Sunday, February 26, 2012


My car stereo broke last week.  Well, actually, it's pretty fancy so it didn't really break, it just started displaying an error code and stopping pumping out the tunes.  I didn't have time during the week to investigate, but as I kept driving without music, the priority of this problem increased.  I checked out prices on a replacement unit and it seems that the model I bought for $500 back in 2006 is now priced at $750 new.  Funny how that works.  The other models available, which bundle navigation into the mix, are upwards of $1000.  Yikes.  I guess I was smart to pick it up for $500 when I did.

The error code was DC Error, indicating a potential short in the wiring.  Since it worked great for 5+ years, my intuition told me that the wiring was just fine.  However, the curse of the engineer forces me to rule out problems, so the first thing I did once I had time today was to remove the wiring harness and check it out.  Since I hooked it up so long ago, I used butt connectors (this is what they are called, I'm not making this up) which are crimped onto the wire to connect the harness to the factory plugs.  I've since changed my tune, now when I wire up a new car stereo I solder the connections and use heat shrink tubing over the solder.  In fact, when I sold my old truck (the white one, below) to my friend, Bruce Hanley, I took the time to redo the wiring harness for him by soldering all the connections and heat shrinking it all nice and pretty.  He'll never know, because nobody ever looks at the wiring harness other than the geeky dude who installed the thing.  Most people don't care about wires as long as everything works.  When it comes to me, however, I sleep better knowing it's all done the way I want it done.  I couldn't just put it back as-is, I had to bring it up to my "current standard" now that I had it out in the open.

Most people don't care how well this part is done 

This is how life is when you're a geek, especially a type A geek, you want to fix problems that aren't even problems.  Soldered connections are more reliable than crimped connections because the copper strands are protected from oxidation by the solder and the connection between the strands is a chemical bond instead of the mechanical pressure from a bent piece of tubular aluminum surrounded by a plastic insulator.  In the photo above you can see a few crimps on the green and purple wires, some wrapped in electrical tape.  That represents my old standard.  Then you can also see the soldered connections with the heat shrink tubing ready to be moved into place and heated to shrink it down.  That represents my current standard.
Most people just care that this part works
The new harness didn't change anything but it did make me feel better.  The next step in troubleshooting requires eliminating other potential problems.  I pulled out the factory stereo (which doesn't have fancy circuitry to detect a possible short) and plugged it in and it worked OK although I noticed the front right speaker sounded bad which is an indication it may well have be blown.  I disconnected the front right speaker, disconnected the factory stereo, hooked up the fancy stereo and presto, DC Error was now gone.  I packed the dashboard back up, knowing now that all I have to do is buy new speakers and I'm golden.  $750 crisis averted, and only about 1 hour "wasted" soldering the wire harness which was really work that fell off my "to do" list at some point since I forgot I intended to do that.  I think at one point I was going to buy a new set of harness wires and do all the connections up, then swap it out, I just never got around to wasting $40 and an hour to accomplish no net change.

Anyway, this whole afternoon episode got me thinking about "all the cars I've owned before" (sing it Julio Iglesias!).  There have been a few.  You see, I was a member of the prestigious 3CCC (three car crash club) in high school.

The members of the three car crash club
I kid you not, Jon Everest did all of the leg work necessary to create an official club.  We had hats made and we even hosted a few assemblies, showing videos that promoted trafic safety awareness.  It was all an obvious ploy to get one of these photos into the yearbook.  Left to right in the top photo is Kaleo, Craig, Jon, Byro, Matt, Rob, me, Aaron, and John.  I still own those shorts, by the way.

We did our best to ensure all of the Honolulu body shops stayed in business.
Jon even joined the yearbook committee to try to sneak the photo in when our attempts to convert our fledgeling club to official yearbook status failed.  I think we came very close to making the final cut, but the photo got pulled at the last minute by a vigilant faculty member.  Oh well, it would have been cool.

Lisa, me, Nina, Mie at the party house on HLR.
So, in high school, I drove this red honda prelude around.  I loved that car, thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever had the privilege of driving.  We're talking 4 whole cylinders and automatic transmission.  I longed for a manual transmission and an engine that had some nads, but still, it was red, it was flashy, and I crashed it a bunch.  When I wasn't busy crashing it, I collected an assortment of speeding tickets.  Oh and it got broken into a few times too.  I miss that sucker.

My first truck, it fit in well in New Jersey
Off I went to college, and in college I didn't need a vehicle.  My senior year, in preparation for my departure into the workforce, I bought what every Hawaii boy dreams of, my first pickup truck.  And, no, I did not go out and buy a nice, gently used family truck, I had to go find the most beat up, POS pickup I could.  See the lettering on the side?  This truck had a snowplow, 4WD, huge tires that rubbed when you turned the steering wheel too far, and heavy duty springs which caused it to buck like a bull if it smelled a pothole.  It was absolutely undriveable and I loved it dearly.

Alex Dyer and I, moving all the junk out of his childhood home.
My best college buddy, Alex, was a total car nut.  He even wrote his thesis on the American automobile industry.  He roasted me for my choice, how impractical it was for a software geek to own a pickup, why I bought a work truck that was beat up instead of a good quality, lightly used family truck, etc.  On the day when his mom, Deedee, had to move out of the house Alex and his sister had grown up in, El Truck came to the rescue, making many trips to the dump, storage, and the new house.  So, I think at some point, Alex came to accept that my mistake at least served some purpose.

Flanel shirt, check.  Briefcase, check.  Velcro shoes, check. 
Next up, I bought my dream truck.  I special ordered this sucker from the biggest Ford dealer in Long Island, once I had my first steady paycheck, after realizing that the beat up grey truck was costing more than a new truck payment in terms of repairs.  The dealer threw me at the only female salesperson who tried all her best moves to confuse me.  Too bad for them, I was on a mission, not about to be swayed by sex appeal from an aging blondie.  I think they saw "idiot" written on my face and wound up shocked when I knew more than any of them about the options, even calling the option packages by letter/number code.  I had spent weeks memorizing all of the prices, and the disparity of preparation worked in my favor.  It was so bad that they called me back on a technicality, the truck I had special ordered couldn't be built because the longbed wasn't compatible with the off road package.  When I went in and tried to adjust the price downward for the short bed, they told me to get lost, they didn't want my $300 profit + holdback after all.  So, I took my deposit check and the DORA form down to the next dealership, explained the situation, and 3 months later I got my truck for my price.  Because every software geek in Long Island planning a move to San Francisco needs a 4wd extended cab stick shift F150.  In black too, what a practical color.  This thing took hours to wash, by the time I was done, the other side was already dirty.  Again, I put a lot of work into the stereo system, again it got ripped off, just like the grey truck, just like the prelude.
The last in the series of 2 wheelers, Honda CL360, VFR 750, and this  599.
In New York I got my motorcycle license and bought a friend's CL360.  When I moved to SF in 1997, I eventually bought a VFR 750 to handle the traffic from SF to Novato.  Then I started riding my bicycle to work and caught the whole triathlon bug.  The 599 pictured above served a great purpose for me in 2006 when I had to get through a snarled up mess of traffic on the 15 just south of 78 to get to work in Rancho Bernardo.  It probably saved me 20 minutes every day, maybe more.  The nice thing about motorcycles is that there usually isn't an option to overload them with car stereos, and they also don't tend to be broken into as often.

The one truck I actually used for the truck part.
In SF, I finally sold the black F150 and bought a white Tacoma that was slightly smaller and got way better gas mileage.  Stick shift again, because stick shift and San Francisco are such a great combo.  Oh, how idiotic I am.  I moved to Carlsbad with that truck and one day, eating lunch at Pelly's, the server was talking to someone about how she needed my exact truck (describing color, year, etc) she just couldn't find one without a sunroof and for some reason that was important (she planned to do some serious off roading with it.)  I mentioned I had what she wanted and would be willing to sell it if she wanted it that bad, so a few weeks later that truck was sold.  I went a few more weeks without a vehicle and bought the Tundra above, a bit bigger than the tacoma, yet able to seat 3 and haul a lot of junk compared to the tacoma which sat 2 adults and maybe 2 small children and could carry less garbage to the dump.  I got a lot of use out of that Tundra.

This lucky guy now lives in Goleta at the Hanleys
At one point I had a shell for it and I slept in it a few times, at Wildflower one notable year where it rained so bad that I didn't get out of the truck until after my wave started, then I went down to the lake and swam with the dudes twice my age, rode the bike course in a fleece, and ran through the mud miserably cold.  I had that truck totally dialed in, the stereo was decent, the mileage semi reasonable, and it was almost manageable in a parking lot.  Eventually I bought the corolla and found myself driving the truck less and less.  Bruce mentioned wanting a 4WD vehicle and now he owns it and I have no truck.  I also sold the motorcycle, leaving me with a three bikes and a crappy but perfectly functional corolla with 105,000 miles.

It's probably time to buy a new car soon.  Maybe a wagon this time?  I've got a full set of roof racks waiting for a new vehicle purchase.  It's really hard to go back to having a car payment after not having had one since 2003.  So, I just keep my crappy, dirty, POS car (sing it Adam Sandler) because it works.  And I haven't really ever bothered to go all out with the stereo because I figure it'll just get stolen if I do.  Or maybe I grew up and stopped caring about vehicles?  Unlikely.  It's strange that something which was so important to me as a kid is now such a total afterthought.  It is liberating to simply not care about the dings and dents in your car.

Here's the short list of potentials if I do decide to have a mid-life crisis and buy a new car:

1. Prius (I would have bought one in 2006 but the supply was tight and it was difficult to get one)
2. Tacoma (they are bigger now, more tundra-like, and it might have been the perfect truck if I hadn't sold it to the Pelly's lady.  I don't really need a truck for any reason.)
3. Mazda 3 wagon (great compromise, not much more inspiring than the corolla though)
4. Jetta tdi wagon (I think you can finally buy these new in Cali, but I am not sure I trust a Jetta as far as maintenance goes)
5. Fiesta hatchback (the assistant master in college had an original Fiesta back in 1992 and I still remember that ugly blue car.  The new Fiesta's look pretty cool and can get 40MPG but they aren't cheap or very spacious)
6. Honda Fit (good compromise but perhaps a bit cheapy, although I think that's my style)
7. Honda Element (fits the dork quotient, but not the most fuel efficient on this list.)
8. Nissan Leaf (my dad bought one.  It has some appeal, but I'm not sure I'd love plugging it in all the time.)
9. Corolla (it's an unbeatable value if you abandon all hope of caring about what you drive.)
10. Subaru outback wagon (if it's good enough for Lae Charles, it's good enough for me.  Just not the most fuel efficient either and not cheap)

Any other suggestions?  Hmm...


  1. Range Rover Sport! ok, maybe a tad expensive...

    I had a regular Jetta (we still have it) in high school. It turned 10 years old this year. Still going strong. Good buy.

  2. not a prius! well, i guess it might be right up your whole foods, wheat grass, california alley.