Category Archives: Acclaim To Fame

The New Car.

As you all know, I’ve been teetering at the edge of a new car purchase for quite a few months. This search was hastened as the Mazda suffered from two pretty intense accidents, the first with a deer, the second with a jeep.

This put me in a tough spot. The accident with the Jeep totaled the Mazda. So I needed a new car ASAP. Thankfully, I had already done some research and had decided upon the 2012 Ford Fusion SEL.

Why the Fusion?

The Fusion provides a middle of the road choice. With this car I can feel confident that I’m not overdoing it, but still afford some of the options that enhance driving pleasure. This is a car that could provide me some comfort without breaking the bank for performance that I wouldn’t utilize to its fullest potential.

Sure, it doesn’t have the flare of a BMW or Acura TL… let’s not forget that roommate Nick had even deemed the Fusion as Vanilla… But the price tag is much easier to take. Plus, since my company is a member of the X-plan, negotiating was cake. The end price for the SEL ended up hovering around 26k. Negotiations took all of 20 minutes and got me about $3,200 off the sticker price.

Mike D's New Car

2.5L 175HP I4 FWD
~33 MPG

Under the hood

A few of the luxuries:
Leather interior
Microsoft SYNC
Heated seats
Power everything
Surprisingly enjoyable ambient lighting
Passanger temp controls


My general thoughts: So far so good. The car drives well. It’s comfortable and as a mid-size, much more spacious than I’m used to.

You may have noticed it’s not a standard. I decided to bail on that criteria after realizing that the only manual options were bare-bones. No options, no luxuries.

Microsoft SYNC is ridiculous. The car will connect to my iPhone via bluetooth – nothing special about that. But more than just phone, SYNC can play my music collection via bluetooth as well… or Pandora if I want to stream that. It’s pretty snazzy.

It has a 17 gallon gas tank. Holy Moly this is convenient. When leisurely highway driving is in the mix this equates to 600 miles without needing to fill up.

Anti-utilitarian spoiler

I love the interior and the shape of the car. I’m not a huge fan of the faux spoiler – seems unnecessary. But that’s not a big deal for me.

Complaints? The visibility stinks. I opted not to spend the extra $1000 for the ‘driver vision’ package. This included a back-up camera and Blind Spot indicators. In retrospect, this would be nice. I’m pretty sure someone could put a picnic bench behind the car and it’d be impossible to see it while in reverse.

Special thanks to all those people who provided recommendations as to what I should purchase. I took everything into consideration and really appreciate the time you donated to the cause. Thanks!!

Sleep habits.

For the past few years I have followed nearly the exact same nightly routine: Lay on back, drift off, turn on side, fall asleep. And for these past few years I’ve found myself frequently waking up with my hands weirdly swollen. A quick internet search suggests arthritis, poor circulation, or pregnancy as the cause for such an ailment. And while I don’t think I’m pregnant, poor circulation could certainly be a culprit. Before I go about trying to improve circulation, I figured I’d first try to adjust my sleeping position so I’m not laying on my arm.

Last week I tried to change to a back only method of drifting off. And I gotta admit, things went better than expected. For a full week I was rocking sleep corpse style: on back, arms at sides or across chest. Still, I’m not pleased with this orientation and I think I can do better.

Or maybe I just need a new mattress.

Beautiful Machine.

As time passes, you can expect more and more quality posts about car repair here on My mother continues to incessantly nag calmly recommend that I get a new vehicle, but I think this car has plenty more life within it.

Let’s recap this month’s fiasco.

Here is Rod Zapa post deer impact

Rod Zapa's hood, like a wrinkled dress shirt, pleas for ironing.

I had a few options.
1. Buy a brand new hood.
2. Buy a used hood.
3. Bang out the dents in this hood.

After a short amount of deliberation, I decided to go with option two.

First destination? The salvage yard. Roommate Brian was kind enough to come along for the trip, and lend his truck to the acquisition of a new hood. We searched the yard, finally finding a 98 Mazda Protege. We took the hood and the IAC valve, sadly the front headlights were missing. Still, like the vague smell of milk just past the expiration date, something seemed awry.

When we got home we realized that my hesitation was more than purely psychological. I don’t have a 98 mazda. It’s a 97.

So… amazingly… dumb.

Brian was kind enough to return to the salvage yard yesterday while I was at work, and picked me up a hood off of a 97. Strangely, the IAC from the 97 still didn’t fit. The hood however? Perfect.

Final results:


Oh man. I bet you never thought it’d look so good! Now all I need is a new IAC valve, air intake hose, and driver’s side blinker and light. With these modifications, Rod Zapa will safely bring me into new eras of epic driving.

Calling All Car Gurus!

Rod Zapa, my trustworthy 1998 Mazda Protege, has been having some very frustrating idle problems lately. I will spare no detail in hopes that one of my more car-familiar readers might be able to find a clue.

1998 Mazda Protege, Manual. 123k miles.

Frequently during neutral deceleration (with or without the break), the tachometer will dip aggressively to its occasional demise. The car will either idle precariously at 100-200rpm, shudder and return to ~650 rpm, or stall. Once the car is warmed up (> ~6 minutes of driving), the problem does not occur.

This only happens during deceleration. Once the car settles at a stop light or stop sign, the idle bounces back to a somewhat stable 750rpm (the idle still seems to quaver just slightly.) This is really weird to me. As soon as the car relaxes backwards at a stop the idle pops back to normal.

This occurs regardless of whether the clutch is in, or out.

Weather (wet vs dry) does not seem to impact the problem much, though the problem is less pronounced when it’s cold outside.

Car Diagnosis So Far:
I have had the following car components fixed within the last 6 months.

1. timing belt (unrelated?)
2. breaks and calipers (unrelated)
3. muffler system (unrelated?)
4. spark plugs and wires
5. distributor cap and rotor
6. O2 sensor front
7. O2 sensor rear
8. Fuel Filter

My mechanic reports that excessive carbon build up in the throttle body has been cleaned.

My mechanic also reports that he found no leak in the vacuum system.

The belts currently screech like a banshee for the first 60 seconds after I turn the car on.

The engine light has tripped with O2 sensor faults on two of the three stalls (it hasn’t tripped since the rear O2 sensor was replaced).

Car Gurus of, any ideas?

Rod Zapa

This morning as I drove to work on studded snow tires, I realized I never put together that new car post I was promising. So here it is. I’d like to formally introduce you to Rod Zapa.

Rod Zapa on a dark and dreary day

Rod Zapa is my ‘new’ red 1998 Mazda Protege stick shift. I purchased it from Margo, speed skater extraordinaire.

This is my first standard vehicle. It was awhile before I stopped loathing hill starts. Each hill became a delicate game of timing as I tried to crawl towards unforgiving red lights and speed through wavering greens. When I faltered in my timing, my passenger (most often carpool buddy Shaun L.) had to endure excessive revving as I tried to compensate for my shaky clutch work. I sometimes wonder if those cars who stood idly by my side at lights thought it odd I would taunt them with my car’s throaty roar only to piddle and sputter forward once the light changed.

The car has a number of amenities that are novel to me. Most obvious perhaps is the CD player (The future is now!) Rod Zapa also has a sunroof and a temperamental Air Conditioner system (better than my previous ornamental Air Conditioner). Granted, the car runs a little louder than the Nissan and lacks some of the luxurious faux wood paneling in its interior, but its performance has been consistent and I’m pleased with the new ride.

Thanks Margo for the great car!


I had an issue with my online bill pay a few months ago. It stunk. I got late fees added to every single one of my bills because of some weird screw up. In any case, I thought I’d had it all figured out… but just today got a letter in the mail saying that my auto insurance had been canceled because of a missed payment.


I’ve been meaning to check out Geico, so I hit up their website first and, just like that, had car insurance not 25 minutes later. What was especially convenient was that the policy starts tonight at midnight, so I won’t have any time uninsured. Neat.

Thanks Geico!

The Beginning of the End

A few years back Jocelyn sold me her Nissan Altima. What a nice little car! It took some tender appreciation and a fair amount of time in a shop before it could be considered a fully operational battlestation four door sedan, but it got there and it’s been faithful for 60,000 miles.

Sadly, it’s beginning to show its age; the CV joints need replacing and there’s a vague smell of burning when you drive for more than 6 feet. It might not be anything to worry about but I figured I’d throw out the obligatory proclaimation: if you know anyone who’s trying to sell a car for cheap, fire me an e-mail – MikeDiDonato AT gmail D0T com.

Perhaps we can work something out. This little beast won’t last forever, so it’s probably best if I start looking at replacements now.

The other option would, of course, be to buy a smart car. Though it might be tricky to fit a bo staff into a smart car.

The Nissan

I had some mighty plans for Saturday that came to a grinding halt on the off ramp to 691 in Meriden. I was driving to get to the House of Rock after Kung Fu for a quick stop before turning around and heading back to Stoneham to say hello to my folks when the tachometer needle started shaking violently. UP down down UP down down UP down down UP… it shook itself to 0 and the engine stalled.

I was coasting at about 40, hit my emergency lights and touched the brakes to slow to a stop… could I make it across the street to the Shell station? … I gasped! When the car stalled I lost power brakes, but I didn’t make this connection in my head at the time of the engine stall, so when I touched the brakes I got no response. There was a mild freak out, I yanked the emergency brake, swung the wheel, and screeched to a standstill on the grass off of the highway.

I called up Shaun who helped me push the car across the street to that gas station. We tried to start the car again… to no avail. I walked into the Gas Station. There was a young Indian man behind the counter in an orange creamsicle colored shirt.

“Excuse me, my car broke down, is there a service station nearby?”
“yes actually, there’s one right on the other side of the dairy queen,” he responded pointing north “it’s about a 1 minute walk. If it’s closed, come back and I can get a friend who might be able to help you.”

Shaun and I headed over to the service station, but it was indeed closed. We walked back to the gas station and I thanked Shaun for his help and suggested that he head back home. I walked back into the service station.

“Hi, yeah… the place down the street is closed. You said you knew someone who might be able to lend me a hand?”
“Yes,” He said with a smile, “I’ll bring you to his shop. It’s just a ways down the street.”

I followed him to his car. It was a Lexus SUV.

“Wow! Nice car,” I stammered
“Thanks! It’s big, but it does the trick.”
“Do you own this gas station?”
“I do,” he responded “in fact a friend and I own a bunch of properties”
“mostly in this area?”
“actually no. All over. We have some in Michigan and New Jersey…” he went on with the list.
“That’s amazing!”
“yeah, we started about 10 years ago and now it’s about a 15 million dollar business”


He took me over to a little shop in Meriden where I met Jose. Jose promised he’d take a look at the car. I left the keys and my new Indian friend brought me back to the shop. I picked a few things out of the car that I needed and then headed home.

I’m not sure what’s wrong with the car, hopefully nothing too expensive. But this was definitely a unique experience. I’m grateful to have ended up at this particular gas station.