Thursday, April 10, 2014

Back to Zero

Well my project car is gone. There are a bunch of reasons why that is and I'm sure I'll get into all of it, but yeah let's let all that soak in for a while...

The main reason I sold it early was that I came to the realization that after I would've spent X thousands more to fix it up, I wouldn't be as happy as I should be for the single solitary reason that has poked at me throughout my entire driving life: I really don't like driving a manual transmission although for some reason I always try to convince myself that I do. Whenever I took the car around the block, I couldn't help but be annoyed at the fact that I was shifting and that it always felt weird and sounded very rough. And of course let us not forget the wonderful world of stoplights, hills, first gear, and rolling backwards. Although I was much better at shifting than I used to be down in Arizona, it still annoyed the hell out of me.

The second reason was that I had thought the car was vanilla and that it just needed some minor fixing up. This wasn't the case. After taking apart a lot of the innards of the exhaust and engine, I came to the realization that many of the nuts and bolts had been removed in the past meaning that it had been worked on. This wasn't so bad, but then I noticed little details that alluded to a non-mechanic as having done the work. This got me to the point where I didn't trust the car in that I had no idea if a problem I was having or would have in the future could be attributed to a previous owner mucking things up 20 years ago or if it was because of the actual age of the car.

Anyway, after realizing this, and being annoyed at driving a stick, I just lost interest in investing any more time into the car. That and after I replaced a shit-ton of gaskets, the fucking thing still leaked oil...

Here are some tidbits that I learned along the way:

Fixing up a car isn't too hard in terms of what is actually being done. What is hard is getting to a specific part and needing to remove a bunch of parts to make that happen. This is where experience and a lift comes in. The first time you take something apart it may take x number of hours, but it takes mere minutes to put everything back together again. Same thing would occur when doing the same job on another car of the same model. After doing it once, the second time will take at least 70% less time.

But here comes the kicker. Minor jobs are A-OK to do in one's garage, but any major job may be better to take to a real mechanic because most common folk will lose patience, do it wrong, not have the correct tools, not have a lift if needed, or plain begin hating their car because of the frustration involved. I was surprised to read that a lot of people do this even though they may know how to handle a major task. I guess that goes along with the time value of money. And trust me...during certain moments I would've given a ton of money to have certain problems with my project car just go away.

Spray Painting
One cool thing that I have something to show for was spray painting. In the past all I ever did was just buy a can, spray something, then call it a day. The paint was always scratchable and I really never knew why. Found out later that I had been doing it wrong my whole life. The correct process is the following:
  • Spray outside. If you try to do it in a ventilated garage, the spray can will leave a nasty paint residue on the floor that is annoying to clean up. It literally floats in the air, tries to attach to something (i.e. metal or wood), and if it doesn't it will just solidify and wander to the ground.
  • Degrease the metal surface using alcohol, mineral spirits, brake cleaner, etc.
  • Use sandpaper to scratch the whole surface down. Rough grit to finer grit is best if you have differing strengths.
  • Do NOT do what I did and get out the Dremel. There were some elevated metal parts and I thought I could lightly grind them down with the Dremel, but I could never get it perfect and always made a slightly deeper divot. Sandpapering the hell out of it would've evened it out.
  • Soap up the area with dishwasher soap and a sponge and spray it down with a hose.
  • Let it dry.
  • Spray 3 coats of Grey Primer. Read the instructions on drying times. The brand I used wanted all of the spraying to occur within an hour and the let the whole thing cure for 7 days.
  • Spray 3 coats of the color you want, unless you like Grey. And of course get the high temperature engine enamel if you are spraying a part of the engine or exhaust.
The valve cover turned out pretty good I think. Before Pic (Sanded, degreased, and washed)

After Pic (3 coats of Grey Primer)

I had convinced myself that a manual transmission was the way to go since I had thought the maintenance level would consist of getting a new clutch and flywheel, which would cost under $800 for both parts as opposed to having an automatic transmission rebuilt for $2-3k. But what I didn't know was that transmission work requires for it to separated from the engine, dropped, taken apart, then put back together. You need major tools like a lift to get the car high enough and a separate transmission lift to support the heavy-ass transmission. My DIY mind had it all wrong as this task would go under the category of a major service because of the tools involved. When you factor that into the mix, why not just have a good ol' automatic transmission?

Did you know that tires age and when they get too old they aren't supposed to be used anymore? Well I didn't. I thought that because my project car had a shit-ton of tread left that I would be good to go. But it turns out that tires are only "good" for around 4-6 years and somewhere inside of that time you're supposed to change them out because they will get hard, crack, or even have a blowout on the freeway if the structural integrity of the aged tire cannot withstand the heat and friction of the road. So yeah that would've been $600 that I did not plan for.

Many Youtube videos always said stuff about putting anti-seize lubricant on bolts and nuts to prevent rust and having bolts get stuck and such. Bad thing is that they fuck up the torque spec because the threads become totally overly lubricated. This leads to over-torquing and snapping of bolts. My unprofessional advice would be to not use it or to barely use any...bad experiences.

I had thought that because I would be working on an older car, the parts may be cheaper because people would want to get rid of old inventory, but alas that is not the case. The parts actually get more expensive because of the rarity. And then when you can't find any parts at all you are forced to go to a junkyard to find said parts. How about no.

Timing Belts
So older cars made before the mid 2000s used rubber timing belts that needed to be changed every 60k or 90k. These things only cost $30-$60 but it's one of those jobs that has a lot of labor associated with the task because it takes forever and a day to get to the part. You have to take apart so much of the car and also you need to drain the coolant because usually a timing belt replacement includes a water pump replacement because the part is right next door. Looking up varying labor costs for different types of cars, this job ranges from $300 all the way up to $1k. I had wanted to tackle this task on the project car, but then I discovered that I lacked the tools, lacked the room on a mid-engine setup, and lacked the experience without a video tutorial. Fucking up without knowing it and then spending hours to put everything back together just to find out that I would have to take everything apart again would not equal a happy day.

Modern cars have a timing chain that are supposed to last for the life of the engine meaning that as long as you maintain your car, you will never need to replace it before you sell the car. Now that's what I'm talking about.

Gaskets and rubber O-Rings become brittle and non-functional over time in keeping oil and coolant where they're supposed to be. The older the car, the more likely these will need to be replaced and oh boy does a car have a shit-load of these everywhere.

The Internet barely existed back in the early 90s, so thus there aren't many forum postings with new members. For a DIYer, having videos, pictures, and an active forum is very necessary. MR2s have an existing support group, but many people on there are assholes and aren't very helpful. The best is if you had a group of friends that had the same car so everyone could help; if you're solo it makes it much harder.

So to summarize the experience, getting a 10-20 year old car is cool in that you can get it for real cheap. Bad thing is that either it has super high miles (anything over 120k) which means that things will be leaking, breaking, or a major engine rebuild is in the car's future. If you are lucky enough to find a low-mile car, the engine is probably still OK, but you'll have to worry about everything else like the tires, rust, coolant, suspension, o-ring leaks, etc. It's not really a win/win any way you look at it because of the age thing. I always thought that a car was like a computer in that you could grab an unused computer from 1995 and everything would be OK. Sure the CMOS battery would need to be replaced but the HDD would be fine as well as the other electrical components assuming that the box wasn't in a super humid place. Not so with cars. The rubber ages, anything pressurized will lose pressure, liquids will seep out, and plastics will weaken and become brittle.

Even as I say this, the second a low-mile, good condition, auto-tranny car that goes up on CL for a few thousand, I'll be tempted to jump on that shit right quick. But project cars are fun only when they stay fun. Too bad I didn't know other people around me who liked to work on cars as's lame always referring back to the Internet and not getting a straight answer.

I still think the most practical way to buy and own a "dependable" car is to either get it brand new and maintain it to death or to get a CPO car and do the same in terms of maintenance. This way someone else eats the initial depreciation cost and you usually get at least 1 year to make sure the car doesn't need any warranty work. It's difficult to find a used car that has all of its maintenance records. Normal people don't keep track of that stuff it seems.