Phoenix, You’re A Fine Girl

Wow. Just, wow. That’s about all I can say right now.

Since we’ve already secured me a place to live, that freed Laina and I up to have some fun the rest of my vacation week, and that’s exactly what we did today when we took Phoenix out for a 330-ish mile (530-ish km) road trip end to end today, on some of the most fun terrain I’ve ever driven any vehicle on.

We set out around 11:30 AM for Kerrville by way of Texas State Highway 16, a route I had ridden with her once before that I just knew I had to drive Phoenix through. Multiple elevation changes and twists and turns galore – some rated as low as 15 MPH “safe speed.”

15 MPH? Heh, is that some kind of a joke? Well, maybe not if you’re driving a big-ass pickup or SUV, but Phoenix in her low, sleek Jetta GLI profile? Try like 35-40 MPH negotiating those. Whatever the road threw at us she powered through consistently 20 MPH above the specced speeds, never leaving the demarcations of the lanes. Lots of down and upshifting, revving the engine hard, but never turning the wheel more than about 60 degrees in either direction. You could totally feel the G-Forces as we navigated the terrain, but at no point was she at the remotest risk of rolling over or tumbling down a hill.

We arrived in Kerrville for a nice lunch at their location of Fuddruckers (or, as we jokingly call it, “Ruddfuckers” :-P). Surprisingly, I’d never been to a Fuddruckers in my life. I went out on a limb and orderd an elk burger, on a gluten-free bun and loaded it up with various toppings. It was absolutely delicious.

After re-fueling our tanks (as Phoenix had gotten a full tank of Chevron Techron Supreme earlier in the day), we set back on the return trip, which I drove even slightly more aggressively than on the trip up. Again, she totally owned it, but we weren’t done yet!

On a total limb, we decided to take a side trip to make the loop known as “The Three Sisters” or “Texas’ Twisted Sisters” (which consists of Ranch Roads 335, 336, and 337). Let me tell you what – that name is no joke. Steep hills, tight turns, switchbacks and a hairpin all rolled into one. Once again, Phoenix never missed a beat as I dropped her into the lower gears, powered through the turns much faster than rated (including a hairpin rated at 10 MPH that she negotiated at 30 without blinking an eye), and powering up the steep grades, revving to the redline.

To say it was a total adrenaline rush would be a gross understatement. We lost cell signal in many places, leaving me wondering if we were really on the right path or we were just totally lost. I almost had a panic attack, but Laina (bless her heart) kept me focused through it all as I drove it in hard and made it stick. Sure, we had a couple of incidents of wildlife that we had to evade, as well as a construction zone, but never a hiccup through any of it.

Before I knew it we were right back to where we started, completing the loop end to end. High as a kite, and in desperate need of a piss, we stopped into a Family Dollar to relieve myself and then completed the journey back to home HQ (which I can now call it such as well).

Of course, all this going on while Laina blared her tunes in my CD as we sang along (well, she sang along and I made my pathetic attempt to, best described as caterwauling) shot the shit, punctuated by our ritual belching and throat clearing contests at times, and she totally entertained me by her facial expressions and random exclamations as I negotiated the obstacles. She even went so far as to tell me how impressed she was with my skill level, and I hadn’t even driven like that ever in my life! I guess it comes naturally to me.

Maybe I should consider a weekend gig of being a stunt driver for car commercials? You know, those car commercials that say “professional driver on a closed course – do not attempt.” I’m sure they make good money.

At any rate, needless to say Phoenix really impressed me today. This might be the first time she’s been driven for the purpose she was designed for. Make no mistake about it, the Jetta GLI is, for all intents and purposes, a sportscar even though it isn’t listed as such. It shares nothing in common with the “regular” Jetta and it might damn well be the best car VW builds (assuming, of course, the proper maintenance schedule is followed). After that outing, Laina and I ultimately agreed that despite the initial issues I had, I made the correct choice when I opted for her over the Honda Fit.

So as to what kind of trouble we’ll get into the rest of the week, we don’t quite know yet. All I know is this might be my best vacation ever.



Whoa, Phoenix!!!

After an excruciating two weeks, yesterday the VW tech brought Phoenix back out to my house, after which I settled up with him (to the tune of $1,652 and change!) and we exchanged keys and he drove the loaner back to the dealership. Easy peasy.

So what have we got? Idling smooth as butter, no misfires, no nothing. All new spark plugs, ignition coils and fuel injectors, plus a carbon cleaning. We’re talking the motherfucker of all tune-ups.

So today, for the first time, I got to REALLY put her through her paces. After running to the liquor store from some wine on Tax-Free Tuesday, while talking to Laina via phone (no, not holding the phone, I swear) I decided to “dig in” and really open her up…

…I nearly pissed myself as it startled me.

Laina will be the first to tell you, too. When the turbo kicked in it caught me off guard. I got sucked into my seat and off I went. Before I knew it I was up to the speed limit on the little backwoods farm-to-market road I live on. It shocked me. I didn’t know a little 4 cylinder engine could put that much out.

OK, I’m not feeling so bad about my purchase now. LOL!

Being An “F” Sucks…

No, I don’t mean a failure, though that would suck too. I mean a feeler, as in the Thinking/Feeling spectrum of the Myers-Briggs personality types. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I am an INFJ (Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling Judging). To be fair, the F is the least strong of the four dichotomies in my case (it’s about 55/45) but it remains that I am more feeling than thinking, and that feeling side of me has gotten me into trouble more than once.

The most recent manifestation of that trouble? The car situation. I had my scope narrowed down to two candidates, both of which had a six-speed manual transmission (my biggest personal requirement in a vehicle).

Candidate A: 2017 Honda Fit, 4K miles, $14,500.
Candidate B: 2013 VW Jetta GLI, 47K miles, $12,500.

Any thinking person would have opted for Candidate A, hands down. Newer, fewer miles, better fuel efficiency, even if a little higher priced. Candidate A was, for all intents and purposes, the practical choice. That said, it was just another car; no real fun factor to speak of. It was rather, shall we say, “uninspiring.” My Fiesta, though not exactly inspiring, was more lively than this thing, despite having a smaller engine and only a five-speed manual.

As you all know, I opted for Candidate B, against my better judgment. I say better judgment because my brain was telling me to go for Candidate A, but Candidate B won my heart over with the fun factor, the raw power and a more engaging and entertaining drive, not to mention her looks. Yes, my feeling side won out.

Also as you all know, that decision is biting me in the ass with the lengthy repairs she’s needed. Luckily I won’t be out anything more than a $100 deductible at the end of the day, but it’s still been a frustrating, irritating journey.

This is just one such example of how being an F has, for all intents and purposes, been a royal pain in the ass. I know, I know, “The grass is always greener,” but in this case, I can’t see how being an F is in any way better than being a T. If I was a T, it probably would have saved me so much headache later.

I can’t say as I know of any advantage Fs have over Ts. We often make erroneous decisions based on feelings instead of logic, we’re more emotional (and usually in the bad way), among other things.

Alas, it’s how I’m wired and I can’t change that. Oh well.

The Importance of Using Top Tier Detergent Gasoline/Diesel

So yesterday I said Phoenix was having some major surgery, replacing the fuel injector in cylinder #4. I got a call this morning and they reported that the tech was then getting a misfire code in cylinder #2. Turns out that injector is also clogged and needs to be replaced. As a preventative step, they are recommending replacing all four and are doing a complete deep cleaning of the engine.

This is on a car with only 50K miles, by the way. Of the five vehicles I have owned, I have never once had to replace a fuel injector. Nor have I ever had to have a total carbon clean out.

The reason? All of this could have been prevented simply by using fuel that meets Top Tier Detergent Gasoline standards. When the EPA set their minimum treatment rate back in the 1990s, auto makers realized it wasn’t enough, and especially since that caused a lot of fuel companies to lower their treatment concentration. When things like the above happened, that’s when several auto manufacturers (of which VW was one) came together and devised the Top Tier standard.

I personally run exclusively Chevron or Texaco in my vehicles, as I have always gotten the best mileage out of them (note that Chevron bought Texaco some time ago and it’s now the same fuel). The Techron additive just seems to have a little extra magic in my experience, but not all engines are the same obviously. Nonetheless, the website linked above provides a list of Top Tier licensed brands.

Anyway, this is a prime example of why if you want something done wrong, let the government get involved. The Top Tier standard is an independent standard developed by the automotive industry for fuel companies to voluntarily participate in. As we become a more informed consumer base, for a fuel company to stay afloat they’ll have to go there. Just goes to show that true free market capitalism does work. This, my friends, is why I am a die-hard Libertarian.

Anyway, be informed. Pay the extra few cents per gallon and save yourself a lot of headache, heartache, and expensive repairs later.

The Plot Thickens…

Poor Phoenix just can’t catch a break. After the 2nd time back to the dealership, the rough idle remained though I didn’t get any more check engine codes. An engine shouldn’t idle rough at any time or speed, so that means something else was up.

So, after the dealership I bought her from failed to fix her twice, I’m like to hell with it; I’m calling the experts and taking her into an actual licensed VW tech. Apparently Hyundai techs are good for little more than those cars (which are cheap ass Korean cars).

So that’s what I did this afternoon. They ran the VIN and lo and behold the previous owner brought the car in on May 20th – just before the car was traded in at Hyundai. The receptionist remembered vividly selling him spark plugs and ignition coils at the time (which the previous owner was going to replace himself).

Well apparently he didn’t do that, or he decided to try to cheap out with aftermarket parts because the tech discovered that cylinders 3 and 4 had aftermarket coils. Hmmmm, cylinder 4? You mean the one that was showing misfire codes? You don’t say!!! As such, the VW tech changed out coils 3 and 4 with OEM coils and took her for a drive and noticed no more codes pop up.

The tech also suspects that there is significant carbon buildup in the valves and fuel injectors. This would be the result of two things. First is the use of inferior quality gasoline (i.e. that does not meet Top Tier Detergent Gasoline standards) and not using the proper fuel system cleaner at the correct intervals. The other cause for a high-performance engine to gunk up is not occasionally using the engine for what it’s designed for – revving up and driving hard. Obviously don’t do it all the time, but doing so every now and then for short bursts is good for the engine as it will help blow out carbon deposits. This is colloquially known as the “Italian tuneup.” Since these obviously weren’t measures taken by the previous owner, the tech recommended a high power fuel additive to deep clean the entire fuel system. Think of it like a colonoscopy prep for a car.

At the end of the day, now I’m seeing why I got Phoenix so cheaply. The previous owner (described by the receptionist as a “young guy – a kid”) was apparently a complete idiot and did not look after her properly. He fucked her up through both negligence and thinking he knew too much about DIY maintenance. When he did and got tired of dealing with the issues, he traded the car in.

That said, the Hyundai dealership isn’t completely innocent in all this. Coil 4 was replaced by them last time, and instead of getting a proper part from VW they got an aftermarket one to replace a faulty aftermarket part. They very clearly have no clue how to work on a VW and maybe did more harm than good. As such, I will see to it that this and any additional near future repairs needed (because who know what else could be ailing her if this kid was as stupid as I think he must be) will be reimbursed as they sold me an extended warranty on a car they have no clue how to repair.

We shall see. VW Abilene said they’d let me know when another shipment of the fuel system cleaner arrives so I can pick a bottle up and run it through, and whatever else might be the issue hopefully clears up after that.

It’s been a wild ride for sure, but not one I’ve enjoyed. Hopefully it’s coming to the end now. I feel so sorry for poor Phoenix. She didn’t get the love and care she needed from her previous owner. Alas, that doesn’t mean I can’t give her the love and care she needs, and I plan to do just that.

Not all car owners are bad.

Crisis Averted Again?

Well, apparently there was more to poor Phoenix’s ailing fourth cylinder than a faulty spark plug.

On the way back from the office, I got caught up in the parking lot driveway just long enough for the engine to idle roughly, once again triggering a misfire code as evidenced by a flashing check engine light. I debated whether or not to turn the engine off and get a tow, but it went away after I got rolling so I felt comfortable as to drive it into the dealership for another go-over.

Turns out that sure, the spark plug was blown but so was the coil pack. VWs are apparently very order-sensitive as to where you put things, and the previous owner apparently attempted a DIY tune-up and wiz-wired the thing to the wrong firing order, probably blowing the plug and coil. A new coil later and all seems well again.

Hopefully this is the end of the saga. A word to the wise: do not attempt a tune-up on a German car unless you’re an expert. They apparently require an extra level of attention that crappy American cars don’t.

Alas, this was all resolved at no cost to me so I can’t complain too much. Phoenix is a badass little car after all (you can even ask Laina who I let drive her this past weekend. Laina did well enough for not having driven a manual in like 16 years).

Oh, speaking of which, Phoenix also got her first tattoo today. Just as I am tattooed, so are my cars. It’s an appropriate tattoo for her too:

Fitting isn’t it? And I was able to get a decal that matched the shift pattern. Absolutely perfectly fitting. Now to replace my Texas Motor Speedway sticker.

When It Rains It Pours…

Rough idling? Check. Flashing check engine light? Also check.

Yeah, that’s bad news alright. Rough idling isn’t good obviously (and to be fair I had noticed a vibration on initial start every driving cycle, but didn’t see anything lighting up until tonight so I dismissed it) but a flashing check engine light? Well, anyone who knows the first thing about cars knows that’s about as bad as it gets. A flashing check engine light is a sign of the dreaded P03XX diagnostic trouble code, which indicates a cylinder misfire.

Of course, this is a highly dangerous situation and one that might not be correctible without sinking a shit ton of money into it and of course being car-less for another couple of weeks probably.

It seems what started off dreamy is quickly turning nightmare-ish. Why a German engineered technolgical marvel of a car is having major problems at only 47,000 miles when my old Ford (with the old backronyms “Found On Road Dead,” “Fix Or Repair Daily,” etc.) had almost 87,000 on it the day it was written off, and not once did I *EVER* see a check engine light on that thing. I mean *NEVER.*

Honestly, I just kind of had a sick feeling about that car over the weekend after what someone told me about VWs not lasting in the heat of southern US climate. My dad was quick to dismiss it and say I should look at it anyway. My gut told me to run, but I had my arm twisted into it by dad who took it for a test drive on Saturday while I was at the IndyCar race. Of course at the moment I test drove it and then subsequently drove it off the lot I was absolutely delighted that I had my arm twisted into it but now I’m not so delightful about it. I knew I should have gone for the 2017 Honda Fit I was looking at and had in my mind as the right choice – with only 3,000 miles on it at less than $15,000!!!! I guess I let the “fun factor” of the beefier and sportier yet four model years older Jetta GLI eclipse pure practicality in my mind and now I’m paying for it. Hard.

Hopefully there’s a way out of this. If it’s a simple fix, as per my extended service plan it’s a $100 deductible and the rest is covered. If it’s something serious and not really worth fixing, maybe I can convince them to take the car back? Who knows, but it looks like my relationship with this car could be very short-lived.

Oh well. I guess I was just meant to drive slow-ass boring cars. Bleh. Just one more shit-tastic piece of my shit-tastic life.

And people wonder why I wish I had never been born…