Like most people *everywhere*, there is a good chance that due to the Coronavirus health crisis you find yourself these days with a little more time on your hands and a lot fewer places to go. I’m not a profoundly social person, but even I have found the inability to engage in even the most basic of interactions outside the home a little frustrating – and I have no doubt I am wearing thin on my family. Thank goodness for carry-out beer pickup from my favorite local. But I digress. If you’re reading this, there’s a better than fair chance that you’re a Car Geek like us. With that in mind, I decided to lay out some ways to actively engage in full-on Car Geekery whilst adhering to all applicable stay at home, social distancing, and whatever other rules apply to your locality. Interested? Read on!
Expand Your Horizons (and possibly your fleet)!
Those of us that already spent big chunks of our days sitting in front of our computers doing our jobs are certainly not strangers to the occasional foray into the depths of classified ads from around the interwebs. That said, now more of us are working remotely, and without other distractions we find that we have still more time on our hands and sometimes just need a break! I, for one, have identified a handful of cars to go searching for, but I’m looking beyond the regular sites like Bring a Trailer, eBay, Craigslist, and Autotrader to some of the good sites from around the world. I’ve always particularly liked Mobile.de, but have also found that some of the regional eBay sites turn up enticing local results and people interested in selling cars can usually be convinced to ship beyond their own country/region. You might also try CraigsList aggregators like SearchTempest to expand results beyond your local area without having to go city by city.
This glorious Fiat 132 for €9,999 found on Mobile.de would most definitely be the only one at my local Cars & Coffee – which may actually be happening again by the time it would get here from Europe. What interesting, unique, nostalgic, or other cars would look good in your fleet? Use your imagination – you have time. Need to rationalize it to someone? Think of all the money you’re NOT spending on eating out, commuting, gas, etc..! Besides – a car is an investment and a tangible asset! If you can’t sell that to your significant other, you’re not trying hard enough.
It’s All in the Detailing
We can’t spend ALL of our time in front of the computer – my GOD, we’d go INSANE! Besides, if I’ve learned anything from all the experts on social media, we’re all going to get fatter from this thing, so we need to get up and move. You can purchase detailing supplies just about anywhere, but I’ve always had good luck with Griot’s Garage stuff. An orbital polisher like pictured above isn’t necessary (but it IS fun!), but you’d bet well-served to start with a good clay bar to get the grunge off the paint, then use whichever polishing method best suits you. Clean the wheels really well, apply some good tire shine. Vacuum the car thoroughly, then do the windows inside and out. Leather seats? Clean and condition them. Feeling ambitious? Buy some engine compartment cleaner and detailer and go to town. Even if you’re not driving it as much these days, a clean car will make you happy AND get you some much needed exercise. Now go have a beer.
While you’re detailing the car, pay close attention. Can you guess what ONE thing I added to the engine bay in this photo? Can you? I’m not going to tell, but will field guesses. Whatever it is, it was a relatively insignificant addition but was missing – and now it isn’t and my engine compartment is looking pretty good for a driver. So many little detail items like stickers, decals, caps, and so on that came new on your car can be found from parts suppliers or even eBay or Amazon. Once your engine is clean, consider completing the job. Even if you’re not one to show your car, you can take personal pride in the little things. Now that it looks great – have a beer.
All this forced time at home is also a tremendous opportunity to bond with your car in the mechanical sense. Get under the hood. Get under the car! If you’re not one who generally does DIY stuff on the car, start small. Start by getting a manual – Haynes manuals are usually good to get started. Start small – order new wiper blades, an air filter, oil filter, and oil. Depending on your car, you may need a filter wrench. All of this assumes you have basic tools. If you don’t already have one, get something to drain the old oil into that can be taken to your nearest recycling center (once it reopens). Of course, I am assuming you have basic tools including philips and flat-head screwdrivers, a set of wrenches, and ideally a basic socket set. Everything you need for basic maintenance can be purchased through discount parts sites specific to certain manufacturers (I get a LOT from Pelican Parts), bigger ones like Rock Auto, or even Amazon. Feeling just a tad more adventurous? Change the cabin filter. As you can see in the above photo, this is also a great opportunity to teach your kids how to do some of this. Extra points for parenting while doing car stuff – you deserve another beer.
But maybe you’re comfortable with your tools and your skills, and willing to take on some bigger projects – especially now that you’ve bought a repair manual. This photo represents what it takes to change out the crappy, faded old headlights on a lot of cars – in this case a 212-chassis Mercedes. Sure, I could have just polished them (and you could too, for that matter), but that doesn’t last as long as new ones. What does your car need? Cracked lenses, burned-out bulbs, BRAKES? (Incidentally, if you need brakes, maybe push them up the priority list). The key for a projects like these is to shop around the parts prices. A lot of us have made the mistake of finding a part online and clicking the BUY button only to find it for 20% less on another site a short time later. The beauty of the internet is that with patience you can literally find anything – it’s just a matter of how long it will take and what you’ll have to pay. The danger, of course, is getting yourself into a buying frenzy. I freely admit that I own some car parts for cars I no longer own that seemed like a good idea when I bought them – which was usually because I started thinking “I wonder if they have…..” Nothing good will come from this. Trust me. Have a beer instead – it’s cheaper.
It should just be about what your car needs, but also what it WANTS. This 300CE Cabriolet desperately WANTED new tires. Moreover, it wanted them mounted on bigger 16″ wheels (OEMs were 15″s). Companies like Tire Rack sell wheel and tire sets that come pre-mounted and balanced so all you have to do is install them. Perhaps this would be a good time to buy that floor jack you’ve thought about. If you’re loaded and have the space, maybe even a lift. If you buy a lift and are local to me, let me know. I’ll help you use it. But maybe you don’t need wheels and tires – but you need a stereo, or a performance chip, or an aftermarket exhaust..? Look at your car, your wants, and your budget. And again, shop around for the best price. After all that hard work, you deserve another beer.
Get Out and DRIVE
So, like, the purpose of all of this stuff is to enjoy your car, right? Even in the age of Coronavirus, we can still get out and drive – at least where most of us live. Sure, you need to be smart about stopping, bring gloves and wipes in case you have to stop for gas – and USE them. You don’t know what the last person who used that pump is carrying, and you don’t need to risk it. And while I’m certainly not advocating more people try and break the Cannonball Run record, the roads are less crowded which means that they can be more enjoyable. That isn’t to say throw all caution to the wind and drive like you’re on the Nürburgring or the Autobahn, instead revel in the fact that it’s 4pm on a Tuesday and you want to get out for a bit and your favorite back road isn’t full of angry commuters. We like to drive quick and we like to drive well, but we don’t like to drive like dicks. Keep in mind that as much as you’re going to enjoy that road, there is likely a bike rider or walker doing the same thing.
While you’re out and about, think about finding a nice spot to shoot some pictures of your now clean and well-exercised car. Don’t be a traffic obstacle, but I always like getting good shots of my own cars even if I never do more with them than use them as wallpaper on my phone. With phone cameras as good as they are now, you don’t need to lug a lot of camera kit around to do it either. Set up, shoot, move along. It’s that easy and barely takes any more time than it just took you to read that.
Cars are a great hobby, and we have been gifted the time to enjoy it a little more than normal. It’s also a great way to give your family a break from your waning sense of humor. Oh wait – that’s me. Your mileage may vary. In any case, I hope maybe you got a little inspiration to go play with your cars after reading this. Or you had a beer.
Stay healthy and safe, friends.