Recently in Cars Category

Car Repair Customer Service Done Right
June 20, 2015 10:19 AM | Posted in: ,

Note: The following is an unabashed plug for a local business. If you're a competitor, don't take it personally. Better yet, use it as motivation.

So, my truck suddenly developed a rather severe front-end shimmy (a highly technical automotive term, implying that my vehicle was demon-possessed), and I began to imagine all sorts of complicated (and expensive) issues. When my usual strategy of ignoring mechanical issues until they went away didn't work, I decided to seek professional help. 

LogoI'd had some mildly unsatisfactory encounters with the dealership, so I did some research and selected Christian Brothers Automotive, a nationally franchised business, as the Shop Least Likely To Disappoint And/Or Bankrupt Me. The business had a very high ratio of positive-to-negative reviews on Google (including at least one from someone I knew), plus their location and hours were very convenient. Here's what happened...

I arrived at the shop a couple of minutes before opening time at 7:00 a.m. Not only were the doors unlocked and the lights on - something that hadn't always been the case at the dealership's advertised opening time - but they were instantly ready to help. I didn't have to wait for the computer to boot up, or for the coffee to finish brewing, or for the front-desk guy to adjust his attitude.

I explained the problem, gave them my contact information and key, and was assured of a call as soon as they'd had a chance to check things out. I was in their clean and comfortable courtesy car (driven by the shop's very personable owner, Trey) on my way to the office by 7:15.

I got a call shortly before 8:00 telling me that they had narrowed things down to a possible issue with one of the tires, and asking permission to rotate a couple of them to test the theory. I told them where to find the security socket for the locking lug nuts, and hung up with another assurance of a call when they had something else to report.

I had another call before 9:00 telling me that the tire swap had indeed eliminated the shimmy issue, but that I probably should get a replacement tire pretty quickly. They theorized that the tire might be delaminating on the inside, since there was no obvious external defect. In any event, the truck was ready to go, and I was relieved to know that there were no complicated (and expensive) repairs to deal with (not that a new tire is an inexpensive proposition nowadays*).

My wife dropped me off at the shop at lunch and I went in the office to settle up. They grabbed my key off the rack, handed it to me, and said "you're all set."

"Uh...OK...but what do I owe you?"

"Nothing. You don't owe us anything."

"Wait a minute...I know you spent some time working on it; surely you need to get paid for that."

"Don't worry about it. Have a great day!"

Alrighty then. That, my friends, is a textbook strategy for creating loyal customers. Customers who also act as evangelists for the business. Customers like, well, yours truly.

*The cloudy lining to this blue sky story is that the following day I had to drop $300 on a new tire. Another technical car repair term is "ouch."

Wrong Way Looking: Remedial Driver's Ed
October 6, 2014 9:34 PM | Posted in: ,

So, let me ask you a question. Is it just me, or have you also noticed that many drivers pulling up to an intersection tend to look to their right, and then back to their left after they start to move into the intersection?

I can't find any definitive statistics about whether the driver's side gets hit more often in side-impact collisions than the passenger's side, but based on my observations, I wouldn't be surprised to learn it's the former...simply because drivers are engaged in that peculiar behavior.

It's not an academic question from my perspective. It's not unusual for us to spot this kind of strange driver behavior when we're out on our bicycle, and trust me when I say that inattentive drivers are a cyclist's biggest nightmare. I can't count the number of times we've had cars pull in front of us (or begin to do so) and then spot us at the last second, simply because they looked right and then looked left only after starting to move into the intersection. (To be clear, in all of these instances, we've had the right of way.) Cyclists are always advised to try to make eye contact with drivers to increase awareness, but it's hard to make eye contact when they don't look at you until it's too late.

My firm recollection from driver's ed was the admonition to "look left, look right, then look left again." That was good advice back when we were riding mastodons, and it's still good practice. I'm dismayed that more drivers don't seem to be aware of it.

Comments? Email them or post them on my Facebook page. We'll all be glad you did.

Mileage of the Beast
July 27, 2014 9:15 PM | Posted in:

This happened on State Highway 18, just south of Grandfalls, Texas.

Photo of instrument cluster

Sorry for the poor image quality. Something kept obscuring the instrument cluster, some seemingly malevolent unseen force that nonetheless was able cast a pernicious shadow wherever my phone was pointed.

Finally, either by a quirk of light or a supernatural intervention - you decide - a second photo revealed more than I really wanted to know.

Photo of instrument cluster

Ha ha. I'm just fooling with you. Satan didn't really appear on our dashboard. It was too hot for him. The mileage is correct though. And there are a bunch of sixes in this display. Not that I ascribe any meaning to them. *spit*

For what it's worth, I've put more miles in a shorter time on the Ridgeline than any car we've ever owned. The truck is about 4 1/2* years old, which equates to about 1,666 days...and...gulp...

*Just kiddingagain; it's only 4 years old.
Oh, hello. I didn't notice you standing there, in the shadows. You're quite patient, considering how long it's been since I've come around. Perhaps you should take up a hobby.

Anyway, as long as you're here, please allow me to share a cautionary tale. It's a simple story about what happens when you reach a certain age and find that your own cleverness begins to backfire on you. Here's an example:

Photo - hitch lock cut in two
Exhibit A...or is it B? I forget.

In case you don't recognize it, this is a trailer hitch lock, used to secure a ball mount in a receiver. This particular model has a keyed lock on one end, and therein lies the problem.

As you can tell, the lock has been violated in a most destructive way. In other words, it's been sawn in two. And I did it my own self, as a solution to a vexing problem.

That problem arose not when I put the lock through the mount of our hitch-mounted luggage rack to dissuade thieves while the rack was being stored outside the garage, nor when I put the key away for safekeeping until I needed the rack.

No, the problem arose when I wanted to use the rack last weekend...and couldn't remember where I put the key.

I have approximately 800 loose keys stored in various drawers, cabinets, cubbyholes, nooks, niches, crannies, recesses, and alcoves, and I tried every one of them - twice - and never found the right one. I gave up on the luggage carrier; fortunately, we didn't really need it after all.

But when we returned, I decided that I'd spent enough time looking for a solution, and not enough time creating one. Out came the angle grinder (did you know Target sells them?) equipped with a silicon carbide wheel, on went the gloves, safety glasses, and hearing protector...and the sparks flew. In a few minutes, one problem was solved.

The bigger problem remains, the one without an elegant solution. It's the problem of how to deal with the accumulation of years that results in the inability to remember simple things like where did I put that [fill in the blank]? 

Every person will eventually have to deal with that issue in whatever way seems most appropriate for them. For me, I plan to apply a healthy dose of denial (I'm pretty sure someone stole the "hidden" key, and it's not my fault). In addition, I might just buy a 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, and let the dulcet tones of its 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque make the journey into forgetfulness much more adventuresome.

Heck, I may even put a trailer hitch on it.

"That thang got a hemi?" - Pt. 2
January 24, 2013 5:33 PM | Posted in: ,

So, I was grinding through my usual brutal commute home from work yesterday evening - the longest ten minutes of my life, you know - when I laid eyes on this odd sight:

Photo - Bentley Continental GT

For those who don't keep up with such things, join the club; I had to google it, too. It's a Continental GT. Bentley's aren't exactly commonplace in West Texas, although this was the second one I've spotted in Midland in the past seven days.

Anyway, I confess that my second thought after spotting the car was "why would you feel the need to have a vanity plate to tell people what kind of car you're driving?" I mean, isn't the car itself sort of, you know, self-explanatory?

Well, no, actually. Because my first thought was, "oh, there's a nice-looking Chrysler 300." And then it struck me: if you'd paid 200 large for a car, you surely wouldn't want people to mistake it for a car costing 1/10th as much.

Photo - Chrysler 300

I think it's the badge that threw me, although both have rather boxy rear ends (no offense to any boxy-rear-ended Gazette readers). And I'm sure that Chrysler would be simply appalled to think that people are mistaking one of its cars for a Bentley.

Of course, it does occur to me that the owner's name is Bently, in which case it all makes a lot more sense, plus I don't have to express umbrage over the sorry state of spelling on vanity plates nowadays. I blame the interent. [See what I did there?]

This encounter did give me an idea for a plate for my next car:

Two Things: Venom / Dogma
December 2, 2012 8:50 PM | Posted in: ,

We're deep into the Christmas shopping season and some of you have been asking for gift hints. This post is for you. And by "you," I mean, of course, Warren Buffet or The Sultan of Brunei.

Hennessey Venom GT

Venom GT

Forget 0-60. That's soooo 1960s. Forget 0-100. That's for wannabes. The new gold standard for vehicular excessiveness is 0-200, and the Venom GT - billed by its manufacturer as the world's fastest roadster - will bridge that gap in 15.3 seconds. By contrast, the zillion-dollar Bugatti Veyron, the previous King of the Over the Top Hill is, well, several seconds slower (depending on whether you believe Hennessey's website, or Bugatti's). Of course, one could make a good argument that for normal people (aka, women), a few seconds slower getting to 200 mph is a triviality not worth considering, but for the rest of us, it's major.

The Venom (what is it with the letter "V," by the way, that attracts nasty cars: Venom, Viper, Veyron, Visigoth? OK, I made that last one up, but I would totally be in the market for a pickup called the Visigoth.) has an engine system that allows you to choose your sentencing guidelines: Misdemeanor - 800 hp; Felony - 1,000 hp; Death Row - 1,244 hp. The latter setting works out to about 1 horsepower per 2.2 pounds of weight, which is truly insane for a four-wheeled vehicle.

Hennessey is reportedly making only five Venoms in 2013, so get your order in early. You'll still be behind Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, who requested a Venom in convertible form, and was willing to pay $1.1 million for the privilege of being the only person in the world to have one.

Pinarello Dogma 2


Shifting gears while remaining in the gear-shifting realm, the two-wheeled equivalent of the Venom might be Pinarello's Dogma 2, a $20,000 bike (when equipped with high-end components like Campy's Super Record electronic shifting package). Depending on what pedals you put on it, the bike weighs just a whisper over 15 pounds (yielding a HP/lbs ratio of...well, it depends on whether you're Bradley Wiggins or, um...yourself), which is flirting with the minimum allowable weight to compete in the Tour de France (~14.99 pounds). And, speaking of the TdF and Bradley Wiggins, he won it last year on this bike.

It does share a few traits with the Venom. Its primary frame material is carbon fiber, and its styling is guaranteed to distinguish it from your neighbor's Huffy/Pontiac Aztec. And it also represents an investment that's proportionately outrageous for those who can just barely afford one.

Also, both would fit in my garage. *hint, hint*

Lo Beem
March 3, 2012 11:21 AM | Posted in: ,

My friend LouAnn took her BMW coupe to the car wash today, and after paying and waiting in line for an hour (car washes in Midland are really busy, since hand washing at home is now illegal), she was told that her car's ground clearance was too low to go through. 

Being the good guy that I am, I found a solution for her.

Lowrider BMW

No need to thank me, LouAnn...that's just the way I roll. And, Norman, I understand the conversion kit can be installed in a couple of hours by a competent craftsman. I suspect that switching from front- to rear-wheel drive might be a bit challenging, but I'm sure you're up to it.

Sliding Into Place
August 11, 2011 8:25 AM | Posted in: ,

This is for anyone who's ever struggled to parallel park, as if we needed yet another reason to feel inadequate.

This attempt set the world record for tightest parallel parking (is there anything for which a world record can't be established?), said record measured by the clearance between vehicles. This attempt was 26cm. However, according to Neatorama (the source of the link), a Chinese man now owns the record at 24cm.

I'll be more impressed when I see this feat duplicated with a Ford F-250 King Ranch.
I realize that picking apart the logic of any television ad is like taking candy from a fish in a barrel, but GMC's recent "I Vow" series touting its Sierra pickup line seems to push the envelope for damning with faint praise. Here's my cogent analysis of what the commercial says vs. what it really means. (Don't thank me for these revelations; this is just what I do.)

What it says: "I vow to be ready to go whenever you are."
What it means: "I have an ignition switch, battery, and starter."

What it says: "I vow to work even after the sun goes down."
What it means: "I have headlights."

What it says: "And I vow to take a tank of gas as far as she'll go."
What it means: "I will not violate the previously-thought-to-be-immutable laws of physics regarding the conservation of energy and matter." Actually, I have no idea what they're saying here, because this is one of the most nonsensical statements in the history of advertising, and that's saying something.

There's also the puzzling issue of genderizing the tank of gas, referring to it as "she." The social and psychological implications are overwhelming, and space doesn't permit their analysis. Perhaps later, when the presidential campaign is completed.

Here's the ad in all its underwhelming glory, if, like a persistently annoying gnat that hovers on the periphery of your consciousness, you sort of knew it was there but couldn't be bothered to focus on it:

Brain Wracking Rack
April 5, 2011 2:26 PM | Posted in: ,

One of the challenges of owning a bicycle with a wheelbase of more than 9' is transporting it. Conventional bike racks just don't work.

In the past, we've used a Thule roof rack system along with a Thule tandem carrier that I extended with a length of square tubing and a second welded-on "foot" for attaching it to the rack. Here's what the bike looked like mounted on our previous vehicle, a Dodge Durango.

As you can imagine, lifting a 50 pound bike up and onto the carrier was quite a job. Fortunately, I was able to effectively supervise my wife as she did the job and I thought it worked quite well. OK, you got me...this was a two-person job, one of which I could never farm out to somebody else.

Now that we have a pickup, you'd think the job would be considerably easier, wouldn't you? But the bike's wheelbase is only about a half foot shorter than the truck's, and the bike is several feet longer than the truck bed with the tailgate down. Nevertheless, by continuing to use the Thule carrier and enough tie-downs to moor the Queen Elizabeth, we can transport the bike in the Ridgeline's bed in effective, if ungainly, fashion. Click on the following photos for evidence.

Now, the issue should be obvious. While the bike is quite secure, I worry about it extending so far in back of the vehicle. There's little chance that someone would run into it during the daytime (it's apparently quite an eye-catching sight traveling down the highway, judging by the reaction of other drivers on I-20 last weekend), but night is a different matter. I'll mount reflectors on the carrier for nighttime use, but I'd prefer a completely different solution. We may have to revert back to the roof rack approach, which is unfortunate, as it will require both of us to load and unload. I can handle the current setup by myself.

I don't want to alarm anyone, but there could be a welding project in my future!
I don't know what possessed someone to do an in-depth comparison of the new Ram 3500 Heavy Duty pickup with a Delta IV Heavy rocket...but I like it!

The truck actually compares very favorably with the rocket when it comes to payload, defined for the pickup as towing capacity (25,400 pounds) and for the rocket as, um, payload (28,650 pounds). Of course, the rocket is delivering that payload to a thousand miles above the earth, and on one fuel fill-up.

And speaking of fuel, you might also want to choose the Ram based on this comparison, as the rocket gets only .00087 miles per gallon and costs $600,000 to fill up. I'm thinking the cash pay-at-the-pump option won't get used much by rocket owners. On the other hand, the rocket's tank holds 483,500 gallons of fuel (liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen...take those warnings about static electricity serious, bubba) which means you're paying less than $1.50 per gallon. Of course, that's probably without taxes.

So, what kind of performance do you get for the >$100 million price (MSRP, of course; options like running boards and chrome wheels extra but it comes with a killer GPS, standard)? Try 17 million horsepower per engine - and the rocket uses three of those bad boys - vs. the Ram's measly 350 hp. (No one's figured out how to measure torque from a rocket engine but we can assume it's full of awesomeness.) The Ram is only three seconds slower in a 0-100 mph showdown, but it sort of gets hammered in the all-important 0-17,500 mph category.

Still, as cool as it would be to pilot a Delta IV Heavy, they won't fit next to a Sonic Drive-In ordering speaker, and you can't hear the stereo once you have lift-off, so there's some significant downsides.

Too smart for my own good
October 12, 2010 2:38 PM | Posted in:

When we bought our new truck in July (has it been that long ago?) I didn't get an extended warranty, but I did spring for a prepaid "oil changes for life" plan. And I'm beginning to realize one of the downsides of failing to keep up with automotive technology.

When I did the mental calculation on the payout for the prepaid plan, I used my standard "every 3,000 miles" schedule, and I figured I'd easily come out ahead, even factoring in the time value of money. What I failed to realize is that today's cars (at least in the Wonderful World of Honda) no longer require oil changes as frequently as the 11-year old Durango I was replacing. And, in fact (I'm sure most of you already know this), you -- the driver and owner -- have no active role in the decision regarding when the oil needs to be changed; the computer will let you know when it's time, thank you very much.

So I now find that the Ridgeline has just under 4,000 miles and the computer is telling me that we're still at 60% of oil life, and I'm beginning to realize that I've paid approximately $70 each for oil change over the estimated 100,000 miles I'll probably rack up before buying another car. Another brilliant financial decision.

On the other hand, maybe I'll get lucky and the truck will exhibit one or more of these characteristics and I'll get more frequent changes.

To All the Cars I've Known
July 27, 2010 1:02 PM | Posted in:

Our recent purchase of a new vehicle represented a rare event in our lives. In our almost-40 years of marriage, we've owned relatively few cars. We tend to keep cars for a long time (if not for high mileage; our commutes have generally been short to non-existent).

Anyway, I made a deal to sell the Durango - the car that is being replaced by the new Honda - and the disposal of that 11 year old vehicle brought to mind the relatively short list of the other cars we've owned. I'm sure you're dying to know more, so here goes.

  • 1972 Chevy Malibu - Did I mention that I had to get married in order to get a car? Debbie brought this red coupe with a snazzy white vinyl top with her, and we drove it through college and into the early '80s. It was a lightning rod for collisions (not our fault), and we were poor enough that we always used the insurance money for more important things (like food and rent) and so it was the most beat up of any of our cars when we finally donated it to an unknown person at the behest of our church's benevolence ministry.

  • 1977 Olds Cutlass - This was our first new car purchase, and our first "grown-up" car. It was loaded, and I can still remember the salesman warning us about the expense as we went through the checklist of options we wanted added to the vehicle. Little did he realize that we were large-living DINKs (and our family income probably totaled all of $20K at that time, but, still...). We kept this one until 1985, when it became the only car we ever traded in for a new one (and we'll never do another trade-in, by the way).

  • 1981 VW Sirocco - This was the closest I'll ever get to having a sports car, although this admittedly wasn't very close. But it did have five-on-the-floor and Recaro bucket seats. My most vivid memories were of the way it reliably died during the slightest street flooding in Midland (and at that time in the city's history, a heavy dew could cause such flooding), and how I successfully hotwired it after losing my keys in the lake one afternoon while windsurfing. We gave this car to family members in the early '90s.

  • 1985 Chevy Suburban - This was the workhorse of our stable. We actually ordered three of these at the same time, one for us, one for my parents, and one for Debbie's parents (no, we didn't pay for all of them). We hauled more gear to more places with this big honkin' V8 gas guzzler. On one trip we had a full set of scuba gear, two windsurfboards, and a tandem bicycle. This was the last car we owned to have a carburetor, a weak link that stranded us twenty miles north of Roswell one summer. I'd like to blame aliens, but the real villains were working in the shop where the car was towed, diagnosed with a bad (and expensive to replace) fuel pump, and then sent us on our way, limping back to Midland only to learn that we needed a carb rebuild. We sold the Suburban in the mid-90s.

  • 1993 Chrysler Concorde - We began a string of Mopar purchases with this green sedan, which was the most expensive car we'd owned. It was well-appointed and had a surprisingly powerful motor...and a surprisingly harsh ride. It was quite reliable and required no significant repairs, until we gave it to Debbie's parents in the early 00s, at which time everything started breaking. However, Debbie's dad is still driving it, so it's got something going for it.

  • 1995 Plymouth Neon - We may be the only people in the world to have owned a Neon that wasn't made by Dodge, and I'm still not sure how we ended up with a Plymouth. Of course, the two models were identical except for the logos. We had the dealership add power locks to this basic run-errands-around-town car (I think we took it out on the highway exactly once), and they came with a funky security system wherein the doors locked automatically within about ten seconds, whether the keys were out of the ignition or not. And if you didn't override the system just right, you had to put up with all the interior lights flashing for an interminable period, which made for some freaky nighttime errands. We gave this car to family members in the mid-00s.

  • 1999 Dodge Durango - We're now in the Modern Era, sort of. The Durango proved to be the most reliable and versatile vehicle we owned to that point. It got pretty good gas mileage, had very few mechanical eccentricities (aside from occasionally having to pop the hood and jiggle some wires to get it started), and it, too, did more than its share of hauling stuff for us. I've had up to fifty bags of cypress mulch crammed into the interior and strapped to the hitch-mounted cargo carrier. And, of course, we're now in the process of selling it.

  • 2005 Hyundai Santa Fe - This is Debbie's current car, a little SUV that has a great combination of reliability, versatility, and economy. The only problem we've had with it thus far is a stuck disc in the CD player, and who listens to CDs anymore, anyway? I've transferred the XM radio from the Durango to the Santa Fe, which solves her music listening issues. She's putting about 6,000 miles per year on this car, so I expect it to be around a while.

  • 2010 Honda Ridgeline - This, of course, brings us up-to-date with the family car history (I intentionally left out the motorcycles, by the way...and the bicycles). As you would expect, the new pickup was more expensive than any of its predecessors - it didn't cost much less than our first house - but it's got all the bells and whistles that any urban cowboyish sort of tinhorn might want. It's a keeper.

So there you have it: just nine cars in 37 years. I actually know people who have owned that many cars in three years.

Here's a final interesting (well, to me) thread that runs through this vehicular history: every one of these cars was either red or gray, in some shade or another, except for the Concorde, which was a nice dark green. I'm sure that's a sign of our schizophrenia; we're either screaming for attention or trying to fade into the background.

Zits and Me
July 25, 2010 2:18 PM | Posted in: ,

I'm referring not to facial blemishes but to the comic strip, which is one of my favorites due to its  ability to unerringly portray the foibles and habits of teenagers. And, apparently, me.

See, we've got this new car - a Honda Ridgeline, if you must know. It's loaded with toys - navigation package, XM radio, 115 volt auxiliary power outlet, and Honda's HandsFreeLink, a Bluetooth-based system for using your cellphone and the car's GPS without actually touching those devices. Those are all really cool things, but the owner's manual is almost 400 pages, and the configuration of the technology is not always intuitive.

So, I sat in the car in the garage for more than an hour yesterday, pairing my phone to the car's system, and [making attempts at] importing my contact list into said system. At one point, my wife felt it necessary to come into the garage and observe that I reminded her of Jeremy from the aforementioned cartoon, when he and his friend took possession of an ancient, non-running VW bus and, lacking funds and skill to make it go, contented themselves with just sitting in it. I couldn't really argue with the comparison, given the less than stellar success I was having making this hands-free thing go.

I did eventually get my phonebook imported, sort of. If your first name begins with "A" through "P" and you're in my contact list, then I can call you via the car's system, but for some reason, you who are in the dread "Q-Z" category didn't make the import. I'm really sorry, but you probably won't be getting a call from me anytime soon, at least not while I'm sitting in my garage, since I still haven't figured out how to do anything with the whole shooting match while actually driving down the road.

Baby steps. Or, at best, teen-aged steps.

The Hapless Mechanic - Pt. 73
May 24, 2008 12:02 PM | Posted in: ,

So we come out of IHOP after breakfast this morning and Gene points at our car and exclaims, "you have a flat tire!" Even a mechanically-challenged person like me could tell that he was right; the driver's side rear tire was as flat as one of the pancakes I'd just consumed. The cause was obvious: we'd apparently picked up a nail on the way out of the neighborhood, something I had long before figured was inevitable given the amount of ongoing construction.

It took me a couple of minutes to remember how to drop the spare from under the car, while Gene pulled out the jack and related tools. While I was retrieving the spare, he broke loose the lug nuts. We jacked up the car and I began to remove the wheel. Five nuts came loose without a hitch. The sixth didn't. In fact, after a couple of rotations, it refused to budge.

I'm not sure what I'd done if I'd been by myself, as I've never experienced this problem before. Fortunately, Gene is an experienced mechanic and he immediately knew the only logical solution. "Break it." Now, if you've been paying attention, you know that's right up my avenue of expertise, but rarely have I gotten instructions to do it. So I put my back into it and snapped the stud. It was pretty obvious that when the tire had been mounted, the mechanic had gotten too aggressive with the air wrench and stripped the stud, and breaking it was the only way to remove the wheel.

One broken stud meant a more complicated repair than just a flat tire, but it wasn't a disaster. But my mechanical adventures never end so cleanly, and it was about that time that the car gently but resolutely fell backwards off the jack, something that is never A Good Thing. Happily, we were all out of the way and no one was injured, if you don't count the lug nut that I had re-affixed to the wheel while I was breaking off the damaged one. When we jacked up the car again, I found that it, too, was stripped. <em>Snap.</em> We're now down to four functioning lug nuts, and that's pretty much as far down that path as you want to go.

My initial plan was to take the car to a repair shop, but I ran across this video on removing a broken lug nut stud and this one on replacing a stud. The process seemed quite straightforward, and so I decided just to try it myself. In retrospect, I should have just hit myself in the head with a ball-peen hammer.

I drove ñ gingerly, if one can actually do that ñ to the nearest of the approximately 8,000 auto parts stores we have in Midland, and bought a couple of lug nuts, studs, and some Liquid Wrench. I returned home - still gingerly - and parked in the garage. The first order of business was to put on some good mechanicking music, so I hooked up the iPod and fired up some of Tommy Castro's blues.

I removed the wheel and immediately discovered why I had not chosen wisely. The videos linked above show a nicely disassembled wheel, sans brake drum. What it obviously didn't show was the agony that was associated with removing a stuck brake drum in order to replace the studs. I tapped and sprayed, sprayed and tapped, uttered a few incantations over the rusted axle flange, and tapped some more. The drum was still as tight as a, well, drum. So I resorted to the last thing you really want to do in a case like this: I set the car on fire.

No, not really. I called for help. I dialed Gene's cell number to see if he had any tips for getting the drum loose. He started asking a bunch of questions about whether I had done this or that to that or this, and not only didn't I know the answers, I didn't even recognize the questions. At that point, I figured the best thing to do was re-assemble everything and fall back to my original plan: pay someone who knows what they're doing and has the tools to do it with. But, being the all-around good guy and good friend that he is, he insisted on loading up his tools and coming over for an in-home consultation.

Long story shortened. Even Gene's tools and expertise couldn't loosen the stuck brake drum (it's too big for his puller), so we reluctantly agreed to give up the quest (it bothered him more than it did me). I've been putting off having the brakes on the Durango serviced, and this will give me an excuse to kill two birds with one impact wrench.

And, of course, this being a holiday weekend, I'll have to wait until next week to get everything back in order. Still, it's all fixable and nobody got hurt, and that makes for a successful mechanic experience in my sad history. What I'm worried about most of all now is what the term "stripping a stud" is going to do to the Gazette's search engine traffic, IYKWIM.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend, folks!

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