Let me say first off that I love my two daughters dearly. Part of my undying affection for them has been the desire to make sure that each one drives a car that is both safe and, well… interesting. That has meant that for the last year and a half the two of them have shared a fabulously funky ’98 Volvo V90 wagon which now sports a sticker on its extraordinarily vertical rear glass that says ‘No One Suspects the Volvo.’ It’s true! That’s a car that is creaky, sometimes clunky, and which quirkily diverts the A/C from the dash vents to the defroster whenever you dip anything more than a toe into the throttle, but which has also provided (touch wood) more than 8,000 miles of service without letting either of them down.
Now that the two of them are set on divergent paths for the near term—the younger one set to start a Jet Propulsion Laboratory summer internship, and the older for her first post college job—the sharing of a single car is no longer a viable plan. That has meant that we’ve had to add to our corral—seven cars and counting—with a new to us 1999 Audi A6 Quattro Avant. Come on and get acquainted if you are so inclined.
I purchased the car form a distant relation through marriage who also happens to be a co-worker at my day job at the Daily Planet. For the past year she had been regaling me with the problems she had been having with the car, all of which had conspired to make it un-drivable as an elusive emissions system issue kept preventing it from passing California’s bi-annual smog test.
The issues were eventually quelled long enough for the car to pass the test and she mentioned to me that she was now looking to get rid of it before the insurance came due in July. She was considering donating it to one of those donate your car to charity programs, but sadly for charity, I stepped in first.
You know how women always gravitate toward the ‘bad boy’ seeing their socially aberrant behavior as both enthralling and a challenge for them to change? They know for a fact that they can remold them into the perfect gentlemen they really want but still with that dangerous past that makes them interesting. You’ve heard about that, right? Well, I’m the same way about cars.
There’s a lot to like here too. The ’99 A6 came with the 2.8-litre 200-bhp V6 with its funky 5-valve head. Backing that up is a Tiptronic five-speed automatic and of course it has rock solid Quattro AWD. Another thing it has is factory dual exhausts and I realized recently that I’ve never owned a car with factory dual exhausts before. Yay me! It’s solid and squeak-free and sports only 127,000 miles on the clock.
We went out to see the car in the light of day and to take it for a spin a couple of Saturdays ago and the first thing that we were told was that the CEL had decided to make a return visit. Fortunately, I always carry my OBDII reader and iPhone app with me wherever I go (no, seriously, I do) and I was able to pull the code—P0442 EVAP Small Leak—and clear it without issue. The other problem with the car was that the A/C was shooting blanks. Nothing but hot air emanated from the vents no matter what the setting. Figuring that could be a few dollars to fix or many hundreds, I struck a deal for about $175 below KBB for the car and the deal was done. Why you might ask would I buy—even fairly cheaply—so complicated a car with a couple of glaring faults right out the door? Well, you see, I figured I could fix them. And like those women on the arms of bad boys, I was eager for the challenge.
First off, that A/C. I knew that the most likely, and cheapest issue was a discharged system. I emptied two full cans of R134, another of seal rejuvenator and leak detector, and a fourth of A/C lube into the system the afternoon we got home. And you know what? It worked. The A/C is now as cold as a taxman’s heart. I’ll keep an eye on its performance but to be honest I have a number of cars that always require a little boost before summer gets into full swing.
Another issue with the car was the milky headlights that affected their performance and made the car look old enough to wear the waistband of its pants above its belly button.
Fortunately, I had a 3M headlight kit and a cordless drill just laying around, so I decided to tackle them as well. As you can see below, the intermediate stages of the process are not all that encouraging.
After three separate sandings, first with 600-grit, then 1,000, and finally a grey pad that’s supposed to be made out of magic, the final polishing revealed that the plastic lamps had returned to crystal clarity. The kit also included a UV protection wax that I applied so hopefully the lights will stay this way for a while. If you’ve ever thought about doing this to your own car I highly recommend it. I was so impressed with the results that I used the remaining pads and polish on my wife’s Sienna, which is a model that’s afflicted particularly badly with the headlight yellowing issue.
Other issues with the car include some scratches in the paint on the curbside, and a center console cup holder that’s both woefully inadequate for its purpose and that stubbornly refuses to retract so it taunts us constantly with its lack of functionality.
Still to be dealt with is that CEL illuminating emissions code—I’ve had to clear the lamp once more in the week we’ve had the car—but luckily that doesn’t impact the performance or threaten a breakdown. I’ve taken the first step and have ordered a new gas cap as it’s the most likely cause of the code. I also need to consider whether or not to take the car out of commission for a week and send the IP out to have the LCD display replaced. That’s $150 from a guy on eBay and I haven’t yet decided if it’s worth it.
Other than that, the car is in excellent condition and drives like a champ. It came with ALL the service records since new—we are only the second owner—and those include replacement control arms in front, new timing belt and water pump 20K ago, a new MAF and more. Overall it’s been a car that has required a caring owner and I can say that so far it has had one. I will attempt to continue to keep it living the lifestyle to which it has become accustomed, at least as much as my wallet will allow.
So that’s our new old car and one that I’m entrusting will be reliable enough to keep my kid on the road and not drain my bank account doing so. I’ll be asking your opinion on my decision in today’s Hooniverse Asks, so keep a thought about that. For me, I’m loving living in a world of wagons!
Images: ©2016 Hooniverse/Robert Emslie, All Rights Reserved