Bad Luck With Car Troubles

I don’t know about you, but it never seems to be simple with car problems. And they don’t seem to happen one at a time. Your car can be fine for ages, then suddenly it seems easier to list what works than what doesn’t.

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It seems I can’t catch a trick at the moment. Way back in the dim dark times of May when this site was barely online, I wrote about the issues I had when I got a flat tyre and what happened while trying to get it fixed. Well now I’ve got a new sequence of events to complain about. (I’m really starting to understand the comedian mindset where something bad happens in your life, and your response becomes “That will give me some good material.” In my case it may only “material” at this stage, but I’m hoping to work my way up to “good material”.)

A couple of months ago I was in a minor accident. No one was hurt, and only bumpers were dented. You may have seen me tweet about it at the time:

Anyway, I made my insurance claim, and took my car off to Buraneer Smash Repairs for them to inspect it. I was told it could take up to four days to fix, which left me scratching my head a little bit. I’d had a similar accident with someone running up my backside but with the same sort of damage to my rear bumper, and the previous repairers had been able to sort it out in one day. (This is after getting the replacement bumper in. They didn’t fix it the day of the inspection, but told me that’s all it would be.)

It seemed a little off to me that it’d take that long, but I figured they were covering their bases in case there was more damage underneath that they couldn’t see with the casual inspection. The more I thought about it, the more I was sure that once we set up the appointment to actually do the work that they’d call me later that day or perhaps the next day rather than four days later to tell me they were done. So I booked in for the repairs, and went about my life for a few weeks.

steering wheel missing
“Well there’s your problem!” (Please note: not the actual condition of my car, my steering wheel is attached and working.)
Two weeks ago I took the car back to them, where they again said it would be up to four days, and obviously they’d get in touch when it was ready. I headed home, and something reminded me off what was said the first time versus what wasn’t said this time around. These guys had just given a time frame for the work, and tried to book me in for the earliest window they had. That may seem normal on the face of it, but the previous repairers had told me what needed to be done, advised how quickly they’d be able to get the parts in (in this case, a rear bumper) and booked me in at a time on that basis. Once again I started to have some doubts about how this would work.

Once at home, I pottered around for a bit. I watched some TV. I did some cleaning. I even got caught up on the blog and did some writing, getting a few posts together to be ready in advance. All the while I made sure my phone was with me and charged up, waiting to hear back from the repairers that they’d finished. Though I’d had some concerns, I kept hoping they were Star Trek fans, and following the example of a miracle-worker engineer by the name of Montgomery “Scotty” Scott that they were padding the estimate to look like they did the work faster than normal.

Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. After four days they got in touch and let me know it was ready. To satisfy my own curiosity, when I got there and I’d waited another 10 minutes for someone to find my car, I asked what had been done. They confirmed that all they’d done was replace the bumper. Until that point I’d been calm, ready to accept that there’d been unexpected difficulties with an otherwise simple job. Even a dodgy-sounding excuse along the lines of there being signs of potential further damage which had to be checked but turned out to be nothing would have been OK. But trying to tell me that four days is just how long it takes activated my often dormant self-assertiveness.

I’m not a car guy. They could have given me a story and it would’ve been like seeing a movie: as long as it makes sense on the surface at the time I’ll buy it, even if afterwards looking back you see the plot holes. But they told me the one thing in this situation that I could definitively refute. I knew that it could be done in a quarter of the time they’d taken, so I asked for an explanation, while holding the slip of paper they given me to sign saying I was satisfied with the work they’d done. Between the time taken to get my car back and the obvious mental tap dancing this guy was attempting to explain that they do quality work which takes time, needless to say I was not satisfied.

I took the car home, reloaded all my Uber gear and got back on the road. I needed to make up for some lost time, but I also needed to try and build up something extra to cover another car issue that was coming up. My rego was coming due, and I needed to get a safety check before it’d go through. So I took it to my local Ultra Tune. They were fine, but unfortunately I needed three new tyres (Can you guess which one didn’t need replacing?) and a headlight. Not only that, but they noticed a ‘knock’ in the steering that I wasn’t aware of. Turning the steering wheel back to centre made the noise, which was all I could hear after it was pointed out to me.

Unfortunately after consulting with Toyota, apparently only they could sort it out, and the earliest they could look at it is this coming Friday. Not only that but it turns out that my car is also on the list for a few recalls that I didn’t know about until now. Needless to say but even if my rego wasn’t expired now, it’d be a bit foolish to keep driving around Sydney with the car in its current state, especially with paying passengers.

In the mean time I’ve gotten a rental car, and will probably be writing about that experience soon, particularly as is relates to using it on Uber. There’s maybe a story to tell there, but as I’m writing this there’s not much there yet.

Who knows, maybe I’ll get some material out of it…

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Product review: Bestrix Universal CD Slot Car Mount Phone Holder

A first for me: I will attempt to do a product review of something I bought from Amazon to help me with my Uber-ing career, and maybe in doing so help out other drivers.

I’ve been driving a while now. As part of that, obviously I needed to have a holder for my phone; a lot of people including law enforcement tend to frown on either holding the phone while you drive or having it in your lap, and for good reason too. Unfortunately the holder I was using – a magnetic one – failed on me a little while ago, during a ride in fact. The magnet was fine, but the glue that held it to the back of the phone couldn’t hold against the magnet. After it worked so well previously, I got a replacement magnet for the same system. Initially it was OK, but I suspect the residual glue left behind from the old magnet stopped the new magnet from sticking properly, and so the pull from the auxiliary cable used was enough to pull the phone off the magnet.

So I went shopping. I thought I’d found the replacement made by the same company: another vent-mounted holder that held the phone around its waist rather than via a magnet on its back. Unfortunately the rubber grip was not quite grippy enough to hold the phone permanently. It was good enough as a temporary measure, especially using the volume know for the radio as a rest for the bottom of the phone, but it I knew it was going to annoy the ever-living you-know-what out of me to always be adjusting it to make sure it didn’t fall out. So I went shopping again.

(I’m purposefully not naming the mounts that didn’t work or the company that makes them. The first one did the job it was supposed to for a long time, and if I’d not needed a quick fix I probably wouldn’t have got the second one in the first place. The company makes good stuff, and I’m actually using some of it to put this post up. Though it caused me some grief, I’m not going to name and shame them. At least, not this time.)

I went looking on Amazon for car phone mounts. Because of the issues I’d had, I wanted to avoid a magnetic mount or one that otherwise stuck to the back of the phone. I wanted a cradle, and not just around the sides of the phone but along the bottom. With my car, a mount attached to the windshield won’t work because the phone would be too far away from the audio connection and cigarette lighter port to charge the phone. Also, it would be too far away from my hands to be able to actually use, let alone be plugged into anything. I knew from previous attempts that trying to mount anything to the dash itself would be problematic. The only things I’d seen that would work would be a mount attaching to one of the vents, which is what I’d been using up until then.

Bestrix Phone Holder in situ
The Bestrix Universal CD Slot Car Mount Phone Holder holding my phone in my car, with both an aux and a lightning cable attached

Which is when I saw this: the Bestrix Universal CD Slot Car Mount Holder. I know I don’t use the CD player in my car and I suspect that there aren’t too many others out there that do either, so using that slot in the dash for something else is not a problem. It’s basically a somewhat semi-circular base that sticks out from the CD slot, with an elbow-like tube that sticks up and out (or down and out depending on the orientation) to where the cradle itself is mounted. The cradle is mounted on a ball joint, so the phone can be rotated through 360° and the angle of display can be adjusted as needed. It hooks into the CD slot via three flat prongs, the middle of which is at the end of a switch to push it down (or up) to hold the whole thing in place. In case you can’t tell from my optional explanations in parentheses, this can be mounted facing either “up” or “down”, with the phone either above or below the base.

The cradle itself holds the phone on both sides and at the bottom. (This assumes you’re using the phone in its portrait orientation, otherwise it would be top, bottom and either left or right as is your preference.) The bottom claw can be adjusted up or down from the rest of the cradle, and stays in place until the bottom button behind the cradle is held down. You squeeze the side claws in towards the phone when its in the cradle, ensuring it stays securely mounted until you press and hold the release button at the top of the backside of the cradle. If you’re used to a magnetic holder, changing to this will be just the tiniest bit frustrating to get used to, because you won’t be able to instantly attach or detach the phone from the mount. However the flip side of that means that the phone won’t move around or slip out of its place accidentally – in my mind, its well worth the trade off, especially when this one becomes what I’m used to.

I can’t speak for other models of phones, but my iPhone 6s fits nicely even with cables plugged into both the lightning and aux ports. The two prongs for the bottom claw sit either side of the lighting cable, with a little bit of clearance either side to limit the ability of the phone to wiggle even if you have the side claws loose. If for some reason you want to switch from portrait to landscape mode, the screw holding the ball joint can be tightened to just the right amount to allow you to spin the phone around to the new orientation, but manage to hold it still once its been repositioned. And as a special note to Uber drivers: the base of the mount and the positioning of the phone can help to stop front seat passengers from fiddling with your radio without asking because it will probably block the display and controls.

Installation is a breeze. The only issue I had was attaching the cradle to the plate it sits on, and even that was a minor one where I was concerned I was going to break something trying to snap it into place. To be fair, its the sort of fear I tend to get most of the time when I’m assembling things. It came with instructions in the box, and a guide was emailed to me within a day of ordering it from Amazon. (I didn’t use them myself, but I assume they would’ve been helpful if needed.) It comes with three pads of varying thicknesses that are able to be attached to the middle prong used to hold the mount in the CD slot. I didn’t need to use mine, but if I had a wider opening for the CD player I might’ve needed to attach one of them to keep it in place.

If you’re looking to replace an existing mount, or need to install one for your car – and have a CD slot that’s not being used – then this mount is a great choice. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, installs easily and does the job exactly as its supposed to.

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Disclaimer: This isn’t a paid review, I bought the mount with my own money, with the only benefit of doing so being the tax deduction of any business purchase. That being said, if you follow any of the links to Amazon on this page and make a purchase while on the site, I’ll get a small percentage of the sale. It won’t cost you anything extra, and you can purchase anything you like from the site; it doesn’t have to be the mount I’m reviewing, or any other mount, just follow a link, search for anything your wanting to get and buy it the same way you would any other time on Amazon. Making Amazon purchases through one of these links is a great way of supporting the blog without having to donate, subscribe or otherwise pay extra money, and helps to ensure I’ve got time to write these posts. Thank you for your support, and if you’re in Sydney, I might just see you on the road!

The saga continues: NRMA MotorServe can’t record phone numbers correctly

Yesterday’s story should’ve ended this morning. Unfortunately it continues today…

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NRMA MotorServe Caringbah

Yesterday I posted about my misadventure with a flat tyre. In theory I’d be out driving around now, trying to make up for lost time: my tyre was supposed to be repaired and ready to be refitted to my car this morning, and if there was a problem then the staff at NRMA MotorServe Caringbah would get in contact with me and let me know. I didn’t get a call, so I assumed that when I got there this morning I’d be collecting a repaired tyre. It wasn’t to be…

I arrived there, gave my details, and was ready to take a seat and wait a few minutes while the tyre was fitted. The staff member came back and told me that they’d tried to call me yesterday, showing the number they had for me. In most case getting something 90% correct is a pretty good result, but when it comes to phone numbers its really 100% or bust. The missed number meant that they didn’t call me, they called someone else. (I tested the number, and it goes straight to voicemail with an automated message rather than a recorded one with someone’s name.)

Apparently the tyre couldn’t be repaired, and of course they didn’t have any suitable replacements on hand. So after making sure they actually had the correct number for me this time around, the tyre’s on the way to hopefully arrive this afternoon, and maybe even get sorted out then. If not it’lol be tomorrow morning before I’m back on the road professionally.

To their credit, when I tweeted about the issue this morning NRMA did respond to see if there was something they could do.

I’ll be curious to see if they have something to say after my answer:

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NRMA MotorServe Marrickville

In case you’re wondering, the last time I took my car to an NRMA MotorServe (it was the Marrickville one) was for a service a couple of years ago. Apart from the cause it was almost exactly the same story: they took the wrong number down – with a different difference to today’s shenanigans – and I got back there just before they were closing for the day when it should’ve been ready, after waiting all day for a call that never came. They were waiting on my go ahead to replace some parts, but couldn’t get it because they had the wrong number for me. The issue I had at that point was that the number they recorded for me was not connected, which seems obvious to me that that should have been an indication to lookup my membership details for the correct number. At least this time around the number they had for me was a live one, so not quite the same impetus to check that it was correct.

McDonalds car parks cause flat tyres

McDonalds car parks are a menace. How many tyres must be punctured before their reign of terror will be brought to an end. How long before someone thinks I’m being serious about this, and not just blowing it all out of proportion for the sake of the combination of a joke and maybe a few extra page visits?

A field of abandoned tyres
The many, many victims of McDonalds car parks.

First up, that title is just my attempt at a click-bait style headline. Even my own empirical evidence says that McDonalds car parks are very safe for you tyres, as I’ve been to various different McDonalds car parks on multiple occasions – more than is likely good for my own personal health – without issue. However, I’ve gotten a flat tyre on two different occasions, and both times have been after going into a McDonalds. The last time it happened I didn’t notice until I’d finished up at work (in an office, pre-Uber), so it only meant I was delayed in getting home. (In case you’re wondering, I’d gotten a Sausage McMuffin meal for breakfast, and on the way out of the drive-thru heard a crack, but continued on to work and parked. When I got back to the car, the front tyre was as flat as the tack that could have done the same damage.)

This time its meant essentially missing out on a day’s work, and I didn’t even get breakfast for it. I’d gotten my first ride for the day, and it was to take the passenger to McDonalds. Though I didn’t ask and only really half saw what he was wearing, I remembered the smell well enough from my own Olympic-level McDonalds career to know that this guy was going to work. Not (much) of a problem, given that after he got out of the car and I was out of his sight, I stopped to turn up the air freshener and spray some deodorant where he’d been sitting. After working my way back to the main road, I started to hear a sort of hum that I hadn’t heard in the car before, and I couldn’t work out where it was coming from.

I kept driving, noting that the hum got louder and softer, pitching higher and lower as I sped up and slowed down. I was almost literally scratching my head at what it could be. The gearbox was set to D-drive. I didn’t have the hand brake on at all. I checked that all the windows were up properly. I checked to see if the seatbelt the guy had just used was caught in the door and was being caught in the wind of the car. I couldn’t work it out, and the only theory I had – which turned out to not be too far off the mark – was that with the increased amount of roadkill I’d been seeing around lately, that something had gotten caught on a tyre and was causing the hum.

Regardless of what was causing it, I wasn’t noticing any issues with driving so let it go and continued on, particularly when I got a new pickup request. I put the sound to the back of my mind and headed to the pickup point. I pulled up, and within a few moments the passengers came out with a roller suitcase. Bingo, a trip to the airport! It wasn’t guaranteed, but given how close we were to a train station, if it wasn’t going to be to the airport then it was still likely a decent length trip. It turned out I was right, as once I started the trip the destination was confirmed as the domestic terminal of the airport. The luggage was loaded, the passengers got in, and off we went.

We got as far as the end of the street. At that point, while waiting for traffic to clear, a pedestrian crossing the street helpfully pointed out the flat tyre to me. I found somewhere to pullover, told the passengers they’d need to get a new ride because of the flat tyre, and that if there was going to be a fee for the “ride” I’d given them I’d arrange for it to be refunded. So after they were on their way, I had the NRMA come out, and tweeted this:

Thankfully the NRMA were prompt to arrive and help me out with the flat. Unfortunately, the spare was only a temporary fix, rated to only work up to 80kph, and a total distance of 160km. While that would probably be okay, it could cause issues depending on where any rides might take me, and with no spare tyre up my sleeve, even by avoiding McDonalds car parks I would be flying closer to the sun than would be ideal.

So folks, if you’re out there on the road, and feeling hungry and decide to go to a McDonalds, be careful and make sure you have a spare tyre and its ready to go. If you do decide to risk a McDonalds car park – or that of Hungry Jacks, Oporto or any other fast food place – are stuck waiting for someone to come help you out with a flat tyre or other vehicular issue, or you’re just in your car (parked!) and need a flat surface for something, then this steering wheel tray may just cone in handy.