A car provides a space where you are effectively autonomous. This power is the result of mobility and anonymity. For the teenager its initial appeal is sudden control over vast distances. The process of conquering the previously inaccessible develops the taste for freedom in the forms of speed and unsupervised time with others, the chance to cut loose.

For my generation the car was the trysting place of young love. Woe betide the swain whose mechanical skills weren’t up to the task of reviving the battery of his car in the gravel pit at the end of a country road with the local clergyman’s daughter in the front seat beside him.

A car is its own economy. It provides mobility, the product, in return for considerable effort to pay its costs. This usually involves using that mobility to go to a variety of places of employment at regular hours, so the car imposes a discipline on the individual which we generally accept as normal in Western society.

Leaving the farm for life at university comes as a wrenching change to the young auto enthusiast. All of the sudden in a high-density environment, a car is a real nuisance and his newly acquired repair skills are in low demand. Parking on campus is prohibitively expensive. Cars are the fashion statements of well-to-do fathers and there is no correlation whatever between the price of the car in front of the residence and the level of satisfaction of the kid in the room above.

Walking provides amazing mobility in the microcosm of a university campus, but a bicycle is even better, if less anonymous. Kamikaze rushes across campus to the lunch room fill the need for speed, and the frequent short stair descents on the route provide adventure. Winter riding enhances these thrills, especially when a blast through a snowbank encounters a fire hydrant.

A car is a much warmer vehicle in winter than a bicycle. It is also much less likely to lose traction on an angled railway crossing under slush, or to spin out on glare ice and slide into a curb.

One’s first new car is a shining, wonderful thing, a sensual delight of smells, sounds, and G-forces. It comes with worry. The owner signs away his freedom in a contract promising to pay a significant amount, each month, for the foreseeable future. The new job imposes even more regularity to the driver’s life, this one with a 35 year contract.

Over the duration of this contract marriage and dogs, houses and kids happen, the trappings of a happy, successful life.

All to pay for that first new car.


The fill around our expensive septic tank seemed to be receding, and it had left what looked like a truck tire track along the uphill edge of it.  This did not look good for winter frost, so today I resolved to repair the damage.  I called Don Day, the installer, to ask him where I could find some topsoil which wasn’t frozen.  He offered a load today at about 1:00 from a basement he was digging in Seeley’s Bay.  I hitched Ruby to my newly acquired 1996 4X8 trailer and turned up on time for a half-yard bucket of beautiful, dry, clear, black topsoil.  A house is going on the site.

Our septic tank sits on a side hill, down below the basement of the stone house and above an old orchard.  The problem is getting a heavy vehicle up the hill or down from above without crushing the drain from the house to the tank.

On the twenty-minute drive home I thought about possible approaches to the septic tank, and eventually decided to try to deliver the trailer with Ruby because it would save scarce time, avoid re-hitching, and the last time I messed with this particular slope and a trailer, I’d rolled my lightweight Bolens tractor down it.

A narrow relic of a driveway makes its way around the house in classic Georgian style.  Below it is quite a steep slope which has challenged all vehicles, including the lamented Bolens.  The trick was to drive up the slope onto the narrow driveway, avoid an encroaching dogwood, gain the lip of the road with the trailer, and then, before the driveway ended in another landscaped slope, stop and prepare to back the trailer fifty feet to the septic tank in need of the fill.  The final approach ran around a corner with the dogwood on one side and a walnut on the other,  warning me not to venture too far over the edge onto the slope.

Ruby’s low range and differential lock work beautifully when one really needs them.  By my standards this was a difficult trailer-positioning job, and the Cayenne did its part with ease, even when one wheel and then another were forced to venture over the brink onto the slope below.  The differential lock simply engaged and the car continued backing the recalcitrant trailer up to the mark.

I shovelled vigorously and the dry topsoil had little frost in it, so the job was completed in the extremely restricted time frame allowed (snowstorm tonight).

Ruby did well.  I should have taken photos, but I was too busy.  Sorry.

My third-hand 2004 Cayenne S was built in 2003, so I guess it qualifies as an example for your question. Ruby came to me by railroad from Vancouver where it had led a sheltered life, I believe. With 125,000 km and evidence of a few minor fender-benders, I expected little from the $10,000 CDN car purchased off Craigslist.

The Ontario mechanics who inspected it were amazed at how new the car looked. “We don’t get 2004’s in that condition in here.”

To be fair, before its owner let it go, he had his mechanic pull the valve covers and repair a small oil leak, an “O” ring. This indy mechanic had done oil changes at 5,000 km throughout the car’s life, and he gave it another one on the way out the door.

So Ruby had a pretty good chance at its new life in Ontario.

The first thing to set right was the rear hatch. I replaced the struts. Things went back together well. The air conditioning was next. It was a mess of non-functioning actuators which clicked. I expended quite a bit of time and health switching out seven a/c actuators for a set off a 2010 I found on eBay. This was a very hard job when conducted from the foot wells by reaching up into the dash.

My constant worry with the car was the coolant pipes. I was convinced they’d fail at any moment. In fact they had already been replaced, but I had bought the parts and lifted the intake manifold before I figured that out. Bathos. Even with a good scope I couldn’t definitely say if a Cayenne has had the coolant replacement process or not.

Earlier I tracked a coolant leak to the reservoir and replaced one in perfect condition. The seal between the rubber hose and the reservoir had gotten a little crusty. All it took was a good rub with a finger, when disassembled.

The other worry has to do with cold-weather starts. #5 piston apparently doesn’t get enough lubrication for the first second of a sub-zero start on the S model, and this can produce a cumulative scrubbing of the cylinder liner, which produces a clicking sound and the eventual extinction of the engine.

So I keep Ruby in an insulated garage all winter and worry if I have to start it outside in the cold.

There’s been a deep rumble in the drive train since I bought the car. We couldn’t find it. Diffs and axles are fine, and it has not changed in 50,000 km.

The factory-installed trailer hitch opened up and plugged in nicely when I added the parts from Amazon.ca. But it won’t provide running lights to my trailers, and the unmodified hookup only fires the right signal light. I took it to an expert indy who suggested supplying the headlight/running light feed with a separate power supply because VW/Porsche trailer lights are so confounding to install. That works, sorta.

These gripes obscure my growing awareness that the 2003 Cayenne S, extra battery in the hatch and all, is by a wide margin the finest car I have ever owned. It was intended as a shop project and has become our main vehicle.

I do all maintenance in our hoist-equipped hobby shop. First came lower control arms for the safety check, then a front half axle removal and re-lube with fresh boots. Ignition coils were a perennial problem until I bought a set from Porsche. Then things settled right down. An O2 sensor failed and things settled down again as soon as I installed a new one, again from the increasingly-friendly Porsche parts guy.

Oil changes are quite a job. It takes about twenty minutes to remove the bottom plate which bars access to the two drain plugs. The plugs are torqued to 35 ft lb, which is just under the torque at which the 8mm Allen fittings destroy themselves. I keep extras. Don’t skimp on the compression washers which Porsche insists that I use to cushion the drain plugs. Every time I have recycled one, it has dripped a measurable amount of oil through until the next service.

My verbosity on the subject (sorry) shows my enthusiasm for this car. I love to work on and drive Ruby, and often make excuses to myself to take it out on long, solitary expeditions. In return, Ruby has proven reliable and not a major pain in the wallet, with the exception of fuel cost.

Is the 2003 Cayenne a good car? No. Fuel costs are too damned high. If that is your main criterion for a vehicular selection, buy a Prius. If you look at a car as an interesting Rubik’s cube, an early Cayenne which has had loving attention will provide a lot in return, especially if you have a hoist in your shop.

My first car was a $100 1960 VW Beetle with three working brakes. I very much enjoyed its challenges and I learned to drive it in all seasons without killing myself or my passengers.

The hairiest adventure with “Herbie” came when my friends and I borrowed a ski-tow rope from a fellow and set out to ski on the local frozen lake. There was a good base of frozen snow over abundant ice, so it came down to who had the nerve to try my recently-acquired boots and skis. My friend Don Goodfellow drove, John Wing rode shotgun, and I started off behind.

I had had one lesson on a ski hill so I was the expert, but turning behind a tow vehicle seemed different than snowplowing on the slope. I discovered as Don worked up to third gear — the VW’s fastest on snow — that by bracing myself against the skis I could make the rear wheels of the car skid a little bit. This was fun, so I tried swinging up by the passenger’s door, and then around to the driver’s.

Just as I was making a face at Don and trying to yank the Bug into a spin, the rope broke. I slid sideways on those steel edges for a long, long time before halting, arches crushed from the vibration.

Unsurprisingly, nobody else wanted to try the skis.

Crow Story

December 14, 2018

It was early winter in Eastern Ontario, in a deep gravel pit just north of Seeley’s Bay. I had pulled in with my SUV and trailer to get a load of salted sand. The wind was howling from the south.

As I waited for the loader my attention drifted to a small gaggle of crows fooling around on the edge of a tall bank to the north of me. They were hopping off the edge, only to be blown upward and back by the wind bouncing off the vertical face of the pit.

One slightly smaller crow apparently grew tired of blowing away every time he* tried to soar, picked up an egg-sized piece of gravel in his right claw and hopped off the bank. He suddenly had stability against the wind. He tried again, with a slightly larger stone. He was able to hang motionless in the air. He tried swinging from side to side like a pendulum, and so on. At the time the loader arrived he was well on the way to flying an egg-shaped piece of granite through a loop in the powerful updraft above the wall.

*It is hard to determine gender with a crow, but I have observed a lot of adolescents at play over a 34-year teaching career. This bird was a male.

Ruby has been running like a dream since the OEM ignition coils went in.  Then this week she popped a Check Engine Light.  P0050.  Bank 2, Upstream Oxygen Sensor, Heater.

I read all I could find about the four faults which eventually showed up:  P0050, P0155, P2254, P2247.  The thing all descriptions have in common is that a likely cause is a failed O2 sensor in that location.

I checked the wires as well as I could without removing the sensor.  Everything seems fine, though the previous tech wound the wires up a few turns when he or she twisted the sensor in.  The sensor was also quite loose when I investigated with a 22 mm wrench.

Because I had the car on the hoist with the bottom plate off, I went ahead and did an oil change.  I also erased the codes in the faint hope that tightening the sensor would do the trick, but by the time I had completed the run-in of the new oil, P0050 had popped again.

I called around for an O2 sensor.  Porsche matched NAPA’s price for a BOSCH unit at $230 CDN* plus tax or $260, and offered the OEM model at a one-time price of $250 CDN plus HST.  The catch was that the BOSCH would be available next morning.  The Porsche item might take some time.

My son picked up the BOSCH sensor in Ottawa this morning.

More to come, no doubt.

*Before readers react in horror to this price, the U.S. dollar is trading at $1.34 CDN.  Pelican parts wants $134.50 USD for this part.  That would work out to $210 CDN with exchange and HST, so it’s hardly worth the delay,  1 1/2 hours of driving, bridge toll of $3.00, and a Kinek fee of $6.00 for the online product.  The Porsche price is also a few dollars cheaper than the NAPA price listed on the NAPA Canada website.  On the other hand, a Cayenne S has four of these sensors, all different, but all expensive.

This expense marks the first time I have given any serious thought to the high cost of maintaining this car.

UPDATE:  9 December, 2018

Charlie delivered the new O2 sensor from Ottawa and helped me remove the old one and thread in the new one.  An extra set of young, experienced hands was a big help.  Before the new sensor came, after I had changed Ruby’s oil I erased the codes and drove it briefly, then raised it, running, on the hoist to check for leaks.  By the time I had the car back on the floor it had popped P0050.

This time, so far at least, there are no codes.

While changing this sensor is no picnic, we both agreed that it was considerably easier than replacing the alternator on the family Lexus.

UPDATE:  10 December, 2018

The first hour of driving produced no codes.  Fuel mileage is marginally improved, back to the level it was before the sensor began to misbehave.

UPDATE:  14 December, 2018*

The OBDII meter moved back to my truck today.  Ruby seems fine, now.

*I actually made the switch yesterday, but such is the state of my triskaidekaphobia that I falsified the date <weak grin>.

Winter driving hazards

November 25, 2018

The most hazardous stretch of highway I have encountered this year is the 3.4 mile section of County Road #42 between Philipsville and Forfar. Twice my vehicle has left the road for the shoulder due to icing.

The first time occurred just as I passed the Elgin turnoff and climbed the knoll to approach Philipsville.  All of the sudden the road was slippery enough that my SUV drifted over onto the shoulder, then recovered the lane at a bit over 100 km per hour.  Strange, no other portion of the 33 mile drive that afternoon was slippery.

Yesterday evening on the return trip from Easton’s Corners I watched Ruby’s thermometer gradually descend from 4 degrees C to 1 C as I drove up the slope in Philipsville in a heavy fog and light rain.  Needless to say I drove a lot more carefully this time.  Nonetheless, about a mile later, at about 70 km per hour, on a straight stretch, Ruby slid off the road into a set of newly-formed tracks on the shoulder before recovering.  There had to be a patch of black ice there which had nabbed someone just before I came along to account for the identical tracks on the shoulder.

It surprises me that this stretch of road should hide hazards.  The pavement is by a considerable margin the best of my route.  Unlike the stretches to Toledo and Jasper, the road is straight, has wide shoulders, and until recently was a provincial highway.  The variable might be that there is little traffic on this road.  Perhaps the salt truck drivers see greater needs elsewhere.

I could attribute the first slip to speed or carelessness, but in the second case I drove expecting black ice, and Ruby slid off the superelevation of the lane, just the same.

Until maintenance improves on this section of #42, don’t trust the traction.