Friday, January 25, 2013

The daily driver search and Mercedes project update

As is to be expected, it's been a busy month for me, in terms of my automotive life. I've been going back and forth on whether I should fix the Subaru (this would require, at bare minimum, a used engine), or replace it with something else.

Logically, the easiest thing to do would be to find a better EJ22 Subaru. I kept this one around so long because they're generally very easy to work on and because I know them in and out. But, this second one, which I've had for almost two years now, has been trouble since day 1. Here's the list of stuff I REMEMBER replacing since buying it two years and 45,000 miles ago:

  • muffler
  • front CV axles
  • radio
  • rear portion of the steel brake lines
  • rear brake rubber lines
  • tires
  • spark plugs
  • wires
  • alternator belt
  • alternator (several times, due to defective rebuilt units)
  • rear brake pads and rotors
  • timing belt
  • water pump
  • driver's side cylinder head and head gasket
  • valve cover gaskets
  • intake manifold gaskets
  • ignition coil
...and that's just what I can remember off the top of my head. I'm sure the list is longer - MUCH longer.
So, I'm not really keen on trying to fix the car again. Seeing as how even damaged Subarus tend to have surprisingly high retail values around here, I'm leaning towards selling it and getting something different, especially as my cylinder 2 misfire returned yesterday.

I've looked at a Toyota Camry. I liked it, but found the seller was a dealer posing as a private seller on Craigslist. I walked away on principle. My search has shown that most local Toyotas (and Hondas) on Craigslist follow this pattern. So, there's not much for me to choose from in the way of cars genuinely for sale by private owner.

I looked at a 1999 VW Jetta, but it wouldn't even start. Last, but certainly not least, I've been looking at Volvo 850s and V70s. The ones I've found in my price range so far have been a bit lacking in terms of condition. I may go back for a second look at one of them. 

Basically, my second choice after a Subaru is a FWD car with a reputation for reliability. I know the Jetta doesn't quite have THAT, but at least I know VWs. Bottom line, the search has been occupying my time, and keeping me away from the Mercedes.

But, I did get a lot done this past weekend. I finally started in on welding and closed up the rivet holes left by the previous owner:

I did most of my work outside, to minimize the risk of fire and because of some fumes from the welding.

Hopefully, if I'm not too occupied with the car search, I can get back to the Mercedes this weekend and continue with repairing the passenger side bodywork. Here's some video from this weekend:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The search is on - new daily driver

My last blog post was around Christmas. To recap, the misfire problem on my 1995 Subaru Legacy (which I thought I'd fixed last Spring with a new cylinder head...) returned in late December. Rather than throw parts at the problem again, I opted to cut straight to the heart of the matter and run another compression test.  My P0302 code was caused by low compression in cylinder 2. Cylinders 1, 3, and 4 tested OK.

More accurately, the low compression was causing (over time) carbon buildup in cylinder 2 that in turn interfered with combustion. I bought some Seafoam spray and fogged the engine through the throttle body. I ended up doing this several times. In the end, I probably ran a can and a half through the engine. Just after Christmas, the wife and I took my car to visit my family (200 mile trip). The Legacy made it there without a hiccup, but the CEL came back on while we were there. Thankfully, it didn't blink - it just went on and stayed lit. I had my scanner with me, and once again - P0302.

We made the return trip a few days later. The car drove OK, but I had a few seconds of blinking. Once we got home, I put a can of Techron in with the next gas fill-up, and once again, cleared the codes. I've been driving the car for over two weeks now, and although for some reason the car isn't yet showing readiness, there are no pending trouble codes, and that's in around 1,000 miles of driving. So, in the end, the Seafoam and Techron cleared out the carbon buildup.

The car is perfectly driveable, and I've always known to keep the oil level in check. But, now that I know for a fact the engine is less than 100%, I think it's time for me to move on. The car still has some life in it - a lot of life, probably. But, I want something a bit more hassle-free for the long distance driving I do.

So, I decided to start looking for a new (to me) car. My first choice, obviously, was another EJ22 Subaru Legacy, or perhaps another EJ18 Subaru Impreza. Of course, it didn't take me long to realize that both are an endangered species at this point. There are very few left in the northeast that aren't overpriced high mileage rustbucket. So, I decided to expand the scope of my search for the first time in years to include other makes and models.

My first instinct was to stick with the Japanese cars. So, I started searching for 1990s-era Hondas (Civic and Accord) and Toyotas (Corolla and Camry). Among them, my top choice was the Camry. I quickly learned that most of the for sale by owner ads for the Japanese cars are run by shady small-time car flippers and dealers posing as private sellers. I've been in that situation before - that's how I ended up with my current Legacy.

I test drove a Camry, but it turned out to be a dealer posing as a private seller, so I walked on principle, even though the car seemed OK at first glance (I had reason to suspect hidden problems). Note to that particular dealer - if you want to describe an interior as "mint," take the duct tape off the dashboard first.

I even (against my better judgement), went to check out a 2000 VW Jetta. But, at $1200, it wouldn't even start for a test drive.

I've been keeping an eye out for Toyotas, but a co-worker actually clued me into another car to keep on my radar - 1990s Volvo 850 and V70 station wagons. I've always liked Volvos, but we haven't had a decent one in the family yet. But, I did some reasonably intense research and liked what I saw. The Volvo shot to the top of my list.

I've test driven 2 850s already. I'm still considering the first one, but the second one had too many problems. I have an appointment to test drive a 1998 V70 also, which is essentially a lightly-updated 850.

Even pushing 200,000 miles, these cars feel about 10X more solid than the Subaru Legacy, have a good reputation for reliability (overall, with some well documented problems and fixes), and most importantly, are well within my price range. For the cost of a rusty Legacy, I can get a much nicer Volvo. So, that's what sold me, and that's what I'm looking for.

Of course, if the right Legacy, Impreza, or Camry comes along at the right price, I'll probably jump on it.