Saturday, January 2, 2016

Teen Car Project :Intro.

First of all, experience has shown that getting a car as a teenage in high school is a really dumb idea on so many levels. The main one being that if your teenage son or daughter gets a car, especially one that needs work, expect his or her grade average to drop one full point. This means that a "C" student will become a "D" student. Cars are also extremely expensive and few will have the resources to keep one in safe operating condition. I know because I made $3.35 an hour in the 1980's and drove a 1977 Olds Delta 88. This car had about 100,000 miles when I paid $500 for it and there were issues right out of the gate. I replaced the speedometer cable, the alternator, the starter, the steering column after I broke it trying to fix the turn signal, the lug studs, a tie rod end, the exhaust, the timing chain, engine, transmission, windshield, dashboard, and most of the brake line as well as a door and front fender that had gotten mashed in an argument with a Ford Escort.  When I sold the car for $200 in 1989, I had spent over $2500 in repairs and hundreds of hours fixing this dinosaur. I had the car for 2 years, and the new owner still had the audacity to complain that he had to change the oil. I should have given this thing to my mom as a trade in for her new car, a 1989 Chevy Beretta.

It wasn't until about 1994 that I got something half way decent; a 1989 Buick Skyhawk that I drove past 150,000 miles back and forth from Jackson and Battle Creek day in and day out. I was working my first full time job and had finally gotten "established". Even then, this car needed a ton of work necessitated by the abuse I put it through. I sold it and have owned a small fleet of cars and trucks since.

The one vehicle in the Fixing Grace fleet we've had 10 years is a 2004 Pontiac Grand Am. It has outlasted two residences, five jobs and soldiered on 129,009 miles; 112,000 of those we put on the thing. It's outlived my Intrepid and Rendezvous combined and has had comparatively little work done to it. We've installed two batteries, several sets of tires (because my wife doesn't get them rotated), a washer pump, a used fuel pump, repaired a wire harness, a signal flasher and switch, the brakes in front, both front bearings, a radio, spark plugs, a windshield, headlights, two sets of struts, both tie rods, all the regulators for the windows (twice) and two sets of control arm bushings. The engine has never been taken apart, the car has the original water pump, alternator, starter and power steering rack and pump. The transmission has been serviced twice and the exhaust has never been changed or repaired. I've done the majority of the work myself. The repairs have cost us about $4000, not counting oil changes. Not too bad for a second rate car.

Current problems are the battery, the front tires are bald, some very minor rust, and some issues with the brake light in the center. The car has also had some parking lot scars from less than considerate drivers, including a rear bumper cover my wife didn't call the police on. The air conditioner has been charged once since we got it, and that was last summer. It will need a recharge for sure this spring.

So why all this you might ask? Because this seems like the typical car a teen or young adult can afford. It runs much better than the aforementioned Olds I had that barely turned 100,000 miles before it had major engine problems. Ironically, both vehicles were made at the same plant. The air con had quit on the Olds before I got it. It still works on the Pontiac. Say what you want about American cars, but things have improved a lot over nearly 3 decades, but I digress.

I'm going to get this back on the road and make it roadworthy before using it myself, or selling it. It will also hopefully give you, the reader an idea of what it really takes to keep something running within a budget. Unlike a lots of programs that fix cars on TV, there will be no sponsors or high dollar projects. I will not be installing too many upgrades on this save for a few basic ones. A car like this is not a status symbol, nor was it when we bought it ten years ago. It was a means for my wife to get to work, get the boys to school and to run parts when my beaters needed work. It served my friends from Montana when they came to visit. Now my aim is to get it in workable condition, and to fix some nagging problems with same. God willing, I'll have it done in a month or so. Maybe then, Wells Fargo will have sent us the title since we paid it off in 2012. Maranatha!