Friday, 4 December 2015

Trackday Funtimes

My birthday present this year was a track day for the VR6. I've never driven on a track before and the thought of driving my 18 year old VW Golf VR6 as hard as I could brought excitement and apprehension in equal measure.

The track in question was Hampton Downs in the Waikato. $80 NZD gets you to a twilight session that includes around 4 fifteen minute sessions.

To make sure the car had a chance of getting through the event I gave it a good looking over. Here's the video of the pre track day shake down:

The day itself was fantastic. It was pushing 30 degrees Celsius when I set off on the 80KM drive to the track. That in itself is probably the longest single journey I have done in what is usually my daily commuter. Did the car hold out? Did I manage to stay on the track? Here's the video of the day itself:

Of course the car made it although there were a couple of casualties from the extreme nature of going full blast on a race track:

It was a fantastic experience and one I hope to do again soon. Definitely some lessons learned from last time that will only make the day even better.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Smash and Dash

Until last month I have never had reason to call my insurance company and make a claim. That all changed when the other half was rear ended on a roundabout by a truck that didn't stop and fled the scene. Thankfully she got the registration number and company name off the side of it so there was hope of getting the damage paid for without having to pay the $500 excess.

The damage wasn't huge but i don't take kindly to people damaging my things and disappearing so I was determined to get it sorted properly. The rear mounted dash cam had stopped recording days before so I had no video evidence. See some of my other blog entries about what I think about budget dash cams.

First stop was the police station to report the crash and the failing to stop. Next was the phone call to the insurance company. 10 minutes later and the claim was processed, rental car arranged and the process explained of how and when the car would get fixed. Simple and efficient.

I also called the company who owned the vehicle who caused the damage. The guy was very defensive and refused to give me any insurance details. Not to worry I thought, the claim recovery department of my insurance company would get things sorted.

Time came to drop the car off for repair. They checked the damage, gave me keys to the rental and said it would be fixed in a few days. The next working day they called to say it was all fixed. Very impressed with that and the quality of the repair, less impressed with the fact that they hadn't managed to sort claiming from the third party leaving me to pay the excess. Apparently they were refusing to talk and not answering calls. That made me pretty wild so I got back onto the company owner and he was still being difficult. I made him squirm a bit though and here's the highlight of my conversation with him:

That conversation didn't resolve things so I made a plan of actions to get things resolved. This plan included:

  1. Get the details of the Company Directors so you can address communication to them. This can be done for free at Companies Office. This gives you names, office and home address details of the people you're after.
  2. Send a polite letter requesting payment of the excess. I sent this to both the business and personal address of the two directors. Knowing some angry person who you owe money to has your home address was enough to prompt swift resolution of the claim and my excess was refunded next day.
  3. If the above hadn't been successful my next step was to take the case a Disputes Tribunal which deals with small claims up to $15,000 in value. The third party has to attend court so even if you're unsuccessful in getting things resolved you've disrupted his business for some time.
  4. I hadn't thought past step 3 but if you're still not getting anywhere then I'm sure a social media campaign, direct action or any other means you can think of to put some pressure on will make you feel better even if you're still out of pocket.
If you're in a similar situation and manage to get a registration number but no company details you can look up the owner (for the cost of a few dollars) via carjam. This only works for business vehicles, private individuals details will not be disclosed. You have to get those from the Police once they have investigated the incident.

Speaking of the police, a nice bonus outcome was a letter that arrived in the mail yesterday. Not only did I get my excess refunded, the offending driver got a ticket for driving like a dick!

So my advice is to persevere until you get the right result. Make it known to the third party that you're not going to leave them alone until things get sorted and stick to a plan of action that's going to get results.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Top 5 Car Failures

I've had many cars over the years and driven many miles. As a consequence I've experienced a fair few failures. In amongst all the flat batteries, water leaks and more mundane failures I've picked out 5 of the more memorable:

5) Difficult Hilux

This one wasn't even my car. I'd taken my Dad's Toyota Hilux to work, a journey of about 65 miles, 100Kms at the time down the motorway. It was barely 2 years old, a pristine white 4x4 example. The journey there was unremarkable, the truck was parked up happily until home time. When I set off to go home all was well. After about 5 minutes of driving on the motorway I started noticing a hesitation and occasional jerkiness. It felt like a misfire which in a diesel is probably not going to be the case! There were no funny noises and it was still driving ok so I carried onto the motorway services another 5 miles up the road to take a closer look.

I parked up, got out and had a look under the bonnet. Engine was idling nicely, revving freely couldn't see anything out of place. I was a bit stumped so had a walk around the vehicle and a look underneath. That's when I saw a missing drain plug in the transfer case and still a hint of magic smoke escaping. The drain plug that was installed at the factory and yet to be touched by a service department was AWOL leaving me stranded with a seized transfer box.

It got towed and fixed under warranty and came back with some nice shiny new parts.

4) Ford Falcon Head Gasket

Many years ago I embarked on a round Australia road trip. Starting in Perth, Western Australia I bought a heap of junk Ford Falcon (with working AC) and set off on a 20,000KM drive. Things were going well. I'd had a few near misses with cows, camels and other wildlife. Crossed a few rivers and the car was still going. Having spent some tine in Darwin it was time to drive through the Red Centre of Australia - essentially a desert with temps of up to 50 Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).

One leg of the journey took us from Katherine to Alice Springs, a distance of around 1200KM. There wasn't much to look at between the two places and other travelers had just started disappearing so we made good time. There never used to be a speed limit on the highway so we were making great progress. Hammer down, AC blowing then I noticed the temperature gauge pinned to the red. We stopped to have a look and wait for things to cool down. An hour later the thing was still red hot so we started cramming ice from the chilly bin into the radiator. That proved to be quite effective and the car carried on for another 7,000KM before being abandoned. Occasionally a radiator hose would blow off or it would run like crap but for the most part it kept going.

3) Skoda Dual Mass Flywheel

The only car I have ever owned from brand new. A fully spec'd, all wheel drive Skoda Octavia Scout with all the options. Fantastic car if you ignore the emissions. The plan was to look after it and keep it forever. Well that didn't work out, mainly because I moved to New Zealand but regardless the car let me down after a few months.

Driving through a fairly dodgy part of Hull, East Yorkshire late one night I pulled off from some traffic lights. The car didn't seem to be moving very quickly. I turned the stereo down to hear the engine revving but the car not moving. I checked I was in gear and I sure was. Turns out the dual mass flywheel had imploded so I ended up with a new clutch and flywheel with only around 3000 miles on the dial.

2) Audi S6 Clutch Pedal

My Audi S6 was a phenomenal car. Fast, comfortable, heaps of grip. It was the last petrol car I used for work and covered around 30,000 miles a year in it. I was heading back to the office after a weekend in Worcestershire. The journey takes you from the M5 motorway in the Midlands to the M4 in Berkshire via the A417/A419. The A417 includes the stretch heading up the notorious Bridlip Hill
and around the Air Balloon Roundabout. It always used to be one of the busiest stretches of road anywhere in the country, especially on a Monday morning. Heading up the hill in stop start traffic I started having difficulty getting the car into gear and when I did clutch was either off or on.

On a hill, in the outside lane approaching a roundabout of one of the UKs busiest intersections is about the worst place to break down. It causes a level of automotive stress that I don't ever wish to relive. There was nowhere to pull out of the way, I couldn't push the car up the hill. Stopping where I was would have caused miles of tailbacks and I most likely would have been murdered by countless angry commuters.

Using a combination of left and right foot braking, handbrake, accelerator and driving the car on the starter I managed to get round the roundabout and into the central reservation so traffic could pass. A police car arrived soon after and offered to tow me into a nearby pub car park which at 8 AM was disappointingly shut.

The clutch pedal bracket had sheared off due to metal fatigue. The downside of all wheel drive cars with powerful engines is a heavy clutch. Being the car I used for work I had taken out a warranty and up until then the warranty company had been great at paying out claims. The warranty stated that the 'Clutch Pedal Assembly' was indeed covered but they did not think that the failed clutch pedal assembly constituted part of that. It got sorted in the end and they paid out £579.65 for a shiny new one.

1) Suzuki Cracked Head + Budget Fix

The old lady decided that her Subaru wagon was about to cost her big bucks so wanted to get something different. At the time different meant cheap and that meant we ended up with a very used 1992 Suzuki Swift. It was small, powerful and used no fuel. Perfect! Well not quite.

I'd checked it over when we bought it and all seemed fine but when I changed the oil it started to appear that all was not well. The oil that drained out had a milky sheen across the top of it, much like you see with a blown head gasket or as is more common with the G16 engine in the Swift, a cracked head. The car hadn't been had much recent use before we picked it up so I was hoping it was just a bit of moisture from sitting (even though this was summer with temps of 30 Celsius). I changed the coolant as well and that all looked fine.

The next day, new coolant started pouring out of the water pump. That got fixed, but over the next few days globs of white mayonnaise started accumulating under the oil filler cap and it was running hot. The engine was toast. It looked really bad, and after finding that this particular Swift was super rare and near impossible to find parts for I was sure it was going to scrap.

With nothing to lose I got hold of some K-Seal. The little bottle promised so much but delivered so little. I changed the oil in the sump and it quickly turned back into goop and the water level kept dropping. I was about to give up but a quick chat with a friendly local mechanic suggested I try a copper powder based stop leak like this.

With low expectations I followed the instructions and drove the car the next day or so. To my surprise the water level did not budge and after changing the oil again that stayed the colour and consistency of engine oil.

The car was fixed and kept going for another year or two until we sold it still working. It had even managed an 1100KM fully laden roadtrip from Christchurch to Auckland.

I wouldn't recommend any kind of stop leak in a car you plan on keeping but when the alternative is the scrapyard, chuck $10 at the problem and you could get lucky.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Filtering Fuel

The fuel filter on the Golf VR6 got changed today. The old one had been on the car for a year but only around 7000KMs. That doesn't seem like a long time but for the sake of a $13NZD filter it gives piece of mind that the car is running on nice clean 98 octane fuel and helps guard against needing to get the injectors reconditioned for $400NZD.

I was surprised at how dirty the old filter was and having seen the state of it especially glad to have swapped it out. I suppose fuel tanks have vents and big openings for filling that lead to the ingress of dirt and grime. Petrol being a solvent keeps the dirt from sticking to the tank and the fuel pump sucks it on through to the filter. This makes the filter pretty important to keeping the car working properly.

Amazingly Volkswagen state that the filter on the MK3 golf does not require changing and should last the lifetime of the vehicle. If you look at the state of the one I removed off the car last year after 15 years you would probably disagree.

Lots of black, nasty gunk. I'm sure that if I had dissected this filter you would have seen that dirt was making it all the way through to the 'clean' side.

It was interesting to see that the new genuine Volkswagen replacement part was made in China. That's the first time I have seen 'Made in China' on any VW packaging. I would have thought that they would have stuck to Mann & Hummel or one of the other German parts manufacturers.

Anyway, it's an easy job you can do yourself and here's the video:

Friday, 9 October 2015

Dashcams - The Hard Truth

Living in a big city with people who can't drive is the reason I got my first dashcam. I had a voucher for somewhere and it cost about $25 after discount. It was big and bulky and the video quality was pretty average but it worked. It looked like this:

I figured that better video quality would be good for whatever the camera would be used for. If you want it as a silent witness to any road incident you need good quality to read number plates and get the details. If you want it for scenic views it needs to be HD at least.

That took me to the G1W-C. Great video quality and good reviews all round seemed like it was a good choice. It cost around $70, and video looks like this:

The G1W-C has its issues. You'll notice from the video above that the time and date are up the whoop. That's an issue when you pass footage onto the police like in the case above. Took some effort to verify information of when and where this crazy stuff happened. There are also big gaps between each clip on the camera and it doesn't always record. Both of those are definitely an issue if you want it to get you out of a tight spot.

So next, after reading heaps of review I thought I would try the Dome G30B. It was cheap, had an emergency button so you could save incidents at the touch of a button and included a rear camera.

It seemed good at first. It remembered time and date, video quality from the front camera was good and it was a compact unit. Then it went downhill. The rear camera quality was shocking, the unit was very fussy about memory cards and despite multiple claims that it featured 'Loop Recording' it just gave up as soon as the memory card was full. The device still said it was recording but it wasn't.

This turned out to be a big issue when the old lady was rear ended and the guy drove off. She got the number plate of the person who did it but it then becomes her word against there's and we're left with a $500 insurance excess until the other party accept they were at fault. Not a problem if you have a dashcam with rear camera to capture the evidence but as you guessed it the card had filled up some days prior to the event and we didn't have the evidence that would have made things so much easier.

I dealt to the dome in an appropriate manner as shown below:

So I found myself needing a solution that was going to work reliably and be there when I needed it. The budget Chinese cameras are a false economy. You need something you can rely on when you need it. I decided that I needed to spend more money on a camera. I needed to buy locally and it needed to have a warranty.

The local options were the Navman MiVue 580 or the Blackvue DR650GW-2CH. The Navman goes for around $300 and the Blackvue around $585. As it happened, the day after the hit and run the Navman was on special at $200, so it was a done deal. I did take a look at the Blackvue and it is an impressive bit of kit with some awesome cloud features coming soon so I will probably end up with one eventually.

The Navman has been installed for a couple of days and so far it has been very impressive. It's solid, great build quality, awesome video and so far just works exactly as it should. It also features GPS so tracks speed and plots your route on Google maps making following footage a breeze. The emergency record button works as expected and so far I have nothing bad to report. After my experiences so far I remain skeptical but hopefully when I come back with a long term review of the Navman in a couple of months I'll feel the same way.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Car Audio Extravaganza!

Coming soon to Badgertronix is a car audio video series getting decent sound out of the family Ford.

The car is used for long trips, with plenty of time spent in areas without radio reception so a decent stereo is handy to help the time pass.

The factory headunit is a single cd, double DIN Sony thing with Aux in hidden in the glovebox. Sound quality is fine, but lack of iPod or Bluetooth inputs meant having to crack out CDs which isn't ideal in 2015.

So what do I want?

  • USB, SD Card and/or iPod input - to get the tunes on the deck brah
  • Reversing Camera - it's a double DIN hole so might as well fill it with a screen.
  • Bluetooth handsfree - why not
  • Decent sound quality - upgraded speakers, possibly an amp, surface preparation.
  • Stealth install - nothing visible apart from the headunit. System designed for Go and not Show

The Plan

This upgrade is going to happen over a period of time with updates and reviews on the effectiveness of each step. Rome wasn't built in a day, nor was an awesome car audio solution in a Ford Focus Wagon. The first part of the project is vaguely called 'Surface Preparation'. The car has no rattles, is well screwed together but there is a bit of road noise especially noticeable in the cheap seats at the back. First step is to reduce that noise and provide nice dampened surfaces for the system to work in.

  • Butyl and foam based sound deadening sheets are available from Dynamat and other companies. This is a heavy self adhesive material used to line doors, boot spaces and other areas to reduce road noise and vibrations. Provides a much better environment for your system to work in.

Next I'll look at the options and get moving on the install.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

VW Audi Parts in NZ

When it comes to running a VW or Audi in New Zealand finding a decent car is one thing, finding parts is equally troublesome.

Once you've found a nice car that isn't a dodgem (aka automatic) you'll probably want to do some of the long overdue maintenance. Your average Kiwi will stretch to oil and filter changes but not much else from my experience.

The biggest problem is finding parts at a reasonable price.

As an example, a rear wheel bearing for a MK3 Golf is $53 from a local specialist for a Febi one. The same part costs $20 delivered from the UK. No wonder European cars are seen as luxury and expensive here.

Of course some things have to be bought locally. Here are some of my buying strategies for parts and how I get a good deal.

My VR6 cost $900 so I'm not too worried about running genuine parts. However I do stick to OEM quality wherever possible. That includes using brands like Febi, MANN, Hengst, etc.

First of all register on this gives you access to the parts catalogue and the all important parts info.

Once I have the part number I head over to my favourite eBay seller karpartsandmore

If it's available from here that's as far as my search will go. Great service, cheap shipping and I know it will turn up within a week.

If I can't get the part from there then micksgarage is the next place to look. They stock a few other brands including Mahle and Meyle both of which I've had good success with. You can either search by OE part number or do the vehicle lookup. Both options work pretty well.

MicksGarage have some great prices. Shipping always used to be charged at $9 and provided you didn't order anything bulky or heavy that's how much you paid. For heavy orders you would end up paying an additional $20-$30 shipping depending on weight. That's annoying as it seemed to delay despatch by a day but still usually worked out to be good value. They've recently changed their shipping policy to include a New Zealand specific shipping charge of $14.50 and free shipping for over $250. I've yet to test the new system but hopefully it has simplified the purchase process.

Other options include Eurocarparts or GSF but then you get a problem with shipping. Neither offer easy options for international shipping and when they give you a quote the rates are pretty steep. Both have really great sales from time to time.

The workaround for that is to use NZ Posts YouShop that is a super efficient re-delivery service. It opens up possibilities for ordering from Europe and the States. My VR6 cooling system refresh came from UROtuning using YouShop. That was great until they managed to leave something off the order I ended up getting the missing part from the VW dealer at huge expense.

VWPartsInternational and OEMandMore are also great to deal with for certain VW bits and pieces.

J&R for CV joints via YouShop and various other eBay buys. Latvia and Poland based sellers often have good price factory parts. The Green Spark Plug Co are good for sparkplugs and ignition leads,

So long as you can plan ahead and keep stock of key spares you can save a fortune by shopping smart overseas.

Friday, 4 September 2015

New Dashcam

I've been using a G1W-C dashcam for a little while and it has performed well but with a few issues. These include the times when it doesn't record anything, the gaps between clips (which is always when the action happens) and the lack of a SOS/Save button to save the current recording.

Video quality has been great day and night and even help get a dangerous driver off the road:

Looking at a camera for the other car I came across the Dome G30B from Gearbest. Now the Dome range of cameras seems to be getting good reviews and this model comes with a rear view camera. The car this camera is destined for doesn't have the best rear vision so this camera will hopefully help out on that front.

Here's a side by side comparison of the 2 cameras in dull daylight. I think both cameras provide decent quality video, the G1W-C looks clearer but I prefer the colours of the Dome unit.

This is the second attempt at getting a side by side video. With the first attempt the Dome camera didn't record anything. Even on this attempt it only recorded half the journey. I'll have to figure out if this is a problem with the camera, the memory card or me not reading the instructions.

Once I've used the Dome G30B for a while I'll do a full review but here's a quick comparison:

If you want to buy a Dome G30B click on the link below:

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The VR6 Story

The VR6 has been in the fleet for just over a year now. It wasn't a planned purchase, more an opportunity I couldn't turn down.

The car was listed on an auction site with the starting bid set to $900 NZD. Despite lots of questions and views there were still no bids. So with a minute to go on the auction I bid at $900....and got the car.

It's an ex Japan car with one New Zealand owner. It had no Warrant of Fitness but the previous owner had listed what it had failed on - ABS, engine mount and a few other things. When I picked up the car the airbag light was on. That was fixed with a replacement clock spring. Reset the ABS light and took it for a warrant. It failed , as expected, but on a completely different set of items than expected. All it need was a couple of tyres and a rear wheel bearing so later that day the VR6 was back on the road!

Unfortunately I suffer from automotive OCD do so set about getting the car up to my standard. I ordered new suspension bushes, engine and gearbox mounts, full set of filters and spark plugs and have the car a birthday. The fuel filter on the car turned out to be the factory original and some nasty black stuff poured out of it.
 Of course all these parts came from the UK or Ireland as sourcing anything locally is stupidly expensive. The week long wait for car parts to arrive is always torture.

There seemed to be a slight coolant leak from the electric water pump. Brittle with age one of the flanges was cracked. A replacement genuine one came from Latvia. The pump and a few litres of G13 coolant and all was well. 

The ABS light came back on and a trip to the local scrap yard yielded a new ABS computer, miscellaneous trim parts and a near new inlet hose from the two VR6s that were being broken.
Summer was approaching and the air con wasn't working so that was next on the list to sort. The system held pressure but the compressor wouldn't kick in and the fans weren't going. Replaced the fan control module which was rusty and falling to pieces. 
AC still no go after the change but the afterrun water pump now worked as it should. Working through the wiring diagram I traced a wiring fault between the AC switch and fan module. Once repaired the air blew nice and cold!

After driving the car for a few months there started to be a few drops of coolant on the drive. Looked like one of the coolant hoses from the crack pipe to the oil cooler. Ordered the whole crack pipe and thermostat housing and associated hoses from UROtuning and changed them out. 
After spending hours contorted in the engine bay replacing parts I was gutted when the dripping of coolant continued. Turns out the oil cooler has sprung a leak and had to wait another week for a new one to come from Dublin. Swapped out an inner CV joint as well.

Ignition leads, serpentine belt and valve cover gasket were brought over from the UK when family came to visit.

I've also upgraded the stereo and speakers and retrimmed the headliner.

The car is running great although being 17 years old there are a couple of jobs to do. There's a leak from one of the output seals in the diff. It doesn't leak much and will be dealt with when I drop the transmission out to do the timing chain. Ideally I will be doing a manual conversion at the same time. The timing chain is pretty quiet but will change it for fun. Rear axle beam bushes should get changed at some point and there's a scuff on the bumper I want to repaint.

It's a great car that makes an awesome noise and uses less petrol than you think it would.


Monday, 31 August 2015

Car History

1984 Ford Fiesta 1.1 Popular Plus
1988 Citroen BX 16 RS
1989 Vauxhall Senator 3.0
1988 Audi Coupe quattro
1987 Ford Falcon XF
1994 Audi S6
2001 Volkswagen Passat 1.9 Tdi Sport
2008 Skoda Octavia Scout
1992 Subaru Legacy Wagon
1992 Toyota Hilux
2007 Suzuki GN250
1992 Nissan Maxima 3.0 24v
1992 Suzuki Swift 1.6
1990 Audi 90
1998 Audi A3 1.8
2008 Ford Focus 1.8 TDCi
1998 Volkswagen Golf VR6