Feb 212016

I cannot believe my last post was October. It really doesn’t feel like it has been that long. I guess the holiday season can be crazy for everybody.

I have not done any real auto-body work in about 25 years but with my restoration plans for the summer including paint I knew I had better get in some practice. A recent event presented an opportunity to do just that. Unfortunately my son had a small fender bender that left the front end of his car a little banged up. He is okay but the hood was destroyed. After assessing the damage we realized we could fix it all ourselves and save a bunch of money. The car still drove fine it just needed some cosmetic work.

I am constantly surprised at the aftermarket support for vehicles. Not only was I able to find a new replacement hood, it was less than half the price of a junk yard equivalent. In hindsight buying a hood from a local junk yard would have been a lot less trouble. When the hood finally arrived it looked like it had been rolled down a flight of stairs. Every corner was dented or bent. The online warehouse front of a website refunded my money and left me with a free damaged hood. Seeing an opportunity to save even more money and get some metal work practice I was determined to use this hood.

The basics of repairing damaged metal and paint has not changed all that much but I wanted to make sure I was using the best materials and processes. I already had a cheap spray gun but no materials. I found a local paint shop and walked in with empty hands, a mind full of questions and an open wallet. After explaining the task ahead of me and a short Q and A session with a very patient salesman I walked out with everything I needed for under $130.

TIP #1: Paint code is not enough, I had the exact code used on the car but there were actually 5 different shades for that one paint code. Take a sample if you are trying to match an existing color.

I guessed on the paint code, this is just practice on a car my teenage son will probably destroy in the end. Perspective.

It did not take long to get back in the rhythm of the hammer and dolly. I enjoy seeing the metal slowly bend to my will and move into place. Bondo, or body filler, is much harder to work with. I need more practice getting each layer just right and sanding it is just a mess.

TIP #2: Do not overwork body filler. One or two thin swipes and then just walk away.

I had done enough research on paints and primers to know when to use each type. After the metal work and body filling was done I covered the bare metal with a self-etching primer. There are other choices for DTM (direct to metal) coverage but I plan on testing those at another time. Next was a 2k high build primer and more sanding. This primer is really easy to spray. It can give you a false sense of security. When sanding, a specialty guide coat helps you find all the low and high spots. I found a few. Bondo is designed to be used on bare metal or itself but I already have several layers of primer built up. This is where glazing putty comes in. I had never used it before and it is much easier to use than regular body filler. It is a must for that perfect finish. After the glazing putty was sanded I applied more 2k primer and sanded some more.

TIP #3: You can save money on the paint, the gun and the body parts but do not go cheap on the sand paper. Get the best you can afford, you will not regret it.

Once I was done obsessing over the primer it was finally time to spray some color. I was more than a little intimidated. I have never made it this close to spraying color on a car body part. Last time I did all the body work and priming and paid Maaco to do the rest.  I didn’t pay them much and I got what I paid for.

TIP #4: Read the instructions on all your paint and clear coat before starting the job. Due to flash times you are on a ticking clock that you cannot stop.

The color coat requires a reducer so you can spray it correctly. I didn’t buy any reducer and I could not find any local stores that were still open to buy any. How am I going to reduce this paint? What does reducer really mean and how does it work? I have a lacquer thinner, will that work?

TIP #5: Reducer is a fancy word for thinner. Lacquer thinner still does what the name implies. It thins lacquer. I don’t know the science behind a dedicated reducer and I will make sure to have some in the future but I have a feeling that the results will be the same.

I sprayed 3 coats of color, using all I bought, and let it dry. Even paying really close attention to gun control and pattern overlap the paint still looked uneven. It was a little depressing but there was no looking back. The job was getting done that day no matter how bad it looked.

If spraying color was scary, spraying clear was terrifying. This is it the final layer. All the hours of work for 30 seconds of spray time.

DEEP THOUGHT #1: Do you need to stir clear coat? How can you tell? It’s colorless!

I sprayed on 2 coats of clear coat. I was not planning on wet sanding so I didn’t think I would need more than that. I was not disappointed, the color, even though it was just a shade of white, came to life. All the unevenness I witnessed before was gone. I could not be happier with the results except for that bug that just landed in the fresh paint. And that bug. And that bug! This stuff is a bug magnet.

TIP #6: Spray the clear coat in a controlled environment. The primers and color dry almost immediately so the bugs and dirt do not have time to get stuck but the clear is tacky for at least an hour.

Still, the results exceeded my expectations. I am really proud of the job even with the well preserved bugs. I actually had fun.

Why did I enjoy this so much?

  • Each step is clearly defined
  • Each step is equally important to achieve excellent results
  • There are cool tools involved
  • You have to touch and feel the metal a lot
  • It is really messy (or is it because I like the smell of Lacquer Thinner)
  • Results! You took something ugly and made it pretty.
  • Chicks dig guys that can paint cars. Not sure this is true but it should be, car painters are artists!

So the big question. I spent 20 hours painting a hood. One hood. Can I paint a car?


And I’m really looking forward to it. Do you have anything that needs to be painted?

 Posted by at 11:02 pm
Oct 282015

I am proud to say I was born in 1971, at the peak of the muscle car era. Not sure that has anything to do with my love for 1970’s muscle cars but maybe. Some very iconic cars were available that year and given hindsight some of the best investment opportunities ever. Let’s take a look at some of my favorites. Might as well start at the top. Mopar was king and resale value has helped confirm that fact.

If you were lucky enough to order a 1971 blue convertible Plymouth Hemi Cuda with the 4 speed transmission and keep it pristine for almost 45 years you could have been the one to turn your initial purchase price of about $4174 into $3.5 million. Not too many investments can top that, Apple stock would not be available until 1980.


This is a rare case and even though most cars from that era will never be that valuable they will still mean a lot to me. Along with the Plymouth Cuda the Dodge Challenger is still one of my favorites. I had a chance to purchase a very rough example when I was 16 but could not pull the trigger. When I say rough, I mean it was a heap of rust and looked like it was half way in the grave. I still remember thinking it was the coolest thing I had ever seen but I needed a car that would actually get me from point A to B more often than not.


Like all young men of the 80’s I watched the Dukes of Hazzard religiously so add the 1970 Dodge Charger to round out the Mopar trifecta. Okay so not official a 1971 car but close enough. I was in love with this car.


Let’s move away from Mopar to more American muscle. The 1971 Camaro may be considered a transition year and my favorite feature was the one quickest to be changed. That grill, I just love that grill. Its Pontiac brother Firebird was even better. I can’t imagine why the grill did not last but I am glad it was at least there for a few years.

CharleyCamaro1971 71FirebirdRF

It did not stop there for GM. There was the Nova, Chevelle, GTO, LeMans and even the Skylark all with their own muscle car appeal. I did not come to appreciate these until much later in life. I didn’t forget about the Riviera, that boat tail! Oh my!


I cannot forget about AMC. That SUNCO Javelin. Enough said!


Let’s move away from the muscle cars and get the rest. The Corvette has always been a favorite and after driving one for 15 years it will always have a special place in my heart. IF I get a chance to own another one it would be the 1971 edition. Split rear bumpers and circle tail lights do it for me. The 2015 taillights look like sad eyes, not a fan.


I was always partial to the American cars of the time but for good reason. There was no internet, 3 channels of TV and my pennies went to comic books not car magazines. That is not to say there were not some that caught my eye.

The 240Z was making a big splash and the Porsche 911 and 914 were loved by all.

Datsun_240Z MHV_VW-Porsche_914-6

Everything that Ferrari made was special and the Daytona was no exception but for my money give me a Dino any day of the week. Take note in case any of my friends reach millionaire status and you want to get me the best gift ever. Make it a 1971 Ferrari Dino GT.

1971_Ferrari_365_GTS_Daytona Ferrari-Dino-246-GT-7

Even Volvo made something really cool. The P1800 may not be well known but its styling is still something special. Anybody remember The Saint?


The Pantera was one of a kind and just plain cool even though it started to fall apart as soon as you started it the first time.


Lamborghini may not have made a huge splash in the US yet (Countach came around in 1974) but the Muira… THE MUIRA! Gets my heart racing.


I could go on forever but let me end this walk down memory lane with another American muscle car. You thought I had forgotten about the Mustang. No sir. The 1971 Mustang Mach 1 caught my eye when I was 18 and I almost bought a nice one. It was just a tad out of my budget then but I guess I never stopped thinking about it.

1971 mach 1

That leads me to the second part of this post. I broke my own rule. “Don’t start a project until you finish the current one.” With interest from my son and unexpected encouragement from my wife I purchased a 1971 Mustang Mach 1 for $100. I got just about what you would expect for $100. No motor, no engine and more rust than metal. I may regret it but since every part of this car is reproduced it can be rebuilt to be better than new. I will let you know how that goes.

1971 Mach 1 Mustang

Actually, since my son claims this is his car and he is the one that cleaned out the rat poop, that’s as good as any reason to claim ownership, I technically did not break any rules since I can in turn claim this project is not mine!

 Posted by at 10:48 pm
Feb 162015

One of the problems you have when you decide to be your own automotive mechanic is that you will be forced to work on a vehicle when you don’t want to. This happened to me in January. I worked on every car but the D150 project. Since there is no progress there to report on I will talk a little about what I think it takes to be a good mechanic.

So, what does it take to be a good mechanic? What type of mechanic do you want to be? An entry level mechanic should be able to change motor oil and replace worn out brake pads. These are maintenance items that require very few tools and very little skill. Some people don’t want anything to do with even this level of automotive work. There is nothing wrong with that. But what if you want to go further. Replace wheel bearings, shocks or struts? What about head gaskets and transmissions? Maybe rebuild a carburetor? Any of these things I consider past a beginner level. They require more tools, more time and more skill. More than that, you have to overcome a little fear. In most cases this is your only car, the key to the freedom of the road, a way to get to work and most likely your largest investment outside of your house. You are not going to trust it to just anyone so why would you trust yourself unless you are a professionally trained mechanic. If you mess it up then you only have yourself to blame. Here is a short list on what I think it takes to go to the next level.

  • Find someone that has done it before. The internet makes this so easy. I can almost guarantee there is a video or a forum post concerning the job you are about to tackle. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Use the right tools. If you can afford it, buy it. If not, rent it. Sometimes there are tools that are so specialized that you can do neither. In that case do as much of the work you can then find a machine shop to do the part you cannot.
  • R T F M, really, read all that you can get your hands on. Shop manuals are one of the cheapest and most useful tools you can own.
  • Buy good quality parts.
  • Take your time, don’t cut corners.
  • Don’t lose your temper. I still struggle with this one.
  • Don’t give up if you don’t fix it the first time.

Lets talk about that last one. Most of the time the diagnosis is easy. If a part is broken, replace the part. Computer controlled car systems tend to make life easier. You get a code that tells you what is wrong, fix it. Then there are issues that defy common sense, the computer codes do not exist or they don’t match the symptoms you are witnessing. I have my only philosophy on how to tackle these harder issues.

  • Eliminate the obvious.
  • Start with the easiest fix first.
  • If there is a chance a part under $50 is the problem, just replace it.
  • Again, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

I am no where near an expert in all things automotive and I cannot call myself a master mechanic yet. The only way I know of to get to that elite level is experience. You know that guy that has your problem diagnosed before you even get out of the car. He’s not psychic or a car whisperer. He knows what he knows because he has seen it hundreds if not thousands of times. If you find this guy, whether you want to be an expert mechanic or no mechanic, make him your friend.

I knew I was going to be a garage mechanic pretty early. My first truck lost second gear. I asked my dad what I should do. He pulled out the jack and jack stands and handed me a tool box full of wrenches. We pulled the transmission, bought a used one from the junk yard and replaced it all in a weekend. He taught me a lot of things that weekend but the one that meant the most was that there was absolutely nothing on that vehicle that I could not fix on my own.

To all the vehicles in my past and the ones to come, I am not afraid of you.

 Posted by at 11:08 pm
May 132014

Thanks Bob Barker,

It is part of human nature to dream, whether it be about saving a damsel in distress, dating a super model or driving a sports car. Maybe, all of the above, at the same time. I am no different and a lot of my dreams do center around owning/building cool cars. So what is so interesting about a 3 wheel, 3 cylinder, 2 seat metro car designed for commuting?

Cars can be as unique as their owner and the task they are designed to perform. I guess that is why they are so appealing to me.  I love the Corvette for its history of innovation and how it represents the American spirit. I love old trucks for the function and the form. I love the big bad boats of the seventies for their excessive nature and over the top luxury – have you seen the size of the back seat in a 1974 LTD. And I love electric cars, the idea of alternative fuels is so hip. There is something about a car that can excel at the one purpose it was designed for. That is where Elio Motors comes in. The idea is simple and the tag line is almost all you need to know. Then when you see the car it seals the deal.

Must Have’s for the Elio Brand:

  • 84 MPG Highway
  • Engineered for an anticipated 5-Star Crash Test Safety Rating
  • American made
  • $6800

Payment Options

Your Elio can be purchased by traditional methods. You may have the opportunity to drive off with no money down, using a unique Elio credit card payment plan. The plan allows you to pay for your Elio over time when you charge fuel. Each time, there will be an extra charge equal to twice the fuel amount that automatically applies to the vehicle price. Think of it this way: For about what you have been paying to fuel your existing vehicle, you can fuel your Elio and buy it too!

A Car for Everyone

Its not really designed for everyone, but for the price maybe it really is! Around 140 million Americans commute to work via personal car. That means you most likely have a car payment and a monthly gas bill not to mention car insurance. Since most people can only afford to own one car it is most likely not specifically designed for commuting. I’m looking at you soccer mom in the Tahoe and you, country boy, in your 4×4. What if you could add a car without taking a hit to the wallet. A car specifically design to get you to work and back and still allow you to keep your existing car. I think Elio has done it if not gotten closer than anyone else. For the price of your monthly gas bill you could pay for an Elio and its gas. So if you shift your commuting to an Elio you would pay nearly the same amount and still have your other vehicle to use for its designed purpose. Enough chat lets look at the numbers.


Lets say you drive a car that gets 23.6 mpg (the average mpg for all cars sold in america in 2013) and you are lucky enough to only pay $3.5 a gallon for gas (just go with it) and your daily commute is 32 miles. That is ~ $103 a month for gas alone.

Now what if you did it in an Elio using their credit card payment plan. 84 mpg but double the gas purchase and add it as a payment. That gets you ~ $29 a month for gas alone + $58 toward the car loan for a grand total of $87 a month for gas and car payment. Well, what do you know.

I sure hope these guys can pull it off because these numbers get me almost excited as I do when driving that great American sports car I love so much. Check them out for yourself, I think you will be glad you did.

 Posted by at 3:34 pm
Jun 272011

Recently the seat belt on my wife’s car stopped retracting. This is the first time I had this happen to one of my cars. I was not too worried until I started looking for a replacement seat belt. OEM replacements are not widely available on internet stores and my favorite place to look, eBay, resulted in very few hits and even those were pricey. I decided to take a chance with a universal replacement. I do not often review items but I have no complaints with the site I ordered from: http://www.seatbeltcity.com/. There are others but I decided on this one because of the wizard on their main page. Finding the correct kit to order was extremely easy and the price was half of a used OEM replacement.

It took a week to get the package, not a lot of shipping options but it still arrived in a reasonable amount of time. Luckily we have a few cars at our disposal to borrow in these situations.

Replacing a seatbelt is pretty straight forward. There are only a few components on the standard 3-point retractable kit so I will not go into the details of replacing the belt. I will however give you a warning on what to expect when replacing a modern OEM seat belt with a universal seat belt.

First, sensors. There are lights to warn you if your belt is not clasped and in this case there is a sensor at the recoil attached to the airbag. My guess is that when the airbag deploys the seat belt locks also. In both cases there is no place to connect these items on the new universal seat belt. The warning light is not an issue since it disables itself when nothing connected. The other sensor complains if the cable is not attached. I am still researching that one but in the mean time the wife is not complaining so it is low on the list.

Next, the screws provided on the kit may or may not actually fit in your car. In my case they did not so I reused the ones that were holding the previous belt in place. The ones installed from the factory are not your normal screws; you may not have the correct tool in your tool box. I happened to get lucky and have the correct torx socket.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to modify to fit. In my case the belt latch attached to the seat (You will have to remove the seat) had a key that the OEM belt used for alignment. The universal latch had no such key. Not a problem for one of my favorite air-tools, the cut off wheel.  I cut off the key and the new latch installed fine.

All in all the removal and install was not hard, more discovery than anything else. The one thing I have never liked to do is remove interior trim panels and I had to remove a few to get to all the components. The snaps are never the same once you remove them for the first time so the panels never fit exact ever again. These were not the worst I have seen but they are definitely meant to be installed once and left alone.

 Posted by at 10:45 pm
Apr 222011

Last August as football season was about to start I made a decision to purchase a car and put the Corvette in the garage. There were several factors that forced me into this decision:

  • The gear required for football was starting to overflow the small storage area available in the Corvette.
  • My daughter is about to turn 16 and I figure this car would be for her after I drive it for a year and am comfortable with its reliability.
  • The AC stopped working in the Corvette and it is August in Texas after all.

After a short search looking for small to mid-sized cars I realized that the small car market was a sellers market. The cars I was looking for just felt over priced for what you get. Specifically Chevy Malibu, Ford Focus, Mazda 3 and even a few of the compacts like the Dodge Neon. Then I ran across a listing for a Ford Taurus; A larger four door car than the Ford Focus but half the price for a similar year and mileage. This felt a little off so I refined my search for 5 year old Ford Taurus’ with average mileage and found that they were everywhere at what I felt were below a market prices. I took a test drive and pulled the trigger. These are great cars, there are millions of them on the road and a used one was most likely owned by a grandma somewhere. This leads to abundance in spare parts and a fleet of low mile used cars to choose from.

This leads me to the irony of the repair I was faced with at the beginning of summer this year. The AC stopped working in the Taurus. How unlucky is this, one of the top reasons for getting the car and I was right back to sweating in rush hour traffic. I know very little about the automotive AC system. Do I have time to become an expert at something else. I finally had a free weekend and decided to dig in and see how it goes.

First step was to go ahead and refill the Freon and see if it holds. It held for 15 minutes, so there is a leak and it is a big one. Next is a leak test kit. I found a reasonable one at the local parts store and followed the die injection instructions. Then it’s on with the sexy yellow glasses and the ultra violet light. The first thing you discover is that the AC lines snake throughout every section of the engine bay and even into the passenger compartment. After scouring every line in the upper engine with no results it was time to get under the car. Once up on ramps it took no time at all to find the leak. A small hole in a hose now covered in yellow die. When I go to take the hose off I realize it starts at the top of the engine bay with a fitting that requires a special tool. Another trip to the part store and $5 later that fitting is off. Then I continue to follow the hose to the compressor and then to the bottom of the engine bay. After some contortions and curses the part comes out and I figure that I am totally screwed. This hose is like four in one, it has to cost a fortune; at least $200 – $300 dollars from the dealer is my guess.

I make another trip to the parts store and tell the tech what I need, close my eyes and cross my fingers as I wait for the pain. $119, what a relief. I had to wait for them to get it delivered from another store but I left feeling so much better than when I went in. Installation was the reverse of removal, refill with Freon and test.

Success. The AC cools even better than before and just in time for the first 90 degree day of the year.

Total Cost $234:

  • Hose fitting release tool (reusable) $5
  • AC and Cooling System leak test kit (reusable) $50
  • 3 cans of Freon, one for initial leak test and 2 for fill after repair $60
  • replacement hose $119

My estimate for the repair at a shop is between $500 – $800 so I feel pretty good about this one. Even with the purchase of the tools (that I will eventual reuse when I repair the AC on the Corvette) the price is well below what it would cost at a shop.

Picture of the crazy beast hose:

 Posted by at 11:44 am