Sunday, September 27, 2009

Check Maintenance Records [Car Buying Tip]

If you're shopping for a used car, look for one that has had extensive and regular maintenance.

Years ago, I sold a slightly modified Audi 200 Quattro for $4,500. During the preceding 18 months, I had fixed nearly every major problem with the vehicle. During my ownership, I religously changing the oil every 3,000 miles (or less). I put in a new timing belt, water pump, power steering pump, suspension, wheels, european headlights, and performance chip (+ waste gate spring). Another (older, wiser) enthusiast bought it, getting over $4,000 in recent (documented) maintenance.

Yeah, I got more than the average price but not by much. Certainly not enough to make up for $4,000 in work I put in. The buyer basically paid $500 for the car.

Why did I sell that Audi? Part of it was boredom. The other was a misguided belief that the car had become an endless money pit. The truth was that during my ownership tenure, I fixed nearly every major maintenance item on the car. I also learned all the major systemic failures and how to repair/replace them.

That Audi is long gone. The take home lesson for you, dear reader, is that if you're out there shopping, look for a car that has had extensive and regular maintenance. You can find real gems.

Here's a Volvo 240 Wagon, for example. Not only are 240 wagons becoming harder to find, ones with documented maintenance records for under $1,000 are super rare. In case the CL listing disappears, here's the description:
1991 Volvo 240 Station Wagon
Navy Blue
Automatic Transmission
230,000 Miles
Good Working Condition........Interior is in decent shape as well
Many new parts and recent work have been put into this car....
New Alternator
New Battery
New Spark Plugs and distributor cap
New Belts and Timing Belt
New Pulleys
New Mass Air Flow Sensor
Brand New Winter Tires and Brand New Three Season Tires

This car has treated me very well and i have invested a lot of work into it... these volvos really last forever..... I am only selling it because I was recently given a Toyota with very few miles...
I just cant afford two cars.... Asking $950 because the tires and recent work are worth at least that....

Please call if interested..........
Yeah, like the boys at Jalopnik, I seem to have a curious obsession with Volvo 240s.

Here's a closing thought. A car with about 80,000 miles on it is usually due for a huge variety of services, in particular the timing belt and water pump. On a european car, that can be a $1,000 service call or more. A car with 100,000 to 120,000 miles on it has likely already had that service. If the car was otherwise been well maintained, you're probably better off with the higher mileage option. You'll pay substantially less for it and you can spend the money on suspension or other tuning upgrades, rather on upcoming scheduled maintenance.

image: Dave_7

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dual Sport Motorcycle Update [Shootout]

A bunch of my ADV buddies have replaced their primary duty bikes with used Husky 610s, so many that I've been wondering what I'm missing. It's turning into a Husky cult out here in Colorado.

Time to update the F650GS PD vs KLR650 Shootout.

New Additions:
2007 Husky TE610
2007 KTM 525 EXC
2009 BMW F800GS

A couple of thoughts

2007 Husky TE610 - A very capable dual sport, lighter and more powerful than the KLR. Owners will also tell you that it's far better built (though I've seen them wrenching, feverishly). Many have replaced the stock seat (plank) with a Renazco or custom seat. If you plan on riding a lot, plan to shell out another $350-$500 for better seat or buy one already farkled.

2007 KTM 525EXC - What's this dirt bike doing in here? Well, in Colorado it's relatively easy to plate a dirt bike and many owners have done so. It will suck cruising I-70, but on the trail I'll bet this little number will be a lot more fun than any of the others.

2009 F800GS - I've only seen these on the street, but look below for the video of some dude riding two up Murphy's hogback in Moab. I personally witnessed a half dozen bikes go down on this very spot, so keep in mind that a capable rider matters a lot more than a capable bike.

Final note - used prices vary tremendously on condition. Forget online pricing guides. I searched eBay, CycleTrader, Craigslist, and a few motorcycle forums to get a ballpark on pricing. YMMV.

Monday, September 14, 2009

2001 VW Camper [Vans]

We recently borrowed a 2001 Volkswagen Camper for a 3 day trip to RMNP.

The VR6 powered van provided plenty of getup and go, and I was surprised by how well it handled. Plus, who can argue with a vehicle that sleeps 4. Like most others in the late 90's and early 2000s, this one was a Winnie conversion with about 90,000 miles. Despite the age and mileage, most of its systems were fully functional. The tri-powered fridge was a notable exception.

We had a great time in the van. I found it a perfect way to camp out and haul around 4 people and their gear.

After the trip, I did a little checking on market prices for these vehicles. Most of the decent ones seem to be in the mid $20's. Some owners are asking over $30. That has to be one of the lowest depreciation rates ever. The camper vans have held their value exceptionally well.

Due diligence: A stack of maintenance receipts in the door pocket of our borrowed van pointed to expensive maintenance and repairs.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Goodbye Thinkpad T30, Hello ASUS G51vx-A1

It's hard to find good deals on used laptops. Yeah, I've done it before - my current Thinkpad T30 was purchased used more than 5 years ago on eBay. I probably could have found another one but given how long I tend to own hardware, I deicided that this time around, I'd look for something new.

Alright, I know, I know. Cop out.

Anyway, my new machine has more than 4x the processing power, 4x the RAM, 62x the graphics memory, and 21x the storage of my T30. It's an ASUS G51vx-A1 with quad-core processor and dual hard drives. With 5% Bing Cashback and $100 rebate from ASUS, the delivered price will be $1,504 from J&R. It's on order.

I looked at what Lenovo had to offer and frankly, it paled in comparison. I could have saved a bit and gone with a dual core, but with the video editing that I'm starting to do, a quad core processor is the way to go.

Now, about this gaming thing. I haven't played a computer game in ages. Given this machine's capabilities, I might have to check out what's available. My preference is for strategy related games. Any suggestions?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Goodbye Rio Cali Sport, Hello Sansa Clip [Reviews]

When I roll, I like having tunes.

My iPod is on the fritz, but even if it were working, it was never good workout partner. With an optical hard disk, bouncing around on a bike or hitting the gym never seemed like a smart idea.

So for the past 5 years, I've relied on my Rio Cali Sport. It was a basic barebones MP3 player and FM Tuner. Flash memory and no moving parts meant I could bounce it around all I wanted but with only 256mb of memory, I had to choose songs carefully. I was surprised by how reliable it was. It never skipped a beat, despite heavy use and tough conditions. And then one day...

I was flying down Table Mesa from NCAR on my mountain bike, rocking to the beats. Suddenly the sound stopped as the Cali rattled its way out of the arm band. The next thing I knew, it fell and was skittering along the asphalt at 40mph.

I gathered up the battered pieces and the Rio appeared intact. Only the battery cover and battery had been ejected. When I got home, I put in a new battery to test it and unfortunately it froze up. I took it apart, hoping to find something easy to fix. No dice. My much loved Rio Cali Sport was toast.

Because the Cali had been so durable, I looked online for another but it appears Rio isn't in this business now. So my next stop was eBay where I found several used Cali's with Buy It Now prices of ~$30 + shipping. I decided to do a little research before buying one. I considered several different options but after reading rave reviews, I chose a matchbox size 4GB Sansa Clip from B&H for $49 (including shipping).

So here's my new Clip next to my dead Rio Cali Sport:

So far, I'm impressed with it. The sound quality is awesome and this thing is tiny. THe battery life is very good and the built in clip makes it easy to attach to any article of clothing.

Caveats: For it to work properly, I had to upgrade Windows Media Player, otherwise it wouldn't recognize the Clip. After playing around a bit, I discovered Winamp (yes, that Winamp) is a good option for managing it. Winamp has an intuitive interface and made it easy to create playlists for drag and drop. The Clip supports DRM, so it's compatible with Audible. I went ahead and loaded a few books on it, no problems.

Two thumbs up for the initial experience on the Sansa.