Before anyone asks, I have not yet started learning to drive stick in my 1996 Pontiac Firebird like I originally intended. But now that my husband is here in Texas, he’s been driving me around in it to let me get a sense of how the car should feel when it’s properly functioning. And boy, have we found some goofy-ass problems in this beautiful machine.
I want to start by saying that for being 25 years old and having 250,000 miles, the Firebird runs great. It idles like it just came off the lot, it has punchy acceleration, the engine bay is super clean, and it doesn’t leak an excessive amount of fluid.
But we discovered our first issue when we arrived home from Christmas in Canada: Our battery had died after a mere 10 days. That did not seem normal, nor was it exactly ideal.
We haven’t actually solved the problem with 100 percent accuracy, but my husband has hypothesized that the problem is the Viper car alarm. You can let the Firebird sit for a few days without a problem, but the Viper will absolutely demolish the battery if you don’t regularly start the car.
Oh, Viper. What a terrible, horrible, wonderful invention. If I ever left this beast in a parking lot for an extended period of time, I know no one would ever steal it. Unfortunately, no one would be able to look at it too long, either, because doing so will set off the alarm. I set off the alarm checking fluids. My husband set it off opening the gas cap and also kicking the tire so gently it wouldn’t have left a bruise if he’d kicked my shin. Awful.
But that’s not the fault of the car itself. That’s the fault of whoever happened to install that particular piece of heathenry, and I want to talk about the other weird shit.
BRIEF UPDATE INTERLUDE: While finishing this blog, I discovered that the dome light does not illuminate in the vehicle but that the switch was left on, which may also have been the source of my issues.
Like the fact that the blinkers don’t work if you have the headlights on. They work like a charm when the lights are off. You can drive this bad boy all day and never have a problem signaling your intent. Pop the headlights on, though, and the taillights illuminate, but it doesn’t register that you’re making a turn. This is currently Problem No. 1 on the agenda, since this particular goof could result in us failing our inspection.
The clutch, too, is a little wonky — likely just in need of an adjustment, since it works well and there are no foul smells, but it makes a weird whine any time you press the pedal.
And this concern isn’t exactly a Car Problem, but it’s definitely proving to be an issue. The seats are very deep, so when I’m behind the wheel, I can’t see over the dashboard. My husband suggested replacing the seat, but I love the stock ones — they remind me of being a kid and riding in my grandparents’ Trans Am. We’re just going to have to find a functional Pillow Of Shame.
Then there’s the paint job itself, which was definitely done with a spray can (you can tell because they also sprayed the windows). It’s not awful, nor is it integral to the performance of the vehicle, but it’s also starting to bubble up all over the damn place.
Finally, we have the transmission itself. I don’t even know what to think about the fact that the shifter just kind of... pogos up and down in place when you rapidly accelerate or decelerate. It almost reminds me of a happy dog wagging his tail, but I can’t imagine that this is actually a thing that’s supposed to happen or that in this case it’s signifying a happy vehicle. Beyond thinking it might need a seal, my husband is also stumped, so if anyone has any suggestions for this particular problem... I’m all ears.
Other than those concerns, though, the Firebird is in damn good shape, and my husband has said it’s easier to drive than our 1996 Suburban, which is eternally ailing from one suspension problem or another. From the passenger seat, it certainly rides a hell of a lot better. And it has turned out to be an elite vehicle for grocery shopping.
I’m looking forward to sampling this enjoyable drive for myself now that I no longer have an eye infection, an office to paint, or a book to finish.