Archive for the ‘Cars, Fuel, and Money’ category


November 15, 2009

I recently purchased replacement transaxles from an on-line vendor of car parts. Imagine my surprise when he e-mails me asking if I was satisfied with the product.

My first thought was ‘ how nice, thank you for asking’.

Then as I looked over the form provided I found several ‘REQURED’ entry slots and emphasis not to use my real name. Too late. They already have my e-mail address and my IP so any reply was not going to be anonymous anyway. Why would they imply it might be?

I came away convinced that this was some sort of new scam fishing for information they were not entitled to and wasting my time. I pulled the plug and set up to block any future crapola.


Camry Transaxle Repair

November 6, 2009

This was more of a replacement than repair of a 1995 LE.

Parts were obtained on-line from a wholesale parts vendor.

The drivers side was done first.

Remove the axle nut that holds the wheel hub to the wheel side of the old transaxle. This nut is visible after the hub cap is removed. This nut has a skirt and a cotterpin through the axle shaft. Remove the cotter pin and skirt.

I used a 30mm impact socket I had purchased at a NAPA store some years ago. This half inch drive socket was used with a half inch drive breaker bar to remove the nut. The nut and axle was treated with WD-40 and penetrating oil the day before attempting to remove the nut. After standing on the end of the breaker bar handle, using the car fender for ballance, and jumping up and down on the handle a dozen times, the nut finally came loose.

The passenger side was just even more difficult. It took a 10 foot section of pipe acting as a cheater bar on the breaker bar to loosen the nut.

If you decide to do this job youself, attempt to remove the axel nuts before you order parts. If you can’t get the axle nuts off, you will need to have the work done at an automotive shop.

CAUTION: Do not attempt to remove the axle nuts if the wheel has been removed. Trying to do that will severely damage the transmission. You need the friction of the tire against pavement and the weight of the car on the tire to act against the pull of the wrench.

Yes, you can save about $250 per axle if you do it yourself but that assumes you can complete the job. Parts cost about $170 for both driver and passenger side axles. Replacement of both sides at an automotive shop will run around $500. If you buy the parts and then find you can’t do the work, it may cost you $670.

Jack up the car as though changing the front tire. Raise it up a little higher than normal so you can put a jack stand under the car at the point where you used the jack. Take the stress off the lifting jack but leave it in place.

Next you have to remove the wheel. Place the wheel under the front end of the car so that if it should slip off jack stand and jack, the tire will cushion its fall.

You might get by with leaving the disk brake caliper in place but to be on the safe side I removed it. It is held on by two bolts. Use wire to support the caliper out of the way. Don’t stress the hydraulic hose and don’t disconnect the hydraulic hose.

This would be an excellent time to replace disk brake pads.

Remove the two nuts and bolt holding the lower ball joint bracket to the frame support. Use a jack to raise the wheel bearing hub against the strut so you can let the ball joint bracket studs clear their mounting holes. Then swing the wheel hub assembly out and away from the ball bearing frame support.

The axle shaft is splined and fits into splines in the wheel hub assembly. These parts may be stuck due to rust or corrosioin. Re-install the wheel nut backwards on the shaft and try to disloge the shaft with a mallet. The nut protects the shaft. The shafts might be rebuildable. The nut is not reusable. If this does not work, you will need to use a wheel puller to remove the shaft from the hub.

If you have not yet done so, drain the transmission of oil. If the car is old enough to do this repair, it is also old enough to have a transmission fluid change. Dexron-II Otherwise you may have the fluid leak out when you pull the axles.

Remember we are working on the driver side of the car for now. On this side the transaxle shaft is held into the tranmission with a C-ring mounted into a groove in the transmission end of the shaft assembly. Removal is done by leveraging the shaft hub against the transmission case with a screwdriver or crowbar and giving it a yank.

It did not come out, did it? There is not enough room to work under the car and there is not enough area on the axle hub to get a good hold. Besides, you don’t want to bring the car down on your head.

I ended up buying a 5 lb slide hammer to help the situation. Turns out it was close to worthless in the removal but made installation easy.

I ended up making a tool out of angle iron. I used a grinder to profile the angle iron to fit the curvature of the axle hub. The axle hub has grooves that act as stops for a clamp made from the angle iron. I used all thread stock and appropriate nuts to fit the all thread to make fasteners for each side of the angle iron clamps so that I could securely clamp the tool around the hub. Then I used a crowbar brought in from the front of the car, placed it between the transmission case housing and the angle iron tool and removed the axle with one snap. When you have two solid surfaces to brace against, you don’t need much room to accomplish this task.

Getting the new axle installed was just as much fun. Supposedly you can just slam the transmission end of the axle home and it will seat. My axle just kept bouncing back out of the mounting.

I finally ended up using my homemade clamping tool again. I cut a groove into the end of a one inch pipe. This grooved end was fitted into the center of the angle iron tool. The 5 lb slide hammer was placed at the far end of the pipe. Several good smacks later and the shaft had seated. I am pretty sure it was seated because I could not pull it out.

Now you thread the wheel end of the shaft through the wheel hub and manhandle the assembly back into place so you can re-install the bolt and nuts holding the lower ball joint.

Almost done now with this side. Reinstall the brake caliper and wheel. Torque the nut to spec. Install the nut retainer and cotter pin. Go do the passenger side.

The wheel end of the passenger side axle is the same as the driver side. The transmission side is completely different. This side uses an intermediate bearing, bolt and retaining ring to keep the shaft in place at the transmission. This bearing may freeze into its housing, complicating service. The bracket holding this bearing may need to be removed if this should happen. Not sure how complicated bracket removal might be. It looks like the same bracket holds the engine to the frame.

In my case the bearing came out easily after the retaining ring was removed. My car used a retaining ring that was formed from a section of square wire. It had one inch ears at its ends. It was very easy to compress the ring by using pliers to squeese the ears together and allow the ring to dislodge.

The replacement shaft was equipped with a standard C-clip that had been pressed out of sheet steel. These conventional clips have ears that have holes to accomodate C-ring pliers. That works great in cases where you can get c-ring pliers to compress and hold the ring for removal and installation. This is NOT one of those situations. There is not enough room between the bearing housing and the CV bearing case to use snap-ring pliers.

I discarded the newly provided snap-ring and reused the old snap-ring.

Installation is a matter of inserting the shaft into the transmission, seating the intermediate bearing, and installing the retaining ring. The bearing housing also has a screw extending below it. This screw should be torqued to 24 foot-lbs but it is not sufficient to retain the shaft. Without the retaining ring, the shaft will pull out of the transmission.

The easiest way to install the retaining ring is to compress the ears with locking pliers. Grasp the very ends of the ears and compress them until they are closed tightly against eachother. This is with the ring in place around the shaft. Now carefully pass the transmission end of the shaft through the bearing mount and into the transmission. Push the shaft in firmly, rotate back and forth to make sure it is seated and engaged. Now very carefully move the compressed ring with the locking pliers in place to the milled out area on the upper left side of the bearing mount. Ensure that ring is flush against the bearing all the way around and release the locking pliers to let the ring expand and seat in the groove provided in the mount.

Reinstall the lower ball joint mount. It is not as easy as it sounds, is it? Before you put the ball joint mount back you have to thread the wheel side of the axle through the axle hub. Depending on how much ‘bounce’ is left in your strut this can be a little tricky. You need to jack up the bottom of the ball joint and when you try that the ball joint/wheel hub/strut assembly will have a tendancy to move away from its destination.

I finally had to use my trusty come-a-long. One end fixed to the car frame on the drivers side and the other end hooked to the brake caliper mounting hole. Now the ball joint mount could be jacked without risking damage to the drive shaft.

I did not have as much trouble with the drivers side axle replacement. Perhaps the strut on that side was weaker.

Once the ball joint mount was installed the brake caliper needed to be reinstalled. Turns out the brake shoe was worn down to the point where it would not seat properly in the caliper. New shoes were bought and installed on both sides. If you have more than 10k miles on your brake shoes, plan on replacing them as a matter of fact.

Everything was put back together, fluid levels topped off, and the car test driven. The only problem was a leak at the drivers side transaxle where the axle enters the transmission. I suspect that I need to remove the drivers side axle again, pull the old seal, install a new seal, and reinstall the axle with a new retainer ring.

That probably will not happen this week or even next week.

So, moral of this mess is that if you decide to replace the transaxles, plan on doing the brakes, and replacing the transaxle seals at the same time. Might as well throw in an oil change too. You are going to get dirty rolling around on the concrete beneath the car, might as well get as much use out of the inconvenience as possible.

So, did we save $250 per axle? Perhaps only half that since we still have to fix the oil leak on the drivers side but we also saved $70 bucks on a brake job (front discs only) and $20 bucks on an oil change.

Hint: Don’t go to a car parts place to buy oil, go to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has decent prices on gasoline too.


October 26, 2009

We used to joke that GM stood for generous motors. Today it is no joke that GM stands for government motors. It was too big to fail but the general succumbed anyway.

We hear lots of ads about GM. Chevrolet, for instance, is very proud of their new Impala. They say it looks a lot like a Camry. We currently own a 1995 Camry with nearly 200k miles on it. An LE, four cylinder yet plenty of power. It sips gas at a rate of 32 miles per gallon. Probably closer to 29 in town. We bought it used for $10k when it was two years old. It has gone through two brake jobs, one power steering rebuild, one timing belt replacement, and two CV joint jobs. Total maintenance cost over 14 years comes to $4k. Currently it needs another CV join job, new brake shoes, timing belt replacement, new struts and shocks, and a minor oil leak fixed.

It still runs fairly well. Comfortably seats four adults even on long trips. Plenty of truck space. Can easily accommodate car seats for kids and the original air conditioning (which has never been serviced) can still put frost on a pumpkin.

Should we consider a replacement we would first look at a new Camry LE.

We did and it comes in at just under $20k.

That is a little more than we would want to pay so maybe we should consider a lease instead? But first lets look at the impala.

We did and we are still trying to recover from sticker shock. The 2010 impala comes in three flavors, expensive, more expensive, and rediculous. It starts at $24k and goes to $30k. link

It does not look so much like a Camry now, does it? ( I can use that $10k difference to more than pay for my medical insurance. We prefer medical insurance over so-called health care insurance because we care for our own health.)

Not sure about the impala’s reliability or resale value, but I am inclined to believe it cannot be better (or even equal) to the Camry. Sort of like its gas mileage record. Chevy claims high teens city and high twenties highway for the impala. I find it hard to believe that there could be almost 10 miles per gallon difference between highway and city mileage. I also found it interesting that the more expensive model of Impala gets the worst gas mileage. (I guess they figure if you can waste your money like that, you won’t mind wasting it on gasoline either.) My Camry gets an average of 30 mpg, city and highway combined.

I can still get $5k for my current Camry even after 14 years. Even though the Camry has not been a model performer when it comes to maintenance, considering the use it gets a $4k cost for maintenance over a 14 year period is entirely acceptable. Future maintenance will be of the do-it-yourself kind since I can now get quality parts at discount prices delivered to my front door. link

For instance, replacing both front axles and CV joints now costs $180 instead of $500. (Of course it is going take me the better part of a day to do both axles but it is worth $320 to me). Yes, I have the tools and I know what a bolt looks like.

Since I consider the impala seriously overpriced, there is no point in investigating its possible purchase any further. Why even the new, basic, Volvo station wagon is only $22k! If I lost my mind, had my brain fall out, or became a Liveral, I would still opt for a mini-cooper convertible over an impala!

Sorry, GM. You need to take a second look at your pricing structure.

It used to be said that as GM goes, so goes the nation. I wonder if maybe the reverse is true. The national economy certainly looks like it is on a slide to hell. Apparently it is going to be taking GM with it.

Too big to fail? No, the truth is that the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Automobile, tires, pressure, and maintenance

February 21, 2009

Our old Camrey was purchased used some time ago. It was equipped with a matched set of goodyear radials. They wore well and when they were close to worn out we decided to replace them with the same brand and type of tire. We went to the goodyear store in Plano and bought two radials at $100 each installed. That was all we could afford at the time. The other two tires were not as badly worn and could wait.

About two months later one of the new tires went flat due to a nail puncture. We had it repaired. The repair shop installed a plug in the hole. Two months later that tire flew apart at highway speeds. We took it back to the goodyear place expecting some sort of adjustment since it had less than 5,000 miles on it. They claimed it failed because of the plug and refused to credit us for premature failure. We foolishly bought another tire from them.

Two months later another of the new goodyear tires flew apart at highway speeds. We saved the tire for nearly a year thinking to confront the goodyear people with it but never did.

Life is just too short to waste time arguing with an uncooperative vendor who seems to be selling defective tires. Maybe they were seconds or blems. Perhaps goodyear was just having a bad year, but at $100 bucks a tire I had reason to expect better performance. We never did go back there and would not buy anything made by goodyear ever again.

We ended up replacing the defective goodyear tire with a michelin bought at the local discount tire place. We expected to replace the rest of the tires with michelin as well depending on how well the michelin performed. The michelin never blew up but require weekly attention to air pressure. It had a slow leak. We never did go back to get the other three tires replaced with michelins. I guess the prospect of ending up with four leaky michelins just did not appeal to me.

Some would say we should have gone back to have the leaky tire taken care of. Maybe so, but I find it nearly impossible to allow a place that caused a problem the opportunity to fix the problem. It usually takes more skill to fix a problem than it takes to do the job right in the first place. Vendors who botch a job demonstrate a lack of skill or ability that makes them ineligible to correct the misdeed. A botched job makes the customer loose faith in the vendor to the point that he no longer trusts them to do the right thing. Most reasonable people would not willingly go back to get screwed a second time.

So we did not go back. At least not until we felt we needed to have our tires balanced. That cost us two hours and $30 at the friendly discount tire place. It should have taken 30 minutes and would have if the sales guy had done what I wanted done instead of tying to sell me a set of overpriced tires I did not need. I guess the last straw was the mail-in rebate. Won’t be going back there ever again. That balance job lasted about three months.

We finally got to the point where we needed four new tires before we could risk taking a trip longer than 20 miles. We had a mismatched set of nearly bald tires that needed constant monitoring of pressure to ensure they were not going flat. The only really good tire was the michelin and it was showing signs of uneven wear and had trouble staying inflated.

On our next trip to Sam’s we decided to try their tire service while we shopped. We bought two dunlop tires, had them installed and the car was ready to go when we checked out after shopping. A month later we got another two dunlop tires at Sam’s the same way. The tires cost $50 each with installation and have been in use for over six months now.

Yesterday I checked tire pressure all around in preparation for a trip. All tires were at exactly 30lbs where they had been the last time I checked them almost four weeks ago. I think we have finally found a vendor who puts quality and service above B.S.

The money we saved by buying the tires at Sam’s more than pays for the Sam’s membership and Sam’s has the best prices in town for everything from gasoline to hot dogs. You can also get your tires balanced for only $15. Free balancing if you buy your tires there.

Sam's Club is the Best

May 24, 2008

The old Camry has been in need of a pair of new front tires for a while now. We finally decided to take care of that this Saturday. I was not looking forward to this. The last time I bought tires at Sam’s they must have been seconds or perhaps thirds (if there is such a thing). The guy doing the balancing had to install so many weights he could not get the hub caps back on. Don’t remember exactly how that one was resolved. That was over 15 years ago. Yup, this was the first time in a decade and a half that I decided to give the Sam’s place a second try.

Left the house at about 12:30, just after noon. Got back to the house at 1:30 with new tires and a trunk load of groceries.

They didn’t have michelins. No big deal michelins wear out too. One of the bad tires on the front was a michelin. They offered me Dunlap 195/70/14’s at $52 each. I figured the Dunlap tires were just as perfectly round as the Michelins so we arranged to have two of them installed while we did some grocery shopping.

Twenty minutes later we were pushing our cart back into the parking lot where we expected to find our car. No problem. Found the car and it had new tires on the front wheels. Got the keys and paperwork from the service desk, loaded the groceries and were on our way home.

Pushed the envelope a little to test the new ride. Not a hint of shimmy. Car is all better now and ready for the next trip.

What impressed me was that the folk at Sam’s did not hassle us about rebates, road hazzard insurance, and other scams practiced by some of the tire sales monkeys out there. No B.S. just fair prices, good work, and fast service.

A stark contrast to our experience at Discount Tire Place the last place that balanced my tires. They wasted my time coming up with an estimate of $550 to replace all four tires when all I needed was a wheel balancing. That $550 was after a $30 trade-in allowance on the tires that did not need to be replaced, a $50 mail-in rebate that I was pretty sure would not materialize, and addition of a heafty additional insurance fee.

We won’t be going back to Discount any time soon. Not when we can get decent deals at Sam’s.


June 6, 2007

I believe that is what they are called now. Some time ago I remember them as the Morris Minor. It is a small, cute, automobile made in the UK. Even though it is small, it has a substantial look to it. A well rounded body that makes it look like a tough little car. The selling price on it is tough too. Comes in at $20k and higher.

I have always admired it but never seriously considered owning one. Now that I see it has a luxury car price, I will probably never own one. Just would not be prudent.

Still I have always considered it to be an economy car due to its size. I was just certain that it got at least 50 miles to a gallon of gas. Yesterday I discovered that it only claims 40 miles to a gallon!

I know that 40 miles per gallon is a lot better than 15 but when you realize that the mini is less than half the size of most sedans, you got to ask why it can’t get at least 50 miles per gallon.

I have owned and driven a four cylinder Camry since 1996. It is a full sized, four door sedan, with better than average performance. My Camry gets 32 miles per gallon! I find it hard to imagine a car half the size of my Camry only gets me 8 more miles to the gallon. That is just not worth a switch.

This got me interested in some of the hybrids that are being offered by a variety of manufacturers. I discovered prices ranging from mid 20’s to mid 30’s and gas mileage claims around 40 miles per gallon! For a Hybrid!!??? No wonder they are not selling like hot cakes!!!

Unless I am sadly mistaken, I recall that in 1980 a rabbit diesel with a four cylinder engine got around 50 miles per gallon of fuel. Twenty seven years later, after much research and development, the automobile industry offers us a vehicle that costs four times as much and only gets 80percent as much fuel efficiency. And we wonder why areas of the automobile industry are having financial problems. One step forward and two steps back is not going to work.

When you consider the maintenance on the electrical part of the prime mover, the replacement of batteries at significant cost every two years or so, then add that to the depreciation and the initial price, you suddenly discover that hybrids are a bust.

The way I see it, a hybrid could easily cost twice as much to own as a normal automobile. It would have to get at least 60 miles to the gallon to justify such an cost and it would have to last for more than ten years and gasoline would have to get to 5 dollars a gallon. I am pretty sure none of that is ever going to happen. Except maybe gas going to 5 dollars a gallon (with 3 dollars of that being tax.)

Ten years from now we are going to look back on today and realize what joke hybrids were.

Insurance as an Investment

September 22, 2006

Somewhere in these posts is a blurb cautioning the reader not to confuse a bad sales pitch for good advice. The guy selling insurance as an investment is the epitome of a bad sales pitch. This guy is news as bad as it is ever going to get.

The pitch usually goes like this….whole life, it costs a little more but it does so much more. It is an investment in your future. A secure way to build the nest egg your heirs will appreciate and the means to retire in comfort while protecting you against the financial burdens associated with an untimely death.

Whole life insurance costs more because it is overpriced for the protection it provides. You can get the same ‘protection’ from term at fraction of the price. Some of the overage you pay for whole life is put into a savings plan earning 1 to 2 percent simple interest. This becomes that wonderful cash value they talk about.

You can borrow against the cash value in your policy. Indeed! They will let you borrow money that is yours and only charge you 8 percent interest. What a deal! Indeed, it is a good deal but only for the insurance company. They will not let you borrow any more than is covered by your ‘cash value’. That way there is no risk to them. If you default, they simply take your cash value to cover the loan repayment with interest.

Of course all of these ‘features’ are presented in the most positive of ways making you believe that you would be a fool not to give them your money and borrow it back at high interest.

Investing in insurance with profit in mind is like entering a donkey in the Kentucky Derby hoping to win big. You would be better off racing against the horses yourself.