Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Tips For Buying a New Car

I recently bought a new car and wanted to share my experiences. Cars and dealers' names have been disguised.

Episode 1. I am out with a friend and tell him I'm in the market for a new car. He says, "Let's go look." So after lunch we go to an Abco dealer nearby. We are greeted by salesman whose "up" it is and he asks us what we want. I say, "I'm interested in a 2019 Abco with a trim level of XX." He says, here's a 2018 Abco with that trim level. It's the same as the 2019." He acts as if he can't locate a 2019 to test drive, so we test the 2018. Afterwards, we sit down and he comes to us with a sales proposal for the 2018, the car I don't want and didn't ask for. The proposal offers a $500 discount from MSRP (this is December 2018, the very end of the model year), with a $1,500 alarm system and a $2,800 extended warranty added on, neither of which I asked for. We get up to leave and the "sales manager" suddenly appears, offering us an extra $1,000 off the price. We decline and leave. Unless you want to wrangle with a salesman, his manager, the credit manager, and one or two others, for eight hours, listening to them tell you they will be losing money on the deal and cannot possibly go lower--until they do--then skip the walk-in route.

Episode 2. Next, my friend and I stop by a Beco dealer (the other brand of car I'm interested in), and a young salesman goes over everything and lets us go on an extended test drive. I'm am sold on the car, but we tell the salesman we will think it over. He doesn't pressure us, and we leave.

Episode 3. I decide to do the intelligent thing and use the Internet to shop. My first stop is the Web site of  the Beco manufacturer. This is crucial. Find exactly the car, exterior color, interior color, trim level, and any additional options you want. Print the features list for the car you have chosen.  Prices can vary by color and by popularity. Next, find some reviews of the car you are thinking about buying and see what they say.

With this information, I go to KBB.com, the site run by Kelley Blue Book, and look up the MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price, also known as the Sticker Price or the List Price), together with the Invoice price. The Invoice price is supposedly the dealer's cost, but there are so many adjustments to it (advertising fee, factory incentives, factory holdback, dealer discounts per volume of cars sold, etc.) that it's best just to call it the Invoice price. Anyway, KBB.com also shows me a "Fair Market Value" for the car. Most people don't expect much of a discount on a brand-new model year car (when the inventory of last year's models still needs to be cleared out), and KBB reflects that for the Beco model I have chosen, showing an expected price just a few hundred dollars below sticker. That actually is almost remarkable, since some dealers pack their cars with prices above MSRP. You might see a label next to the sticker that lists various items such as pinstriping, undercoating, paint protectant, Scotchguard seat protectant, alarm system, and ADMU ("Additional Dealer Mark Up"). At the minimum, get the MSRP, Invoice, and Fair Market Value for the car you want and bring it with you to the dealer. If the dealer has a price posted higher than MSRP, I suggest you shop somewhere else.

Episode 4. I'm hoping for a better price, so next I go to Edmunds.com and check out the information there. Searching is easy with my list: I want a Beco Dazzle SX in green, with a gray interior. Edmunds shows me the costs. But it also has a feature that will connect a  shopper with dealers in the area who will quote a price. I pick out three or four dealers. In only minutes, I get what seems to be an automated quote from one dealer offering $1,000 off MSRP. I am stunned. But then I get emails from the Internet managers of three dealers, one offering $2,000 below MSRP and the other two offering $2,800 below MSRP, each one showing the VIN number of a specific car. That is more than $1,500 below invoice. (I begin to suspect that the dealer gets a piece of the $995 "Delivery, Processing, and Handling Fee." Some dealers used to pack  their prices by adding a "Dealer Preparation Fee.") I email the dealer with the best offer and say I'm in. For the best deal, get an offer from three or four Internet managers. Skip the walk-in process.

Episode 5. I plan to get to the dealer at 2:00 pm, but things delay me until 4:30. The Internet manager I got the quote from is off that day and the other Internet manager is busy, so I am turned over to a new, young salesman, who briefs me on the car. We test drive it and it is just great. I tell him I understand that the navigation chip is put in only at the time of delivery because it is easy to steal. (The first Beco sales rep at the other dealership had told us this.) The salesman says that the chip is an option available for "a couple of hundred dollars." I show him the features list I had printed out, saying that navigation is included with the SX trim level. He says he will have to ask his sales manager. When he returns, he says that navigation is an extra $400. I use my cell phone to get on the Beco Web site and find the features list for the Dazzle SX. Navigation is listed. The salesman is still skeptical, and says he again needs to talk to his manager. I walk out the door to the car and shine my flashlight on the window sticker, which  shows "Beco Navigation" as included. Another salesman agrees. Print off the exact features list for the trim level you want and are pricing and take it to the dealer. Compare it with the list of features on the window sticker.

Episode 6. While the new salesman knew I was there supposedly to work with an Internet manager, I was told that he would explain things until the manager was available. When the Internet manager remained busy, the new salesman drew up an offer of MSRP for the car. I handed him the email from the Internet manager (whose day off it was, so he couldn't verify my word if I didn't have the printed documentation). He was surprised, went to his manager, and said it was okay. He gave me paperwork to fill out. Meanwhile, a man sits down with the Dazzle owner's manual, perhaps 600 or 700 pages thick, and he says, "Just as soon as you're done with the credit manager, I will explain everything in this manual to you." Next thing I know he is gone and I never see him again. (Things  had dragged on so long that it was nearly closing time, so he probably went home.) Don't go the dealership after noon on any day if you are planning on buying the car, even if you have a fistful of $100 bills. For whatever reason, and I suspect it might be just to wear the customers out and wear down their resistance, even the simplest deal takes hours, most of them spent waiting for someone to be able to talk to you.

Episode 7. The new salesman returns, and he informs me that they need additional identification to approve me for the purchase. He asks if I have any second photo ID (in addition to my state driver's license). I don't, of course. So he tells me that I have put a security hold on my credit report and that they need to ask some questions to verify my identity. Two of the questions ask about student loans, which I've never had, and the other two ask about the price I paid for my house, and something else I've forgotten. The new salesman takes the answers back to his boss and then quickly returns, informing me that I got two of the four answers wrong, making me a red alert for suspected fraud or something. We think things over and  have just about decided that he will follow me home and verify that I have a current passport, which will be the second form of ID they need. Then another salesman, who can think better than we have, says, "Why don't you have your wife take a picture of the passport photo page with her cell phone and send it to us?" That works and we are good to go. Take at least two forms of picture ID and the names, addresses, and phone numbers of three or four "people you know who are not related and not living with you."

Episode 8. While we are waiting for the credit manager, the new salesman shows me a binder with maybe twenty or thirty items to pack onto the car's price: seal coating, prepaid oil changes, lojack anti-theft, glass tinting, and on and on. I decline them all. You can make up your own mind about these high-profit add ons. I skip them all.

Episode 9. Finally, we get the new car signed and paid for.The visit to the credit manager is a non-starter, because I decline all the extras and have proof of current insurance. Be sure you have your current insurance paperwork with you, not last year's or last term's.

Episode 10. I drive home at night, in an unfamiliar car. The windshield begins to fog up and I can't see the defog setting while I'm watching for heavy city traffic. I end up rolling down a window. It's cold outside. I don't know how to use the INCLUDED navigation system. By God's grace, I get home safely. The next day I log onto my insurance company's Web site and update my policy (ouch). I also add the car to my toll road transponder account. And I begin to read the manual. All's well that ends well. P.S. Pairing your garage door opener with the car is not in the index under G. It's under H for HomeLink.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Yeezou 201 Handheld Combustible Gas Leak Detector Rreview

My wife thought she occasionally smelled gas in one of the drawers in the kitchen. She even said, offhand, "Do you have a gas leak detector?" I said, "No." So she said, "You ought to get one." That was enough motivation for me. I went to Amazon, compared features and prices, and chose the Yeezou 201 Combustible Gas Detector.

When operating the Yeezou 201 features six LEDs that light up from 1 to all 6 depending on the concentration of the gas it discovers. There is a calibration knob, allowing the user to set a zero state. Just take the unit into fresh air, turn it on, wait about 10 seconds for warm up, and then rotate the calibration knob until the unit is just on the edge of alarming. Then place the tip of the gooseneck near joints and connections to see if there is a leak.

While sampling the air, the Yeezou 201 clicks at a low rate, just a few times a second. If it detects a leak, the clicking increases, the LED lights come on 1 to all 6 as I mentioned, and an audible alarm sounds.

I took the 201 unit and put the sensor under the cooktop, and got a one-light low alarm on two connections.  So those need attention. Curious, I went outside to check a gas stub in back of the house. It was okay. Then I went to the gas meter at the service entrance and checked each joint. At the shutoff valve, the unit lit up a 6 alarm leak. I called the gas company and they sent out a representative who used the bubble check method to check the leak. He said it was a very low leak, enough to form bubbles, but not enough to break them. He replaced the leaky shutoff valve. I tested all the joints he had unscrewed and the Yeezou 201 found no new leaks.

Bottom Line: This is an excellent unit for detecting even very small gas leaks. For the price, every homeowner should have and use one. In addition to natural gas, the Yeezou 201 also detects other kinds of combustible vapors, such as propane, methane, gasoline vapor, butane, and more.

Five stars

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Garmin Drive 60 USA LMT 6" GPS Navigation System

Well, my wife has a very fancy navigation system built into her car, and it is very handy for times when we are in need of directions to a new address and when we want to get home from a strange area. So I thought, Why not get a GPS unit for my pickup truck?

As I usually do, I did some moderate research, educating my self on features and reviews and prices. A number of years ago, I owned a TomTom which was marginally okay. (The female voice would always pronounce 0 as "west," so when she told me to get on the 405 freeway, she would say, "Turn left onto the four west five freeway."

Anyway, I added my experience to the research and started looking at my options. I ruled out the unknown brands (too risky) and the huge displays (too costly and too intrusive in the windshield) and the "factory reconditioned" units, and I fairly quickly settled on the Garmin brand, because so many users liked its products. The choices in the Garmin brand are extensive, so I did a bit more research and ended up choosing the Drive 60 USA LMT 6". The screen, as you will astutely notice, is 6 inches diagonally (the unit itself is just short of 7.5" diagonally). The screen is thus almost 5.5" wide and almost 3" high.

Criteria I used included size of the screen (I wanted a screen I could see while driving), lifetime maps and traffic free (paying for updates every six months gets expensive). Free traffic updates was a bonus but not a criterion. I considered a couple of units that reviewers got excited about, but one was discontinued and the other's reviews seemed to be faked. I considered the $104 model (I'm cheap); but decided ultimately to splurge and get the Drive 60 USA LMT 6" (for about $160)

From my initial use, I am very impressed and even almost delighted with the unit. Unfortunately, the software that must be installed on Windows in order to download and update the maps and software is very poorly done, not intuitive, and not easy to figure out.

For example, the software might say "Installation complete" at the top of the screen and then "ready to download" in the middle of the screen. I might have downloaded the same thing three times because of these confusing messages. Then, while I was just wandering around the tabs and scrolling windows, I came across a message with a fat red line, saying, "You're memory is almost full."

The Owner's Manual, which is very poorly arranged and presented, says, in an appendix on page 13, that a memory card can be installed. The instructions say to "insert the memory card into the slot." Oh, and go back to page one to learn where the slot is. Then "press it in until it clicks." There is no indication about how to orient the card--connectors up or down.

I also have been unable to find how to check too see if the amount of memory has changed.

The most common use I have had for a GPS Navigation system is to find an address. Get the address of Joe and Jane's house. I must be an oddball because, even though "Navigating to Your Location" starts on page 3, "Finding an address" doesn't show up until page 7, and then is treated perfunctorily.

Tip for using address searching. I had to engage in a chat session to learn this, so once again the manual failed me. During an address search, if, when the address is found, you have the bottom (Map) tap selected, you will not be told the city name of the address you had put in. Select the top tab (with the magnifying lens) and you will find the city listed.

By the way, the chat guy was very helpful. So I give customer service / technical support an A.

Bottom line: I, at this early point, highly recommend the Drive 60. I will update this review as time goes on.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Thermostat Replacement Errors and Attempts and Troubleshooting

I'm not normally into self-humiliation, but for the good of mankind, I am willing to expose my thoughtlessness in this case.

It all began when my mother-in-law told my wife that her thermostat was too complicated to understand. I did some quick research for an ordinary, simple thermostat and ended up buying the Honeywell RTH5100B. It is a non-programmable unit, where you simply press the up button when you want the room warmer and the down button to make the room colder. During setup, you tell the thermostat whether or not you want it change automatically from heat to cool. I did.

Error 1. I neglected to turn the system off at the circuit breaker (or the switch on the furnace unit) before I started unscrewing the old thermostat.
Consequence of Error 1. Two of the thermostat wired touched together and made a tiny spark. Unbeknownst to me, a fuse inside the forced air unit was fried out of its mind, giving its life as a sacrifice to protect the valuable electronics in the furnace, and to save the bacon of the idiot  doing the repair.

Error 2. In this old house, I assumed without checking, that the gas furnace was just a simple gas furnace. I didn't know what that extra brown wire was for, connected to the W2 terminal.
Consequence of Error 2. Of course, nothing worked with the fuse blown. I ended up calling Honeywell. The representative said that the brown wire on W2 meant that the furnace had two-stage heat and that the RTH5100B would not support that. So I had to buy a new thermostat, the RTH6360 series, the purchased model being RTH6306001002. At some point in the process, I learned about the fuse, maybe from the Honeywell rep or from the documentation. Home Depot helped here by supplying replacement fuses ( I bought several).

Error 3. I installed the new thermostat (turning off the power first) and wired it up as indicated in the manual. It was a warm day, so I turned on the  AC and lo and behold, the system started up and ran fine. So I congratulated myself, packed up my tools and took off--without checking the heat function.
Consequence of Error 3. I got a call the next day with the news that the heat did not come on. I drove on over and checked the wiring, the circuit breaker panel, the furnace switch, and the programming. I couldn't get it work.

Error 4. I left the installation manual at home, so I didn't have the codes to double check the system setup.
Consequences of Error 4. I was limited in what I could check. I tried to use my cell phone to get on the Web and find the manual, but it was hopeless. So I basically wasted the trip.

So now I made list of things to check not make assumptions about:
1. Check to see that the connections of the wires are tight and that they are all metal to wire, with no wire insulation preventing a connection. (Make sure the connecting screw didn't accidentally push down on the insulation instead of the wire itself.)
2. Check to see whether the furnace is high efficiency or standard. High efficiency has plastic pipe vents (white PVC or black ABS), and standard has metal vents. I recall now that the thermostat selection in setup required a choice between the two types. Its default is for high efficiency. If the furnace is standard efficiency, change that setting in setup.
3. Check the connection between R1 and RC (sometimes labeled RH and RC). The RTH6360 does not use jumpers between R1 and RC because there is an internal connection made by sliding a small switch inside the thermostat. Check to see if the switch is in the right position for a one R wire (position is UP) and that there is continuity between the two. (I put a short piece of wire in each of the sockets for R and RC to check.)

1. All connections proper.
2. Furnace is standard efficiency, so I set the thermostat to match that.
3. R1 and RC are properly connected to each other and the switch is in the right position.

So I called Honeywell and spoke to a technical assistant. We went through the configuration settings. Then he had me connect the control wires R1 and W together, bypassing the thermostat and sending power directly to the furnace logic board. We waited  ten minutes. (By the way, the furnace interlock switch worked, and thermostat clicked, the furnace clicked and I had turned the power back on. The green "heartbeat" light blinked as normal. But no furnace.)

So now it's time for some YouTube research.
It seems that the inducer fan motor might be the problem. Will have to check it out.

Error 5. I didn't check the extremely unlikely. When I got back to the furnace, I checked and rechecked everything. I read the panel notes and discovered a way to run a test cycle by shorting between a TEST post and one other wire. The inducer fan started, the igniter glowed, the fan came on. Seemed as if everything worked. Frustrated, I put the old thermostat back on, since I thought that the system was working before. No luck. I just couldn't figure out what the problem could be. So humiliated for the third time, I left. On the way home, I thought, "Maybe I should have checked for continuity of the W wire." But how likely is it that a thermostat wire would be broken? And the W wire, at that? And none of the others? Yeah, right." You can see where this is going.

Weary of failure and humiliation, I called a professional furnace repair company.  George went over the things I had gone over and then checked for the continuity of the W wire. It was open. George didn't have any thermostat wire, so he called Albert, who came over and ran the new wire. He had to climb into the attic to achieve this, so I consoled myself with the thought that, even if I had figured out the problem, I couldn't do the attic work (not as young and limber as I used to be), so I would have had to call a pro anyway.

So the furnace works now. And now I know that the unlikely does happen. Should I therefore start buying lottery tickets?

P.S. The thermostat works very well.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Pfister Shower Faucet Upgrade Review

I live in a 20+ year-old house, with sink and shower faucet hardware to match. All the faucets had those round, clear plastic knobs on them. By now, they were all cloudy, dirty, and old fashioned. For the master bathroom, I installed Pfister Pasadena faucet sets.

These have worked out great, and a representative from Pfister told me they are among the most popular upgrades that homeowners choose. But now came the time to replace the shower knobs. The knobs were the same round, plastic knobs as on the sink faucets, but instead of the spline shape that fits on a valve stem, they had a special prong shape. I thought this might make finding a replacement difficult. I searched around, on the Pfister web site and on Amazon.com and found a beautiful replacement valve stem. However, there was no easy way to tell if it would fit. The description on Amazon just said, "Fits 0X8, JX8, TX8 and VB8 Valve Bodies." I have no idea what valve body my shower has, so I had to take a chance. I bought the Contempra handle in brushed nickel:


 Let me say that installation was very simple. The box includes an adapter ring, and an extension/conversion kit (elongated valve stem and screw to hold the stem on the valve), and a washer to seal the escutcheon and the valve stem. Following rave reviews from my wife, I bought another for the downstairs bathroom. Following more rave reviews, I am going to order a third replacement for the last shower. Bottom line: The Contempra in brushed nickel offers a dramatic (though not cheap) upgrade to the old, plastic knobs. The upgrade is apparent both in appearance and in the sumptuous quality feel the handle delivers as it is turned. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Hints and Tips for TP-LINK Powerline Adapter AV-2000

After installing four AV-2000 TP-LINK Powerline adapters to connect three TVs to my cable router, I have a few comments to make that may or may not help you install yours.

1. If for some reason, you can't plug your adapter directly into a wall socket, go ahead and use a short extension cord or a small outlet strip. The company says not to do this. But I could not reach the wall outlet behind my upstairs TV, so I  had to rig a tool to plug an extension cord (maybe five or six feet long) into the outlet and then plug the adapter into the cord. My reasoning is that the cord wiring is about the same size (number 16 wire compared to house wire of 14 most likely), so the adapter wouldn't really know the difference.

My kitchen TV hangs on the wall, with a two-socket outlet in a small, shallow box indented into the wall behind it. So let's count the sockets we need: cable box, TV, adapter. That's three. Well, what about the pass-through socket on the front of the adapter? Well, the adapter itself is so big that it blocks the other outlet. Not enough room in the little box to plug the adapter into the bottom outlet and besides, the cable box power supply is three inches long. Solution, a small outlet strip.

CAUTION: TP-LINK says not to do this. Why? Because if you buy a fancy outlet strip, it is likely to have power surge protection or other voltage filtration, and you might be filtering the data right out of your connection. I took my outlet strip apart first to be sure there were no add-ons. (Please don't take yours apart while it is plugged in or if you don't really know what you are doing.) It seems unlikely that the little three or four socket strips such as the ones a the dollar store will have any filtration.

2. Pairing. For both initial set up (connecting your router to the base adapter and the base to the remote adapter) I finally discovered that things work much better if you plug your remote device (TV or PC or printer or whatever) into the adapter and turn the device on.

In other words, my instructions for adding an adapter to your existing Powerline network are as follows:

Step 1: Plug your new adapter into the wall near the device you want to connect to your network.
Step 2. Using the supplied Ethernet cable, plug your device into the adapter.
Step 3. Turn your device on.
Step 4. Press the Pair button on your base Powerline adapter.
Step 5. Press the Pair button on the new adapter.

These steps saved me many failed attempts to connect.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Screw Removal Pliers Engineer Neji-saurus RX PZ-59 8-inch Linesman Pliers

I love getting packages from Amazon, so when I hear that one has arrived, I always run downstairs to get it. When I picked up the package containing these pliers, my wife asked, "What did you get?" When I told her, she suppressed a scoff, but had that look on her face that said, "Don't  you already have a dozen or  two pliers?" So I explained the screw removal feature briefly and showed her the tool. She was, um, polite.

So I went the the workshop, where, thankfully, I found my Channellock 8 1/2" Linesman pliers. I grabbed my drill driver and sank a sheet metal screw in to a small, scrap piece of 2x4, and brought everything to my wife. First, I gave her the Channellocks and told her to try to remove the screw. She asked, "Why don't you just use a screwdriver?" I explained that we were supposing the head had been stripped out. So then she tried to grab the screw head with the pliers. They kept slipping off, in spite of the fact that the Channellocks have a cross-hatched face instead of a series of horizontal ridges, as do most lesser linesman's pliers.

Next, I handed her the Engineer RX PZ-59 pliers. Immediately she got a grip on the screw head and began to twist it out. We were both impressed.

Now, Channellock has always been my reference standard for pliers (needle nose, water pump [aka slip joint], nippers, linesman) because they have always been the very best. However, these PX-59s are replacing my Channellock linesmans in my tool box.

+ curved, vertically slotted indentation in the mouth for gripping and removing screws
+ inter-meshed side teeth for gripping thin workpieces
+ wire cutter
+ unadvertised crimp area behind plier head
+ non-slip-off plastic molding on  handles
+ carbon steel with HRC58-62 hardness
+ approximately 7 3/4" long
+ max jaw opening at tip of mouth 1 1/8"
+ made in Japan

I am always enthusiastically stripping out the cheap Phillips head screws that accompany all those "some assembly required" items we keep getting. So it goes without saying that this item is a must have for me.

Highly recommended.