After three flights, we land in LA to massive queues in Customs. An hour later we are through onto the other side, grab our bags, and sit out the front of LAX. Kiwi Shipping is known for going that extra mile for its clients, and Craig from Kiwi Shipping is going to pick us up today, and ferry us about trying to get the car sorted out so we can actually drive it (legally).
We throw our bags in his van, and head to the AAA to register the car. First up, if the registration had not expired, we wouldn’t need to do this – we could have simply driven the car anywhere, and then shipped it home. And to register it, we have to change the ownership into my name. Again, if the rego hadn’t expired, we wouldn’t need to do that either – even to ship it out of the US. As long as you have the title in hand and a bill of sale from the owner, you are good to go.
But not our C4 Corvette. The rego expired months before while it was stored at Kiwi Shipping, waiting for us to arrive. Anyway, the AAA confirm yes they can change the ownership and register the car, but I’d have to become a member first, for $70. It seems worthwhile enough – Craig had already mentioned that if we wanted to use the DMV instead, you are looking at a whole day of mucking about to do the same thing.
I join and then go to register the car. But not quite yet…it needs a smog test first. Still, I pay the US$443 to register the car for a whole year, and am told I can do the smog test the next day (I’m given a one-day permit so I can drive it) and then get my expensive registration sticker. Without registration, we wouldn’t be covered by insurance.
Why register for a year? Because you have to. In the USA, you can’t register a car for 3 months, like you can in New Zealand. While the paperwork for the registration is being sorted out, I casually glance over the counter. It’s 23 degrees outside, and the AAA lady has a freaking heater on. “I am so cold!” she says, while I’m standing there baking hot.
Papers done, Craig takes us back to Kiwi Shipping to at last see our car in the flesh, and drive it to our Air BNB. It takes an hour to get there, and I’m reminded of LA drivers and their habits, while Craig is taking us to the office. LA drivers are fast, loose, and a little bit crazy.
We get to Kiwi Shipping, and I pop the hatch to start loading up our stuff. First problem; the gas struts are a little weak, and it won’t stay up unless you push the hatch all the way open. Second problem; I didn’t realise just how little space there is in there. The boot is already packed with stuff we’ve purchased online and then had sent to Kiwi Shipping; a drone, aftermarket mats for the car, an indoor car cover, and some sill covers.
Logic says unpack everything, so I put the mats into the trunk front of the car, so that’s two less boxes. The drone comes out of its box (it’s in a hard case shell already) and the car cover comes out of its box. I took the sill covers and put them over the sills; they are a push fit, so nothing to do there. The sills on the C4 are about 8” high, so sill covers are essential for all the getting in and out of the car we are going to be doing. There’s no graceful way to enter or exit a C4, so your shoes do a lot of dragging over the carpet-covered sill.
That done, the boot is sort of empty, so I throw our bags and the drone back in, and shut the hatch. We hit the road, and go to gas up. It’s pretty low on fuel, but there’s a station not far away. Another US memory returns – all gas stations are on prepay, so it’s into the shop, pay money, then gas up. I start filling the car with Premium and wait for it to click off. The total? $60.
I can feel the rear brakes dragging though; at the lights, I can take my foot off the brake and the car won’t move until I give it some gas. Going to have to get that sorted out. The brakes are spongy too, and do not inspire confidence at all.
Now it was rush how, and we headed towards the interstate. Once we got on there, it’s freaky. We’re in a older car I’ve never driven before, it’s rush hour in LA, and we’re sitting so low I’m looking at the sills on most cars. The C4 makes a Mazda MX-5 look like an SUV. This thing is low.
I’m watching the gauges while we navigate the traffic; engine oil temperature and pressure are really good, and the engine temperature too is excellent. I really thought after all the sitting around, the radiator might be gummed up. The previous owner only did 1,000 miles in three years and the car has never been out of LA in that time, so overheating was going to be a big thing for me. But so far, so good.
Another concern was the AC; bound to need a recharge at least. But no – I had to turn the fan down, as we were getting too cold. So far, I could see $$ signs drifting away, as the need to spend loads of cash to get the car right before our 10,000km trip truly started.
But the tyres…so bad. They wobble at 60mph, and they are noisy. The car rides like a truck, and I’m hoping it’s all down to the old tyres…
We don’t make it to the Air BNB yet, as we are starving. A quick stop at a local Dennys off the interstate is needed. I order one of the all-day breakfasts (as I always do); this comes with bacon, hash browns, 2 eggs, 2 huge pancakes, 2 sausages and coffee. The price? $6.99. Likely by the end of this 6-week trip, I’m gonna need bigger pants.
This is the Big Day I’m really anxious about; we don’t know what we are going to find once the mechanics start poking about. I’ve booked the car in at Drulis Bros in Hawthorne, as they have a great reputation and have done lots of work on C4 Corvettes. Also, these guys are old school mechanics, and I like that very much.
First up, oil drained and filter changed. The air filter is shockingly dirty and is tossed. The rear brake pads are well worn down, so new ones are ordered. The fronts are okay though. The main mechanic checks the brakes, and finds that the handbrake cable is binding up, probably from lack of use. Some WD40 sorts it all out. I like cheap fixes. With the new pads in, they bleed the brakes too, to fix the spongy pedal.
They then check the trans fluid, but it looks clean and new so we decide to leave it. Ditto the radiator; I had planned to get it flushed and new coolant, but the coolant it has looks new, and it’s definitely not overheating, so I tell them to leave it. Spark plugs look good they say, so we don’t touch those, and the belts look almost new too, so we don’t replace them. I’ll probably buy some spares anyway just to keep in the car.
The oil pan bolts are tightened up, as there’s some weeping around the sump. That should stop any more leakage – hopefully.
While I’m waiting for them to do their thing, I go online to find some gas struts. I rang the local Autozone as well as some other auto parts places, but no one carries them in stock. Since we’re heading off in a few days, I don’t want to risk ordering any. But I do find some at Walmart online for $21 for the pair, and I can pay extra for one-day shipping. I do the deal, and pay $30 for shipping (more than the cost of the struts…) and they should arrive tomorrow. Perfect.
That done, it was time to get a smog test. Drulis Bros do carry out smog tests, but the C4 is too old for them to be allowed to test without the proper gear and certification. I pay the bill – $209.71 all up – and they send me off to a ‘STAR certified’ smog testing facility, and the C4 is put through the test. $70 later, and it passes without issue. The guy at the smog place asks me where I’m from, and then asks “Which island?” When I say the capital, he instantly comes back with “Wellington, right?” Maybe Americans are a bit more worldly then we give them credit for.
I headed to the nearest AAA and got my nice yellow 2020 sticker. We’re legal now, and covered by insurance.
Tonight we’re heading back towards Beverly Hills to visit the previous owner. The traffic sucks again, and the terrible roads pound the car. But after an hour’s drive, we get to his house, grab a photo and have a chat.
I had to ask him, why did he buy the car in the first place? “I’m a stand-up comedian, and I perform at the Comedy Store. When I performed, I would see other comedians pulling up outside in their Ferraris and Porsches. I wanted something to fit in, so I bought the Corvette. It was a total ego-buy – no other reason.” He goes on to say he bought the car off a lawyer, who came complete with a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. He thought the guy came straight from one of the billboards you see when driving around, with a certain type of lawyer advertising their services. I ask him why this C4 Corvette have such low mileage, at 28,000? “I have no idea,” he says. “I asked the previous owner, who bought it from the original owner and he didn’t know either.”
While visiting the previous owner, I asked him for a restaurant recommendation. He sends us to Umami Burger, just down the road. It was well worth it, with excellent burgers.
At last, the C4 will be getting new tyres. I’m really hoping they will make the ride smoother and quieter, as well as get rid of that wobble at 65mp/h.
We were booked in at 8am at American Tires, and the guys there checked the car out before we headed away for a few hours. It was getting a wheel alignment as well; I hate putting new tyres on a car without making sure the wheels are running to factory measurements.
As we thought, a check of the tyres showed they were manufactured in 2008. There’s no way a sane person would do 10,000km on those tyres (as we will be doing), even in the autumn in America. It may be autumn, but it’s still hot and we’d surely blow out a tyre or two in the desert somewhere.
Anyway, we left the car there, and headed off to have an American breakfast, but not at Dennys this time, we went to a friendly little diner called Mandys Family Restaurant. We had time to kill after that, so more walking to burn off that heavy breakfast, to Best Buy. Since we’re getting the new double-din head unit installed tomorrow, I was determined to spend some time this afternoon installing a license plate camera for reversing, running the cable forward ready to plug into the new audio unit. I’ve got to say, when you are reversing a C4 Corvette, you can’t see a lot. An el-cheapo license plate camera is only $40, so we headed to Best Buy – the same store where I’d be getting the stereo installed tomorrow.
But no. The automotive section in Best Buy has a few stereos on display, and not much else. There’s one reversing camera there, but it’s $100 and I’m determined not to buy it since they have $40 ones. I search for a staff member, but give up. It’s like the twilight zone in Best Buy, there’s no one to be found.
We wondered back to pick up the Corvette. I ended up with Nexen Nfera SU1 tyres on the car. I had originally thought just go with the Goodyear Eagles the car came out with, but feedback on C4 Corvette forums said these were a much better tyre, and cheaper too. With taxes and a wheel alignment, the total was US$675 for the four 275/40/17 tyres. Not too bad.
It was crunch time; would the new tyres make a big difference? They made a HUGE difference. The car is riding so much smoother now. It still rides hard compared to most cars, but it’s a whole lot better than before. Quieter too, there’s much less road noise coming into the cabin. And that wobble? Completely disappeared. I took the car up to 75mp/h on the interstate, and it was rock steady, so it’s going to be a much better drive over the next 10,000km.
We found another Best Buy 9 minutes away, so drove there. Would you believe it was a repeat? The shelves were almost empty in the automotive section – they had the pricing labels for lots of automotive things including reversing cameras, but nothing actually on the shelves. Time to give up on that idea.
We headed back to our Air BNB to try and cool off a bit. This afternoon, we’re headed off to see the Hollywood sign, with a hike that takes 2-3 hours. It’s a 45-minute drive to get to the car park to do the walk, so we’re going to be gone a while.
On getting back to the Air BNB, I was fully expecting to find our new gas struts sitting at the front door. This wasn’t to be our day. A quick check online shows they went to deliver them today, but then sent them back to Walmart, due to an ‘insufficient address’. The address on the tracking order only shows the city and zip code (and a wrong zip code at that), and yet my order shows the full address. Time to call USPS to find out why they got it wrong. After 51 minutes on hold I got through to a person, who said that the parcel is being sent back to the seller (in Canada) and sorry nothing we can do. Our Plan B is to get them resent to a relative in Phoenix, Arizona if we can. Fingers crossed.
In the afternoon, we head towards Griffith Park and do the hike up to the Hollywood sign. The traffic was horrendous, and it took us an hour to travel 20 miles. The amount of traffic seems to have increased hugely since we were last here in 2016.
Not only that, but the state of the roads…you think our roads are not maintained well? No comparison. I don’t think there’s any road maintenance going on in LA at all. Mere words can’t describe just how bad they are.
We actually found parking, and did the hike to the Hollywood sign. Thankfully, the uphill bit was first up, so we knew it’d be downhill on the return. But it was a hard uphill. The temperature wasn’t bad at 25 degrees, but that climb really took it out of us, and almost no shade either. It went on and on…until we finally got as close as we legally could to the sign, and took our selfies. The walk back to the car was so much easier, although our leg muscles were completely unimpressed.
We wanted to avoid the worst of the traffic (ha!) so parked up and went to dinner at the Formosa Cafe in Hollywood. This is a famous restaurant in LA, and has been operating since 1925. Loads of movie stars have eaten there, and the food was excellent, as well as being very reasonably priced. Mainly, after days of American food, we were simply happy to have some vegetables to eat.
On walking out of the Formosa, what did I spot? A Best Buy. It was worth a shot. Did they have the $40 reversing camera I was after? Of course not – it was the same scenario, very little on the shelves. With time running out, I paid $99 for one with moving guidelines. Didn’t want to, but if I want the cable connected tomorrow to the new head unit, I needed this tonight.
Tomorrow, she will be getting the new head unit installed; we’ll have Apple CarPlay on the new head unit, so looking forward to have that feature.