VW e-Golf vs. BMW i3 vs. Chevy Volt

I began looking at electric cars last summer, but realized soon in the buying experience was more complicated than normal.  While I was able to eliminate the Ford Focus, Kia Soul, and Nissan Leaf on test drives, trying to statistically rank the remaining contenders proved difficult. Range and charge time should be the driving factors with an EV purchase or lease, but these vary based on driving profile and charger availability.  The EPA’s “MPGe” statistic is worthless, because it’s based on the cost of gas (which fluctuates) vs. the cost of charging (which depends on how and when you charge).    Throw in sales people who are for the most part clueless on EV specifics and confusing pricing on government rebates, and it’s a quick way to leave your head spinning.  In short, it’s very easy to make a mistake and has caused me to delay my decision as much as possible.

A few weeks ago I Googled “Rent a Volt” and came across Turo, which can be best thought of AirBnB for cars.  Owners and lessees rent their cars out for between $40-$60 per day.  With just a credit card and driver’s license I was able to start setting up rental appointments.  I typically requested them 48 hours in advance and had no problem getting a prompt reply back from the “host” to confirm the rental and make pickup arrangements.

Continue reading “VW e-Golf vs. BMW i3 vs. Chevy Volt”


DIY 30,000 mile maintenance on a 2004 Subaru Forester


My 2004 Subaru Forester XS has hit 120,000 miles, and after getting screwed at the local Local Subaru Dealer back in 2009, I’ve vowed to be more hands-on as far as what’s up with my car.  Not to mention, it’s spring, the ski season has sucked, and I’m bored.

While the job of doing your own 30,000 mile maintenance is intimating, I can be done in half a day if you have everything lined up and know what you’re doing.  With rates going between $400-700, it’s a great way to save money and better understand your car.  Not to mention, there’s a few addition steps to take not listed in the owner’s manual which can save costly parts replacements down the road.  So let’s go!

Tools needed:

Total tools cost = $50

 Parts Needed:
Total parts cost = $135

Oils, fluids, and cleaners needed:
Total oil / fluids cost = $130

1: Changing the Cabin air Filter

The cabin air filter removes dust from the air conditioning system, and should be changed out about once every 12-18 months. Subaru will want$35-40 for their genuine filter, which is absurd considering it’s just a piece of plastic and paper.  The best deal I found on a compatible model is the TYC 800075P.  It’s running about $15 on Amazon and eBay.

Changing out the filter is an easy 10 minute job and only requires a philips head screwdriver.  Simply remove the 7 screws surrounding the glove box, remove it, and look for the access cover.  Pop in the new filter and you’re good to go.

2: Changing the Engine air Filter

The engine air filter’s role is pretty obvious – it prevents dirt and dust from entering the engine, and should be replaced about every 2 years.  Like the Cabin air filter, the genuine Subaru part costs about 3X what it should.  The Fram CA9113 is exactly the same, and costs a mere $6 on Amazon.  Alternatively, K&N makes a high performance filter that costs about $40 but is cotton rather than paper.

While changing it requires opening the hood, it’s a very easy – just locate the large air filter box at the back, remove the 10mm bolts on either side, then unsnap the 3 metal clips.  While not required, it’s not a bad idea to completely remove the air filter box and wipe down the inside with a rag to get the dust out.




3: Changing the Fuel Filter

The fuel filter is a little black box located near the brake fluid reservoir.  It’s role, again, is self-implied – it filters the gasoline supply to remove any dirt and debris.  Changing it out should be done every 30,000 miles and there’s several options for the replacement part (Purolator F546668, DriveWorks DW-54668, Beck Arnley 043-0979, etc).  They’re all pretty much the same and cost about $20.

The job is not much more difficult than the engine filter, but it does require a pair of pliers to remove the old hoses – give them a good tug and watch out for splashing gasoline!  Wearing goggles and a bib is recommend.




4: Changing the Oil

The manual recommends oil grade SAE 5w-30, since it will guarantee starts when below freezing.  However, in summer months, a thicker oil such as 10W-30 can be used instead. Oil comes in 3 main varieties – conventional, full synthetic, and synthetic blend, with the latter being recommended.  Synthetic Blends are especially good at stopping leaks, and Subarus prior to 2009 have a history of gaskets failing earlier than they should. Popular Synthetic Blend brands are:

  • Castrox GTX Syn Blend (silver bottle) or High Mileage (green bottle)
  • Valvoline Max Life (red bottle)
  • Mobil Super High Mileage (silver/blue bottle)
  • Pennzoil High Mileage (copper bottle)

In addition to selecting the right oil type and grade, it’s important to select the right filter.  Cheap filters run about $4 and are often constructed poorly, with Fram being a prime example.  When buying oil, look for an oil change deal that gives the option to upgrade to a premium filter such as the Purolator PureOne PL14612, Bosch 3300, or Mobil 1 M1-108 (Pep Boys and O’Reilly regularly offer these for $2 extra).  It’s worth the money to ensure dirt and debris stay out of the engine.

The first step to doing the actual change itself is go for a quick drive (oil drains better when it’s warm), loosen the yellow oil fill cap, then remove the 15mm drain bolt from underneath the engine.  Once the oil has drained, unscrew and remove the filter.  Fill the new filter with oil and screw it on, then replace the drain bolt.  Then fill 4.2 quarts of the new oil.



 5: Rear Differential Oil Change

Now that the engine oil is done, it’s time to look at the front and rear differentials.  These take a thicker grade “gear” oil, 75W-90.  Conventional will work, but a full synthetic is recommended since it will last longer.

Locate the rear differential box underneath the car, between the two rear wheels.  You’ll see two plugs with square female bolts.  These are actually 13mm, but since that’s .512 inches, it’s OK to use a standard 1/2″ plug.  Do the top one first to make sure you’ll be able to refill.  If it’s sticking, try PB Blaster, or use the “jack trick” to get more leverage.  Then undo the bottom one and let the old oil drain out.  Replace the bottom plug, and then fill via the top hole until you can see the oil line.  It should take about 750ml or 26 oz.

6: Front Differential Oil change

Accessing the front differential drain plug is tricky.  It’s located under the front center of the car, in front of the large square transmission box.  The plug is a unique “star” socket that will require a T-70 adapter.  After draining out the old oil, replace the plug and look for the refill on the right (passenger’s side in US).  Look for a yellow dipstick labelled “diff”, and pour in about 1.2 liters or 40 oz.



7: Automatic Transmission Oil

Dex/Merc is the fluid type, and it takes roughly a gallon.  Either regular Valvoline (blue bottle) or Max Life (red bottle) will work.

The drain plug is located on the left side (driver’s side in US) in is 17mm.  It’s possible to reach it without jacking up the car, but be forewarned the fluid will come out with high pressure and it’s easy to create a mess if you don’t have a pan to catch it.  After the drain is complete, replace the bolt and look for the fill handle on the driver’s side.


8: Power Steering Fluid Change

The steering fluid type is exactly the same as the transmission – Dexron III / MEX.  Locate the hose under the car, drain the old fluid, and put the hose back on.  When putting the new fluid in, fill the reservoir to the “cold min” line, then turn the steering wheel slowing side to side several times to allow the fluid to get in to the system.  Repeat this about 4 times until the level in the reservoir is constant, then wait 30 minutes and do it a final time before starting up the car.  Subaru Forester forums has a nice write-up posted.

9: Accessory Belt Replacement

The accessory belts are the two smaller rubber belts in front of the engine.  On the passenger’s side is the Alternator / Power steering belt, and on the driver’s side is the A/C belt.  Worn out belts will cause “squealing” when starting up or jerky steering, and should be replaced if any cracks are showing on the inside.  A mix of 10mm and 12mm sockets will allow you to remove the covers and get enough slack on the belts so they can be changed out.  Once again, SubaruForester.og has an excellent write-up complete with pictures.


10: Coolant / Anti-Freeze Change

Subaru recommends a timing belt replacement at 105,000 miles. If that has not been done yet, coordinate the timing belt change with the coolant change, since replacing the timing belt and/or water pump requires the coolant be drained. 

The plug to drain the coolant is located on the passenger’s (right) side, and it will take roughly 10 minutes to drain the 7 liters.  If the car is over 100,000 miles, remove and replace the upper and lower hoses, since they’ll likely be brittle (the lower one especially).  To refill, create a 50/50 mix of Subaru green coolant and distilled water.  Onces the system is nearly full, dump in the 4 oz bottle of coolant conditioner.  Leave some room at the top, since coolant will expand as it gets hot.   The final step is to “burp” the system by starting the car up with the hood up and radiator cap off, then revving the engine a few times.   Yet again, there’s a great write-up of this on SubaruForester.org



11: Replace Spark Plugs & Wires

While replacing spark plugs usually isn’t too difficult, the horizontally opposed engines of the Forester present a special challenge.  Switching out the plugs will take about 2 hours, and require removal of the air intake, wiper reservoir, and battery.  The good news is Spark plugs are cheap ($12 for 4 NGK BKR5EGP G-Powers) and last 30-40k miles.  If the plugs have oil on them (common after 100,000 miles), then it’s time to replace the valve cover gaskets.