Tag Archives: Cars

My Old Beater

I’m going to need a new car pretty soon. My 2006 Ford Taurus has passed the 150K mark, and survived two accidents, one that came pretty close to totaling her. But she’s been a steady commuter car for the last eight years even though now the engine roars like an approaching herd of elephants, and aesthetically the car is only a step or two above cars that are cobbled together out of different colored panels. Red Green once built a Hummer by Duct-Taping two K-Cars together. For me that might be a step up.

On the one hand I’m looking forward to a new car. We’re thinking an SUV. I like the power and maneuverability of a sedan, but an SUV will be more practical for our longterm family goals. And truthfully I’m a tall guy and it might be nice to drive not quite so close to the ground. I’m looking forward to the basic media plugins that mean I’ll finally be beyond the need to burn CD’s, and might be able to control radio stations from the steering wheel. GPS is also probably a must.

The only thing I’d wish for a new car (besides having better rear visibility than most new cars I’ve seen), is something that wasn’t so technologically complicated. As the recent Wired story shows us, we can put all sorts of fancy new features into cars, but they can also be hacked. I don’t really trust car companies to be good at software, and even with my old car there are many systems that can only be serviced at the dealer. I know it’s better for fuel efficiency and the environment to have emissions sensors, and it’s convenient to have sensors in the wheels telling you when the air pressure is too low, or when you might need an oil change. But the car is something we’ve been making for over a century, and part of me thinks that like handcrafted Amish wood furniture, the old ways are the best ways.

How about it blog-world? Got a car you’re driving that you love?


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Trube on Tech: Vrroooom!

Rather than talk about the latest Apple Watch or the new R&D facility that looks like a donut, I thought I’d talk about a more basic piece of technology we all use every day, our cars.

I had a problem with my idle air control last week. Usually my car idles at around 1000 rpm (which works out to 10 miles or less per hour) and rarely goes much above 2000 rpm even when changing gears. This time however, just turning the key shot the rpm over the 3000’s. With my foot off the gas peddle my car quickly accelerated to 30-35 miles per hour (and was continuing to speed up). Thankfully I’d just had the car in for a front brake job because it took stomping down on the brake to get her stopped. I was just down the road from my mechanic so we eased her back to the garage. Fortunately the diagnosis was pretty simple as was the repair.

I drive a 2006 Ford Taurus. On most Taurii of that vintage (the plural of Taurus not Tauruses as some people claim), the idle air control assembly looks something like this:


(Image source: http://www.2carpros.com)

That hexagonal piece with the two holes is what my mechanic took off. It had gotten gunked up with carbon and was sticking, feeding the engine more gas than I intended to give it. Once it was cleaned up and put back on, the car ran great. He didn’t even charge me and was actually kind of excited to be seeing this kind of a problem in person. On that point, I can’t blame him. We’ve all had some problem we hear of happening but never actually see in the wild until one day we do. Everybody has problems with their flywheel, or spark plug misses, or worn out brakes, but few have a car that wants to drive like a runaway horse.

I find it both encouraging and a little disconcerting that so simple a part could be responsible for such an (we’ll go with intriguing) behavior. But on the whole I’m always happy when my car has a problem I can actually understand.

See as a guy and and engineer I feel a need to be at least somewhat knowledgeable about cars. This doesn’t just come from a love of Car Talk, but also just from a desire to know how best to maintain my vehicle (which I put 20K on a year). I usually ask anyone who works on my car to show the part that’s broken and sometimes even watch them work (I have a very understanding and knowledgeable mechanic). I’m probably never going to work on cars myself besides changing a lightbulb, windshield wipers or in dire emergencies a tire. But I still like to know how things work.

As for why the problem manifested at that particular moment, we think it might have been the change in temperature between being outside in the teens and below zero cold, then sitting in a warm garage for a couple of hours. I’m just glad it happened down the road from my mechanic, and not on our trip to Indiana.

What’s your last interesting car problem?

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Writing Maintenance

As my car and my body struggled to deal with the below zero temperatures yesterday morning, I started to think about how writing is a lot like maintaining a car.

For one thing in cold weather, it’s not a good idea to let your engine sit for more than few days without being run or it’ll complain the next time you try to turn it on. Similarly, writing works best when you’re doing it often in regular sustained bursts. When you “turn the key” so to speak, on your next post or the next chapter of your novel, the words are more likely to flow naturally if it hasn’t been that long since the last time you took your writing out for a spin.

Similarly, you can get a lot of carbon build up in an engine if all you do is city driving. Sometimes you need to take a car out on the highway to get rid of that grime. With writing the equivalent of this is to practice different kinds of writing. If all I did was write blog posts, or sit sequestered in a room working on my novel, eventually my mind would start to get filled with crud. One type of writing can help free up gunk that’s built up in other types.

If it’s been a really long time since you’ve driven a car, like 18 months or more, one of the first things you need to do is put some new gas in the tank, and maybe even drain some of the old gas out. This is kind of how it feels to go back to anything you’ve written more than maybe a year or two ago, especially as you’re developing as a writer. Something that looked tight and provocative to you when you wrote it will look horrible to you a little later. Here’s the only problem, you’re not always right. Sometimes we can over tinker, change the grades of gasoline or try a bunch of additives, when really all we need is a fresh tank.

Every now and again we need to assess how things are going with our writing. Is it worth putting more money or time into this car, or should we get a new one? This doesn’t mean giving up driving, it just might mean going in a different direction. If you’ve been trying your hand at genre fiction for a long time, and it really isn’t getting you anywhere, maybe it’s time to try writing something else. Then again, maybe not. Some people get 300,000 miles or more out of their cars (personally I’d love to hit the moon with mine, but it’s a Ford so that’s unlikely).

We do regular maintenance on cars and we should do regular maintenance on writing as well. Whether it’s writing exercises, or reading good books, there are things that help us to keep running more than just the practice of writing. You wouldn’t drive a car without ever changing the oil, or the brake pads or the tires. Why would you write without reading books? Sure you don’t have time, but eventually something may happen that will cause you to need to make the time.

Lastly, it is possible for an engine to overheat, particularly if it’s been driving at 70 or above for 10 hours or so. Taking breaks is just as important, sometimes more so. We can’t operate at peak speed forever, we need to slow down. I’ve been feeling this a lot with the two week cycle of The Sky Below, and I relish the Thursday and Friday after a chapter is released where I don’t really think about it. I need the recharge before I can keep going.

Keep driving and keep writing. And pray for spring!

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Born Not To Run

I’ve been spending the week listening to old Car Talk podcasts and CD’s after hearing of the passing of Tom Magliozzi on Monday, one half of Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers. I even recorded 4 minutes of one of their calls on my dad’s voice mail this morning when I accidentally butt dialed him a little after 5:30am (sorry dad)!

MI0002400091I grew up listening to Car Talk not long after I had my own radio. What little I know about cars comes from them and a few understanding mechanics who actually show me on the car what they’re talking about. It’s because of the car guys that I know what a flywheel is, and when you should fix and when you should live with it.

This week I’ve been compiling my own personal list of favorite calls and favorite Tom moments for CD’s on my drives home, and for work. One of my favorites is a call where a woman with a bit of a rat problem discovered dog food coming out of her air vents whenever she turned on the air conditioner. Or of course the epic saga of the bet over the “Sleek Black Beauty” Tom’s ’65 Ambassador that Raymond had crushed.

But probably my favorites are the one’s where Tom reads something strange or unusual and can’t even get halfway through it because it cracks him up so much. From “Foreign Accent Syndrome” to “Clinton Sends Vowels to Bosnia” it’s less the material, and more Tom’s gleeful reading of it that gets me laughing along with him.

The brothers frequently poked fun at each other and the callers but never in a mean spirited way. Even one of the more infamous incidents in which Tom calls Ray up as the french accented concierge from the hotel in Canada in which they were staying to inform Ray that his car has been destroyed in a fire, ends in Tom laughing after pulling Ray’s chain for a couple of minutes.

These were smart guys, funny guys, and caring guys. What’s striking me about listening to old shows is how much they genuinely want people to be safe, not to talk on the cell phone when driving, not to drive motor scooters ever (even if you’re the girl who’s been writing the show since she was 14 saying she hates the show, and her dog hates it more). When something’s not a big deal, they have a good laugh, but when it’s safety related they made it clear that the caller should really get it looked at. And when they new a transmission rebuild was in a caller’s future, they always recommended fire as a good option.

I’m glad I have 25 years of archives to hear the both of them, but it is the end of an era. Car Talk is probably the reason I started listening to anything else on NPR. It’s one of the reasons driving a car started to be fun for me (as I was not the most eager of teenage drivers at first). And it’s an example of how to enjoy the most out of life, and how to be funny without hurting others or being crass.

Bye Tom, and hope your Sleek Black Beauty was waiting for you up in heaven.

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