Sunday Morning Project

About three years ago, I wrote about my less-than-happy experience with a gizmo that was supposed to allow my iPod to play through my car stereo. Eventually I gave up on it, and settled for listening to the same CD over and over until I got motivated to change it. Unfortunately, I was recently faced with another nuisance. The CD player has started skipping frequently, making it virtually unlistenable. Something had to be done.

My first thought was to live with it until I get a new car. The Celica is approaching its eighth anniversary, and that’s as long as I’ve ever owned any car. Aside from the CD player issue, the tires are approaching the point where they’re an accident waiting to happen. If I don’t buy a new car soon, I need new tires, but I don’t want to sink that kind of money into a car if I’m about to trade it in.

On the other hand, maybe this isn’t the best time to buy a new car. I’m happy with the Celica. It’s fun to drive, and fairly fuel-efficient compared to many of the vehicles available today. I’m getting a steady 27 mpg in daily driving, and a little better on the highway. While I’m happy with that, I want my next vehicle to be significantly better. I don’t want to settle for just a small improvement in a new vehicle. I’m shooting for mid-30s or better. Looking at ratings, that’s not as easy as I thought it would be. It’s disgusting how little improvement has been made in fuel efficiency since I bought the Celica in 2000. There’s not much selection in cars that are both fun and economical. The vehicles above 30 mpg are mainly the weeny econoboxes. The only two vehicles I would really consider buying right now are the Prius and the VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI.

The Prius is a neat car. I know several people who own them, and I’ve never heard a bad word about them. But somehow, I just can’t see myself driving one. I admire Al Gore, but I’m not ready to be him.

The VW, on the other hand, is just the opposite. Even though a station wagon might provide a middle-age image that I’m trying to avoid, the Jetta is a Sportwagen, not just an ordinary wagon. And reviewers who have driven it claim it lives up to that name, with awesome handling and acceleration while still almost matching the Prius mileage. Just one problem. It’s a VW, and I have heard lots of bad comments about VW reliability and service, including a negative opinion from my mechanic who used to work for a VW stealership.

And there’s another problem. It’s not available in the USA yet. Estimated availability is “late summer or fall”. Combine that with a likely shortage and waiting period when it’s first introduced, and my tires probably won’t last until I can actually get my hands on one.

So I reluctantly decided it made more sense to get some new tires for the Celica, and keep it for another year or two to get my money’s worth out of the tires and watch what happens in the new vehicle market. With automakers finally trying to satisfy a demand for efficient vehicles, there are some interesting rumors about what’s coming in the next couple of years. As long as the Celica is still fun and not draining my wallet for fuel, I might as well hang on to it, save my money, and wait to see if somebody introduces a vehicle I really want to buy.

So that brings me back to the tunes issue. When I bought the Griffin Road Trip adapter, I considered other options and rejected them due to cost and complexity. But after some reconsideration and research, I decided it wouldn’t be too much trouble to rip the dashboard out of my car to install this nifty adapter. And I was right, it wasn’t. Equally important, it wasn’t difficult to put the car back together. The whole project only took about an hour.

After everything was put back in place, the little magic box tricks the car stereo into thinking it has a 7-disk CD changer. The first 6 “disks” correspond to 6 playlists on the iPod. Of course, each disk/playlist can contain more music than a real CD. And “Disk 7” contains all the songs on the iPod. For convenience, the dashboard controls can be used to select which disk/playlist to play, and step back and forth between songs within the list. And if that’s not enough flexibility, the iPod can be pulled out of its hiding place, and its controls can be used as they normally are to select between artists, albums, etc.

One of the reasons I coveted the VW was its built-in 30-gigabyte hard drive for music storage. Having it built-in makes a more seamless integration with the vehicle’s electronics, and offers some more interesting options than a plug-in iPod. On the other hand, removability has some advantages. I’m not sure how accessible the VW’s internal hard-drive is. Considering the average MTBF of hard drives, I would expect it to need replacement at least once during the vehicle’s lifetime. And, considering the recent advancements in flash-drive capacity and affordability, I might be able to buy a car with one of those before my next set of tires wears out.

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