So what does one do when your wife’s car is stolen and then held hostage by the tow company?
On top of it, while the 90 Mazda 626 was mechanically in excellent shape driving once to Los Angeles and once to Las Vegas it was cosmetically challenged. Peeling clear coat and then my wife driving on little sleep and bumping into the rear of an F-350 creasing the bumper, the radiator support, the radiator, hood, breaking the grille and glass headlights. I pulled out the radiator support, put a new radiator in, and sourced a hood, bumper cover and headlights from Pick-n-Pull all in one week. Bonus two nice front fenders. Then the car gets stolen and I was not happy. Well, on the bright side I have extra body panels for my 91 626 now. As to my question, the answer is you buy her a new car.
As with my 86 Mazda and 04 Focus I now headed out to find what I wanted. I actually didn’t discuss this with my wife since she would say she wants a red color sports car which is not family realistic. I first go to Ford to look at the Fusion and the base Fusion with the proven 2.5L engine. Wow, is that hard to find in just one example on a lot. Did find one but for the first time no one came out to question me and I couldn’t find anyone to question. Went on line to look and found just a couple spread out over the Bay Area and put out feelers. In the meantime I moved on, not wasting time as she has no car, and peace needs to be maintained because I will hear the “you have nine cars” routine.
I head over to the local Mazda dealer just a few miles away to start. Being a long time Mazda fan I thought I’d look at the 3. Once again the base model in a four door sedan configuration. Car reviews pretty much all say the 2.5L engine is the one to get because of the power. Hmm, my wife has a lead foot so the 2.0L is good enough, besides I test drove a 2.0L Focus in 2004. I want 16″ steel wheels and tires not the 18″ as 16″ tires cost less when replacing and the ride is more forgiving. That came in handy when she got two screws in the tread edge which meant a new tire after 10,000 miles. On the lot the dealer had one car with what I was looking for buried in the back and quite dirty.
A photo of the front suspension? Well when I verified the base model and walked around the car I then laid on the ground and looked under both front and rear. I wanted to see if the front suspension would be easy enough to work on in the future. You know tie rods, control arms, and CV axles. It was so first test passed. At that point I must have drawn the attention of a salesman who came out and asked if I wanted to see the car. Yes, could you open it up for me, which he did.
I sat in the car, looked around, and saw just a small tablet like screen in the middle of the dash. I personally hate those things so I wanted it small and in no way controlling functions of the car like in the Civic. I could give it more capability by getting an SD card at $89-109, but my wife uses her cell phone for Google directions anyway. Radio on console below shifter, some controls on steering wheel and A/C system had standard three dial controls. Seems many Mazdas share the same console. Finally, the materials comprising the seats and carpet don’t come close to the quality and richness of my 91. Fabric seems thin but maybe tougher than it looks. Tapping the carpet sounds like I am tapping carpet topped cardboard.
So I pop the hood release and get out to open the hood and look. This is what I first see. These covers now make sense given those nooks and crannies on the top of engines now that get dirty in them. Focus doesn’t have one so I have to vacuum the top of my engine now and then.
With hood open I now go into the engine compartment with my right hand and arm reaching deep down into it to see if I can access stuff in the future and there is good room. I can tell the salesman is puzzled as I’m sure he doesn’t see buyers like me very often if ever.
Now I want to see the engine sans cover but he says I can’t remove it. Ok, you remove it. He says he can’t and I look at him cross eyed as in why not? Tells me I can go down the street, two miles, to where their service department is to take a look. I then say you want me to drive down there when a car is here? Is that what you are telling me? I’ll tell you what, why don’t I leave and drive two miles the other way to home? He excuses himself and I give him five minutes to figure out what to do and start my stop watch. Before the time is up the manager comes out and he does remove the top for me.
See how easy that was and I am satisfied. He buttons the car back up and we go into the sales office. Now the window sticker says $23,300 before tax and license. I had already reviewed what a base model was and was prepared to see if I could get that down to 18-19K before tax/license fees. I told him the base model was it, no further upgrades will do just fine. I may have liked either a red or blue car but that meant looking all over the Bay Area for such a color and since I did it already I knew it was tough. I wouldn’t pay extra for color anyway because that seems like a scam to me. I also figured that this car had been sitting, many had dismissed the car, and they might want it gone.
Now there was some sort of promotion where there was a $1500 incentive. He also said there was a $500 bonus for being a loyal Mazda owner. They had seen my 91 626 in the lot and I saw it draw attention from all. He is writing all this down as I watch him make his calculations. I let him make an offer first. Just like my 86 Mazda in 1986 his offer isn’t bad. He says how does $18,300 out the door including tax and license. In my county the tax is 8.25% and if you work the numbers you can see I got the car itself for roughly $16,750. So I said deal and will be back in two days with my wife. This car when adjusted for inflation backwards in time cost slightly less than my 2004 Focus at $17,500.
Now does anyone notice what I did not do with buying this car? Next I was aware that this engine is now direct injection and there have been some issues with carbon build up on the valves. I also found out that Mazda was aware of this and had redesigned the cylinder heads water passages to help with the issue even though I haven’t heard it being endemic to Mazda.
Currently the car has 24,000 miles on it after 22 months. I have only driven it twice. The first time the high door window sill bothered me greatly. I used the seat controls to raise the seat which helped some. Nonetheless, I do not like these gun port style side windows and never will. The steering is lighter than the Focus with less road feel sensation but that is me. The Focus seems to have the barest of power assist. I like to make snap lane changes in the Focus and it can do it like a gymnast sticking the landing after a vault. Not many cars can do that with nary an inch of play. Of course unaware passengers, my wife, get whiplash when their head hits the passenger window. Try that in my older cars where you snap left and then bring back quickly would have me across the center divider and then back. My wife doesn’t care for that but the handling is quick and nimble nonetheless. That Focus handling came in to use this past Monday on the freeway with someone not looking.
This car is the 2.0L engine which has decent pep while cruising smoothly and quietly at freeway speeds. I noticed no jarring road issues on city streets the two times but I’m used to a tight suspension as in the Focus. Fit and finish is well done and the car feels solid while light at the same time. Oh, and I am definitely a confirmed manual transmission fellow as shifting is natural for me while constantly braking to slow is not.
Style wise I am not a fan of the front of the car. Seems every car has a big maw for a front end nowadays with a resulting higher hood. I very much prefer the lower profiles on my 91 626 and the 04 Focus. It also makes it easier for me to know where my two front corners are. Example the 626 front, below, is so much more attractive to my eye.
My first oil change, by me, forced me to go out and buy a filter wrench to remove the filter as it was on that tight. I had three in my tool chest and they were all too big. The car is washed every two weeks and is blow dried to prevent swirl marks. Currently experimenting with Turtle Wax ICE Seal and Shine along with ICE Spray Wax. The stuff goes on so easy, then wiped with microfiber clothes that even if I did it every quarter I wouldn’t mind it a bit. Oh, my wife has no complaints and is always in a nice shiny car. However, I do miss the 90 626 sedan especially after all the work getting it to spec. It to rode very well for an automatic. Too bad I didn’t get a chance to paint it and install the backup hood and bumper cover.
Oh, one final irony about that stolen 626. I wasn’t paying $750 to get the car out, after the ignition broken into, so they usually would try to sell it and they did. About two months after that there was a message on my answering machine at my office. It was the new owner calling me and asking me if I could fix the brakes. Chutzpah!