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MY 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser

PT No.2! This is the first time we have replaced a vehicle with a newer version of the same model.

Our "NEW" to us, 2008 PT Cruiser. These first photos were taken at the dealership in North Carolina. My wife researched and located this vehicle while I was still doing major surgery on our broken 2002 PT Cruiser. The new one says "Turbo" on the tailgate, but it does not have a turbo engine.

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Side view. Sits a little high for my taste and really needs a pin stripe or something. I do like the rims and spoiler on the back. Not too sure about the "boat" trim on the tailgate.

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The new PT was delivered to the house just about the time I was finishing clutch repairs to the 2002. Now I almost wish we could keep both of them. Comparing the two, it was obvious how much Chrysler cheapened the base model. Features that came standard in my base model 2002 (sunroof, overhead console, rear package tray, rear sway bar, under seat storage bin, trailer hitch, and extra power outlets) are missing from the 2008 model. Other features such as the dash, sliding armrest, and center console look like they were much cheaper to make. The only redeeming feature of the new center dash section is the analog clock. The ventilation controls and vents have been redesigned. Everything about these looks and feels much cheaper than in the 2002 model. The AC insists on being ON regardless of the last setting I chose and the vent control insists on being open. I have to remember to re-close it every morning, or breathe diesel fumes from the neighbor's truck.

From the driver's point of view, I'm ok with many of the changes. The new sliding center armrest works ok for me. The center console storage bin is smaller, but much more convenient than the under-seat storage bin. My wife much prefers the older interior. She really misses the seat-mounted armrest, overhead console temperature display, and map lights. She also noticed that the mirror in the visor is no longer lighted.

Before writing the ad to sell the 2002, I went through the car and put the suspension and tires bach to original specifications. I also swiped the rear package tray. We will have to go junk yard shopping for a few items like the overhead console, sway bar, and extra power outlets.

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These photos were shot the morning the buyer of the 2002 was coming to pick it up. It didn't take me long get a set of the in-channel vent-visors and a pin stripe for the new Cruiser. I used the same style stripe that was on the older PT, in a dark charcoal color. The tape is easy to find. Cost about $20 for a roll that will do at least 2 cars, maybe 3. The hardest part about applying the tape is keeping it straight, especially when the wind is blowing, GRIN.

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My next mission was dual exhaust. This body style "needs" dual exhaust sticking out the back. This is a photo of the HeartThrob system. This system was a complete failure when I bought it several years ago for the 2002 (way too loud). I have cut out the black glasspack muffler and replaced it with a (hopefully less noisy) Smitty's muffler. That's an original head pipe next to the HeartThrob system, and the smaller muffler that I cut out of the HeartThrob system.

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The modified HeartThrob system was a piece of cake to install. It hangs on the factory hangers for everything except the new right tailpipe. Sorry, this photo is a little dark and one tip is crooked, but it's good enough for a test run. YUCK!! It sounds pretty good at idle, and revving with no load. Rumbling up the driveway had me grinning. But then the same horrible resonance started around 2300 RPM, and goes all the way beyond 3500 RPM! Sniffle. They should have named this system The ThrobbingHeadache. I drove it for a couple of days to make sure. Changing mufflers seems to have made no difference or may have made it worse. After the computer settled down, it was showing worse fuel mileage than the stock single exhaust. This HeartThrob system has been a complete waste of time and money, again. Oh well, I didn't really like the up-swept tips anyway. Looks like the system would just fill up with water every time it rains.

CAUTION, Fertile Mind At Work! Do you smell something burning?

Some cars use a one-inlet, two outlet muffler. Maybe I can make one?

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This photo shows parts of the original exhaust from our 2002 PT Cruiser. I know, I know, some of you are wondering how I can still put my hands on the original exhaust system and a slightly used HeartThrob exhaust system from several years ago, for a car I no longer own. The term "pack rat" doesn't begin to describe my disease. My wife is convinced that one day a pile of "spare parts" is going to fall over and bury me.

Anyway, the red line shows where my super-human xray vision can see how the factory outlet pipe extends almost completely through the body of the muffler. I have also sketched in a circle where cutting through the endplate of the muffler should allow me to look straight through the body of the muffler. If this muffler is made the way I think it is, I should be able to weld a second tailpipe outlet onto the opposite (front) end of the muffler. Hopefully this will relieve a bit of backpressure, and allow me to run an active second tailpipe, without creating mind-numbing noise. I measured carefully and used a 2-1/4" bi-metal hole saw to cut a hole directly opposite the factory tailpipe. SUCCESS! I can now see straight through the muffler to the other outlet.

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This photo shows how I cut a short elbow from an old section of exhaust pipe. I had to saw the elbow off short to keep the new tailpipe as close as possible to the muffler. I have even less room to work between the muffler and axle, because I already scrounged and installed the missing rear swaybar.

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Please forgive the ugly weld. I attached the piece of 2-1/4" elbow over the new outlet hole in the muffler endplate. If you don't have an abundance of spare pipe to work with, you can buy a tailpipe turndown tip at the auto parts store that will look very much like the piece I made. Weld the oval end to the muffler with the pipe perfectly level, so the new tailpipe will cross just under the factory muffler inlet pipe.

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I added a hanger on the right side to hold the new tailpipe. That yellow spring isn't the factory original. While I was working underneath, I installed a set of variable rate lowering springs. These should drop the rear about 2 inches. The new springs in front should be about 1 inch lower, leveling things out.

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Now that's what it's supposed to look like. This dual exhaust is probably too quiet for most rednecks, and teenagers. From inside the car, there is very little noticable difference. Standing behind the car, it rumbles a bit more at idle than the stock system. I know, my age is showing, but my hearing has been abused enough. This is perfect for the car we take on 3-hour road trips about once a month.

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Here's how the new tailpipe made it to the right side, and the location for the new rubber hanger. I would have preferred to use one of the factory type hangers to make this look more original. You can still see a Sharpie(R) mark where I measured to cut the notch in the rear body panel. I still need to clean that cut up, and my welds need some serious help. I think moisture got into the coating on my welding rods. A stick welder isn't the neatest tool, but it usually does a better job than this. Now that I know this exhaust system works, I will take the time to clean up these welds with a grinder, make another pass where necessary, then prep and paint the system.

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The new ride height is just about perfect with the slightly larger P205/65/15 tires helping to fill the wheelwells. That was another thing I swapped. This car came with an almost new set of Goodyears in the original P195/65/15 size. I swapped the tires so we wouldn't take a price hit for having mismatched tires on the PT we were selling. I moved the Bridgestones to the front on this one. If there are any alignment issues created by the suspension drop, the wear will show up on the pair of tires I want to get rid of ASAP anyway. I will keep an eye on the tire wear and tweak the alignment when I put two new Michelins on the front this fall.

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TAZ found a new home, along with some other 3-D dash decorations. The new B&M short-throw shifter is visible at the bottom of this photo. Very easy to install, this shifter feels much more precise than the factory unit. While installing this shifter, it appears Chrysler has redesigned the shift cables. Hopefully this change fixed the failure of the bushings in the cables. Time will tell.

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This new overhead console came from an older model PT Cruiser. Good thing I also got the wiring harness that goes with it. The 2008 only has two wires going to the dome light, and uses a different type of electrical connector than earlier models. There is a 12-pin connector behind the left pillar trim with only two wires used on the 2008 roof harness side! There are also no wires in this connector to run the temperature display, GRRR. Rather than hack into the wiring any more, the display will just have to read -47 degrees until I can get a temp sensor, mount it, and run two wires to the console.

Rather than remove the entire headliner to install the console and harness, it was easier to remove the rubber trim at the left pillar post, left visor, and visor clip. Oddly, the visor is attached with two torx screws, but the support clip is attached with a phillips screw. Why? I dunno, made me have to climb out and go get another screwdriver. Just another example of Detroit making no effort to make modern cars easier to work on. Anyway, that was all that has to come off to get enough room to poke the harness above the headliner and cut the hole for the overhead console.

Cutting the hole is a piece of cake with a sharp knife. I started with a 2" square hole and gradually enlarged it until the console fit. Once you have the hole cut, the console simply snaps into holes already in the roof structure. No screws needed.

The temperature sensor comes with a mounting bracket that originally goes under a bolt in the front grille area. I didn't see any point in running an extra 10 feet of wire, so mounted the sensor in a protected area between the front door and fender. It's just outside the door seal area so I pulled the seal off the pinch molding routed the wires diagonally over the pinch weld. A short piece of thinwall tubing slit and placed over the pinch weld keeps the wires from being cut when the seal is put back on.

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NEW FOG LIGHTS

Thus begins another great drama. I did this the right way. Save time and aggravation, buy the OEM factory plug-and-play kit. There was even the same pleasant surprise as the same project on the 2002. Most of the wiring was already in-place on the car. All I needed to do was install the lights, and plug them into the wires. The new switch only takes a few minutes to remove the covers, then there is only one screw and one electrical connector holding the switch to the column.

Reinstalling the plastic covers on the column took about 12 times longer than it should have. Try guiding 1" screws through a 3" deep hole without dropping them.

Now for the drama. Turn parking lights ON and pull fog light switch ON. The "lights ON" dinger certainly works, but I've got no little green "Fog Light" symbol on the dash. Get out and go look, and I've got no fog lights working either. Try it with the key switch ON, no difference, they don't work.

I went over the entire installation and found nothing wrong except no voltage to the fog lights. The answer was covered on the last page of the instructions I discarded. It basically says, "Hook up StarScan tool and tell the computer the car now has fog lights". The written instructions have a series of menu steps to accomplish this, but this can only be done at a dealership using their StarScan tool. Thank you Chrysler! Now I have to drive to a dealership and have this done.

That took a few days. Trip No.1 - The service tech at the dealership wanted me to pay almost $100 for something called "diagnostic service" because, "it might be something wrong with the wiring". She absolutely could not comprehend that I might be able (and completely willing) to fix any conceivable wiring problem myself. I left ready to start writing letters to BBB, Congress, Chrysler, Bama, and anyone else that might be willing to help. I settled for a simple email to the dealership, and to the dealer that sold me the kit.

The immediate canned response from the dealership was hilarious. They thanked me for my interest in their web site. If I was interested in buying a car on-line, it could all be done over the web, and the car would be delivered to me. I wouldn't even have to come to the dealership. While that festered in my brain, I got a reply from the seller apologizing for the omission of vital information in their ad. If I was close by they would have me come to the dealership and they would fix it for free. Since I was too far away, he offered to pay half the $100 service charge. Wow! If anyone is in the Kernersville, NC area, buy a car or some parts from the KERNERSVILLE CHRYSLER DODGE JEEP dealership! There are at least two great Chrysler dealerships in North Carolina. The other one is STEVE WHITE MOTORS in Hicory, NC.

My message to the local dealership eventually trickled down to the service manager. He called me, apologized for the misunderstanding and agreed to change the setting in my PT's computer for a nominal charge. Less than half the previous quote. OK, I expect to pay something for service, even when I think the proceedure shouldn't be necessary in the first place. It took me 20 minutes to drive there again, 10 minutes for them to get around to it, 2 minutes to do the work, cost $47 bucks, Drumroll Please.........The fog lights now work like they should have when I finished the installation several days ago.

Now, think about it. When It's time to buy another car, what am I going to remember? I'm going to remember the completely unnecessary $47 charge, frustration, emails, and two unnecessary trips to the dealership. Is anyone at Chrysler listening? I doubt it.

CARRY-ALL PROJECT

I've been wanting one of those carry-all things that slip into the trailer hitch. It would be much more convenient than hooking up the trailer when I have something small to haul, or need to go fill the gas cans. All of the ones I see are too expensive and too big for my PT Cruiser. Face it, something made for a Suburban or Excursion isn't going to look right on a smaller vehicle. Making one is easy, the challenge was making it light enough so it would be easy to attach and remove. My usual answer to any structural problem is to build it 10 times stronger than it needs to be. That wouldn't be appropriate here. I do want to keep the car's front wheels on the ground.

The trailer hitch is only rated for 100 pounds tongue weight. Three filled gas cans is about 90 pounds, so I have very little weight to play with or I will be way over the rating of my hitch. For the short trip to the gas station, I could deal with being a little over but not 200 percent over.

Rummaged around and came up with some pre-bent scrap 1" square steel tubing. This must be good stuff, it's been sitting out in the weather for several years and shows very little rust. Found out as soon as I tried to cut it, this stuff is a thin-wall, but very hard alloy steel. It was a frame for cast-iron grill, so it should be perfect structure for my carry-all.

A little more rummaging and I came up with some steel pickets from an old porch railing. These are an assortment of 1" and 1/4" square steel tubing. These should be enough to complete the project. All of the material together only weighs about 10 pounds. As long as I don't use 30 pounds of welding rods, it should turn out OK, GRIN.

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Not too bad and the extra 1/4" pieces will help brace and close in the front so items can't bump into the back of the car. Almost time for primer and paint. I may even go nuts and mount some LED clearance lights on it. The trailer connector is right there after all.

This thing is so handy, I've not had a chance to paint it. Houston, there is a problem. With all my gas cans loaded, it blocks the license plate. All I need is one bored State Trooper and that will be a ticket. I do have to drive right past a State Police Office to get to a gas station.

OK, Here it is being painted. There are a few extra holes across the back for some lights. It will also get a floor of some sort. It needs to be light weight, maybe expanded metal.

HOW ABOUT SOME FLAMES !

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These flames are a vinyl decal. They went on easy following the instructions provided on the web site, DANS DECALS I've applied many different types of decals usually with a water/soap mixture to "float" them into place. These decals were applied dry. Peel the backing, align the decal, and then use the tool provided with the decals to smooth them into place without bubbles.

It ain't quite as easy as that, especially the larger pieces. I soon discovered it was much easier to slice the decal between the licks and apply them one at a time, working from front to back. This greatly helped each piece of the decal follow compound curves on this car.

UPGRADED WHEELS AND TIRES !

We've been racking up the miles, and my rear tires have worn the outside edges down to the wear indicators. The alignment is within spec, but the side load on the tires in corners is causing them to wear uneven. We could change the camber to compensate, but this problem is caused by driving style and sidewall flex, more than any problem with the alignment.

The better solution is to upgrade the wheels and tires with a lower profile. We could keep the 15" rims, but lower profile tires would no longer fill the wheel openings, and the shorter tires would mess up the speedometer calibration.

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After much study, the 17" wheels and tires seemed to have the best price. Anything larger than 17" was priced well beyond my budget. The 17" rims, and Michelin Primacy 215/50R17 tires seemed to be the best choice. There are cheaper tires available, but every time I've done that, it's been a mistake. Tire Rack had the best deal. Four wheels and tires mounted, balanced, with new pressure sensors, and shipped to my doorstep, for $100 less than any local deal I could find. The new tires were on my doorstep when I got home two nights later. That was outstanding service from tirerack.com.

These tires are nearly an inch wider and 1/2" taller than the original size. The speedometer reading is now between +0 and -1 MPH of actual speed from 35 to 75 MPH.

INTERIOR UPGRADE

We might have to call this one a downgrade. The center console never impressed me with it's layout, features, or style. The bin top armrest was a nearly useless substitute for the fold down armrests in the 2002. The sliding feature might have been intended to make up for the armrest not moving with the seats. Sadly, in the forward position, the armrest blocks access to important things like parking brake and shift lever. The light silver color was a really bad choice for an interior feature with cup holders. We did see one worse, there is actually a WHITE version of this ugly duckling. What were they thinking? Silver is hard to keep clean, white would be impossible.

The solution should have occurred to me earlier. Why not go junk yard shopping and get one of the earlier consoles? For $50 a dark gray console from a 2005 PT Cruiser came home with me. The window switches were missing, but I found one of those in black. I was planning to use a black shift boot, so the black switch plate should look ok. It could easily be swapped out for a dark gray one later if I decide the color needs to match.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks. I finally found some time to play with this. The shift boot pops right off, and the console is held in place by four small sheet metal screws, two in the cup holders, two in the bottom of the storage bin. Once the screws are out, the console flops around, but won't come out unless the parking brake lever is pulled all the way up. Even then, it's a tight squeeze to get the console off the parking brake lever.

All of the brackets under the console appear to be identical to the earlier Cruisers except for an extension at the back. Thankfully, that piece is attached with screws and is easily removed. Careful measuring already proved that the shifter and parking brake have not moved. Once the shifter was out, it became obvious the small holes for mounting screws will not line up. Didn't really think they would, but I was hoping for a miracle. Don't drill yet! Forcing the "new" console over the parking brake lever was just as much fun as removing the "old" console. Once done, the console was easily positioned so that the parking brake worked as it should. Held it there and drilled new holes for the screws using the console as a template. Plug-in, and snap-in accessory items and the installation is done.

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I am pleased with this installation. This earlier console certainly has more style. It fits to the bottom of the dash surprisingly well. I much prefer this console over the cheap-looking late model version. It's hard to see in this photo, but this 2005 console has a much nicer finish with an embossed grain. It won't fool anyone to think it's leather, but it looks much better than the flat plastic on the late model console. I think the dark gray is a much better interior color choice.

Yes, I added a power outlet in front of the cup holder at the back. Can't have too many of those. The more obvious change was enlarging and lighting the bin at the bottom of the center instrument panel. The bin was very poorly designed, items do not stay in the bin when the car is in motion. A lip on the front edge would have helped, and should have been a no-brainer for the designer. The bin snaps out easily, and reveals at least an inch of wasted space below. They could have molded a recessed floor into the bin and made a much more useful storage space! This can easily be fixed. Just cut the bottom out of the bin. I did check three times and make sure I was cutting the BOTTOM of the bin. It's incredibly easy to get turned around and start cutting on the wrong side, BTDT. It's much better to avoid another completely unnecessary trip to the salvage yard. While the bin was out, it was ridiculously simple to drill the top for a few LED lights. There is a lighting circuit available at the console for the automatic transmission display. It wasn't being used at all in this car, but can easily be tapped if you are doing this mod in an automatic.

PT Cruiser Brake Repair

The left front caliper locked up. I suspect this is a direct result of pulling the trailer with more weight than the car is rated to haul. Some of the upgrades have certainly improved the trailer towing capability. Lower ride height, stiffer springs, the rear sway bar, and low profile tires all help this car handle the trailer better than a stock PT would. However, the brakes are original, so stopping all that extra weight could cause problems. I ended up leaving the trailer in the parking lot at work. Even without the trailer, the drive home was no fun. The caliper would lock on if I did more than just touch the brakes. Weaving the car side to side would eventually break it loose. By the time I pulled in the driveway, the entire rim was too hot to touch.

Repairs cost $10 for one set of caliper seals, add a bit for brake fluid unless you already have some.

Jacking the car is a little more difficult with the side skirts.

Remove the wheel.

Use a big "C" clamp or drive a wedge behind the brake pad to force some clearance so the caliper will release the rotor.

Remove the brake hose fitting from the back of the caliper.

I used a foam ear plug to keep it from leaking. Roll the ear plug down, shove it in the hole, and let it expand.

Remove two bolts to release the caliper from the bracket.

The brake pads should stay on the car.

Go ahead and drain the brake fluid that is inside the caliper. Let it run right out the hole where the brake line was connected.

Use a grease gun or compressed air to pop the piston out of the caliper. Z grease gun is more gentle, but my air hose was handy.

Just put something in front of the piston so it doesn't slam into the caliper and break.

Remove the old boot and square "O" ring seal.

Thoroughly clean the caliper. Mine had a lot of rust at the outer edge.

A brake cylinder hone will remove the rust. Don't run it in the bore unless there are score marks to remove.

The piston isn't metal, but rust and other stuff can build up on it. Clean and polish the piston until it is perfectly smooth to the touch.

Lubricate the new square "O" ring seal with brake fluid and insert it into the inner groove. Make sure it is perfectly square and not twisted.

Next, I install the outer boot in the outer groove in the caliper bore.

Lubricate the piston with brake fluid.

Stretch the outer boot over the end of the piston and begin inserting the piston into the bore.

Keep sliding the boot out as you work the piston into the bore.

Make sure the piston is started square into the square "O" ring.

It may take a "C" clamp to get the piston back into the caliper, but don't force it. Make sure the piston is going into the seal correctly.

As the piston gets close to fully inserted, work the lip of the boot into the groove at the outer edge of the piston.

Clean off any spilled brake fluid and reinstall the caliper over the brake pads.

Replace the two bolts that hold the caliper in place, then replace the brake line.

Make sure the brake line fitting still has a seal on both sides of the fitting.

Bleed the brakes. Since I only removed the left front caliper, I only had to bleed that assembly.

Get a friend to pump and hold the brake while you let air out at the bleeder valve.

If you are working alone, there are vaccuum bleeders, or you can do what I do and just wedge a board between the seat and the brake pedal. Use the seat adjuster to run the board and brake pedal down. Then release and reclose the bleeded valve. I find this easier than having help, because the board won't release the brake pedal before I get the bleeder screw closed. Every helper I've ever had, released the pedal at least once while I still had the bleeder open.

The brakes are fixed for now. The pads looked abused, but still have a lot of material. The rotor is a bit discolored from the heat, but not warped. The brakes seem to work fine now, but I think brakes will be my next upgrade project. I will continue to use the trailer, and this car will continue to pull some heavy loads from time to time.

TIMING BELT REPLACEMENT

We hit 100,000 miles with no major service. It's time for the infamous timing belt replacement. This is the procedure that caused no end of troubles for my 2002 PT Cruiser. The shop that did the work created so many problems, I was still fixing them several months later. "Never again", I said. "The next time I will do the work myself". Big words when "next time" is a few years off. Time flies. I've decided to do a complete step-by-step with photos and descriptions of the method I used to replace the timing belt. STEP-BY-STEP TIMING BELT REPLACEMENT - 2008 PT Cruiser

Deer 02 - PT Cruiser 00

Deer Crash 02

This may be the end. Only a couple thousand miles after the timing belt replacement we hit a deer. Flash back to the 2008 deer incident with the 2002 PT Cruiser. That was six years ago. This time, a few irresponsible hunters with dogs ran several deer across the highway. The biggest doe I've seen in this area burst from the trees at the edge of the road just as we topped a hill. We hit dead center on the side of the deer. The impact broke some part of the intake manifold and caused the engine to basically go full throttle. That was fun. These cars have a lot of non-metal intake plumbing between the throttle body and the intake ports on the side of the engine. It seems like one of the Chrysler engineers should have considered what happens when a front impact breaks part of the intake manifold system. The throttle instantly becomes useless as the engine sucks all the air it wants through the break. The fuel injection system continues to supply fuel. The computer could easily have been programmed to detect an out-of-control engine and shut it down. After any impact serious enough to break the intake system, the last thing the driver needs is a runaway engine. I managed to maintain control, turn the ignition off, and coast into a convenient driveway at the bottom of the hill.

As we suspected, the body shop repair cost would exceed the car value by several thousand dollars. I looked into keeping the car, taking the insurance money, and doing the work myself. Insurance and registration issues with a salvage title killed that notion. This PT is only good for salvage parts. That is the end of an era for me. I will keep fond memories of my PT Cruisers, and hope to eventually find something else as relaible and fun to drive.

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