This Does Not Compute

Technology, gaming, music and things that just don't compute

I’m ready for stuff to just work for a while, part 2

So, I guess I’m continuing my once-a-month blogging tradition. And oh boy, do I have a story to tell this time.

Anyone who’s spent more than about 10 minutes with me in person knows that I’m planning to buy a new car this fall. Mazda has decided to make me a very happy boy by announcing that the 2012 Mazda 3 will offer a ridiculously awesome powertrain option, the SkyActiv engine and transmission. It’s a 150 HP four-cylinder, similar to what my car has, but it comes with a 6-speed auto transmission and gets 39 miles per gallon (about 9-10 MPG more than I get now). Just as much fun as I have in my current 3, but with 33% better fuel economy!

In order to buy such a fancy whip, we’ve been trying to ratchet up our savings so we can do a big downpayment. I hate having to pay interest on stuff — it’s why we never carry a credit card balance, pay all our bills on time, refinanced the house, etc. — so getting a smaller car loan is important to me. With less than six months before I potentially trade my car in (not entirely sure what we’ll do, it’s also possible it’ll become my wife’s car), I wasn’t too thrilled to see the left front strut leaking. Granted, I wasn’t exactly surprised, since I’ve clocked over 80,000 miles on it and that’s about how long most shocks/struts last, but it still presented a tough decision: replace the front struts (you need to do them in pairs), or cross my fingers and hope it doesn’t get worse before we make a decision as to the car’s fate.

Considering my luck thus far for 2011, I decided to not only replace the front struts, but also the rear shocks. I read several walkthroughs online that illustrate the process, and I figured that with an extra pair of hands or two, it would be no big deal to tackle myself. I found a Mazda dealer in Virginia that sells OEM parts online, and $475 later I had a box of parts delivered to me.

Long story short, my local Mazda club’s “install day” was last weekend at my friend AJ’s house. With help, I got the rear shocks replaced without difficulty. The fronts, however…

We got the front left strut completely out of the car with only mild cursing. The right side posed more of a problem, since the nut that holds the endlink to the strut was rusted solid, and the hex head of the bolt (that you use to keep the bolt from spinning while loosening/tightening the nut) got stripped out. I decided to pull the plug on doing the front end myself, since I had plans to drive down to visit my folks for Mother’s Day the next day and didn’t want to risk rendering the car undriveable.

In the process of putting the left strut back in…well, we rendered the car undriveable. Somehow, while getting the strut seated in the knuckle, the axle boot came loose and the CV joint popped out. My eyes subsequently popped out of my head, and I let forth with a stream of considerably colorful language. And worse, one of the CV bearings broke off the axle when we tried to slide it back in.

The tow truck managed to get my car delivered to the local Mazda dealer just 15 minutes before they closed, and I was able to secure a rental car so that Mother’s Day wouldn’t be a wash and I’d be able to get the cat to the vet on Monday. And guess what they gave me to drive:

It was a 2011 model, and it was a sedan (not a hatchback like I plan to get), and it didn’t have the right engine or transmission, but it was an excellent way to get an extended test drive of sorts of the car I plan to buy. I was quite pleased driving this car; it only had 1200 miles on it when they flipped me the keys. It wasn’t as fast as my own car, but I think it drove better — it was quieter, smoother on the freeway, but no less sporty when you started to push it.

Three days after I picked it up, the dealer called and said I could return the rental as my own car was done. They ended up having to replace both front endlinks as well as the left axle, and they replaced the struts with the ones I had bought earlier. The final bill was, shall we say, not inexpensive (though they did cut me some slack and waived the fees for renting the car), but in a way I deserve it for having bitten off more than I could chew.

I’ve been demoted at home to oil changes and tire rotations only from now on. This is probably a good thing after all, at least considering how well 2011 has gone thus far.


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