Friday, March 25, 2005

Never buy a car in the first year of a redesign.

To make up for yesterday's lack of a post, I'm going to - surprise! - actually write a post I promised to write.

(sorry, I know, step one on the road to no-blog hell... I fell asleep reading Stephen Sears' "To the Gates of Richmond." it's no fault of the author, i'm just not sleeping well these days - either too little or too much.)

In any event, today's post is about two of my favorite things:

Gran Turismo (in its fourth incarnation) and my car.

How do they go together? Well, because Gran Turismo, the "real driving simulator," is the reason I own a Mitsubishi Eclipse.

Well, one of the reasons.

When I turned 25, my (very generous) parents decided that now that I was eligible for cheaper insurance, I was on my own. And my car, a little Mustang, which had gotten me through several years of college after my first car (a Cougar) died, was itself slowly dying.

So I thought I'd treat myself to a new car (little knowing the five years of financial devastation buying a nice brand new sports car would cost) to go with my new insurance payments.

Meanwhile, I was playing a groundbreaking game on my PlayStation: Gran Turismo, which billed itself as the ultimate driving simulator, featuring real cars mapped out down to the tiniest performance detail.

Now, I love cars, but I don't know much about them. (More on that momentarily.) It's like that scene in "Days of Thunder," where Cole Trickle tells Harry Hogge he knows how to drive but doesn't know anything else about cars.

So I'm playing Gran Turismo, and all the best cars are made by Mitsubishi. The GTO (or GT3000 in the U.S.), the turbo Eclipse, the fabled Lancer Evolution and my personal favorite, the lightweight FTO.

So I figured I'll give Mitsubishi a try when I'm test-driving cars. The new Cougar was disappointing - it had a slow pickup in real life, just like in Gran Turismo 2 - the Dodge Avenger - cool name, and that's it - was worse, and I was starting to think I needed to expand my American-car horizons to the Far East.

(At some point, I'll post my riff on Jews and German cars...)

Thus, I figured I'd give Mitsubishi a shot; after all, this is the company that made all those fine cars I'd been racing on my PS2.

One problem: In 2000, Mitsubishi had completely redesigned the Eclipse, turning the turbo model into a sleeker N/A model.

And between a persistent salesman with the unfortunate name of Dick Johnson and the thrill of V6 power on the Lehigh Valley's hills, I bit when the manager asked me what it would take for me to leave with a car.

My first new car, my first car purchase, my "Baby," in Tampa Blue Pearl.

And at times, my nightmare.

Let's get one thing straight. I love my car. It's got a moonroof - another first - and a 4-CD in-dash changer. Bucket seats. In leather. Power everything. Plus ABS and traction control for the parental types' peace of mind.

I also love to drive. And with a 45-minute commute each way, and my three months' worth of trips to Baltimore, I'd better.

Fill that CD changer, pop the roof in good weather, and we're off to the races. Well, maybe not the races, I'm not the world's fastest driver, but I do love a good road trip. A touring car would be perfect for me, but a sports car has the handling I like in a crowd. Little did I know I'd move to New Jersey and face those crowds every day.

The trouble with the car was simple, though - there were a lot of little things wrong, things Mitsubishi probably corrected in later models - one door was crooked on the hinges; the passenger window didn't line up quite right; there were two recalls. Then the CD player had to be replaced. One winter the windshield wiper screws came untightened on three straight snowstorms. Every try to drive looking out the passenger side of the windshield?

This is all in addition to the routine maintenance; oil changes, tune ups, timing belt, wiper blades, etc.

These were minor problems, though, compared with what I'd face in New Jersey when I moved from the Lehigh Valley.

You see, I'd gotten a special car - a showroom model with special wheels, available only on such versions. It was great - I was an early adopter of the new design and between the color (not the traditional Eclipse red, or the common black and silver) and the wheels, my car really stood out in a crowd.

The the Jersey roads wreaked havoc on my two-piece aluminum wheels. I guess I wasn't alone, since Mitsubishi yanked them for 2001, but it sure felt that way.

Every hit a pothole hard enough to dent a wheel? No? Every know anyone who has? No?

I've wrecked six.


At $400-plus apiece.

And that doesn't count the three perfectly good wheels I traded in for $75 each to get a set of the one-piece aluminum wheels I hoped would last longer. And they have. I've only dented two of those, and one held the air anyway (I kept it for emergencies), plus there's a small dent in one that's still on my car.

I replaced three of the two-piece jobs, which I would describe in the exact words I'm thinking of, except my mother and father BOTH complained about the language I'm using in this blog.

Let me put it this way, ask me about wheels and New Jersey roads, and you'd think I was a star of "Deadwood."

You know, the HBO hit that's made - cover your ears, Mom - cocksucker one of the most popular words in the English language.

I love my Baby, but I physically flinch every time I hit even the smallest of bumps in the road. It's disgraceful. My tire pressure is high and my blood pressure is higher. The dealer suggested I switch to smaller wheels (15"), but that would require a brand new set of tires, and in all those wheels of misfortune, I've destroyed exactly one tire.

So since I've spent all my money on wheels, I can't afford a new set of tires.

If you're wondering, one 17" aluminum wheel costs more than my monthly car payment. So yeah, I'm just a little bitter.

But the good news is, I paid off my car last month - I have the title in hand - and my car's at 125,000 miles and counting. See, there are some good points. My Baby loves me, and I love her.

Of course, I fantasize about my next car - and with GT4, I can even test-drive it.

And the video game license doesn't allow for damage, so I don't even have to worry about the wheels.

Speaking of GT4, let me tell you how I became the first person in the history of my local EB Games to buy the same game on two consecutive days.

My rotors went - the car would shake like mad whenever I braked, and the dealer wanted $700 to replace the four rotors. Yikes!

So I asked Joe Lee, my office's resident car expert and racer, if I had any choices. He told me about turning the rotors. But they were too thin to turn, according to the dealer. So Joe suggested mail-ordering parts. Four rotors: $200. But now what? As I mentioned above, I know nothing about cars.

But Joe, bless his heart, offered to make the repairs. He likes tinkering with cars, and he's the kind of friend who'll save a buddy $500 for the privilege of getting his hands on one. He's also got a bunch of cool tools, like a pro-style jack and an air gun for removing lug nuts. I would guess he uses them all when he races with an outfit called NASA (not the astronaut one). And since I had to help (my share of the deal), I got to play with them. Cool!

Anyway, I offered Joe money. He declined. I offered him food. He said that would be fine, but no rush. Then the next day, GT4 came out. And when I told him I'd bought it, he said - jokingly - "Did you get one for me?"

So I did.

Fifty bucks, to save $500 - sounds fair to me. On the other hand, I'm not sure it sounded fair to his wife. But I can't tell, because I don't think she's speaking to me. Amazing. I'm on her shit list, and I haven't even met her yet.

At least with most people and all of my ex-girlfriends' parents, I get to meet them before they hate me.

But it's OK. If they come after me, I've got a sweet V6 I can use as a getaway car.

At least until I hit a pothole. That's why I have Triple-A.

Mitsubishi Motors
NASA Northeast

And to think, Mitsubishi's redesigning the Eclipse again for 2006. I may be looking for a new car by then, but it's not going to be that one. At least not unless my Baby makes it to 2007. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, I'm a freakin' moron.