New dash cam

I’ve been obsessed about dash cameras ever since I was involved in an accident where I was not at fault, but the police officer blamed me because the other driver lied and she was a woman and I was just a dirty construction electrician. Fortunately for me, my insurance policy provided me with accident forgiveness, but that was my one and only get out of high insurance rates for free card. I knew if I had a dash cam, I would have been able to prove the officer’s prejudice.

My original dash camera was a great camera, but it had an Achilles’s heel: It had a lithium ion battery. A dash cam needs its own small power source so it can finish writing the video files and close them off properly before shutting down, because a modern dash cam is essentially a computer. The problem with batteries is they are affected by extreme heat and cold. My battery stopped working properly after about a year, likely due to the extreme temperature swings. I later found out that lithium ion batteries can explode if they get hot enough!

Another problem I’ve found with dash cams offered at local retail outlets is that they record video in some proprietary video format, so I had to install some questionable software on my computer just to view the video files. The obvious problem with that is twofold: One, you better hope the company that makes the crappy software you need keeps it up to date, and two, you can’t just plug the card into your phone to play the video.

After careful consideration, I came up with a top 10 list. I’ve determined that the perfect dash cam must:

  1. Be powered by a capacitor instead of a battery, as capacitors are unaffected by extreme temperatures.
  2. Produce non-proprietary video files that can be played on anything without the need for any special software.
  3. Be discrete and not obstruct my view (ie; behind the rear view mirror).
  4. Mount directly to the windshield with super sticky tape. No suction cup mounts, as these tend to create vibrations that distort the image, and can come undone at the worst possible moment.
  5. Accept MicroSD cards, because these fit in my phone.
  6. Offer a sufficiently wide angle of view.
  7. Work adequately at night.
  8. Provide enough detail to resolve license plate numbers on the cloudiest of days.
  9. Provide decent cable management options.
  10. Cost around $100.

I’ve found the perfect dash cam. As of this writing, this has had 294 Amazon reviews, and is nearly 5 stars. It’s the Auto-Vox A118-C B40C stealth dashboard camera:

This is the ultimate dash cam; I cannot imagine a more perfect design. It checks off every one of my needs, and then some. This thing disappears from my field of vision behind my rear view mirror, and the cable management is exceptional. I can’t believe the quality and attention to detail that went into this design for this price.

The horizontal angle of the lens can be adjusted with the knob at the side, and it clips onto a plate that’s taped to the windshield with super-sticky tape. From the outside, it’s very discreet, and hard to tell that it’s actually there unless you look for it very closely.

For nighttime performance, it does the job adequately. While I’m not able to resolve license plates (unless I’m really close), it’ll still be the eye witness I would need to absolve myself.

But yes, when someone does something extremely stupid, even on a cloudy day, their license plate number comes through loud and clear.

This is it. This is the ultimate dash cam. It even came in a very nice box that made me think I was un-boxing an iPhone! Very straightforward installation, even came with little stickies to help with cable routing. For this price, and even at higher prices, there really isn’t anything better.

Micra: Escape capsule to Florida

There’s nowhere a Micra can’t take you, as long as there’s a road. Our 2015 trip to Florida for Christmas demonstrated how capable this car really is. When I had my original 1990 Micra, a road trip from Ontario to Florida was an item on my bucket list. When I got married in the mid-90’s, the plan was to drive down to Florida in my Micra for our honeymoon. At the last minute, we decided that, since Sally’s Chevrolet Cavalier had air conditioning and the Micra was in need of new tires and brakes, the Cavalier would be a better choice. Ever since then, air conditioning and cruise control were priority options on my cars. Now that I own a Micra with these options, it’s time to put these rumors of “Just a city car” to the test.

Pack light

Packing light has its own benefits, but when it comes to the Micra, it’s an imperative if you want more than two people to travel in this car. For two people only, fold down the back seat and there’s more than enough room to pack everything and anything. Once you have people in the back seat (I recommend no more than two back there for a road trip in spite of the middle seat belt), you’ll want all of your luggage to fit in the trunk.

Fortunately, the trunk of the Micra is perfectly engineered to contain everything up to four people would need for a trip to Florida: Two full sized suitcases, and two medium sized duffel bags. I also packed around two dozen bottles of water in and around the trunk.

All packed up for the trip!

In order to make the luggage fit, I had to remove the trunk shelf, put everything in, and then put the shelf back in. I had to leave the cords that pull the shelf up down so it wouldn’t rise with the hatch, because the luggage didn’t leave enough room for it to open. Had I not used the shelf, I could have fit even more in the trunk; but since one of my duffel bags was actually a large camera gear bag, I opted to keep the shelf in to hide my camera gear. After this trip, I think that I might let my smartphone capture all the video and photographs, and just leave the privacy shelf out.

5th gear all the way!

We punched in Cocoa Beach to Google Maps, and set off on our adventure! We left the snow tires on, as there was plenty of snow to contend with as we drove through New York State and Pennsylvania.

Lunch time!

As we ascended into the mountains of West Virginia, cruise control in 5th gear kept us in pace with the flow of traffic easily without downshifting, providing more than adequate power pulling myself, my wife, my six foot son, and our luggage up into the clouds. When it was time to come down from the mountains in Virginia, that same 5th gear kept our speed in check without needing to apply the brakes. During this journey, we realized exceptional fuel economy, given the circumstances. Seeing the weather change for the better before our eyes was very uplifting for all of us!

Dinner time!
It’s a wonderful life.
Lunch on day 2 on the drive down!
Made it to Florida in a Canadian Micra!

Cocoa beach in Florida at Christmas time is really the right thing to do. They really do go all out with the decorating and celebrating, complete with Surfing Santa’s flying down from the sky and surfing in the ocean.

Our trip to Florida was all about the space coast, so it was no wonder that we spent our first night at La Quinta, Florida, the astronaut motel. A lot of history to be experienced here, for sure!

First Canadian 2015 Micra parked next to a palm tree. 🙂

Of course, we could not go to Cocoa Beach without visiting the Kennedy Space Center, and with the money we saved on gas coming down, we could easily afford a day for the three of us at this historic place. They really do celebrate Christmas, including an evening Christmas-themed light show. This is a must-see for anyone who loves Christmas.

The people of Cocoa Beach really do go all out at Christmas time. It really is a wonderful place to spend the holidays, especially with the surfing Santa‘s flying out of the sky and then surfing in the ocean. The Christmas culture at Cocoa beach is really amazing. 🙂

Of course, no road trip to Florida would be complete without driving on the historic Daytona Beach. 🙂

The Nissan Versa

I remember the introduction of the Nissan Versa in the North American market around 2006. I had a 1990 Nissan Micra up until 2000. I bought my Micra in the pre-Internet days, when I thought my choices were either a rusty used car or a Yugo, because even a 3 cylinder Suzuki Swift and Geo Metro were still expensive, but then the Micra showed up, bringing back the magic of cheap, reliable, small Japanese cars of the 1970’s in the late 1980’s. Of course, it had been around for a few years, but it was the first time I saw one, and never regretted buying it.

K11 Micra

I really wanted the next generation Micra that came after, but was told that they would not be available to the Canadian market and that I should just buy a boring Nissan Sentra. I was so mad, I actually bought a Dodge Neon instead. Then the K12’s came along, and I was like, “WTF? Why should Europe keep getting Micra’s and not us?” It was clear to me that the car was continuing to evolve in interesting ways, and was just not available in our market. Then Nissan said to me, “We are going to bring back a small car to your market, this car will be the Versa.”

K12 Micra

At first, the Versa was an insult. It was nothing like the new Micra’s that Europe was enjoying. It looked bland, boring, the engine was too big, the car was too big, it was a misfit that just didn’t belong in the Nissan line-up. Then Nissan brought the Micra back to the Canadian market in 2014 as a 2015 model. A real, genuine Micra, straight from Europe, with a perfect 1.6L engine. Of course, I bought one right away, and since then, I’ve grown to really like the Versa, and so has my wife.

First generation Versa Sedan

The first thing Nissan did right was to drop the bland sedan. Cars in this class should only be made as hatchbacks. It also shares the engine and other components with the Micra, which means Nissan ditched the 1.8 for the proper 1.6L. It’s still bland compared to the Micra, but that’s perfectly fine.

I now see the Versa as a logical move up from the Micra. Sure, a six footer can sit in the back seat of a Micra with enough headroom and just barely enough legroom, which is a feat for such a small car, but after our trip to Florida, we all agreed that an extended Micra would have been perfect.

The Versa is a perfect compliment to the Micra; it’s like a “Grown-up” responsible version of the fun little go-kart with all the sensibilities inherent with the Micra. Like the Micra, it’s designed from the inside-out. The new CVT promises greater fuel economy on those inevitable family road trips, and allows for a fuel-efficient 1.6L engine to deliver adequate power in the process.

The Micra-Versa lineup of today reminds me of the Civic-Accord cars of the mid to late 1970’s. Of course, back then, Nissan was known as Datsun, and the Micra was then known as the Cherry, with its larger companion known as the Violet and then Stanza, but those cars were unknown to me at the time as Honda captured the headlines. Still, I firmly believe the Micra and Versa Note of today are closer in design and execution to the Civic and Accord Hatchback of the late 70’s than anything Honda makes today. It’s almost as though these two cars are a modern day representation of what was great about Japanese cars in the late 70’s, as though there’s a division of Nissan that wants to keep alive what made them great in the first place.

So we decided to buy a Nissan Versa. This one, specifically. We take delivery of it tomorrow. It’s my wife’s new car, and joins my Micra in our family.