Adopting Electric Cars, 2016 – It’s Not Yet For Me, But It Soon Will Be

Let’s talk automotive electrification. Right now it’s August of 2016 and fully electric cars are just starting to get good. People are buying them and we’re seeing them on the road fairly regularly. Each night, these buyers actually plug their cars into their walls, which is crazy, rather than filling up at a gas station like the rest of us. Clearly things are changing.

I’ve been pretty up front about these cars. Electric motors, no matter how fast they are, are kind of boring, kind of, well, quiet. They’re quiet in a few ways: quiet in operation, yes, but also quiet in appearance and quiet in demeanor. They’re perhaps a little too perfect, a little too smooth. There’s simply nothing rowdy or all that fun about an electric car.

This sentiment has led my friends to assume that I’ll remain a luddite forever and I’ll never consider adding an electric car to my garage. This is not true. For a daily driver, an electric car is fine and I’ll willingly add one to my stable but that time has not yet come. Electrified cars are close to being good enough to buy. I fully believe that they’ll soon meet my requirements but they just kind of suck right now. Here’s my requirement for buying an electric car. When this happens, and it will, I will buy one.

  1. I have a four cylinder Mazda6 that can easily reach Las Vegas, NV from Salt Lake City, UT on one tank of gas. It’s a 420 mile trip, but there’s more to it than just range. On I-15, Utah has 80 MPH speed limits most of the way and I want to go this fast in an electric car and still make it to Las Vegas. My Mazda can do it. A current Tesla may have a 250 mile range but it doesn’t have that range at 80 MPH, and even if it did, it’s still well short of 420 miles. When electric cars have a 450 mile range at 80 MPH, this condition is met. 
  2. When I get to Las Vegas in my gas powered Mazda6, I only need to find a gas station to get my entire range back. Filling up with gas takes about five minutes and I’m good to go. Now, I’m actually fine with recharges being slower than gas fill ups as long as I can charge the car once I’m parked at my destination, which is usually a hotel. It’s not worth it to me to convert to electric if I can’t have a recharged car waiting for me when it’s time to leave. This means I’ll need a recharging station at my parking spot, and it needs to be easy to get such a parking spot. When electric recharging stations are readily available in parking spots, this condition is met.
  3. I don’t just travel to Las Vegas. I go all over, and usually I travel by car because I love to drive. And when I’m traveling, I typically avoid freeways because they’re absolutely, unquestionably the worst possible way to get around because you don’t see anything or meet anyone except fellow city people jumping between metropolitan areas. Also freeways are straight and mind numbingly boring and you don’t see anything. Traveling by freeway is like taking a plane, only slower. You don’t travel, you arrive. But taking back road creates the true American road trip. When I want to actually take a road trip, I’ll have to leave my electric car behind and drive something else because I won’t be able to recharge away from the interstates. When recharging is commonly available in small towns, this condition is met.

Today, it’s hip to have an electric car. It’s like having the newest phone in your pocket; electric cars attract the techie crowd, not the car crowd. But having a hip electric car for style’s sake isn’t worth it to me unless it can realistically compete with a gas powered car. Today they can’t, and it’s that simple. If, like most of my friends, I stayed only in my home city, electrified cars are ready today. But for me they’re not.

30 years ago, cordless power tools were in their infancy. They were truly crap, especially compared to their corded counterparts, but everyone could see where things were going. Today, cordless power tools are great. They’ve taken over nearly everything but the most demanding of tasks. It’s mind blowing that today we have cordless cars. Boring as electrification is, and it really is, it’s undoubtedly the future and I won’t fight it, not with a daily driver. But they’re not ready for prime time, at least not for me, and not for a lot of the driving public. Meet these conditions and I’m on board, no question.

Now, with autonomous cars, well, that’s a topic for another day …

Spark Plugs: Male Spark Plug, Female Wire, What Gives?

I’m sure that every half-capable home auto mechanic on the planet already knows this, but if you’re a total spark plug amateur like I was this afternoon, this might save you some time.

Sometimes your spark plug wires have female plug connectors, and sometimes they’re male. Same goes for spark plugs. I bought plugs this morning and they had female ends, and so did my wires, like this:

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I thought I had purchased the wrong plugs so I headed back to the auto parts store. Turns out — ta-da! — the ends of spark plugs are removable; you just unscrew the female ends to reveal the male connector. I felt dumb but I’m glad I know.
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I had to use a pair of pliers to break the ends free, but they came right off. Anyway, if you’re having this problem, now you know.

1974 BMW 2002 – Welcoming a Classic to The Stable, and Beginning a Wrenching Journey

BMW_2002_01

Today I’m introducing a newcomer to my spread of cars, this very pretty 1974 BMW 2002. I bought the car sight-unseen, like a crazy person, from a consignment dealership in southern California. All I had to go on was about 25 photos and the dealer’s word.

The 2002 market has a pretty good variety of cars, from push-it-off-a-cliff to showroom new. You can spend $5,000 USD on a rough one that runs, all the way to the mid-50s for a basically perfect outlier. Mine was $20k, which is rather high for a 2002 but not altogether out of the ordinary. From the dealer I learned that the car had been restored in 2012, and it was sporting an all-new interior, new paint, good engine, the all-important manual transmission, and was completely rust free. The previous owner apparently wanted a factory original car and so it was when it showed up, at first glance anyway.

The 2002 is from an era when you could still work on your car, a time when you could open the hood after a problem and look for actual things to fix. Today you look at a giant plastic engine cover that conceals everything.

I’m by no means a mechanic. I understand engine and automotive basics, like where to put in the gas and that the engine has pistons buried deep inside that provide the magical go-juice. Really, I’m a complete car novice but I’m eager to learn all that I can. The BMW 2002 provides me with an opportunity to not only learn about cars, but get my hands dirty on my own car. I made a resolution to not use my mechanic as a crutch, to instead do all the work myself. Clearly I’m in over my head.

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To give myself things to do, I came up with a list of items I’d like to customize on the car. All of these changes are reversible should I want to return to stock. From the get go the plan was to do a very, very light restomod on the BMW. Here’s the list:

  1. Lower the suspension about 1″. This isn’t an aggressive change, just one that will mildly alter the stance and make the car more attractive. It’ll look normal to anyone not intimately familiar with the 2002 cars.
  2. Change the muffler. I didn’t want something loud, just something that would make the car a bit rowdier, just a little more fun.
  3. Get new wheels and tires. The factory-ish wheels already on the car are 13″ and there are almost no decent tires left in that size. 14″ helps out a lot, but 15″ is when you get into decent rubber. To my eyes, 15″ is a little big on a 2002 (this car is truly tiny) but the wheels should fit.

BMW_2002_03

But — and isn’t there always a but? — I started to go through the car and check everything out for real. It was and still is a slow process since I know next to nothing about cars, but some glaring problems have became readily apparent since the car arrived on Friday. Turns out the car isn’t quite as flawless as I had wanted. The previous owner did spend $27k to restore the car in 2012 — I have the receipt — but it’s not perfect.

The spider webs covering every exterior surface was the first sign of trouble. Clearly the car has received a loving repaint but afterward it probably sat outside for a long time. That has made the paint hazy. I’m going to learn to polish automotive paint and fix that problem myself. After I’m done the paint should really pop.

More concerning is the misfiring engine. It’s a subtle misfire but it’s there and it’s very annoying. Carburetor jetting? Maybe. Trouble with the ignition coil or Pertronix distributor? Possible. Blocked fuel line? Also possible. There are a lot of possibilities. Yesterday the misfire decided to hit a real high note and shut down the engine complete. In an intersection. On a scorching day. Obviously I was not pleased and I must find a solution. I replaced the spark plugs and that seemed to help, but I checked the plugs today and cylinder #2 was showing a wet black plug. Shit. I could have a problem with the rings, which means engine rebuild. That, by extension, means that I might have to learn the nitty-gritty about engines way, way sooner than I had expected. I seriously hope I didn’t buy someone else’s problem.

The interior has indeed been redone recently but it’s not quite what I expected. The seats have been re-upholstered but they’re not leather, they’re vinyl, a cheap, soft and easily damaged vinyl. The dashboard isn’t showing any cracks or damage, but that’s because it’s hiding behind a cheap plastic cover, which conceals the almost  certainly horrific original dashboard below. Now I want to completely restore the original dashboard and reupholster the seats with proper leather. The steering wheel is probably original, but it’s cracked and I’d like to replace it with something much nicer. Thankfully, the air conditioner works, but I’ve never used it.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on my mood, the 2002 is starting to look less and less like a fun original canvas to start from and is instead beginning to take the form of a project car, or more accurately, a restoration, which isn’t at all what I had in mind. But the car is mine now and I intend to create a properly sorted machine come hell or high water. Along the way I’ll learn a lot and document everything I do. I’ll go from a wide-eyed beginner to something not quite so wide-eyed. In the end I’ll have a beautiful and well-running 2002.