Car Stuff

Diesel vs Gas

Posted by John on November 8th, 2012

Hey guys!  Hope everyone is enjoying the week so far.  If you’re in the Northeast like us, I hope you’re surviving the worst week and a half of weather I’ve ever seen in November, ever.  Terrible!  Have I ever told you how much I hate the cold?  I used to love it when I was a kid.  Now I want to move to Florida.  Is it weird that I appreciate and even envy the life-choices of our senior population at the young age of 33?  Retirement?  Yes, please.  Florida?  I’d love to.

In other news, we bought a car.  We picked up a Jetta from a local dealer and we’re digging it.  Sweet ride.  We ended up buying a regular gas engine and skipping the TDI, but I have to admit, that diesel engine was tempting.  I actually made a video that illustrates the basic nerd enhanced analysis I performed to see if the fuel savings from diesel vs gas  would be worth the extra sticker price.  Alas, it wasn’t even close.  If you’ve never used Excel before and want to pick up some basic skills or just see how to figure out your own gas mileage, then check out the video.  Or if you just want to hear a nerd rant on about his daily commute, check. it. out.

I thought I would miss my Grand Cherokee a little by now.  Definitely not. I went from 15/20 mpg to 24/32 mpg.  Big fan.  Big fan.

I’m hoping to finish up the painting on our garage shoe rack, but I’m not holding my breath.  This weather cycle is “spray paint in the garage” prohibitive.  Bummer.  Lisa and I are planning some serious work over the Christmas break, so soon after we finish up that shelf, I’ll be back to planning mode.  We’re still trying to figure out if we want to work on the office or maybe start finishing the basement.  We’ll see.

What are you all working on at the moment?


Posted in Blogging,Car Stuff,Videos. Tagged in ,, , , ,

Time for a New Car

Posted by John on October 31st, 2012

We hope everyone made it through Hurricane Sandy okay.  We ended up just fine through the duration of the storm and never lost power.  Some of our friends and family weren’t so lucky.  Thankfully though, no one we know was injured or killed in what turned out to be a pretty devastating storm.  I know a good number of the shore communities experienced some major flooding and wind damage.  Now that the weather has cleared, it’s back to the grind.  Oh, and it’s time for a new car.

Lisa and I have two cars, one for each of us.  I drive a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee that you may have seen on our body repair or headlight restoration posts.  Lisa drives the “family car,” which is a 2011 Subaru Forrester.  Both cars have been good to us.  My Jeep in particular.  I bought the Jeep used back in 2005, six months before I met Lisa.  It held up surprisingly well considering it wasn’t garaged until we bought our current house five years later.  Years of road salt and being left outside all day probably contributed to that body rust.

It’s a thing of beauty in the snow.  Only the rare mid-winter Nor’easter has kept me from getting to work with its four wheel drive.  The one killer though has been the gas mileage.  I get around 15 city and 20 highway.  $75 to fill up.  Yikes, right?  The majority of the time I owned it I lived in the city.  Cities and SUVs aren’t all that compatible, especially at the pump.  I’ve owned it for seven years now and with 160,000 miles, it’s time to get an upgrade.  It’s unlikely that I’ll get another SUV.  We’re shooting for better gas mileage.

Since the new car is going to be my daily driver, Lisa is letting me pick it, not that she isn’t throwing hints around for what she prefers.  While I don’t want to get into the financials or the price range, that’s a bit too much info, I can tell you that I’m focusing my search on smaller sedans.  We’re leaning towards the Volkswagen Jetta.

Weird photo right?  See that black Jetta out the window of my first house?  That’s my first car after college.  I leased a Jetta for three years (2002-2005).  Lisa is also a huge VW fan, btw.  Her first car was a Jetta lease, then another.  Then we leased a Passat right before we got married.  Needless to say, she’s down with getting a Jetta.  When I was living in the city, that car was perfect.  Great size, awesome gas mileage.  Great for a DIYer with a knack for large scale carpentry projects?  Not so much.  Near the end of the lease, I bought a new banister for the old house at Home Depot and put it through the trunk access door and rested it on the dashboard.  When I went to close the trunk, the banister cracked my windshield.  Not a proud moment in my life I must admit.  I did realize I would need a bigger car though and went out and bought the Jeep soon after.

The question remains though.  What will we do with all the material we’re going to need over the next several years??  The material to build a deck, finish the basement.. that’s a lot of 2x4s and drywall.  The simple answer is we’re going to try to get it delivered.  OR we can always rent the Lowes truck for a few hours.  We may also pop for a hitch on Lisa’s Forrester and get a small trailer.  TBD at this point.

As far as the new car goes, we haven’t decided whether or not to get a new car or a slightly used model for less money.  We also need to determine if we’re interested in a diesel or gas engine.  I like the TDI’s, but the extra gas mileage from the diesels may not justify the added cost.  We’ll be doing some nerdy engineering work to figure that out.  I’ll be sure to share that work with you.  We’re also open to other makes and models.  We really liked that Passat we leased, but it feels a bit long, plus it’s more expensive.

That’s what’s keeping up busy this week.  This weekend we’re going to be painting our garage shoe organizer!  Looking forward to wrapping that up.

Anyone else in the market for a new car? 

Posted in Car Stuff,Garage and Tools. Tagged in ,, , , ,

How to Repair Rust on a Car

Posted by John on October 23rd, 2012

Hey guys!  Lisa and I are planning getting a new car very soon and we’re pretty excited about it.  We’ll fill you in on the details once we make a decision.  We’re still looking, but I think we’ll be driving something new in the next couple of weeks!  In the meantime, we’re getting the Jeep ready to be traded-in.  It’s got 160,000 miles on it and could use some TLC.  In this post, we’re going to repair some rust that has been plaguing the driver’s side wheel well.  The basic rust repair process in this post should be the same for most cars.

Howto Repair Rust on a Car…rust-on-jeep-1-1024x682


Doesn’t look so hot, does it?  I’ve tried to repair it a year ago and it didn’t hold up longer than a few hours.  This time is going to be different.  I’ve learned the error of my ways.

Close up.close-up-of-rust-1024x682


To start, we’re going to mask off the door into the car to keep rust, paint and body filler dust from getting inside.masking-before-work-e1351047925279-682x1024


Then we sand off the old paint to get down to the rust and bare metal.  Make sure to wear a mask.   You can see that the area is pretty beat up to say the least.  The goal here is to remove as much of the really rusted out metal.  You can use a small hammer or a screw driver to knock it loose.rust-before-1024x682


If you tried to apply a body filler material right over the rust, you’d get crappy results.  You’ll need to apply a rust converter first and then clean the surface.  The rust converter chemically bonds to the rust and makes it a paintable or body filler compatible surface.  I didn’t do this step the first time I tried this repair last year.  The rust converter and wax and grease remover are all sold at local car parts stores.  Be careful with the rust converter, it’s pretty noxious stuff.  Read the warning label!!rust-neutralizer-e1351048334265-682x1024


Once the rust converter is applied, the rust turns to a dark black color.rust-sanded-1024x682


Now we can add the body filler.  The most common product is the Bondo brand.  It’s a two part system consisting of the filler and the hardener.  You add roughly a pea sized amount of the red hardener to each golf ball sized amount of filler and mix on a hard surface until it’s the same color as the applicator.  Then just apply liberally to the affected area and smooth with the applicator.  You’ll need to act quickly as it hardens in minutes.bondo-1024x682





Once the Bondo has hardened about 20 minutes after you’ve applied it to the car, you can take a sander with a course grit sandpaper and smooth out the body filler.  If you have a lot of rust on the section you’re working, you’ll probably sand off some of the rust converter in the process.  This sanding will expose the rust and will require another coat of the rust converter.  If the repair looks good at this point, you can pretty much sand with a 220 grit paper or add more body filler until you’re satisfied.

Since I needed a little more filler, I used what is basically a skim coat to glaze the area.  It’s the same process as the body filler, only it’s a little more runny.bondo-glaze-1024x682


After that coat was applied and sanded up to 220 grit, I added another coating of the rust converter and then cleaned off the excess with the wax and grease remover.2nd-coat-1024x682


Then it was time to prime.  I used a grey colored auto primer, which you can get at any auto parts store.  The primer is where you’ll be able to see any imperfections in the body filler you might have missed otherwise.  If you don’t like your results, you can add more filler and sand, etc.  Since this is a trade in, I’m not beating myself up to get it perfect.  It just has to look rust free.  A close inspection reveals the metal is a bit lumpy looking.primer-1024x682


After it’s been primed, I switch to my finish paint color.  I bought a spray can online from a company that matches OEM car colors. You just go to their website and enter in your car’s make, model and color and you can select from a variety of different options.  I picked a regular can of spray paint, but you could get a quart and use an HVLP gun like the pros.  After the matching color, I add a couple coats of a clear gloss finish.  Still not done though. You need to wet sand whatever you painted with a 1000 and 1500 grit wet/dry sandpaper to get the clear coat smooth enough where it will feel like the rest of the car to the touch.  If you skip the wet sanding, you get rough spots that attract dirt.  I actually have one of these dirty spots from my first repair attempt last year.  I haven’t sanded this one yet either, but I’ll be taking care of that this weekend.

The finished product is okay.  It’s not great, but like I said, we’re trading it in and I knew the rust was going to be a hit on our trade in value.clear-coat-2-1024x682



Not bad for a few hours worth of work.  If you had a body shop do this kind of repair it could set you back a couple grand.  It’s nice to know it’s not that challenging.  Of course, the body shop guys are usually highly skilled and you may not get a perfect result compared to them until you really get the swing of it.  Hopefully we won’t need to do this to our next car.

Anyone else living with rust on their car?

Posted in Car Stuff,Fixes,Garage and Tools. Tagged in ,, , , , , ,

Headlight Restoration

Posted by John on September 30th, 2012

Hope everyone had an enjoyable weekend!  Lisa and I caught up with some old friends and spent a good amount of time with both of our families.  Overall a great weekend.  I was also able to squeeze a couple hours of car work to do a 3M headlight restoration kit on our Jeep.

I’ve been meaning to try this restoration process on my now 8 year old SUV for a while.  If you’re not familiar with this whole headlight improvement thing, I’ll fill you in.  Headlights tend to yellow and haze up after a few years on the road.  The haze can reduce the light output and looks pretty crappy.  To correct it you have a couple options.  You can replace the headlights, but that can be a couple hundred dollars.  The other option is a restoration kit.  The kit I used cost $30.  It basically involves using a drill with a variety of sanding pads to scour and polish the plastic headlight housing to restore it’s clarity.

I’m not going to show you the step by step process of this particular product, but here’s a great video that shows you the procedure.

Here’s how it worked for my car.

The before:

Not too bad.

Here’s what the kit looked like.

The first step is to clean the headlights with soap and water and then tape off the area around the headlight with painter’s tape.

I thought using a pneumatic sander would be a better option than a cordless or corded drill, but it didn’t work as well as I’d like, so I switched back to the cordless drill.

The after:

So, overall, I’m pretty happy with the results.  The headlights look considerably better.  They don’t look brand new, but this process was unlikely to restore them to that level anyway.  If you want headlights that look brand new, you may be better off buying new ones.  These kits also can’t cure discoloration or staining that’s inside the headlight.  To remedy those stains you may need to remove the headlight and manually wash it.

So, we’re slowing crossing off items on our car’s to-do list.  There are still a number of projects left, but we expect to be done with them by the end of October.

What needs work on your car?  Is there anything you’d like to see done?

Posted in Car Stuff,DIY Projects,Fixes,Garage and Tools. Tagged in ,,

New Brakes for my Jeep

Posted by John on September 22nd, 2012

It’s officially Fall.  Bummer.  I like Fall, but I love the Summer.  Now I have to wait 9 months for it.  Oh well.  In the meantime, we’re starting a brand new series around here.  In addition to some of the normal home themed DIY projects, we’re going to be doing some work on our Jeep Grand Cherokee.  We’re looking to get rid of it sometime this Fall by either selling it or trading it in and it could use some sprucing up.  Some of these projects are going to be fairly simple, like an oil change, that you may want to attempt yourself.  A couple of them may be a little more challenging if you’re not into car work, but it will be helpful to see what’s involved at least.

<Today’s post we’ll be starting with our front brakes.  It’s been a couple years since I’ve changed the brake pads and I thought it would be good maintenance to get out of the way before a sale.  It may be helpful to put a check in that box.  I’m not going to make this a step by step instruction.  Every car is slightly different and frankly, I’m not interested in assuming responsibility for someone attempting it improperly.  This post will serve to be more of an overview of what’s involved.

Changing Brake Pads and Rotors

To do this job properly, you’ll need a few tools.  I use an impact wrench, which is an air tool, to take the lug nuts off the wheel.  It’s considerably easier than using a regular wrench.  Plus it makes some cool noises.  Sounds like a real garage when you use one.  You’ll also need some wrenches.  Most cars have metric fittings and not the normal English.  I used a 17mm, 18mm and a 20mm.  I also needed a hammer to bang on the wrenches when I couldn’t get the bolts to budge.  You’ll also need a c-clamp to lower the brake plungers in the calipers.

I start by jacking up the car on the side I’m working.  I put a jack stand under the axle to keep it up in the air.  Once the tire is taken off, I slide that under the car too as an insurance in case the jack slips.

With the wheel off, you can see the rotor, which is the metal disc that the brake pads squeeze to stop your car (if you have disc brakes). The brake pads are held by the caliper, which is a hydraulic device that squeezes and releases when you press on the brake pedal. The caliper is held together with two bolts and it’s secured to the rest of the axle with an additional two bolts.

Here’s a top view of the caliper.

Once the caliper is removed from the axle and the rotor, the brake pads just pop off and new ones can be inserted. The old rotor is usually stuck to the axle and needs some persuasion to be removed. You can use a “puller” device or just turn it and keep hitting it from the back with a hammer. I used a hammer.

The new rotor is bright and shiny.  Nice.

The new brake pads in the caliper…

You can see what the brake pads look like, old and new…

So, the bottom line is, if you don’t mind spending a couple hours and you’re somewhat mechanically inclined, you could save yourself a couple hundred dollars.  The rotors are around $40 each and the brake pads were $50.  A garage would probable charge $300-$400.

Anyone else doing any car work?  Are you thinking about getting a new car?

Posted in Car Stuff,DIY Projects,Garage and Tools. Tagged in ,, ,

How to Replace a Side View Mirror

Posted by John on August 7th, 2012

Wait, what?  Is this a car post?  Yep.  It is.  Sorry to have to do this to you, but here’s the deal…. I have this Jeep problem.  My SUV has around 160,000 miles on it and it’s got some issues.  I’d really, really like to get a brand new car, but I really, really, REALLY hate car payments.  The plan is to do some refurbishments to this one in order to squeeze every last dime out of it.  Then I guess we’ll either trade it in, sell it, or donate it.  The other exciting thing about doing some car projects is I’m not much of a mechanic.  It’s exciting because I get to learn how to do all this car stuff and I’m going to share what I learn with you guys.  I’m a WAY better carpenter than a mechanic and that will probably be obvious.  I’m not planning on burying you with car posts, but here and there you’ll see some stuff.  I’m okay if you’re not really into it.  It’s probably somewhat useful, so maybe it’s worth keeping a couple of these posts in the back of your mind.

My first car post is going to be a how to on replacing a side view mirror.  At some point last month, Lisa borrowed my Jeep.  Totally cool with that.  I’m not possessive about it.  It came back with a loose passenger side mirror.  Not like hanging off the car loose, but loose enough that it needed to be replaced.  After googling for a while, I was able to find a fairly inexpensive replacement (~$50) from an aftermarket supplier.  If you don’t feel like dealing with aftermarket vendors, you could always call a local car dealer that sells you car make and see if they’ll sell you the part.  It’s guaranteed to be more expensive from the OEM, but it’s going to fit.  The aftermarket vendors are hit or miss.

To start this project, you need to figure out how to get the mirror off.  Some cars it’s pretty obvious and accessible.  Most cars though, require you to take the entire door panel off.  My Grand Cherokee is one of those cars.

Before I can pop the panel off, I looked for any screws that are holding the panel to the door.  I found three.  Two were phillips heads and one was a torx.  The one phillips head was in that door cup thingy.  Pretty sure it’s covered in french fry dust.

The other was under a small cap behind the mirror.

The torx was sneaky.  It was behind the door handle.

If you ever do any type of work on your car, chances are you’re going to need a torx set.  The torx has a mult-point head…

With the fasteners out, it’s time to pop the door panel off the frame.  I basically looked for a decent place to jam my fingers in between the black panel and the silver metal door, then I yanked.

Those yellow plastic clips slide into grooves in the panel and then are pushed into the door to keep them together.  If they break, they sell them everywhere… you can even buy them at Lowes and Home Depot.  At this point, you can completely take the door panel off by disconnecting a couple rods that connect the door handle to the lock mechanism or you can leave them in place.  Since I’m not messing with that stuff, I just left it hanging and moved on to the mirror.

With the door panel loose, the nuts that hold on the old mirror to the door are accessible.  I just remove them with a wrench.  Btw, almost all the nuts and bolts on a car are metric and not standard.  Good to know.  The mirror also has a little cable and a plug.  I just unplug it and the old mirror is good as gone.

The new mirror went in the same way as the old one.  Plug and play.  To get the panel back onto the car, I just lined up the yellow clips with the holes in the door frame and hit the panel with my hand.  They pop right back in.

Doesn’t seem too hard right?  Good.

Ok.  So, I promise not to turn this into a gear head car blog, but expect more of this once in a while.

Do you do any of your own car work?  Would you like to?  Is there anything you’d like to see? 

Posted in Car Stuff,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,, ,

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