Monday, August 29, 2011


Volkswagen shouldn't have nerfed their vehicle settings for the US market. I understand why. It's why I had to sign a waiver when I bought the car stating that I wouldn't put truck chains on the car. Some moron did it, sued Volkswagen, and won. But you didn't tell me not to put truck chains on my compact car. Still, as with BMW, I think they should provide a one time courtesy change of the various convenience settings.

They won't, so I bought a Ross-Tech VAG-COM cable, a $350 USB to Volkswagen (HEX USB+CAN) cable. It changes various settings on the car, it's BIOS, if you will, using software on a laptop. The software is free, the cable, not so much.

Once the settings are changed, I'll be Ebaying it, although it would be useful in the future for use in diagnosing fault codes. Still, I don't have $350 for this boondoggle, so off to Ebay it will go. VWVortex has a VAG COM guide for beginners that I used to make my changes. Sometimes it required fiddling with the software to find the proper settings, especially with Staging.

So what did I change today?
  1. Annoying horn. When you lock the car, the horn honks loudly. Lame. Not anymore.
  2. Annoying locks. The car locks itself when in motion (5 MPH I believe, AKA 7KPH), but doesn't unlock itself when stopped, which is highly annoying if you have kids that need to be extracted. Now it unlocks when the key is removed from the ignition (the other option being not locking to begin with, also a sensible choice).
  3. Remote Windows Up/Down. I had this on my 97 Jetta and apparently Americans were decapitating their loved ones with this option. I'm glad to have it again. It will make airing out the car on 100 degree Concord days more pleasant.
  4. Rolling Up Windows After Car Shut Off.  I no longer have to put the key back in to roll the windows up, if someone forgot.
  5. Drivers seat heat memory. It normally resets when you turn off the car, but there are months where I left it on constantly in the Mazda.
  6. Panic stop lighting.  The turn signals and brake lights flash during a panic stop. Cool safety feature.
  7. Staging. In the "it's just cool" department, I turned on Staging, which does a needle sweep on the instrument cluster like the higher end Audi's. Tell me it's not cool. I dare you.

     There are a bunch of other possible changes, but I'm of the mind that if it's not annoying me now, changing it will likely annoy me in the future. I'll keep it for a couple weeks, scour the forums for more tricks, and then Ebay it, hopefully getting most of my money back.


    Friday, August 19, 2011

    More Geekiness

    My obsessive car cleaning mode has finally kicked in. I've been washing the car once a week, a frequency some (my wife) would consider excessive. But hey, at least it's good exercise, right?  Below we have a wax safe insect remover, German OEM (for the most part) windshield washer fluid, which again does a great job without removing wax, and some Gummi Phlege, a magic substance that keeps rubber door seals quiet and in good health. Why Germans can't figure out door seals is beyond me.

    Moments ago I won the Ross Tech VAG-COM cable on Ebay.  Here's the deal on this magic cable that lets you change your software settings: New they're $350, but used they're around $300-320 on Ebay. You use it, change your settings, and then sell it back for that $200-220. It's a kind of rental program. They key is selling it back and not holding onto it thinking you'll somehow need it again.

    Finally, VW of Oakland won't take my old stereo back, claiming I voided the warranty by removing it, so the next step will be to call Volkswagen of America. Wish me luck.

    Average Fuel Economy: 26.8
    Miles: 3078

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Geeky Stereo Stuff

    When the stereo went out, I used the opportunity to have the Best Buy installer move the satellite antenna to the roof of the car from the dash board. This has solved my reception problems, which was the biggest issue (other than outright failure) I've had with the Pioneer unit.

    I also changed the splash screen on the Pioneer. It involved acquiring a  Micro SD card and a USB adapter to transfer images I've found online to the card, via the USB key ($10 on Ebay). The Pioneer has a Micro SD slot that can be utilized for images. Here's what the Pioneer system now looks like on start up:

    The grill in the photo is from a MKV GTI, but it still looks darn good, especially with the correct colors (black and red). I may change it to one of the generic Volkswagen images I discovered if that detail begins to annoy me.

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    Stereo Fail

    One of the more exciting places on my commute is the curvy transition road from I80 to the 4. When to put down the power coming out of that turn depends on a lot of factors. At that max G moment yesterday, the stereo died. It just went completely dead. I was afraid it might be a loose connection, but hoped for a blown fuse. The manual doesn't provide a fuse diagram, stating in about 200 words that these things change too often and we can't be bothered. I did find one online in the UK, but decided to just take it somewhere.

    I took the GTI to Best Buy's auto installation department. They did a very good job on my Mazda, so I had some trust in their work. After the fuses were ruled out, using a really cool electronic tester, they discovered a third culprit. The head unit was getting power and there was power coming from the line, but in between the line and the head unit sits the PAC radio replacement interface. This unit allows an aftermarket stereo to use various VW controls, like from the steering wheel, but also allows for the various audio noises that come from the car, like door chimes.

    The installer, a meticulous technician who gave me lots of good advice, was able to reset the PAC unit and get the stereo working again, but there was no doubt the interface unit was the culprit. While he was on the clock, I had him re-route the Sirius antenna to the roof from the dashboard. Hopefully that will fix my satellite reception complaint [it did].

    When does a car become a hobby?  I'll let you know.

    I'll be working to get a new PAC unit from the original installers and then I'll go back to Best Buy. The installer will be re-routing my iPod cable from the glove compartment to the center console. VW already has an iPod cable in the center console, so it's a fairly clean install. I'm finding the Pioneer unit doesn't recognize the iPhone about half the time, requiring me to unplug it and plug it back in. This is a drag when it's in the glove compartment.

    Miles: 2563

    Friday, August 5, 2011

    Pinky Signal

    Driving the GTI on my morning commute this morning was exhilarating. It was late in the morning, which meant all the commuters had already reached their destination, leaving me with the pokey drivers with, apparently, no place to go in any big hurry. The GTI can really fly, and I occasionally catch myself up around 90 unintentially, having to dial it back a bit.

    Passing the pokey drivers is as simple as tapping the turn signal stalk with my pinky finger, with my hands firmly planted on that cool, leather wrapped steering wheel. Like the seats, the steering wheel requires a certain style of driving that a German might define as "correct." Hitting the stalk activates the turn signal for three clicks, but by that time I've already passed. The VAG-COM allows you to change that count to four, but if you can't pass someone in a three count, perhaps you should have bought a Buick. 

    All of this passing can be easily achieved in sixth gear. Sixth is usually called a "relief" gear in most cars, the gear you go into at highway speeds to save fuel. In the GTI, you can pass in sixth. You can't pass with any drama, but you can pass like a lazy automatic transmission driver. This I did this morning with a carpet cleaner sitting in the back and my lunch on the front seat. That might feel wrong in a more expensive car, but it's just right for a Volkswagen.

    At speed the GTI requires a good amount of your attention, unlike say, BMWs. BMWs are forgiving, while , the front-wheel drive GTI with it's low profile 18" tires will screw you hard if you don't give it the attention it deserves. BMWs are "tossable," drivable effortless with a couple fingers, and utterly predictable due to its equal weight distribution and rear wheel drive. The GTI is a lot of great things, but it is neither tossable nor effortless. It was also about $10,000 cheaper.

    Miles: 2462

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    NAV Update

    About the Pioneer AVIC X930BT:

    The Good:

    Navigation: Brilliant nav that seamlessly gets you to where you're going with near instant re-calculations if you miss something or if it makes a mistake.

    AM/FM: It wouldn't work for me without an antenna booster, a $65 extra which seems like it should have been unnecessary. I did not opt for HD radio because of so many other options.

    Satellite: The Sirius comes up very quickly, unlike the 2-3 minutes my last receiver took for a signal. That said, the on-dash antenna is weak and loses reception in hills, in heavy traffic, or when a swam of flies goes by. I expect this will need replacement to an on-roof antenna, but it's predictable enough to not bother me much any more. Navigating the interface is painful and confusing, but now that my pre-sets are in, it's a minor nuisance.

    iPod: Works well if you've remembered to plug in your phone, the usual place being the glove compartment. I want to re-route this to the center console area where VW has already run an iPod cord. The user interface is vague, but it gets the job done. I'm actually inspired to buy music in iTunes thanks to this nice new edition (that others have used for years).

    Pandora: Although it doesn't always come up cleanly, when it works, it works great. Pandora could be a reason not to use satellite radio, but I find myself back to my old habits of news programming. I'm dull that way. How much bandwidth does that thing use? It worries me. My data usage last month had a much larger chunk from a few hours of Pandora listening.

    Bluetooth: Works every time with my iPhone 3.  Takes and makes calls without any trouble.

    The Bad

    Aha Radio: Usually won't load. Is it any good? Don't know but it's definitely sucking. This is where the promised Facebook and Twitter integration is supposed to reside.

    AVIC: The package that's supposed to manage importation of addresses and is a buggy, complex, unsophisticated piece of junk. Let me tell you what I need: Navigate me to my iPhone contacts. You can pull up their phone number to make calls, why not their addresses?

    Like lots of complicated but useful devices, now that I've got the hang of it, it's pretty useful and I like it. I also have gotten beyond the gizmo worship of our relationship and have settled into using it for what it is. I use the maps when I feel like it, I listen to some newly downloaded iTunes music and listen to my Bloomberg and NPR on my commute. Good device, but.... you could probably get a device that does the basics for a lot less.

    Average Fuel Economy: 27.1
    Miles: 2362