Jerry’s Jalopies

When I start dreaming about cars, Ferrari’s and Aston Martin’s aren’t what come to mind. Instead, the time wasted shifting through Craigslist listings inevitably comes back to these following cars. These are the cars I would love to own and restore someday. Each of these can be found for $10,000, some for much less.

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Long Term Update: 2014 Mazda6 Touring

2014 Mazda6 at Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

The 6 has been trouble free for it’s first year of ownership. Although neither my wife nor I commute for our work, we’ve managed to put a healthy 14,000 miles on it so far. The 6 has been a perfect weekend getaway car, racking up freeway miles with ease. Wind and road noise has not gotten worse over time, and continues to be manageable. Early 2014 production units had issues with the rear door weatherstripping, but mine was a later production model. 2015 cars have a different part number and should not have this issue. The audio system leaves something to be desired. There are 6 speakers in the base system on the Touring trim, but the tweeters in the dash barely register. Bass is muddy. Adding the “tech package” upgrades the default system to a Bose package. For 2015, the package has been split into a “Technology Package” ($1,550) and a “Moonroof Package” ($1,325). The moonroof package includes the Bose system.

A sexy exhaust note is not high on midsize sedan buyers’s minds. The Mazda has a particularly unattractive and coarse sounding start up. It smooths out after warmup, but always reminds you that no V6 is available. When first starting, RPMs jump up past idle. The manual recommends against excessively long warm up and says you can start driving immediately. Since I’m typically on the 3rd floor of the parking structure, I coast down in first gear to allow everything to warm up slowly.

The transmission is very smooth and has adapted to my grandmotherly style of driving. Shifts can be felt when the car is cold, but are imperceptible other than looking at the tachometer. It also does a great job of holding gears on inclines and declines rather than hunting like a confused squirrel. With cruise control enabled, it knows to downshift on long grades to provide more engine braking.

The infotainment system is tolerable at best. Pandora integration stopped working with my iPhone 5 after three months. Deleting the phone and re-pairing solved the problem, only to have it break again a month later. The workaround is to use bluetooth audio, which still allows you to listen to Pandora, and keeps the steering wheel control functionality. If Google Maps is started before the phone successfully pairs, audio navigation directions will come in as a phone call and confuse the system. The fix for this is to stop and restart navigation after the phone pairs. I have yet to sacrifice a goat on a full moon for the Zoom-Zoom gods, but it’s unlikely to make infotainment better. There is an online petition started by dansthenman7 on Mazda6 Club to address some head unit issues.

Other than the head unit, the interior is wearing well. The sand leatherette has been durable so far. The driver’s side bottom left seat bolster has a blue tinge to it from jeans rubbing against it. Luckily, it’s easy to wipe off. When the climate control is off, it remembers the last set temperature. If recirculate is off, the air continues to passively flow at that temperature. To change the temperature, the fans need to be turned on first. This only comes up during cold mornings, of which there are few in los angeles.

The tires are wearing well. We rotated them shorter after the first oil change to keep them wearing evenly.  The lug nut torque specification is 108-147 Nm (80-108 lb/ft). We also checked tire pressure at this time and noticed it was at 38psi, higher than the manufacturer’s recommendation.  Once lowered, the average MPG went down 1 or 2 mpg per tank over similar driving conditions.

1st oil change: 5,926 miles

2nd oil change: 12,350 miles

12 quarts of Mazda GF5-0W20 oil with moly, and 2 PE-01-14-302A filters: $97.23. Note the ‘A’ at the end of the filter part number, this is specific for SkyActiv engines.

Average MPG: 37.3 (8018 miles over 215 gallons)

Best tank: 38.6 MPG

Worst tank: 30.7 MPG

2014 Mazda6 Touring Impressions

After a couple long trips in the Mazda, I’ve finally gotten a good amount of driving time in.  Many of the miles are highway miles, but several things about the Mazda struck me as distinctly superior in a class of mundane sedans trying to cater to everyone.  After a few drives, I even convinced my Dad to give it a test drive.  Being a long-time Honda and Toyota driver, he was skeptical.  But after a drive, both my Mom and Dad came away impressed, whereas they made almost no positive comments about my Passat.  What makes the Mazda so special?

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Long-Term Update: 2014 Mazda6 Touring


The Mazda has 7,300 miles on it – on track to an average of 15,000 annual miles. That might not seem high, but keep in mind this car isn’t a commuter. It’s also only been on a single longer trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles. That means the remaining miles have been for weekend getaways and quick drives up through the 2 highway. We never expected the 6 to rack up so many miles, but a nimble chassis with great steering combined with stellar fuel economy has us making excuses to go out for a drive.

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Long-Term Update: 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE 6MT

As American as apple pie, these two vehicles are.

Date: 1/6/2014
Mileage: 10,038 mi
Avg. Fuel Economy (since last update): 46.4 mpg
Avg. Fuel Economy (lifetime): 46.3 mpg

Our long-term Passat has just returned from its first scheduled service at 10K.  This service was on the house, thanks to VW’s Carefree Maintenance program.  Consisting of an oil and filter change, refilling the AdBlue additive, some inspections, and a tire rotation, it should have been a quick and simple job.  Unfortunately, I also needed them to check out a few other things, including low coolant level, some weird trim pieces, and a noisy clutch pedal.  The cooling system tested fine, and the clutch pedal was deemed “normal.”  I’m not sure I agree that a modern sedan with a price tag approaching $30k should be allowed to make such uncouth noises.  Nonetheless, it seems others have the same issue and nobody has successfully fixed it yet – I can deal with noises as long as they won’t leave me stranded.

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Long-Term Intro: 2014 Mazda 6 Touring

After months of drooling over a Dodge Charger R/T, I came home with a Soul Red 2014 Mazda6. Waaaah? The Charger is a gas guzzling, rolling tank of Americana, while the Mazda6 is the slightly quirky choice for family sedan buyers. Other than the color, the two have nothing in common. As much as I loved the Charger on paper, and as much as driving the Super Bee made me smile, I had to choose a car that made sense as my single daily driver. Follow the jump to hear how I decided and my first impressions on the car.

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Stupid Technology: SiriusXM vs. Pandora

SiriusXM has been on a rough ride in the past decade.  Despite launching as separate entities, economic factors made it clear that the market could not support both of them.  Thus, Sirius and XM decided to merge into one company, and that’s exactly what they did on November 12, 2008.  Since then, car manufacturers who were waiting to see who would win the war have jumped in head first.  Nearly every car and light truck manufacturer in the United States offers SiriusXM Radio today.  I finally gave it a try with the 3-month trial on my 2013 VW Passat, and left unimpressed.  That got me thinking, is there a better alternative?

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Stupid Technology: Auto Start-Stop system

On a recent trip to Asia, I got a ride in my uncle’s new car, a 2013 BMW 528i automatic with Auto Start-Stop technology.  In reality, when I got in the car, it didn’t even occur to me that it would have this feature, but it became quickly evident and clearly unacceptable.  You see, this car was purchased for ~$130,000 (US dollar equivalent) in a country where an average engineer starts at $10,000-15,000 a year in salary.  And yet, when this $130,000 machine came to a stop, it abruptly shuddered to a stop.  Then, when my uncle took his foot off the brake, it shuddered when it started up again.  Is this technology really worth the embarrassment of driving a BMW that shudders?  Not really, and here’s why.

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Long-Term Update: 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE 6MT

Date: 10/14/2013
Mileage: 6884 mi
Avg. Fuel Economy: 47.7 mpg (U.S. gallons)

The Passat has been with us for 5 months, and continues to impress with its frugality and road manners.  With some more break-in mileage and more time behind the wheel, fuel economy has increased drastically.  Whereas the first few tanks of diesel ran about 42-43MPG, more recent tanks have skyrocketed – a hand calculated 52.9MPG on a recent 900 mile trip, achieved on a single tank of diesel.  That number would have been higher if the first leg hadn’t included massive headwinds – the stats from the second leg were better and are shown below.  A note to fellow TDI owners, though: doing 55-65MPH for 900 miles sure can put you to sleep, so have caffeine on hand!

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