I mentioned last time all the difficulty we’ve been having with cars. One was stolen and then recovered. One was stolen and completely stripped. One was totaled by an inattentive driver making a left turn without looking. The saga continues.

We have 2 cars that have become inoperable due to smog system issues and are too expensive to repair. One is a 2001 Toyota Sienna. One is a 1999 Lexus. The state has a buyback program to supposedly take smoggy cars off the road quicker but the rules are so restrictive we don’t qualify. One rule says the car must be currently actively registered and have failed a smog test. OK, fine, that disqualifies the Toyota from the program. What we should have done is immediately applied to the buyback program when it failed instead of putting it in non-operational registration. At the time we were dithering over repairing the car and weren’t even aware of the buyback rules.

Now, the Lexus. It had just been registered and passed a smog check. And then one of the catalytics failed and clogged up the exhaust and mucked up the second catalytic. So now it was both registered and failed smog. We have a winner, right?


The last time we registered it, we hadn’t smogged it yet. Because we registered it but did not smog it within 120 days of registration, it is disqualified for 2 years. The reason why it didn’t get smogged right away was that it was on loan to our son-in-law whose truck could not be registered and he simply didn’t bother. (GRRR! I am simply stunned at how easily some people just ignore things like registration and smog checks and parking tickets.) So even though it is perfectly legal now, that gap disqualifies it. We’ll sell both cars to anyone who wants them or give them away to the “Cars for (fill-in-the-blank)” charity.

One of my daughter’s friends comes to the rescue. He has a 1998 Subaru Forester he will give her for free. It runs fine. It is quiet. Manual shift and AWD which is perfect for her lifestyle. Forester is an extremely safe car in a collision which is also important. We pick it up and get it smogged and registered. Happiness, right? Maybe not.

After a long stretch of driving on the freeway, suddenly the engine starts to overheat. Daughter thinks nothing of it as she’s used to her old CRV overheating on every steep hill and hot day. Sets off alarm bells for me.

I tell her to take it to our mechanic. His name is Kenny, we’ve used him for 30 years, and we’ve probably put at least one of his children through college. Very cool guy and very trustworthy. The shop is about a mile from our home so it is easy walking distance. He’s told us not to do a lot of repairs that would have netted him a fair amount of money. I can park a car on the street and drop the key in a box and call him up the next day and tell him what I need. When he’s done I’ll pick up the car from the street after hours and pay him next time I see him.

Until then she’s driving my 1994 Suzuki Sidekick. It is old enough to serve in the US Congress. I’m hoping to get it to 30 before it quits.

The head gasket is blown. That’s an issue that happens with Foresters with high mileage and this one is 140K. It is cheaper to swap the engine out than it is to rebuild the existing engine. Heavy sigh! Kenny’s office guy says that there are a lot of used engines out there. Seems in Japan there is no market for older used cars and a ten-year-old car – which may only have 50K miles on it – usually gets junked rather than resold. So, if you have a Japanese car and the engine goes south on you, get a used Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) engine for it.


Rather than just keep going on looking for yet another affordable used car, she’ll keep the Forester and fix it. I see that models of that year and make that are in good condition are going for $5K. There’s quite a fanbase built up around them.

As replacements for all the lost cars, my wife has bought a 2022 Subaru Crosstrek and I picked up a 2013 Ford Escape SEL. Yeah, it’s 9 years old and not even AWD, but you buy what you can in this market. The owner is the husband of one of my wife’s friends from work. It was just a car they drove around town and then two years ago he had a stroke and it has sat in the driveway two years. His wife decided it was time for it to go. The same model is going for $15K at dealerships and I got it for $13K. I figure it was a good deal.

Aside from all the unwanted levels of luxury and digitization, there’s one thing that really bugs me. The car does not come with a locking gas cap. Or any other kind of cap and none are available. This is by design. There is no latch to unlock the door to the fuel port, it just flips open with a finger. When you flip it open, the throat of the filler tube is right there. What keeps it sealed are two spring-loaded metal flaps inline in the filler tube. When you insert the nozzle from the gas pump, both flaps open and allow fuel in.

Ford claims this is an extremely theft-resistant system. According to them, only the nozzle from the appropriate fuel pump (diesel or gas) can open both flaps and it is “extremely unlikely” a fuel thief would have the specialized tool with them to open both flaps so that fuel could be siphoned out. Given the number of capless fuel systems out there, I have my doubts. I set out to experiment.

There are dozens of YouTube videos specifically about how to siphon gas from a Ford Easy-Fill capless gas tank.

Well, my index finger did a pretty good job of opening both flaps. Maybe I don’t need the “special tool?” First, a larger hard tube to run down to the anti-siphon valve. I did not seem to need the official funnel to do this. Just push up against the outer flap to open the inner one. The next step was a length of 1/4 inch PVC tubing. It took some wiggling and a bit of push, but I got it into the tank. Sucked on the tube just enough to get the fuel visible and then let it go. I didn’t actually want to extract the fuel, this was just proof of concept.

Any reasonably experienced fuel thief could get my fuel as fast as he could pump it. Some random kid who happened to need some gas would have to really work for it.

One of the issues Ford mentioned was that this high-security system would not allow one to fill the tank from a Jerry can. They included the “special tool” in the trunk for use just in case you needed to fill up from one.

The special tool is… a funnel. Its throat is just long enough to get past the two flaps and as wide as the nozzle of a gas pump. Now you can fill the tank – but only slowly. It is a funnel, after all, and we all know what happens if you pour a liquid into a funnel too fast.

I shouldn’t complain too much. Any locking gas cap can be removed with a screwdriver and any latching cover can also be popped open. Any fuel tank can be drained with a hole punch and a container to put under it. Thieves don’t care if they damage or completely disable your vehicle as long as they get what they want. Did I mention that stealing catalytic converters is all the rage here?

Still… a locking cap or a latching cover discourages the ankle biters. They are opportunists and pick what looks like the easiest target in a parking lot. I look like an easy target.

Have you ever considered how little privacy you have even when working with supposedly secure providers? Today I ordered some stuff from Amazon, a $66 purchase. Minutes later I got an email purporting to be from Amazon customer service telling me I needed to log into a website and confirm my order for over a thousand dollars. Of course, it was a phishing scam, looking for my login info but how did they know? I ran scans on my end using Malwarebytes and McAfee and nothing turned up, so I suspect someone hacked Amazon. I don’t believe in this kind of coincidence.

Next, I shipped a cell phone back to the place I bought it thru a local UPS store. An hour later I got a text message that my shipment was suspended due to a changed address and I needed to go to a website and confirm my information. It claimed to be from USPS – wrong delivery service – and had a made-up tracking number. The address of the website was “healthandfitnessniche.com.” Once again I figure their system got hacked and the fact of a transaction with my phone number was leaked but no details. Can’t blame it on my computer because it wasn’t involved in any way. Again, I don’t believe in this kind of coincidence.