Category: cars

Firewood boxes

Just completed these two firewood boxes I made out of ½ inch plywood. I finished finishing them yesterday and put them outside for the night and it rained and rained and then snowed a little in the morning. Firewood is nice and dry:


These were the ones I made after my first box, which was from ¾ inch plywood. When I was done with that I decided that was much too heavy, so I got some nice ½ inch Baltic birch for $50 a sheet. Really elegant stuff. I’ll make a couple more boxes later.

The idea is to have several of these boxes sitting around so they can collect wood scraps and you can swap them out for the empties in the back of the trailer hitch carrier when necessary. Since I knew they were going to sit outside I started painting them, but that looked terrible and I changed my mind and decided to finish them instead. So the box on the left had all the black paint sanded off before I finished it. Looks kind of rustic.

No more toting around firewood in cardboard boxes like we did before. That was so ghetto.


Suburbans and Yukons

Oh man, I love my Suburban, especially now that its steering and suspension have been fixed.

I bought a 1998 GMC Yukon in 2006:


For years I rented SUVs whenever I went on long drives, but didn’t like how they handled and so never bought one. I finally capitulated and bought the Yukon, and while I still never liked how it handled, I liked pretty much everything else about it. Holy crap, they are practical cars, incredibly useful in so many ways.

And for that matter, my family had the same sort of cars when I was growing up, only in those days we called them “station wagons.”

The GMC Yukon and the Chevrolet Tahoe are basically the same car, a shorter version of the Suburban, which is a brand used by both GMC and Chevrolet. All these cars were available with either 350 cubic inch (5.7 liter) (small block) or 454 cubic inch (7.4 liter) (big block) engines; RWD or 4WD. I love the styling of the late 1990s Suburban/Tahoe/Yukons; after 1999 I think they fucked them up trying to make them look more like Ford SUVs.

The cool thing today about those late ’90s SUVs is they are pretty cheap to buy now, like $3,000-$5,000 for specimens in decent shape and with relatively low miles, especially when you consider a new Tahoe goes for $70,000 or so. And late ’90s Suburbans, Tahoes and Yukons are ubiquitous here in Reno and Sparks.

The Tahoes and Yukons are slightly more practical than the Suburbans, as the latter are a little difficult to maneuver in parking lots (which is why I bought the Yukon in the first place after testing a few Suburbans; but this year when I bought the Suburban I couldn’t find enough Tahoes or Yukons nearby (in Greater LA) to check out). On the other hand, the Suburban has a removable third seat row, which means it can carry a total of eight passengers, which is great for soccer moms, etc. That would have come in pretty handy when I was taking teens to the mountains every month.

My Yukon had the 350ci motor and I wish I had that now. I thought I wanted the big 454ci, and that’s one of the reasons I bought the Bad Mama Jama (mo powa!), but really all that extra power is mostly for pulling trailers and boats; the 350ci is actually much zippier and fun to drive. And of course it uses a lot less gasoline.

I am pretty sure the Bad Mama Jama won’t be the last late ’90s GM full sized SUV I own. When I get the room, I think I might get a 4WD Yukon or Tahoe with the small block motor, which will be much more practical (and cheaper) to drive regularly. They are getting less expensive every day, and they aren’t building up too much more mileage. And out here in Northern Nevada, they don’t rust.

How to buy a truck

Having nothing but big powerful V8s around the house is all fun and games until you live up next to the mountains and need to drive up and down a lot of hills. Then it gets hella expensive. So I am shopping for a V6 pick-up truck. I do this using Craigslist and Excel.

It will be a month or two before I can scrape the dollars together to buy the truck, so in the meantime I am collecting data from Craigslist. I check Craigslist every day and put all the relevant properties into a spreadsheet:


Note the listings are sorted by “Score.” What is this “Score?” you ask. Well, I needed to be able to use objective criteria to rank different trucks from best to worst. I did this by calculating feature factors and then multiplying them to arrive at a final score. The higher the score the better the deal. The feature factors are in hidden columns, and unhiding columns M through Q reveals the calculations:

  • Year factor simply takes the model year and divides by 2016.
  • Mileage factor averages all the odometer readings of all the listings, and divides that number by the current listing’s odometer reading. If the current listing does not have an odometer reading, the error is captured and the number 1.00 is inserted as a mileage factor.
  • Cab factor. If the listing has a king cab, the cab factor is 1.75.
  • Shell factor. If the listing has a shell, the shell factor is 1.20. Obviously a king cab is worth more to me than a shell (in fact, I probably won’t buy a truck without a king cab).
  • Price factor is calculated similarly to the mileage factor: the prices are averaged, and that number is divided by the current listing’s price.

So for the final score all you have to do is multiply the factors together.

The listings with the highest scores have outrageously low asking prices (generally there is something wrong with them), while the lowest scores have very high prices or very high mileage. But the scores in the middle are for cars I am most likely to want to inspect and maybe buy. As I add more cars to the list, the scoring system will make it easier to sift through the listings.

While working on this last sheet I discovered you can mix data types in Excel! For the cab and shell factors, I needed to be able to put the actual multipliers (1.75 and 1.20 respectively) in cells somewhere so the feature factors could be derived from them. I do it this way instead of building the numbers into the formulas so I can quickly change the multipliers for all the cars (generally, as a best practice with spreadsheets, I figure out all the constants I’m going to need and then put all those in separate cells, often on a separate sheet, so that I can easily change the constants as desired).

But I didn’t want to have to add a new column just for each multiplier, and I didn’t want to set up a new constants worksheet.

So on a hunch I used Excel’s text functions to derive the multiplier from the column header, “Cab Factor (1.75),” as shown:


See what I did there? I did a calculation on the number contained in the last four characters of the string, save one. And fuck me if it didn’t actually work! So all I have to do to change the multiplier is edit the column heading, making sure the number is four characters including the decimal point and there’s a close parenthesis following it.

It’s actually pretty amazing you can mix data types like that, and definitely no accident.

A friend advised me to avoid Ford Rangers. I used to be dogmatically opposed to Fords, based on experiences my family had in the 1970s. But as I get older I have put ideology aside. My RV is a Ford, for example. Two of my best friends drove nothing but Ford Rangers for years, one after the other (this was during my anti-Ford days and I always made a face when I got into one of their cars).

Now I realize if Ford or anyone else that wasn’t supported by the government (like FIAT) made consistently bad cars, they wouldn’t be in business. And to that point Ford has been, over the last decade or two, the most successful car manufacturer in the world. So I guess they don’t really make crap after all.

As for Toyota Tacomas, all the Tacomas I have seen on Craigslist either have outrageous mileage (like 250,000 miles) or outrageous price tags. Perhaps that’s an indication of their essential quality, but I am not buying a car with over 200,000 miles, nor am I paying twice the right price for one. But thanks to my spreadsheet, if a reasonably priced Tacoma with moderate mileage comes on the market, I’ll know to jump on it.

Getting settled

Yesterday drove the Bad Mama Jama filled with guns from Costa Mesa to Reno. Man, I am really getting tired of making that run.

The El Camino is being delivered today. It cost $100 less to have it transported than for me to rent a car carrier trailer from U-Haul.

One more run, later this month, to get the RV up here. Might bring Bella with me as well.

Also, Zuly decided to stay with us. She’s moving in with me for a few months until she gets a place of her own.

The wrenching life

Damn. that’s satisfying. Replaced the water pump in my GTO. It was long overdue. I bought a replacement water pump maybe five or six years ago, and just never got around to doing the work. Finally the grinding noise the bearing was making was too much, and too much water was leaking out all the time. Had to do it. Now it purrs again, like a big cat.

First time I’ve pulled a wrench (on a car) in a long time. BITD, I was a real gearhead:


Now I just gotta get my shit together and install in the El Camino the factory TPI EFI I bought a few years ago off Craigslist.

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