Monthly Archives: December 2013

Idiot driving in the early hours

24th June and where is Darwin when you need him? I am a huge fan of the Darwin Awards. Some border on the extreme, and they certainly make me smile. However, this particular morning, I badly needed somebody—anybody—to take one jerk off the road.

We had had the weekend from hell, it was cold, rainy and the roads were very slippery. On the Pacific Highway, before North Sydney, I stopped for a red light, as you do. The lights turned green, and I watched with fascination as this idiot came out of the right-hand side street on to the highway. Given that his lights would not have been amber, but well and truly red, he decided that the red was not quiet red enough (perhaps he was hoping for a different shade) doing about 80. The combination of speed, the road conditions and his own bad driving resulted in the fool skidding from a lane to lane trying not to roll his 20- year-old 3-series BMW. Since this was very early morning, he was saved by the fact that it was only him, me and one car behind me. All three of us stopped at the next lights, and it made my day to look across and see a twenty-something male, as white as a sheet, with a deathly grip on the steering wheel, terrified to take one finger off. I was going to add to his woes by telling him that he was an idiot, but I thought he must have figured that out all by himself.

Women and car shopping

30 May: Article in the SMH from Elizabeth Farrelly, What women want from a vehicle. I am no fan of Jeremy Clarkson, but do enjoy watching Top Gear. Clarkson is on record stating that occasionally his wife receives a letter from editors of magazines/newspapers/media asking her for her view of cars. Mrs Clarkson replies in the only way she knows how, and it usually contains an enthusiastic report on some form of motor vehicle that practically tore her face off and how much she enjoyed it. The reply, according to her husband, is usually filed very carefully in either the waste bin or on some spike to be shredded later. So, why do we have problems when we are buying cars? Personally, I love the experience and love ordering my cars every three years or so. But this is a report from my personal experience that has played out again and again. Female co-worker arrives at the office on Monday morning and then spends most of the morning, if not most of the day, complaining about the bad service she received from a car sales guy. A few carefully-asked questions, and you find out that the same female ventured into the showroom armed with nothing more than a boyfriend/husband/father, or in other words, a male. Add to this she had no idea what she was after, just a wish that some magical contraption would transport this lack of decision into a car of her dreams.

The conversation on Monday morning always begins the same way: “Went looking for a car on the weekend and the salesman would not even speak to me.” When you probe little deeper, it becomes very obvious that the accusation is unjustified about 90% of the time. It was the male who did the talking. OK, so what are the sales guys supposed to do? If he ignores the male and answers the female, than he will be “creepy” because all he did was ogle her. When he answers the person who is speaking to him, he gets into trouble for not speaking to the female. I will admit that some car sales guys need to go to charm school, I have been on the receiving end of a few of them, but they all got a short sharp rebuke, and a few times I was happy to take my business elsewhere.

So, here is a suggestion. Car shopping list: Price (state your range), Economy (Yes/No), Performance (Yes/No), Two door/Four Door, Petrol/Diesel, just state what is important to you. Is this a car you want to drive every day? Or is this a car that will be lucky to be used once a month? If you want a car to tow a horse float, tell the sales guy, he will not be trying to sell you a 4-cylinder 1-litre engine car. On the other hand, if you want a little city runabout and the salesman is showing a $90K HSV 8-cylinder hoon mobile, than you have every right to complain on Monday, and I will fully support you. Lastly, if you purchased a car and it is not a 100% fit, it is not the end of the world, nobody died. You can either trade it in after a year or live with it and sell it at the first opportunity. Think about it as slightly more expensive shoes and we all have a few of our tragic mistakes still in our wardrobe. I still occasionally look at my shoe collection and think “What the hell was I thinking?” And remember ladies, the guys make even worse mistakes when buying their cars; they just will not admit it. After all, it was a male who thought that the economy of a car is dependent on the size of the fuel tank.

How many men does it take to change a tyre?

Car maintenance, changing tyres and my younger sister. As my father was cursed/blessed with two daughters, it was a given that cars were going to be part of our lives no matter what. I was a somewhat willing victim. However, my younger sister refused at all costs to even lift a bonnet. I am older of us two, and being older by nine years, this was never going to be easy on our father. Plus the fact my sister could wrap him around her little finger, this was always going to be a spectator sport for the rest of the family. By this stage he has given up on our mother. Somewhere, something had gone wrong, and our mother possessed the same driving qualities as her mother-in-law. She once casually mentioned that one bridge leading to Brisbane truly frighted her, so she solved the problem by closing her eyes when she drove across it. If I remember correctly, it had taken us about a fortnight to scrape my father off the ceiling. I think he fed her car keys through the garbage compactor.

My first proper car was a MGB. My truly first car was a Fiat, purchased at the old Homebush Auctions. The backronym of Fix It Again Tony was spot on! I got to be so good at changing fan belts I could do it at a set of lights and be off again by the time they changed to green, once to the applause of two truckies on Parramatta Road outside Sydney Uni. The MGB was a burned out shell. I think it is illegal now, but it was not then. I had to sand it back to metal by myself, and for each undercoat repeat the performance until the beautiful British racing green as the final colour was to my father’s satisfaction. Not that he and his mates would let me have a go with the spray gun. I was just the slave labour who did the horrible stuff, and they criticised. Often!

However, when it came my sister’s turn for her first serious car, all of the hard work was done by our father, with my sister occasionally blessing him with her presence and a sweet smile to tell him how thrilled she was about her new car. But she did not escape the “intensive” course he made both of us do on how to change a tyre, check oil, check brake fluid, and what to do if the car over-heated. Needless to say she breezed through and promptly put all the information into the “I will never use any of this” file.

Some 12-18 months later, our father was returning home from a business trip when on the side of the road he spied a car exactly like my sister’s, with a large group of assorted males surrounding it. With some concern, he pulled over, only to be confronted by a bevy of males busying themselves fixing an obviously flat tyre. My sister was reclining on a makeshift banana chair with one male fanning her down and another peeling her a grape, and a police officer was directing traffic. This was the version that my father told us much, much later, when he had finally calmed down sufficiently and my sister had made sufficient overtones for him to forgive her. Ensuring that my sister was perfectly OK, father’s temper reached the point of explosion that has been known to set off earthquakes on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. The entire male contingency quickly guessed that this was one father not to be trifled with and quickly departed! Father then sat in the comfort of his air-conditioned car and made my sister finish the tyre-changing exercise by herself. Let’s just say it was very strained and tense in the M household for a few weeks.

I do take this car to be my wedded…

My car caught me cheating on him. And yes, it is a Him, not a Her. As the old adage goes, “If it has tyres or testicles it’s going to be nothing but trouble.” For me, it had not been the first, but a hell of a lot of the second. OK, back to the cheating. Picked up my mail as I do every Friday from my Post Office Box. There were advertisements for things I never purchased or ever wanted, as well as the usual bills, more bills, and a miniscule refund from my health fund that was almost exceeded by the $0.60 postage. But one very expensive-looking A5-size envelope piqued my interest. The sender was from Richmond, Victoria. Since I did not know anybody from Richmond, I left this envelope till last to be savoured with my morning coffee. The letter read as follows:

Dearest E,

We’ve had two great years together, but I get the feeling things aren’t the same as when we first met.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed every twist and turn on our shared journey and treasured every kilometre we’ve put on the clock.

But recently, I’ve noticed you looking at others the way you used to look at me. It’s OK. I’ll understand if you choose to move on and try something new. Something to satisfy that itch in your right foot.

I’ve included profiles of those I think you’ll find attractive. If any of them catch your eye, go ahead and call. I won’t listen.

I’ll even look the other way if you invite one home.

Maybe I’m just being paranoid. Maybe it’s all under my hood. I’m simply considering the possibility of us going our separate ways. It’s understandable. Sometimes change is for the best.

I just want you to be happy.
Your E-Class

Two of my female friends want to divorce their husbands and all want to marry my car. However, since it is my car and I kiss it and love it to death, they are not having it! It’s mine, all mine and I am going to marry it! They can get their own.

AMG badge does not maketh a car.

AMG badges. OK, I know everything these days can be purchased on eBay, but please, people, do not make your car a laughing stock. AMG do not tune 4-cylinder cars. Trust me, they do not! Purchasing an AMG badge from eBay and sticking it on the boot of your car fools very few people, and the few who are fooled are not worth impressing anyway. In the last two months I have witnessed this crime against motor vehicles no less than four times. Your exhaust pipe is a dead giveaway. Think about it; if you think very, very hard, you will figure it out. The one that nearly caused me to have an accident (as I was laughing so hard) was the Gumby on Alison Road. On the left was the normal Merc badge C250, on the right was a CDI badge, and in the centre was the eBay acquisition AMG badge. Mate, it’s a diesel, the other cars are laughing at you, please stop it or the rest of us will have to report you to the RSPaCA (Royal Society for Prevention against Cruelty to Automobiles). If you stick a prancing horse badge on a 15-year-old Hyundai, it will not turn it into a Ferrari, no matter how much you wish it.

The all-time winner is the white C250 traveling towards the airport this morning. eBay must have had a special offer on AMG badges. So we had C250 on one side of the boot, the eBay acquired AMG on the other side and BITURBO directly under the C250. Quick search on the internet and you will find out that BITURBO refers to V12’s.

This story was written prior to the release of the A Class AMG and soon to be released CLA. I still have my doubts about AMG tunning these cars, but hey, what do I know?

101 uses for old racing trophies

Hedgehogs, fox kits and old racing trophies. Prior to my birth and a couple of years afterwards, my father raced in Motocross and accumulated a number of the hard waxy green laurel garlands that were placed on the winners. The other prizes were crystal vases, plates and other paraphernalia. The vases and plates were kept by his mother, my grandmother, but the garlands were too much even for her, and were piled up in the attic, where I found them, aged seven. A few were donated by me to be awarded to friends competing in hugely important and world-renowned billy-cart races, conducted on a steep hill that possessed a most important requirement, being out of sight of most adults. The hill ended in either a main road if your steering did not turn right, or in a fast flowing creek if your steering did not turn left, so we were dicing with getting sopping wet or in serious trouble by getting dobbed in to our families if we ended up near the main road. Our own version of Formula1 finished abruptly when one of us ended up with a broken arm and we found out that hiding an open fracture was beyond even our ability. The adults refused to believe that this had happened whilst doing nothing but sitting on a park bench.

After this, my business dried up, but there were still a number of the garlands left. I very quickly realised that the garlands, placed one on top of the other, made a wonderful home for my ever-expanding wildlife finds. One of my unusual pets was a baby hedgehog, found after his mother had been run over by a car. I hand-raised him and he certainly appreciated the nest I made him out of the winner’s garlands. He was so cute. If he was frightened, he would curl up in a tight ball, and all you could see was the spikes. If you tickled his exposed body parts, he would uncurl. Next was a fox kit. It grew up more quickly than I had anticipated, stole a large piece of beef my grandmother was cooling down ready for beef wellington, and here ended my animal rescue and recycling of my father’s once prized winnings. I wonder how many more are out there; once the most precious possessions, only to be left dusty in corners of attics, garages and spare bedrooms.

My very own racetrack, almost.

Thursday 23rd: Fabulous day at Wakefield. I always try to book two or three sessions in advance with Boz. This one fell on Thursday the 23rd, and I had been watching the weather in sheer hope that the forecast deluge was going to move on or just be plain wrong. No such luck. I arrived at Wakefield, and the temperature struggled to move into the double figures, with wind and rain, and I think for a few minutes we even had sleet.

However, this meant that very few people had actually ventured to Wakefield. The first session I had the track to myself for half the session. Few drivers ventured on to the track for the later sessions, and best of all was the last session. I had the track all to myself, with Dean Evans, owner and editor of Tarmac Magazine occasionally appearing in his almost new, only driven by a little old Lebanese lady to church every Sunday $949.99 green Hyundai purchased for the track. Finally, to be able to understand the reference points of braking and changing down a gear when hitting the first corner out of the straight! So, the final result was that I am a brilliant driver when there is nobody else on the race track. In other words, I am still crap, but without other drivers I am almost OK.

Oh my, how things have changed

News Headlines. Father in India charged with leaving his young son to drive his Ferrari. Quick, call the police, the Department of Children’s Services and everybody else who has an opinion on child-rearing.

I would like to say that my own father should be charged and imprisoned. He allowed, no, make that encouraged, my younger sister to drive his 12-cylinder Jag around his friend’s service station in Sydney’s west, and she was not even ten years old.

For that matter, please arrest and charge my grandparents as well. None of these people are alive, but hey, that is a small technicality I plan to address later. My grandmother had a driver’s licence. In those days, it did not mean that she could actually drive. It simply meant that whoever was responsible for awarding driver’s licences owed my grandfather a favour. To say that to be in a moving vehicle with my grandmother was a fairly scary experience is the understatement of the century. I recall once being driven to school by her. On a deserted back road, a car wheel overtook us. I remember thinking how fast it was moving. My grandmother looked at me, and in sheer disgust, uttered these famous words: “Will you look at that! Some fool has lost his wheel.” Boy, was she right, and you guessed it, it was hers. I never did get to school that day. No injuries. She never drove above 50 km per hour anyway. Just a very bemused tow truck driver and a very red-faced grandmother. God bless her. Reversing was beyond her. Whenever she drove to her own mother’s place in a beautiful picturesque town, she would drive round and round the town square until parking suitable for an ocean liner became available, and then just simply drive in. When she was in her early thirties, and my father was available, she would take him with her and make him park or reverse for her. He was 12 years old. I can still picture her, immaculately dressed, always in high heels, her hair perfect, a fabulous cook and her baking was legendary. Just cars and she were not a good combination. I suspect that the driver’s licence was a fashion accessory.

Beaurepairs, part 1

Beaurepairs. Why do people think that they can get away with this kind of BS? A slow-leaking tyre caused by a screw I picked up, more than likely in a car park, sent me to my local Beaurepairs. Car dropped off, I was sent off for a cup of coffee. Faster than I could say “One regular cappuccino, no sugar,” I was summoned back to be questioned over an incorrect plug used to repair the same tyre previously.

OK, I admit it. I am not the friendliest person before I’ve had my coffee. The point’s been proven a number of times and confirmed by my male co-workers, who even purchased a small magnetic sign for me stating “I haven’t had my coffee yet. Don’t make me kill you.” I tried to explain that as the owner of comprehensive tyre insurance from Beaurepairs itself, it would make no sense for me to have my tyres repaired anywhere else. Hence, the so-called WRONG plug could have only come from Beaurepairs. This did not seem to make any difference to my accuser, and the lack of caffeine in my bloodstream resulted in a screaming row. My blood pressure at a level that would alarm most medicos, I remarked sarcastically that with nothing else to do one rainy Sunday afternoon, I’d repaired the offending tyre myself using an emery board and a plug I’d found on the Pacific Highway, which I’d saved for that very purpose. At this point, most men would have admitted defeat and retreated. Unfortunately, this particular individual did not possess the requisite self-awareness, and shot back at me: “You can’t get a tyre off the rim with your emery board.” The entire sorry episode was retrieved by another bemused customer, who looked at my accuser and in a very calm voice told him to stop digging a hole for himself, as at that present moment he was half-way to China.

With the tyre still leaking air, this being 9 a.m. on December the 24th, I asked for my car to be removed from the hoist, so I could go and have the tyre fixed somewhere else, and hang the expense. I would have thought that the instruction manual for working at Beaurepairs would have included something along these lines: “Please remove the wooden chocks before attempting to reverse a car off the hoist.” This guy must have been off sick when they covered this; he revved my car right over the chocks. With murder on my mind, I departed, as it is my understanding that homicide is still against the law in NSW. Mind you, give me a jury full of car owners and I think I could have gotten away with it.

Beaurepairs, the sequel

Beaurepairs Mark II. The clock had moved to 10:30 a.m. by the time I arrived at another Beaurepairs with the same leaking tyre. The bloke there was friendly and helpful, and explained that the reason the tyre could not be repaired was due to the previous faulty repair job. A small bubble had formed on the inside of the tyre. Hey, I could cope with that. When presented with evidence I could see, I had no problems in understanding why the tyre needed to be replaced.

It was at this point things once again started to go off the rails. The car was 26 months old at this stage, and the clock read a little bit over 20,000 km. OK, I admit it, I am a hoon, and as I am constantly reminded by Bozman (John Boston), of the TrackSchool fame at Wakefield, my driving is also erratic. I hold the steering wheel wrong, I brake at the wrong time when entering a corner, etc., etc., etc. I should also mention that I am one of those people who do not like being told what to do, and boy does this lead to some interesting conversation between Bozman and I. The point is, 25-30,000 km is what I am used to getting out of tyres anyway. So I saw the Beaurepairs guys reasoning that a complete set of new tyres was also on the cards. However, I refused to slap down the credit card there and then and tell the guy that I would be back in the New Year for the other three tyres. Given that all of the tyres still had about 10,000 km left in the tread, I would not exactly be driving with shoddy tyres. Plus, the pottering around Sydney that I’d planned for Christmas would not see me exceeding about 500 to 1000 km in the next two months.

Christmas and New Year over, plus this being not my favourite time of the year I stay low and am trying desperately to be nice to all and sundry the time comes when I decide that tackling the tyre issue at the end of February is a great idea. Armed with the office telephone, a cup of coffee in my system and another waiting to be drunk, I ventured in to the deep dark world of car repairs where no sane person should ever tread. Having obtained the business card of the Beaurepairs manager from the second store, I very wrongly assumed that all that would be needed would be a simple phone call. “Hi, my name is so-and-so, and I need to buy the other three tyres. All my details are on your computer.” What could possibly go wrong?

One month, a few sessions with a psychiatrist and discussions about possible scheduling (mine, that is) later, the car had a new set of tyres. I had learned a very important lesson. If you drive a car, you will be ripped off, and I do not care if you are the owner of a 20-year-old Suzuki or a brand-new million-dollar Lambo and everything in between, you are fodder for a rip-off. And before people get sanctimonious on me, and tell me to ride a pushbike, have you seen the prices of bikes and how much they cost to fix? My first car wasn’t worth that much.

The original tyre, which I had replaced in December, cost $768.00, being a rear tyre. It was explained to me that front tyres are around $450.00 each. A huge fanfare that was made of the fact that I had insurance, hence Beaurepairs would only charge me 50% etc., etc. This was bad enough; the killer was when I was told there were none of my required tyres left in Australia. None, not a single one. However, I was lucky, because Beaurepairs knew that Germany had 20 on order and I could have my three before June. I refrained from asking if they were also planting the rubber trees and selecting a celestial virgin to harvest the rubber from these trees in order to have the tyres to me by June, because by this stage I knew that I was being had, by experts. My Executive Assistant, Ms Google, revealed that my tyres were actually available in Australia, and wow, what an eye-opener on the price. Three remaining tyres fitted, including GST, came to $1,022.00. Thank you Alan from Torcu Tyres in Chullora.