Monday, January 27, 2020

The Car Keepers Guide.

Written by Joseph James (1982)

Just what kind of car guy am I?

This is an excellent book that lays out the economic and practical reasons to hold onto a car for a long period of time. It stresses the need to maintain the car properly, because you are making an investment in providing yourself with long term, reliable transportation.

Your car is not seen as something that will hold it's intrinsic value as an object, as cars are subject to brutal depreciation. The actual investment is made viewing the car as a means of reliable, value cost transportation.

The car itself might be worth relatively little as an automobile. The value is in what it can provide you: a realistic alternative to a new car purchase.

You do not have to be a car enthusiast to subscribe to this philosophy.

You do not need to currently own a "desirable, special, or collectible" car.

But it doesn't preclude it.

In fact, the author makes a point that owning a special car is a very good reason for holding on to it.

One of the reasons that the author gives for making the decision to keep your current car, is if it is better than the cars that are currently available.

This book was published in 1982 deep into "the malaise era."  This was the tail end of the period that Detroit, as well as other manufacturers, had been wrestling with oftentimes contradictory demands. They had to meet governmental mandates for improvements in cleaner running, more fuel efficient, and safer passenger cars. In addition to that, American manufacturers were in the process of producing "downsized" versions of their various full and midsized models. On top of this, prices were rising higher and higher every year, leading many consumers to think that they were having to pay more and more for much less.

Automotive journalists, car enthusiasts and the general public were asking themselves, "Are we ever going to be able to buy good cars again?

Looking back from Today we can answer that question as a positive, Yes!

Today's cars are great, but they are more expensive than ever.

The author goes into a detailed analysis of the financial aspects of car keeping. Popular thinking among non mechanically minded car owners is that a car eventually gets too old to economically run. It's better to dump the car before the some big failure occurs that strands you on the side of the road and empties your wallet. The author debunks these myths.

Many folks believe that it is important to trade up to a new car that gets better gas mileage. Somehow this will save them money. Yes you will save some money at each fill up, but at what cost? Another four years of higher car payments! It takes a lot of time and driving to amortize the savings in fuel,

The basic premise is that it is never better financially to trade in your existing car for a new model as opposed to keeping your current vehicle.

That is because the highest cost in car ownership is not maintenance, service, repair or fuel costs. It is depreciation, and that is "front loaded." That new car loses almost twenty percent of it's value the moment it rolls off the lot. Depreciation is the highest during the first three years, when a car can lose up to a third of it's value. It was once common to trade in your car every three or four years right when the hit from depreciation is the highest, instead of spreading out the loss over five years or more.

Combine that with the minimal trade in allowance that the dealer provides, it's no wonder that so many people dread the purchase of a new car. It's a terrible, money losing experience.

The author does not try to persuade you that you are going to save money overall because you are going to neglect maintenance or repairs to your current car. In fact, you are likely to spend more money on the car as opposed to "drive it until it dies" mentality followed by many owners of older cars.

You are also not going to neglect the appearance or interior areas of your car, either.

You are aiming to maintain your car at a presentable level that will not cause you (or your significant other) embarrassment for driving a raggedy, run down vehicle.

As he put it "This is car keeping, not wreck keeping!"

This is not a "Do it Yourself" manual. You don't have to have any mechanical knowledge or interest. He doesn't expect the reader to spend his weekends under the hood or crawling under the car spinning wrenches. He goes into great detail about searching for a good, honest mechanic who will be your partner in car keeping. Good mechanics are hard to find, and finding one that has the right attitude to assist you in your plan is a major achievement.

He makes a special point in asking how you would feel about driving an older model car. Would you feel embarrassed ? Is the kind of car you drive an important display for your perceived (or hoped for) social status?

Would this affect your position at your job, career, or the within the social circles that you circulate ?

This is not just a matter of personal vanity. For many in sales or management positions, public perception is an important element in their success. Sometimes the right image is just part of the cost of doing business.

If however, you are free of those constraints or you may feel secure enough in your social position that you have decided that a new car in the driveway is not the best or most important indicator of status. Perhaps a vacation time share, a European vacation, home improvements, or a college education for your children might be money better spent.

Or maybe just a little extra money put away for retirement!

Of course I focused on the aspect of the book where you decide to keep a "special" car. It might have been purchased new, or by taking advantage of the massive depreciation that most cars suffer during the first 3-5 years. This can often bring the cost of acquisition down to those who were not born wealthy.

So you might buy a fancy luxury, sports or performance car. Or a vintage model that costs much less than the current models in that manufacturer's line up. Think used Mercedes, Porsche, Jaguar, Lexus, or maybe a large truck or SUV. Corvettes and Mustangs. Used F150s and Expeditions can be bought at bargain prices.

This book is concerned with long range thinking, the savings that you are going to achieve come from amortizing your expenses and getting the most usage from your expenditures.

This also requires a lot of discipline, and a commitment to keeping your current car. There is no point in buying a new battery proactively, tires, or having your car repainted if you are going to sell or trade it in the near future. Especially if the trade is an unplanned spur of the moment, emotionally driven choice. How many of us have traded in our cars with a full tank of gas, because we went out looking at new cars on a Sunday morning?

For enthusiasts, one great obstacle is overcoming the desire for the "next big thing."

I know that I spend a lot of time surfing the net looking for interesting cars that catch my interest. Which means almost anything built in the last fifty years!

Since I'm known as the car guy at work, I occasionally get asked by one of my young coworkers about a good car buying strategy.

So I will share my philosophy with all of you eager (?) readers.

Cars Today are the best built, longest lasting, safest and most economical models--- ever.

They routinely rack up 200,000 miles without requiring major engine repair. Everyone knows someone who has an old Honda Accord or Camry that has exceeded that mileage and is still in constant use.

If you were to buy a brand new car you could anticipate 100,000 miles or ten years of reliable service.
You would also be the person that absorbs the initial cost of depreciation, however if you were to hold onto the car for a decade you will amortize the impact of this burden.

Now if you were to buy a three year old car you could avoid that massive depreciation, pick up a car with some of it's original warranty, and still get years of service at an even better price.

A well kept fairly new car can easily maintain it's appearance for many, many, years. It can retain a very satisfying ambiance. It will easily maintain pride of ownership. Of course it's much easier to preserve something instead of trying to restore it.

That is the lesson of the Car Keepers Guide.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Going through the "shakedown" process.

image source: getty
This would not be the result that I would be hoping for.
Looks like the driver abandoned ship!

I never once, even once, thought about doing a bad lip sync of Taylor Swift's hit "Shake it off!" Though it seems that many, many, other people succumbed (sadly) to that desire.


"Shake down miles" refers to the period that follows after a major rebuild or repair has been completed.

It also pertains to vehicle that has been recommissioned, that is, placed back into service after a long period of inactivity. The term recommissioned is used on the Jaguar forum by our British members. I like it. It has that nautical sound to it, apropos to the Brits, who once ruled the waves.

In my case, it's more like just putting some miles down to see what kind of existing problems continue, or new ones that pop up.

It's a time to evaluate the condition of your machine and to start to build some confidence in it's reliability.

No car is anything but a big toy if you are not confident to drive it.

Obviously, no used, older machine can be considered to be completely reliable.

We are dealing in probabilities.

We've all seen "Dirty Harry."

As Clint Eastwood said in his immortal role as Inspector Harry Callahan, "Do you feel lucky?"

You've got to find a way to take luck out of the equation.

You've got to stack the odds in your favor.

Several years ago I posted a checklist that would help you to determine if your old car could be considered a daily driver. This was posted on September 6th. 2014. (Hard to believe that I've been blogging for so long!)

I'll admit now that my phrasing was very much influenced by Jeff Foxworthy's comedy riff, "If you do----- blank, then you might be a red neck." Either way, it just set up a series of conditions that you would expose your car to, and if it performs successfully, then "You might have a daily driver!"

Anything can happen to any car. Even brand new cars. That's what the original warranty is for.

Generally, most new cars never experience a debilitating failure in their early years.

Though many may experience them after the warranty period has expired!

Old cars are worn cars, but nor necessarily "worn out" old cars. Regular maintenance is meant to extend their useful lives and keep the attentive owner apprised of his vehicle's condition.

Many common maladies make themselves known gradually, leaving plenty of time to make the necessary replacements and repairs. In other words, you've got to pay attention.

One of the kids at work once described how the oil light came on in the old Dodge Neon that he had gotten from his Father in Law. When he checked the dipstick he found that no oil was registering on it!

He asked me how that could that happen. I told him that old cars burn and leak oil and that they are likely not going to make it to a normal oil change interval before the level is dangerously low. I told him that he should check the oil every fuel fill up. Oh! He said. He never knew that.

Of course I do know better, so I have no excuse.

I'm keeping an eye out for oil and other fluid leaks, listening for strange engine noises, monitoring imminent overheating and paying strict attention to how the engine is running and how well the transmission and brakes are working.

As I stated once before, you should never start out on a trip with a car with known issues.

So my job right now is to drive the car as much as I can. Driving to work is a good distance, only 11 miles each way.

Of course you have to have some basic confidence that your car is going to make it to work on time, it's one thing to have a problem on the way home. That would be bad enough, but getting to work late, or even worse not getting to work at all, kind of defeats the purpose of the whole thing. You're not saving any money that way.

How to fit a tow truck in your wallet.

So, how should you start this process?

I recommend just going for it. Just pay attention and stop the car (!!!!) if problems develop.

In any risky endeavor you need to have a back up plan.

My ultimate back up plan is my extended range AAA towing insurance. I have four free 100 mile tows each year. My wife and Daughter both have four tows also. Those tows can be strung together if necessary. This can provide great peace of mind.

I had to use my extended tows when my four year old F150 broke down on the way home from Las Vegas. The a/c compressor seized up just north of Santa Maria. My first tow carried me from Santa Maria to Gilroy. The second tow got me all the way home. I was glad to have the insurance and the provided tows, but riding with my Wife in a tow truck for a couple of hundred miles isn't anyone's idea of fun!

This was with a truck that I had purchased brand new. It was just a bit out of warranty. The repair; replacement of the compressor, condenser and evaporator cost me 1,500 dollars. So having a new or nearly new vehicle isn't a way to completely eliminate the risk.

We're talking about probabilities.

As I mentioned in a previous posting, just getting over the novelty of driving the car is a major hurdle.
That can only be cured by familiarity. No matter how fantastic any car is, it is just a machine intended to be used as transportation.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Thirty Something.

The ABC television series ran from 1987 through 1991.

This post isn't going to be about those angst ridden Yuppies. Though the adventures of Michael, Hope , Elliot, Nancy and the others, were entertaining to many, myself included. I mean who wouldn't want to be Gary? Good looks, great job, the only single guy in the bunch. That guy had it all.

This is also where I got hung up on the idea of having a big, old, fixer upper of a house. Oh, how I dreamed about having a Victorian, Tudor, Colonial Revival or Mission bungalow. I read so many books on rebuilding these houses and subscribed for years to "The Old House Journal." I went on historic homes tours all over the state. This was on top of my prior years of subscribing to "Better Homes and Gardens."

In the end more practical considerations overcame all my enthusiasms. The only historic houses that I could afford were the ones located in transitioning areas selected by "Urban Pioneers." These are a hardy, self reliant, optimistic group of homeowners. Time has proven them to be right, and their homes in once blighted areas have become well kept neighborhood investments.

But that didn't seem to be the right choice for my family. My Wife was probably right. I managed to work my way up into a conventional California Ranch that needed some work then. Thirty something years later it still does.

During the first ten years of home ownership the house and raising the family became my main focus. Cars and motorcycles were still around of course, but they were all shoved onto the back burner.

I still remember what it was like during this time, when I was thirty something. But enough about me.


I'm talking about one of my cars that has just turned thirty one years old, My '89 Jaguar XJS.

It's first blush of youth, which was spent with an unknown original owner, has long been left to memory. The fresh faced Twenties have been lived through, and now it's time for maturity to set in.

Unfortunately, for cars reaching 30 years of age it isn't like with us humans. For people, it's time to get real and figure out where your life is going. Thirty years to a car means encroaching old age. Like a dog, the years carry a much greater toll.

One area that is particularly important is that this is the first generation of thirty something autos that carries a whole slew of electronic gadgetry. There are rudimentary micro processors employed here. And while no one is using a 30 year old desk top computer anymore, these cars must continue to function with a plethora of Stone Age computing power.

Fortunately, they are not asked to run new programs or applications. They just keep on working within their familiar tasks and parameters.

Until they don't.

While we can choose to leave that old Commodore desk top unit turned off, we need to depend on our cars to function. With electronic control modules controlling the fuel injection and anti lock braking, we need to be sure that these two essential functions will continue to work properly. Automatic temperature control isn't essential, but it sure is nice. Sometimes there isn't an easy way to run it in manual mode. Then there are the myriad electrical assists. Cruise control, power windows, seats, door and trunk locks.

A particular question had been nagging at the fringes of my consciousness for the last couple of decades:

Will a time come when these essential electronic systems cease to work, and will the parts to repair them even be available in the unknown future?

The XJS was a bit of a Wunderchild back in the day. It's specifications were pretty impressive back then.

The number of cylinders was always the first thing that was impressive, but that alone is not the main issue.

Electronic fuel injection requires an ECU (electronic control unit) with many sensors. Temperature, vacuum, and throttle position, for example.

Electronic ignition requires numerous sensors to decide when to fire the spark: crankshaft position, throttle position, and magnetic triggering.

Anti lock braking systems require speed sensing devices on each wheel to gather wheel speed data. This data is fed into the main ECU or it's own computer. This will direct impulses to an electrically driven pump and valve body.

Automatic temperature control requires sensors that control the activation of the heating and cooling systems to maintain a consistent cabin temperature.

These cars are full of sensors, which wear out and degrade through the years of their service life.
Luckily many of these sensors were used by a large number of manufacturers and are still readily available.However some are specific to a certain engine/ car application and are a little harder to come by. Sometimes an internet search will return with the result that that specific part is NLA (no longer available).

Other more complex devices such as the primary ECU are not only vehicle specific but of course NLA, at least as a new replacement unit.

What do you do if your ECU goes out? How will you get your car to run? It's not like you can convert it back to breaker points and a carburetor.

You have to either repair the part that you have, or hope that a unit sourced from a wrecking yard will still have some life in it.

Their are many threads on the Jaguar forum where the owner has opened up an ECU and re-soldered loose components on the printed circuit board. Constant shock and vibration over the years can result in cracked or broken solder connections. This can result in intermittent or no function. The mechanic has to find and "reflow" the damaged connections. Many components were assembled with internal "ribbon connectors" instead of a conventional wiring harness. These can also fall prey to cracks and breaks incurred during their lifetime.

Even good old basic wire harnesses find difficulty in standing up to the rigors of time. Breaks, shorts opens, and other maladies can afflict the car owner. And best of all. many of these failures are intermittent!

To Infinity, and Beyond!
I can't take credit for thinking up that line.

How did they fit all that music into such a little box?

"Solid State" construction was  the buzzword of the Space Age of the early 1960s.

Here's how, miniaturized components.

Transistors and circuit boards promised increased reliability and a longer, trouble free service life compared to vacuum tubes, capacitors, resistors and diodes connected by yards of electrical wire with hand soldered connections.

That transistor radio eliminated all these bulky components
and had the added benefit of the FM band.

This of course begs the essential question; " how long exactly, is their lifetime?"

In the coming years I think that automotive enthusiasts are going to find out the answer to that question.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

2020:  The year of the XJS.

A candid photo reveals that I
 could stand to lose a few pounds!

A New Year calls for resolutions even if we don't stick to them for very long. I no longer verbalize my resolutions, no need to call attention to my failings!

However I do have plans that I would like to accomplish this year. Plans that include my cars of course. Especially my XJS.

I've had the XJS for several years now. I think it's actually been around four years plus. I bought it before I bought my XJ6 and well before I bought my Mark VII.

Progress has been made, but it's happened slowly. One of my priorities was to spend very little money, very slowly. I have taken a very low buck DIY approach to the project.

The car was a running and driving example when I bought it, although there were clearly problems with the transmission. It was slow to engage gear and would slip before catching, especially in the drive position. It was a bit better in the First gear position.

Over time I tried many things to fix the transmission on the cheap, but was unsuccessful. Swapping in a good used transmission got the car up and running. That cost me all of 180.00 but much more in effort and frustration.  I am very glad to say that the transmission shifts beautifully and will kick down with a tap of the toe. Mission accomplished, at least in this area.

While I have been involved in other automotive and home projects the car has always sat on the back burner.

I replaced the front lower suspension arm bushings, That was easy, there was no need to drop the steering rack though I did it anyway. I should have waited to see if it was necessary. It did make a noticeable difference. The car tracks straight when I let go of the wheel. It could use an alignment as the wheel isn't oriented in the center. I also don't want to ruin my new tires.

After the suspension work I experienced all that rough running business which I was able to sort out with the assistance of my fellow forum members.

The car really needed a new set of tires and that has been the biggest single cash expenditure so far. But now I can actually drive it around. I'm trying to put some shakedown miles on it.

I'm concentrating on the ABS system, as I have some valid concerns. Changing the fluid does seem to be flushing the system. I need to replace a broken wheel lug so that will be a good time to bleed the brakes to clean the remainder of the old fluid out. I would also like to put new pads in the parking brake system so I'll have to crawl under the rear of the car some more.

Up and running that's the plan.

It's about time that I moved the car up on the roster.

Can I get the car into the condition that I would be able to use it as an actual car? One that I can drive to work, on errands and little road trips?

That's what cars are for, but they have to be real. Can this become a real car?

My feelings about the car are ... complicated.

I do think that it is a very handsome car. While it is not easy to work on, it is actually one of Jaguar's better designs.

Comparing it to the later XK8 model it comes out looking pretty good in the comparison.

The motor doesn't have the Nickasil liner problems or plastic timing chain tensioners that plague the early V8s.

The transmission is a well proven General Motors Turbo 400, the same as found in every late 60's Cadillac, Corvette, and classic big block Muscle car. There's no issue with the "A" drum breaking. The convertible top mechanism is reliable and the manual front top clamps will never spray me with green hydraulic fluid.

Both cars are known to wear their suspensions bushings out fairly quickly. Pretty much like every other Jaguar.

The only really well known XJS problem is a propensity to overheat if the cooling system is neglected.
Overheating can result in the notorious dropped valve seats. The V12 kiss of death. My car has never displayed a problem even when I drove it in 90 degree temperatures.


Posters on the forum declare that the V12 engine is so tough that you just can't wear it out.
I might snidely remark that no one's ever kept one running long enough to find out!

So, keeping a twelve cylinder XJS as a pet is not the most illogical choice.

I'll admit that I feel a bit uneasy driving the car. It is so out of the ordinary. It seems kind of "excessive" to fire up twelve cylinders just to make a run to the supermarket. I feel like I'm firing up a Rose Bowl Parade float to sneak off to the Dollar Store! It's not the most profligate when it comes to fuel consumption either. Twenty miles to the gallon on the freeway bests a whole herd of brand new trucks and SUVs. And nobody's shy about driving those things.

The experience of the driving the XJS is quite sublime. It quietly rolls smoothly down the road feeling like an enormously heavy sled coasting down a snowy hill side. Yes, it is somewhat heavy. It weighs just a bit more, (200 lbs) than a brand new Mustang. So that weight is somewhat of an illusion. Most modern cars are pretty heavy. It sticks pretty well going around turns, inspiring confidence.

So do I love the car? Is it everything that I hoped it could be?

Not Yet. Irrespective of the real work that it still needs, there is still "something".

Growing up in a family of modest means, a vehicle of this type and the people who would have owned it are completely outside of my experience. I was originally very self conscious when I first got my Cadillac Seville.

I have to get over a tremendous feeling about the novelty of driving the car. Driving it seems like a "put on" almost a gag. At this point it doesn't feel like something that you could actually use as daily "transportation."

Funny that I think that this old, almost worthless car is too special for me to drive. This afternoon I was returning home from a fifty mile shakedown run, just cruising along. Suddenly I hear the high pitched roar of exhaust and some BMW hyper car blows past me and cuts directly of me. I guess to establish "what's what."

So maybe it ain't all that special to anyone else.

I still need to bond with the car, it's still a stranger to me. Many more miles will be needed.

I don't need to make the car perfect, just to get it into reliable driving condition. Then I can deal with the myriad little problems that need to taken care of.

Put up or shut up.