Friday, 8 February 2013

An Enjoyable Way To Recuperate...

Occasionally, since starting this blog, I have allowed my love for cars to creep into its posts. I don't think that is a bad thing as I don't remember meeting too many woodworkers that aren't into cars to some degree. Two that quickly come to mind are Chris Schwarz, with his restored Karmann Ghia and Jim Bode, who once was a car dealership manager. I guess it makes sense as fitting wood and messing with tools is in the same area as fitting metal and messing with engines.

I used to change cars as often as I changed my socks. As a kid, I would buy an old junker for $25, mess with it enough to make it unique and at least run reasonably, then sell it for anywhere from $100 to $200, making a small profit on most. Where I used to loose money on the deal was when I decided to swap engines, dumping the old flathead 8s (most were old Fords) for more current power plants. I didn't do this often, but when I did, I usually went overboard, which never surprised anyone. I must add here that there is no better feeling of accomplishment and power than dumping the clutch and feeling the front end of the car lift two feet into the air.

As I grew older, my income grew enough that I could finally afford to really mess with cars. The problem I had was that, to maintain that income, I didn't have the time to do a build. During this period of my life I got in the habit of changing cars every four years, instead of every four months.

When I closed my business and turned to teaching, I had the time but not the inclination to build a car. Getting my hands all grimy and burning my butt with a torch all the time no longer appealed to me, so I took another route that allowed me to still call myself a "car-guy". I started buying a car and keeping it, doing most of the maintenance myself. I kept my last car 11-years and put 350,000-km on it, or 218,000-miles. That doesn't sound impressive until you realize that I am talking about a 1995 Ford Taurus Wagon that never had a head off of it or any work done to the tranny. It probably ran better the day I sold it than it did the day I bought it.

I replaced it with a 2007 Ford Fusion, which, due to its size, my wife likes much more than the Taurus, although I miss the extra cargo area of a wagon. Given my wife is the driver in the family, it is important that she be happy with it. While on the road I'm just the navigator, but when it is sitting in the driveway, I'm the primary maintenance man, and that is the part I truly love in this arrangement. The Fusion is 6-years old now and has 130,000-km, or 81,000-miles, but with luck and a bit of elbow grease, it might surpass the life of the Taurus.

While I mainly maintain the car for my own enjoyment, the reality is, we save a fortune each year by doing so. A car takes its biggest hit with depreciation in the first four years of its life. We bought the Fusion for $32,000 and after 4-years, it was worth, retail, about $11,000. Three years later, it is down to $7,000, so you can see how much the depreciation factor is slowing. In another couple of years it will be worth $3,000, and that is where it will sit for the next four or five years. At this point in this Fusion's life, depreciation is no longer a factor in the cost of owning it. Now, the only number that counts is how much is spent on maintenance and repairs.

I believe the better a car is maintained, the less it will need in repairs, and it is the repairs that cost the money. Maintenance needs to be consistent and properly scheduled. The Fusion, like the Taurus, receives a going-over four times a year. The oil and filter is changed, using synthetic for its higher lubricating properties and its longer life. The air cleaner is changed, belt inspected, all levels checked and topped up, and the tires rotated. Once a year the radiator is flushed and refilled with new anti-freeze, the brake pads are replaced, every system is inspected, adjusted or replaced as required, and the  engine and transmission are shampooed, as a clean engine runs cooler. Every 3-years, the transmission is flushed, the gasket replaced and new fluid added (this is why the Taurus transmission lasted, unlike every other Taurus on the road), as well as replacing the fuel pump filter.

While this isn't a complete list, you get the drift. I keep the car on a consistent maintenance regiment, changing out parts before they fail so the drivetrain components and the parts they mate to are protected.

One of the things I do when I replace parts is look to the aftermarket for a better product. Because the brake pads got changed every year since the car was new, the brake rotors never needed turning as they didn't get heavily scored. While changing out the pads this often costs me more, for me, it was worth it to avoid turning the rotors as I believe once turned, they are not as effective. Now, going on 8-years of use, it is time to change those rotors out.

I don't understand why anyone would play loose and fast with their brakes. When my son came to me to ask me to help him hop-up his Scion, he asked me what was the first thing I thought we should do to it. I told him that the brakes are first, and after he could stop, then he should look at going faster. He changed his brakes out with drilled and slotted rotors with ceramic pads and then we added a supercharger, custom exhaust and other modifications. He took the car from 160hp to about 250hp, and while it will go like scat and corner like it is on rails, it has a shorter stopping distance than it had when it left the factory, and to me, that is more important than any improvements in its numbers on the track.

Searching the aftermarket, I came up with a company just outside of Toronto that produces and sells drilled and slotted rotors, as well as ceramic pads for the Fusion. I ordered a complete set, which were delivered last week. The cost of these aftermarket rotors are not much more than Ford replacement parts, but this aftermarket set-up fades less, runs cooler and as a result, stops the car in a considerably shorter distance. This last point makes any extra work and costs well worth it as my wife drives this car, not me, and if I can give her an edge to keep her safe, I'm going to do it.

Replacing the stock brake set-up with this aftermarket one is for my wife's benefit, but making them pretty is strictly for me, so before they go on, I want to paint out the areas where the pads don't touch, but the rust can grow. Obviously, I really don't need to do this, but it is just one of those little touches that makes my older car look better than it did when it was new.

Once the weather breaks, I'll change out the rotors and pads, painting the callipers with the same heat-resistant brake paint I used on the rotors. At that same time I'll swap out the summer wheels and tires for the winter ones that are on it now.

The one on the right is an untouched front rotor. The one in the
middle is a rear rotor taped for painting, while the one on
the left is a finished rear rotor, ready to install.
Given I am supposed to be taking it easy, recuperating from the instillation of a pacemaker, I can't think of a more enjoyable way to spend an hour or so a day then messing about with some car parts.




  1. I completely agree with you, Mitchell. As long as a car is maintained properly, it should run well and wouldn’t need many repairs. Maintenance may seem costly, especially considering how it should be routine. But having to go a number of days without a car because it had to be taken in for repairs and having to pay for said troubles will undoubtedly cost more.