The Long and Winding Road

When you have that feeling that you're beginning to want something new from your current ride, and that road you're on will eventually lead to a fork.

2y ago
476

The first time I started driving, I wanted something that was sporty, and had two doors. At the time, (and hindsight is 20/20), I wanted a Chevy Cobalt Coupe, or its twin, the Pontiac G5 Coupe. Something to at least look cool to others. Although looking back at that decision, I wondered why I wanted to go into that direction instead of the more reliable direction of getting a Honda Civic Coupe, or Mazda 3 5-door hatchback.

I was 19, and was attending college. My parents wanted me to have a vehicle, so that they can borrow it from time to time, other than relying on my dad's 2003 Dodge Dakota pickup truck. We lived in an apartment for a while, and the 1993 GMC Safari van we also had was basically sitting on our parking stall, leaking oil, with part of the exhaust muffler on the ground while hanging on the other end of the exhaust pipe. It needed to go, but it wouldn't go so easily for at least another year or so.

Anyway, to keep this story short, we headed out to the local Chevy dealership, and after a couple test drives, and a week of indecisiveness, I ended up with a 2003 Chrysler Sebring LX.

Wait, how the hell did I get to that car instead of getting a small, compact and sporty coupe like the Chevy Cavalier Z24 Coupe, or the newer (at the time) Chevy Cobalt LT? I was even considering a Mazda 3, Mazda 323, or a Mazda 626. I didn't even thought about getting a Honda Civic, because I felt, and still do to this day, that everybody had a Honda, and I wanted to stand out of the crowd more.

Third generation Chevrolet Cavalier (early 2000s).

Third generation Chevrolet Cavalier (early 2000s).

Our one week of indecisiveness ultimately lost us a car I wanted, which was a 2003 Chevy Cavalier Coupe, in maroon. Not exactly the colour I wanted, but it was close enough to a good deal we could have had. The associate we dealt with wanted us to have that car, and his boss basically scolded us on because we were indecisive on getting that car, it was sold to another customer. My dad wanted to walk out at that point, but my mom and I wanted to give it another go for another vehicle.

So we did, and as mentioned before, ended up with the Chrysler Sebring, because the sale was over, and most of the cars from that sale were sold, and we ended up getting whatever leftovers were on the lot, which is exactly what happened.

Second generation Chrysler Sebring that ran from 2001 to 2006. Model shown is pre-2004 facelift.

Second generation Chrysler Sebring that ran from 2001 to 2006. Model shown is pre-2004 facelift.

Granted, I was reluctant to take the vehicle, but out of necessity, we needed one. To make things more interesting, because I virtually had no credit, I was put on a lease done through the dealership themselves, because banks wouldn't want me to touch this. Of course the interest rates were ridiculous, but over the course of the next four years, I made those payments on time, and made good credit out of it.

Although I have to admit, the Sebring was what got me into mid-sized sedans, and funny enough, this was the most powerful mid-sized sedan I've driven. My Nissan Altima (which I will get to later) would not stand a chance with this car!

The reason being is because the engine came with a 2.7 L V6 Chrysler LH EER engine, making 200 HP, and 190 lb-ft. of torque. Although this engine had known sludge problems, which I will get to momentarily.

Since it is Chrysler's premium mid-sized sedan, the base LX trim I had was all I needed. It had power windows, power locks, A/C, cruise control, stereo AM/FM radio and CD player, a comfortable ride, and a decent engine that had decent power. I was actually impressed for what it was. Of course, things started to deteriorate, all thanks to the build quality of the Daimler-Chrysler era of the Sebring I had.

In the first year of having this vehicle, I totally neglected on doing an oil change, until well over a year later, when I decided to head over to a local 10 minute oil change place. The fear in the eyes of the technician is something I will never forget to this day. Draining the oil from the oil pan was literally a black "void" of oil pouring out. He told me I was lucky I didn't have any sludge, or I would be done for. He quickly explained to me what it was, and I too began to feel uneasy about it.

Once that was done, I felt the car was running a lot better and a lot more smoother, and from that point on, I made sure the Sebring, and any of my future vehicles, would have the proper regular oil change they deserve.

In the second year, two things happened. During the second winter with the vehicle, the heat would not be on for the first 30 minutes. Now, I didn't want to bring up the issue, but during days where it was -30 C, it was a bit brutal to get warm, before I was told later that I needed to top up the coolant level, so that the heater core would receive coolant flowing through the core. Got that fixed after that.

The third year, the rear passenger window would not roll all the way up, and the mechanism that controlled it, basically worn out, which was weird, considering that it doesn't get used too often. Ultimately, my dad opened up the door, and used a piece of string to semi-permanently leave the window closed so to speak. I had A/C anyway, so it worked out in the end. I also had the tires replaced with new ones, since the Good Year Regatta tires were, let's be honest, crap. The front passenger always had a slow leak, and I was glad that we got all the tires replaced with a set of Cooper CS4 tires, which weren't bad at all.

In the final year, I decided to drive it as if it were truly a rental (which it technically was in a way). In fact, nobody but my brother who was with me in the car, and maybe a few people on the parking deck, that I performed a J-turn with the car. It was perhaps the most fun moment I ever had with the car. Never mind the jackrabbit starts I had with it, beating most Civics, Corollas, and the occasional Camry.

2009 Nissan Altima 2.5 S. Photo taken 7 months after purchasing it in March 2011.

2009 Nissan Altima 2.5 S. Photo taken 7 months after purchasing it in March 2011.

Once the lease was up, I returned to the dealership with the Sebring, and after reviewing how my credit was at the time, I was eligible for purchase of a vehicle at an extremely good rate. After looking at a Mazda 3, Pontiac G6, and a Pontiac G8, I ended up going with a 2009 Nissan Altima 2.5 S, pictured above. Relatively speaking, it's down on power and torque, compared to the Sebring I had, but it is very good on gas, and the handling was far more superior than the Sebring. Compared to the Pontiac G6, the Altima felt more planted, and more sophisticated if you will. Looking back 8 years ago, I felt I made the right decision. I felt that this car was totally me, and I quickly fell in love with it. Ultimately, this car was what made me got into cars, and as a first time owner, I felt obligated to know everything about it. The ins and outs of the vehicle. What the possible options are with the car, and to make it somehow better than what I when I rolled off the lot with it.

The tires of the stock steel wheels were replaced with winter tires before heading into the second winter with the car.

The tires of the stock steel wheels were replaced with winter tires before heading into the second winter with the car.

The first few years, I spent a lot of money improving the car. Getting rid of the "all-season" tires I had that came with the car, and convert that stock set into a winter set with Michelin X-Ice Xi2 studless winter tires. I have to say, it was the best investment I ever made for any vehicle, and over the course of 7 seasons, these tires have saved my bacon more than I realize.

Alloy wheels, made for the 2009 to 2012 Nissan Altima coupe 3.5 SR, bought for my Altima sedan 2.5 S.

Alloy wheels, made for the 2009 to 2012 Nissan Altima coupe 3.5 SR, bought for my Altima sedan 2.5 S.

Nissan centre caps that were bought separately from the wheels.

Nissan centre caps that were bought separately from the wheels.

Over time, I bought more accessories for my vehicle. Since I converted my stock set of wheels to a winter set, I bought new alloy wheels that were made for the Altima Coupe, to be as a summer set. They were eventually wrapped in a decent, but in hindsight, not so great, cheap ultra-high performance all-season tires.

It worked out in the end, except for the fact that I completely forgot to get proper lugs for the wheels. Luckily, the shop ordered them for me, and it turned out great. The tires in question were Fuzion UHP tires. Since the wheels were 18 inches, the shop didn't have the right size tires I wanted, which I ended up settling for size 245/40/R18, instead of 235/45/R18. Lower and wider profiled tires than I wanted, but it was close enough.

Newly installed fog lights, that originally didn't come with the vehicle's trim level.

Newly installed fog lights, that originally didn't come with the vehicle's trim level.

Around the same time I bought the wheels, I bought a fog light kit from a Nissan parts supplier, where they were selling the full set of fog lights and stalk switch. Since my car did not come with fog lights, it had provisions for it, and was pre-wired. It was a simple swap out of the stalk from the steering wheel, snapping out the fog light inserts with the actual housing themselves. Safe to say, it definitely worked out, especially after doing some heavy research.

Kick plates bought from a fellow Altima owner from the USA. Rubber floor mats from Nissan barely visible.

Kick plates bought from a fellow Altima owner from the USA. Rubber floor mats from Nissan barely visible.

There were other additions that I wanted, and a couple of them were kick plates, and rubber floor mats from Nissan. The car itself was shaping up to be decked out in appreciation to my car, but I felt that cosmetic changes weren't the only things that I had in mind either.

Racingline tower strut brace, and within that airbox, a K&N drop in filter.

Racingline tower strut brace, and within that airbox, a K&N drop in filter.

Because the handling of my car was already good, I wanted it to make it even better. Granted that it already has a "built-in" tower strut brace that goes into the firewall (which according to Nissan, was designed to reduce or eliminate torque steer under various conditions), but I wanted to make sure the front end is fully braced in itself. Enter, the front tower strut brace, and the front end handled a bit better after this installation.

Another addition I made was adding a rear anti-sway bar from Stillen, which would make the rear more stiffer, and actually make the car oversteer more, especially for a front-wheeled drive car like my Altima, which like many FWD cars, have inherent understeer. That was installed, along with new replacement KYB shocks and struts. The handling of the car was even better! I could not be more happier!

Throughout this time, I also replaced most of the exterior bulbs, and all of the interior bulbs to LEDs. Turn signals, side markers, brake lights, centre high-mount stop light, licence plate bulbs, and stop lights, are all LEDs. The only ones that aren't LEDs are the low beams, high beams, and fog lamps. All of which are halogens. I decided to keep them as they are, since LEDs have a different light spread when using existing housing designed for halogens, and I didn't want to affect the visibility at night.

It was at this point that my car peaked at being modded in the most subtle way. Although there were other mods where I wanted the Nismo Aero Kit, and a K&N short ram intake, but they were beyond my price range, especially the Nismo Aero Kit. As for the latter, I instead opted for the K&N drop-in filter.

I have enjoyed every minute of driving my car with all these enhancements that I made, but like many things, they'll start to wear off on you, and in some ways, fight back.

Replaced bulbs with different colour temperatures.

Replaced bulbs with different colour temperatures.

When I replaced my fog lamp bulbs to the more yellow bulbs available out in the market, it started to get a bit dicey after, especially when you're dealing with electrical items on your vehicle. For the longest time, I've had issues with the pigtail of the driver side fog lamp, and the first time, I thought the bulb was burnt out. I checked it out, only to have the connector being loose, and lo and behold, the bulb lit up. Unfortunately, as soon as the issue is fixed, the bulb would go out again a day later.

For the longest time, I've had this issue that was perhaps the most frustrating. It only took 6 years to have a boo-boo to have it fixed at a body shop while having your whole front bumper repaired. Even then, the problem is a bit intermittent.

The same with the rear driver side turn signal. Late last year, the signal bulb was beginning to be weakened. It still flashed, and did not do a hyper flash. The light was just very faint. As the months went on, I noticed more issues with my tail lights, as the lights aren't exactly on, and after numerous attempts at repairs, I felt that I may need to replace the tail harness for the driver side, as the lights aren't fully lit up when I tap on the brakes, as it seems there are grounding issues. Nissan no longer makes this part, so I will have to go visit a local junk yard to replace it. This will be an ongoing issue that I will be dealing with, and will keep all of you posted as time goes on.

With all those minor electrical issues, it's coming to the point where I'm now wanting something new. A new vehicle to replace my aging Altima. The problem of course is that, I don't want to let go of it. At least not yet anyway.

But the one big problem that was inevitable from day 1, and not from when I bought my car, but when this car was shipped to Canada, is the rust that has now built up within the rear wheel wells of the car. I'm definitely not the only one who has this issue, and given our cold, harsh, Canadian climate during the winter months, it doesn't help at all.

Photo taken in November 2018. Rust is noticeable on top of the wheel well. Damage has since gotten worse.

Photo taken in November 2018. Rust is noticeable on top of the wheel well. Damage has since gotten worse.

This car has been through a lot. Hail storms, three minor collisions, (with one of them a hit and run), road trips through Western Canada and into the United States, city cruising, and commutes through traffic. All of which would be experienced by any other driver.

Although I have made a promise to myself with this car. Despite having its issues, and its known issues, it still runs fine as of right now. I promised myself that I would keep driving this car until either the wheels fall off, the CVT fails, or god forbid, I get into a serious accident with it. If anything, I want to keep this car as long as I can. If life permits me, I would hold onto this vehicle while I get a second vehicle as my new workhorse. Whatever that next vehicle may be, I hope it wouldn't be at the expense of my current vehicle. Not a whole lot of people do this, and the fact of reality may not make this happen for me, but I really do hope I can hold onto this vehicle until at least I have a child who is old enough to at least sit inside this car, and be old enough for me to let them know that this was my very first car that I bought with my own money. It may be an extremely long shot, but dammit, it can't hurt to try.

It's been a long road, and I hope it stays that way. Knowing that there will be intersections ahead, they'd be better options than encountering a fork in the road. But even then, when that time comes, when that decision is made, I hope I wouldn't regret it.

For now, I'm just enjoying every moment with my ride.

Join In

Comments (0)

    0