AF News

Friday, September 20, 2013

Car Services on Kadena AB

Well, we are pretty settled on the island so far and this was helped with having wheels to get us around town. We ended up getting two cars and I will go into the practicalities of making that happen, since well, I am car guy by nature. However, I have traded HP and Torque, for MPGs and Cargo Space…What has my life turned into now!? Haha it is ok, I wouldn’t have it any other way now, but seeing these GTR’s and Fairlady Z’s cruising around sometimes gives me that “itch” again…Anyways, let’s get into what I got now and what we have done so far with them…

1. 2003 Honda Odyssey Absolute – This was the first car we got when we got here, since we figured we will need the cargo room and the 7 seats when the families visit in the future. It had about 55K miles on the odometer and looked in good shape (more on that later). But the car guy in me noticed that the trim seemed unique on the outside/inside, it had xenon headlights, factory navigation, and nice factory 17 inch rims with Potenza tires on them. Hmmm, I Googled this “Absolute” model and low and behold, it is a special version that is Mugen tuned! But really all that means that it has Mugen tuned suspension and the fancy trim. That was enough for me and the wife happen to like it too, so we got that car. Now I am sure we all know once the dealership wax wears off, all the little things start popping out to you, and this car is no exception. Here is what I had to deal with so far…

a. The exterior and interior have plenty of scuffs and what not, but nothing some turtle wax couldn't handle. I do realize that this car is over 10 years old, and there is definitely way worst looking Odyssey’s driving around on this base, I promise you that!

b. A broken front motor mount that I didn't notice when I got it. Luckily that particular motor mount was cheap, as the other ones run hundreds of dollars! I was also able to change it out myself in my parkway, since I brought all my tools with me here.

c. Missing a wheel bolt! Man, I really couldn't believe I missed that when I was looking over the car, but who expects that to be missing on a car at a dealership! Luckily this car has a 5 bolt pattern, so running on 4 bolts wasn't an issue, and I got that fixed once I noticed it. The parts were under $10.

d. A nasty air filter that looked like it had NEVER been changed. Of course I got that taken care too.

e. Busted air vents for the rear seats/3rd row. Really, you just couldn’t adjust the direction of air flow. I knew this going in of course and I fixed that at later date. In hindsight, I should have told them to fix it, but we were in a hurry to get the car and we didn’t want to have to wait longer to get that simple thing fixed.

f. Now here is the big one, the auto transmission had issues and was fixed. During my googling of this car, I came across a lot of posts about the transmission in this year and model of car. Basically, it craps out right around the mileage this car had. Luckily, the dealership I was getting it through fixed it, or so they say. I actually have no real reason to suspect they didn’t, since it has been running just fine, but it wasn’t like I got proof of that. On top of that, the JCI folks were the ones that told them that, so I guess they HAD to fix it anyways to get the JCI done on the car. Either way, they gave me a 6 month warranty on the transmission, just in case things get funky on it. So far so good (knocking on wood now).

2. 2004 Honda Fit – This car is for the wife, since she wanted something small and easy to drive. Well, this car has worked out so well, it is almost become my daily driver to work and it is the car we use to venture off-base on the regular. It is great on gas and way easy to get around with off-base, even with all the narrow roads and tight parking spots. We got it with 35K miles odometer (yup, you’re reading that right) and it good condition. It has xenon headlights, auto climate control, and power everything. But it came with a basic radio, which I immediately changed out with a Sony unit that has iPod capability, Bluetooth media streaming, and phone hands free functionally. It works great with our Iphone5’s and I am really happy with it. I do want to note that I used a common Honda stereo wiring harness (they sell them at the auto hobby shop) and that made it super easy to install. Now on to the issues…

a. The plastic trim looked tired when I got it, but a good scrubbing with armor-all made it look good again. I guess the prior owner never bothered. The windshield wipers arms were rusting, but I ordered new ones and replaced them. Of course, the car got a good wash and wax and is looking sharp now. I can’t stand dirty cars on the outside or inside, but there are plenty of people on this base that apparently can haha. Oh well, I don’t really blame the ones that are only here for a couple a years, they are in and out, so who cares if they run their car into the ground. But we are going to be here for 4 years at least, so I want to take care of what we got now.

b. A nasty air filter that looked like it had NEVER been changed. Again. It was changed.

c. The CVT…this may be of super interest to many people with Honda cars (Fit, Jazz, City) that have CVT’s in them like my Fit. After driving the car around a bit, it would shudder pretty hard when accelerating from a stop. So hard in fact, I thought the car would be close to stalling out sometimes, and it would lack power going to merge with traffic. That is no bueno for the wife’s car, so I looked into this right away. Apparently this is a COMMON issue with Honda’s early CVT’s. There is NO fix from Honda (besides getting a new CVT), but I found some solutions on the internet. And here they are…

cc. First, change out the CVT oil with the new and improved oil from Honda. You can order it from the auto hobby shop and it comes in 4L cans. That is ok, since that is all you need when you drain out the fluid (1 Can). It isn’t cheap ($76ish), but nothing on Okinawa is. I had the mechanics do it for me (I am lazy) and they warned me that just draining the transmission fluid is not the proper way to do that, but I know that and we pressed. Well, after they did that, it was WAY better! It still shudders a bit, but it feels no way near like it did, and it doesn’t do it all the time now either. I am sure as I drive around it may even out. Here is the part number of the Honda Oil…0826099904HE.

ccc. There is still one more step I can take that other Honda Fit drivers on the internet swear by, and it is a product called OIL EXTREME. It is an oil additive and apparently it helps with this Honda CVT issue. I already ordered some (they ship APO) and when I get it, I will post the results after I add it to the CVT on my Fit. Even without this stuff, our Honda Fit is completely drivable now and the shudder barely registers to me now. Here is the link to buy this stuff…

Some final notes on the driving condition and car services here…

1. The roads are slick when wet! They tell you this when you get here, but people are still zooming around like the roads aren’t when it is raining. I have been here about 2 months and I already had 2 young airmen I work with wreck their cars on-base because they were going too fast for road conditions. Luckily no one was hurt, but they just needed to be driving slower in the first place! I think most cars that are sold to the GI’s here on the island are around 10 years ago, so we are just entering the years that the Japanese cars started to have traction control, anti-lock brakes, and other driving safety features being standard. So I think most people take that for granted because of the newer cars they may have been driving in the States or in Europe before they got here had all those features already.

2. The Japanese versions of cars here are super varied! For example, in the States a particular car model might have 3 to 4 variations to it, think EX, DL, SI, etc…But in Japan, you will have the MARK I, II, III, UP, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, TINY, BIG, ECO, MAX, etc. (literally etc.) This is more of an observation than anything and the car guy in me thinks it is pretty funny. BUT, this can cause problems when you are searching the internet to help figure out car issues you may be having. For example, the 2004 Honda Fit we have was never sold in the States during that model year. Luckily it was sold everywhere else, but the States (go figure) and there are plenty of English speaking web forums for that model year, but you may not be that lucky with your car make and model/year.

3. This next bit is for the young guys out there that may be reading this, don’t get that Skyline! It isn’t as fast as you think it is; only the GTR is fast! But you can’t drive fast legally anywhere on this island anyways, so don’t get your hopes up. But really, it is really easy to get sucked into “tuning and upgrading” whatever you got, and trust me I see those guys in the auto hobby shop every weekend installing whatever new gizmo they got. I guess I am too lazy to have to take out all those “enhancements” every time you need to JCI your car in the future, so sorry count me out. But the real killer is the cost. I can’t believe how expensive it is for those car gizmos, and trust me there are plenty for my Absolute too! You can easy get in over your head with dumping money into “go fast” parts and stereos for a car you CAN’T take back to the States with you! You will not be “Fast and Furious” in the States man, sorry it is just the sad reality of that. BUT I think you can take them to Europe from here, but don’t quote me on that. I say that because I had a J-Spec Fairlady Z while I was at Ramstein AB that I got off the lemon lot. Let’s just say twin turbos are fun to have on Nuremburg ring! It kind of brings a tear to my eye when I putt around in the minivan here….Anyways, you would think all this Japanese branded stereos and tuning stuff would be cheap, but it isn’t, sorry.

4. There are plenty of car services and what not on Kadena AB and on all the other bases as well. If you need to order parts for your car, the Kadena AB Auto Hobby shop will hook you up with just about anything you will need. You will have to order it though, and special orders come from main land, which means it will take a couple of days to get here. They have been nothing but helpful for the stuff I needed and their mechanics are knowledgeable. Just don’t spend $1000 on parts for your car that you only spent $1500 to buy, that doesn’t make sense!

5. Oh yea, if you have an OBDII scanner, bring it. These early 2000’s cars and beyond will have those ports. Remember, the OBDII standard was designed to be universal worldwide, and so far my scanner has worked on everything I have plugged it into.

6. Finally, a little on gas mileage around here. If you happen to live on base, I think you would imagine you would have to fill up your car maybe once month, especially if work/home is all you drive to and from during the week. Well that is NOT the case for me, at least with the Odyssey. I literally live less than 3 miles from work, but I have to fill up the odyssey every 2 weeks, and with a 17 gal tank, that isn’t that cheap or as cheap as I like. It has a 4 banger, but the MPG’s still suck. I think it is a combination of the 4-speed auto it has and the constant “turn engine on, drive 5 mins, turn engine off”, rinse and repeat all day, every day routine. Plus, the traffic off-base is always stop-and-go, which in turn kills your MPGs anyways. However, the Fit seems to be made for these kinds of situations, and it has killer MPGs compared to the Odyssey. So much so, I think I am driving a hybrid out here, which is why I think they are hard to come by (and have a cost premium) right now. So that is something to think about when you get out here. Think hard about the cars you will need out here, and try to stick to the smaller ones if you can. Your wallet will thank you.

Dependent travel out/in of Okinawa

***UPDATED*** 3-Feb-16

So…if your dependents want to fly out on a commercial flight out of Japan, their better have their SOFA entry/re-entry stamps in their passports before they try to go! We learned this the hard way when they tried get checked in for their flight. But some background first…when we landed on Kadena AB via the Patriot Express, my Korean wife and our little girl got SOFA entry stamps put in their passports right there in the terminal. Cool, press on. Well fast forward a month later, and the wife is off to Korea via JinAir (way cheap by the way!) to show off our little girl to her family, since they haven’t seen her in person yet. In preparation of this trip, I knew they needed their passports and I figured they got their “stamp” when we got here, so they should be good to go. Wrong! They need more stamps in there, in particular the SOFA re-entry stamp. This allows them to come and go from Japan without having to get a visa every time and what not. BUT I didn’t even think to ask someone about any of that, because well…I thought I had it all figured out for their travel! I even read the fine print on her plane ticket purchase, which stated that the credit card used to purchase the ticket online, MUST be presented at check-in(she doesn’t normally carry that card on her). I got you JinAir! But nice try though, because this flight is going to go super smooth because I “prepare” more than most people do, so HA! So as we make our way to the Naha airport, we hit a ton of traffic, and that extra buffer of time I gave us basically was wasted on Hwy 58. Luckily, my “preparedness” basically kept them from missing their flight completely, and was not used to enjoy a relaxed send off like I planned. So we get to the check-in counter of JinAir and I give them their passports and even that credit card before they even asked, and they were impressed (not really)! But then I noticed the clerk fumbling through their passports, like she was looking for something and not finding it. Well I figure she is having an issue finding the “stamp” that is clearly in there, and I point it out to her. Then she tells me that is not the right stamp and I clearly stated that it is indeed the stamp she is looking for, because there are no others in there that we got when we got here. This of course is around the time we were approaching 30 mins from the flight actually leaving, the baby was starting to get fussy because we haven’t moved around for some time, and the wife was starting to give me the look that said, “I am getting on that plane no matter what!” Well, one of the supervisor comes by and presents us a book with a image of what the stamp is supposed to look like, and low and behold, it doesn’t look like anything they got in their passports. And now we are all just staring at each other as the clock is just ticking along, but the other numerous travelers on that flight are checking in easy breezy all around us; well they must have their stamps then! Well, it is super rare for me to be caught in these types of situations, so I started asking what are we going to do. We can’t just stand here staring at each other! So they asked me if I had copies of my PCS orders on me, and if I did, we could get through immigration here and on the flight. Well of course I do, I have stacks of copies, but back in my house on Kadena AB! Now we are back to staring at each other. And then it hit me, I remembered I had emailed them to my sponsor before I got on island and they should be in my email sent folder. So I searched my email folders through my Iphone (god this phone is a life saver!) and, bingo! I found them! I told the clerk that and she told me I needed them on paper, not on a digital screen. Ok, we are in an Airport, there must be some computers I could use to print something up. Wrong! There is NOTHING like that in Naha airport, never mind that Japan is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world to boot! So back to staring at each other…and then hope! The JinAir supervisor was kind enough to let me email the orders to him and he would print them up in his office and give them to me. Success! We did that, got checked in, and off they ran through security to immigration. Hardly the send off I was planning, but they managed to get on that plane and off to Korea by the skin of their teeth!

Lessons learned…

1. Get your dependents passports stamped with the SOFA entry/re-entry stamps BEFORE they leave commercial out of Japan. For us, when they get back I will take their passports to the passenger terminal here on Kadena AB and they will get their stamps. They just need a copy of your orders and military ID and that’s it. The stamp is good for the length of your tour, so once they get it, they can come and go all they want.

2. Military travelers don’t have this problem. We fly on our orders or leave forms and military IDs when we travel in/out of Japan, so that is way easy. I even saw this while we were going though our issue at the check-in counter, with plenty of young military guys on leave flying over to Korea to have some fun.

Finally, I have to give props to JinAir for making it happen. I know my wife would have been PISSED (at me of course) if she missed that flight, since her family made plans for her to be there that day. I also do want to state that my writing tone of these events may come off as way snarky, but I was completely cool, calm, and courteous the whole time, and I am sure that made them more willing to help us out. Plus I think having an adorable baby making all the ladies there swoon had something to do with it as well.

Here is link to more info on the SOFA entry/re-entry process and where you can get it at different bases on the island. I also have the link to JinAir, since they are way cheap for flying to Korea and other Asian destinations.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Here at last!

Well we made it! We have been here about a month now and are finally getting settled in. I have some free time now to get you all caught up what we have been doing so far and what we have learned. I have free time because the wife took off with our daughter to South Korea so her family can meet her for the first time! So, with that said I am going to mash up a Part 4, in which I will document our major events so far. So on to Part 4!