Tag Archive for 'car'

MP3’s on a stock car stereo. What are the options?

I have been pretty much in sync with the time as far as personal technology goes, so I think. I use CFL powered lights throughout the house, I abandoned paper news a while ago, I use smart-phone to keep me online on the go, and my music is all in MP3’s for a few years at least.

There is one big thing though that is terribly out of date. It is my car. There are a couple reasons really. It doesn’t break and I can’t convince myself to replace a perfectly working car. Any after market work usually requires special instruments and expertise and costs a lot, and as many of you know I am “cheap”. ;-)

So my Honda Accord ‘98 still has a cassette player instead of a CD, a rare thing these days. In my quest to turn it into a more comfortable place I have retrofitted it with a Blutooth enabled speaker (purchased at Sharper Image for all the Discover cash back I received) and a portable MP3 player which I connected to the car speakers via a cassette tape adapter.

Last week the cassette player died and I had to look for alternatives. The first thought that came in my mind was to buy one of those cheap FM modulators but I recalled that I already tried them twice and the sound quality in both cases was just terrible.

My second option was to install a more expensive FM modulator unit that connects directly to the car stereo antenna and has a manual switch to bypass the signal when not in use. I didn’t like the idea of having to switch off the thing every time I don’t want to use it. Besides, I would have to take off the stereo to install it which by itself is not a simple thing to do.

I then figured that since I have gone as far as consider removing my old stereo from the dashboard, maybe I should look into possibility of replacing it with something more up to date? I went to look at car stereo vendors. The thing I was looking for the first was support. Eventually I settled on Crutchfield and am I happy I did.

With all car stereos priced $129.99 an up Crutchfield will ship a vehicle specific receiver chassis, wiring, and instructions, everything free of charge. The thing that helped me the most was the helpline that is open every day till midnight (eastern time). I got to use it twice!

As it turned out installing a new car stereo is not a nightmare I feared it would be. My friend convinced me to pay $30 extra and buy a receiver with built in Blutooth and I am happy I did. I no longer need my old Blutooth speaker which I had a problem with since I was always forgetting to turn it off after leaving my car in the garage (my cell phone would then stop ringing when I am in the house). Another nice surprise is that the Blutooth will now stop the music or radio when I receive a call!

As I previously stated the folks at the support hotline were very helpful which really put me at ease with all the questions I had - and I had a lot. This was my first ever work on a car stereo. If you plan to do it yourself, buy from a vendor with a name in car electronics, unless of course you have somebody who has done it before and can offer you help.

A couple handy tips. Be careful with the screws to make sure you don’t drop them inside the dashboard. Use a magnet to keep them at the tip of the screwdriver. Another thing, you will need to connect wires. I had a soldering iron at home but you could also use a crimp tool and caps.

What was the most challenging work you have done on your car? Please share your story in the comments!

Photo credit to garrettmurray at Flickr

Pushing 150,000 miles on my Accord

The car I use for my daily commute is nothing like the shiny new crossover SUI we have for the family trips. It is a 10 year old 6 cylinder Honda Accord ‘98 with nearly 150,000 miles on it.

The Accord is nothing unique and hardly individual but its dependability is why I bought it and overall I am quite happy. This however is very subjective and I figured I will ask your judgment. I will list all the repairs I had over the 6 years I have owned the car and will ask your opinion - did I get a good deal when I paid 15K for it in 2001?

  • Today, had PO401 check engine code and got diagnosed clogged EGR intake ports. The diagnosis and repairs will cost $353.35 plus tax at the local FireStone.
  • Replaced all break pads and one set of rotors at 125K miles - $398.20 plus tax at Midas
  • Replaced alternator at 110K miles - $432.25 plus tax at local Honda dealership
  • Replaced canister vent shut valve after an OBD code came out at 100K miles - $220 plus tax at the Honda dealership
  • Changed tires at 100K miles - $318 plus tax at Discount Tire
  • Replaced water pump and timing belt at 95K miles which wasn’t cheap either but all the ‘experts’ don’t recommend skimping on this
  • Replaced all break pads and rotors at 80K - $558.22 plus tax at Midas
  • Replaced complete drivers seat after the base got loose at 54K miles - free (due to recall) at the Honda dealership
  • Regular oil changes every 5K miles and tire rotations every other oil change (every 10K miles) plus changed the transmission oil a couple times.

I was a bit upset by todays expenses but after a bit of research found out that EGR valve is a usual problem with this year model and would be a warranty repair if I had it before 80K miles. A much greater concern is the transmission problems which other owners have reported. So far, no problems yet but I hear this can end up being a $3000 expense.

Also, since almost all my miles are on the highway with very few street lights, I am getting around 25 miles per gallon consistently. This is acceptable mileage at the current gas price but when the plug-in hybrids go mainstream I may well trade my Accord for one

How much does the peace of mind cost?

mazda-mpv.jpgHow far will you go for your safety when choosing your new car? Just several years ago I would not have given it much thought.

My first car was Toyota Corolla which I drove for 5 years before trading in for a bigger Accord. There were two reasons really. One - I am tall and there is simply not enough leg room in small Corolla. Second, and it took me a while to admit this to myself, I felt pretty scary each time standing on a highway in the left turn pocket and feeling how passing by cars shake my Corolla as if it was a small boat in the middle of a storm.

We bought our second family car in 2003 and it was a Mazda minivan. This was also mostly a financial decision - Mazda is smaller than the competitors and has slightly better fuel economy. That minivan was declared a total loss by my auto-insurance earlier this month after my wife got into a multiple car accident involving a drunk driver. You can see the van (or what is left of it) on the photo above which I took right after the accident.

Overall in the past two years we have been in a few accidents, every single time reevaluating our life priorities. All the accidents were due to the other driver fault and we consider our driving habits pretty safe. The only variable we can really control is the kind of the car we drive. So one of our priorities became an intention to drive safer cars than what we currently have.

Being a bargain hunter and an overall proponent of everything ‘green’ I did a seemingly irrational thing last Saturday. I bought an SUV as a replacement to our family van. Of course this is not just an SUV. I have done everything I could to make it a bargain among SUV’s. It is a base model cross-over SUV (no bells and whistles to pay for) but it does have All Wheel Drive (safer winter driving) and has good safety ratings. It is one year old and I did haggle like a crazy. For the curious types, it is 2008 Mazda CX-9 and we paid 22.5K.

Now, tell me please. Am I overreacting? Is the peace of mind (even if imaginary for the most part) worth the money I have paid and will be paying for the extra gas to feed this monster? What would you do if you were in my shoes?

GM to offer 6 year no interest financing

GM hummerIf you have looked at the GM stock lately then you will not be surprised why the company is announcing this new marketing campaign. Declining truck sales have been hurting GM badly and this is their latest attempt to lure customers into clearing some of the truck inventory before the company closes down those money losing plants for good.

Below are some details on the promotion which starts tomorrow, but don’t expect to find me at the GM dealership because I plan to squeeze at least another 100K from my Honda.

The carmaker will offer 0% financing for loans as long as six years on most of its 2008 models. Vehicles included in the program range from large SUVs such as the Chevrolet Suburban to small two-seat sports cars like the Pontiac Solstice.

The promotional program - which will only be available from Tuesday through next Monday, June 30 - will be called the “72-hour sale,” the company said.

“We’re really trying to spark the market here at the end of the quarter,” LaNeve said.

Regardless of what my plans are, this could be a good deal if you are looking for a long financing on a new car. The trick might be however is less freedom negotiating the price, I would expect a lot of pressure from the “hungry” sales clerks during the promotion. So do your homework as usual, plan ahead and come prepared.

Source: GM offers 6-year, no interest loans (from CNN Money)

How do I save on gas. My money saving tips

gas-money.jpgI have speculated if I should write this post for a very long time. There is just so much already written on the subject and it is very hard to add anything new. Nevertheless I decided to do so. Partially because I wanted to have a list of tips that I myself would follow, so to say a TODO list. I intend to update it as I discover more tips over time.

There are several variables you can play with when trying to save on gas. These are your car, the gas you put in, the money you spend, and the trips you make. In addition to listing tips that affect each of these variables, I will also try to measure how effective each technique is based on A to D scale (with A being most effective) and how much effort it requires (with A meaning little effort). Some will say “this very subjective”. Hey, this is my blog! You are free to copy this list and put your own scores. ;-)

Your car

  • Buy an efficient car or a scooter - it is hard to justify selling a car that served you well for many years. Here are some numbers from ConsumerReports that will help you make that decision. Here are my own calculations related to plug-in hybrid. (Effectiveness: B, Effort: C)
  • Carpool or use public transportation - do a research if carpooling or public transportation is an option for you. (Effectiveness: B, Effort: D)
  • Take care of your car - periodically check tire pressure, regularly change oil and the air filter. (Effectiveness: C, Effort: B)
  • Clean your trunk - any extra stuff you carry in your car equals to burned fuel. Remove anything that you don’t need on a daily basis. (Effectiveness: D, Effort: A)
  • Bicycle to work - explore the option of bicycling to work, consider an electric bike if the distance seems unmanageable. (Effectiveness: A, Effort: D)

Your trip

  • Change your driving habits - there are a few simple things that you could follow to drastically reduce your gas consumption. Slow down on highway, keep the distance, don’t accelerate fast, don’t use AC whenever it is cool outside, avoid idling. (Effectiveness: C, Effort: B)
  • Park in the first spot you find - don’t spend precious time and money circling around the parking lot looking for that closest spot to the door. (Effectiveness: D, Effort: A)
  • Move closer to work - this might be barely an options for many, especially considering the slump our housing is in. (Effectiveness: B, Effort: D)
  • Work from home - negotiate with your boss a day when you can work from home. I did exactly this last month and now enjoy the savings. Not only you save on gas, you also save the time on commute. (Effectiveness: B, Effort: B to C)
  • Drive less, walk more - Combine trips or eliminate them entirely (e.g. eat in instead of out). Use this tool to check where to you can get on foot in your neighborhood. (Effectiveness: C, Effort: C)

Your gas

  • Buy the lowest octane gasoline your car will take - check your owner’s manual to see what is good for your car. Using a higher octane may add performance but will wear your engine faster and will cost your in more expensive gas. (Effectiveness: C, Effort: A)
  • Fill up in the morning - gas has slightly lower temperature and higher density in morning hours. This means you get more gas for your buck. (Effectiveness: D, Effort: B)
  • Fill up ahead of holidays - gas prices tend to go up just before holidays. Fill up 2-3 days before to save some cash. (Effectiveness: C, Effort: B)

Your money

  • Shop around for cheaper gas - use websites that compare gas prices in your area. MSN has one which is pretty accurate. (Effectiveness: C, Effort: B)
  • Use cash back credit cards - you can get up to 10% savings when using credit cards for buying gas. Here are some I recommend. (Effectiveness: C, Effort: A)
  • Buy gas on gift cards at grocery stores - some grocery stores that have gas stations will let you buy gift cards at discount. Buy the gift cards on a cash back credit card and then use them to pay for your gas. (Effectiveness: C, Effort: B)

Have you found these tips useful? Which ones did and didn’t work for you? Please share your own money saving tips in the comments.

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