's a Toyota Highlander under the hood with nicer finishes and, thanks to removing the third row, more room for everybody.

Plus, I didn't want a third row. I didn't want to be the dad carpooling a bunch of Toddler AF's and Baby JC's friends around. One friend at a time, thank you very much.

So we got our new family car and we loved it.

But suddenly the Matrix, with its peeling clear coat and lack of torque, felt slower. Less nice to sit in. A little less fun. 

Still, every time I got into it and drove it, I started feeling guilty about trying to get rid of it. It was good to us and never once let us down. What did our beloved little car ever do to make us want to replace it? Sure, it wasn't fast. 

Maybe a turbo kit would fix that?

After looking into the cost and the amount of work required to turbocharge our little Toyota, with a non-zero chance that the definitely-not-designed-to-accept-forced-induction engine could immediately self-destruct once the additional power was pushed through it, Mrs. Done by Forty we decided that maybe this was a bad idea.

So we could live with our two reliable Toyotas, or I could look for something else that would meet my ever-growing wish list:

  • manual transmission
  • wagon 
  • somewhat quick
  • rear wheel drive or AWD would be nice, but not a must have
This list unsurprisingly eliminated almost all existing modern cars because hardly any cars even have manual transmissions, even as an option from the dealer. Our list consisted of BMWs (3-series estates), Audis (B5 S4 or A4), a good selection of Subarus (WRX or Outback XT), Saabs (9-3 or 9-5), and Volvos (V70, ideally a T5) from 10-20 years ago. If we wanted to go back another decade into the 90s, maybe an Accord or Camry wagon...but these are anything but quick.

I began searching online for cars that fit the bill and after a while, an old Saab caught my eye. It needed a good bit of work: the radiator & power steering pump were leaking, and it had paint damage, too. But it was cheap, and the turbo got the car to scoot pretty well once you got out of first gear. From ten feet, it wasn't too bad to look at. And our research pointed to them being more reliable than you'd think.

The guy was willing to negotiate on the price: we settled on a remarkable $2,300. He had a new radiator & power steering pump he'd throw in, too: all I'd have to do was install them. He even gave me a new set of tires (including the cost of installation) and some ignition coils & spark plugs to boot. These were all things he was planning to put on the car before selling it, but they were mine if I took the car off his hands.

So I got myself a project car, and my niece got our old Matrix for her first car. (Keeping it in the family lessened the guilt as it rolled off on its way to the Pacific Northwest.)

The Saab's old radiator fought me the whole way since every possible screw was rusted in place. The power steering pump reminded me it needed attention, too, by leaking its guts onto our driveway. But after a month or so, it was running tip top. 

So I started looking for other things to fix. The parking brake needed adjusting. A misfire showed up & one of the coils needed swapped. The ignition switch module failed & locked the steering column, but just needed disassembled and its copper contact points cleaned. I installed a new steering column module so I could finally program a second key. Then bought a software tune so we could up the horsepower to 250 and the torque to 270 ft pounds.

Maybe a 3M repair kit could fix the rip in the driver's seat leather.  Next weekend I could bleed the brakes and install a strut bar. God help me, I am actually looking forward to changing the oil.

When the kids take their naps or go down for the night, I sometimes find myself in the garage if only to tinker, to inspect a bit, and add to the list of future maintenance items I ought to do with these cars we now own. 

It's a weird hobby and not at all what I thought I'd be doing with my time. But it's something I like.

I think the pleasure comes from finally figuring out how to maintain these things, these cars we own. Slowly learning, and reading through shop manuals when I can't sleep at night.

It's like homeowners enjoying their homes more, as they learn how to maintain and improve them. I'm finding a little joy figuring out what goes wrong with these cars, taking out the bolts and hoses in the way, installing something new (or, at least "new" from a junkyard) and hopefully getting the thing to start once I manage to get it all back together. Like Legos, for grown ups.

Still, another odd hobby that has also stuck from the past year around is looking at cars for sale, even though I clearly do not need another. I spent so long searching for these two vehicles that the searching itself has become a habit. But I don't need another car.

I do not need a third car, dear readers. Right? 

We only have two adult drivers. What on earth would we possibly do with a third vehicle, getting beaten in the Arizona sun since we do not even have room in our garage for another car.

And yet, I find myself on Facebook marketplace every day, searching for cheap manual cars that I do not need, and should not be looking at.

Maybe I need a new hobby.

*Volvo photo is from Mic V at Flickr Creative Commons.

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  1. Welcome to the RX club! It's ruined me for others as well, lol...

    1. J Money! Long time, friend. Hope all is well with you. You still collecting coins?

      The RX is definitely the nicest car we've owned. Mrs. Done by Forty had a Jeep Cherokee when we first met and she's wanted something with that sort of ride height for a bit. It's a great overall car and yeah, it has ruined us for other cars as well. :)

  2. It's great that you found a useful hobby. I liked to work on the car too when I was younger and had a garage. Now, I can't really do much because we park in the street. The RX sounds nice.

    1. I hear you on the garage, Joe. I doubt I'd be doing any of this if our cars were parked on the street like when we were in San Diego.

      The RX is nice but, and this is a good problem to have, nothing breaks on it. And I'm not trying to mod it at all's kind of just basic maintenance stuff like oil changes, spark plugs, brake pads and maybe suspension parts.

      It's the Saab that keeps me busy. :)

  3. That sounds like a fun hobby to have if you can keep the costs under control! PiC's friends ran the gamut on that score. One of them has 7 cars for the 2 driving adults! O_O But they enjoy the hobby and they can well afford it.

    1. Whoa, seven cars. I'm either seeing my future or getting a wake up call. :)

      I do sometimes think a third car that's electric might be somewhat justifiable, but even that is a stretch.

  4. Would you like to look for a new (used) car for me? haha I'm dreading looking for our next ride.

    Glad you are enjoying yourself :)

    1. I'd love to look for a new-used car for you! Shoot me an email or leave a comment with your parameters.

      I might as well let this car searching have a purpose, right?

  5. Sounds like you may be interested in flipping cars as a side hustle?

    1. Hi Adam and, yes, I've considered it! The soft costs of registering and insuring the vehicle, along with the risks inherent with buying a car that may need some costly repairs, has kept me on the sidelines for now. I'd potentially try it with cars I'd be okay owning myself for a period of time (e.g. - cycling through a third car that I own for a few months or a year)

  6. Sounds you found a good hobby. Congrats! :-)

    1. Hiya friend! Yes, I definitely am digging this weird new hobby of mine. I never would have guessed it.

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  8. You did a great job here for the car lovers or fans. Fortunately we have been able to get rid of pandemic situation. Never expect again such deadly time. Anyway, the car buying experiences you share with us was tremendously interesting. Sometimes used car works well than a new one. I enjoyed you post really. BTW any guys here looking for pipe bending service? Well, click here to have a one stop service for your metal materials needs.