The current generation Volvo XC90 has a USB jack in the center console bin that you can connect your phone to.  And then your phone could charge and participate in the infotainment system through either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.  While that is pretty cool that your phone can be connected to the car, it is clunky to use every time you get in a car.  And to think that your phone can be tucked out of sight while you are driving is naive – at least given the current state of CarPlay and Android Auto.  In the future, maybe the car’s main screen can do everything that the phone can but in a smart and safe way.  But for now, there’s too much that the phone does that isn’t part of the car’s screen so having the phone out is important.  No I’m not texting and driving and no, I’m not playing Candy Crush while driving.  But an occasional look down to see that a text has arrived or the second screen for the map application, etc. are things that make having the phone out useful and less dangerous than having it tucked away.  And that makes the USB jack in the center console inconvenient at best.  It’s also frequently damned annoying when the wire that comes out of the center console and snakes along the cup holders to in front of the shifter gets tangled up in whatever beverage I’ve placed there.  Last week the wire broke and rather than just replace the wire, I figured it was time for me to do something better.  It was (past) time to figure out how to dock the phone in the car.

In the end, I did get a dock successfully installed in the car which is a definite improvement over the aforementioned wire-in-the-cupholders situation.  However, I’m not completely thrilled with the result.  I now have a Lightning connector sticking out of the storage bin in front of the shifter (the optional ashtray) and the phone does connect to it.  But despite my best efforts to simulate what it was going to look like there before I started, it didn’t end up the best of placements.  It is behind the shifter knob when the car is in Park – I can take the phone out of the dock when it is in Park but that defeats the purpose.  It is too low to really access the phone’s home button at the bottom.  And it is lower than I wanted considering where my eyes are – i.e. too far to look down from the road.  That means I’m going to need to work on an alternate location at some point.  But for now, since it does work and it is an improvement, I figured I would document at least that for now.

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Volvo XC90 Center Console Removal

| by Ken | in Automotive No Comments »

As detailed in another post, I wanted to add an iPhone dock to my Volvo XC90.  Ordinarily, I’d post all the info in one post but as it turned out, maybe 80% of the challenge was in disassembling the center console.  And since there may be other reasons to disassemble the center console in the future, I’ve broken out the center console assembly here.  It was a considerable challenge and it is worthy of its own post anyway.

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Removing Alarm from 2001 Camry

| by Ken | in Automotive No Comments »

In 2001, an alarm may have seemed like a useful feature for a Toyota Camry.  But now 17 years later, the car is a pretty low theft target.  And more importantly, the alarm always behaved strangely.  And as of today, it shorted out due to water getting inside the car so the alarm was constantly sounding – at 5:30am in a crowded neighborhood.  So it was now time for the alarm system to leave the car.

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I chose the Stealth Hitch for my 2nd generation XC90 because I liked the functionality of being able to remove the hitch and because I could do the installation myself.  (See the prior post for more about how I chose it.)  That is, at the time I ordered it, it appeared that I would be able to do the install myself, and as it turns out, it was even easier than expected.  All told, it took me just about two hours (including needing to redo a step).  Below are the steps I took to do the install including some additional tips.

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Rack Hitch on XC90

| by Ken | in Automotive No Comments »

The current generation XC90 doesn’t come with a trailer hitch but you can have one added by Volvo.  If you do, not only does it cost a lot, but it also puts a hole in the middle of your bumper.  Strange choice, Volvo.  And as it turns out, many other car companies too.  I shopped around for alternatives and eventually settled on one and did the install myself.  Below I’ll describe what I looked into and what I decided on.  I’ll detail the install in another post.

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Lexus RX 350L Failure

| by Ken | in Automotive 1 Comment »

I had a chance to check out the new Lexus RX 350L at the recent local car show.  This is the new stretched variant of the very popular Lexus RX that will fit 3 rows of seats.  Since my parents have a regular length RX, I’m familiar with the interior and how relatively small it is so I’ve been really curious to see how Lexus would go about stretching it and making it fit three rows.  The reason for Lexus to do this is pretty clear: the 3-row non-truck-SUV or CUV (for crossover utility vehicle) segment is wildly popular with cars like the Audi Q7 and the Volvo XC90 and Acura MDX.  In fact, looking around the car show, Lexus and Subaru appear to be the last two major car brands to produce a vehicle to fit this slot.  (Subaru’s Ascent is arriving imminently.)  The Lexus RX 350 (without the “L”) is too small for three rows.  The next largest Lexus is the GX which is undeniably a truck (shares a platform with the 4Runner and is built body-on-frame) which excludes it from this category.  Therefore, Lexus has a hole and stretching their most popular model to fill the hole makes perfect sense.  How did they do?

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Over a year ago I needed to replace my 2001 Audi S4’s front speakers because the driver’s side had gone all kazoo on me.  You know that paper buzzing noise when a speaker dies.  It probably bothers me more than it bothers most people but it drives me bonkers.  Like a fly buzzing around my head.  And when I did that replacement, I discovered that the premium system original equipment Bose speakers were actually paper cone speakers with traditional construction.  And I discovered then that the speakers in this car were frequently failing in this way with a number of people complaining about them and finding ways to replace them.

So it wasn’t at all surprising when the rear door speakers started making the kazoo noise too.  Again, the time when it was most prevalent was on AM newsradio, not on what I would thought would be more challenging metal music.  But as I have come to learn, AM newsradio is actually pretty challenging because it’s all boomy lower midrange – exactly the sweet spot for the Bose speakers.  This time, however, I thought about just disconnecting the speaker and walking away.  Unlike the front door speakers which along with the small tweeter near the door handle are responsible for the sound for the front seat area, the back seat area has both the rear door speakers and the rear deck speakers.  And not only are the rear deck speakers bigger than the rear door speakers but the rear deck speakers fire up towards the glass with sound reflections filling the car whereas the rear door speakers fire at the rear passenger’s feet with seemingly little sound radiating out of the footwell area.

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Audi Instrument Cluster LCD Repair

| by Ken | in Automotive No Comments »

For years now I have been losing rows of pixels from my 2001 Audi S4 instrument cluster LCD display.  At first, probably 8 years ago, I lost a row in the winter and then it came back in the spring.  Then it went away again in the winter and so on.  But then it seemed to be permanently gone with other rows coming and going, either depending on the weather or who knows what else.  But before my repair, I had numerous rows permanently dead.  Here’s what the LCD looked like before the repair (you can see something like 17 rows of pixels are dead):

IMG_2334

(Note that all images in this guide link to full size versions of the pictures in their own window.)

Actually, from my research I guess I’m not so bad off.  Many people had many more rows die and when their cars were much younger.  But still, mine has gotten bad enough that I can’t read the song title from the radio or the temperature outside.  So it’s time for a repair.

The challenge in this repair is that the LCD display is not an individual module intended to be replaced but merely a component on a circuit board.  And that circuit board contains smarts like the odometer reading and so forth which makes replacing the whole instrument cluster a real pain.  (Obviously, if it was easy to update the mileage, there’d be rampant abuse.)  In the end, it took a full day and it turned out to be one of the hardest repairs or hacks I’ve done.  Fortunately, there is some really good information out there but I got stuck in a couple of places so I thought I’d do my own write up with my own pictures to hopefully help out anyone else who is going to do this.

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Our 2001 Toyota Camry lit up the “Check Engine” light a few months ago.  We initially made an appointment for service but then I did some research and realized it might be something I could repair myself.

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2001 Toyota Camry Leaks, Part 2

| by Ken | in Automotive No Comments »

I had a wet floor in the 2001 Toyota Camry again.  Seems like every few years I need to do something about it.  But I couldn’t remember what exactly I had done before.  So I Googled “2001 Toyota Camry leaks” and found a very helpful post – that I had written in 2011!  Gotta love it when a Google search sends you to your own blog for info.  And after all, that is the point to a web log – to make public the appropriate parts of a journal.  And a nice perk is that it is easily searchable.

Anyway, what is it I said to do in that post from 4 years ago?  Oh yes, simply clear the drain holes at the sunroof.  The primary problem is that the little drain holes get clogged with debris.  And then all of the water that leaks in from around the sunroof, and there is a surprising amount that leaks in from around the seal, can’t get out the drain holes.  Instead, it fills up the sunroof gutter, which unbelievably is interior to the car and just above the headliner.  Therefore, when it overflows the gutter, the headliner becomes a conduit for water and it empties out at whatever happens to be the lowest point near the top of the windshield.  As I wrote in the original post, this is a design flaw.  A very stupid one, at that.

Okay, so I did what I had recommended then and cleaned out the debris in the drains.  After disassembling the stuff screwed into the roof of the car and peeling back the headliner as I instruct in that post, I cleaned out the drain holes.  I remember now that I had discovered before that the drain holes are hard to see from inside the sunroof hole when it is open.  It is much easier to clean out from the back side with the headliner peeled back and with the clear tube removed.  Then you can just jab in a coat hanger end and poke through the debris.

But this time, there didn’t seem to be that much needed to be cleaned.  I got one side unclogged but the other side was already clear.  And from what I can figure, the car was parked reasonably level at the time the floor filled up with water and if one drain was open, the water in the gutter should have drained into that open one, even if it wasn’t the one closest to where the water was coming in.  So I wondered if the tube was plugged lower down.  I decided to blow out the tube using compressed air.  That seemed to go fine – didn’t appear to be any plugging at all.  Hmmm…

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