COAL Update: Summary, Updates, and an Introduction

One year ago, I finished my COAL series documenting my vehicular history that started with a silver Dodge station wagon and ended with a silver Dodge station wagon.  There were a lot of stops in between.  This post will serve the following purposes; link all of my COAL articles together, provide updates on the two current vehicles, and provide a small introduction into a 3rd vehicle into the fleet.

First up, here are all the COAL articles that I have written.  They are arranged in chronological order by purchase date.

1977 Dodge Aspen station wagon

1985 Plymouth Turismo

1993 Mercury Topaz GS

1983 Cadillac Coupe de Ville

2001 Nissan xTerra SE

1992 Ford Tempo GLS

2001 Ford Excursion

2001 Ford “Bullitt” Mustang

2001 Ford Mustang GT conv.

1995 Mercedes Benz S420

2001 Range Rover HSE

2006 Ford Fusion SE

2008 Dodge Nitro R/T

2006 Ford Mustang GT conv.

2012 Mercedes Benz E350 Bluetec

2006 Dodge Magnum SRT8


2006 Dodge Magnum SRT8 (Update)

New Stripes on Pam the Demon Wagon

At the conclusion of my COAL article last December, the Magnum had 152K miles on it.  As of now, I’ve pushed that up to a total of 173K.  She is still running strong, with one exception.  One day I was stuck in traffic behind a left lane hogger.  When I finally got the opportunity, I pulled into the right lane to pass.  As is often the case in situations like this, I will punch the accelerator to howl past them showing my displeasure.  It’s one of the joys of having a loud V8!  Well this time was different, I saw a plume of smoke come out from behind the car and there was a distinct smell of hot oil.

The smoke screen didn’t last for very long, a few seconds, and the car still seemed to be running OK.  I limped the car home, monitoring the oil pressure the entire way home.  I crawled underneath the car and the transmission pan and crossmember were coated in oil.  I couldn’t really tell where the leak was coming from.  I cleaned everything off and place cardboard under the car, letting it sit overnight.  Unexpectedly, there wasn’t an oil slick under the car in the morning.  Oil level was still in the acceptable range on the dipstick.  I went out for a drive to see if I could replicate the problem.  Once up to operating temperature, it took about a dozen full throttle blasts to have it occur again.  It looks like there is a small leak at the oil pan gasket under extreme heavy loads on the engine.  When it was loaded or over-pressurized, it sprays oil onto the catalytic converter and sprays the underside of the car.  Until I can get the garage cleaned out for space to do the repair (replacing the gasket requires lifting the engine!), I’m still driving it just not as aggressively as I like to.  So far that seems to be working, I’ve not had it occur again.

Another car on a flatbed, the car behind me also blew a tire on the same pothole.

In February, San Diego had an unusual amount of rain.  The rain tore up a lot of roads.  Unfortunately I was a victim of an angry pot hole hiding in what looked like a small puddle of water.  It tore a nasty gash out of the side of the tire, but thankfully did not bend the wheel.  The SRT8 does not have a spare, just an inflator kit.  This meant a call to AAA for a tow back to the house.  My tires were already scheduled to be replaced in March, so I just had to make the purchase a month early.  After getting the new tires, I put on a new set of white letter tires from

New stripes and new tires

Right after the publish of my COAL article, I got the itch to change things up.  If you’ve read the articles on my Mustangs, it’s right around 18 months that I have a need to change up how the car looks.  To me, this keeps the car feeling fresh and new to me.  I removed the dark gray stripes and put on a set of dual stripes in 3M Satin Frozen Vanilla vinyl.  They are a semi-matte white, that shimmer in golden metallic when the sun hits them just right.  The stripes are lined with dark gray pin stripes.  Finally, in September we paid the car off so now I own it free and clear!!

My car on the cover of Mopar Muscle Magazine

At the beginning of the summer, I entered the Magnum into the Mopar Muscle Magazine Reader’s Rides photography contest.  The contest was open to anyone who owned a Mopar, and the owner of the car had to shoot the photos.  I sent in about a dozen photos and then started the waiting game for a “winter issue”.  Around the middle of July, I received an email from the editor asking me to call him because he had a few questions about my entry and car.  When we talked, he first told me that I was one of the finalists.  After verifying that I owned the car, and talking a little bit about it, he informed me over the phone that I was the grand prize winner!!!  He said that he and the other editors were blown away by the photos that I submitted.

I had to keep it under wraps until the magazine actually hit the new stands.  It was an agonizing wait until it hit newsstands at the end of September.  I actually saw the article posted in a Magnum Facebook group first, as subscribers get their magazines about a week before they hit newsstands.  I got to cross off three things off of my bucket list; winning a photography contest, having my photography published in a magazine, and having my car featured in a magazine!!!

Here is a link to the gallery to view all the other pics:

2012 Mercedes Benz E350 Bluetec (Update)

When we last left off with the Mercedes, it had just crossed over the 100K mile mark.  James was spending a lot of time in Phoenix for work, so there were many many trips from San Diego to Phoenix.  The miles piled on, and it is currently sitting at 122K.  The pics posted here were taken specifically for this post, and shows how stunning the car still looks for having that many miles on it.

Since the “Valdez event”, where the engine blew all of the oil out of a defective oil filter o-ring, the engine and transmission have been running smoothly.  There haven’t been any detrimental side effects from that particular event.  The car has been in for two regular scheduled maintenances; oil changes, checks, and some other fluid changes.  During one service visit, the transmission software was updated with the most recent version.


It did develop a weird propensity to intermittently puff white smoke from behind the right front wheel.  It didn’t do it all the time, but it seemed to only do it after some hard stop and go driving.  It was pretty embarrassing to pull up to a light and have the car start smoking like that.  It didn’t smell of oil or diesel, and it appeared like steam.  As soon as the engine was shut off, the smoking would stop.  At each of the regular service stops, it was reported to the service tech.  The technicians couldn’t find a leak anywhere and were unable to replicate the problem.

After the second time that the problem couldn’t be replicated, we made it a point to take video of it to share with the technicians.  Back into the shop and at first they could not locate a leak.  After some more digging, it was later determined that the urea injector nozzle was failing, and intermittently leaking out when the computer determined it was time to inject urea into the exhaust.  The repair bill came out to $1000 to replace it, not covered under the CPO extended warranty.  The CPO extended warranty covers the drivetrain, but not anything emissions related.  It has been fixed, and now it is no longer embarrassing to have your luxury car smoke while sitting at a stop light.

Video of the smoking from under the car

At this point, we are nearing the end of the CPO extended warranty.  All in all, James does enjoy the car even though it has had a few hiccups here and there.  We are starting to contemplate whether or not we want to continue ownership outside of the warranty.  We aren’t afraid to get under the hood and replace things that break.  The bigger concern is when software things go wrong.  It’s had to have software updates or computer reflashes a few times to cure anomalies.  And that’s just not something that we have access to outside of an expensive trip to the dealer.

2016 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel (NEW!)

This will be a quick introduction to our newest vehicle.  It’s only been in the fleet for 3 months, so not long enough for a full fledged COAL article.

Ram 1500 Crew Cab Laramie 4×4 EcoDiesel

As we continue to add more and more miles to both the Benz and the Magnum (we drive a lot), we decided to add a third vehicle to our fleet to help spread some of the mileage out.  We wanted something that could take us to the back country for some off-road adventures.  We are also planning to get a small travel trailer as well for future Burning Man trips.  So we started looking at trucks.  The mention of a truck immediately had us both thinking Ram.  My parents own a 1998 5.9L V8 with 380K miles on it, and a friend owns an ’08 Sport Crew Cab with the 5.7L Hemi.  With James’ love of diesels, that also made the Ram the only choice.  It’s the only light duty full size with an available diesel engine.

2016 Ram 1500 Crew Cab Laramie 4×4 EcoDiesel

We ended up with a Certified Pre-Owned 2016 Ram 1500 Crew Cab Laramie 4×4 EcoDiesel (damn, what a mouthful).  It is the Laramie trim level, which sits below the Laramie Longhorn and Laramie Limited trims.  It has a lot of luxury features; 20″ chrome clad wheels, chrome LED head and taillights, chrome bumpers, leather interior, memory power seats, Navigation, bluetooth etc.  The EcoDiesel engine is a 3.0L V6 turbodiesel.  It spins out 240HP and 420 LB/FT of torque!  Towing capacity is 8,560lbs.  The first weekend we had it, took it on a road trip from San Diego to Palm Springs and back.  Over the entire trip we averaged 25 mpg!  The truck drives and rides very well, the coil spring suspension in the back definitely helps.  It is also very quiet inside, especially being as aerodynamic as a brick.

In the short time that we have had the truck, it has already been on a flatbed TWICE!  One weekend on a Home Depot trip, the truck went into limp mode.  The center display in the gauge cluster instructed to find a safe place and then no longer drive the truck. Called up Roadside Assistance, and it was put on a flat-bed back to the dealer.  (Note: within the last 18 months all three of our vehicles have been on the back of a flat-bed for various reasons.)  The air inlet pipe to the turbo had cracked, and was allowing excess air into the system.  It was replaced under warranty.

Loaded up for first camping trip.

For Veteran’s Day weekend, three of us took a camping trip to Saline Valley Springs.  We were going to be there for 4 nights.  Saline Valley Springs is described as one of the most remote locations in California (Google Map Link).  This would have made for our second time camping here.  Access to the Valley and Springs requires a high clearance vehicle, and it is 50 miles down a somewhat maintained dirt road (80-90 miles from anything remotely considered civilization). From our home in San Diego, it is 390 miles one way to get there.

Fuel line spraying on start up.

About 300 miles into the trip, we caught a whiff of diesel smell inside the cab of the truck.  At the time we were behind a tractor trailer, and after we passed it the smell dissipated so we assumed it was that truck.  About 6 miles before the final dirt road turn off onto Saline Valley Road, the smell of diesel permeated the cabin.  Within a mile, the check engine light came on and we could see smoke billowing from behind the truck.  When we found a spot to pull off, looking under the truck diesel fuel was gushing everywhere!  We immediately turned it off and the leaking stopped.  However, at this point the truck refused to restart due to some protection mode programmed into the computer.

The area we were in had very spotty cell coverage, but we managed to contact Roadside Assistance.  We had about an hour to wait for the tow truck to arrive, so we started troubleshooting and found the source of the leak.  One of the high pressure fuel lines into the injectors had cracked and was pouring fuel everywhere.  The video posted above is how much fuel coming out just trying to start it.

Have you ever seen such an epic and beautiful flat-bed pic?

Roadside Assistance covers the cost of the tow to the closest dealership.  This meant a tow all the way down to Bakersfield, CA 215 miles away!  The tow truck arrived about 4pm, so we had to spend the night in Bishop, CA and then ride down for 4 hours with the tow truck driver to Bakersfield.  We arrived around 1pm Friday afternoon, and after a quick inspection to confirm the issue, we were informed that they had to order the fuel line.  The part wouldn’t be in until Monday.  We were put in a rental, left the truck (still full of most of our camping gear) and went home.  The following Tuesday I spent the entire day to drive 10 hours round trip to retrieve the truck.  It wasn’t the adventure we set out to have, but it sure was an adventure.

Our confidence in the truck is shaken.  We have only had it three months, and it only has 24K miles on it now.  It has been so many years that a vehicle has left us stranded like that.  Since the repair, thankfully it’s been running like a champ.  Every day I still knock on wood hoping that when I get in it’s gonna be reliable.  It’s been just over a month now since the last incident, and it has yet to have any additional issues.  So things are starting to look up.  I’ll add a full COAL entry after we have had it for a couple of years.