TGIF: Car Talk

\"car\"As assets go, cars are pretty poor ones. They depreciate rather quickly, and a lot of their value is tied up in bells and whistles unrelated to their primary purpose (getting from point A to point B).

But as a source of liabilities, cars are pretty impressive. You can only finance them with after-tax debt. They are now so complex that the end of a warranty period is a financial high wire with no net. Perhaps most annoyingly, expensive problems can happen with no warning at all. Some real or imagined part goes wrong, and then you’re suddenly shelling out hundreds of dollars or more.

For most repairs, you’re pretty much stuck – just take your lumps and pay for your new flux capacitor or whatever. But in a few rare cases, two of which I share below, you can actually avoid a multi-hundred dollar fix fairly easily.

Chipped Windshield

Based on my careful analysis, decades of research, and a sample size of at least 3, I think I can accurately say that every car in the universe has a 100.0% chance of getting a chip in the windshield at some point in its life. You’re just cruisin’ down the highway and then suddenly “whap!” a piece of gravel hits your windshield and you see a little chip.

No big deal, right? Sadly, wrong – that little chip is ambitious! He turns into a bona fide crack, and then that crack goes for a walkabout.

My beloved 1996 Pontiac Sunfire picked one up last century, and I watched in dismay as the tiniest of chips became a living crack that crawled all the way across the windshield to make a line from the bottom to the side. Finally, it wept, for there was no more windshield to conquer.

It didn’t affect my visibility, but it definitely looked low-rent. The status and massive sex appeal that should have come from my Pontiac Sunfire were seriously diminished. But since I was cheap and didn’t want to go through the trouble of replacing the whole windshield, I just let it slide.

\"windshield_repair_kit\"If only I had known the power of resin.

That’s right, there is a simple kit that costs ~$10 that can fix a chip in a windshield. I read about this years ago and vowed when the next chip came, I’d be ready.

And I was. My wife’s windshield got a chip, and through using the kit and a healthy dose of what I can only describe as magic, I fixed it completely. There wasn’t the slightest of blemishes.

To see the magic at work, check out this video.

You must be fast, though, so Boy-Scout-Motto-it and buy your kit in advance (I get mine at Walmart). When I got my obligatory chip in my current car, I hurried home to make the repair, but just on the 20 minute drive, it had already turned into a baby crack. The internet said I was sunk for a DIY fix, but that’s never stopped me before, and my bush-league attempt to use the resin to fill the chip and the crack worked rather well. The crack didn’t disappear, but it seems content and hasn’t tried going anywhere.

If you want to watch a really powerful example of resin’s superpower (this is not a DIY, but pretty darn cool nonetheless), check this out.

\"air_compressor\"You Should Own an Air Compressor

Stepping briefly from repairs to maintenance: there are rare times that I will pound the table and insist you buy a product, but this is one of them.

Everyone who owns a car should own an air compressor. I’m the only person I know who actually owns one, so I think this is advice worth sharing.

Here\’s the one I own (no affiliate link – I need to get on that…).

If you fill up your tires regularly at a service station, I don’t have to tell you what an annoying process that can be. You are welcome in advance for the enormous gratitude you’ll feel for me once you start doing it at home.

If you don’t check and fill up your tires regularly, buying a compressor and keeping them properly inflated will likely (through better mileage and better life for your tires) make this bad boy pay for itself.

Once you have a compressor, you’ll start to use it for everything. Bike tires are much easier to inflate with it, and filling air mattresses no longer leaves you exhausted.

The real fun I’ve had with this (yes, I view this as fun) is when I’ve been able to calmly diagnose a slow tire leak (it’s happened multiple times). Coming to the garage and finding your tire low is no longer a desperate rush to a service station (on your way to work, natch) or a spare tire / tow truck fiesta. I’ve even bought a converter so I can bring the compressor with me in the car.

Yes, quickly finding and fixing the source of a leak is really important for safety, but it’s not as desperate if you have a compressor, and it opens up the door to potentially save money.

Just like it did when it allowed me to investigate a slow leak, find a screw I had picked up, and…

Plug a Tire

Yeah, I did this. All by myself. I had the perfect candidate for a plug – a screw smack dab in the middle of my tire. Only problem, I have Pirelli run-flat tires, and Pirelli won’t let any authorized Pirelli dealer patch (done from the inside) or plug (done from the outside) a run-flat . The screw was causing a slow leak (maybe 5 psi in a week), but my air compressor was keeping me from crisis. I wanted to see if I could avoid a new $200+ tire.

Since authorized dealers wouldn’t patch or plug, I called some shady tire places and they said they’d only plug a run-flat (because they’re such a bear to get off to patch), and one quoted me $18. An $18 price point for something to do with a car is a pretty clear signal that it must be insanely easy. A quick youtube search made it look fairly straightforward.

It was neither easy nor straightforward, and I only “saved” about $10 given the cost of the plug kit. Duly noted. But yeah, I plugged my tire. That was about 18 months ago, so I think it’s gonna be OK.

A few things I learned:

  • Outsourcing is sometimes good, even for “simple” stuff. I’m not going to plug / patch one of my tires again – $18 is totally worth it. It was pretty hard and there was a moment, when I made the hole bigger to fit the plug but was struggling to get it in, that I thought I had really screwed myself.
  • Risk / reward calculations are important. I wouldn’t plug a regular tire since I agree with the industry that removing the tire and investigating the inside for damage is important. But I felt slightly better plugging a run-flat because I figured if I screwed it up I’d still be moderately OK (given the very stiff walls and the fact that it can still “run flat”) until I got a new tire. I may be wrong, but at least I had a bit of a logical decision process.
  • Suppliers are not your friends. A couple tire guys told me there was no good reason they couldn’t plug a Pirelli run-flat except the fact that Pirelli wouldn’t let them. Maybe Pirelli has a secret formula totally different from other, pluggable run-flats. Or maybe they’ve just decided rolling this way is best for revenue management. Joke’s on you Pirelli – I’m switching brands next round.

With all this said, there area lot of cases where tires cannot be safely patched or plugged, so be prepared when you have a flat that you may need to just take your lumps.


Glossary Addition – Parking Like a Gangsta

Keeping with my car theme, I’d like to address yet another glaring deficiency in English. What do you call it when you back into a parking space? Well, we’ve got a variety of choices, all of which suck: back-in parking, reverse parking, fancy parking (seriously?), and nose-out parking.

I was impressed with the ubiquity of this type of parking in Japan – it’s almost always done, and you can see the need and value since parking lots, and the lanes within them, are tiny. You don’t really have an option – the parking free-for-all we have here is replaced by a well-ordered and systematic system that everyone observes (shocking, I know, for Japan).

I’ve started trying it here a lot more – backing in anytime I can (basically as long as someone’s not waiting behind me, because I know they’re going to pull forward and cut me off). My estimate is that it is about 22.5 times safer than traditional parking. You get to check out the space around you as you back in, and you’re driving normally, rather than surrounded by blind spots, as you exit.

Sticking with the Japanese theme, I started to refer to it as “yakuza parking”, with the idea that since a yakuza (Japanese mafia guy) might need to get away quickly, he would always back in for a speedy escape. It’s also fun to see my mother-in-law’s expression when I compliment her on parking yakuza-style.

Since yakuza parking won’t roll off most folks tongues, I’ll also allow “getaway parking” or “gangster parking”.

Getaway parking (or getaway-style) (also known colloquially as “gangster parking” and regionally (i.e., my house) as “yakuza parking”): backing into a parking space to allow a faster exit with better visibility. Particularly useful if you are being chased and need a fast getaway.

Make sure you’re OK at reversing into spots, and you’ll come to love it too. It takes less total time, is safer (assuming you’re OK reversing into spots…), and gets you on your way fast.



I decided to look for awesome car-related links this week, ‘cause it’s kinda my theme you see.

I didn’t find any awesome car-related links.

The PF world has some fascinating advice, like “buy used cars with cash” and “keep an eye on the ol’ insurance premiums”. There you go – the combined wisdom of like 50 articles, summarized for your convenience. You’re welcome.


The Market for President

In another instance of continuous improvement, I’ve pulled the odds for the presidential race a week apart so we can see the dynamic shift (actually, I hoped to post this last Friday so had to prepare that chart…but remember many great discoveries are serendipitous).

\"presidential_odds_2016_09_15\"\"presidential_odds_2016_09_23\"Actually there was almost no shift week over week. Sorry about that.

But Clinton is still your favorite, with over 60% odds of winning. I do like how news orgs keep heralding cataclysmic shifts when the money says things are fairly stable.

I will be interested in seeing how the debates influence the odds. For the first time since Ross Perot, I’m really looking forward to these debates for pure entertainment value.


That’s a wrap folks. Happy Friday everyone!


If you have any cool car tips, alternatives to “getaway parking”, or air-compressor-purchase-excitement to share, please let me know in the comments.


4 thoughts on “TGIF: Car Talk”

  1. Agree re: the compressor. It’s almost one of those life lessons you learn in your early 30’s.

    Re: yakuza parking my experience has been that most people doing this are also starring in their own movies and aren’t conscientious of the queue behind them (unlike you, of course). It works in Japan for a reason.

    Re: window chips – your car insurance may get this done for free as part of your coverage. I thought it was a scam the first time a guy approached me at a Sam’s gas station saying he could likely get $0 chip repair. Sure enough, he calls (Amica in our case) and they waive the deductible, a couple times per year as I recall. Logic is chips are cheaper than windshield replacements I’m sure. Had it done at the oil change places as well. So you could save $10 more, have a professional do it, and use insurance coverage you didn’t even know you had.

    1. Yeah, the folks who are blissfully unaware of the negative impact of slow / clueless yakuza parking do annoy me. I always scout out to make sure I’m not holding up traffic, and I’ve gotten good enough where it’s not a 20 point turn like it is with some. But if we can educate the rest of the public, which should be really easy, then it’ll become the norm and we’ll all live in peace and happiness. And it all started today…

      That is great news on the insurance front, and I’d encourage anyone to check on their own. I know I’ve checked with mine before out of curiosity (I too was suspicious of what seemed a scam – just like when roofers say they can “refund” you your deductible), but our deductibles were I guess too high – we’d never have a claim even for a full windshield, so perhaps they don’t have the same incentive in play. Or maybe our insurance co. is just meaner than yours. In any event, speed is the key to fixing a chip, and having a kit at home makes sure I get it done stat. But heading asap to an oil changer and getting it done free sounds like a good plan too.

      Thanks for the added information!

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